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A heady Cocktail

02.09.2015 15:38

Whatever your views on the sonic pros and cons of CD replay, there’s no doubting the real reason it usurped vinyl as the main music medium for the majority: sheer convenience. Forget VTA, tracking weight, pitch stability, leveling, isolation, choice of cartridge, groove wear, carefully turning over the disc at the end of each side etc – simply slot the CD into a machine and hit play. So it’s ironic that now silver disc sales are falling the download-driven technology supplanting it comes with its own in-built complications. Ethernet switches, UPnP servers/ clients, DLNA, WAV, ALAC, Ogg Vorbis, Flac, ALAC, wired or wireless NAS drives and what have you. No wonder then that some manufacturers are trying to make the transition as smooth as possible. Which is where the Cocktail Audio X30 comes in. The X30 is a one box music replay/storage/UPnP streamer/radio system containing a hard disk, CD player/ripper, 50 Watt per channel Class D amplifier allied to a comprehensive selection of both digital and line level inputs and outputs. In short, the Cocktail can hold and play back your entire music collection (yes, including ripped vinyl – more of which later) in a unit the size of a CD player. Just add speakers and you’re away. Inside is a 700MHz CPU allied to a 24bit/192kHz BurrBrown PCM1792A DAC and Texas Instruments Class D amplification. Buyers can specify their own storage size options including either HDD or SDD drives. Thanks to a recent price cut a unit equipped with a 2TB Western Digital hard drive now costs £799 – a £200 saving on the original list price. As the base unit without a hard drive is priced at £699 it’s clear Cocktail aren’t overcharging for fitting storage. Connection options include both coaxial and digital input and outputs which all support files up to 24- bit/192kHz, as does the AES/EBU out. A pair of line-level outputs allows the connection of an existing amplifier if required, while the Cocktail also boasts three USB ports, line-level inputs, an FM radio tuner, Ethernet port, 6.3mm headphone socket and a 3.5mm input for connecting your smartphone. Control is via a fullyfeatured remote or the front panel rotary dials in combination with the clear, 5-inch colour display. Connect the X30 to a network and you can also administer it from a computer – making operations like metadata wrangling much simpler.

Inside the X30 utilises a Class D Texas Instruments amplifier section alongside a 24bit/192kHz Burr-Brown PCM1792A DAC. Cocktail conservatively rates output power at 50 Watts per channel - we measured 60 Watts into 8 Ohms and 100 into 4 Ohms.

The rear of the Cocktail X30 has a full range of both digital and analogue inputs and outputs. The bay on the bottom right of the picture accepts either HDD or SSD drives - with buyers able to specify their preference on order.

So how does it work out of the box? Well, astonishingly well. Plug the unit in, connect it to your network (I went wired but you can buy a wi-fi dongle for £29) and everything comes on stream very easily. Insert a CD into the slot-loading drive and once read you’ll be asked whether you want to play it or rip to the hard drive. If the latter, you have a choice of format (WAV/FLAC/ MP3 etc) and also the ripping speed. For best playback quality stick to uncompressed WAV and the slowest speed. Even at this setting the X30 is relatively speedy – ripping an entire CD in a matter of minutes including the downloading of album and track information from the internet and assigning album artwork. All music is stored in a Browser section – which will also display the contents of any connected NAS drives or DLNA-compatible smartphones or tablets. Overall, despite a myriad of playback/ripping options, operation is fairly intuitive once you’ve spent a little bit of time with the unit. Just as importantly, network connection remained rock solid throughout the review period. The only real niggle is there’s no dedicated smartphone/tablet app available for easy control. Cocktail do recommend a number of generic third-party iOS/Android apps as an alternative – but in practice none of them worked perfectly and I invariably defaulted to the remote or front panel controls for both reliability and ease of use.

The 5-inch front panel control screen gives access to all the
Cocktail’s functions. CD rips, downloads and
recordings reside in the Music DB folder 
on the upper left hand corner

Album artwork and track listing can all be displayed when playing.

The first thing to note is that the X30 does a superb job of ripping CDs. Playback from the hard disk had punch, clarity and a fair amount of detail about it. Johnny Marr’s guitar work on Electronic’s ‘Tighten Up’ had plenty of definition with leading edges picked out well while Bernard Sumner’s distinctive vocals are suitably plaintiff. The timing was also spot-on – with plenty of drive and rhythmic propulsion. A WAV rip of Jackie Leven’s ‘Fairytales For Hard Men’ was also suitably atmospheric – the late singer’s impassioned delivery full of gruff emotion. With higherresolution material in the shape of Lorde’s ‘Royals’ in 24bit/48kHz the Cocktail did a good job of conveying the extra musical information on offer, with more openness and poise to the sound. If anything there’s a slight treble emphasis – but not enough to make the X30 sound shrill. Instead it means elements such as female vocals are projected well with an admirable clarity to them. In absolute terms the Class D amplifier lacks a little stage depth and all-out low-end thump. Connected to our reference Tannoy Kensington Gold Reference floorstanders there wasn’t the all-out grip on the cones to bring the type of earth-shaking bass these ‘speakers are capable of. But pair the Cocktail with ‘speakers more in its price range – such as Acoustic Energy’s entrylevel 103s – and it’s on firmer ground, providing a big, room-filling sound, able to go loud with little obvious strain. I also briefly connected the X30 to a Yamaha A-S701 amplifier (see review this issue) and this brought greater solidity and all-round sophistication to the sound. That’s a point worth noting for those who are happy with their current amplifiers but are looking to add the storage facilities and streaming capability of the Cocktail to their existing system. Especially so for those who fancy digitising their entire music collection. Connect your record player’s phonostage to the line-in of the X30 (up to 24/96 resolution) and it’ll copy vinyl to the hard disk much in the same way as it rips CDs. Admittedly, the process isn’t quite as simple and you’ll have to input the metadata yourself but it’s a handy feature all the same. Playback quality of the rips is also more than adequate. It’s a little short of the overall warmth and mellifluous quality of straight vinyl replay but stands comparison with CD. The Cocktail’s other sources also acquitted themselves well. FM radio was crisp and the supplied aerial pulled in a host of stations. Higher bit-rate internet stations also sounded clear, the unit doing a good job of smoothing over the hard edges that can sometimes afflict this medium. As an additional bonus the X30 also gives the option of recording both FM and internet radio for those looking to timeshift programming or build their own archive of transmissions (subject to copyright restrictions, of course!).

In terms of value for money, there’s little else to touch the Cocktail Audio X30 at the moment. Yes, you can buy separates that better various elements of its performance in one way or another – but as a whole they’ll end up costing significantly more. Instead the Cocktail offers a cost-effective, easy-to-use, fuss-free method of storing, streaming and playing back music – with the added benefit of being able to digitise your vinyl collection as well as record radio broadcasts. Couple it with a pair of good mid-market loudspeakers and you have an excellent, future-proofed hi-fi system at an affordable price. Add in the ability for future upgrades via the addition of an outboard power amp (or indeed a DAC) and it makes a very tempting proposition indeed.


The Cocktail Audio CA-X30 produced 60 Watts into 8 Ohms and 100 Watts into 4 Ohms, under test. Fed a signal into its AUX input, distortion levels were low for a Class D amplifier, around 0.02% in the midband (1kHz) into a 4 Ohm loudspeaker load. There was little deterioration at high frequencies, unlike so many Class D amps, with values no higher than 0.13% at full power, and a creditable 0.05% at 1 Watt. Frequency response via they AUX input, converted to digital via a 24/192 ADC, was a little unusual, peaking at 38kHz. This introduces a little treble lift in the audio band and may make the CA X-30 sound a tad bright. As the same result was obtained via the digital S/PDIF input (electrical, 192kHz sample rate) this would appear to be a property of the DAC, likely its filters, rather than the ADC. There was some distortion and noise from the DAC, obvious on our Rohde&Schwarz at -60dB and measuring 0.13% with a 192kHz sample rate. This limited EIAJ Dynamic Range to 108dB, an unspectacular figure for 24bit resolution. The CA-X30 measured well in every area, considering low price. NK Power 60 Watts Aux. Frequency response 4Hz-18kHz Separation 88dB Noise -92dB Distortion 0.05% Sensitivity 480mV S/PDIF Frequency response 4Hz-18kHz Separation 88dB Noise -107dB Distortion 0.13% Dynamic range 108dB M