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To firmly shut the door on past reliability issues (which unfortunately weren’t limited to the French but also affected the integrated SACD players of dCS and Musical Fidelity), Audioaéro today proposes to each existing Prestige owner impacted by transport deficiencies that the company will buy back the old player at a price relatively close to the initial introductory price and apply it against a new La Source or La Fontaine. To acquire this latest technical achievement via a partial trade remains a small expense of course and each Prestige owner will have to evaluate the interest of such a proposal personally. It should be a significant upgrade into the digital high-end stratosphere. Will everyone be prepared for that? I wouldn’t know but I can give them—and also the happy few liquid enough to proceed without any rebates or buy-backs—my personal assessment of the machine’s capabilities and overall performance.
La Source arrives in a heavy ca. 80lb double cardboard box. At first glance it was quite disappointing considering the sticker but once I cracked it open I laid eyes on a beautiful flight case made from aluminum and wood. On the wooden cover a burnt engraving of Audioaéro’s name and logo adds a touch of refinement. The handles between flight case and cardboard allowed for easy extraction despite the considerable mass of the thing. The player itself proved safely protected and two slots on either side assisted in getting it out of its cocoon effortlessly. I now ogled the most luxurious hifi case work I have ever taken receipt of. Sometimes when I see or hear of specific devices being shipped in robust flight cases I consider it an unnecessary and flashy expense. In this case and given the implied cost-no-object ambitions, such shipping dress code seemed quite mandatory however.
The external appearance suggests build quality, solidity and classic elegance. After a few hours of operations it became obvious how the external design also aims to preserve ergonomics. Every function can be easily accessed from the large front panel or remote. There is no specific hitch to make life unnecessarily complicated. I did not have to read the manual to learn about more sophisticated operations. Unlike certain Japanese competitors I previously had opportunity to use in my system, life with La Source was simple. Nevertheless an accurate manual accompanies the shipment just in case.
Ergonomics extend to the central display. Each operational status is clearly displayed and visible from the listening chair Only the volume level was hard to make out from my couch. All things considered that’s not crucial data. I thus feel obliged to acknowledge in La Source the most comfortable and convenient device I have ever used in this product category. The refinement here really reflects a perfect balance between cosmetics and user friendliness.
Another aspect of all this is the aluminum casework. This extremely rigid chassis isolates the Esoteric drive from internal and external vibrations. It consists of a 10mm 30lbs bottom steel frame for a rigid stable base for the player to isolate small vibrations that could affect lens or clock precision and to improve readout accuracy. Thick anodized aluminum graces top and front panels machined from 50mm stock. The chassis is supported by three high-performance Akytina feet for perfect isolation from any supporting stand/shelf. When I received the player I did not know what finish the firm had dispatched.
I was a little upset by the black not due to personal taste but for predicting a more difficult photography session and having to regularly clean dust. If my fear was justified for photography, I was completely wrong about the dust. The black anodized rippled chassis did in fact not attract much dust and the La Source was far cleaner always than other equipment in my system. It’s simply a pity that the black chassis does not completely look the part in the pictures.
Let’s move on to more substantial features. It was important to cover the above because it is undeniable that such factors sum up over the long term and even over the short term if you attempt to explore all the functionality of such a versatile multi tasker. As mentioned already the transport of Audioaéro’s flagship player is from Esoteric. It is their second most prestigious current transport and the best available for OEM. The VRDS-NEO VMK-5 mechanism is said to incorporate high reliability and exceptionally quiet rotation. This has been a completely new development by Esoteric. The VMK-5 is optimized for the high-speed disc rotation of SACDs with a high-precision aluminum turntable. A polycarbonate anti-resonance disc attaches to the turntable to reduce unwanted resonance associated with single-material turntable design. As a result the VMK-5 claims to maintain better rotational inertia than competing turntable designs and ensure high reliability, controlled resonance and extremely quiet operation.
Esoteric developed an ingenious component structure for driving the laser lens using a highly accurate shaft-mounted pickup assembly. This system ensures that the laser’s optical axis is always positioned at the very center of the pit track for optimal reading. This minimizes the adverse effects of orbital eccentric disc shake and tracking offset. This highly accurate pickup system and vibration-free VRDS sled are what define the outstanding mechanical performance of La Source. The tray’s mechanism does not operate with the same silence as the Luxman D-06 however which still represents the most impressive disc loader I’ve encountered.