Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac (4GHz quad-core with Turbo boost, 32GB RAM, 3TB FusionDrive, OSX Yosemite. iTunes 14.4), PureMusic 3.02, Qobuz Hifi, Tidal Hifi, Fore Audio DAISy1, COS Engineering D1, Aqua Hifi Formula, AURALiC Vega
Preamplifier: Nagra Classic, Wyred4Sound STP-SE Stage II, COS Engineering D1, Vinnie Rossi LIO (AVT module)
Power & integrated amplifiers: Pass Labs XA30.8; FirstWatt SIT1 monos, F5, F6, F7; Crayon Audio CFA-1.2; Goldmund/Job 225; Aura Note Premier; Wyred4Sound mINT; Nord Acoustics NC500 monos; LinnenberG Audio Liszt monos; Crayon Audio CIA-1T [on review]; Audiozen Lysios [on review]; Audio Valve Baldur 300 [on review]
Loudspeakers: Audio Physic Codex; Albedo Audio Aptica; EnigmAcoustics Mythology 1; Boenicke Audio W5se; Zu Audio Druid V & Submission; German Physiks HRS-120; Eversound Essence
Headphones: HifiMan HE-1000 & Susvara; Final Sonorous X & D8000; Sennheiser HD800; Audeze LCD-2 & LCD-XC; Meze 99 Neo
Headphone amps: Bakoon AMP-12R, 2 x Questyle CMA-800R, Nagra Classic Preamp, Vinnie Rossi Lio, Eversound Essence
Cables: Complete loom of Zu Event; KingRex uArt, Zu and LightHarmonic LightSpeed double-header USB cables; Tombo Trøn S/PDIF; van den Hul AES/EBU; AudioQuest Diamond glass-fibre Toslink; Black Cat Cable redlevel Lupo; Ocellia OCC Silver
Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all source components, Vibex One 11R on amps/sub
Equipment rack: Artesania Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc Krion and glass amp stands [on loan]
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
Review component retail: €1'586 MR1, €1'220 P1

"I was curious to see Soundaware's range-topping MR1 fully balanced portable player. Its full-size XLR outputs via external block with 'Saw-link' umbilical easily welcome it into a high-end stationary context. And I really do like the concept of a battery-powered SD-card transport/DAC without moving parts but with a quality screen, intuitive OS and scalable memory. Nothing is easier than swapping out SD cards. Naturally the rise of smartphones with better DAC chips like LG's sees competition for costly DAP aka digital audio players heat up to possibly render dedicated players redundant soon. Quality headphones with the necessary sensitivity ratings to plug straight into a cellphone are here already to hasten this perhaps inevitable progress. But for now, expensive super DAPs including those from Astell&Kern or Questyle should still have their day in the sun."

That's what I had written for my intro to the show report of Munich HighEnd 2018 where temps were to be 33C° for a few days of real sun. If Soundaware were there, I'd simply proved soundly unaware of their presence. I had to book my own private audition with PR contact Lesley Liu once I'd returned to Eire. She was keen to also have me look at their D300Ref digital transport and desktop A300 music player with headfi plus P1 preamp with headfi. We quickly hatched a plan for a triptych of reviews. The MR1 would bundle with the P1 for today's assignment.

The next photo montage pretty much spells out the MR1's multi-tasking talents.

Two micro SD card slots each support up to 256GB of music data. 3.5mm balanced and single-ended outputs with up to ±8V of voltage swing handle various headphones. A combo 3.5mm line/coax 0.5V output routes signal to an external DAC, preamp, integrated or powered/active speaker. A mini 2.6Vrms HDMI port leashes to the extension box for fully balanced analog outputs and native I²S/DSD digital signal. The mini USB port triple-tasks at charging, bi-directional data transfer and to output digital 192kHz/DSD64 signal. The flat battery inside the "aviation-grade" aluminium shell can be replaced. Wireless connectivity is via mobile phone apps, WiFi, DLNA and Bluetooth APTX/CSR. Wireless tunes in the car are thus part of the package and wired would be via the 3.5mm analog out and your car's AUX in. In AirPlay mode, the MR1's volume control overrides Apple's bit-stripping default.

Under the hood one would find dual Galaxy femto clocks at 22.5792/24.576MHz to handle the 44.1/48kHz families of sample rates, an XMOS USB transceiver, proprietary FPGA signal processing, a fully balanced headphone amp with 0.0008% of THD and three gain modes which may be assigned independently to the headfi, line and digital outputs. The motherboard sports six gold-plated layers of which two layers handle the ground lines "for lowest crosstalk". For ICs, there's an Ingenic Jun Zheng JZ4775 master processor, an AXP202 power management IC, Samsung memory, a Wolfson WM8804S digital input receiver, twin Cirrus Logic CS4398 DACs, a BurrBrown PGA4311 volume controller, sundry regulators and OPA1612 opamps. The enclosure and assembly are OEM'd from the Foxconn Cooperative whose dedicated factory for Apple is very famous. The optional expansion pack includes the external block, one each Saw-Link digital and analog cable, one 4-pole 3.5mm to 4-pin XLR cable, one 4-pole 3.5mm to coax cable and a reddish brown leather pouch for the deck.

MR1 dimensions are 14.4 x 7.2 x 1.6cm DxWxH, weight is 240g. The display is a 2.4" affair with 400x360px resolution. Dynamic range on the XLR line-out is given as 113dB, S/NR a steep 135dB. Battery power sans WiFi, display off, is claimed to be 10hr with earbuds, 7hr with an HD600-type load whilst playing 44.1kHz .wav files. Speaking of files, supported formats are DSD64 (ISO, DSF and DFF, not DST); and 32-bit/192kHz wav/flac and 32-48kHz ape, alac, aiff, aac and mp3.

The R&D for the MR1 led Soundaware to improve upon the IC-based headphone outputs of their previous desktop units. This has netted the fully balanced fully discrete P1 with "premium parts like high-end Talema transformers, Alps precision potentiometer, German coupling caps, four ultra low-noise high-current regulators and Nichicon FG and Muse caps for 30'000µF of filter capacitance." Preamp mode appropriates that filter bank to itself by disabling the power supply to the headphone amp. Headphone mode shuts down the pre-out buffer to save power. For connectivity 'round back, there are hi-impedance 4Vrms single-ended and 6Vrms balanced input plus a mini HDMI to interface with the MR1. The class A outputs on RXA/XLR with current sources are capable of swinging nearly ±30V whilst the linear power supply is rated for 60V/4A. A separate USB output provides linear power for connected devices like the MR1 and a 2-step gain switch works on all inputs. The front sports 6.3mm and 4-pin XLR headfi ports, an input selector with separate confirmation LEDs, the volume knob and a pre/headfi mode toggle. Headphones during R&D were all HifiMans including Susvara, AKG's infamous K-1000 plus K701 through K812, Sennheiser's HD800/S, Focal's Utopia and Beyerdynamic's 2nd-gen T1. Balanced power output at 0% and 1% THD thus is a stout 6.0/6.35wpc@30Ω, 5.7/6.2@45, 4.8/6.2@100, 1.6/3.2@300 and 0.8/1.7wpc@600Ω respectively. In SE mode, it's down to 3.1/4.3wpc@30Ω, 2.6/3.9@45, 1.4/2.6@100, 0.4/0.9@300 and 0.2/0.4wpc@600Ω. Soundaware's sonic reference during development of the P1 was the Accuphase C290V. After four core circuit versions and twenty subsequent prototypes for various fine-tuning tweaks, they finally felt that they had exceeded their goal. Being unfamiliar with the Accuphase, I couldn't comment on that aspect. Colour options for the P1 are blue and gray. Dimensions are 22 x 20 x 5.5cm WxDxH, weight is 4kg. Built-in protection monitors DC, temperature and output shorts. SN/R on the pre-outs is given as an ambitious 126dB with dynamic range of 121dB. In headphone mode, the published S/NR is a colossal 128dB.