The phrase is game changer. This not a CD player as we know it, with the possible exception of the £6,000 Rega Isis nothing I have heard in digital audio delivers resolution and musicality in such convincing and entertaining fashion as the Saturn-R.
Ever since streaming came along I have pretty much given up on CD, most players are either dull or painful, it seemed to be nigh on impossible to get the resolution of file streaming nor the musicality of vinyl out of the format. CD players with vitality usually have a forwardness that makes them uncomfortable long term or at level. The Saturn-R, a £1,598 player, is extraordinarily revealing and, more important, has the best timing in the business. What’s its secret? After all the Apollo-R has the same mechanism – a device made for portable use with a decent amount of RAM so that it carries on playing if it’s jogged. The DAC is different, it’s a Wolfson and they’re pretty good, yet I’ve heard plenty of no better than OK players with them onboard. Designer Terry Bateman says its essentially down to power supply and house keeping, there is more space in the box and more budget so things are done to a higher standard. And the Apollo-R is a damn entertaining player, it is in the same ballpark when it comes to grin factor, so it would seem that Rega has managed to refine that and reveal more of what it gets off the disc.
The MSB Signature Data CD IV transport has the same approach, reading at high speed to RAM and sending the bits out at the desired frequency. Put it with a serious DAC and it will produce a result that is in the same league as the Saturn-R, but at £11,000 or thereabouts (including power supply) plus DAC this will remain a pretty exclusive product. And although I can’t put them back to back I doubt that it beats this Rega for sheer realism, for showing you what the musicians are playing, how they’re playing it and what vintage of Strat is being abused. I’ll tell you how good it is, I have started burning music files onto CD-R so that I can hear what’s really going on, what all the lyrics are and what the tape op had for breakfast. I’ve rarely had so much fun with my clothes on.
It’s also worth mentioning that this is also the best DAC that Rega has made (it has asynchronous USB frinstance) even if you wouldn’t guess if from the front panel. But stick what you will into its digital inputs they won’t beat the onboard source, must be a clocking/jitter thing.
I have written a full review of the Saturn-R for a magazine which will be on sale in April (2014), so I won’t go on for fear of repetition but I will say this; if you can find a more enjoyable and revealing digital source for under ten grand I will eat my zircon encrusted tweezers.