Cocktail Audio X10 Music System Reviewed
I had not heard of Cocktail Audio before beginning work on this review, but my initial research into its X10 system piqued my interest. Cocktail Audio appears to be a subsidiary of Novatron, a Korean audio component company. The X10 system I reviewed was equipped with an internal 2TB hard drive and retails at $580. An extra $80 doubles the capacity to four terabytes. For reference, a 2TB drive will hold about 2,600 CDs stored in the uncompressed WAV format and approximately 30,000 CDs when compressed to 128k MP3 files.
Cocktail Audio describes the X10 as a HiFi Component & Music Streamer. CD Audio, LLC, the United States distributor, states that the X10 is “The Next Generation in CD Ripping.” Both descriptions are accurate but do not fully describe the X10’s capabilities. The X10 is a network audio player that has a slot-loading compact disc drive, an internal hard drive, and a 30-watt-per-channel stereo amplifier. All you have to add is a pair of speakers (it is designed for eight-ohm speakers), and you’ve got a complete digital music system that can play CDs, as well as locally stored music and network-streamed music files and Internet radio. That’s a lot of functionality provided by the X10 for its $580 price point.
The price is not the only thing that is small about the X10. The device is also diminutive in size, measuring roughly seven inches wide, six inches deep, and four inches high. A 3.5-inch color 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, but the full-functioned remote is needed for full access to the X10’s controls. Build quality seems to be a step above the mass-market mid-fi units that populate the big-box stores. The chassis’ sides and top are made out of a fairly attractive matte-black plastic with silk-screened labeling on the top. The back panel is densely populated with numerous connectors, including spring-loaded speaker connections, 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. 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 included remote control is a fairly conventionally styled plastic unit with directional cursor buttons in the center. The buttons are small and not backlit, but they are clearly labeled. With regular use, it became apparent to me that their functionality had been well thought out.
CDs can be ripped into any of several formats chosen by the user. Those looking for maximum capacity can choose low-resolution MP3 files. Personally, I opted for FLAC, which offers full resolution with some space saving. The X10 system can handle audio files in the following formats: MP3, FLAC, WAV, WMA, M4A, AAC, OGG, PCM, M3U, and PLS, with resolutions up to 24-bit/96-kHz. The X10 can be connected to your network via the Ethernet port mentioned above or via an included WiFi antenna that plugs into one of the Type A USB ports. When connected to a network, the X10 can access Internet radio and the Simfy music streaming service (but not Spotify or Pandora), play music files from other servers on the network, or act as a server to other devices such as Sonos. The X10 is Samba- and UPnP-capable for network audio playback. A Web interface allows for control and editing of audio files and playlists when the X10 is connected to a network. Do not despair if you do cannot or simply do not want to connect the X10 to a network, as the USB ports allow for the import and export of audio files via external USB drives. The X10 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.
In line with the X10’s clock radio size, it has sleep and alarm functions, and the front display can even be configured to be an easily read clock.
The X10 is pretty much a standalone system, so my physical connections were limited to the speakers. I connected an Orb Audio Classic One speaker system. This system features a pair of passive, softball-sized spherical satellite speakers and a powered subwoofer. I used the included WiFi dongle to connect to my network and obtain Internet access, but you can easily use an Ethernet cable if you prefer.
The X10 comes with a setup wizard and a quick start guide that got me to ripping CDs onto the internal hard drive in just a few minutes. As I mentioned above, I selected the FLAC format for my ripped audio files.
When I added the X10 to my network, I inadvertently connected it to a secured portion of the network that had Internet access but could not access my main server. This made it frustrating to try to play music off my server: I could see that the X10 was on the network, but it could not access my server. Once I recognized the problem, which was no fault of the X10’s, the fix was quick.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion…
Powering up the X10 takes a little over a minute, which can seem like an extremely long time for those who are used to modern, solid-state stereo systems. Once the X10 is booted up, the home screen comes up, which has six icons arranged in two rows of three. The icons are Music DB, Playlist, iService, CD Player/Rip, Browser, and Setup. Using the directional keys on the remote, I selected the iService icon that contains the Internet radio services. The X10 can also be controlled by via Web browser, which I used with ease on both a laptop and iPad.
The X10 comes with the Reciva Internet radio platform and the Simfy service built in, which are located in the iService section. Simfy requires an account that I did not have set up, so I started with Reciva. Reciva is said to have over 20,000 Internet stations, which is easy to believe once you start exploring your listening options. Genres and geographical areas sort stations. I had no problems searching stations and finding lots of decent music to listen to. The X10 even allows recording of Internet radio, in case you find something new you would like to listen to again. If there is a particular radio show that you would like to hear, you can set the X10 to record it. This feature made me think of my father-in-law: there are a few radio shows that he loves, and this would let him listen to these shows (assuming they are on one of the 20,000-plus internet radio channels) without having to worry about any scheduling concerns.
Sound quality of the Reciva stations varied from downright terrible to comparable with a higher-resolution MP3 file, with most stations on the better side of the spectrum. Most of the stations I found myself listening to had audio quality that was more than passable for background or casual listening, even if not up to audiophile standards.
Ripping discs onto the X10 was painless. Insert the CD into the slot on the front panel, and select the CD Player/Rip icon to play the disc. Pressing the Rip button on the remote pulls up the Ripping Option window, which provides the available format options. I stayed with FLAC, which was pre-selected from my prior setup. The metadata window pops up from the FreeDB website. The data was generally okay, except the year comes up as 9999 and the genre needs to be filled in. Moving the cursor to select disc image results in a pop-up menu with the option to get the cover art from different sources, including local storage and Google. I used Google with success each time. Once the X10 is done ripping the disc, a message pops up letting you know that the rip was successful.
Listening to music–whether it’s directly from a disc, from the internal hard drive, or from a UPnP-capable network drive–involves selecting the source, then searching for the music you want to hear. The X10 allows you to configure how the music information is sorted and displayed. Once the desired music is selected, it starts playing within a couple of seconds, and you can continue browsing your music collection to figure out what you want to listen to next.
This is the portion of the review where I typically discuss the nuances of the sound quality of the component. To be honest, the X10’s sound quality is fine but not spectacular. What makes this product so interesting is that it is a self-contained CD-ripping device with built-in storage, streaming, and Internet radio capabilities. Those seeking an audiophile experience should utilize the optical digital audio output to feed the content to their favorite DAC-equipped stereo system.
The X10 also allows for the importing, copying, editing, and converting of music files. Playlists can be created on the unit via the remote or Web browser, and the browser interface makes it easier to see a larger portion of the available tracks or playlists. Manipulating the playlists was not as easy as with Sonos or JRemote, but hopefully this can be refined with future versions.
The X10’s user interface is effective but not particularly intuitive. The development of a control app that can be run on your smartphone or tablet might be able to rectify this. Some tweaks to the user interface and a well-designed control app would make the X10 a lot more inviting.
While the X10 has network and Internet music capabilities, it does not have any of the popular streaming services, such as Pandora, Beats, or Spotify. These services can easily be incorporated via a smartphone or tablet, but that device will need to be connected through the auxiliary input, as there is no Bluetooth or AirPlay connectivity.
I know that the X10 is about convenience, ease of use, and affordability, not about audiophile sound quality; so, my sound-quality observations should be considered in that context. The non-defeatable EQ and 24/96 resolution limit may pose a legitimate concern if you are looking for an audiophile-grade digital music system, but they were not a limitation for casual listening. The X10’s internal amplifier and DAC worked perfectly fine with easy-to-drive speakers and non-critical listening, but they have their limits, which need to be considered. While the X10 did a fine job driving the Orb Audio speakers, it struggled with the hard-to-drive B&W 805 Diamonds and the MartinLogan Summits. It did successfully drive an older pair of Canton Ergo desktop speakers. I tried the X10’s line-level analog outputs as a source to my reference system, and bypassing the internal amplifier made a definite improvement in sound quality. The X10 was still limited by its internal DAC, which did not provide the detail or linearity provided by any of the standalone DACs I had on hand. I was able to circumvent this by using the digital output to feed my DAC. In short, the X10 has its sonic limitations as a standalone device, but you can raise the performance level by using it as a source and connecting it to an external system.
Comparison and Competition
The product lines with functionality similar to the X10 include Olive and ReQuest. Both the Olive and ReQuest current product lines appear to be more refined and capable, but they are also more expensive. It’s worth noting that Cocktail Audio plans to release higher-end units (the X12, X30, and X40) that will provide more direct competition to the Olive and ReQuest products. The top-shelf X40 will support DSD64, DSD128, and DXD (24/352.8), as well as HD FLAC (24/192), HD WAV (24/192), and the normal WAV, FLAC, ALAC, AIFF, AIF, and AAC formats.
The X10 is a great way to listen to your CD collection without the hassle of actually having to use the physical discs or a computer. With the X10, you can quickly and easily import the music off of your discs or from another hard drive so that all of your music is stored on the pint-sized X10. With a little bit of use, I was able to quickly navigate my way through the X10 to find the music I wanted to play, whether it was on disc, the internal drive, somewhere on the network, or on Internet radio. The X10 has a wide array of options to edit metadata and manage your audio files, which also makes it not just a convenient standalone music system or source to a more ambitious system, but an easy way to get music off of your discs and onto hard drives that can then be used any way you would like.
All in all, the X10 makes it easy to load and listen to CDs. Simply add a pair of speakers, and you can be up and running a few minutes after opening the box. It would make a great self-contained bedroom or office system. If you are looking for more refined sound or have more difficult-to-drive speakers, the X10’s digital output allows it serve as a source for the vast majority of available audio files. The fact that the X10 does this at such an affordable price makes it that much more attractive.
• Visit the Cocktail Audio website for more product information.
• Visit our Media Servers category page to see reviews of similar products.