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ART V2 CD player
as reviewed by Larry Cox
The Audionet ART V2 is a sweet sounding CD player with a smooth, non-digital presentation. It is one of the most emotionally expressive CD players I have heard. There is no evidence of exaggerated transients, or etched detail. The ART V2 lacks a bit of the relaxed emotionality that an excellent turntable will provide, yet it sounds closer to analog than many of its digital brethren. This player will not have you on the edge of your seat in excitement. If you want your music so vivid it scares you, look elsewhere.
Great analog systems have an immediacy, a sense of timing, harmonics, and realism lacking in digital. Quality analog is immediate and relaxing at the same time. It can provide lots of detail without throwing around a lot of hyped-up transients. In truth, the V2's relaxed presentation comes at the cost of some fine detail, but it seems to me to be the sort of hyper-detail that is not found in live music. I find this an acceptable compromise.
And there's lots of deep bass—the V2 has the fullest, deepest bass of any player I have heard this side of Ensemble's Dirondo/hi-DAC combination. The low end of the Ensemble combo was tighter, and perhaps deeper, but lacked the welcome fullness of the ART V2's. The Ensemble Dirondo/hi-DAC paints music from the little details outward, creating a pointillistic whole, while the V2 starts with the big picture, then gathers details. It is much harder to start inward and go outward without distorting the big picture, and at nearly $15,000 for the Ensemble pair, it's not surprising that they do it better than the V2. Nevertheless, creating a desirable result is about the big picture, and the ART V2, at $4500, delivers that picture delightfully. Part of my delight in the V2 comes from its lack of grain, which allows it to deliver filigreed detail without killing off the natural timbre that I not only crave, but demand.
For me, if timbre is off, the music is dead. Micro detail and imaging just don't count if harmonics are bleached. Some people want rhythm, others detail or imaging, or they're not happy. For me, music is about the beauty of the melody. If that's off, the rest is moot. Although the ART 2 reproduced male and female voices very well, male voices were served slightly better. The chesty sound of deep male voices was particularly well rendered. Female voices retained a very desirable warmth, but since they go higher up in range, they have a different tonality. While the ART was fantastic with male and lower-register female voices, it was merely very good when voices went further up in range. Every piece of audio gear I've ever heard sings better in some parts of the range than others, so the fact that the V2's excellence is in the male vocal range is no sin.
The warmth of the ART made Shawn Colvin a less strident listening experience, and did the same for Joni Mitchell and the singer of The Story. All of these vocalists have slightly wispy voices, and the V2 made them less sibilant. China Forbes from Pink Martini, whose voice is slightly lower, was also treated well, but Maria Callas' higher-pitched voice on "O mio babbino caro" wasn't quite so excellent. Still, the distance between perfect and what the ART V2 was producing was so slim that I wouldn't have noticed if I had not heard how well the player rendered male voices.
Among the unique features of the ART V2 are digital filters that Audionet calls "Lagrange" and "Audionet." The Audionet filter is supposed to open up the frequency response more than the Lagrange. I found the opposite to be true, leading me to wonder whether the filters had been mis-wired. The Audionet position sounded softer and a bit rounder, with less treble extension. It made tracks like Wham's "Wake Me Up" (from Make It Big) sound more natural. In the Lagrange position, it remained a hot, though finely resolved recording. With the Audionet filter, it sounded hot, but more relaxed, like trying to relax in a sauna, which is to say possible, but not for long. One or the other of the filter positions should make your discs sound at least listenable. In my system, the Lagrange filter sounded more open and had spatial qualities that were not as obvious as they were in the Audionet setting. I used the Lagrange setting for most listening. Neither setting made me think, "Wow, listen to how open the highs are," but when was the last time you were at a concert and left thinking that?
Audionet products are developed, produced, and distributed by Idektron GmbH, a company that has its headquarters in Bochum, Germany. When it was founded in 1994, Idektron was a spin-off of Ruhr University Bochum, one of the leading universities in Germany, and was dedicated to making medical instruments. It now makes a nearly full range of audio products, from amplifiers and preamplifiers (including a phono section) to digital players to speakers. I know that gearheads will want to know the technical details of the V2, so here goes: The ART in "ART V2" stands for Aligned Resonance Transport. The V2 stands for Version 2. It is a direct-drive top loader. The transport is mounted on a suspended, 22-pound slab of granite. This is a heavy player, 18 kilos (around 40 pounds) in all. The suspension is accomplished by high-tension polyester straps hooked to the top of the medium-density fiberboard casing. The clock generator is also mounted on the granite slab. Audionet believes that this reduces jitter at its source by reducing mechanical resonance. MDF is used to avoid the ringing that metal might introduce.
Tim Bruns of audionetusa.com, offers a few more details: "The ART V2 uses intelligent sampling, an oversampling at 96khz. Some other players oversample at 192khz, but only Audionet addresses the clock jitter with digital filtering. The resonance-defeating materials [granite] add to the authority and soundstage that this player can produce. The results, which can not only be heard but measured, are ultra-low distortion and the sheer absence of noise."
The V2's top-loading mechanism requires that a puck be used on top of every CD, to provide rotational stability. Also, the V2 only plays Redbook discs, but if you want a universal player, Audionet will soon be releasing the VIP G2. I haven't heard it, but I bet it's excellent. All Audionet players are available in brushed aluminum or black, with blue or red LEDs. The V2's look is simple. With its top-loading mechanism, the faceplate is understated. It is nice looking, but it's not going to have your significant other screaming, "This CD player is beautiful. We must have it!" In any event, it won't drive anyone out of the room with its looks.
The Audionet ART V2 is a truly musical CD player. It sounds a bit more understated than the Benchmark DAC1, which I found exciting but not enjoyable. You probably won't be bowled over on first listen, but my wife and I repeatedly commented on how musical it was. Having a baby two months before taking delivery of the ART V2 inhibited buying it, but I heartily recommend this player. Larry Cox
V2 CD player