September
2020

Country of Origin

China

A1X & A1Pro

Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Main system: Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac (4GHz quad-core with Turbo boost, 32GB RAM, 3TB FusionDrive, OSX Yosemite. iTunes 14.4), PureMusic 3.02, Audirvana 3, Qobuz Hifi, Tidal Hifi, Denafrips Terminator, Soundaware D300Ref SD transport & USB bridge; Preamplifier: Vinnie Rossi L2 Signature with WE VT52/300B or Elrog 50/300B; Power amplifiers: Kinki Studio EX-7B monos; Headphone amp: Kinki Studio; Headphones: Final D8000; Loudspeakers: Audio Physic Codex; Cube Audio Nenuphar; Aurai Audio M1 [on loan]; Cables: Complete loom of Allnic Audio ZL3000; Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all source components, Vibex One 11R on amps, LessLoss C-MARC Entropic cords between wall and conditioners; Equipment rack: Artesanía Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc Krion and glass amp stands; Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators; Room: 4 x 6m with high gabled beam ceiling opening into 4 x 8m kitchen and 5 x 8m living room, hence no wall behind the listening chairs
Second system: Source: Soundaware D100Pro SD transport; DAC/pre: COS Engineering D1; Amplifier: Bakoon AMP-13R; Loudspeakers: Acelec Model One w. Franck Tchang magnesium 360° super tweeters, Zu Submission subwoofer, LessLoss Firewall for Loudspeakers; Power delivery: Puritan Audio Lab PSM-156; Equipment rack: Hifistay Mythology Transform X-Frame [on extended loan]; Room: ~4x6m
Desktop system: Source: HP Z230 work station Win7/64; USB bridge: Audiobyte Hydra X+; Headphone amp: COS Engineering H1; Headphones: Audeze LCD-XC; Powered speakers: Fram Audio Midi 150
Upstairs headfi system: Source: Soundaware A280 SD transport; DAC: Auralic Vega; Integrated amplifier: Schiit Jotunheim R; Headphones: Raal-Requisite SR1a
2-channel video system: Source: Oppo BDP-105; DAC: Kinki Studio; Preamp: Wyred4Sound STP-SE II; Power amp: Pass Labs XA-30.8, LinnenberG Liszt; Loudspeakers: German Physiks HRS-120; Room: ~6x4m
Review component retail in EU: A1X $699; A1Pro $1'099 ($1'399 with headfi ports)

Regular readers know. In three of our systems, Soundaware figure and factor. In our main rig, their top DDC called D300Ref is the USB-in/I²S-out bridge between iMac server and Denafrips Terminator DAC. Their half-size D100Pro plays SD card transport for the smaller upstairs speaker system. Their matching A280 does the same for my separate Raal Requisite SR1a bedside headfi. Now 2½ new Soundaware models have begun to make the rounds. Point.five implies that the more upscale A1Pro can be had without or with 2w/100Ω 4.4mm and 0.5w/100Ω 6.3mm ports for balanced and standard headfi. Don't do headphones? Don't pay for the extra $300 circuitry.

Photo compliments of Dawid Grzyb, HifiKnights.com

The A1X with RCA no XLR line-level outputs comes with 3.5/6.3mm ports standard. This indicates how one deck is single-ended, the other balanced. Both sport SD card bays on the right cheek. That can have them work as purist digital transports with basic folder-tree display and IR control. From experience I know that this strangely unpopular use beats all but the most costly of server/streamers for cents on the euro. It's why our household doesn't do 'audiophile' streamers. In fact, both D100Pro and super-cap-powered D300Ref feature clock inputs. Those sync perfectly to the oven-controlled master clocks of the latest Denafrips Terminator Plus. That makes for statement-level digital file playback without WiFi, a computer or network access so without any of their noise. Easy does it.

Today's devices of course do a lot more than just play SD transporter. They include 384 PCM/DSD256 Asahi Kasei AKM4497 chips to output analog. They tick off network audio with UPnP/DLNA, Samba, Airplay and Roon. Under proprietary FPGA control, they do Bluetooth and USB/XMOS (Thesycon Windows driver). The Pro gets "almost 70% of the full-size A300's analog filter and gain circuits" and 10 x higher filter capacitance than the X. Opamps are from Muse, capacitors from ZLH Ruby and Elna Cerafine. There's gapless playback. And there's the back story of the company's 2016 research on AKM's official flagship development board. This purportedly gained them insight into these converter chips well beyond basic application notes to presumably squeeze more vitamins from these parts than competitors. "The DC-coupled A1Pro's 2.4Vrms RCA output is far superior to that of the older A280 and its fully balanced 4.8Vrms output very close to that of the big A300."

Finally there's black, silver and blue anodize for the Pro—its blue is limited to 50 units—and black, silver, red and blue for the X. Here's one review to do one black, one silver. For one more shout-out to SD card playback before I get off that pale horse, think of a quality Astell&Kern-type DAP. Scale it up for stationary home hifi use. Hello A1X/Pro. A 512GB card holds reams of full-resolution files. Bluetooth will stream directly off your smartphone. Add integrated amp and speakers; or just headphones. Once your system exceeds the ambition of Soundaware's own converters and analog output stages, exit S/PDIF. Demote them to pure digital memory-card transports. Now they'll keep up even when your system elevates to very dear gear. What you won't have without Internet access is cover art. Unlike with Soundaware's own mobile players which do it just fine, .aiff or .flac-embedded art strangely won't show directly. It requires cloud access. At least that's been my experience with already three of their stationary stablemates. But so has the fact that as pure SD transports, they keep up and going and going. When I'm upstairs in our PC-free zone, do I really need a few cm² worth of cover art especially when I close my eyes to listen? I think not.

When the goods landed, so did an email. It apologized for virgin samples. I had to put 200 hours on them for 8+ days of non-stop action. Each came with a pre-loaded 16GB SD card of flac, wav and 1-bit tracks. I set them to 'repeat all', a new feature over the old 'repeat track/folder' options. Now one can play all folders consecutively. It obviously doesn't extend to random mode where pre-loading all tracks would need far higher built-in memory. Whilst the small X remote lacks it, the bigger Pro version has 'display off'. This leaves just one small blue light for power-on confirmation. For the duration, both decks streamed in black-out mode. Then the marked calendar day arrived to take the blinders off. Yeehaw?