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Super Audio CD Player
Soulution 540

Price: 76 000 zł

Manufacturer: c/o Spemot AG

Contact: Cyrill Hammer | Industriestrasse 70
CH-4657 Dulliken | Szwajcaria
tel.: +41 622853040 | fax: +41 622955202

WWW: Soulution

Distribution in Poland : Soundclub

Country of origin: Switzerland

Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Photographs: Wojciech Pacuła
Translation: Marek Dyba

Serie 5 is the newest „entry-level” series by Swiss audio manufacturer Soulution. „Entry-level” is in quotation marks for a reason as it is obviously a high-end series, but Serie 7 is even more expensive and the tested player SACD 540 belongs to the former one.
I remember very well seeing products of this company for the first time – these were 700 monoblocks and two-box 720/721 preamplifier, and I saw them during one of the High End shows in Munich. Those products were huge, their design was quite unusual for audio devices and totally different from everything else I saw during this show. Last year I already knew much more about this brand, and I awarded a system based on Soulution electronics and Magico M5 speakers with Best Sound High End 2010 award. During this particular show Mr Christoph Schurmann told me about this new series of devices and presented me a non-working (at the time) player marked as 540. Company had been working on this new series for couple of years. It took so long because it was not based on the more expensive series but it was rather a totally new approach.
Model 540 is a SACD player (regardless of manufacturer's mistake – as they called it CD/SACD Player) with a digital volume control and digital inputs, including USB. It is a big, solid device with ultra-modern outer design. There is one more thing – a rotary controller operating the drive. This solution was originally developed by Sony, and commonly used in their MiniDisc players. I used this type of device when working in theater as it was giving me great editing means. Sony was (almost) the only one that used this solution in their CD players which was a brilliant idea if you ask me.
There is also some specific solution regarding processing a signal from SACD – DSD signal retrieved from SACD is converted at once to PCM and then processed. The drive Soulution used made it possible – it is an extremely solid one - VRDS-NEO by TEAC. This drive is used mostly by Esoteric in its players, but there user can chose whether signal is processed in DSD or is converted first to PCM and only then processed. Soulution chose the latter solution.
I need to say something about converting signal. In my opinion each and every conversion affects in some audible loss of signal quality. That's why I believe that analogue signal should be played by analogue device, PCM should be played by PCM devices and DSD on DSD players. No conversion. Same goes for signal itself – it should be played in the format it was recorded in. So each time when I learn that tested device converts one format of signal to another I treat it as a warning, and same goes for this particular case of ‘540’ player that converts DSD to PCM.
But on the other hand I have to mention that nowadays there are no „pure” SACD players anymore – there are no one-bit DACs, but only multi-bit ones. Admittedly in such devices signal is process separately in PCM and DSD circuits, but in the end signal must be finally converted to multi-bit PCM by D/A converter. Which by the way is rather reasonable from technical point of view as PCM signal is much clearer, meaning there is much less high-frequency noise in it – and for Soulution this is a key factor to achieve great sound.
User has at his disposal either an output with fixed signal level or he could use a digital volume control. Volume control is carried out in digital domain with 32-bit precision, just like in Wadia players. During the test I rarely used player's volume control as I preferred to use a preamplifier. One more relevant information – for the last six month I've been using in my system Soulution 710 amplifier and in many aspects it's been the best amp I'd ever listened to.


Recordings used during test (selection):

Compact Disc

  • Tron Legacy, OST, muz. Daft Punk, Special Edition, Walt Disney Records, 9472892, 2 x CD.
  • Bill Evans, Everybody Digs Bill Evans, Riverside/JVC, JVCXR-0020-2, XRCD.
  • Carol Sloane, Hush-A-Bye, Sinatra Society of Japan/Muzak, XQAM-1031, CD.
  • Grabek, 8, Polskie Radio, PRCD 1372, CD.
  • Laurie Anderson, Homeland, Nonesuch Records, 524055-2, CD+DVD; review HERE.
  • Leszek Możdżer, Komeda, ACT Music + Vision, ACT 9516-2, CD.
  • Sonny Rollins, East Brodway Run Down, Impulse!, IMP 11612, CD.
  • Stan Kenton & June Christy, Duet, Capitol/Toshiba-EMI, TOCJ-9321, CD.
Super Audio CD
  • Stereo Sound Reference Record. Jazz&Vocal, Stereo Sound, SSRR4, SACD/CD.
  • Stereo Sound Reference Record. Popular Selection, Stereo Sound, SSRR5, SACD/CD.
  • Art Pepper, “…the way it was!”, Contemporary Records/Mobile Fidelity, UDSACD 2034, SACD/CD; review HERE.
  • Dead Can Dance, Into The Labyrinth, 4AD Warner Music Japan, WPCB-10076, SACD/CD; review HERE. · Dead Can Dance, Spiritchaser, 4AD/Warner Music Japan, WPCB-10078, SACD/CD; review HERE.
  • Kazumi Watanabe, Jazz Impression, Eve Records, EWSA 0163, SACD/CD.
  • Michael Schlierf, Clouds And Silver Linings, Stockfisch, SFR 357.4070.2, SACD/CD.
  • Peter Gabriel, So, RealWorld/Virgin, SAPGCD 5, SACD/CD.
  • Sonny Rollins, Plus 4, Prestige/Mobile Fidelity, UDSACD 2006, SACD/CD.
Audio files
  • Brian Eno, Craft On A Milk Sea, Warp Records, WARPCDD207, 2 x 180 g LP + 2 x CD + 24/44,1 WAV; review HERE.
  • Charlie Haden & Antonio Forcione, Heartplay, Naim Label, 24/96 FLAC.
  • Kankawa, Organist, T-TOC Records, UMVD-0001-0004, Ultimate Master Vinyl, 4 x 45 rpm 180 g LP + CD-RIIα + 24/192 WAV; review HERE.
  • Mikołaj Bugajak, Strange Sounds and Inconceivable Deeds, Nowe Nagrania 001, 45 rpm LP+CD+WAV 24/44,1; review HERE.
  • Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto, Getz/Gilberto, Verve, 24/96 FLAC.
  • Alan Taylor, In The Groove, Stockfisch, SFR 357.8007.1, DMM Series, 180 g LP.
  • Clifford Brown and Max Roach, Study In Brown, EmArcy/Universal Music Japan, UCJU-9072, 200 g LP.
  • Dead Can Dance, Into The Labyrinth, 4AD/Mobile Fidelity, 140 g LP; review HERE.
  • Dead Can Dance, Spiritchaser, 4AD/Mobile Fidelity, 140 g LP; review HERE.
  • Kraftwerk, Tour The France, EMI, 591 708 1, 2 x 180 g LP.
  • Kraftwerk, Autobahn, Capital Records/KlingKlang/Mute Records, STUMM 303, 180 g LP (2009); review HERE.

Japanese versions of the discs available on CD Japan.

I've been listening to digital sources for years and my reference devices in this regards have always been CD players made by Mr Jarek Waszczyszyn from Ancient Audio – first it was the Lektor Prime, and now it is the Air. From time to time I use Lektor Grand SE as an ultimate reference. Over this time I listened to many players, some of them insanely expensive and I was always able to point out some of their advantages and some downsides. In most cases those devices were only trying to reach a level of performance of Polish players. Sometimes in some aspects tested devices seemed to have slight advantage over Ancient Audio – like Reimyo CDT-777 with DAP-999EX, Jadis JD1 MkII and JS1 MkIII, and recently also Loit Passeri. These players seemed to offer a superior sound quality although rather comparing to Prime/Air than Grand SE. But even then I didn't feel compelled to change something in my system's sound (although such a small manufacturer like Ancient Audio has one great advantage over the others – he can do even some custom changes to a device by customer's request). This time was different – it became clear to me what should be changed in my Air's sound. I'm not sure if it is possible but it's not my problem, is it?

Compact Discs

This Swiss player delivers greater scale of the sound than my Air (man it hurts!). Polish player seems to sound quite „lean” comparing with Soulution, even though objectively it's surely not! So far almost all other players seemed lean sounding comparing with Ancient Audio. And now it suddenly appeared the „smaller” one, it presents „leaner”, although more precise, and not so natural sounding instruments and voices. I'm not saying that this is a perfect sound, not even all aspects are better than in Air, but I really started to wonder when I compared its sound with the one of analogue system – Kuzma turntable with Miyajima Shilabe cartridge. This system delivered similar way of presentation even though it was analogue and not digital like Soulution. The presentation was big, massive even but at the same time quite agile.
Sound of the tested player with its slight emphasis on lower midrange and bass (which is rather uncommon for digital systems) was still very energetic with fast attack and decay. Usually such emphasis does affect these aspects of sound and also a rhythm. The point is that here this emphasis does sound artificial, on contrary it makes sound more natural, closer to live music, ergo to the sound of good analogue system.

Yup – rhythm and very dense, rich sound will allow vinyl fans to appreciate ‘540’, and at the same time it will be used as a pro argument by supporters of a theory acknowledging superiority of digital signal encoding over analogue one.
What you get here is surely not a “dead”, digital sound – I have no doubts about it, because it was clear when I compare its sound with a very good analogue setup. Many very good digital devices I know always found some way to avoid such “dead” sound – some of them with extreme clarity, some with natural sound, some with coherence and slight roll-off of the top treble which led to a very desirable feature - imaging. But when I confronted those players with good analogue rig I always knew that these were just pretenses, ways around the problem and not the solutions. The best CD and SACD, including those from Ancient Audio, never tried to avoid the problem, on contrary – these tried to wrestle with the problem. That is why Grand SE and Air are so precise in drawing outlines of instruments, deliver outstanding soundstage (unavailable for most digital devices), in some aspects even better than what very expensive analogue setup is able to present.
Soulution is exactly the same kind of player. Maybe part of credit should be assigned to my reference amplifier - Soulution 710, but anyway this player gave me much more “musical satisfaction” than any other device I listened to in quite some time.

I hope that this synthetic approach wasn't really boring for you, especially that I referred a lot to my own system and preferences. I realize that usually I start my reviews with analytical part – it ensures consistency of all reviews and constitutes base for my own test methodology. That's all true but after all it is all about how does particular device sound like. Surely the final result is decided by all those small elements, but even the best description of them all will not warranty a proper “big picture” of the sound. The point is that Soulution belongs to this kind of devices which make listeners forget about analyzes and bring them closer to the music. Make no mistake – there is no “magic” here – it is a premeditated result, based on the same laws of physics. Anyway my methodology requires that I analyze each aspect of sound separately, so here it comes.

When compared directly with Ancient and Kuzma treble delivered by Soulution 540 is obviously not so strong, seems bit darker. This makes particular sounds less „obvious”, less palpable. New, beautiful recording of Leszek Możdżer called Komeda, delivers the best proof. Możdżer uses very dynamic, vibrant sounding Faziola 212 piano, that emphasizes musicians own specific technique. Strikes in the upper register are very strong and vibrant. With Air these seems to “pop out” the speakers – than ceramic tweeters of Avalon Transcendent did a great job. Soulution smoothed those strong, vibrant sounds a bit, and they seemed to be also a notch quieter. Even though the whole presentation seemed bigger, because Swiss player delivered strong lower midrange and bass.
It doesn't mean that 540's resolution is not as good as Air's – to be honest I can't really tell – sometimes I thought Air's was better, but than I listened to some other music and could swear that 540's. On one hand Soulution delivered bit more smooth, “creme” timbre, rather „écru” where as Air delivered white. On the other hand it was 540 that delivered more details on Laurie Anderson's Homeland. It was much easier to hear moments when sound engineer left some noise at each moment when artist started to sing – it seems to be a mistake of this engineer but as such it doesn't really influence perception of music. To be honest – this noise is what makes this recording more natural sounding, less sterile, less mechanical (perfection is boring). And this part Soulution presented more thoroughly, better. And that's the most interesting part proving how great the resolution of Swiss player is – treble isn't super-detailed nor bright, but still even the most elusive elements of every recording are presented in a better way than by Lektor Air.
And there is bass… Big, powerful, rich. There is no such a striking attack, such immediacy of this attack as delivered by Air, but it seems to be better controlled and extended. Yes, I haven't heard anything like that before. Up till this moment Air upgraded with powerful V-Cap CuTf capacitors always outclassed (in this particular aspect) each and every player I reviewed. That's why it was always easy to judge this aspect of other players performance – no other player delivered anything even close to what Air was capable of. Soulution's performance reminded the best analogue setups I knew.

One might say it is a small step back if one considers dynamics, and capability to differentiate attack, at least comparing to Grand SE, Air, but also (although only with 24 bit files) Linn Klimax DS. On the other hand it's Soulution's presentation that sounds “right” when I listen to electronically generated sounds from Laurie Anderson's Homeland and Grabek's 8, but also acoustic performance of Bill Evans Trio at Everybody Digs Bill Evans and compare them with vinyl remasters of Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode and so on. I'm not saying that Soulution deliver purely „analogue” sound, it's not that. All I'm saying is that this Swiss player shares some vision of the sound with best analogue rigs.

Super Audio CDs

Soulution 540 is a SACD player. It performs decoding of such recordings in an unorthodox way. Most players convert DSD signal into something like PCM only inside DAC, but Soulution converts the signal sooner, in the main processor unit, and than processes this PCM signal but treating it in the same way as LPCM signal from DVD-A usually is. Unfortunately manufacturer doesn't share the information about parameters of the signal leaving processor unit – it is 24 bits, but what is a sampling frequency – 88.2kHz or 176.4kHz (these are standard frequencies for conversion of DSD to PCM) – it is unknown to the public.
This paragraph is going to be quite short. I know some great SACD players and some of them are temping me to buy them and use alongside Air. But 540 as SACD player doesn't tempt me at all. Its performance when using SACDs is not as good as it can be, it is not as “analogue” as those best players offer. It sounds more like CD were used not SACDs which is interesting considering how I loved the sound from plain CDs played by 540. But SACD sound bit mechanical, sound is not so natural as from CDs. And it doesn't matter whether source material is an analogue master tape, digital PCM, or pure DSD recording. Well, maybe I exaggerate a bit but outstanding performance of 540 playing CDs elevated my expectations up to the skies. OK, I should quit moaning. I always try to start listening without any prejudice but this time I realized quickly – that's not a sound for me. I'm not going to claim that this is a poor sound - Soulution is a damn good machine. But playing SACD is (in my opinion) only some bonus and not the main function of this player. An interesting thing – using this device for playing high-resolution files delivered quite different effects…

Audio files

As always I started listening session of D/A converter by … watching a movie – this time it was Weeds TV show, (2005, by Brian Dannelly). First impression – nicely boosted bass, second – lector's voice became much distinct which of course improved perception – with Soulution it sounded just … right. I got the same general impression with every genre of music I played later, especially from high-resolution files. Those additional bit allowed music to sound in a more relaxed, more dynamic way. Treble was better differentiated than usually, but at the same time softer and more vibrant. Bass was very strong – when I listened to 24bit files I realized that 540 put a slight emphasis on lower range. With CDs it was a great thing, it solved this format's main problem of lean, dry sound. Generally speaking files played from my Dune Max had very smooth, „analogue” texture and really nice midrange. Differentiation of presented material was not clearly better than the one played from CDs, or at least it wasn't clear from the beginning, although timbre sure was better. Soundstage was similar – more “important” was still everything happening in the front, and the rest was rather just a background.
You need to get used to this sound to fully appreciate it. I think that performance delivered from CDs was so extraordinary that even more information delivered first by SACDs, and now by high-resolution file did not manage to convince my subconsciousness to appreciate them better. On the other hand I think that audio files are still bit more of a future music medium – industry is still to establish some standards of performance, and to find a way to achieve the true top performance. I think that there is still a lot to do in area of software used for both recording and playing audio files. Comparing to relatively new “audio files” business the good, old CD market seems to be much more mature. That's why the 24-bit files didn't impress me from the very beginning, like CDs did. I took me much more time to start to appreciate them. I could also easily tell that the source of signal mattered and my Dune Max was not a good enough match for Soulution.

When I plugged USB cable to my laptop I received a surprising information: „Ayon Audio CD-2S” (lat device I plugged in was Ayon CD-1sc using the same chip as Soulution). Obviously Soulution used exactly the same chip with the same software as Ayon did. That's not the first time it happened – exactly the same situation appeared with Stello Ai500 player – same information was displayed. At the time I used 5 m Acoustic Revive USB-1.0PL cable. But later I wanted to check a shorter cable - Acoustic Revive, model USB-1.0 SP ) and I put computer on the top of the player. Surprise, surprise, new driver was installed - „DigiHub 0/1 Track & S/PDIF”. Probably both drivers are exchangeable, but I have no idea why this time the other driver installed.
Generally speaking when signal is delivered via USB input sound is very nice, but no so dynamic nor palpable as when same material is delivered via S/PDIF (by files player). It is very relaxed sound, very clear and resolving. It reminded me of the sound of other similar devices I know – they seem to share the same DNA of converter chip. But here DAC and output stage “upgraded” this sound a bit – added some bass, smoothed midrange and so on. The sound, although not so spectacular as with S/PDIF input, was still very interesting.


It is a fantastic CD player. I simply loved it. It showed me what could be changed in sound of my own Air Player. Polish player still has some advantages – it delivers better soundstage with more precise imaging. This differences are quite small, much smaller than usually when I compare Ancient Audio with other players. But despite these advantages of Air ‘540’ still offers more satisfactory sound.
With high-resolution material this player works very well but it is not so spectacular as with regular CDs. Players like Linn Klimax DS (with files), Accuphase DP-800/DC-801 or Luxman D-08 (with SACD) offered bit better performance – sound was more natural with better resolution. Please remember that we are talking about very expensive devices representing highest performance so “better” means in fact slight difference. So I would treat Soulution 540 as an absolutely amazing CD player with some bonus features allowing it to play music also from other formats.


Soulution 540 is a SACD player. Manufacturer uses consistently „CD/SACD Player” name which in my opinion is wrong, as if something is a SACD player you don't need to add CD to the name – it is obvious that it plays CDs too. But now, after listening session, I start to understand why Manufacturer emphasizes “CD” in the name – simply to show clearly its main competence.
Size and weight of this player are really significant. With its enclosure made of thick, milled aluminum plates 540 looks really sexy and modern.
The knob in the middle of the face plate might suggest that there is also amplifier inside, but no – it's just a manipulator based on Sony's idea. You can use it to operate player's functions like: play, stop, pause and skip, and when you use it in „Menu” mode you can choose particular settings. Menu is by the way quite advanced. You can: select a source of signal, level of display's brightness, absolute phase, output mode (fixed or variable), you can also set a fixed volume level that device starts its operation with, and so on. Next to the knob there are three push-buttons. The one described as “open” works also as „stop” (same solution as on remote control). On the left side there is a quite large, red dot-matrix display. There is one thing I would really appreciate – it would be really nice and useful if the titles of songs/pieces were displayed when playing SACD, and CD-Text should be displayed too. If you use audio files, and each of them has its own title than lack of this information on a display becomes really annoying. Same thing with input signal parameters – for many devices it is not a problem to display the resolution of input signal. Since all these things are software dependent I really hope that Soulution will work on that.
Drive's slot is placed on the right side of the front. Tray is made of aluminum and according to Soulution it is a product of TEAC.
I mentioned functional limitations of 540 but only in regards to its display. The above mentioned knob/manipulator works really well, plus there is an impressive number of inputs and outputs. There are analogue symmetrical XLR and line RCA outputs, digital outputs: RCA, AES/EBU and optical, and digital inputs: RCA, AES/EBU, optical and USB. The former three accept signal up to 24/192, and the latter up to 24/96. There is also a port used to connect Soulution devices for common remote control (but also for some computer systems like e.g. Crestron). The last element is a power inlet with integrated mechanical switch.

The inside of this device is as impressive as the casing. I was truly impressed with build quality of Soulution devices from the first moment I saw them. Everything is simply done right. Signal starts its way in high-quality SACD drive made by TAEC - VRDS-NEO, its less expensive version but still a very good one. Its main body is made of some kind of plastic, but all supporting elements including drive's tray are made of aluminum which makes the whole design very rigid. Drive is bolted to thick aluminum bars and these are bolted to very thick bottom panel. Two PCBs with controls are integrated with the drive. The key element is a DSP processor which converts DSD signal from CD to PCM.
Than the signal goes to a large high-quality PCB mounted near the back panel. The key element here are digital filters (including upsampling) hidden in a large can with Edel logo and described as „S2 Powered by Anagram”, made by Swiss company ABC PCB. This company has a quite impressive reference list including customers like: Audio Aero Design, Audiomeca, Aurum Acoustics, darTZeel, Harman/Kardon, Hifi Winkel, Jean Maurer, Lyncee Tec, Manley Labs, Soulution, Talk Electronics, Wadax.

This circuit is a real heart of the whole device so let's go into some details. S2 platform is a combination of famous Q5 upsampling circuit, designed by Anagram Technologies. It contains algorithm distributing signal to many converters and converters themselves. In this particular application Soulution decided to by-pass integrated converters and to use separate PCBs for D/A circuits and output stage. Upsampler converts signal to 24bits and 384kHz in DSP Blackfin chip. It seems that the same circuit is responsible for digital volume control. This chip supports also DSD signal, so it was a choice made by Soulution to convert signal to PCM before it gets here. Output might be connected to four mono D/A converters and that's how Soulution used it.
DAC is a Burr-Brown PCM1792 – one stereo chip per channel. Output stage is quite advanced and based on PCBs. There are no capacitors in signal's path, in other circuits manufacturer used polypropylene ones (Wima). There is a LM6171 chip on input, that is responsible for I/U conversion. Burr Brown OPA134 amplify and buffer signal. In output stage there are some other chips with radiators on them – most likely those are also responsible for amplifying and driving outputs. Next to them there is an advanced power circuit for this stage.
Special achievements of Soulution designs are impressively low level of noise and TDH. It is achieved via innovative negative feedback system that works extremely fast.

Power supply is quite advanced. It is situated on two PCBs. The lower one, shielded with metal plate, includes switched mode power supply that delivers power for drive, digital section and display. Large linear PS on the upper PCB delivers current separately for analogue circuit and D/A converters. It is build around huge Noratel transformer and large Rubycon capacitors. There are also chokes placed before voltage regulators – that's a very rare solution in solid-state devices. Large Schurter filter follows AC inlet.

I haven't mentioned USB input yet. This input uses Tenor TE7022 chip – exactly the same that is used in Ayon Audio players (e.g.. in CD-2s i CD-1sc), but also in Stello (DA100 Signature 96/24 USB), and ADL in GT40. It is a USB 2.0 Full Speed 24/96 receiver. Obviously it works here in classic adaptive mode (not asynchronous). I wish Soulution didn't stop half the way and bought special USB chip from ABC PCB, as their product supports signal up to 24/192.
It seems that Manufacturer used spikes from Finite Elemente. Remote control is quite handy.
This is a beautiful device and a great performer. In my opinion though there are few elements that could be improved as I mentioned earlier: more information could be shown on a display, and there are better USB chips on the market. Maybe also DSD signal conversion could be done in DAC.

Technical data (according to the manufacturer):

Power consumption (standby/on): <0.5W/50W
Output voltage (XLR/RCA): 4V RMS/2V rms
Peak output current: 0.2A
Output impedance (XLR/RCA): 10Ω/10Ω
Frequency response: DC-100kHz
Distortion (THD): <0,002%
Noise floor: -140dB
Volume range: 0...-80dB
Balance range: <- 9...0...9 ->dB

Polish Distributor:


ul. Skrzetuskiego 42 | 02-726 Warszawa

tel.: 22 586 32 70, fax: 22 586 32 71



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