Country of Origin
This review first appeared in December 2018 on Audiophile-Magazine.com. By request of the manufacturer and permission of the author, it is hereby syndicated from the French original to reach a broader English audience. Ed.
Reviewer: Jean-Marc Villafranca
Sources: iPhone 8plus, iPad 2, NAS Synology DS216 play, Lumïn L1 library, Luxman DA-07 Ultimate range DAC, Lumïn T1 streamer
Preamplifier: Luxman c-800f, Silvaweld SWC 1000 BFA
Power amplifier: JMF Audio HQS 6002
Cables: Naturelle Audio XLR, Grimm TPR, TotalDac D1 USB
Speakers: Sony SS-A5 La Voce first series
Review component retail price: €1'500/system
We all spend countless hours in front of our main system. It's always a bit of a song and dance to turn on each device, let it warm up for a few minutes, wait for the click of relays that tell us it's ready to play. We press buttons, turn controls and feel like lord of the manor. It's a kind of nobility, a serious endeavor which each committed audiophile holds onto like a shared if perhaps endangered heritage. I like to imagine my European, Asian or American colleagues bending to this very same ritual whilst launching their systems – the necessary preliminaries which are part of the pleasure we derive from this hobby. To be sure, this goes against any form of immediate music consumption and is usually reserved for one room in the house.
Yet the pretence to settle down in front of my main system and fire up all these devices clashes with modern reality. "Not the right time" or "not the right place" are excuses which come up often. I would really like to have the peace and stimulation of music at my workstation or in my room and choose the type of music according to my momentary fancy. Though there are many small portable systems like the B&W Zeppelin, B&O Beoplay, JBL and others, none of these 'soundbars' manage to woo me except provide some background noise. As soon as I apply expectations, these solutions don't meet them. But I admit that they're extremely practical. To try the Sonos system for example is to experience a model of network integration which is very effective. Alas, the sound quality is far from what I look for. Since the Sound Blaster of my youth, my requirements have become more sophisticated although I remember the ghetto blasters then being better than the current proposals now.
It should be noted that the next generation of music lovers are content with minimalist systems. They do not have the desire, space or expertise to stack boxes and link them up ideally. In this context, our audiophile companionship has little attraction when these users expect something else altogether. There are but a few companies serving this niche market. The generic soundbar genre isn't it. Instead we look at Devialet's Phantom, Naim's Mu-So, Focal's XS and perhaps certain makers of active speakers like Kii Audio. That last one proved to be a very good contender and does bridge the gap between ambitious sound quality and minimalist ease of use. But a €12'000 budget probably doesn't aim at the same audience.
If you read French to have followed our Audiophile Magazine Munich HighEnd 2018 show report, you know that Joël Chevassus and I came across the demonstration of a tiny system called the Soundgil Cube. One of the convention center's atrium rooms mainly reserved for the Atohm brand played a set whilst another demonstrator system was off just then. Chance or instinct often lead to beautiful discoveries. Yet it wasn't the appearance of this minimalist set which caught our attention but the sound that intrigued and quickly seduced us. Being familiar with the ground-floor sound cubicles of the event, they aren't all that easy to get good sound from.
Here the setup was reduced to its simplest expression. The cubes were on a display stand, a USB drive stuck to the back of the central unit and that was it. Yet there was something inexplicable which had the sound capture us. We moved closer and heard qualities not found in some larger more ambitious systems in rooms previously visited. It was a very detailed direct sound which created a bubble that made it very easy to be immersed in. We just had to look more closely. What was it?