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This review first appeared in Novembver 2021 on fairaudio.de. By request of the manufacturer and permission of the author, it is hereby syndicated from the German original to reach a broader English audience. Ed.
Reviewer: Michael Bruß
Analog sources: J.Sikora Initial table with aluminium plinth and regulated power supply, Pro-Ject Carbon Debut EVO arm, Kuzma Stogi Reference S12 VAT cartrdige or Transrotor Figaro or Ortofon 2M Bronze
Digital sources: ifi iDSD nano, Norma Audio Revo DAC board, Nucleus by Roon, Waversa Systems Wstreamer w. WLPS/LP linear PSU, MacBook Pro
Integrated amplifier: Linn Classik Movie II
Preamps: Norma Audio Revo SC-2, LinnenberG Bizet MC phono, Pro-Ject Phono Box RS (MM/MC), Norma Audio PH3 phono module
Power amp: Norma Audio REVO PA-150
Loudspeakers: ATC SCM50PSL & SCM19, Argon Audio Forte A5, JL Audio e110 subwoofer
Cables: Ortofon Reference SPK Black, Norma Audio IC2 Speaker, Audioquest Rocket 22 biwire, Fastaudio Black Science SPK NF, Gutwire EON-Z, Ortofon Reference 905-Silver & Reference 7NX-705, Norma Audio IC2 interconnect, Graditech Kide 1 & Kide 3, Audioquest Yukon & Mackenzie, fastaudio Black Science NF, JIB Boaacoustic Silver Digital Xeno USB, AudioQuest Vodka & Cinnamon Ethernet, Graditech Kide Digital RCA, AudioQuest Carbon RCA, Audioquest Tornado, Gutwire SV-8, Gutwire G Clef 2, AudioQuest NRG-2, Gutwire Ultimate Ground
Rack: customized Roterring Belmaro 33
Sundry accessories: Tsakiridis Super Athina, bFly PowerBase M & BaseTwo M, Ydol Relax 60, fastaudio Absorber, Acoustic System resonators, The Gryphon De-Magnetizer, Audioplan Antispikes and footers, bFly Master footers, Solidsteel SS6 speaker stands
Room size: 24.5 m², 2.7m ceiling
Review component retail: €250
Music off the cloud like sweet rain on demand. Not every performance-hungry gig mandates an altar to hifi or a cable snake fest for vertiginous coin. At far more every(wo)man pricing, today many brands offer compact full-featured setups cleverly integrated. Enter Denmark's Argon Audio. For newbies and upgraders alike, their €250 Solo network player is a cigar box of an ambitious streamer smartly kitted out. True, one could go even more integrated. About 1½ years back I reviewed Argon's €500 Forte 5, a virtually complete system of compact active speakers with Toslink DAC, Bluetooth, RCA and MM phono inputs and sub out. If you read my report on these small multitaskers, you might recall that they remained in my domestic war chest of hifi tools.
The Solo focuses on high-resolution domestic streaming and D/A conversion packed into a 15x15cm footprint of just 4cm thickness. Entry is exclusively wireless digital via Bluetooth or WLAN. Mini USB is for the external power adapter, a solution familiar from smartphones. Exit is by RCA line-out. Those wishing to bypass the internal ESS Sabre ES9018 chip and BurrBrown op-amp stage can leave digital via Toslink or coax. Both are good for 24/192 over Roon. Google Cast limits to 24/96 and AirPlay 2 to 48kHz at "various bitrates" (Apple remain extremely vague). In my book DSD is artificially hyped. Given this price class and status quo of most mainstreaming portals, being MIA is thus perfectly fair play.
Fat and far from solo is software/format acceptance. AirPlay2, Google Cast and Spotify Connect say hello to multimedia users; Tidal, Qobuz & Bros. are all accessible via their native apps. Until here some DIYers and Chinese hits might have kept up with Argon's attractions. But add the Solo's ever more popular Roon-Ready seal and its options for EQ and multiroom scenarios. Now such competitors probably are beat, never mind today's tactile impressions and look 'n' feel. The touch-happy synthetic satin surface is attractively solid, the RCA sockets don't wobble and the rubber bumpers prevent slippage. 120dB S/NR no longer is edge of the art but perfectly solid and Argon Audio promise continuous firmware support for future updates. That's an important assurance given current digital's short shelf life.
But there's more than just compatibility and low noise. The Solo streamer claims unusually keen reception. Doing away with external antennae, one could worry but personal use signs off. My portable bedroom beamer, a Philips PicoPix Max, has developed difficulties penetrating the wall to the lounge with Prime Video. I'm limited to pre-recorded SD card content. Argon's Solo had no such issues. It served up 24/192 Qobuz fare via Roon like rain on demand. One suspects Dual-Band AXC WiFi with 2.4/5GHz support plus so-called Diversity antennae as the powers behind this throne. Argon adds that those are groomed for 360° sensitivity without interfering with the internal signal path. Their analog circuitry is entirely "WiFi free". Naturally I tried the Solo with its Forte A5 stablemate. That's a reasonable and realistic upgrade path. In that context I also used a €280/1m/pr Audioquest Mackenzie RCA cable and the A5's subwoofer output saw JL Audio's €2'000 e110. For seriously uptown competition, I had my reference combo of €900 Waversa Wstreamer and the €2'000 DAC module of my €5'400 Norma Audio Revo SC-2 preamp which then drove Norma's €5'300 stereo amp into €14'580/pr ATC SCM50PSL speakers. And?
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