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This review first appeared in the June 2011 issue of hi-end hifi magazine High Fidelity of Poland. You can also read this review of the Soulution 540 in its original Polish version. We publish its English translation in a mutual syndication arrangement with publisher Wojciech Pacula. As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end shows an e-mail address should you have questions or wish to send feedback. All images contained in this review are the property of High Fidelity or Soulution. - Ed

Reviewer: Wojciech Pacuła
CD player
: Ancient Audio Lektor Air
Phono preamplifier: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC
Cartridges: Air Tight Supreme, Miyajima Laboratory Waza
Preamplifier: Ayon Audio Polaris III with Regenerator power supply version II
Power amplifier: Tenor Audio 175S, Soulution 710
Integrated amplifier/headphone amplifier: Leben CS300 XS Custom version
Loudspeakers: Harpia Acoustics Dobermann
Headphones: Sennheiser HD800, AKG K701, Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro
Interconnects: CD-preamp Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, preamp-power amp Wireworld Platinum Eclipse
Speaker cable: Tara Labs Omega Onyx
Power cables: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300
Power conditioning: Gigawatt PF-2
Audio stand: Base
Resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under the CD player, Pro Audio Bono platform under CD player
Review component retail in Poland: 76.000zł

The 5 Series is Swiss Soulution’s new entry level. That’s relative of course. This is very high-end stuff. The 7 Series is simply more expensive still. I well remember my first encounter with Soulution. Those were the 700 monos and two-box 730/721 preamplifier during a Munich High End show. They were huge, with an industrial design quite unusual for hifi and utterly distinctive from anything else I saw during that event.

A year ago I already knew a lot more about the brand and awarded a Soulution/Magico M5 system Best Sound of High End 2010. During that show Soulution’s engineer Christoph Schurmann told me about the forthcoming 5 Series components and showed me a mockup of the 540 player which they’d been working on for a few years. It took so long because this range isn’t based on the 7 Series but rather introduces an entirely new circuit approach.

The Model 540 is a SACD player with digital volume control and digital inputs including USB. It is a big solid component with an ultra-modern appearance. A rotary controller similar to what Sony developed for their MiniDisc players operates the drive. I used such machines whilst working in theatre for their great editing features. Sony was almost the only company to apply such a control also to CD players which I frankly thought was a brilliant idea.

Soulution’s adoption of Esoteric’s VRDS Neo drive allows direct conversion of DSD to PCM for digital processing. Whilst the Japanese give their user a choice of DSD or PCM processing, the Swiss have fixed their machine for the latter. This warrants a brief detour into signal conversion. I’m of the opinion that any conversion whatsoever incurs some audible loss of signal quality. I believe that an analog-recorded signal should be played back by an analogue device, PCM decoded as PCM and DSD as DSD. A signal should be played back in the same format it was recorded. Whenever I learn that a machine converts formats I detect a warning. So too the 540 Soulution triggered my personal alarm.

That said I must add that ‘pure’ SACD players no longer exist. There are no more one-bit converters, only multi-bit variants. In such devices the signal is first processed separately for PCM and DSD but before D/A conversion DSD is converted into multi-bit PCM. From a technical perspective this is reasonable. A PCM signal has far less ultrasonic noise than DSD which will be exactly the rationale for Soulution to not process DSD directly.

The 540 allows for fixed or variable operation. Digital volume control works with 32-bit precision like Wadia. During the review I rarely used this feature as I preferred a preamplifier. One more relevant bit of intel is that for the past six months I’ve used Soulution’s 710 amplifier in my personal system. In many regards it’s been the best amp I’ve ever listened to.

Sound: Selection of recordings used during the review - Tron Legacy, OST, Daft Punk, Special Edition, Walt Disney Records, 9472892, 2 x CD; Bill Evans, Everybody Digs Bill Evans, Riverside/JVC, JVCXR-0020-2, XRCD; Carol Sloane, Hush-A-Bye, Sinatra Society of Japan/Muzak, XQAM-1031, CD; Grabek, 8, Polskie Radio, PRCD 1372, CD; Laurie Anderson, Homeland, Nonesuch Records, 524055-2, CD+DVD; Leszek Możdżer, Komeda, ACT Music + Vision, ACT 9516-2, CD; Sonny Rollins, East Broadway Run Down, Impulse!, IMP 11612, CD; Stan Kenton & June Christy, Duet, Capitol/Toshiba-EMI, TOCJ-9321, CD. Super Audio CD - Stereo Sound Reference Record. Jazz & Vocal, Stereo Sound, SSRR4, SACD/CD; Stereo Sound Reference Record. Popular Selection, Stereo Sound, SSRR5, SACD/CD; Art Pepper, “…the way it was!”, Contemporary Records/Mobile Fidelity, UDSACD 2034, SACD/CD; Dead Can Dance, Into The Labyrinth, 4AD Warner Music Japan, WPCB-10076, SACD/CD; Dead Can Dance, Spirit chaser, 4AD/Warner Music Japan, WPCB-10078, SACD/CD; Kazumi Watanabe, Jazz Impression, Eve Records, EWSA 0163, SACD/CD; Michael Schlierf, Clouds And Silver Linings, Stockfisch, SFR 357.4070.2, SACD/CD; Peter Gabriel, So, RealWorld/Virgin, SAPGCD 5, SACD/CD; Sonny Rollins, Plus 4, Prestige/Mobile Fidelity, UDSACD 2006, SACD/CD.

Music files
- Brian Eno, Craft On A Milk Sea, Warp Records, WARPCDD207, 2 x 180 g LP + 2 x CD + 24/44,1 WAV; Charlie Haden & Antonio Forcione, Heartplay, Naim Label, 24/96 FLAC; Kankawa, Organist, T-TOC Records, UMVD-0001-0004, Ultimate Master Vinyl, 4 x 45 rpm 180 g LP + CD-RIIα + 24/192 WAV; Mikołaj Bugajak, Strange Sounds and Inconceivable Deeds, Nowe Nagrania 001, 45 rpm LP+CD+WAV 24/44,1; Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto, Getz/Gilberto, Verve, 24/96 FLAC. LPs - Alan Taylor, In The Groove, Stockfisch, SFR 357.8007.1, DMM Series, 180g LP; Clifford Brown and Max Roach, Study In Brown, EmArcy/Universal Music Japan, UCJU-9072, 200g LP; Dead Can Dance, Into The Labyrinth, 4AD/Mobile Fidelity, 140g LP; Dead Can Dance, Spirit chaser, 4AD/Mobile Fidelity, 140g LP; Kraftwerk, Tour The France, EMI, 591 708 1, 2 x 180g LP; Kraftwerk, Autobahn, Capital Records/KlingKlang/Mute Records, STUMM 303, 180g LP (2009).

I've been listening to digital sources for years. My reference in this regard have always been CD players from Jarek Waszczyszyn of Polish audio firm Ancient Audio. First was the Lektor Prime, now it is the Lektor Air. From time to time I also had access to the Lektor Grand SE as an ultimate reference. Over this same period I listened to many other players, some of them insanely expensive. I was always able to point out some advantages but also many downsides. In most cases those machines were still struggling to reach the level of the Polish references. Some did seem to enjoy slight advantages like the Reimyo CDT-777 with DAP-999EX, the Jadis JD1 MkII and JS1 MkIII and more recently the Loit Passeri. These players seemed to offer superior sound to the Prime/Air rather than the Grand SE. Even so I didn't feel compelled to change (and a small manufacturer like Ancient Audio has one great advantage of being able to accommodate custom requests). With the Soulution now it was different. It became clear to me what should be changed in my Air's sound. I'm not sure whether it’s possible but that’s not really my problem, is it?