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Cocktail Audio X45 Streamer/Ripper/DAC Review

Rate this streamer/DAC:

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 30 14.5%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 108 52.2%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 63 30.4%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 6 2.9%

  • Total voters
    207

amirm

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Cocktail Audio X45 streamer, balanced DAC, CD player/ripper, file server and analog preamplifier. It is on kind loan from a member. It costs US $2995 but seems to have recently been discontinued.
Cocktail Audio X45 DAC Streamer balanced Ethernet USB CD ripper review.jpg

The large LCD screen is striking. Alas, the graphics seem outdated and processor too slow to even keep up with volume control adjustment. The feel of the rotary control switch (when pushed in) is superb but the responsiveness of the control needs a bit of work. I could not quite figure out some of the options. When playing Menu for example, it would just give me an error. I thought it would give me settings for the built-in DAC. The back panel shows the myriad of inputs, outputs and functionality of the unit:

Cocktail Audio X45 DAC Streamer balanced Ethernet USB CD ripper preamplifier back panel review.jpg


Don't think they could cram more into this box! :) Good on them to make such a full function audio device.

Cocktail Audio X45 DAC Measurements
Let's start with our usual dashboard with volume adjusted to 4 volts using XLR Out, and USB In:
Cocktail Audio X45 DAC Streamer balanced USB Measurement.png


This lands the unit in our "very good" bucket of all DACs tested:
Best streamer audio review stereo.png


Considering the use of ancient ESS ES9018 DAC, the implementation is not bad and matches company specifications. RCA Out is nearly the same:
Cocktail Audio X45 DAC Streamer RCA USB Measurement.png


Streamer performance is the same as USB:
Cocktail Audio X45 DAC Streamer balanced Ethernet USB Measurement.png


We do have a lot of low level noise spikes which show up clearly in our jitter test:
Cocktail Audio X45 DAC Streamer balanced USB Jitter Measurement.png

I removed the Ethernet cable and it got a hair better but most of the noise remained. I suspect this is internal processor interference into the DAC.

Dynamic range lands in the same category:
Cocktail Audio X45 DAC Streamer balanced USB Dynamic Range Measurement.png


Linearity is excellent though:
Cocktail Audio X45 DAC Streamer balanced USB Linearity Measurement.png


Multitone shows increasing distortion with frequency but still pretty good:
Cocktail Audio X45 DAC Streamer balanced USB Multitone Measurement.png


IMD distortion would have been competitive for the time it came out:
Cocktail Audio X45 DAC Streamer balanced USB IMD Measurement.png


I am disappointed that a slow filter is selected with no way to change it:
Cocktail Audio X45 DAC Streamer balanced USB Filter Measurement.png


This allows too much ultrasonic noise to be generated, causing our wideband THD+N look poor:
Cocktail Audio X45 DAC Streamer balanced USB THD vs frequency Measurement.png


Cocktail Audio X45 Analog Preamplifier Measurement
I thought I do a quick test of analog RCA In, XLR Out with volume at max:

Cocktail Audio X45 DAC Streamer balanced USB Analog Preamplifier Measurement.png


Sadly we don't clear 16 bit hurdle due to high distortion. But could have been worse.

Conclusions
By today's standard, the X45 is too expensive with performance that can't keep up with what you can buy now. But in the context of 2019 release date, performance seems competent, albeit with some specific choices which should have been different (slow filter). Tons of functionality is provide which helps partially justify the cost.

I see refurbished units available for $2,290. I think that is still too much for this level of performance. But if you need all this functionality, I don't see what your options are short of using a computer.

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As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

Any donations are much appreciated using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
 

Talisman

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Thank you Amir for the review and I can understand your point however four ratings "not terrible"
Seriously?
In a single package there are streamers, dacs and pre-amplifiers, all with almost certainly transparent performance, net of the fetishistic need to see perfectly clean screens.
This is the type of product that unfortunately is no longer available and that solves a lot of problems, that provides a single hub for all multimedia with still excellent performance and almost certainly not blindly distinguishable from sota dacs.
For me this is an exceptional product, and it is the emblem of what the hifi world seems to be unable to offer anymore
 

martijn86

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$800.- refurbished, I can see how someone might like this. Performance doesn't match that price but there's a lot to play with and maybe you really wanted it back in the day but couldn't afford it?
But this is the price of a really nice high end laptop. There is no way that it is worth $2300!
 

FINFET

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This is the type of product that unfortunately is no longer available and that solves a lot of problems, that provides a single hub for all multimedia with still excellent performance and almost certainly not blindly distinguishable from sota dacs.
For me this is an exceptional product, and it is the emblem of what the hifi world seems to be unable to offer anymore
It's nice to have but, that's 2200 dollars... It's basically a low end computer that even can't do GUI smoothly, a so-so DAC+Amp, and a CD transport combined. One can buy a much more responsive computer with a much better DAC Amp combo for streaming and converting purposes with less than half the cost.
 

phoenixdogfan

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So it's like a Mele Quieter 3 (or a RPI), a Khadas Tone Board, EAC, and a Chromecast Audio all bundled together in a really nice looking box for only $3k.
 

Gadgety

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Never heard of this brand. The unit certainly packs a lot of functionality akin to a PC, albeit ARM Cortex A9 driven. I like the drawer for the harddisk. Odd that's it being discontinued as it's listed as "new" on their website. They also list a Pro version, which uses the ESS Pro chip version and shielded transformer and SMPS. It still uses the same processor and screen so it's going to present the same UI sluggishness. Your reviews have taugtht me that paper specs do not necessarily translate into high performance, as it's rests with the engineering. Let's see if your review will end up on their Review & Award listings... For this money a PC with external DAC would make a lot more sense, would do blurays, movies and a whole lot of other stuff, too.
 

Ken Tajalli

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It looks as though it has a linear PSU .
If I am correct , it explaind the noise patterns everywhere .
I wonder!
Edit:
From the pictures on the net, it is an SMPS, with a second transformer that I reckon feeds the display, remote etc. So perhaps a shielding was required for this secondary PSU.
Or perhaps, the bottom centre board is indeed an LPS for the electronics, and the SMPS is for remote and display! I wonder!
I have not seen mains leakage from an SMPS, those noise patterns seems to be EMI.

https%3A%2F%2Fhifi.nl%2Fgfx%2F20180627121651_Review_Cocktail_Audio_X45_4.jpg


IMG_8707.jpg
 
Last edited:

Music707

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Thank you very much for the review, Amir.

Although I am using the X50 (no inbuilt DAC) I always was curious as to what level of engineering I should expect. Your review nicely helps me to make an educated guess.

According to what I see the X45 has not been discontinued yet. On the German Cocktail Audio site it is still listed among the current products and can be purchased from the Cocktail Audio shop (see second picture).

1685608780946.jpeg


1685609180746.jpeg


Due to the fact that we have German reviews of the X45 from the first half of 2018 (see first picture) chances are that the unit was already available in 2018.

Just for the record: On hifiheaven.net new units are still available (besides refurbished ones).

1685609220787.jpeg


Somebody interested in the X45 or one of its "siblings" should consider buying the unit without a hard drive or SSD and install one at home because Cocktail Audio sells the installed drives with some "mark up".
 

digicidal

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It might be more attractive for the "no PC in my rack" types, despite literally being a PC for the rack. Can't see justification for this over a Mac Mini and SOTA Topping or SMSL DAC combo - both of which could be had for less than half the price. At least it does have an HDMI output... but then so does every PC - and they wouldn't struggle to keep such a simplistic GUI responsive. Meh all around I'd say, but good to see it reviewed.

Definitely makes that Eversolo seem like a ridiculous bargain by comparison.
 

TonyJZX

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i'm usually not a fan of these but i can see how things get harder the more you stuff in it and your UI starts going bonkers... sure you can always get better performance when you seperate out the stuff but there's a market for this kind of thing

but brace yourselves, there's an X45 Pro for double the price if you so desire!

to my mind i cannot really expect a Korean company or any company to support a five year old device and of course, things move on so for $2,000.... eh...
 

Music707

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i'm usually not a fan of these but i can see how things get harder the more you stuff in it and your UI starts going bonkers... sure you can always get better performance when you seperate out the stuff but there's a market for this kind of thing

but brace yourselves, there's an X45 Pro for double the price if you so desire!

to my mind i cannot really expect a Korean company or any company to support a five year old device and of course, things move on so for $2,000.... eh...

If your understanding of support includes firmware updates you might be surprised to see this:

1685613088462.jpeg
 

TheWalkman

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Thank you Amir for the review and I can understand your point however four ratings "not terrible"
Seriously?
In a single package there are streamers, dacs and pre-amplifiers, all with almost certainly transparent performance, net of the fetishistic need to see perfectly clean screens.
This is the type of product that unfortunately is no longer available and that solves a lot of problems, that provides a single hub for all multimedia with still excellent performance and almost certainly not blindly distinguishable from sota dacs.
For me this is an exceptional product, and it is the emblem of what the hifi world seems to be unable to offer anymore

But $3000 (or $2000 refurb)? This is the equivalent of a 50” rear projection TV: in it’s day, it may have been something else but by today’s standards, this Cocktail has lost its fizz and gone flat.
 
Last edited:

GWolfman

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Loving all the input and output options! Let’s hope a new/updated version comes out and drops the price a bit. ;)

Thanks @amirm! And how’s the garden coming along this year? Maybe a bit too early for some harvest pics?
 

Koeitje

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Seems to be a fairly competent device. Audio performance is good enough and has many features. Too bad about the slow interface and the slow filter. You can buy a lot worse than this. Especially back then. These days it's not worth this kind of money, but if you own one there is little to complain about if the slow interface doesn't bother you.
 

JeremyFife

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Looks pretty interesting actually, except for the price! and Amir's review comment "I don't see what your options are short of using a computer" when using a computer is a pretty straightforward option. I couldn't justify it, but it's still interesting.
 

PeteL

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It might be more attractive for the "no PC in my rack" types, despite literally being a PC for the rack. Can't see justification for this over a Mac Mini and SOTA Topping or SMSL DAC combo - both of which could be had for less than half the price. At least it does have an HDMI output... but then so does every PC - and they wouldn't struggle to keep such a simplistic GUI responsive. Meh all around I'd say, but good to see it reviewed.

Definitely makes that Eversolo seem like a ridiculous bargain by comparison.
Do you know many PCs with AES/EBU outs and ins? Phono and analog ins?
 

TonyJZX

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Do you know many PCs with AES/EBU outs and ins? Phono and analog ins?


you make it sound like as if anyone with modern tastes even wants that shit.... OR people with that much money can afford a better phono preamp

in 2018 that choice was questionable? today..., well

Its like the screen... I'm sure 1,280 x 768 ips touchscreens was pretty hot stuff back then... but people have moved on
 
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