Manufacturer: IDEKTRON GmbH & Co. KG
One of the most interesting premieres during High End Show 2016 in Munich was the new, top line of the German company Audionet. Journalists and visitors were presented three devices: PLANCK CD Player, WATT integrated amplifier and optional external power supply AMPERE, designed to improve the sound quality of the Player. These components promoted with the slogan "Back to science" opened the ULTRA line, called by the company in their materials the SCIENTIST. In July two other devices joined the lineup - STERN preamplifier and HEISENBERG power amplifier, that form the ULTIMATE series.
The names of their devices are "telling" ie. they inform about their primary functions. WATT is an integrated amplifier, designed to deliver the power, and, as we all know, power is measured in by W (watt). James Watt (1736 -1819) was a British inventor who suggested improvements in the construction of the steam engine, which made him the "father of the industrial revolution." AMPERE is to provide current, hence the name taken from the name of Andre Marie Ampere (1775 - 1836), a French physicist and mathematician who became famous for his electromagnetism related discoveries. His name was used when establishing a unit of electrical current 1 A (ampere).
This international company of geniuses is completed with Max Karl Ernst Ludwig PLANCK (1858 - 1947), a very interesting character, a man of the Renaissance - German physicist, yet Lutheran theologian. His main interests were in physics, in particular in thermodynamics, thermal radiation, optics and the theory of relativity. He devoted most attention however, to the quantum theory, promoting the work of Einstein at a time when no treated it seriously yet. In 1918 he received the Nobel Prize. The reviewed Compact Disc player, PLANCK, received name after him.
PLANCK is a flagship source in Audionet's lineup and at the same time the third generation of CD players of this manufacturer. Although the recently reviewed Audionet ART G3 (in Polish) has the number three in its name suggesting that he belongs to the same group of devices, it actually belongs to the second-generation.
Its appearance does not say much about the changes that have taken place inside. Unlike with other products, that feature MDF chassis with an aluminum front only, the entire housing of PLANCK is made of aluminum, anodized for gold-ish, a little champagne and a little titanium color (slightly darker than Accuphase or Marantz products). Although you can not see that, instead of a granite slab underneath, this time there is a wooden one. One can read information on a clear, really informative dot-matrix display that looks a bit like OLED. Track numbers and the time are shown in a large format, and additional information in smaller one.
It's still a top-loader type CD player, which means one places a disc directly in the chamber on the motor's shaft and then closes it sliding a cover smoothly over it. The company for years has used the Philips CD-PRO 2 LF transport mechanism, and so it has for this model. But it seems that the software has undergone some modifications since this the first time with this type of design that when I pressed the "back" button it reacts as other Players, ie. when being in the middle of the song it returns to its beginning. ALL other CD Players with Philips CD-Pro 2 transport that I know, in this situation go back to the beginning of the previous track, not the one currently playing.
The transport mechanism is bolted to 8 mm thick aluminum plate decoupled from the bottom of the enclosure using system of the belts. This solution in Audionet is called the Aligned Resonance Technology, or shortly, ART. The whole device is used as a solid basis for transport, because the walls are made of selected C-32, 12mm thick aluminum and the device is placed on an additional basis. Unlike with previous versions, in this device one can not see fixing screws, and the individual elements are assembled with even greater precision.
The changes also included power supply and analog sections, but they are probably not the most important ones. The key feature seems to be an addition of digital inputs. Audionet players for years offered digital outputs because they were considered one of the best CD transports. They never, however, featured digital inputs. PLANCK is changing that. The company has installed a module with USB, RCA and TOSLink inputs in it, that Audionet uses in their other devices, such as DNP, DNA and DNC. This is their propriety platform called DNX that is improved every now and then. Featured USB module is galvanically isolated.
The device looks very solid, it is user-friendly and it simply inspires confidence. One can control it using the buttons on the front panel or the RC 1 remote control. Same remote can be also used to control Audionet's preamplifier. Its features an aluminum body and buttons.
Installing Planck in a system is very straightforward – one needs to connect the power cord (it is necessary to remember about the correct polarity!) and interconnects. During the test it played with my reference system, connected with an unbalanced Siltech Triple Crown IC. For power delivery I used the latest product of Mr Kiuchi (Combak Corporation), the Hijiri SMT 'Takumi' Maestro. It was tested without external power supply.
Płyty użyte w odsłuchu (wybór)
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Darkness and softness – these are first two terms that come to mind when listening to the new player, both in the first two minutes, but also after many hours of listening. If I wrote something like that in the review of some entry level or medium priced product, it would mean that the sound is pleasant, not really detailed and not very selective, with rolled-off treble. At the same time - otherwise it would not be even worth spending time with such a product – involving, vivid and warm. This would be a description of an interesting product with a distinct sound character and it would be up to particular person, music lover, whether such a compromise suits him/her and if this set of pros and cons sum up to fulfill his expectations. Whatever the final choice it would be a good and justified one.
When used in the Planck's context such a description would, however, make one reflect on its value, because even though even at this level some trade-offs and choices (so still, compromises ...) are still the basis for shaping the performance, but one usually expects something more from top products. Audionet's flagship source might be described this way but in his case, considering what it implicates, one should know that we are dealing with a completely different sound feature class. First of all, because the darkness and softness referred to here are not the expression of certain characteristics of the sound, and its backbone, that supports certain type of performance that allows listener to suspend his disbelief and perceive replayed music playing as if it was a "live" event.
In this this case “suspension” will be all the easier because one gets an incredible amount of information. This Player differentiates recordings as “f..k”, as one of the candidates for the assistant to Carrie Bradshaw ( Sex and the City , dir. Michael Patrick King, 2008) would say. The colors, plans, the density and volume of instruments and sounds are portrayed by Planck remarkably, with an ease and grace. And it gets even better – we get all that without details exposure.
Detail and information are two different things. Details can “kill” the listener, and he still won't even know what he listens to. Details and subtleties are usually associated with high frequencies because through the emphasis in this part of the range, hardening of the attack, artificial emphasis, it creates an impression that a lot is happening in front of listener, that music is rich with information. PLANCK is one of those devices that already during short listening session proves that it can be done differently. As dCS Vivaldi and Ancient Audio Lektor Grand SE before, PLANCK does not focus on the details and at first it might seem that it loses some of it. Yes, the sound is so smooth, so unobtrusive that it creates such impression. But in fact there is an abundance of information in this sound.
When listening to music played by PLANK one perceives it as a whole, without going into particular aspects and features and the sound. Every music played by it sounds least good, and usually exceptionally well. Nevertheless, I will try to find a way to describe for you why this Player sounds so good.
Dense, jazz recordings shows that the treble is strong and unambiguous, there is no room for anything less than total clarity and transparency, no room for warming up either. There is still, however, the smoothness of the best turntables. I would even say that the Audionet delivers the same smoothness but without warming and rounding of the attack, which with vinyl is inevitable, as it's a direct result of the nature of the technology. PLANCK frees us from this kind of "aura", which is heard from DSD files, preserving their smoothness. This aura I referred to is not a figment of imagination but a derivative of a method of DSD encoding, where the very high quantisation noise is moved outside the audible range, but it is still present in the signal. This creates an impression of softness and saturation, and even warmth, which I really like, but that also means the the sound is not entirely neutral. I think it's one of the reasons why analog and vinyl aficionados so easily become DSD files fans too.
But I also know, how the analog reel-to-reel tape recorder sounds like and how the best digital PCM recordings sound like in a mastering studio in both, 24/88.2, 24/192 and 32/384 format. PLANCK sounds exactly like that. Ie. it well differentiates treble, remaining on a warmer - subjectively – side of absolutely neutral sound. It beautifully presents differences between cymbals, in the way of how they are played and recorded. It brings out information on the recording from vocals, without emphasizing hissing elements.
Just like, e.g., with Leonard Cohen's vocal from the Popular Problems album. As I wrote in the review, to the very well prepared instrumental and backing vocals layers they added very poorly recorded Cohen's vocal. There are sharp sibilants and low resolution, and above all, a deep compression, that makes the voice of the Canadian sound flat. The Audionet Player does not ignore these issues. It informs the listener about them - if he is interested, without emphasizing them – it does its best to merge it with background vocals and music in a way the sound and mastering engineers probably wished for. As a result we get an album with specific sonic properties, that is still primarily about the music, and not a "case study".
I perceived the rest of the band, especially bass, in a similar way. It is incredibly saturated, powerful and soft. Its definition is excellent. There is a very good balance between low end and midrange, one can hear how deep it is able to go and how powerful only when the signal requires it. The natural softness ensures beautiful sound of both bass, and kick drum, and voices of the choir on the beautiful album, Cantate Domino, recorded in the Sistine Chapel.
I have recently visited Vatican and while being in the Chapel I listened to its acoustics (I mean after I saw the work of Michelangelo and his disciples), trying to remember it. One is not allowed to even speak up loud in there and the guards were reminded that to the crowd with penetrating silentio! every now and then. But even though, I could hear a low, dense acoustic ambiance of this space. And that's how the said album sounds like. It has been recorded with plenty of air, it was played by Planck in a very convincing manner. There was a large scale (credit to bass) and beautiful sound flow in the air (that's thanks to treble). But above all, one could hear the unity between detail and the whole.
I've been thinking about what I could compare the sound of this player to and the obvious candidates are MSB V on one hand and, already mentioned, dCS Vivaldi on the other. It would, however, be an imperfect comparison because PLANCK is not as soft and warm as MBS, nor so open and perfectly defining the sound as dCS. Mind you, we are talking about many times more expensive, multi-box players, so it is completely normal that there are some differences. Audionet, however, offers such an addictive "personality", that I didn't miss - without a direct comparison - neither one nor the other at all.
As you can see, which is probably obvious, some aspects of the sound could be further improved. Low bass doesn't have such a scale, I remembered from the more expensive players and turntables. The shift upwards is small and totally compensated with the density of the whole range. It is also about something more subtle than a "powerful-weak" bass. PLANCK builds slightly smaller phantom images than the other mentioned sources, because the volume of the sound is slightly smaller. If you do not know the best achievement in this respect, what you hear with Audionet will be spectacular. You should know, though, that it can be done in an even better way, and an example of one of the best performances could be a source composed of CEC TL0 3.0 and DA0 3.0.
Also, the definition of sound can be more precise, which is a domain of dCS, also the Rossini model, and also perfectly demonstrated by Reimyo DAP-999EX PROGRESS High Fidelity Edition. And again – the offset is not large and for the money more than justified. Spacing is a simple extension of the definition and is beautifully saturated, multi-layered and three-dimensional. However, it is still possible to convey instruments' “presence” in slightly more distinctive way within the "wholeness" of the event. I'm mentioning that only because I want you to have a full picture, not just a “praise” of a great device.
PLANCK and DSD
As I wrote in the introduction, Audionet engineers are people of science (technology). As such, they have a firm opinion on most of the solutions used for audio equipment and tend to go "deeper", refining the already known ones rather than adapt new ones. And so is the case with Direct Stream Digital coding system known from SACDs and DSD files. In short - these are PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) guys. Because the world of technology is divided into two camps - DSD and PCM ones. Each is represented by some finest designers, which could very well justify their choices. It seems that Audionet team has a problem with accepting the weaknesses of DSD encoding (not necessarily the sound), primarily because of the noise resulting from the fact that DSD uses a 1-bit signal and its coding creates a lot of high frequency noise, reducing real resolution of the signal. So they prefer to work with a multi-bit signal, as one can conclude from omission of DSD capability of the USB input.
Regardless of which one one chooses, the best of both types of devices represent a similar set of advantages and disadvantages, as if somewhere creators of both agreed the ultimate vision of the sound. One needs but a moment of listening to PLANCK to realize that the way treble and midrange are built is very similar to the one of DSD DACs such as Amare Musica Tube DAC DSD, PS Audio NuWave, emm Labs players and even dCS Vivaldi. It is a rich, slightly warm sound with excellent resolution and not completely unambiguous definition. The latter, in turn, is provided by devices constructed by people who specialize in PCM, such as: Ancient Audio, Gryphon, Reimyo and totaldac.
But even without going that deep into the subject one might come to similar conclusions. The definition of sound delivered by Audionet is better than when we play DSD files using device designed for that purpose (even the really good ones). But it is still a little soft, saturated sound, where the layers are not so clearly visible through their separation. There become clear and lovely when the instrument brings to the space its own reverb, its own acoustics. Then it becomes both, a separate event, and a part of the whole at the same time. The space around him, however, does not expand, it is not very open.
PLANCK offers a sound that is sort of a finite story. It is an entirely different product than other top players, both CD and SACD. It presents features of both, but using them to create something new, as the writer tells new stories using the same words as others. Its sound is dark and velvety. The softness is extremely natural and both bass and treble extension is simply remarkable. Lower end is as good as the Gryphon Mikado's, that for years, for me, set the highest standard in this respect.
But it's not the individual features that impressed me so much, because you can find other devices that do this or that even better, but the presentation as a whole. This is an incredible device that plays digitally encoded music - both from CDs and files (although from the CD better) - in a very natural way, without losing focus, detail and emotions. Built quality is simply exemplary, and if this is “your” sound, if this set of features appeals to your taste, it is very likely to be the last CD Player you'll ever buy. One important thing - among all players mentioned in this text as references it is, by far, the cheapest one, even if you decide to by additionally, costing 36 498 PLN, external AMPERE power supply. RED Fingerprint.
The PLANCK is one of the best-built CD players I know, to which, in this respect, only a very few other machines can compare, for example the Vitus Audio and dCS. I presented basic information on this device at the beginning of the text so I'm going to add only what is most important.
Same as in previous models, also here, an element available in the company's "package", on which the disc is placed, has replaced the standard one. It is made of a material called POM, used ,for example, in turntables. It has a large diameter and height which improves centering of the clamp with toroidal neodymium magnet. The heavy disc compartment cover is operated manually and slides on Teflon guides; it works so smooth that closing and opening it is true pleasure.
On the rear one finds digital inputs and outputs, analog outputs and TOSLink jacks for communication between Audionet devices. There are three digital inputs: USB, RCA and TOSLink, and four outputs:- 2 x RCA, TOSLink and AES/EBU. All of them are and look products of Neutrik. Player features both, balanced and unbalanced analog outputs. The latter are even higher quality, gold-plated Furutech jacks. Next to one of them manufacturer placed a small socket – an input for an external power supply AMPERE that supplies the analog output stage. The IEC socket is clearly marked indicating “live” wire – one should connect power cable accordingly.
The player is very heavy due to the thick walls, but not the granite slate, known from previous versions. Apparently the weight of the housing itself was considered sufficient so manufacturer decided to benefit from special damping properties of wood, which is often practiced by Japanese companies. The wooden board is screwed from the bottom to the second, aluminum one. Player's feet are made of aluminum and rubber are glued underneath. And that's the only thing that made me wonder in this whole design because this type of feet tend to "migrate", especially when exposed to heat.
The interior looks a lot like the ART G3 Player's, but it is not identical. The power supply features two sections – switched-mode for the transport and linear for electronics. A toroidal transformer features several secondary windings, and thus - power supplies. Analog and digital sections are separately powered, as well as control one. Some damping material was glued on filtering capacitors – another company, Arcam, does that, too.
The PCB with D/A Converter and output circuits looks the same as in the G3. So there are two Analog Devices AD1955 DACs, one per channel, preceded by the Burr Brown SRC4192 upsamplers. All input signals are converted to the 24/192 signal. Output stage is different, though. Above the main board there is another one with additional circuits. Current-voltage converter works with temperature ultra-stable resistors. The entire output circuit operates in class A and has a wide frequency response.
Above digital input board a separate one with USB input has been installed that features XMOS chip. USB and RCA inputs are transformer coupled.
It's a beautiful, precise engineering job, but it is obvious that many solutions are a result of listening sessions.
ULTRA | ULTIMATE
The integrated amplifier WATT features a heavy, aluminum chassis which, same as in the Audionet top CD Player's case – protects is from resonances. This integrated is also using high-quality volume control and Ultra Linear Amplifier (ULA) technology. Inside you will find separated from each power supplies, which should also has a positive impact on its audio performance. The manufacturer adds that all internal wiring is made of pure silver, and the speaker terminals are manufactured by Furutech. It should also be noted that the WATT can purchased with an optional phono preamplifier module that works with both, MM and MC cartridges.
The external power supply, AMPERE, was created primarily to work with the reference Audionet CD player, the above reviewed model called PLANCK. It features discrete components, heavy aluminum housing and high-quality toroidal transformers optimized for this particular device. Its external design refers directly to the appearance of the PLANCK and integrated amplifier WATT, which makes them – according to manufacturer - perfect partners.
STERN has been created by the legendary German designer - Hartmut Esslinger - who in the past worked for such corporations as Sony and Apple. The preamplifier combines unique technology, original design and high quality, which - as the company claims - "has never been available in the domain of high-end audio before." Among the Audionet solutions used for this device the one called Air Flow Design (thanks to it integrated circuits never work in high temperatures) stands out or the discrete components used in all inputs and outputs. What's more, each channel features a dedicated transformer, which has a positive impact on the quality of power supply. Another proof of a great attention manufacturer pays to detail is also their choice of rhodium-plated Furutech connectors. Audionet put a lot of effort to improve comfort of STERN's operation. It can easily become a part of an elaborate home theater system, and the user has the option of naming all individual inputs and assigning an appropriate volume to them.
Same as the STERN preamplifier, the high-end power amplifier HEISENBERG was designed by Esslinger. This amplifier uses the same technology as its dedicated partner, including the Air Flow Design. It features also some solutions not used anywhere else, such as ULA (Ultra Linear Amplifier), whose task is to correct harmful distortion in real time. It is worth noting that HEISENBERG is well-protected against overloads coming from the power grid - this is ensured by an efficient microprocessor. The manufacturer emphasizes that the highest sound quality is achieved not only by using the best electronic circuits, but also due to perfectly designed and built enclosure, which eliminates resonances.
Specifications (according to manufacturer):
THD + N: < -107 dB/-6 dBFS
- Turntable: AVID HIFI Acutus SP [Custom Version]
- Cartridges: Miyajima Laboratory KANSUI, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory SHILABE, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory ZERO (mono) | Denon DL-103SA, review HERE
- Phono stage: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC, review HERE
- Compact Disc Player: Ancient Audio AIR V-edition, review HERE
- Line Preamplifier: Polaris III [Custom Version] + AC Regenerator, regular version review (in Polish) HERE
- Power amplifier: Soulution 710
- Integrated Amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE
- Stand mount Loudspeakers: Harbeth M40.1 Domestic, review HERE
- Stands for Harbeths: Acoustic Revive Custom Series Loudspeaker Stands
- Real-Sound Processor: SPEC RSP-101/GL
- Integrated Amplifier/Headphone amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE
- Headphones: HIFIMAN HE-6, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-300, review HERE | Sennheiser HD800 | AKG K701, review (in Polish) HERE | Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, version 600 - reviews (in Polish): HERE, HERE, HERE
- Headphone Stands: Klutz Design CanCans (x 3), review (in Polish) HERE
- Headphone Cables: Entreq Konstantin 2010/Sennheiser HD800/HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE
- Portable Player: HIFIMAN HM-801
- USB Cables: Acoustic Revive USB-1.0SP (1 m) | Acoustic Revive USB-5.0PL (5 m), review HERE
- LAN Cables: Acoustic Revive LAN-1.0 PA (kable ) | RLI-1 (filtry), review HERE
- Router: Liksys WAG320N
- NAS: Synology DS410j/8 TB
- Interconnects: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, review HERE | preamplifier-power amplifier: Acrolink 8N-A2080III Evo, review HERE
- Loudspeaker Cables: Tara Labs Omega Onyx, review (in Polish) HERE
- Interconnects: Acoustic Revive RCA-1.0PA | XLR-1.0PA II
- Loudspeaker Cables: Acoustic Revive SPC-PA
- Power Cables: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300, all system, review HERE
- Power Distributor: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu Ultimate, review HERE
- Power Line: power cable Oyaide Tunami Nigo (6m); wall sockets 3 x Furutech FT-SWS (R)
- Power Cables: Harmonix X-DC350M2R Improved-Version, review (in Polish) HERE | Oyaide GPX-R (x 4 ), review HERE
- Power Distributor: Oyaide MTS-4e, review HERE
- Stolik: SolidBase IV Custom, read HERE/all system
- Anti-vibration Platforms: Acoustic Revive RAF-48H, review HERE/digital sources | Pro Audio Bono [Custom Version]/headphone amplifier/integrated amplifier, review HERE | Acoustic Revive RST-38H/loudspeakers under review/stands for loudspeakers under review
- Anti-vibration Feets: Franc Audio Accessories Ceramic Disc/ CD Player/Ayon Polaris II Power Supply /products under review, review HERE | Finite Elemente CeraPuc/ products under review, review HERE | Audio Replas OPT-30HG-SC/PL HR Quartz, review HERE
- Anti-vibration accsories: Audio Replas CNS-7000SZ/power cable, review HERE
- Quartz Isolators: Acoustic Revive RIQ-5010/CP-4
- FM Radio: Tivoli Audio Model One