Some interesting design ideas have gone into these units, which nevertheless seem a touch lacking in both detail and tonality. Strong bass is a plus, occasionally ragged presentation a drawback
Excellent build quality
Lacks detail and tonality
Not the most precise of systems
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The Advance Acoustic MCD403 is a CD player, Jim, but not as we know it: it is, in fact, a dedicated transport with no audio output.
As such, at its price, it's a rare (unique, even?) beast, but there it is: phono, Toslink and XLR sockets at the back, one of each, outputting data only.
Meanwhile, the 'DA' suffix denotes a version of the MAP305 II amp with a digital input board fitted, sporting one Toslink and four phono sockets (the '403's XLR matches the company's upmarket standalone DAC).
Premium build quality
You may like or loathe the appearance, but there's no denying the build quality.
Each unit is housed in a robust steel case with aluminium front panel and alternative rubber feet are provided (which is a nice touch), although we stuck with hard plastic cones. Operation is nothing out of the ordinary, though the button layout on the transport seems a little illogical. The amp's power meters are purely indicative and very slow-reading: entertaining, anyway.
With no D-A conversion or signal processing in the transport, the case is occupied mostly by power supply circuitry, well spaced out on a large circuit board. The amp, by contrast, is well filled with DAC board, phono board (MM/MC), large toroidal transformer and separate boards for each power amp, mounted on their respective sides of the unit on very large heatsinks.
Component quality is impressive for the price, with a good DAC aided by high-quality op-amps, twin pairs of bipolar output transistors and relay selection of input. Internal metal screens isolate functional blocks of circuit and also brace the structure physically.
Our listeners seemed to agree on most aspects of this duo's presentation and liked a good deal about it. Most of all, they seemed to appreciate its sense of scale, which is considerable and very ably assisted by good bass extension with a nice combination of weight and impact.
Presenting each duo via a tried and proven selection of extracts, we began with that old favourite, Michael Jackson's Thriller, which very quickly sorts out equipment that can do grandiose and expansive – this kit certainly can.
All our listeners felt that both the special effects at the start of the track and the over-the-top music production when it joins in, were presented with real verve and enthusiasm.
There was the odd mild criticism, though, principally in the areas of detail retrieval and stereo imaging, two closely related subjects.
One of the tracks we used includes a particularly tricky bit of rhythmic figuration on the piano and it was clear here that this was less easy to follow compared to some of the other kit on test.
Another track has some of the most precise imaging around and one listener pointed out that this was compromised in both dimensions in the Advance combo's rendition.
Just occasionally, too, there's a hint of tonal hardness in the sound, which is almost certainly closely related to the slight lack of detail. These are quite minor effects, though, and it's clear that for sheer life and energy these units are hard to beat.
If you value engaging musical presentation more highly than absolute precision, this could be a sensible purchase.