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Product: Roksan Caspian
Manufacturer: Roksan - UK Approx. price: 1000 UK pounds
Reviewer: Geoff Husband
Many years ago, in the dim past, during the time of "flat earth", there came a new champion. Where others feared to tread, Xerxes strode out to do battle with the feared Linn - lord of all he surveyed and slayer of many a pretender to the throne. Much was the meyhem caused, soon the luddites, previously loyal to the "12" split asunder to form new entrenched positions, no quarter was given or asked for, but all the time the common enemy was growing in power. Ceedee or "Lord Perfect" to his blind followers strode across the land laying waste to the "analogues", leaving them a only tiny corner to fight over - Nirvanna.
And so it came to pass that Xerxes and Linn brought forth offspring that followed the path of Ceedee and yet remained mortal foes. Still Xerxes and Linn stayed locked in combat, but around them the kingdom had passed to the newcomers.
Which is of course as good a way as any to introduce Roksans new baby:-) The Caspian CD mk2, an extensive update of an old favorite and yet another first for TNT.
As you've guessed, it was Roksan with their Xerxes that broke the hedgemony of the Linn LP12 in Britain at least. A few years later Roksan beat Linn to the draw with their original CD player, followed by a more mid-market Caspian CD now updated for 2000. For the full technical spec see Roksan's site
I'm not going to beat
about the bush here. The Caspian is the best looking CD player under
1000 pounds. In a world where 99% of components sport a black
rectangular box with a face plate of varying thickness and finish
depending on aspiration/cost, the Caspian range comes as a breath of
Although it is standard width and average height the case is made of a folded, unusually thick, steel sheet in a lozenge shape. The thick alloy faceplate echo's the case shape with truncated corners. All allen bolted together rather than the usual self tappers. It's a bugger to describe and better in the flesh than in the photo but the result looks original and "right".
It pulls off the impossible feat of looking "macho" and handsome with hints of pretty. Most components either look anonymous or draw a range of comments from people who see it. The Caspian's appearance was liked by everyone (male and female) who saw it. This sort of casework doesn't come cheap, but it is shared with all the other Caspian components (tuner, amp, power amp, processor) so the initial tooling costs are well spread.
Though it looks
completely different, its completeness of design reminds me of the
wonderful styling of the original Musical Fidelity A1 designed by
"Pentangle". It's a perfect example of industrial design -
well done. To put the icing on the cake the ubiquitous slit for the
CD is covered by a large alloy casting which also sports the LED
This flips down out of the way when the (admittedly plasticky) CD sled shoots out, then snaps shut as it retreats. It 'aint as nice as cueing an LP but satisfying nevertheless. The outside isn't just pretty, it is substancial even for this price point and the gold plated phonos for line and digital output keep up the quality appearance.
I hear some cry "who
cares what it looks like it's only the sound that matters!".
True but only up to a point. When something has been put together
with such obvious care in design and construction it gives confidence
that the internals will be well thought out and likely to stay
Personally "what's under the lid" is meaningless to me. I'd rather have something that uses 50p's worth of components and sounds good and looks fantastic rather than something that uses 500 pounds worth of components sounds no better and looks like it was made in somebody's garage...
The days when someone could pop into Maplins and buy a box and fill it with components to market it as tweeky "hi-end" are thankfully over. There's also the problem of WAF or HAF, no partner will object to the Caspian.
That said the internals are up to the same standard... The change to Mk2 status has brought major changes in both the DAC and power supply circuitry. The main power supply features a toroid that wouldn't disgrace a budget integrated amp with a second toroid powering the analogue circuits thus isolating them from the digital gubbins. Five printed circuit boards each have their own regulated power rail and the mains is fitered before use. Tweeks like the rubbery coating on the casework show that all those years of vibration analysis with turntables weren't wasted.
For such a "styled" product the botton layout is very logical and easy to use, all major functions being available. The handset is one of those system thingies that does anything but make the tea - being a luddite and retaining use of my legs and index finger I didn't use it.
I suppose having read the above you won't be surprised to know that my own CD player is a Micromega Solo, a high-end concoction of perspex and Darth Vadar alloy, beautiful and being a top-loader close enough in operation to a turntable to make putting a CD on a pleasure:-) With the Antileon clock mod it's good enough to provide background music without being good enough for me to want to listen to music on it when the Orbe is calling to me... It's biggest failing is that it doesn't come close to the full blooded, powerful and spacious delivery of my Orbe/SME/XV-1 combination, dispite being more "analogue" than most. It tends to sound weedy in comparison with a much lighter-weight and more artificial presentation. This of course makes system matching difficult at best.
The Caspian duly
replaced it, I used the Hydra
rather than the supplied "kettle" lead and both Roksan's
own Isoda interconnect (which it liked) and the Origin
Live cable (which was too laid back).
I used it on my expensive marble chopping board (7 pounds from a kitchen shop, 170 from your hi-fi dealer...) with some sorbothane beneath it to good effect.
The first thing to note is that with the mains switch on the back panel it's designed to be left on all the time and does benifit from several hours of warming up. From cold the bass is a bit loose but soon settles down.
As befits a company who started by making turntables the Caspian seemed immediatly better balanced in my vinyl based system than the Solo. Where the Solo could sound a bit thin the Caspian managed to add a touch of warmth to the proceedings without you feeling that the signal was being manipulated or "slugged". Putting on Simply Red's "Sad Old Red" on CD and vinyl showed a closer balance to the Orbe, the bass sounding sufficiently "fruity" without being overblown. Likewise on "Time Out" you got the impression of a real big resonant bass being plucked rather than the more common "boing boing" budget CD's produce.
Further up the scale the top end was unusually free of grain. Female country singers really grate on some CD players, the prime example being Nancy Griffiths who does a passing impression of a cat wailing given the wrong CD player. Here she sounded clear and incisive - as intended. Joe Morello's Cymbal on "Time Out" showed good size and shape, decaying relatively well for a CD player.
It's smooth delivery
also helped dodgy CD's - of which there are many. "The very best
of Arethra Franklyn" on Rhino must be a tenth generation
mastertape but the Caspian made the sublime "I say a little
prayer" suitably wonderful, where the Solo merely picked at its
Where the (much more expensive) Solo regained ground was in soundstaging and atmosphere - the Caspian remaining bound between the speakers though giving realistic images rather than the etherial "ghosts" some strive for and which I find unrealistic. The good bass weight helped the dynamics, Verdi's "Dies Irae" making the hairs prickle at the back of my neck - a rare feat for any CD player.
Detail retrieval was excellent, certainly up with the Solo. It also managed to present the detail as a coherant whole rather than taking the music apart and presenting it in bits (bytes?).
Overall the Caspian
produced a smooth, detailed and coherant view of events. It doesn't
have quite the etherial, breathy quality of some rivals but then
that's not my cup of tea anyway - it might be pretty but music
doesn't sound like that.
Ultimately the vinyl reference retained a healthy superiority in all areas bar background noise, but considering the huge price difference anything else would unrealistic. It would be interesting to see how it matched up to Roksans own Radius/Tabriz TT, a similar price so a fair challenge - maybe Roksan might play ball :-)
From the point of
design and build quality the Caspian is very hard to criticise.
Inside the box it is well put together and the sound leaves little to
be desired at the price. It's the sort of component that I'd be happy
to recommend "blind" to someone because though it doesn't
reach the heights of a top turntable, (does any CD player?) it's even
handed, doesn't do anything particularly wrong and manages to make
music on the way.
isn't fussy over partnering equipment yet it shows budget players a clean pair of heels. A player like the Solo needs commitment and a system built around it, the Caspian just gets on with the job. For me it has the added attribute from the point of view of balance, of being more able to live in a system with a top vinyl front end.
It's a product that speaks volumes for the improved production values of British hi-fi and if I were in the market for a 1000 pound CD player it would be high on my personal audition list. That I'm happy to use it now - after the end of the review period and before I have to send it back - in place of my own Solo, says it all...
© Copyright 2000 Geoff Husband - http://www.tnt-audio.com
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