Quad Artera Solus – So far, Quad’s Artera family has comprised the play+ combined CD transport, DAC and preamp and the Stereo power amp. Now all of these elements (plus streaming) are fitted into a chassis having the same proportions as the other components in the Artera range.
Products promoted as fine examples of industrial design can often appear as stark and cold and the Solus certainly first with this idea – especially if you forgo the contrasting silver fascia favor of chassis-matching black. Bit it also imbues a clean, sharp and chunky form factor with just enough character to charm rather than chill.
At present this £1,500 unit is equipped with aptX Bluetooth providing basic streaming, but this will soon be joined by a premium version that will add app-controlled Wi-Fi streaming or retro-fit network capability to your existing player.
The Artera Solus provides support for PCM data up to 384kHz/32-bit and DSD64/128/256. Connectivity is comprehensive, with double-up optical and coaxial digital inputs plus another two line-level analogue ins and a single USB-B for linking to a PC or Mac.
Outputs, meanwhile, comprise balanced (XLR) and single-ended (RCA) pre-outs for harnessing a more muscular power amplifier, and there’s a choice of coaxial or optical digital outs for use with an external DAC. Quad has also accessed four of the chosen ESS ES9018 DAC chip’s inbuilt filter settings: ‘Fast’, ‘Smooth’, ‘Narrow’ and ‘Wide’.
The slot-loading CD transport mechanism and attendant electronics play their part in allowing the DAC to do its best work, buffering the data being read from the disc – in an effort to minimize jitter – before feeding it asynchronously to the DAC board.
Pre and power amp sections are minimalist in design and are linked by short, direct signal paths. Volume is digitally governed but executed in the analogue domain, outputting directly to the dual-mono Class AB power amp section.
But if the claimed 75W/8ohm power output looks a little modest on paper, Quad avows that its generous reserves of current mean awkward speaker loads simply aren’t a problem. In fact it says the Artera Solus will even drive its demanding electrostatic speakers.
SHINE ON – Spookily apt given the lyric of the first CD into the slot, the player’s portrayal of Bruno Mars’ bouncy ‘Finesse’ [Atlantic] really was dripping in finesse, the artery Solus pulling off the hardest trick of successfully separating the high-energy impetus of the track, with its ballooning bass and staccato drum patterns, from the fine inner detail and complex, layered textures.
With the slow-burning beauty of the Adagio from Vladimir Ashkenazy’s Concertgebouw recording of Rachmaninov’s Symphony No 2 [Decca], the Artera Solus’ richer balance really paid off. It gave the opening section’s gently sighing violins and melody-weaving clarinet fine delicacy and depth.
It was much the same story when we played high-resolution files. Barb Jungr’s 2016 recording of bruce Springsteen’s ‘Long Walk Home’ [Shelter From The Storm; Linn Records, 96kHz/24-bit] sounded fluent and full-bodied while enjoying a warm, natural balance.
As for Bluetooth streaming, this was about as good as it gets. The sound was certainly listenable and stable, even if it was softer and less dynamic than when playing a CD or listening to a hi-res file.
The Quad Artera Solus has to be one of the most desirable one-box systems we’ve far heard. Compact, sturdy and boasting a sound that’s just rich but powerful, it makes a compelling case for itself at the price.
VERDIT – The Artera Solus is a tremendous one-box system and an absolute steal. It may lack Wi-Fi streaming at present, but it not only looks and feels far more expensive than it is, it sounds it too. Partner it with fine speakers, though, to show what it’s really capable of.