Introduction - What is the Artera Solus Play?
The Quad Artera Solus Play is an all in one system that belongs to Quad’s Artera range of components. Describing the Artera as a ‘lifestyle’ device does it a disservice but that’s sort of what it is. Much of Quad’s product range is beholden to a sense of ongoing tradition - it’s why the Vena II Play we looked at recently is painted the same colour as the participants of the Battle of Jutland and has an aesthetic that is fairly ‘mature’ in the best possible sense of the word. Quad does brand building very well and many people feel that’s what Quads should look like.
The Artera series is Quad allowing itself to make something that has a bit of the 21st century to it and it’s not trad. It is more comprehensive than you might expect though; any range in 2020 that includes a full analogue preamp is never going to be truly lifestyle in intention. The Solus Play is a single chassis all-in-one that is all set to compete in a hotly contested corner of the market.
If this sounds a little familiar, it should. Quad has had an all in one from the Artera series in the market for some time and we’ve tested it here. The Play is Quad taking something that very definitely wasn’t broken and adding the network connectivity that the lack thereof in the normal Solus might have deterred some customers and ensuring that the Play meets those requirements. How well are those objectives met in reality?
Specification and Design
The Solus Play is extremely similar to its non network audio counterpart in many aspects of its specification so you can read the original review for an exhaustive breakdown. This means you get a 75 watt class AB amplifier that ensures that the Quad can drive a wide selection of speakers without breaking sweat.
The functionality is little changed from before too. The Solus is a slightly unusual take on the all-in-one concept but it is hard to argue with the connectivity you get. There are two analogue RCA line inputs, a digital suite of two coaxial, two optical and a USB-B and aptX Bluetooth. This is then augmented by the streaming section which we’ll cover in a bit. No less impressive is the selection of outputs available. As well as the speaker level connections, you get RCA and XLR preouts (the latter of which might seem odd until you consider the presence of a burly, standalone Artera power amp that would bolt on to the Solus Play very happily indeed. There are then coax and optical outputs too.
Then, around the front, the Solus Play retains a feature that is decidedly unusual in 2020 in that it has a CD player. On the non network Artera Solus, this is a fairly critical feature as, without it, it’s not really an all-in-one. That it has been retained for the Play is interesting and, on balance, something that I think is worth doing. Quad has identified that for a subset of potential customers, looking nervously at thirty odd years of CDs and skim reading a ‘how to rip’ guide, that being able to bridge between position A and B is probably going to be a good thing. The CD section works in the same way as it does on the Solus which is to say you really, really don’t want to lose the remote.
To add network functionality, the Play makes use of DTS Play-Fi. As I’ve mentioned on a few occasions, the progression of Play Fi since Quad’s owners IAG got involved has been deeply impressive. To put it simply, when Play-Fi debuted, it was terrible and, against the odds and, I will freely admit, my own expectations, it become an increasingly capable platform. It now avoids the earlier gremlins of resampling material (so long as the Critical listening mode is engaged) and somewhat erratic stability to deliver a streaming experience that does the all important, ‘just works.’ I can’t stress how important this is. The amount of time you’ll spend cooing over an actual interface as a proportion of the time you own the product is about 1%. The rest of the time, you simply want it to access your library so you can get on with listening. Play-Fi now does this admirably.
In doing this, ironically, it’s easier to enjoy the bells and whistles that the Solus Play now has a result. It can group with any other Play-Fi product for control and ‘party’ playback functionality and there’s compatability with various high tech wire ta… sorry voice assistants too. There’s apparently a version of the app that’s smartwatch compatible which is a genuinely good idea and for those of us who still have timepieces with cogs in, the iOS and Android versions are also very good. Since the last time I’ve used it, Qobuz has been added which means that Play Fi now gets commendably close to BluOS in terms of streaming support. Play Fi is now an album grid view away from being absolutely competitive and it means that the Quad balances its already comprehensive specification with a streaming experience that is up to the job.
The aesthetics of the Solus Play are basically the same as the Solus and this is no bad thing. Unlike the Solus sample, the Solus Play turned up in silver and while I am aware that black still seems to very much be the new black, the Quad looks brilliant in the lighter finish. It does a fine job of highlighting what an excellent piece of industrial design it is. The Artera series has been around for a few years now but because it didn’t really look like anything else (and still doesn’t) it still looks clean, modern and fresh. Some of the details that puzzled me at on first impression like the removable glass top section have really grown on me (particularly as you can treat it like any other piece of glass and clean it with soap and water if you need to).
It’s also brilliantly made although given I don’t recall ever testing something from IAG that wasn’t. It isn’t simply the obvious stuff like the front panel and those heatsinks that feel good, it’s the connections and crispness and legibility of the display and half a hundred little touches that mean you can feel where the money has gone and avoid that slightly empty feeling of buyer’s remorse that can come from unpacking a device at this price and finding it feels ‘ordinary.’ The supplied handset is a bit of a button fest and as every button is the same size, it’s not one to use in the dark. Given how dependent some rivals now are on their apps though, it’s a useful thing to have all the same. There’s also the same small forest of aerials as the Vena II Play but they look a little less incongruous poking out of the Solus Play.
The Solus is a slightly unusual take on the all-in-one concept but it is hard to argue with the connectivity you get
How was the Solus Play tested?
The Quad has been connected to an IsoTek Evo3 Sigmas and has been used with the Triangle Borea BR03 and Spendor A1 standmount speakers. It has done most of its running on DTS Play-Fi, taking a wired network feed and accessing a Melco N1 for content as well as streaming services. Some CDs were also used. A limited amount of additional running was undertaken via a USB connection from a Roon Nucleus. Material used has included FLAC and AIFF along with Tidal and Qobuz.
More: Audio Formats
I imagine it won’t come as a huge surprise for me to tell you that, given the overall similarity between the Solus and the Solus Play, they sound largely identical. It should also therefore not be hugely surprising that the results are rather good as the Solus is a fine sounding device in its own right.
There are some nuances to this that are worth expanding on though. Until comparatively recently, the manner in which Play Fi worked - i.e. resampling and routing audio through the controlling device, precluded it sounding exactly the same. Now, with the Critical listening mode selected, it behaves the same as it does listening via the USB input via a Roon Nucleus. Listening to the 24/88.2 version of Dead Can Dance’s Aion, the Solus Play sounds properly good. Quad benefits from the IAG hive mind of experience in the use of the ESS Sabre DAC and the result is a lovely balance of detail, punch and warmth.
It also genuinely responds to well recorded Hi-Res with a jump in performance that makes you feel that the whole process is worth the effort. Neither is this the abstract benefit it once was. Qobuz now teems with Hi-Res; and not simply in the sort of ‘audiophile noodling’ that litters Hi-Fi shows. Tool’s Fear Innoculum is a great listen and the Quad gets stuck in with genuine level of verve and enthusiasm. The teeny Spendor A1 is not a bass monster but it shows with forensic precision how the device connected is handling the low end and the Quad is very accomplished. Without ever coming across as light or insubstantial, it always times correctly (and yes, ‘timing’ is a concept that exists in the hinterland between measurement and subjectivity but if you don’t find yourself nodding along to a piece of music you’re actively engaged in, I’d be fairly surprised).
This is achieved without the Quad sounding poor when you don’t have top notch recordings to hand. The Solus Play will play back MP3 and while it doesn’t have the absolute assurance of lossless and better, you don’t sit there thinking about what’s wrong with the performance. The greatest benefit of network audio is the ability to collate your own music, your services and content from internet radio. All this content by its very nature will not be equal. Where the Quad shines is that it can handle content from a very wide selection of sources and keep it all sounding good.
And, for the points where you aren’t streaming, it has the considerable virtues of the Solus to fall back on because it’s still equipped in the same way. That spread of inputs can handle pretty much anything I could envisage you wanting to use it for and, while I personally am pretty much post CD in terms of my listening habits, listening to the recently released remaster of Peter Gabriel’s So via the Quad is an extremely pleasurable experience. In a perfect world, you could point to the absence of HDMI ARC or Chromecast as a deficit but I haven’t found the Quad operationally wanting in their absence. Something that might have been an interesting fit given Quad’s trad pedigree is a phono stage - after all, the Vena II has one- but again, this doesn’t really put it at a disadvantage to rivals.
Where the Quad shines is that it can handle content from a very wide selection of sources and keep it all sounding good
- Great specification for asking price
- Sounds genuinely excellent
- Very well made
- Play Fi improved but still slightly quirky
- No HDMI Arc
- No AirPlay/Chromecast
Quad Artera Solus Play All in One System Review
Given how close the specification of the streaming and non streaming versions of the Solus are, this has, somewhat unavoidably, turned into a sort of running appraisal of Play-Fi which isn’t really fair on the Quad. Nevertheless, as streamers live or die on how they work day to day, this matters a great deal and there would have been a time where Quad’s choice of platform would have raised questions on its ability to do this. This is now no longer the case. Play Fi is now an increasingly flexible and capable platform in its own right. It has quirks but so do its rivals.
This means that a product that was slightly odd in spec terms but undoubtedly talented in non streaming form, takes its place as a seriously good all rounder. NAD’s M10 and Naim’s Uniti Atom - the benchmark for compact, high quality all in ones - are now both north of £2,000. The Quad arrives at £1,700 looking very, very close to them in all the areas that matter and offering some features like CD replay that they can’t. The result is a bit of a bargain and one that has to be seen as a Best Buy.
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