Quad Artera Solus All-in-One System Review

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by Ed Selley May 8, 2018 at 6:54 AM

  • Hi-Fi review

    5

    Highly Recommended
    Quad Artera Solus All-in-One System Review
    SRP: £1,499.95

    What is the Artera Solus?

    The Quad Artera Solus is a new all-in-one system from Quad and takes elements of the existing Artera electronics and shrinks them down into a single chassis. Since they have become part of the IAG family of brands, Quad has walked an interesting line between continuing to be a ‘classic’ hifi brand that makes products that would be largely familiar in design to company founder Peter Walker and producing some very clever and forward thinking products (and sometimes combining both disciplines to unlikely effect in products like the VA-One valve amp).

    The Artera family is very definitely in the latter category. Until now, it has been a two box system that combines a conventional (and very hefty) power amp with an innovative CD and digital preamp to create an attractive and capable system. Compact and capable it might be but it comes in two boxes rather than one and that isn’t (currently) where the market is seeing the most interest.

    As such, enter the Solus. This is a direct play for the market currently being consumed by the Naim Uniti Atom and any number of other rivals. The product that Quad has come up with to do that is a little different from those rivals though and in some ways is different again from anything on the market. Is this difference for the sake of it or has Quad got the winning formula for one box bliss?

    Artera Solus Specification

    Quad Artera Solus Artera Solus Specification
    Taken at face value, the Solus is a slightly odd take on an all-in-one system. Many of the things you would expect to be present are indeed fitted. You get five digital inputs, two coaxial, two optical and a USB-B connection (the USB-A socket you can see on the rear panel is strictly for software updates). These, rather unusually are partnered with a single digital output of both types. All decoding is undertaken via the preferred decoding engine of IAG, an ESS Sabre DAC. You then additionally get two line inputs and a line output - all on an RCA connection. So far, so normal - the Solus comes across as very similar to the Moon Neo Ace but there are some significant differences.

    Where the Quad veers off from normality is when you turn to the front panel. Instead of a network streamer and internet radio module, you will find a CD mechanism on a slot loaded transport. This might seem wilfully anachronistic but there is methodology behind it. First up, if you want an all-in-one with a CD player in it, your options are limited. The only other recently released item is the Naim Uniti Star but this ties its CD mechanism to a selection of other features and proceeds to cost £3,500. If you are looking for a CD system with added functionality- the Quad is less than half that and one of the only games in town.
    Quad Artera Solus Artera Solus Specification
    Of course, Quad isn’t being wilfully anachronistic either. The USB input of the Solus combined with a variety of NAS drives (and not simply expensive ones either) will give you a very well implemented streaming platform and there is also Apt-X Bluetooth for simple streaming of music services and the like. There is also a streaming fronted Solus in the pipeline that will fulfil the more traditional role. As such, the Solus as it sits has more streaming potential than might at first be appreciated and a full fat streamer is in the works too.

    The amplification in the Quad is impressively beefy for a fairly small unit. The amp is a class AB design and pushes out 75 watts into 8 ohms, backed up by a current delivery of up to 15 amps which should mean that the Quad doesn’t struggle with most speakers of a remotely similar price. This is combined with a preamp that functions in the analogue domain (no quick and dirty A-D conversion here) and is constructed largely from discrete components. This figure puts the Solus in good stead amongst all in ones and means your speaker choices shouldn’t be limited. As a final addition to the specification, the Quad is fitted with a full size headphone socket too.

    Design

    Quad Artera Solus Design
    Viewed from pretty much any angle other than the back, the Solus looks like the existing Artera preamp but this is no bad thing. Quad has a long history of making products that aren’t true ‘full width’ sizes and the Artera feeds nicely into this aesthetic. As a piece of design it is quite unlike anything else on the market. The absence of visible controls and the indented metal chassis with the removable glass plate that flushes in the top are interesting and give the Solus a definably different feel to the competition. The lack of a physical volume control is a minor annoyance- I remain a believer in being able to instantly drop the volume without having to find the remote control or open an app and the Solus can’t do this. A silver finish is also available and this - unusually - would be the one I’d probably go for.

    The remote that Quad supplies is a good one though. There are direct button commands for everything but it is still logical and easy to use and, no less importantly, works when pointed in the general direction of the Quad which makes the ‘point in the general direction without looking up’ process that the truly louche have made an art. I’m going to stick my neck out here and suggest that the Solus is quicker and easier to make do your bidding with its remote than many rivals with control apps are.
    Quad Artera Solus Design
    The Solus is also extremely well made. Even judged by the high standards of IAG, it is tremendously solid. The chassis manages to feel like it has been machined for a single huge billet (it hasn’t but unless you have plenty of time on your hands, you’ll have a hard time telling the difference) and it conveys a sense of immense solidity that some considerably more expensive pieces of equipment can’t match. The glass section is something that grows on you too. The first time I encountered it (on the two box system) I’ll admit to being a bit perplexed but I’ve come around to its charms- not least that you can take it off and wash it to keep everything looking shiny. Other areas like the connections and feet are also of a very high standard. The transport mechanism doesn’t feel quite as bullet proof but it still works well and loads quickly.

    It has to be said that the Solus feels like a lot of product for the £1,500 asking price. Accepting that you get streaming up and running via the USB connection to a NAS, you have a comprehensive spec at a lower price point than any other premium brand rival. It is unclear if the streaming variant will be the same price but even if it is slightly pricier, it could still be a bit of a headache for rivals.

    Quad Artera Solus
    It has to be said that the Solus feels like a lot of product for the £1,500 asking price

    How was the Artera Solus tested?

    The Quad was placed on a Quadraspire QAVX rack and connected to an IsoTek Evo 3 Sigmas mains conditioner. Source equipment included a Melco N1A connected to the USB-B connection, a Naim ND5XS connected to the coaxial output, a Panasonic GT60 Plasma to the optical connection and a Cyrus Phono Signature, itself connected to a Michell Gyrodec with SME M2-9 tonearm and a selection of cartridges. A Yamaha WX-AD10 has also been used for some streaming service testing. The speakers used have included the Neat Momentum 4, Neat IOTA Xplorer and Acoustic Energy AE1 classics. Material used has included CD, lossless and high res FLAC and AIFF, DSD, Tidal, Spotify and Qobuz, a limited amount of broadcast TV and some vinyl.

    Artera Solus Sound Quality

    Quad Artera Solus Artera Solus Sound Quality
    As a brand, Quad has never completely shed a ‘pipe and slippers’ image that it has never wholly deserved. It comes about largely as a result of the way that their electrostatic speakers perform - detailed and immensely refined but not perhaps the first choice for Music for the Jilted Generation. Take the electrostatics out of the picture though and things were never so clear cut. Listen to the Solus for any length of time and you’ll wonder how it ever applied at all.

    This is an extremely capable sounding piece of audio equipment. Listening to Lindstrøm’s It’s alright between us as it is, the effortlessly funky But isn’t it is indeed effortlessly funky. The Quad delivers rhythmic tightness and an innate sense of timing that is hugely beneficial regardless of what you listen to on it. Every piece of music has a tempo and the Quad finds it, lets it flow and never forces it regardless of what it happens to be. This is a subjective area but for those of us for whom it matters (and I’m one of them) it underpins everything else that the Quad does.

    And the good news is that beyond sounding usefully together, the Solus does a lot right. Listening via the USB connection it delivers the 24/88.2 download of Dead Can Dance’s Spiritchaser with a deeply appealing combination of scale and detail. You get the sweeping vastness of the album but never at the expense of the subtleties that make it what it is. This is partly achieved by the decoding that the Quad has at its disposal. IAG is one of the earliest users of the ESS Sabre DAC and they have demonstrated across a fair few products that they know how to get the best out of it. The Solus is a fine balance between refinement and attack and this makes for a fine partner across a wide selection of music.
    Quad Artera Solus Artera Solus Sound Quality
    In fact, the bulk of the Quad’s character is imparted via the amplification stage - apparent because when you switch from the digital inputs to the analogue ones, the basic presentation changes very little (although the gain does drop quite noticeably when you move to analogue and not simply via a phono stage either). For a fairly compact unit, the Solus is a potent performer. It has no trouble driving any of the speakers that have been connected to it (and none of them are an entirely straightforward electrical load) and neither has it needed much more than half of the available power from the - exceptionally linear - 100 point volume control.

    In fact, picking faults with the Solus is annoyingly tricky. The headphone section has to be content with being good rather than truly great (although, once again, taking into account the pricing of the Solus, I don’t know of many integrated models that are better) and it is really going to do its best work with more affordable and easier to drive headphones but used within its performance envelope, it is still a good listen - and a welcome fitment given that some rivals do without. The performance of the Bluetooth input isn’t quite as dynamic as the other digital inputs - although in the interests of full disclosure, my Apt-x capable source is currently having some issues which may partially explain this.

    These minor foibles have to be viewed against the sheer pleasure that the Quad delivers for the vast majority of time you listen to it. The USB input connected to the Melco has been unconditionally stable and as a combination, it offers sensational performance (something that can be achieved for less money with many other NAS drives too) and the benefit of then being able to return to CD if you wanted to is more appealing than I might have appreciated. It’s a mark of how good I think the Solus is, that even if you have very little further use for CD, I’d still consider it for the strength of the rest of the functionality.

    Conclusion

    9
    AVForumsSCORE
    OUT OF
    10

    Pros

    • Lively and entertaining sound
    • Very well made
    • Useful connectivity

    Cons

    • Dependent on external hardware for streaming
    • Headphone output is good rather than great
    • Bluetooth sounds a little constrained
    You own this Total 1
    You want this Total 0
    You had this Total 0

    Quad Artera Solus All-in-One System Review

    So… another month and another product that makes it damned hard to make any rational counter argument against with the ‘benefits’ of splitting what it does into separates. The Solus is - in its CD variant at least - a slightly different take on the business of an all-in-one and if you must have streaming on board, it might not appeal as much as the superbly sorted Uniti Atom but the Quad sounds good - at times ridiculously good for the asking price. Throw in, the comprehensive connectivity, tank like build and pleasant aesthetics and you have a product that comes Highly Recommended.


    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £1,499.95

    The Rundown

    Build Quality

    9

    Connectivity

    8

    Ease of Use

    9

    Sound Quality

    9

    Features

    8

    Value for Money

    9

    Verdict

    9

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