Quad Artera Solus integrated amplifier/CD player

The Quad Electroacoustics Ltd. Artera Solus is a multifunction audio component that was designed to look smart on top of a bureau in a living room or office. It comes with a thick, removable smoked-glass top that complements its compact dimensions. It weighs 25lb, and, in addition to being attractive, feels genuinely solid and well-made. Like its Artera-series stablemates, the Artera Solus strikes an intriguing engineering and aesthetic balance between decorator-friendly lifestyle product and serious audiophile product worthy of the Quad name.

The Artera Solus was designed by veteran Quad engineer Jan Ertner. It includes a line-level preamplifier, a 75Wpc class-AB power amplifier, a headphone amplifier, a DAC, and a CD transport built by JVC.

The Solus’s front panel floats above the unit’s recessed base and features a 2″ circular display with some invisible touch controls. To the right of the display is a CD-loading slot bordered on its right by a rounded-rectangular button for ejecting discs; next to that is a Standby button. Hidden in the shadowed reveal below the front panel are a ¼” headphone jack and an infrared receiver for the remote control.

The back panel features two analog (RCA) inputs and five digital inputs: one USB B (Type B), two optical (TosLink), and two RCA jacks. There are also single-ended and balanced analog outputs—one pair of RCA jacks for the former and a pair of XLR sockets for the latter—plus one RCA digital output jack and one TosLink. Stereo pairs of three-way loudspeaker binding posts are provided, along with a threaded input socket for a Bluetooth antenna. The Solus includes a satchel of handy features, but the most important part of the Artera Solus package might be the plastic 10″ remote. Why? Because most customers will only use the remote. Without it, they would be forced to use either the Quad/FooBar2000 app installed on their mobile device or the invisible, touch-sensitive controls on the unit’s face—although once you know where they are and how to use them, these front-panel controls let you select source, play/pause, and control volume.

The Artera Solus appears to be designed for the music-first audiophile who still likes CDs, isn’t crazy into gear, and wants good, honest sound from a simple audio system.

Listening via the USB input
If you are using a PC connected to the Solus via the USB port, you would be wise to download Quad’s DSD Artera driver. It is necessary for unlocking higher than 24/96 PCM resolution and compatibility with DSD files. With the driver, the Artera Solus plays files at resolutions up to 384kHz and DSD256.

The Artera Solus is not, as one says, “Roon Ready,” but then neither am I. I do not have jillions of files. I never converted my CDs or LPs. The few stored files I do have are of the highest quality, so I use Audirvana Plus (because I like how it sounds), and there is a whole section in the Artera Solus owner’s manual explaining how to set the Solus up for Audirvana.

My antique Apple mini computer (at the end of a 5m AudioQuest Cinnamon USB cable) failed to recognize the Artera Solus, but my newer MacBook Air laptop sat squarely and attractively on the Solus’s glass top and synched instantly via a 1.5m AudioQuest Diamond cable. For about a week, I played Tidal and Qobuz night and day. On Miles Davis’s A Tribute to Jack Johnson (44.1/16 FLAC Columbia/Tidal), bass was tight, fast, and tuneful, but high frequencies were sort of hard and mechanical—this with the default Smooth filter (see below). Nevertheless, streamed music came out of the Klipsch RP-600M speakers with a greater sense of force and density than it did via my reference HoloAudio Spring DAC feeding the Solus’s line-level input.

Overall, music streamed through the Solus DAC was high-contrast, distinctly forward, and exceptionally energetic. On the tune “Hona,” off one of my favorite African blues records, Mbalimaou (44.1/16 FLAC Columbia/ Tidal), by Boubacar Traoré, the DAC in the Artera Solus bit through the Magnepan .7’s slight dark reticence with a sharper clarity and stronger rhythms than it did via my Chord Qutest DAC.

Listening to filters
The Artera Solus’s built-in D/A processor uses the highly regarded ESS Sabre ES9018 DAC chip, which offers a choice of four filters “to optimize playback on different devices and to tailor the sound to fit your personal taste.” Only the Smooth, Wide, and Fast filters are available in the built-in CD player. I used the USB inputs.

The default filter, called Smooth, is not, in my opinion, the best sounding of the bunch. But because Smooth is the default, it’s the main one I used for the observations below. The manual describes the Smooth filter as having a “near perfect technical response in the frequency domain” and as having a “very clear, smooth, and open sound.” I can confirm the clarity and openness, and yes, it is smooth, and delightfully dynamic, and fundamentally musical . . . but it is unnaturally hard, and generalized in focus.

I listened next with the Wide filter, which the manual describes as having “a gentle rate of attenuation [and] minimum time-domain ringing.” I found the Wide filter smoother than the Smooth filter and definitely easier on the ear. Unfortunately (and annoyingly), the Wide filter imposed a rounded-transients effect on every track I played. Wide was smoother, but less interesting, less focused, and less musically engaging than the Smooth filter.

The manual describes the Narrow filter as typifying “industrial standard characteristics (–6dB at ½ Fs with significant time-domain ringing).” This filter made my best files, like Seraá una Noche’s La Segunda (176.4kHz WAV, M•A Recordings M062A-HRDL), sound clean and pretend-pure—but more digital-artificial than natural. Not a Herb filter.

According to the manual, the Fast filter “exhibits no ringing” and “the transient nature of music is preserved.” To my ears, Fast had a finer grain and a deeper, more precise focus than the other filters, plus the most un-digital-sounding bass. I thought Fast resolved atmosphere and reverb more distinctly than the others. Its imaging was less generalized than the Smooth, Wide, or Narrow filters. Its chief virtue was a pristine charm.

The Fast filter was my clear favorite; however, I am annoyed that modern digital engineers expect me to choose among four very different-sounding outputs. Why do they do this? I perceive this as evidence that digital is designed by numbers, not by listening.

Listening with the Klipsch RP-600M
The $650/pair RP-600M loudspeakers were in the system when I replaced the EleKit TU-8600R amplifier and Rogue Audio RP-7 preamp with the Quad Artera Solus. The Solus administered a generous spark of musical life to the diminutive Klipsches. Every day I like these speakers more. They are surprisingly uncompressed for small speakers. They have become my favorite speaker for private listening because they do not diminish the energy or excitement of recorded performances. They show me well how an amplifier plays the top octaves. The RP600M’s horn-loaded tweeter defines the leading and trailing edges of transients in ways that elude most dome tweeters. Best of all, the RP-600M can light up and boogie with only a few watts.

Powered by the Artera Solus, which is rated at 75Wpc into 8 ohms, the humble Klipsch speakers played music in a crisp, engaging manner, with well-defined bass. Midrange tones were nicely fleshed out. The sound of Ruggiero Ricci’s violin playing the Bizet-Sarasate Carmen Fantaisie, Op.25 (24/96 FLAC Archiphon/Tidal), felt distinctly physical coming out of the Klipsches, with above-average texture. I did not anticipate this—nor did I anticipate the attractive, feature-filled Quad sounding as overtly musical as it was doing with the RP-600Ms.

With the Harbeth P3ESR
In case you haven’t noticed, I don’t fret much about amplifier measurements. The things that concern me more are tone, texture, and dynamics—and, most of all, the question of how an audio component conveys the impact and spirit of the music.

For me, audio components usually fall into one of three categories: boring, annoying, or engaging. While driving the little Harbeth P3ESR loudspeakers, the Quad Artera Solus was thoroughly engaging. It made good tone and outstanding dynamics. It let me re-enjoy some old-favorite music, like Jimmy Reed playing “I’ll Change My Style” off of one of my all-time favorite albums, Just Jimmy Reed (44.1/16 FLAC, Vee-Jay/Tidal).