This review highlights an international divide in the audio industry. Write about ‘Quad’ to many international audiophiles and it summons up images of classic electrostatic loudspeakers from the 1950s through to the present... and not a lot else. The same doesn’t apply to UK audiophiles, who also think of the company as the maker of some of the most reliable audio electronics in history, and a brand with a following that would make McIntosh blush. In fact, there is a generation of UK audio customers for whom Quad was the only trusted brand for audio electronics, even if they never used Quad loudspeakers.
The reliability of Quad electronics was so legendary, people bought the products on a generational basis: someone might only buy new Quad when they handed their decades old, still working perfectly amps on to their children, and 25 years later the pattern would repeat itself to the next generation. That changed recently, although not for the reasons one might think – more for the fact that audio technology moves at a faster-than-ever pace, and the notion of holding onto a device for a quarter of a century or more is alien to many modern audio buyers.
Products like the Quad Artera Solus, then, have to walk a tightrope: lean too far in one direction and the company risks disenfranchising its thousands of buyers who update at a glacial rate, but too much in the other direction and there are a lot of ‘mature’ products in the catalogue. The Artera Solus packs a lot into its one small yet heavy box. It’s a CD playing integrated amplifier that can replay at up to DSD256 performance from an attached computer using a USB port, has updatable firmware through a second USB port, and can stream music from an external source via aptX Bluetooth. There is no provision for network streaming on this model (but a second device is said to arrive by the end of the year with greater wired and wireless networking capabilities).
The chattering classes in high-end audio already have CD long dead and buried. They moved on to SACD long, long ago, and have now moved on to DSD over PC replay and full UPnP streaming. However, each time we review a product like this, a few quieter voices speak up about how they are still far from abandoning CD. The argument isn’t necessarily that they prefer the sound of CD (although many still prefer spinning polycarbonate to hard disk or SSD stored media), it’s simply because they might have been collecting CDs for decades and feel no pressing need to either rip those discs or migrate over to a Tidal or Qobuz. Quality disc-spinning all-in-ones are rare (AVM springs to mind) and even rarer at a reasonable price, so the Quad Artera Solus has something of a captive market.