Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Cairn Fog v2.0 as transport; Zanden Audio Model 5000 MkIII DAC; Ortho Spectrum AR-2000 filter/buffer on the DAC's analog outputs; Eastern Electric MiniMax CDP [on review]
Preamp/Integrated: Bel Canto PRe2 GenII; Eastern Electric MiniMax [on loan]; Acoustic Reality eAR Pre2 [on review]; Antique Sound Lab MGHead DT/OTL 32 [on review]; Wyetech Labs Opal [on review]
Amp: AUDIOPAX Model 88; Bel Canto eVo 4 GenII; Eastern Electric MiniMax amplifier [on review]
Speakers: Avantgarde Acoustic DUO; nOrh SM 6.9, Gallo Acoustic Reference III
Cables: HMS Grand Finale; Analysis Plus Solo Oval and Oval 8; i2digital X-60 and Stereovox HDXV S/PDIF cables; Mapleshade Ebony active S/PDIF interconnect; Furutech Digi. Reference BNC-BNC digital cable; ma recordings BNC/BNC reference digital cable [on review]; Mapleshade Planar power cord with DC bias; Audio Magic Clairvoyant power cords; Crystal Cable Reference complete wire set of analog and digital interconnects, speaker cables and power cords; Z-Cable Reference Cyclone power cords on both powerline conditioner; 2 x Stealth Audio Cables Indra analogue &Varidig S/PDIF cable [on review]; Artistic Audio Vacuum Reference S/PDIF [on review]; Dynamic Design digital interconnects [on review]; Audience Au24 digital interconnect [on review]
Stands: Grand Prix Audio Monaco four-tier
Powerline conditioning: BPT BP-3.5 Signature; Walker Audio Velocitor for source components
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for tube amps; GPA Apex footers underneath stand and speakers; Walker Audio SST on all connections; Walker Audio Vivid CD cleaner; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; WorldPower cryo'd Hubbell wall sockets; Musse Audio resonance dampers on DUO subs; Mapleshade 4" solid maple platform under BPT conditioner
Room size: 30' w x 18' d x 10' h [sloping ceiling] in long-wall setup in one half, with open adjoining living room for a total of ca.1000 squ.ft floor plan and significant 'active' cubic air volume of essentially the entire (small) house
Review component retail: $4,800

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far far away, even a non-esoteric brand like Parasound offered four different DACs in the line-up. Simultaneously, there existed a colorful and broad breed of separate anti-jitter devices, interpolators, upsamplers and even anti-digital black boxes that were said to inject analogue feel-good vibes between transport and DAC or DAC and preamp. 'Twas the high life for digital separates.

Alas, with the advent of DVD-A and SACD, lowly RedBook receded into the background of de rigeur cutting-edge technology. Makers of digital source components responded by offering integrated one-box machines previously considered declassé by the ultra-performance avantgarde. More time passed as is the wont of time. Audiodharma's wheel turned, the balance shifted. Today, we find ourselves at the cusp of a surprising RedBook renaissance wherein separate DACs, transports and reclockers from the likes of 47lab, Audiomeca, Burmester, CEC, Classé, dCS, EMM Labs/Meitner, Ensemble, Esoteric, mbl, Orpheus Labs, Wadia and Zanden vie for the attention of those who believe there's far more information and musical satisfaction hidden in the old digital format than had been previously assumed or was even accessible.

Now add the German brand Accustic Arts to this list. It is represented in the US by prior Ensemble distributor Brian Ackerman of Artistic Audio who recently relinquished the Swiss franchise to Ray Lombardi who was previously with Audio Note UK and still handles Gamut for our domestic market.

This change of the guard meant that my sneak-previewed Ensemble transport review loaner was recalled. It is to be replaced by its new distributor when a spare unit becomes available that doesn't already have a dealer's or customer's name on it. If timing turns out in our favor, the planned comparison between the Accustic Arts and Ensemble transports can still take place. For today though, the German Drive 1 will solely be compared to my French one-box Cairn v2.0 player. Long ago, Chris Johnson of the PartsConneXion had added a top-quality BNC digital output to it (the stock Cairn connection is limited to Toslink) so I could partner it with my resident Zanden DAC, a combination I've used as my reference digital front-end ever since.

And therein lies a disclaimer. You and I both would have to believe that a dedicated transport has to outperform a one-box machine used as a transport. What leg would the separate transport genre have to stand on otherwise? While the perhaps more interesting comparison would be one between dedicated transports, today's comparative context will be of value if we ask two simple questions: How much can a separate transport which sells for roughly double than the player-as-transport it is judged against add to overall system performance? And in what sonic categories of our usual audiophile checklist would those improvements occur (if improvements rather than mere differences were indeed to be heard)?

The Accustic Arts Drive 1 is an exceedingly elegant, classy and handsome silver/chrome device with a 3/8" thick fascia. The sand-blasted company logo in the clear circular lid is backlit blue in playback mode. Two massive chromed front panel controls for back/next and standby/operate bracket two small push buttons on either side of the green-against-black central display to initiate play and stop. The IR receiver on the left and a blue power indicator on the right of the easily legible readout complete the uncluttered symmetrical front panel. The power indicator remains lit in both play and standby modes and is extinguished only when the rear-panel mains switch is deactivated.

Accustic Art's 24/96 CD-Player 1 is visually identical to the Drive 1 save for the RCA/XLR analogue outputs and retails for $6,500. The matching DAC I Mk-2 retails for $4,800/$5,200 in single-ended/balanced guise. The metal-skin CDRII remote is standard with both the Drive I and CD-Player and offers the usual direct-track access, skip/fast next/back and play/pause/stop controls, three time modes, two repeat modes, program, scan, A/B and shuffle.

The rear panel is equally simple and offers transformer-coupled RCA, AES/EBU and BNC digital outputs without a selector switch (Toslink is optional) plus the mandatory IEC power inlet. The manual lid sports an angle-cut post adorned with the chromed company logo and protects the cast-metal Philips CDM PRO lens assembly which is surrounded by a lining of fine black felt to absorb stray laser reflections. A custom magnetic puck affixes the CD to the bearing spindle and is mandatory to initiate play. S/PDIF output voltage on both BNC and RCA is 0.42V @ 75ohms and 3.1V @110ohms on the balanced output. Internally, four independent "generously dimensioned" power supplies handle laser control, DSP, display control and display heating.

Removing the well-damped chassis cover via 8 side-fitted hex screws showed the twin lid rails with the side-firing arrays of blue lights like runway signals. I also inspected the 3/16" thick metal dividers that seperate the left-handed main power supply board with the transformer from a separate circuit bay behind the central transport section.

This look-see under the hood further exposed the massive Elma switches behind the fascia.

Looking underneath the glass cover from behind, one spots the spring suspension of the CDM-Pro which seems to be the transport of choice for many firms who don't manufacture their own sub-assemblies like Esoteric or Audiomeca's Pierre Lurné. The Pro is used by both Urs Wagner of Ensemble and Kazutoshi Yamada of Zanden. The glass cover of the Accustic Arts Drive itself is 1/4" thick and like everything else about this machine of hefty substance and high finish.

Throughout its stay in Taos, the Drive 1 never once wigged out and was used exclusively via its BNC output which, from experience, always outperforms RCA-driven S/PDIF due to its true 75-ohm interface. I didn't have AES/EBU-terminated digital cables on hand and thus won't report on any difference of output formats.