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This review first appeared in the December 2007 issue of and can be read in its original German version here. It is herewith translated and presented to an English-only audience through a mutual syndication arrangement with whereby they will translate and publish select reviews of ours while we reciprocate with one or two of theirs each month. As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end auto-links to his e-mail should you have questions or feedback you wish to send. All images contained in this review are the property of - Ed.

Reviewer: Jörg Dames
Source: Audiomeca Obsession II, C.E.C. TL51XR, Sonneteer Byron, Esoteric SA-10
Amplification: integrated - Accuphase E-212; pre/power - Myryad XP2000/MXA2150, Funk LAP-2.V2
Loudspeakers: Thiel CS 2.4, Sehring 703 SE
Cables: low-level - HMS Sestetto Mk3, Straight Wire Virtuoso, WSS KS1 Silverline; high-level - HMS Fortissimo, Ortofon SPK 500
Review component retail: €1,800

Tradition and modernity
When the day arrives to select the 'right' player for one's hifi chain, opinions diverge. Some get contorted and tense. They believe source selection to be hyper critical. Other practice nonchalance, with ones and zeros being ones and zeros. Regardless of where you stand on this divide, digital players do inhabit a special place. That's partly due to how slippery the involved technologies and underlying principles appear once inspected closely. Many people relate better to apparently hands-on loudspeaker concepts than to anti aliasing, jitter and the distinction between up- and oversampling. Nor is any other component category so beset by competing technologies as digital players are. Never mind format wars. Nobody is probably fully enamored by the silver discs. Analog friends view 'em as soulless, artificial and of inferior sound. Plus, they prefer handling full-size album covers.

Those less attuned to tech stuff might prefer pulling down MP3, AAC or WMA files straight off the net. At least in my circle of acquaintances, the remaining numbers of those buying 'real CDs' in any mentionable quantities is slim indeed. Personally, I neither sign on the dotted line of vinyl's chimney crackle chicanery and limited user friendliness; nor on the one of data reduction with its concomitant absence of hard physical carriers. My support of the CD medium lacks all exotic justifications. Its annual gross (2006 saw 150,000,000 units sold) is simply too imposing. Never mind there's no shortage of new CD players joining the fray.

The portfolio of 3-year old firm AstinTrew, despite a very streamlined offering (a hybrid integrated, a hybrid pre/power combo) already includes two disc spinners. For €1,000, there's a smaller sibling named AT3000 aside from our AT3500 review loaner.

AstinTrew At3500
AstinTrew's heads honcho is Michael Osborn, a man far from as virgin as his new brand. Based on his accounts, his hifi involvement dates back 30 years into the 70s, to valved circuits in particular. A passion for glowing bits thus extends to his present players. A pair of EH 6922s stands on duty in the AT3500's output stage. This is likely co-responsible for the Brit's highish power consumption of 45 watts.

Yet AstinTrew is anything but dogmatic about valves. While the present lineup views them
important for its implementations, the future remains open for pure transistor models. The firm is equally open and delightfully unstressed about its offspring's place of birth: Designed in the UK, built in the Far East. You won't find much to criticize about the AT3500's fit 'n' finish either. It exudes class and the frontal controls already welcome with confidence-inspiring firmness. I despise loose and vague commands. The RCA plugs 'round back seem equally solid though XLR connections are MIA.

While the face is dominated by the mirror framing the drawer, the longitudinal heat sink rails along the cheeks insure trendy sideways looks as well.

Beside the expected tubes, you'll spot a BB PCM1738 DAC and Philips VAM 1202
transport sled under the bonnet of this 6.5kg Englishman. Astin Trew believes in mechanical decoupling of moving parts. Any VAM 1202-caused vibrations and related microphony effects are purportedly suppressed with strategically applied resonance dampers. Even the smaller AstinTrew AT3000 benefits likewise. Our tester's higher sticker results from a high-precision reclocker with 5ppm (parts per million) clock frequency stability ( a 0.0005% error rate). The AT3500 also sports upgraded polypropylene capacitors, including costly AuriCaps by Californian supplier Audience.

Last but not least, the bigger AstinTrew player sits on heftier
absorptive footers, available for the smaller AT3000 as a surcharge option only. Both machines are fitted with defeatable upsampling which increases the 16-bit/44.1kHz Redbook data to 24-bit word length at 96kHz. The latter's asynchronous relationship to the core frequency of 44.1kHz typically distinguishes upsampling from oversampling (which employs integer multipliers).

On sampling & bits...
A quick aside on the subject despite tipping my hat early that in use and with the AT3500, the difference is anything but earthshaking: Neither approach creates more data. Raw data density is fixed during CD creation. Oversampling shifts up anti-aliasing artifacts to allow more benign reconstruction filters with less phase shift. (The Nyquist Theorem determines that 44.1kHz encoding can only record music data to just above 20kHz, i.e. to half the sampling frequency). In general, oversampling also reduces quantization noise by distributing it over a wider range to lower it in the audible band. Upsampling (say to 96kHz) tends to occur prior to oversampling and is claimed to primarily address jitter reduction. Word length increase to 20 bits or more benefits micro detail during analog reconstruction.

In practice: Listening...
Even though actual use of AstinTrew's At3500 is far less complex than digital theory, unpacking and expecting instant gratification isn't on. AstinTrew recommends at least 100 hours break-in. Our tester had clocked sufficient time on it though to have me play with its upsampler command from the get. Which, plainly, doesn't transform the machine into a different one. This button is for friends of subtlety instead. With 24/96 engaged, the contours and localization cues of vocals, violins and cymbals, on certain recordings, were sharper and perhaps less silvery. It's all about nuances. I cannot in good conscience claim that the At3500 sounds superior in one mode or the other.

Far easier to suss out was the AstinTrew's general sonic signature. Forget clichés of soft and rolled-off valve sound. Sadly, Tuxedomoon's current Vapour Trails release isn't as strong as their older efforts. The four San Franciscans favor more settled songs these days but remain quite listenable. The cut "Big Olive" features an ultra present hi-hat that will quickly reveal high-frequency issues. The At3500 handled treble -- and not just on this number -- straight up and honest: dry, precise, accurate and open while avoiding hash, fatigue or artificial silver.

Equally direct was the midband. Peter Principle's rather nervous guitar riffs mostly in the background came across with precise grippiness just as I like it. Even the signature voice of Blaine L. Reinigers who attempts some Greek here wasn't simply present, it was sonorous and colorful. Ditto for Luc van Lieshout's suspended, slyly introduced trumpet, all of which occurred over a solid bass foundation.

The At3500 handled it all with conviction, élan and plenty of life aided and abetted by forward soundstaging. Reticence and soft-shoeing aren't what this Brit is about; qualities which would have been quite out of sorts also on the next song "The Killing Ground" on Recoil. Its 'Space Blues' gestalt has it kick off calmly and with plenty of atmosphere. Initially carried purely by sparse song, guitar snippets and decent synth, the mostly empty spaciousness acquired impressive density and scope nonetheless even though the At3500 arguably enlarged the voice and guitar a bit as though they had moved closer to the seat. The cause of this was surely a dimensionally somewhat less accurate depiction than I'm used to. Granted, fine nuances but still...

Dense rhythms and heightened energy occur later in this song's break. Here the British player entered its zone of strengths - strong timing and high resolution. Even during dense sonic thunderstorms, nothing was overlooked, including in the bass. Few players render this song section with comparable emotion, joie de vivre and juiciness. Really good. Still, this machine is no poster child for ultimate image localization. For my tastes, I would have welcomed a bit more distance between individual happenings, more space between the musical actors on stage.

Sheer precision was on tap with "Get it on" by Terranova (Peace is tough), a cut made up of nothing but pure beats. The bass drum kicked my gut with exemplary impact and timing and zero gelatinous thickening in evidence. This machine seems naturally endowed with good speed of attack. Explosive sonic spikes cause no confusion, highs and mids included. That this never turns hard but remains fundamentally wedded to color and warmth is due to the player's way with proper sustains. Individual drum hits don't suffer premature clipping but enjoy extended fades.

Since I mentioned 'life' earlier, it's quite appropriate to cite liveliness, the joy of play and a gripping demeanor as qualities fundamental to AstinTrew's At3500. Additionally, our Englishman sports high resolution. I predict that many listener will cotton to this combination of virtues. If personal audition likewise embraces what, contingent on tastes, might appear to be soundstaging peculiarities to some, then ownership of the At3500 by AstinTrew should bear long-term satisfaction.

The AstinTrew At3500 is characterized by...
  • A rather forward than laid-back presentation
  • Involving timing
  • Colorful mids with body
  • Good resolution without sterility or undue coolness
  • Accurate treble and a clean, powerful bass
  • A forward-projected stage which lacks a bit in internal structure and lateral width
  • Image density whose reduction of 'air' minimizes inter-note distances
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