Cocktail Audio is a subsidiary of Novatron, a Korean audio company. The X14 Hi-Res HiFi system is equipped with an internal 8 TB hard drive and retails at $1,500. It will easily hold around 10,000 audio CDs (uncompressed WAV files) or, if you prefer quantity over quality, you can fit around 60,000 audio CDs using 256 Kbps MP3 compression, or about 20,000 discs in FLAC format. However, I don’t know of too many people who own more than 2,000 audio CDs. Personally I only own about 2,000 CDs purchased from the first day CD was released to this moment I’m typing this review.
The one thing that truly caught my attention of Cocktail Audio is the CD ripping capability. Many other network player units have the capability of built-in amplifier (the X14 comes with 30 W/channel amp designed for 8 Ohm speakers), built-in hard drive, net-radio and so on and so forth… but CD ripping is usually not part of the equation and needs to be done on a separate computer… which is a pain. Obviously that is not the case with the X14.
What about formats
The audio CDs can be extracted into any of several formats chosen by the user. One can choose low-resolution MP3 as low as 128 Kbps, or completely uncompressed WAV file (my choice) or anything in between including FLAC, WMA, AAC, OGG, PCM, M3U, PLS and M4A, with varying resolutions up to 24-bit/96-kHz. Of course, as a network player, it can be connected to the network via the Ethernet port or via the included WiFi antenna that plugs into one of the USB ports. The X14 even comes with the FreeDB database on CD (updates available) that can be loaded onto the unit so that the metadata can be accessed for CDs being ripped without an Internet connection… Although, to me, that is absolutely absurd and redundant. After all it’s a network player. Why wouldn’t you access the CD database from the Internet instead? As for accuracy, FreeDB database is more than sufficient for mainstream album although I still prefer CDDB as they tend to also include obscure and limited release albums from around the world. For example, I created a David Foster compilation limited release album titled Nothing Better Than This for Warner Music Indonesia; FreeDB can’t find it whereas CDDB finds it without a hitch. Regardless, the inclusion of CD extraction feature in various format is a major plus which too many network players don’t have.
And its look… ?
Now that the most important feature (to me) have been discussed, I’m going to step back and describe the unit itself and the rest of the feature set offered by the X14. The device is diminutive in size, measuring roughly 180 mm (W) x 100 mm (H) x 150 mm (D). A 5-inch colour LCD screen below the CD-loading slot dominates the glossy black front panel. A row of eight buttons on the top of the unit provides basic control functions; alas the full-functioned remote is needed for full access to the X14‘s controls. The chassis’ sides and top are made out of a somewhat attractive matte-black plastic with printed labeling on the top. The back panel is densely populated with numerous connectors, including spring-loaded speaker connections (why? There is still enough space to put binding posts!) two USB Type A and one USB Type B port, Ethernet, a Toslink audio output, and headphone and eighth-inch stereo jacks for line in and out (this is yet another questionable decision as there is also ample space available to put RCA outputs at the back). The rest of the small back panel is occupied by a power input for a cord that contains an inline power supply, a power switch, and a fan vent.
The remote looks as decent as the chassis. It has lots of buttons for the various features of the X14. Their lay-out isn’t entirely logical and somewhat confusing, so especially in the beginning, you will be spending some time looking for what you need. On the positive side, however, the Cocktail Audio X14 includes a very detailed instruction manual which I highly recommend everybody to read it thoroughly before AND while using the X14 for the first time. Just like any newer manual from any company, reading it feels like the manual was written in semi-decent English (and this is coming from someone whose English is to be his fifth language).
Ripping a CD to the hard drive.
I have a burned a CD with mp3s and it ended being a collection of Disney albums from a few years back. The ripping process is easy. Slide the CD into the slot of the X14, navigate to the ripping menu option, and decide whether you want to copy the entire disc or just select songs.
As for regular Audio CD, the X14 allows you to decide beforehand into what you want your songs to be in. Standard it rips to WAV, but MP3, FLAC and OGG (amongst others I previously listed) are also possible. Ripping my Frank Sinatra Duets 20th Anniversary edition CDs went well, the correct tag information was provided, and it took about 3.5 minutes. Even with Audio CD, there are five quality settings for ripping. The highest takes a bit longer, but not a lot in my case. Using an older disc with some scratches and laser rot (I used Bananarama Greatest Hits – UK Edition) takes a lot longer in the highest quality mode but the songs that originally can no longer be played intact when played directly from the disc can now be listened in their entirety after being extracted in the highest quality mode. So…yaaay!After ripping you can export the album to the internal hard drive or to external storage. That might sound weird since it’s already on the hard drive, but when you export it, it’s saved into the database with tags which speeds up searching. Exporting to the internal hard drive takes around a minute for each album.Line in and out
As previously mentioned the Cocktail Audio X14 isn’t just a CD ripper, it has a built-in amplifier and speaker connectors for passive speakers, and line in and out. I wasn’t able to test the amplifier using my scope and the rest of my gadgetries, but judging from the subjective listening alone, it’s ample enough for my home theatre / test room with the size of 10’ wide x 16’ deep x 7.5’ high. If you want a better sound, one can always connect it to a larger amplifier through the line-out connection or if you want to use a better DAC, use the optical digital output of the X14.
The line in is a nice addition, here you can connect a record player or a tape deck for example. Those recordings can also be tagged. Since no remote control is conducive or practical to enter track and / or album titles, one can also connect a USB keyboard. At least, that’s what I did and it made my life a lot simpler.
I highly recommend this unit to anybody who needs a portable desktop stereo system, or even audiophiles like me who own thousands of Audio CD and want them to be stored in one nice tidy space, catalogued, with automatic tagging and album covers… after all, for audiophiles out there, I’m sure you already own an audiophile grade DAC anyway.