Unpacking done, the motto should be, let 'er run free. Even though the break-in effect isn't enormous, it does fall right at that "quite good sound" to "that's big fun" juncture. Once over that bump in the road, the Dansk network player even cut a strong figure against my Korean/Italian domestic duo at multiples of its ask. But let's start at the beginning. I was reminded how relative sonic profiling is—how it depends on what one uses as yardstick—when I toggled between the Forte A5 and my usual separates. Compared to the former, the Solo exceeded their Bluetooth stream with more lucid fluid bass, better resolution across the bandwidth and clearly superior airiness on top. The cymbals' brass on "Take Five" from Jazz at the Pawnshop was silky, finely textured and of a more golden than silvery aura. That distinction I'd not thought of with the smartphone/Forte 5A stream. In the big system, the Solo's bass remained fluid and elastic, intelligible and well defined. Now it simply showed a tad extra warmth to be somewhat more fulsome and in the treble a bit gentler so not as teased out as the very neutral Waversa/Norma combo. Relatively speaking, brilliant cymbal work gave up a bit of glittering explicitness.
To be sure, this aural offset was a lot smaller than the 12 x price offset predicted. Argon's Solo in fact nipped at the heels of Bluesound's €600 Node and Limetree's €1'000 Network II. In the lower mids, the Solo felt as organic/quick and substantial/grippy as the Limetree. Voices were similarly teased out as the Bluesound. Lip and tongue cues, swallowing, nasality and friction all were markedly clear. The Bluesound could barely maintain its lead of still higher treble resolution. The Limetree Network II did manage more expansive microdynamics and felt more energetic and cracking in the low bass. Just so, the Solo remained focused, balanced and relaxed so pleasantly audiophile. Getting worked up without musical cause wasn't its thing. The Magnat MA-900's built-in DAC fed from the Solo's digital out imbued Rock with more dramatic involvement and near theatrical verve. The Solo countered with better overview and wasn't fazed by denser complexity like Squarepusher's remix of "F Maj Pixie" from GoGo Penguin. Over the Solo, this intense electrified creation remained more chilled when the rest of the chain agreed.
The trump in the Solo's winning hand was spaciousness. This I heard in the big system where it closely trailed the Bluesound just behind the speaker-to-speaker line. It projected less forward but with just as much 3D expansion. It just wasn't as specific as the Waversa/Norma duo particularly on low-pitched instruments like double basses. Versus the Forte A5, improvements in these disciplines were obvious. These active boxes are already far more capable than their modest sticker calls plausible. In my bedroom, a narrow 1.5m setup width limits their full potential. Fronted by the Solo and high-rez Roon/Qobuz fare, the sound detached a lot more from the enclosures and rolled out surprising depth. It's that very quality which had originally so surprised me during its review when the A5 played my lounge. I'd subsequently missed that during my late-night sessions from bed. No more. From now on, Argon Audio's Solo shall remain in my bedroom to tango with its Forte A5 stablemate.
Conclusion. The Solo's sound quality operates on a level I'd not believed possible for sub €500 streamers until recently. It's not the most dynamics slugger or anal-ytical detail freak. Instead it wins points on a just minimally distanced but very mature pleasure sound that's relaxed yet authoritative, clean/undistorted and spatially expansive. Featurization of Bluetooth, AirPlay and Roon Ready is quite packed if not fully maxed out. Optics, hands-on and industrial design all are exceptional for the money. Finally I encountered absolutely zero glitch during my time with it. All streaming connections worked off the bat and I suffered zero drop-outs or worse, crashes. The Argon Audio Solo isn't just an add-on or upgrade path for existing models of the brand. For this coin, it's a true price/performance sensation.
Concept: volume-controlled network streamer
Trim: Black or white.
DImensions & weight: 14.7 x 3.6 x 15.0 cm WxHxD, 0.6kg
Compatibility: Roon Ready, AirPlay 2, Chromecast, Spotify Connect and Bluetooth 5.0 (AAC), multiroom via AirPlay 2 and Chromecast
Resolution: 24-bit/192kHz via Roon, 24-bit/96kHz via Chromecast, 16-bit/44.1kHz via AirPlay 2
Inputs: WLAN, Bluetooth
Outputs: RCA analog, Toslink & coax digital
Power consumptions on/standby: 3 watts/2 watts
Other: Roon ready, auto-on/off, auto source switching, auto firmware updates
Warranty: 3 years