After languishing in Guanzhou airport for six days to await its turn, Avatar took wing but headed east. It touched down in Sennan-Shi, Japan. Had FedEx a new counter-clockwise route to get to Eire via Alaska? Next the tracking terminal showed the shipment circle back to Hong Kong. Then it clocked real miles to Dubai City. Halfway done. Grace-Hollogne in Belgium was next. That stop I recognized from prior Denafrips deliveries. Things seemed back on track unlike the Kinki Studio monos which 20 days after their own departure still hadn't arrived. With renewed pandemic restrictions, massive fires on the US west coast, mega storms, political shifts in Hong Kong and other global events, international shipping wasn't immune to being under immense pressures either. Neither were customs. Hello Brexit!

By then I had signed up to review Métronome's €4'600 Le Player 3. It's a French CD transport with Philips-based drawer mechanism. It does AES/EBU, coax, Toslink and I²S via HDMI for on-the-fly CD⇒DSD128 + PCM 352.8kHz upsampling. Whilst likely landing well after Avatar had departed again, its mere specs reiterate just how much the Chinese packs by comparison and does so for 33.3% of the price just like a proper turntable spins. In fact, even Pro-Ject's spartan CD Box RS2 T costs €1'000 more. The closest competitor would actually seem to be in Vinshine Audio's own portfolio with Jay's Audio. Back to Le Player 3, it's also reminder that if you wish to render Redbook as DSD, it's the one thing Avatar won't do. It will upsample to 352.8kHz but it won't format convert. So pick your poisson. I find format conversion fishy. If I spin a CD, I want to render it natively. Other listeners disagree. They prefer DSD. Such things keep audio makers on their toes. When embarking on a new project, which features will generate the most sales? Mirror mirror on the wall!

In the interim, I'd also reviewed/returned the €2'500 Innuos Phoenix. It's a well-regarded USB optimizer from Portugal. With Gaia/Terminator + still on hand, I'd compared Mr. Zhao's reclocking scheme to Nuno Vitorino's. A USB signal off our iMac met Phoenix whose reclocked/regenerated USB then saw the T+'s USB input. Or the iMac played to Gaia's USB input which then output I²S to the Plus. When I defeated clock sync between the latter, Phoenix rose higher. With clock sync in place, Gaia did. Then our German fairaudio colleagues found Phoenix to decisively beat Mutec's Mc-3+USB. That put Mr. Zhao's reclocking likewise ahead of it. So I expected an equivalent performance uptick from Avatar with clock-sync activated. How about audiophile tomfoolery of Avatar ⇒ Gaia ⇒ Terminator +? Would that threesome do anything above and beyond the twosome aside from burning up coin? I'd try it just for giggles. Losing money with loaners wouldn't hurt one bit!

Once Avatar was unpacked, I removed the square foam insert to release its sliding door. Strangely I found nothing that would have locked the freely knocking laser swing arm during shipping. On my unit the CD tray sat twisted at an angle and was canted to have the magnetic puck catch on the lid. So I pressed down on the transport's ultra soft mounting suspension whilst turning it gently in the right direction to correct the misalignment. Now the door closed with a hair to spare and the inserted CD read and played. Later I removed the chassis cover to look for cause of the misalignment and overly compliant suspension.

Avatar ⇒ I²S over HDMI ⇒ Terminator ⇒ Crayon CFA-1.2 ⇒ LessLoss Firewall  ⇒ Acelec Model 1 with Franck Tchang magnesium super tweeter ⇐ passive power delivery by Furutech, resonance control by Hifistay

Three of four hex bolts connecting the tray to its sturdy stanchions through inverted squishy plastic cups had come utterly loose. I retightened the bolts to seat them securely. Tuning freaks will see an opportunity to play with the relative stiffness of this adjustment. Had anything more serious occurred, the warranty would cover mishaps with free two-way shipping within the first 30 days (the buyer pays for 1-way shipping within the first year). Still, Denafrips should revisit better protection of the moving bits during transit. Due to new shipping restrictions, there was no battery for the remote. I scavenged the needed CR2032 coin from a spare Apple wand only to find that whilst locking into the circular holder fine downside-up, the battery wouldn't hold when inserted properly. So I doubled up on two self-sticking small Ikea floor protector discs by fixing them to the remote's inside lid. Once that was screwed back on, my new spacer pressed down on the battery as intended. Fixed.

Lid rendered semi-transparent to show disc tray underneath. The puck is magnetic and topped by a blue Denafrips badge.

With an HDMI cable between Avatar and Terminator, I had no signal lock despite a spinning disc and dip switch at 'async'. Then I tried the HDMI output of the other socketry bay. Aha. Alvin subsequently confirmed that group 1's outputs run on Avatar's internal crystal oscillator, group 2's on an external 45.1584/22.5774MHz clock. Having two groups supports both modes at once. Clever. Only when the dip switch is set to 'sync' do all outputs convert to external clock mode. Without  an external clock, go to 'async' then use any of group 1's not 2's simultaneously live outputs. This brief manual has the details. With an 80-min Aavik CDR on endless repeat, I'd clock a few days of 24/7 calisthenics before lending a serious ear.

An unexpected miss among the remote's many commands was 'display dim/off'. The bright blue read-out can't be extinguished or softened. I expect that many a buyer will want to. Denafrips will probably get many such requests to perhaps add that creature feature in the future? Also unexpected but very positive was how quick this transport reads in a table of contents. Especially SACD or Blu Ray sleds are snails by contrast. The Philips CDM4/19 was more of a Western's gunslinger. Audiophile extremists and worriers will frown at the circular glass window because it exposes the spinning disc to ambient light. They'd prefer it if the laser operated in the dark. If the ingress of light bothers you, put a coaster on the spy glass. But no matter where your allegiances fall, a visual inspection can't fail to pronounce Avatar a whole lot of posh for rather little dosh; a wonderfully wicked not sticky wicket.