The Little Engine That Could: Cocktail Audio X-12 Hands-on Review

X12 front

I discovered Cocktail Audio about three years ago during a worldwide tour conducting training for Samsung Electronics’ AV Marketing Division. During my stop in Seoul, this mini cube thing at one of my employer’s residences caught my eye.  Cocktail Audio is a subsidiary of Novatron, a Korean audio video company, distributed in Canada by Plurison. Novatron makes a variety of audio and video products and related accessories.

 

What is the X12?

 

The X12, which retails for about $900, is a music system equipped with a dealer installed internal 2TB hard drive. That’s enough to hold around 2,500 audio CDs (uncompressed WAV files) or, if you prefer quantity over quality, about 15,000 audio CDs using 256 Kbps MP3 compression or about 5,000 discs in FLAC format. A 4TB version is also available for usually an additional $100. That said, I don’t know too many people who own more than 2,000 audio CDs, myself included.

 

What truly caught my attention about the X12 is the CD ripping capability. Many other network players have features like a built in amplifier (the X12 comes with 30 W/channel amp designed for 8 Ohm speakers), built-in hard drive, and Internet radio capability. But CD ripping is usually not part of the equation, requiring that you use a separate computer, which can be a pain. This is not the case with the X12. Audio CDs can be extracted into several formats, from MP3 as low as 128Kbps to completely uncompressed WAV files (my choice), or anything in between, including FLAC, WMA, AAC, OGG, PCM, M3U, PLS and M4A, with varying resolutions up to 24-bit/192kHz.

 

Of course, as a network player, it can be connected to the network via the Ethernet port or the optional Wi-Fi antenna that plugs into one of the USB ports. The X12 even comes with the FreeDB audio CD database on CD (updates available) that can be loaded onto the unit so that metadata like album and track titles and artist can be accessed for CDs being ripped without an Internet connection. Although, to me, that is redundant. After all, it’s a network player. Why wouldn’t you access the CD database from the Internet instead?

X12 optional wifi antenna

 

The FreeDB database is more than sufficient for mainstream albums, although I still prefer the CDDB audio CD database, as it tends to include obscure and limited release albums from around the world. For example, I created a David Foster compilation limited release album titled “Nothing Better Than This” for Warner Music Indonesia; FreeDB couldn’t find it whereas CDDB finds it without a hitch. Regardless, the inclusion of a CD extraction feature is a major plus, considering that many network players don’t have such an option.

 

While the X12 has network and Internet music capabilities, it does not have any of the popular streaming services, such as XM or Spotify. Instead, it has Reciva, Qobus and Simfy… none of which I’ve ever heard of.  On the other hand, it does have Tidal streaming option for CD-quality internet audio streaming.

 

The Design

 

The price is not the only thing that is “tiny” about the X12. The device is also diminutive in size, measuring roughly 7″ wide, 4″ tall and 6″ deep. A 4.3” colour LCD screen, which can also double as a slideshow screen, below the CD-loading slot dominates the glossy black front panel. A row of eight buttons on the top of the unit provides basic control, but the remote is needed for full access to the X12’s functions.

 

Build quality seems to be better than the average $700 units that populate the market. The chassis’ sides and top are made out of an attractive matte-black plastic with printed labeling on the top. The back panel is densely populated with numerous connectors, including full sized binding posts, two USB Type A and one USB Type B port, Ethernet, a Toslink audio output, and headphone and RCA stereo jacks for line in and out. The rest of the small back panel is occupied by a power input for a cord that contains an inline power supply, a power switch, and a series of ventilation slits for its passive cooling system.

 

The included remote looks as decent as the chassis. The button layout isn’t entirely logical and somewhat confusing, so especially in the beginning, you will need to spend some time looking for what you need. On the positive side, however, the Cocktail Audio X12 includes a detailed instruction manual (83 pages, to be exact), which I highly recommend users read thoroughly before and while using the X12 for the first time. But keep in mind that it does feel like the manual was written in semi-decent English.

 

Ripping a CD to the Hard Drive

 

The X12’s user interface is effective but not particularly intuitive. That said, the ripping process is simple. I used a burned CD of MP3s, including a collection of Disney albums. Slide the CD into the tray of the X12, navigate to the ripping menu option, and decide whether you want to copy the entire disc or just select songs.

X12 user and dealer replaceable HDD

With regular audio CDs, the X12 allows you to decide beforehand what format you want your songs to be in. Ripping my Frank Sinatra Duets 20th Anniversary Edition CDs went well. The correct tag information was provided, and it took about 3.5 minutes. There are five quality settings for ripping. The highest takes a bit longer, but not a lot in my case. Of course, to get the best sound quality possible, I only extracted audio CDs to WAV files so no data is being compressed, lossless or otherwise. Using an older disc with some scratches and laser rot (Bananarama’s Greatest Hits – UK Edition) took a lot longer in the highest quality mode, but the songs that could no longer be played intact directly from the disc can now be listened in their entirety after being extracted in the highest quality mode.

 

After ripping, you can export the album to the internal hard drive or to external storage, such as an external hard drive or even a flash drive. That might sound weird since it’s already on the hard drive, but when you export it, it’s saved into the database with tags, which helps to speed up searching.

 

Exporting to the internal hard drive took around a minute for each album. Once the data is tagged, you can list your music in alphabetical order based on album title, artist, or even track titles.

 

Lines In and Out

 

As mentioned, the Cocktail Audio X12 isn’t just a CD ripper – it has a built-in amplifier and speaker connectors for passive speakers, and line in and out. I was not equipped to test the amplifier for factors like distortion level and actual power output. But judging from subjective listening alone, it’s ample enough for my home theatre/test room that’s 10’ wide x 16’ deep x 7.5’ high using a pair of my trusty PSB Century 300i large-sized bookshelf speakers from my recording-studio days. If you want better sound, though, you can always connect a larger amplifier through the line out connection. And while this unit has a very good but non-audiophile quality DAC, one wouldn’t expect it to considering the affordable price. If you want to use a better DAC, use the optical digital output of the X12.

X12 back

The line in is a nice addition. Here, you can connect a record player or a tape deck, for example. Those recordings can also be tagged. Since no remote control is conducive or practical to enter track and/or album titles, one can also connect a USB keyboard. At least that’s what I did, and it made my life a lot simpler.

 

Conclusion

 

I highly recommend this unit to anyone who needs a portable desktop stereo system, or even audiophiles like me who own tons of audio CDs and want to be able to store them in single, tidy space, catalogued, with automatic tagging and album covers. After all, most audiophiles likely already own an audiophile grade DAC anyway that they can connect to this system.

 

Summary

Pluses

  • Its smallest hard drive can hold up to 2,500 uncompressed audio CDs, or 5,000 discs in FLAC format.
  • Offers easy CD ripping capability in a variety of formats, allowing you to store an entire music library, and easily search through albums.
  • The unit is attractively built, has a small footprint, and is ultra-affordable for what it can do.
  • There’s a line in, allowing you to connect a record player or tape deck.

Minuses

  • While it has network and Internet music capabilities, that doesn’t include any of the popular streaming services, like XM or Spotify. Tidal is the only “popular” option.
  • You have to pay an extra $50 for the USB Wifi Antenna, unacceptable for a $900 unit
  • Uses FreeDB instead of the more accurate CDDB as the basis for the CD extraction data tags.
  • Non-audiophile quality DAC (but expected given the affordable price)

 

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