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Compact discs:
The Swiss player delivered sound on a grander scale than my Air (that hurt!). My Polish player seemed quite lean by comparison even though objectively it's definitely not. So far almost all other players seemed lean compared to it. Suddenly it was the smaller leaner one and although more precise perhaps not as natural on instruments and voices. I won’t state that the Soulution trounced it wholesale—not all aspects were superior—but I really started to wonder when comparing the sound with an analogue system of Kuzma table/Miyajima Shilabe cartridge quality. This system delivered a very similar presentation even though it was analogue. The Swiss presentation was large and massive even but simultaneously quite agile.

Quite uncommon for digital systems, the Soulution player had a slight emphasis on the lower midrange and upper bass but remained very energetic on transients and decays. Usually such an emphasis would affect those aspects and also the general rhythm or beat fidelity. Here the emphasis doesn’t sound artificial however but rather makes the result more natural and closer to live music – like a good analogue system in fact.

This combination of timing and chewy density will allow vinyl fans to appreciate the 540 whilst supporters of digital excelling analogue will have in the Swiss their poster boy. In either case it’s certain that this is anything but a dead digital sound. This is far beyond any possible argument just as soon as you do compare it to a very good analogue setup. Many top digital decks I’ve encountered have found some way to avoid the ‘dead’ sound – some with extreme clarity, some with natural sound, some with coherence, some with a slightly subdued treble for better imaging.

Even so, confronting those players with a good analogue rig always called out the pretenders as being nothing but ways around the problem rather than a real solution. The best like those from Ancient Audio never try to avoid the problem. Rather they wrestle with it. That's why the Grand SE and Air are so precise at drawing instrumental outlines of instruments and deliver such outstanding soundstaging (out of reach for most digital devices) which in some aspects exceeds what a very expensive analogue setup is capable of.  And the Soulution is exactly such a machine. Perhaps part of the credit should be assigned to my reference Soulution 710 amplifier but be that as it may, the 510 gave me far more musical satisfaction than any other machine I’ve reviewed in quite some time.

Hopefully this intro which referenced a lot of personal items didn’t bore you. I usually begin my reviews with analysis to insure consistency and because it’s the foundation of my test methodology. While the end result is the sum total of all those little elemens which analysis must describe, surely even the most masterful descriptions alone won’t draw the proper big picture. Today we simply begin with the big picture. The Soulution belongs to that rare class of components which make the listener forget about analysis to deal with the music directly and more closely. There’s no magic involved. This is a premeditated result based on the same Physics every other manufacturer applies. With that out of the way we can now break down the sound into its constituents.

Compared directly to the Ancient and Kuzma, the 540’s treble isn’t as potent and seems a bit darker to make particular sounds less immediate or palpable. A perfect example thereof is Leszek Możdżer’s beautiful new recording Komeda. Możdżer uses the very dynamic and vibrant Fazioli 212 piano which emphasizes the musician’s very personal technique. Strikes in the upper register are powerful and energetic. With the Air these seem to pop out of the speakers where the ceramic tweeters of the Avalon Transcendent did a great job. The Soulution smoothed those powerful vibrant attacks over a bit to make them dynamically a bit less intense even though the presentation as a whole seemed actually bigger because the Swiss delivered the stronger lower midrange and bass.

This didn’t imply that the 540's resolution was inferior to the Air's. To be honest I couldn’t really tell. Sometimes I’d think the Air was superior, then other music would point at the 540.

On one hand the Soulution delivered timbre a bit more crème or écru where the Air was white. On the other hand the 540 unmasked more detail on Laurie Anderson's Homeland. It was much easier to hear moments where the sound engineer left in some noise just before the singer would start. This seems to be an engineering mistake but doesn't really influence the perception of music. The noise actually makes this recording sound more natural, less sterile and mechanical (perfection is boring). The Soulution extricated this more thoroughly. And that to me was the most interesting thing about just how great the resolution of the Swiss is. Whilst the treble isn't super-detailed or bright, the most elusive elements of any recording were still presented better than over my Lektor Air.

And there there was the bass. Here the 510 is big, powerful and rich. While transients have less violence or immediacy than over the Air, the bass seems better controlled and extended. I’ve not heard anything like it before. Until now the upgraded Air with its powerful V-Cap CuTf capacitors always outclassed in this particular quality each and every other player reviewed. It made it so easy to judge this attribute as no player delivered anything close to what the Air is capable of. Until now. The Soulution's bass performance reminded me of the best analogue setups I know.