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There are, however, a few things that I should mention first if only to get them out of the way. First, the Ti48 is large. At 19" wide, 7" tall and 14 inches deep, the Ti48 is the size of a large and very powerful amplifier. It'll take up some real estate on the equipment rack and still require some room for ventilation. Speaking of ventilation, the Ti48 utilizes fan cooling like any computer. One fan is internal on the processor, one at the rear. However, even in my modestly sized room, I never heard the Ti48's fans in use.

Whenever the Ti48 receives a command via its remote, the display stays lit for about 10 seconds, then goes completely dark. Generally speaking, it remains illuminated long enough that I could get my work done. Yet from time to time during playback, I found myself wishing that I had the option to see the disc and track information. I'm told that some customers actually prefer this 10-second illumination window while many others have complained. A new software update is thus in the works that will extend the illumination period to 1 minute. The software update will be sent to all existing customers via a CD-ROM. Simply drop it into the drive before selecting the update menu option. That's it for my pack of picked nits. Everything else here is just gravy.

As compared to the Ti48's own CD drive or my Accustic Arts Drive 1, playback from the internal hard drive ranged from a subtle yet worthy improvement to the dramatic. Once archived, complex musical passages and raucous Rock recordings benefited to a startling extent. Hard drive playback evidenced such a lowered noise floor that the music seemed more vivid and detailed, smoother and much cleaner and with a significantly reduced grunge layer. This grunge removal was significant and I'm tempted to refer to it as the grunge I didn't even know was there. But I did know it was there. I've always heard it and simply assumed that it was a non-removable artifact of the CDs' recording process. Green Day's American Idiot [Reprise 48777-2] is just one such CD. It's rough sounding, with layers of distortion and a gritty grunge that certainly can be fatiguing after a while - particularly if you crank up the volume as I do.

The Ti48's hard drive playback stripped from the Green Day CD a significant amount of this grunge to result in a much clearer picture on the music - much more see-between-the-lines soundstaging, a much blacker background. The essential musical elements all remained, of course. Yet the sound was far less aggressive, much sweeter and much easier on the ears. Bass drums benefited greatly and became much more detailed and resonant. If you've ever struck a floor tom, you know how the tuning of the drum almost seems to change as the resonance of the sharply struck drum skin gives way to the bellowing resonance of the volume of air trapped below the skin. Such is the Ti48's resolution. You'll start hearing details from your music you never did before. Without producing undue emphasis, hard drive playback really made this kind of drum signature obvious and greatly improved on the believability factor of what I was hearing.

Overall bass power was marginally improved as well but not to the same obvious extent. True, it was a touch more powerful but also rounder and more natural. Were it not for the increased bass detail, it may have sounded slightly plumy but as the two characteristics grew in unison, the result was always a substantial improvement. Depth of soundstaging increased largely due to that blackening of the music's background. It wasn't so much that the rear of the soundstage moved away from me. It was simply more visible, more palpable. Once that layer of distortion and grunge vanished, the highs seemed noticeably cleaner, smoother and less fatiguing.

All of the above could also be said of Bowling For Soup's Drunk Enough To Dance [01241-41819-2]. For my money, lead singer/songwriter Jaret Reddick enjoys arguably the best sense of humor in music and here the Ti48 seemed to spotlight Reddick's voice just a little bit. It didn't seem to accomplish this by changing tonal balance but rather, via that aforementioned increase in focus that almost transformed the audible into a visual. I could almost see Reddick. Propulsive bass and the addition of the same kind of clarity imparted the same easy-going listenability that was quickly becoming the hallmark of the Ti45 (if you can use the words easy-going and listenability in the same sentence as Bowling For Soup.)

I take nothing away from the Ti48 when I say that not all CDs benefited equally. Once I observed the phenomena above, I couldn't wait to rip something like Dire Straits' Love Over Gold [Warner 0947772-2]. I was prepared for one of the most 3-D presentations of my listening experience. I was prepared to hear sounds from the rear of the darkened stage that seemingly emerged from my neighbor's yard on the other side of my listening room wall. What resulted wasn't quite up to such unrealistic expectations. Don't get me wrong, the CD sounded fine. Actually, better than fine. But the simpler and cleaner musical textures didn't benefit to the same extent. It was as though the more complex Green Day CD so taxed regular CD playback with its error correction and interpolation that the hard drive presentation simply enjoyed more potential for improvements. The simpler Dire Straits CD didn't tax the system in the same manner, hence it didn't benefit from archiving in the same manner. That's not to say that it didn't benefit. It did. It sounded wonderful and closer to the vinyl presentation than I've ever heard it before - without the clicks and pops, that is.

Sure enough, the background was black and the imaging spacious. Bass was nicely detailed and powerful but what I really noticed now were the sharpened micro dynamic transients. From Knoffler's gentle acoustic guitar fingerings at the very beginning of "Telegraph Road" to the boisterous drum strikes throughout "Industrial Disease", instrumental events seemed to occur in a more sharply focused slice of time, with both a more sharply focused initial transient and a quick yet detailed decay trail back into silence. Think of the difference between a jet fighter's vapor trail, immediately upon its passing and five minutes later. That cleaner, more sharply defined vapor trail also made drum rolls clean and fast.

The drum kit, too, seemed more colorful and more distinctly tuned - or at least, suddenly the tuning of the different drums seemed more obvious. So focused and so sharply defined was the overall presentation that the contrast created by the very nebulous xylophone was initially annoying. It evidenced no sharply defined image, an annoyingly blurred initial transient and an extremely soft focus. My annoyance didn't last long but it was one contrast to both the drum kit and the sharply plucked acoustic guitar strings that I'd never observed to the same extent before. It took some getting used to.

Just as an artist may lift his thumb into the air to gauge perspective, so too do I listen to James Taylor's Hourglass [Columbia CK 67912] to gain a quick perspective on a new component. I've been listening to it for so long that I generally don't even mention it anymore. While the SACD version is very good sounding -- much cleaner overall, more highly focused and with better nuance and less congestion -- the Redbook CD is only marginally good. It can be a little woolly in the upper-bass/lower midrange to encroach on Taylor's voice. Particularly when situating a new pair of speakers in the room, once I get Taylor's voice projecting unencumbered by such colorations, I know I'm moving in the right direction. From the get-go, I heard the Redbook version via the Ti48's hard drive sounding much closer to the SACD. Taylor's voice projected from a more highly focused point in space that greatly reminded me of the SACD. Where this CD is concerned, that alone was worth the price of admission.

And here's a true story: Whenever trying to take the measure of a component's bass, I frequently cue up track #4, "Gia". About four minutes into the song, it features a traveling bass drum that moves across the very rear of the soundstage. This passage isn't just about bass power but also detail and imaging. Some speakers will energize the room but just can't produce the focus on the drum itself. Well, it took listening to this cut four times before I was able to make the mental notes I was looking for. You've read about reviewers that give up on the note taking to enjoy the music? I couldn't even stay focused on my quest long enough to make a single mental note because I got too lost in the music. Now, considering how many times I've played the CD over the years, that's really saying something. How did the Ti48 handle the passage? Well, very nicely though not supernaturally so. The weight of the drums was very good and detail as good as anything I've heard from the Gallo Reference 3s yet. Though those are placed well away from the room's corners, the drums started in one corner and traveled to the next. For "Ananas" to fully succeed, a system must be able to produce a powerful yet defined midbass. Definition is a requirement because this track just needs to bounce and the timing cues must be preserved. The added degree of focus wrought by Ti48 means that if the rest of the system is up to the task, the song will indeed succeed and do so admirably. It sure did in my room.

Very early in the listening process, I thought I was having remarkable success with the Ti48. One day, FJ distributor Tom Hills brought over the Om loudspeakers for review and I sat him down in the sweet spot. I wanted him to be happy with what he was hearing from his speakers before he left. Which he was. We listened to a lot of music through the Ti48 as Hills and I swapped around amplifiers and interconnects (just playing, not trying to 'fix' anything). I think I can speak for both of us when I say that we thought the sound pretty good. But then I put on an LP. Both Tom and I were blown back into our listening seats. While the sound had been good before, the LP we were now listening to pretty much blew it away in terms of image and harmonic density. It just sounded so much more real. So much so that I'm reasonably sure that Tom left my place not overly impressed with the Zero One. But I can also say that I think he would have been by the end of the experimentation period.

As I outlined above, the Ti48 offers a lot of flexibility. As one reads about it, that may sound a little daunting to those who want something plug-n-play - to people who just want to listen to music and not spend their days tweaking their CD player. I understand that. But at the same time, I need to stress that some of those options make night-and-day differences. They won't require any strain on part of the listener. The differences can be so significant that in some cases, the change will make the previous setting sound suddenly wrong. So my point here is to encourage the user to experiment with the Ti48. Play with it in the truest sense of the word. Approach it with neither trepidation nor the sense that it's a burdensome chore. Anybody can easily achieve success.

In the end, did the Ti48 measure up to the performance bar set high by analog? In some ways, yes. The single area where it didn't was in terms of density. Though its improvement was vast and came very close, it never did take on that tangible quality of the LP. It didn't quite have that visual quality that led me to believe I could reach out and touch the music. In this sense, it may not have quite reached LP's level but it greatly exceeded what I was accustomed to from CD playback. In that area, it simply embarrassed my much more expensive Accustic Arts Drive-1 transport.

As compared to the LP, the Ti48 also closed the gap when it came to that easy, smooth, effortless analog sound. If you suffer from digititis, get a listen to some music via the Zero One Ti48. If the rest of your system is up to the task, it'll make digitally induced listening fatigue a thing of the past. Of course, as much as I enjoy the LP, I just can't listen to certain types of classical music on vinyl. I don't care how good the music sounds, I simply can't suspend disbelief with all that surface noise no matter how subdued it may be by a first-rate playback system. I'm far too spoiled. When you combine the strides made by the Ti48 with the digital format's inherently noiseless delivery system, the Ti48 may just make life uncomfortable for all but the best turntables (not to mention all those expensive CD transports).

By the time Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade came up [RCA 09026-68168-2], I was pretty much taking much of the Ti48's performance for granted. However, it was the first piece that really demonstrated just how strikingly the Ti48 performs in the treble. Once again, we're not talking about a sweetening of the treble nor supernatural treble extension. We're talking about a layer of grunge or at least veil that's lifted from the treble region. Scheherazade is chock full of triangles and bits of brass percussion. It came through startlingly clear yet with absolutely no edge, ear-piercing barbs nor any downsides whatsoever. Instruments were simply more present. Beyond its treble performance, this piece was marked mostly by a cavernous soundstage and incredible imaging - plus that smooth and flowing ease that I've mentioned before, so analog-like, so extremely satisfying.

So what about Polk's four original questions? Lets see:

1) Is it more convenient? Well, there is that learning process to get a handle on it but yes, once that's accomplished, using the Ti48 is very convenient.
2) Is there an economic benefit? That's easy. There most certainly is an economic benefit to using the Ti48. It is more than competitive with far more expensive transports.
3) Is it higher in performance? Not only is it of higher performance sonically, it's got that whole convenience thing bagged. A definitive yes!
4) Does it improve access to entertainment? You better believe it. Accessing a single CD can be a lot easier within the Ti48 than digging through stacks, racks or drawers of CDs. Plus, you can do so from the comfort of your chair. You can also let your significant other take a CD on the road while you enjoy the same music at home. That's some pretty easy access.

As for me, I'm extremely pleased to be able to recommend the Zero One Ti48 based on sonic reasons alone. There's no need trying to predict the future's favored method of music storage simply to justify the Ti48's existence. If you're reading this review, chances are that you've got a large CD collection. Maximizing the performance of Redbook CD is of paramount importance to you then even if it means ripping the music first in order to hear it better. If that's you, the Ti48 should appeal in a big way. So here's the thing. If it merely sounded this good but was just another plain-Jane transport, it would already warrant one helluva recommendation - and in the end, that is its most important attribute: superior sound. But Zero One's Ti48 is so much more. What kind of recommendation becomes relevant then? Exactly! Time for an award: For simply outstanding performance that transcends both price and expectations; and for technological and ergonomic elegance that surpasses what we’ve come to expect in a first-generation product, the Zero One Ti48 is a Blue Moon product if I’ve ever encountered one. Very well done, Zero One!
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