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Champagne Supernova

25.08.2015 15:25




   All-in-one music systems haven’t traditionally been the sort of components to get the hi-fi crowd buzzing with excitement, but there’s no denying they have their place in our homes as compact and multifunctional systems become more desirable solutions for bedrooms and offi ces where space is tight. With streaming and networked music growing at such a fast pace, the need for a component to satisfy our multi-format needs – offering a high degree of versatility and meeting all of our music demands – is becoming increasingly popular and models like the exceptionally petite Novafi delity X12 are rising to the challenge and changing our preconceptions of the ‘one box does all’ music system. This isn’t the fi rst time we’ve seen this type of all-in-one setup from the maker, although you are unlikely to recognise the brand here. Novafi delity is the name given to new models to come from the Cocktail Audio stable, and regular readers will most likely remember our review of its X30 ‘music hub’ back in HFC 383 last year. The X12 is the fi rst model on the scene from the rebranded Kent-based company, and is remarkable in that it manages to squeeze a CD ripper, HDD music server, network streaming from a UPnP/DLNA server (Ethernet and wi-fi ) as well as streaming from any AirPlay device via something called Shareplay, internet radio and amplifi cation duties into a compact and nicely constructed unit. It’s built to roughly the same dimensions as its Cocktail Audio X10 sibling that we reviewed in HFC 353, yet adds more capacious storage, front USB port and can handle 24/192 music fi les from compatible formats. It also sports a larger front panel screen, improved navigational control and a drawloading disc mechanism rather than the X10’s slot-loading one. Happily, it’s signifi cantly quieter in operation than the drone-plagued 500GB HDD fi tted into its predecessor. Our X12 review sample comes with a 1TB HDD, which is enough space to accommodate around 2,600 CDs ripped in FLAC or up to 6,000 CDs ripped in MP3 format at 320kbps quality according to Novafi delity. Of course the actual amount of discs will vary depending on their size, but greater numbers can be stored using increased compression rates, although I don’t recommend going below 320kbps with MP3 rips. A non-HDD X12 version is available (£420) as well as 2TB (£569) and 4TB (£669) HDD storage options. SSD (Solid State Drive) silent storage options come in 256GB (£669), 500GB (£829) and 1TB (£1,299) fl avours. Storage capacity is easily upgradeable at a later date should your music collection expand signifi cantly, simply by backing up the original and replacing it with a larger HDD or SSD slotted into the side of the unit. It’s compatible with 3.5in and 2.5in SATA HDDs as well as 2.5in SSDs. Setting up the X12 is a piece of cake for me, as the operating system is similar to the version I got to grips with when I reviewed the X30. But for anyone new, it’s likely to be the kind that requires some familiarisation time as there’s plenty to get to grips with. Happily a comprehensive manual is provided.
   Ripping a CD to the HDD and building a music library is very straightforward – simply pop your chosen disc on the tray and load, then scroll through the menus to select the CD Play/Rip option. The Novafi delity grabs the album and track names from its FreeDB internal database, or you can select one of the online options if it doesn’t recognise the one you’ve inserted – admittedly it struggles to fi nd the correct artwork for some compilation albums I try, but these can be manually assigned easily enough later. You can rip all or just selected tracks in formats including WAV, FLAC, ALAC, MP3 and OGG. Once you’ve set the format this is fi xed for all new rips, and Novafi delity recommends using FLAC over WAV, pointing out that the lossless format takes up considerably less space. As well as building a catalogue of your own music, the X12 also has radio streaming services onboard using Reciva i-Radio. Music streaming from Qobuz and Simfy are installed too – simply tap in your user name and password to access your account and then you can playback music and playlists in up-to CD quality – depending on your service.  
   Sound quality The process of ripping and storing CDs onto the X12’s hard drive is undeniably addictive, and there’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of seeing your music library grow. Meanwhile, the ability to access albums and tracks instantaneously complete with track names and artwork displayed on the screen and without any degradation in sound quality is immensely pleasing. With the Novafi delity system connected to a pair of Monitor Audio Sliver 1 standmount loudspeakers, it’s plain to see that this is a compact system to get excited about. The X12’s 30W per channel into 8ohms amplifi er rating may not be the most powerful, but it has plenty of drive to handle the small yet perfectly formed Monitor Audios. The pairing makes a fun sound that pushes out into the room and conveys the soundtrack from The

Novafidelity should be applauded for pulling off such versatility at the price

Theory Of Everything with the kind of elegance the movie score deserves. When I stream hi-res material from my networked music it’s easy to appreciate the step up in resolution. A 24/192 version of In The Morning by Norah Jones is superbly detailed with a glorious richness to the keyboard playing. There’s plenty of air surrounding her vocals and the performance undoubtedly demonstrates that this little system is very capable of handling the hi-res ALAC format. But it’s not all good news as the display doesn’t provide any information about the format of the track or for that matter the bitrate or sampling frequency that it’s being played at. If you have an AirPlay source then you can select the X12 as the audio device to output to, and it handles streams from my MacBook up to 24/192, but once again there’s no mention of the format or resolution of the stream being received. Give the Novafi delity something to really get it’s teeth into such as Paul Weller’s Sonic Kicks, and it handles its complexities surprising well and is remarkably unfazed by the album’s challenging recording. Reciva i-Radio streams are respectable and broadcasts can even be recorded and stored in a folder on the HDD for playback later. There’s no discernible degradation in audio terms, and you can even make timer recordings and timeshift your favourite radio shows. The rear panel has two digital inputs and a line-level input as well as an output to allow you to connect the X12 to an external amplifi er and use it as a source, where it puts in a respectable performance as a hi-fi component and runs quietly. Alongside the USB port on the front panel, the 3.5mm headphone output is another useful addition for those seeking more personal listening, but the soundstage seems confused and less engaging than via the speaker output. High frequencies appear hard and scratchy while vocals sound more sibilant and edgy. Conclusion The X12 is an extremely fl exible component and has to be praised for the way it successfully brings together many different source elements and delivers music to a pair of speakers in such an enjoyable way. It’s not trying to appeal to those seeking a main music system, but as a second-room setup there’s plenty to enjoy, and Novafi delity should be applauded for pulling off such versatility in a compact and well-built system at the price ●