The Novafidelity X45 boasts a host of features and costs £2099 and is distributed in the UK by SCV. In this review, Stuart Smith takes a look at this massively specified unit.

I’ve been a long-term user of one of the older Novafidelity units having only very recently parted with it. The truth of the matter with regards the user interface was that I found it a little clunky, though it worked fine – so when Matt at SCV (the UK distributor) asked if I’d like to try one of the latest models I naturally jumped at the opportunity, particularly as the newer models are Roon ready – the only reason I parted with my old unit.

CONSTRUCTION AND FEATURES

The X45 is available in silver and black (the review sample was silver) and came in a well designed and sturdy box with the unit itself, a large remote control from which you can control all the functions and setup gubbins from, though I actually found set up easier using the knobs and buttons on the front panel of the unit.

The front panel is well layout out with a large screen that I could just about read from about 4 metres away.

To the left, you have the volume/mute knob and underneath this, you have a power/standby button, a quarter-inch headphone socket, a USB “host” input for adding an external hard drive (there are two more round the back too), a mini-jack input and the remote control receiver window.

There’s a slot-loading CD drive above this which worked very well.

To the right of the screen is another knob and set of buttons that allow you to scroll through the setup and functions of the X45.

Round the back is where things get really interesting and it could never be said that Novafidelity has skimped on functionality. You have three digital outs (Aes, Toslink and Coaxial) so, should you feel the need you can connect to an external DAC. There is also a HDMI output and a USB Audio out.

There’s an analogue out section to connect to a preamplifier or power amplifier, for the latter you would use the onboard volume control, and you get both XLR and RCA outputs.

You get an input for USB, coaxial, and XLR so that you can use the X45’s onboard DAC and attach a computer or streamer, though given the simple functionality of the unit’s streamer I don’t know why you would want to do this, but it’s there for those that want it.

You get an antenna included (the copper wire type) for DAB and FM radio and then you have an analogue input should you want to add an external source such as a reel to reel or extra CD player.

For vynilistas there’s an onboard phonostage that is moving magnet only.

Finally around the back is the bay for the hard drive itself with the options of 2.5” SATA up to 2TB, 3.5” SATA up to 8TB, and 2.5” SSD up to 2TB with the promise that bigger capacity hard drives will be supported in the future with relevant firmware updates. On the firmware front you can set the unit to update to the latest version automatically or do it yourself.

Supported file types are extensive and include: MQA, PCM 384KHz/32 Bit, DSD up to 256, DXD 24Bit/352.8KHz, HD WAV (24Bit/192KHz), HD FLAC (24Bit/192KHz), APE/CUE, WAV, FLAC, ALAC, AIFF, AIF, AAC, MP4, WMA, CAF, Ogg, Vorbis, PCM, M3U, PLS…etc and so you can throw pretty much any file format you want at this and it will play nicely.

UPnP (DNLA) is supported so you can control the X45 from your smartphone and the X45 also supports the online music services Tidal, Tidal MQA, Deezer, Qobuz, Napster and Spotify Connect.

If all that wasn’t enough you have a clock, alarm, a function to display lyrics, autoplay, photo slideshow and a CD burning function. You can also obviously play internet radio and record from that should you wish.

I genuinely cannot think of anything that Novafidelity have missed out here and with the perfectly serviceable phonostage, analogue and digital inputs I can well see a lot of people using the X45 as the main hub of their system. Really, I don’t think they have missed anything out.

Oh, the user manual is pretty exhaustive, well written and easy to follow.

RIPPING CDS

One of the key features of the X45 and other Novafidelity units is obviously the ability to rip your CDs to the hard drive on the unit. All is pretty simple and explained comprehensively in the user manual. Insert CD, click menu, click “ripping all” from the menu, select what format you’d like to rip to (I chose FLAC) and click OK. The X45 does the rest and rips at about 6 times meaning that Jorma Kaukonen’s Quah took five or six minutes to rip. Easy, logical and straightforward. Album art all sorted along with metadata too thanks to the inclusion of FreeDB – actually it was preloaded on this device.

STREAMING SERVICES AND ROON

Again a simple case of setting stuff up on the X45 which took a couple of minutes. For Qobuz I enabled it in the menu, popped in my username and password and it was all there. With Roon I made the stupid mistake of not setting the X45 as an audio device and so was frustrated that the Roon app wasn’t seeing the X45. Simply adding it in the app and selecting it as the player was again a minutes job and now having Roon/Qobuz I was a very happy bunny as this is my preferred way of accessing new music now.

PLAYING

So playing tracks ripped to the X45 is as simple as can be. Go to the Browse function in the menu, select the album you want and Robert is your Mother’s Brother. Likewise playing tunes on the NAS, and although I expected having to input the name and password of our network, the X45 recognised it immediately and I was off.

Of course, most people will want to control the files being played from their NAS via a suitable player and I found that the JUP&P player worked fine. Add the network on the X45, open the player on your smartphone, set the X45 as your player and set your NAS as the media library. Again a doddle, even for this tech-phobic dullard. However, Novafidelity has introduced the NOVATRON controller for IOS and Android which is the option most will use. It’s good looking and intuitive.

SOUND QUALITY

For the purposes of this review, I wanted to use the onboard DAC as I think that is what most people will be happy to do and adding an external DAC really only gives you a flavour of that DAC’s sonic signature. It seems pointless to me for someone to buy a product with so much functionality as the X45 and then whack it through an extra DAC with all the expense that that incurs. Considering the price of the X45 and the amazing array of functionality the onboard DAC is perfectly usable and gives a very good rendition of whatever you throw at it. I’ve just popped over to the SCV site to check the price on this and it’s £2099 – I had expected it to me much more. Comparing it to our Leema Libra DAC at around £6500 I’d say the Leema has the edge in digging the most out of recordings, particularly in the higher frequencies, but to moan about the X45’s onboard DAC would be churlish, I feel. Tunes bounce along very nicely and there is good involvement in the music itself. The DAC used is the Dual ESS ES9018K2M Sabre³² Reference DAC chips allied to a Dual Core ARM Cortex A9 processor running at 1.0Ghz and 16 Core microcontroller with Advanced RISC Architecture. So now you know!

It is audio reviewer law that I now have to give you a list of some of the tunes I listened to and try to describe what I heard. Throughout I was using the analogue input to the Leema DAC feeding a Jean Higara Le Monstre Class A amplifier into Avantgarde Duo XD and AudioVector R3 Arete loudspeakers. Cables by Chord, Way, Tellurium Q and Atlas. Throughout the review period, I used the X45 wired physically to the network but a USB 801.1b/g/n WIFI dongle is available to allow wireless functionality – I’d have like to have seen this included in the package, but sadly it is an optional extra and Nova Fidelity do stress you must use a dongle that is approved by them.

Playing Little Wing by Neil Young off the recently released Homegrown album and streamed from Qobuz on FLAC 96kHz 24 Bit was a really beautiful experience with the presentation through the X45 losing none of the fragility of Young’s. Little details like Young fading away at the end of some lines wasn’t lost and harmonica retained its rasp and bite. Playing the same track through the Auralic G1 and Leema DAC had the latter having the edge – no surprise there now I know the price of the X45 – but in the final analysis there is not a lot in it and the vast majority of people who want to enjoy their music without over-analysing every last detail and nuance will be very well provided for by the former.

Switching to a more electronic feel and the recently released Plastic Mermaids’ “Suddenly Everyone Explodes – The Remixes” draws me into the music and I’m particularly impressed with the way the soundstage feels. It’s expansive, and reach out and touch, with instruments in the mix being placed properly and staying placed – in small part down to the speakers, of course. Again, switching to the Auralic G1/Leema combo via USB (remember the X45 is going through the analogue input of the Leema and so a perfect way to A/B test) and the latter has the edge by a small margin but I don’t really think I’m missing very much at all with the X45.

I did of course play a whole lot more music and did the A/B thing every time and got the same result time and time again. The X45 is a solid performer, of that I have absolutely no doubt, with the Auralic/Leema combo having an edge in absolute terms of resolution and ability to present micro-detail (I hate that word) more realistically, but it’s closer than you might think!

Playback off CDs was, as far as I could tell, identical to similar streamed files, but higher resolution files did have the edge, and again I think it’s down to an improvement in the upper frequencies.

CONCLUSION

Before I went on the SCV site and saw the price I had assumed the price of the X45 would be in the region of £3500-£4000 and was very pleasantly surprised at it’s £2099 price tag given the masses of connectivity, functionality and sound quality. If you are looking at absolute fidelity then you may want to look elsewhere, but I’d suggest most will not care about this level of scrutiny and be very happy with the X45. I said earlier it would be daft to plug this into a much more expensive DAC but given its price, it does leave a good deal for experimentation with DACs if that is your bag. Personally, I’d be over the moon if the X45 landed on my doorstep – add a decent power amp, a turntable if you must and speakers and you’ll be well catered for with only a very reasonable outlay.

AT A GLANCE

Build Quality: Well put together but isn’t going to win any prizes in the looks department.

Sound Quality: The onboard DAC is more than acceptable and should be all most people need. The phonostage (mm) again should satisfy most people.

Value For Money: Given the feature set of the X45 it’s difficult to criticise the offering at this price. I would have liked to have had a USB wireless dongle included n the package rather than being an optional extra.

Pros:

Incredibly versatile and with a massive feature set.

Easy setup and intuitive in use.

Onboard phonostage.

Roon Ready.

Great sounding unit in its own right but with the option to output to a higher specced DAC.

App for iOs and Android.

Cons:

Wireless dongle not included.

Some will want to use an external and better phonostage.

Price: £2099

 

 

 

 

 

Stuart Smith

Review Equipment: TEchnics 1210G, AudioVector R3 Arete and Avantgarde DUO XD speakers, Jean Hiraga Le Monstre power amp. Cables by Tellurium Q, Chord and Atlas.

Main Features

  • Equipped with Dual Core ARM Cortex A9 processor running at 1.0Ghz
  • Dual ESS ES9018K2M Sabre³² Reference DAC chips
  • 16 Core Microcontroller with Advanced RISC Architecture
  • Optical disk drive for rapid CD ripping
  • Phono Input (Moving Magnet) for turntable
  • 7″ TFT LCD screen for intuitive GUI
  • Built-in DAB+/FM tuner
  • Support upto 8TB storage via external HD or SSD
  • Supports MQA, DSD, DXD, PCM signal up to 32Bit/384Khz
  • Major Music Streaming Services available
  • Customized Remote Control App, NOVATRON MusicX for iOS and Android
  • Built-in ‘Roon Ready’ support

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