By Venoth Nair
Korean brand Novatron, has been making waves in the network-based audio system market with its Cocktail Audio line of products.
The ethos for the brand is to manufacture a system that will function as a hub for all things digital audio and provide unrestricted support for all kinds of music materials found on your home network.
Representing the beginner’s option into the brands ecosystem is the X14, a simple small box solution, to help audiophiles dive head first into the expansive realm of audio streaming.
The X14 is built on a small platform which is similar to what many micro systems are based on. Dimensions stand at 180mm wide, 150mm deep with a height of 100mm.
Brands like Denon, Sony and Onkyo come to mind often when thinking of the small complete micro systems but these brands tend to focus on providing multiple media formats, whereas the Cocktail Audio is purely focused on all things digital streaming. The unit comes with network connectivity, 2 USB 3.0 connections, an analog RCA input and Bluetooth for its options of input. For outputs, the X14 provides an analog RCA output, optical as well as coaxial digital outputs and should you wish to use the X14 as a standalone, a pair of speaker outputs.
The amplifier on the X14 is a class D design (obviously given the size) and produces a respectable 30 watts per channel into 8 ohms. The power though small is sufficient to drive most small bookshelf speakers though it would be best to pair the unit with more efficient models for best performance. My LS50’s were driven sufficiently well although if you intend to listen at insane volumes, the X14 might not be right fit. There is also a headphone jack in front if you’re hankering for a private listening session.
A strange design quirk however is the knob on the right of the unit which with its knurled design is easily mistaken for a volume knob. However this knob is actually for navigating the menus on the display. This is an instinctive thought, given the appearance and design in most other cases. The actual volume control is found on the top of the unit in line within a row of buttons with specific functions.
To navigate all that data as well as the unit’s extensive feature set, Novatron has equipped the Cocktail Audio X14 with a 5-inch color LCD display. In use the display was adequate and provided appropriate legibility when using it during operation, however I would encourage Novatron to consider upping the resolution and overall performance of the screen in a future iteration to make the experience even more rewarding. This interface when used together with the comprehensive included remote, makes navigating the X14 a rather comfortable experience.
The Cocktail Audio X14 centers itself around the UPnP platform which takes advantage of not only the playback options supported by the immediate unit itself but also through those connected on the same network through the UPnP ecosystem. This allows the device to communicate with other supported equipment on the network and essentially work together providing a slew of playback sources and possibilities. For example, if you have a large storage drive on the network with tons of music files, the X14 will be able to tap into it and playback the audio through the connected speakers. Inversely if there is a drive with music files put into the X14, the unit will play host and allow other devices to access the music for playback on other sources. Very nifty!
Speaking of which, the Cocktail Audio X14 comes with a built-in storage slot which allows you to add in a Hard Disk Drive to convert the X14 from a renderer to a server. The slot supports all kinds of 3.5” and 2.5” inch SATA drives (SSD’s as well) with capacities up to 8TB. This could potentially translate to an audio library in access of 100,000 songs! All the needed screws and trays are provided should you wish to upgrade the unit to make it into a music server. Just follow the simple steps and your good to go.
The Cocktail Audio X14 versatility can be further expanded by adding on 2 different accessories. A USB Wi-Fi dongle can be connected to liberate the unit from the wired network giving freedom of placement. Additionally if you’re the type that likes to convert your content to CD format, an external CD ripper drive can be added allowing files to be converted to CD and can even support CD playback through the unit. There is just a broad range of options available on how to utilize the unit in order to achieve a desired function. The icing on the cake is its support of pretty much every kind of digital audio format under the sun from MQA, DSD 64 & 128 as well as the other usual suspects (21 types listed on the box).
In terms of audio performance, the listening experience with the X14 would be a mixed bag with a heavy dependence on how the unit is applied in your system. For starters, utilizing the X14’s amplifier to drive my LS50 yielded a performance that was listenable but lacked enthusiasm and dynamics that a standalone amplifier could provide. I also felt that bass depth and weight was also a little short for my liking. One recommendation would be to go with high efficiency, easy to drive speakers which would circumvent this and get the best out of the X14. Also if you spend plenty of time listening on headphones, it might be a good idea to invest in a separate headphone amp, as the in-built headphone output is a little underwhelming.
The shortfall on audio performance isn’t widespread however as the unit can be converted to operate as a source only with the amplifier turned off. This is where the X14 starts to perform especially when paired with more capable components like my Rega Elex-R.
Built on the same platform as the hugely successful Bluesound Node 2i, the sound is satisfactorily detailed and has a pretty impressive soundstage.
Novatron’s Cocktail Audio X14 is the perfect solution for someone looking to have a no nonsense solution for all their digital audio needs in a small space or as a second system. The slew of functions and support for a plethora of formats make it an excellent starter option as well for a beginner audiophile looking to dabble in the arena of digital audio and streaming services. The X14 is also appropriate for someone looking to add both an audio server into his system while having a smaller second system in a different room.
If anything at all, the affordable price tag of RM 3500 is simply icing on the cake for what’s offered and in my opinion is worth a listen.
The Cocktail Audio X14 and other products from Novatron are available for audition and purchase at CMY Audio & Visual.