The X10 is all about digitising, accessing and even adding to a music collection – and all without the need for a computer, with the ability to fit over 7,000 albums on its 500GB innards. Working as a NAS drive as well as a modern day hi-fi, we’re not sure the X10 fills a gap in the market as such, but it certainly ties together some disparate sources of music into one small device.
It’s not an especially high quality device. It’s made in South Korea by Novatron, where this 98x180x 147mm unit looks more like a chunky bedside DAB radio, than a music streamer. Don’t be fooled by its footloose look, as the X10 connects to, and even depends upon, the internet for its main features to work, via a wired connection.
The X10 has a 60W digital amplifier built in, so all it really needs is a couple of bookshelf speakers. There are some matching CAS2 speakers sold for £79 per pair. These can easily be attached, as can any other, to form an in-situ hi-fi and to be used as an add-on dose of digital. Not surprisingly, the X10 is adept with a relatively high number of music files, including MP3, WMA, FLAC, M4A, AAC, PCM and M3U playlists but dedicated streamers do offer more. Such files can be either transferred to the X10 via a USB thumbdrive, or just simply played from one. A better way to perform a transfer, is to hook-up the X10 to a PC. This only works with a PC, which might explain why the X10 doesn’t support Apple Lossless music files.
Ins and outs
The rear of the X10 hosts that all-important Ethernet LAN port, as well as a 3.5mm line-in, a headphone jack, digital optical out and speaker connections. This is coupled with a USB 2.0 slot for attaching to a PC and two USB 2.0 slots for thumbdrives, though an optional WiFi dongle (CAWF1, £29) is also available. There’s a line-out for feeding the X10 into another hi-fi, too. The X10′s web dimension extends not only to any web radio station, but to any file stored on a PC on the same network. All of which, means there’s actually no need to transfer everything to the X10.
On its gloss black, curved and clean front is a 3.5-inch colour LCD screen and a CD player. The latter of which is still useful to anyone using optical discs; a CD is unlikely to grace this tray twice, since the X10 can import an album in MP3, and in various bitrates – after pressing play and record. Diving into the settings menu tells the encoder how to import losslessly in OGG, FLAC or WAV formats. This is a nice touch, which may help convince audiophiles that have so far refused to embrace compressed music.
Those analogue inputs on its rear also make it possible to import from a radio, a tape recorder or turntable (though to do the latter you will need some kind of pre-amp). We’re beginning to think that the X10 is aimed at those without a computer, and who are yet to fully embrace digital music. It works both ways, where the entire contents of the X10 can be transferred to a PC via a USB cable – and it doesn’t get much more versatile than this.
User interface & performance
If that’s so, then the user interface must be devilishly simple and it’s not. It’s hampered mainly by its lack of a touchscreen, but the real problem is the X10′s stability. During our test period, which lasted about a week, the system crashed twice, necessitating a complete power-down. We also had problems ejecting a CD – it simply refused to budge – while the slip-off door wouldn’t click back into place, without part of the side coming apart.
Shall we carry on? Actually, it’s a shame our review ended up this way, as up until then we’d been impressed. Booting-up with a comforting image of a glass of wine (we’re not sure why) the six-icons of the user interface of Music DB, Playlist, i-Radio, CD Play/Rip, Browser & Set-up are easy to navigate. This is either from a slightly scary-looking remote control, or via the hard buttons on top of the X10. Our only complaint is that there are no volume knobs on the main unit.
With some music ripped to the HDD and a couple of USB sticks in place, we hooked-up the X10 to a pair of Monitor Audio BX2 bookshelf speakers. The first thing to say is that the sound quality is far superior, to what you’ll find coming out of most computers. There’s a loudness and fullness that will, for most, provide a very noticeable upgrade. For those coming from a CD or LP-centric hi-fi system, it’s a downgrade. In our tests, an instrumental OGG file provided impressive stereo imaging and some treble detailing that bordered on harsh, and ditto on a compressed MP3. Both lacked a little in the mid-range and the bass isn’t bold enough; it sounds very much like a bright, clean digital amplifier that lacks in warmth, but it’s a decent effort nonetheless.
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- Two-way relationship with connected PC; choice of bittrate rips; small size; versatility.
- Sound quality; file support isn't total; no touchscreen operation.
Those new to digital music, and those with a PC after somewhere to back-up a music collection could do worse than Cocktail Audio's networkable X10. Also available with a 1TB HDD, it's easy to use and spits out decent audio, though it will suit those after maximum flexibility rather than audiophiles, as it isn't the last word in sound quality.