Product: Cocktail Audio X30
Manufacturer: Novatron - Korea
Approx price: 1000/1200 Euro -(YMMV)
Reviewer: Mattia Bellinzona - TNT Swiss
Reviewed: February, 2016
Translation: Daniele Aspesi
html version: Stefano Miniero
The Cocktail Audio X30 is a free-standing device, capable of working alone as a multimode audio source when connected to passive speakers. The Cocktail Audio X30 is a copy of its smaller sized relative, the X10, but it has been improved and has some extra features. All for a price of about 1,000-1,200 €, so (almost) four times as expensive as the X10. My considerations will then partially refer to what has already been said about the smaller model.
Nothing special about the packaging. There are no separate boxes for the main components and the accessories, as in the smaller model (or at least, not in my case). The padding material was adequate. The box contains the device, the remote control, the batteries, a printed manual (good news) and the WiFi antenna (also good news), the power cable, an FM antenna and a connecting cable.
The first thing to note is that the size and weight of the X30 are standard. The case is made out of metal and the front panel is rather thick (technical specs. say 8mm, with some pride). The knobs look like metal, but they are actually made of plastic and offer little resistance. The quality is not as high as the rest of the device.
CDs are loaded with a slot-in mechanism on the front panel. There were a few problems when ejecting the CDs, something I did not expect considering the price of the device.
The front panel also sports a mid-quality, 5", non-touch display, bigger than that on the X10, plus a headphone jack output and a 2.0 USB input (great idea to put it on front, but a 3.0 version would have been better) on the left hand side
On the back, you will find standard inputs and outputs with 2x 2.0 USB ports, FM antenna, optical (both in and out), RCA sockets and speaker connectors (of an acceptable quality). The power switch is easy to reach. Once in stand-by mode, the device can be turned on with the remote control or with a button on the front panel. The X30 also has an HDMI output, to view images (as a slideshow) or a more complete menu on a separate monitor. It does not allow playing videos. I’d also like to remind you that the X30 is equipped with a DVD (not BR) player.
The supplied WiFi antenna can be folded sideways and either pops out of the left hand side of the device or covers a USB port on the right. It would have made more sense if it extended vertically.
On the whole, it is on a much higher quality level than the X10. I have no major criticisms. It is simply better in just about all the aspects taken into consideration.
Important: there is no cooling fan, which there was in the X10. The CA X30 is silent (at last).
The only noise you hear comes from the hard drive and when you load a CD. The noise from the HD disappears if you use an SSD drive (which are getting cheaper and cheaper). And my impression is that reading times would improve dramatically.
Nothing new compared to the X10, besides having a better quality tray. For a 3.5" HD, you need to position it in the tray and secure it with screws. Another two screws lock the tray in position. The procedure is described briefly and not very clearly. The HD does need to be fixed with screws: the contacts don’t work if you just place it in position. You can obviously use a 2.5" HD or SSD with a suitable adapter. I've seen the X30 on sale with several types of HD options, up to 4TB.
The Cocktail can be connected to an existing network via WiFi. The WiFi antenna is supplied. Had it been built-in, we would've had one less accessory and one more free USB port, I do not understand their choice.
You can find two default providers: Simfy and Qobuz. Qobuz is perhaps the only company that, nowadays, offers lossless (CD-quality) streaming at an obviously higher price compared to compressed MP3s. Both work well, in any case. You can also find apps for Android and iOS which de facto transform a smartphone or a tablet into a good and complete remote control. I had fun controlling the system real time via Airplay with my iPhone, playing loads of tracks without any problems.
It will by now be clear that the X30 does everything the X10 can do, but costs 3-4 times as much. Long discussions have arisen about the quality of the built in amplifier, 50W per channel, Class-D. You can find very different opinions on its quality on the Internet. I’d say it works well and is capable of driving electrostatic panels at quite high volumes, in a room of approx. 20 m². Don’t be afraid to turn the knob for a more dramatic performance. Of course, this will not be enough for those who want to blow up the room with only 10% power.
It is a good quality amplifier, with the well known characteristics of the Class-D, accurate in scene reconstruction. For difficult loads and large rooms, or for extreme audiophile reproductions, you could always use a separate amplifier.
In my opinion, it is a very good Class-D amp, with limited power and with the typical behaviour of this class of equipment. As I will confirm later on, timbre, transparency and dynamics are far from those of valve or soft, euphonic audio amplifiers. The sound stage is rock solid (with proper recordings), well defined and clear. One reviewer was not particularly excited by the Cocktail. Maybe he meant this, but, honestly, the music is what excites me, not the amp. The X30 comes in at an honorable and close second place in direct comparison to an 80W per channel NuForce. We must consider, though, that the NuForce costs more than the Cocktail Audio.
The X30 features two analog RCA sockets, to connect the device to an external amp. Their output is not adjustable, so if you want to use a final amplifier you will not be able to set the volume. This has been confirmed by the manufacturer. You can always connect the digital outputs to an external integrated amp or to a pre-amp combo. You will use, in this case, the volume control of those systems. By the way, in a set up I tried, the internal amplifier of the X30 proved to be valiant.
It should be possible to transfer ripped tracks from the X10 to the X30, as with the Hard Drive. However it is not always that easy, as I have had some problems. For example the X30 was able to see the titles in the database, but couldn't manage to import them into its own database, so that it failed to display the album covers. I tried several times to update the firmware (automatically and correctly), even though the unit had already been updated. As I had ripped a few CDs, I simply formatted the HD and did everything again. However, I didn't have any issues when copying 64GB of music, ripped by a friend, to the HD. The X30 searched and found a lot of covers automatically and sorted everything. Anyway, just consider that USB sticks have become cheaper, so a 128 GB unit will store up to about 500 ripped CDs in FLAC (lossless compression), which will be enough for most people. You could basically carry all your CDs on a stick and listen to them by just plugging it in or, if you’d prefer, you could copy them onto the internal disc. This could easily be done when using a second device, such as the X10.
After extended use
Just a few more things, after an extended use. It has always worked flawlessly. However, some router issues compromised its streaming performance, though this could be caused by my router’s wireless setup. The problem may be due to the connection of 7-8 devices to the same network (which is the case at my place), but I am not sure. The hesitation appeared during the connection to the server and during extended buffering. Switching on and off the router led to a little improvement but did not solve the issue completely. I did not try with an Ethernet cable.
The Cocktail Audio X30 does everything the small X10 did, but better. It is more appealing, robust and silent. Comparing it to the X10, we now have a product made completely out of metal, with a nice design and proper quality sockets. This is a crucial improvement. One could say that the new case and improved connections do not justify the increased price alone, but the X30 has a 50 + 50 W built in amplifier, which was able to drive my panels (almost always perfectly). Such a powerful Class-D amplifier has its price. The removal of the fan was a definite step towards audiophile performance.
It is now time for my opinion on how it sounds. For me, we are way over an entry-level performance, both for the CDP and for the amplifier. The fact is that not everyone likes class-D amps. If you prefer a euphonic or even dull presentation, this amplifier will be too cold and detached. Even less appealing for the tube lovers, for sure.
As already pointed out, you can add an external amplifier, as well as a separate DAC. At this point one could ask if you still needed the X30. For me, it is a valid product because it works well just the way it is. At most it could only be improved a little bit. This is also true if you want to add a separate DAC, but I don't think it's necessary, as the CDP works well. The only imperfection, as mentioned, is the hesitation in ejecting some CDs. Not a major issue, as the X30 is designed to rip the CDs, which will then rest on the shelves. This is, after all, the main reason why one would buy such equipment.
A few words on the X30 remote control apps: these make it very simple to look for different tracks and listen to them. Moreover, the apps can easily be used to listen to streaming services, like Qobuz and Simfy. The Qobuz app is, however, rudimental and not so flexible. Entering the track titles via remote control is slow.
All in all, it costs less than more famous competitors. For the price, you get a good CD player, a proper amplifier, an effective streamer, internet and FM radios and an easy-to-use ripping system. If the DAC or the amp doesn’t satisfy you, you could always add external units. It is a valid device, with a competitive price, even though it’s less of a bargain than the X10.
© Copyright 2016 Mattia Bellinzona - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.tnt-audio.com