Product: Argon Audio Solo Streamer
Manufacturer: Argon Audio - Denmark
Cost: 249EUR (Currency conversion) - (YMMV)
Reviewer: Graeme Budd - TNT France
Reviewed: May, 2023
Regular readers will have noticed that I tend to review old school formats - ie vinyl and CD. Thinking back I did have a go with a DAC a few years ago but I've never gone anywhere near the world of streaming. Well recently I've been dragged into the digital age by several streamers and I have to admit I've enjoyed it. So without further ado it's time for the Argon Audio Solo Streamer.
I admit I hadn't heard of Argon Audio until their Italian representative contacted our editor. Some brief correspondence with Argon and I ended up with a Solo streamer and a set of Forte A55 Mk2 Active speakers to play with. We agreed that I'd review them separately although I have a feeling the Solo will be getting used with The Forte A55 Mk2s as part of their upcoming review. TNT-Audio has already reviewed the SA1 integrated amp and the Alto 55 mkII passive floorstanders.
Argon Audio hails from Denmark and has been around since 1983! Everything is designed in Denmark and is sold direct with a 30 day return policy so you can try in the comfort of your own home. If you don't like it you pack it up, stick the prepaid label on and back to Denmark it goes and you get your money back. Whilst this direct selling business model is different to traditional hifi retail and many hifi shops are likely not keen on it, it does promise maximum bang for the buck for you the consumer. And as most of their range is at what many of us would refer to as entry level prices, the more you get for your money the better.
Anyway enough about the company and onto the product itself. The Solo is a small black box with a gold logo on top. Round the back there are a couple of sockets (RCA Analogue and both Optical and Coax digital) and on the front a multi colour LED. So no screens, volume knobs, loudness buttons or anything else. It actually looks like the type of artifact that a certain Dr Jones would try and prevent the Germans from stealing if it existed in 1938. I really rather like it - it's wonderfully understated.
Inside there is a ESS Sabre DAC and some selected audiophile components including Burr Brown Op Amps used where they make a difference (and not where they don't to optimize the price/performance ratio). The Solo is AirPlay2, Chromecast, Spotify Connect, Bluetooth and Roon Ready and will support up to 24bit 192khz audio if your network will and assuming you actually have any of these files!
While we're talking network connections there's something interesting in that the Solo only works via wireless. There's no Ethernet connection whatsoever. Now as a traditional sort of chap this had me a bit concerned but frankly it connects flawlessly to my router and hasn't caused any issues despite being in the room the furthest from aforementioned router. Oh the prejudices that we all have especially when the dreaded 50th birthday is getting ever closer.
Setting up is really easy and the Solo easily sets up to run with audio services via Bluetooth. Network connection is also easily - I downloaded a UPnP/DLNA app, named the Solo and everything connected fairly quickly. A certain amount of manual reading is required for those of us who have no idea what UPnp or DLNA are but honestly I was up and running in 10 minutes and digging into the music library on my NAS drive. In all honesty I've come across harder to use washing machines...
I hooked the Solo up to the AN(UK) Oto SE and some Living Voice IBX-RW3s to see what it could do. I had the Audiophonics DAC/Streamer for comparison along with a couple of CD players. Controlling everything was achieved by either my Galaxy A5 phone or the family Galaxy Tab when I could stop N°2 son playing Roblox on it....
I could cut this section short and just say the Solo is really rather good but it merits a more in depth explanation. Firstly the wifi data transmission is superb. No drop outs or other audible problems to report. I compared the Solo with my Naim CD5i (which cost 1400€ back in 2003) using the CDs I'd ripped to my hard drive and frankly the differences were minimal even when using over 10,000€ worth of amp and speakers. I'd even venture that the Solo out performs the Naim in certain aspects.
As an example I've been re-discovering Daft Punk's Homework recently. Using track 5 Phoenix the Solo appears to better discriminate between the different hits of what I presume is a Roland TR-909 drum machine during the intro. The Solo shows that the hits aren't all identical whereas the Naim tends to just want to get them out of the speakers with as much force as possible. The bass line is equally well produced and frankly it's only when you take a big step up price wise (Audio Note CD2.1X II at the best part of 5000€) that you'll find the Solo wanting. The more expensive player projects better, is more organic sounding and has better stereo depth. But hey - you'd expect that for a machine that costs as much as 15(!) Solos!
At this point I wondered if the Solo could be made better by a better DAC so I tried the Audiophonics EVO Sabre DAC.connected by fibre optic. Here the differences were even more minimal and likely inaudible when in a 1,000€ system. Yes there is an improvement in overall clarity but we've just tripled the overall budget of the Solo to get a small improvement.
One thing that was audible was an improvement in drive by adding some Something Solid balsa/carbon feet insead of the standard feet on the unit - Madonna's What it feels like for a girl felt a little lackluster at the start and adding the feet added some energy to her vocal performance. But this was at the expense of some warmth and texture to instruments and vocals and less precision in some aspects of the stereo image. In the end I ended up coming back to the Solo without the feet. I'm guessing Naim fans would probably prefer the presentation with the feet for maximum PRaT but without the Solo allows you to better appreciate the character of the instruments and the communicative power of voices. I admit to getting trapped in the search for dynamism for a while but I'm glad I didn't rely on my initial impression and my enjoyment of the Solo was all the better for it.
On the subject of stereo I referred to above the Solo can really spread out information if it's there - no doubt helped by the abilities of the Living Voices - but obviously if the information isn't there in the first place even the LVs can't work magic! Burial's Shell of Light showing sounds way outside and several feet forward of the plane of the speakers. It also revealed the stereo image precision I mentioned above. Adding the feet to up the drive aspect removed the shimmer and positioning of a jingle that suddenly appears mid stage (and I'd wager that it's a sample of the original Vangelis Bladerunner soundtrack) and that takes you by surprise. Similarly the focus and positioning of the percussion hits was less well defined.
As I mentioned above there isn't the stereo depth achieved by higher end units. But to be honest the speakers the Solo is likely to be partnered with probably wouldn't show that level of detail and will likely not be a metre out from the walls to achieve that depth anyway!
Argon has obviously done its homework and come up with an inert casing that is little affected by what are normally effective devices. This can only bode well for non optimized installation on a bookcase or sideboard!
My underlying impression is that the Argon Audio design brief for this product was a) simple, b) easy to set up and to accommodate even in non specialist environments and c) make sure that it sounds good and I think they've succeeded on all three counts. And if d) was make it look cool, well they can have points on that one too. Argon Audio has come up with a cracking little streamer for the modern world here and to me is exactly what a lot of people are looking for. Yes you can get better digital sound but you'll have to spend a lot more money in my experience. For 249€ there really is little to beef about. It's well made, integrates easily into your home network and produces a quality of sound that never left me wanting. The Solo gets a thumbs up from me.
© Copyright 2023 Graeme Budd - email@example.com - www.tnt-audio.com