[An Audiophilia Archived review -- from 2006 and still current - Ed]
Across the ocean, some French engineers had a digital notion. Although European countries have been criticized in the news, there’s no reason to have the blues. Don’t get down, don’t get frantic, and don’t look askance at products made in France. Anti-French sentiment may abound but it need not influence your preference for good sound.
This CD player costs a “touch” over a grand ($1095). You can operate it easily with just one hand. Atoll Electronique is a 7-year-old French company. Its corporate philosophy is the production of reasonably priced high-end electronics for budget conscious audiophiles. Its products include amplifiers, preamplifiers and CD players.
Located in the Normandy region of France, its manufacturing process is quite rigorous for a small company. The design features completely symmetrical layering using discrete components in a dual mono configuration. Parts include snap-in condensers from Philips, Alps volume and source selectors, metal layer resistors and MOS-FET transistors. Quality is achieved by means of manual assembly, welding and testing — a four step check and measuring process, followed by listening before shipping.
The transport is a Philips CDM 1201 with sound absorption treatment. The lens is mounted on an anti-vibration loader. The DAC is a Matsushita 16 bit, 44.1Khz, 1 bit pulse technology created by Panasonics/Technics. The power supply is a 165 VA toroidal transformer. There are no op-amps. Instead, there are two discrete component stages fully symmetrical for analog filtration and output gain. There is one coaxial digital output.
Bob James and Earl Klugh, Two of a Kind, remastered by the Musical Heritage Society, number 5162443, was my first musical selection. I focused on the acoustic guitar and the cymbal. At the beginning of track three, a cymbal is struck several times. Based upon its pitch and perceived texture, it sounded more like brass than steel. The fingering of the guitar strings revealed the sonic signature of nylon. However, the wood body of the guitar seemed to be slightly underrepresented. A loss of fullness was the result.
Sweet Georgia Brown, the second track on Test Record # 4, Opus 3 CD 9200 is a good test of depth, resolution and tonality. I paid special attention to three instruments, namely, drum, vibraphone and cymbal. The presentation of the vibraphone was very life-like. Vibrato was evident without any exaggeration of treble harmonics. Near the beginning of the track, one can detect the sound of wooden tipped drumsticks hitting the rim of a snare drum. One could follow the elaborate rhythmic pattern and enumerate the number of taps of wood against steel. The drum was located at the center of the stage and behind the speakers. It was clear that the drum was positioned behind the other instruments. One could easily discern the difference between the aforementioned materials. During a pause in an organ solo, after 2 minutes and 36 seconds elapsed, the drummer strikes a cymbal. The pitch of the cymbal is a cue as to the nature of the metal. In this case, the “sound” of the cymbal indicated brass, although, it seemed the pitch was slightly elevated.
I continued my musical odyssey with female voice, selecting the first track from an audiophile classic, Holly Cole, Don’t Smoke in Bed, Alert Z28102 — a Canadian pressing. The wood body of the bass was evident along with articulation of the plucked strings, in proper proportion, giving the illusion of a real acoustic bass. The singer was close miked. Although sibilance was audible, its presence was not exaggerated. The pitch of the “s” consonant did not suggest a peak in the upper midrange or lower treble regions.
Jazz Sampler Vol. 1, a test disc from Chesky Records, JD37 was useful as a test of soundstage width. Track 10 served this purpose adequately. My stereo system “passed” the test, exhibiting “sound” beyond the edge of the left and right speakers.
Another CD on the Opus 3 label was added to the mix, Test CD #1, CD 7900. I chose track 12, another example of small ensemble jazz. The upper register of the clarinet was portrayed accurately. Its reedy quality was recognizable. However, in the lower register, the vibration of its ebony body was somewhat understated creating a slight tonal imbalance. The trumpet had a bite but not enough to take a bite out of your ear. Its timbre was in balance. The trombone sounded rounded, brassy and its position extended slightly to the right of the right speaker and behind it..
I ended my musical journey with a classical selection, Offenbach, Gaité Parisienne, JVC XRCD2 0224, track 1. The power of an orchestra — its scale and dynamics was communicated in a realistic manner. After 52 seconds elapsed, there was a brief wood block and triangle solo. The spacing between them provides a concrete example of the terms “foreground” and “background”. The wood block sounds like it resides deep into the orchestra while the triangle seems to be in the front row. The triangle sounded a bit soft, i.e., not as extended in treble frequency as I have heard using other cd players. The relative infrequency of recordings of wood blocks as well as differences in size and shape makes it difficult to assess their timbral accuracy. However, what I heard sounded more like wood than any other material.
While not giving the impression of transparency, the degree of resolution was sufficient to convey the unique sonic signature of an instrument. Most of the time musical information was presented without peaks or dips. However, in some cases subtractive coloration was noted, creating contrasting effects. In the case of an acoustic guitar and clarinet, absence of lower midrange energy was manifested as leanness, whereas, in the case of a triangle, absence of treble harmonics was perceived as softness. In the context of my stereo systems and my sonic preferences, these deficiencies were not serious. However, one should consider the tonal balance of one’s stereo system and the price of the CD player if one is evaluating this component as a purchase candidate.
Speakers: Quad 63
Amplifier: VTL Deluxe 120 Monoblocks
Preamp: Wright Sound SP100 and Nobis Proteus
Transport: Audio Note CD2 tube cd player
Speaker Cable: Soundstring
AC Cords: Clarity Audio and Soundstring
Accessories: PS Audio P 300, PS Audio Ultimate Outlet and Room Tunes
Atoll Electronique CD80 CD Player
Manufactured by Atoll Electronique
Boulevard des Merisiers - 50370 BRECEY France
Tél.: 02 33 48 44 06 - Fax : 02 33 48 44 35
Source of review sample: Manufacturer Loan