Onix XCD-50 Reference CD Player

Price: $3,800

&

Onix XIA-160 Dual Mono Integrated Amp

Price: $3,600

by

Marvin Bolden

 

I first heard of Onix through word of mouth from people who had been purchasing the equipment from a well known internet only company that was known for great deals and customer service.I purchased one such deal which consisted of an Onix integrated amp, CD player, and speakers.  To this day I still own the speakers and CD player.

Onix was originally an English company, but like many others worldwide, a Chinese company - Shanling in this case - bought a majority stake.  It is my understanding that the equipment is designed in England and manufactured in China.

Well to cut to the chase, the internet company for one reason or another stop carrying the Onix brand and after a short period of time was again picked up and distributed by Hugh Nguyen of Angel City Audio.  When asked why he decided to pick up the Onix line Hugh replied, “Very simple: Onix is widely known to the ID arena and its products are elegant and excellent for the price point.”

I first heard the new Onix equipment at a get together at a friend's house and met the local dealer for Onix, Nhan Hoang of Phenomenhan Audio Video and arranged for the pieces to be delivered for review.

The two units are quite striking with their aluminum ascents and glossy black cases that blend right in with my Usher speakers and give the boxes a rather upscale vibe.

 

Descriptions

 

Both of these units are solid state - no tubes in sight. The Onix XCD-50 CD player is 18.1” w x 6.3” h x 16.1” d and weighs in at 31 pounds. This is not a lightweight component. Some key specs: 2.0v maximum output level, dynamic range greater than 103db., s/n ratio greater than 108db.

Special features include:

A Crystal cs8416 chip, 192khz sampling, separate r-core transformers for digital and analog power supply, special blue led reduces the diffraction from laser beam, Philips CD-pro2 mechanism and servo system. Thought it says "192kHz", the unit only plays standard Redbook CD's, not any higher resolution disks or files.

Being a top loader, there are five standard buttons across the top of the unit: stop, pause, play, previous, and next.  Underneath the control buttons is the display window and in the middle of the unit beneath the display is the power button. The rear of the unit includes two good quality RCA outputs along with XLR outputs, RCA coaxial and XLR output with an IEC inlet to allow for power cable upgrades.  The remote is the same one used for the integrated amp.

  

The CD compartment is made of thick aluminum and uses a sturdy puck to hold the CD in place, when in place the translucent lid initializes the CD.

 

AMPING IT UP

 

 

 


The Onix Xia-160 Integrated Amp is 18.1”w x 5.5”h x 16.5”d and weighs in at a very hefty 67.1 lbs.  The Xia-160 is 160 watts into 8 ohms class AB.  I could not get any power specs into lower impedance loads.

The front panel has a large volume control in the center of the amp followed to it's right are: CD, SACD, tuner, video, and tape input selectors.  There is a headphone output and two speaker outputs to make bi-wiring easier.

 

Notice the Xia-160 does not have any xlr outputs or inputs - odd since the sister CD player has XLR's for both.

When I asked about the oddness of the amp not having XLR's while the CD player does, I was told, "When I was in China last November, I did bring it up and asked them to include XLR inputs on the XIA for the next version".

 

Both the XCD-50 and XIA-160 are scarce on specifications, but a few more can be obtained from Hugh's website.  As always at Stereomojo, the best judge of specs are your EARS. As we have documented many times, when specifications are published, they are not necessarily accurate and there is no universal industry rules for taking those measurements. For example, are the amp power figures based on the full spectrum or just at 1,000 Hz? Huge difference. Plus or minus how many db? What is the real impedance curve and not just the company's best guess of an average?

 

I decided to sub in each piece individually to get a feel for its sound before listening to the pair together. 

 

CLAMPING DOWN ON THE XCD-50 PLAYER

As you can see on the back of the CD player, there is no USB in or out, USB is pretty common on newer models. There's is coaxial out, but no digital in so don't plan on using this as an outboard DAC for your computer or anything else. Not really Ipod friendly.

The first thing that I encountered was where to put the clamp and then the lid when I was loading a CD, putting one to the side while holding the other in one hand and getting the CD with the other.  After this little puzzle solving ordeal I relaxed to listen to some tunes. The overall presentation was relaxed and  prettty natural.  Male voices were solid and female voices were oh so sweet.The music had good pace with piano and drum attacks had plenty of snap.  The sound was balanced from top to bottom with extended highs with no signs of edge or sibilance and great detail. The midrange was natural sounding, detailed with good mid bass weight. The bass was low and tight, fast and detailed.

 

The XCD-50 had a lower noise floor than my reference combo with a much more refined sound and able to handle complex music passages with ease. The sound stage had great depth, the width and height was about the same as my reference but the depth was much better with instruments being more defined and lifelike. All in all the XCD-50 was the hands down winner making me rethink my source ($$$).

Taking the XCD-50 player out of  the system and putting the XIA-160 integrated in, again the noise floor was lowered quite a bit.  The bass was tight, the amp grabbed hold of my woofers and would not let go.  The highs were smooth and extended with no grain; man this amp is fast.  The amp has a well defined sound stage and good tonality,  but I did miss that big live tube sound of the Cyber 800's.  The sound of the  XIA-160 is very seductive and precise ( a little more on this later).

 

COMBO PLATTER

Now for the main course.  With the XCD-50 and XIA-160 in place the remaining components of my system were PNF Symphony bi-wire speaker cables, 6sonsaudio Windigo interconnects, power cords supplied with amp and CD player, Usher 6481 speakers.

My initial impressions were the very low noise floor make the background dead quiet.  Less noise simply means more music and greater perceived dynamic range. Noise also causes fatigue over time, so what good is a system if after 30 minutes or so you feel like you don't want to listen to it any longer? The highs are clear with no grain or smear.  There was seamless transition from treble to midrange and from midrange to bass. The sound is fast and crisp with a death grip on the bottom end.

The bass on Nils Lofgren's “Little on Up” is very controlled and provides a nice low end foundation for the music.  I think I would prefer a little bit more decay time on the notes.  It's clear the sound of the amp leans towards the precise end of the spectrum as opposed to my tubes at the emotional end.  By precise I don't mean dry or sterile, I mean like military precise everything in it's place. Lofgren's “Wonderland” has a lively upbeat tempo of the toe tapping variety with good tonality, butthere's not as much of a woody sound to the guitar as I am used to.  Of course these are things that tubes are known for and loved.  It might seem that I am harping on tubes a lot, well I am.  There is a difference in the tube vs. solid state debate.  If you haven't already compared the two, get out there post haste.

For a taste of live music I put on Dee Dee Bridgewater's “Live at Yoshi's”, raised the volume quite a bit and was not disappointed.  The amp retained it's vise grip on the bass and the highs did not become grainy or harsh. Loved the upright bass on the opening cut “Undecided”.  Each instrument was in it's own space with Dee Dee's voice up close and personal.  In the intro to the second cut “Slow Boat to China” Dee Dee chats back and forth with the audience and because of the low noise floor you can clearly hear what people are saying.

One thing that made me take notice was that there were a couple of finger snaps during the song that clearly stood out even though there was music in the frequency range above the snaps, yet there they were loud and clear. For speed try track 4 “What a Little Moonlight Can Do”.

Depth of sound stage was wonderful on Andre Previn's “But Not For Me” on the Old Friends CD.

I used Xuefei Yang's “40 Degrees North” to listen to something simple (one instrument) and the Onix combo came through with flying colors.  The sound was pure with natural tonality and balance.  The sound stage was outstanding due to the spacial cues being extracted from the CD.  You can feel the space in the room.

The remote, a nice metal, solid feeling device, does operate both units, though only Input, Volume and Mute work on the amp which is really all one needs. The rest operates the CD player fully.

 

 

The first thing you need to consider is whether investing in a standalone player that plays only standard CD's is a wise choice since the current wave sweeping the industry is digital music management systems with hard-disk based playback and library storage of your whole digital collection. The other factor is the proliferation of high resolution, 24 bit and up to 192kHz music files available via disk from Reference Recordings, Linn and Chesky just to name three. Many believe the day of the normal CD player such as this is past. You may want to read our review of PS Audio Perfect Wave System which is soon to be updated to include music library via hard disk. Our Product of the Year for 2009 in the Qsonix system that plays regular CD's, WAV's, WMA, Mp3 as well as FLAC with more from Apple AAC and lossless coming soon. you stick your CD into the tray and the Qsonix goes out to the net and gathers all the info including album art and stores it on a 1.5 terrabyte hard drive. There's a touch 15" screen monitor that let's you just drag an alum to a playlist, touch play and any music in your library plays instantly - including high resolution files. It will also play two different playlists in two different zones in your house simultaneously. All that and much more for $4,500. Just something to think about. On the other hand, you may be more comfortable with a Cd player just like this. Our job is to inform you, not make decisions for you.

The workmanship is first rate on both products. The glossy piano black finishes are gorgeous. Even the loaded remote is sturdy metal and not a cheap piece of plastic. The combination of the Onix XCD-50 and Xia-160 is tonally balanced and natural sounding.  The amp is very fast and precise.  The XCD-50 presents a relaxed detailed sound and together they present a formidable challenge to the big boys at a somewhat reasonable price.  I could easily live with this setup and not miss a beat in my enjoyment of music, after all that's what it's all about.

On the down side, it doesn't make much sense to buy a CD player with balanced XLR jacks with a matching amp that has none.

 

Contact Info:

Distributer:  Hugh Nguyen   WWW.Angelcityaudio.Com

Texas Dealer:  Nhan Hoang   WWW.Phenomenhanav.Com

 

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