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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Bel Canto PLayer PL-1A; Zanden Audio Model 2000P/5000S
Preamp/Integrated: ModWright SWL 9.0SE; PrimaLuna ProLogue 3 [on review]
Amp: FirstWatt F1; FirstWatt F2 [on review]; PrimaLuna ProLogue 5 [on review]
Speakers: Zu Cable Druid Mk4; Zu Cable Method
Cables: Stealth Audio Indra; Zu Cable Ibis; Crystal Cable Reference power cords; Z-Cable Reference Cyclone power cords on both powerline conditioner
Stands: 1 x Grand Prix Audio Monaco four-tier
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for tube amps; GPA Apex footers underneath DAC and preamp; Walker Audio SST on all connections; Walker Audio Vivid CD cleaner; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; WorldPower cryo'd Hubbell and IsoClean wall sockets
Room size: 30' w x 18' d x 10' h [sloping ceiling] in long-wall setup in one half, with open adjoining living room for a total of ca.1000 squ.ft floor plan and significant 'active' cubic air volume of essentially the entire (small) house
Review component retail: $3,000

The Droplet series by Consonance of Opera Audio/China currently encompasses two models. There's the top-loading, tube-powered, Sony transport CDP-5.0 digital player under review. There's also the matching $4,000 Droplet LP-5.0 turntable. Despite origin and still-affordable pricing, these droplets -- thus named for the included glassy water drops that can be placed atop the very substantial aluminum top plate in whatever arrangement pleases you -- are ambitious luxury items. They're squarely aimed at the type of buyer who shops not just with his ears but her eyes as well.

This kidney-shaped beast is huge and heavy. If you were to build the smallest possible box to contain it, said box would measure 20.5" across, 17" deep and 6.75" tall, with a vent in the middle for the grab handle of the CD well cover.

In time-honored butcher-block or stave fashion, the massive 2.75" thick wooden cradle making up the bottom layer of this player's sandwich construction is a solid affair spliced together of pieces, then routed into shape and finely sanded, stained and lacquered. Three massive bolts hidden inside hollow standoffs connect the base to the 1" aluminum top plate to make for a semi-floating appearance due to the circumferential recess. The only visual item that seemingly ties together upper and lower layer from the front is the elegantly curved display block.

Made popular by BAT and dubbed "the Russian super tube", two 6H30 small-signal triodes are the chief attraction of the guts once you've disconnected a ground wire and temporarily unplugged four wire looms fitted with push-on sockets.

The clip-tensioned tubes are mounted horizontally for a low profile and atop a mother board that's completely separated from the power supply board.

Replacing the tubes here is the one aspect where external beauty causes a bit of practical complications. Getting inside isn't quite as simple as popping the usual sheet metal top cover.

With balanced and single-ended outputs as well as an RCA-carried S/PDIF digital output, the specs claim a S/N ratio of 100/115dB respectively for the RCA and XLR paths, suggesting true balanced operation of the circuit. A "special super-clock" is said to drive down clock jitter to less than 14ps. Converter resolution is given as multi-level sigma-delta 24-bit-192kHz. The Crystal 4398 chip handles asynchronous upsampling as well as the remote-controlled attention on both (variable) outputs. The RCAs output 2.3V.

The black all-metal remote sports 22 small buttons of identical size. Those are laid out in three columns without any offset groups. It makes navigating in the dark impossible until you have memorized the layout. Functions include direct track access where dual digits are entered in sequence rather than requiring a +10 button; time elapsed/remain; repeat 1/all; volume up/down; next/previous track and fast forward/back. The latter two are labeled "rewind" and "wind".
For an imaginary Mk2 iteration, an overly critical product evaluation consultant would ask for a revised layout on the remote including bigger buttons; the inclusion of a "program" feature and either a simple "display off" or three or four stages of gradual dimming. As a dream-list feature, there's the digital input.

But that's playing the habitually discontented super-finicky customer. For everyone else, the Droplet is complete as is and I for one see no need for user-selectable dither settings and various upsampling steps. Whatever sounds best to the designer should be set in stone. Anything else is gimmickry.

The ubiquitous magnetic (black) puck must be placed atop the CD before the lid seals the well. Closing the hatch automatically depresses a tiny trigger to commence the TOC protocol that activates the track readout.

The lid supplied with my loaner looks different than some of the early promotional photos of the unit. Another minor difference is the number of top-mounted controls which now are five rather than the earlier six - play; stop; back; next; and, importantly, power. If you're the kind of stubborn guy who fails to ask for directions when lost and refuses to read owner's manuals - well, it could take you a while to figure out how to turn this beast on. Don't ask how I know.

For a bit of exercise, you could now use the Droplet's 46.5 pounds to practice lateral arm extensions until your rotator cuff blows. Yes, this player is one solid candidate. Even the box it ships in is positively gargantuan, suggesting a humongous Class A amp hiding inside rather than a modest CD player. Clearly, the Droplet isn't about modesty. It's squarely aimed at fierce competition against the current tubed CD player champs made by Audio Aero, BAT, Cary and Lector. So much for what can be ascertained from a purely visual inspection.