I have to come clean right off and say the first time I encountered Cocktail Audio was at the Bristol HiFi Show and I walked straight past their booth. I am not completely sure why but I thought the packaging looked tacky and the name was a bit meh. For some reason a name with a strong ring to it can go a long way and all Cocktail Audio makes me thing about is a pitcher of a strong bright drink at the start of a night out or them crappy and never satisfying sausages you may find in a selection of party finger food, and neither of them things are going to make me want get excited about something audio related. I can’t have been the only one thinking this either because the day I started writing this Cocktail announced two new products, the X12 and the X40 but they did so under a new brand name, something a little more sophisticated although still a bit bland, Novafidelity. Because the X12 replaces the X10 I have here, the X30 is the only product to continue flying the Cocktail banner and when the X30 replacement swings out sometime next year, Cocktail will have been eradicated. BUT I maybe wrong as I think the Novafidelity brand is UK only and the X12 and X40 may continue under Cocktail worldwide. Not that I don’t find this confusing altogether, how can a product range be under two different brand names and not be the same worldwide? I guess we can just conclude that Cocktail/Novafidelity just can’t name a company. Now I was originally going to review both the X10 and X30 but since the X12s arrival I will concentrate more on the X30. The X30 has a base price of £869 and can get as expensive as £1349 depending on if you want a hard drive included and if so what one. The X10 is £300 starting and up to £480.
I am not quite sure were too start with these devices because they both do a lot, they can easily take care of ALL of your audio needs within your house making all other components obsolete with an extreme range of features. The X30 is truly the big brother of the X10 because why it hardly boasts much more features, it is bigger and this allows for better components inside and therefore better performance across the board.
Now I think the easiest way of doing this is outlining what the X30 does and for that I am going to outline how I have used it and what my set up contained. I got the X30 brand new so no music installed on the included hard drive, you can choose from a range of HDDs up too 4TB and SSDs up too 500GB, with the SSDs being more expensive, naturally. Before getting music onto the X30 I connected up an Ethernet cable to get the X30 online, benefits of this include it getting meta data when you rip CDs, internet radio and online streaming services, which seems limited to Simfy, which in turn seems limited too other countries and wouldn’t let me use it in the UK, what a shame. It being able to grab meta data is cool so you can get album artwork and stuff straight onto the CDs you rip on the X30 (or X10) but I found the internet radio a bit disappointing. It didn’t excite me because of the options because the list of stations was as broad as you could ask for but it was just the quality of them. I loaded up a few stations and not one of them played over 128kbps which is abysmal and it sounded it, it jut lacked, well everything I want in music and I just cant deal with the radio when I have TBs of high res FLAC and DSD files. This is of course not the X30s fault and if you like the radio then you will have no problem with this, in fact it even gives you the option to record what’s on. The Internet can also be used to allow using your phone, Android or IOS to control the X30.
It was then a case of getting my music onto the X30, I ripped a few CDs straight into the database, which was a pleasure and then I plugged one of my 3TB Seagate HDs into the USB host port and easily moved some of the folders onto the X30s hard drive. One thing I found nicer about the X10 was that you could connect into your PC, which I found was a little easier and more secure when making file transfers as it took a few attempts for the X30 to perform what I wanted. Now this could take nearly all my music files, FLAC, ALAC, WAV, etc all the way up to 24/192 propose no problem on the X30 (the X10 is limited too 24/96) but it cant handle DSD, which is a shame, as a server that can output USB too a DAC would be very exciting for me. The new X40 will feature a DAC that can do DSD natively but I would like to say if they could release a product in the future that could rip SACDs into DSD as well as CDs into FLAC then they would have a hard time keeping up with the demand. Having a HDD built in is ever so handy for me as it means you don’t have to have it connected to something to play music and I can put it anywhere in the house or even in my outhouse and I will have my music library, complete with an easily navigated database and the ability to make playlists (on a 5 inch screen, for the X30).
After burning in it was time to get too know the inputs and outputs, my first few uses where with in my reference headphone set up. The set up currently consists of an iMac, Yulong D200 DSD DAC, Questyle CMA800R Headphone amplifier and Sennheiser HD800 headphones using Nordost Frey 2 balanced interconnects, Audiocadabra USB cable and the Double Helix Cables Complement 3 HD800 cable. Now as I said earlier this could replace all of them. It has my music on it and takes that said music all the way too its integrated headphone output, which puts out a hearty 500mw a channel at 32 ohms. So that is exactly where I decided to start and I plugged my HD800s with Nordost Heidmall2 cable straight into the ¼ inch output the X30 has. I barely survived scampering through a few songs and it just didn’t deliver, it did not have the power of authority to deliver with a headphone like the HD800. I didn’t expect anything more than this as I am comparing to a rig designed for headphones. I have too say that with some cheaper headphones that are a little bit more sensitive and have a lower impedance it didn’t do too badly at all, in fact I actually enjoyed it. Just don’t try and get it too drive a planar magnetic or flagship open backed headphone, as it isn’t quite up for the job. So as a more powerful amp was needed I decided to just use the DAC from the X30 and use its line out into the Questyle amp I use. Unfortunately the X30 only has single ended outputs and I have found the Questyle really does perform better from it XLR inputs but you have to make do with you have got so I connected up some Charleston Cable Company RCAs and I got too it.
The life was instantly pulled back into my headphones, I started too feel the bass again and details shimmered like I know they can. This was much better, the DAC (this has a reputable Burr Brown 1792A) is clearly capable and has a pretty rounded and neutral tonal balance. That being said it sounds a little closed in and lacks dynamics compared too the Yulong D200 I have been using, which is actually only a budget option itself, at £430. Because of these two factors the difference was quite clear, and even my mate who never seems to care about the headphones I show him, thought there was some wizardry going because of the amount of power and realism the D200 had over the X30, it has too be said that the D200 is special for its price and easily slays my £1300 Rein Audio X3-DAC, which the X30 also keeps up with. That being said the DAC in the X30 certainly held its own on other fronts, it still held the HD800s together giving them space to breath and its neutrality is really nice, not giving too much to any frequency response. It also sounded rather thick and full, even if it was not the most impactful, it never felt frail or weak, which is a rather big deal. It just didn’t seem to have the most powerful sound, with it having a head for being resolving, fluid and easy going.
The last way I could involve it into my headphone set up turned out too be a real winner. I chose the optical out of the X30 into the D200 DAC so I rid of the iMac from the original set up. Maybe the optical input of my DAC was better or perhaps the X30 was a better transport and with it being made for audio, that does seem like the more obvious option. Other than the lack of DSD that the optical does not allow, my music, all the way up to 24/192 files seemed more responsive and fluid with better air in the upper registers and faster harder hitting bass. It is obviously the same DAC but it seemed like it has been rid of some baggage.
That’s not it for inputs and outputs though, the X30 also has Coaxial and AES digital outputs, the X10 doesn’t have the latter two, but I didn’t get round to trying them. It actually also has a Coaxial and Optical in if you want too use this as a DAC with an external source but I never found a want or need for that, the same goes for the analogue RCA inputs this has so you could use with a separate DAC. It also has a HDMI out so you can see the display on your TV.
Now its time to move on to the fact these also have speaker outs that stick out 50 watts per channel. I thought for a more thorough testing Josh would be more suited too this so he got them involved with the Tannoy Precision 5.1s he recently reviewed.
“When listening to the x30 with the Tannoys, some of the characteristics of the cocktail could be found to be beneficial. Because the Tannoys can sometimes be an aggressive loudspeaker, a smoother more relaxed system will cause a rather different experience. This is what the cocktail offered. The X30 was fairly relaxed in its presentation and it is also on the warmer side with fuller bass so I think the two, in some ways, complemented each other and made the sound more neutral and easier to listen too. However, the speaker output on the Cocktail did have some notable negatives for me. The bass wasn’t as controlled as I would like, nor was it very articulate. The added warmth although great in certain circumstances did detract from the airiness of certain recordings such as “If You Wait” by London Grammar but the warmth did give a little more feeling to the vocals, which seemed weightier and more lifelike.
Because the amp output of this is a bit coloured this is certainly more suited too a neutral or even cold speaker. That being said if you like a dark, warm and bassy sound them you will probably like what this does even with a warmer speaker.”
I personally checked it out with the only floor standers I have in the house, which are an old Tannoy Revolution R2, they are old and nothing fancy or special but one thing I have learnt about this is weaker amps distort quickly with them as well as struggle to maintain control. I didn’t find either of these problems and the X30 gave them a spongy smooth sound that was easy on my ears and in control. For a more “causual” loudspeaker listener such as myself it delivered exactly what you need.
The physical aspects are all great. The build is tight and well constructed, it has feet that wouldn’t look out of place on a much more expensive hi-fi unit and clearly have isolation in mind. The volume knob has a great feel and you have the choice of controlling unit either with the buttons on the front panel or from the included remote control that doesn’t lack options. The screen is vibrant and easy and quick to use with everything obvious in how it works. I think the unit is neither anything offensive or exciting too looks at. Its simple and rather low profile with only what it needs and nothing more. I will add that it is rather large, almost too large for being within a desktop set up, especially if you have restricted space and much more suited too working with speakers, which turns out were it performs much better.
The X10 doesn’t have as nice a screen or build with it being plastic. It also a LOT smaller and a LOT lighter, which has actually left me using the X10 in my headphone system with its optical out and me using the X30 permanently in a loudspeaker situation.
The X10 is weaker with an inferior sound and slightly less features but when it comes too it they are similar devices. I don’t think either of them have a very hifi sound but with the price tag being what they are, you cant expect a £800 DAC and £800 amplifier all for the £850 that the X30iw is, especially when you add the extra features it has. Reading through this review it may seem I am a little disappointed with these products but that’s not the case, I am very impressed with them. Why, if you already have a better sounding DAC and a better sounding amp? Well for a start, just look at what it does. But its not just what it does, it’s the integration between the features, everything fits. They haven’t just piled as many different features they could, not at all; they have found a range of features that work together, a range that all get used. Depending on budget and location both the X10 and X30 are perfect entries into something a bit better. The X30 is a great starting point with its internal memory, solid DAC and powerful speaker outputs and gives you a solid base to build upon in the future, maybe add and a new DAC or amp (or even CD player) in after a year until you just use the X30 as a great transport, which it really is, the digital outputs are great. The longevity of it is also great, even a lot further down the road with much more expensive gear, their will likely still be a place for it and a use, unless you have about 30 other devices to cover what this single product can do.
Now in the last paragraph I said starting point, now I don’t mean entry level. The X10 maybe but the X30 certainly not, it is better than that (and more expensive granted). But with that it doesn’t mean this is for everyone. If I owned one I know I would get a lot of use out of it but not in a reference set up, just a casual set up that the whole family would use, with my sister and parent having all their music on the X30 in playlists and it powering a pair of speakers, I think its in its prime. I am going to leave it their, I think by now you know if the X30 is something that interests you and it really depends where in the journey you are and what you need.