Roxsan Capsian AV Preamp Reviewed

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Once upon a time, manufacturers could bank on a masochistic streak in audiophiles which allowed the proliferation of much minimalist nonsense. It travelled under the guise of purism, a notion that 'less is more', which - while it was true up to a point regarding the cleanliness of the signal path - was allowed to run rampant. While the cynics suspected that the more dastardly manufacturers used minimalism as a way to increase profits (leave out loads of stuff but charge absurdly high prices), many consumers actually believed the guff.

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• Read more high end AV Preamp reviews from the likes of Anthem, Arcam, Sunfire, Meridian, Krell, Mark Levinson, Lexicon and many others.
• Read a review of the Roxsan Hotcakes Loudspeakers here.

And so, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, we found a generation of self-abnegating music lovers willing to hand over bags of cash for...nothing. In return for high-end outlay, they were denied balance and tone controls, remote control, extra inputs, filters and anything else beyond source select and volume which might make life easier, hi-fi more pleasurable to use. Hell, some people were so gullible that they even denied themselves the 'luxury' of more than one speed on a turntable.

It was during this bleak era of wholesale deception - truly audio's Dark Ages - that Roksan was born: yet another turntable manufacturer out to topple Linn, another hero out to defeat the Minotaur. Roksan always marched to a different beat (tweeters suspended on springs...), and for that we admire them. So it was at first with a sense of exculpation that I approached Roksan's Caspian DSP, a five-channel A/V surround sound processor from a manufacturer with its roots in analogue lunacy. But because reviewers have no right whatsoever to wear ooze forgiveness if they're not to be regarded as 'soft', I did not want to feel like an indulgent parent or Pollyanna. As much as I can't bring myself to give Roksan the slapping it sorely needs, I'm furious with them because there is no excuse for proffering a component so out of touch with consumers' requirements.

But it's not a 'slapping' of punishment. Rather, Roksan deserves a solid thwack upside its collective head to force some sense into it. It appears to me that the Caspian DSP must have been designed by an analogue-born Rip Van Winkle, who woke up one day to find himself working in a sub-genre of home entertainment where (1) stereo is the secondary format, (2) analogue the secondary technology, and (3) video a key part of the formula. Only he didn't have a clue, but went ahead anyway.

Note that I was granted the review of the Caspian DSP because I adored the five-channel amplifier to which it should be mated. Hell, I've been a Caspian fan since Day 1, and have used the integrated amp and CD player as mid-price references. So, to criticise the series' latest entry with such seeming vitriol is not easy. I want the world to have need for a UK-made, �1295 processor. I want this chamfered-cornered, built-like-a-vault, alive-against-all-odds outsider to vie with the Denons and Onkyos and Yamahas and TAGs, if only to disprove the industry adage which argues that A/V hardware is so complex - video being an entirely different discipline - that it will sort out the men from the boys. In other words, we the A/V equivalent of, say, TVR: a stubbornly British car manufacturer of miniscule market surviving amidst the Porsches and BMWs.

At first examination, the Caspian DSP seems to have hit the mark. Its sheer heft and rather large dimensions (435x420x70mm - WDH) inspire confidence: no empty box here containing little more than a mother board and power supply. This is clearly 'serious' equipment. And the Roksan wins the biggest battle in the war by - above all else - sounding like an audiophile product. Once I got it working, which wasn't easy, I was rewarded with the sort of silky sound quality which bridges the gap between the artifice of home theatre and the naturalness of purist audio. The sound is not impressive, which may or may not be a demerit depending on how you like your , and . Instead, it suggests a freedom from the sort of fatigue-inducing artefacts which mar entry-level home-theatre components. For those of you entering the A/V waters with but a touch of the toe, this unit can serve as an audio-only (read: stereo) pre-amp without fear of upsetting the purists.

Curiously, though, the Roksan doesn't sound 'big' - the downside of its refusal to impress in motion picture terms. I can liken it only to going to experiencing a small two-way monitor after a lifetime with big panels. Unfortunately, I was listening to it through panels for the entire session (Martin-Logans). To my ears, this system was voiced by a team which never visited a movie house - impossible, I know, but the unit had no sympathy for the cinematic. Sure, the 5.1 processing worked as it should, but that's as far as it goes. You got your surround sound, but almost grudgingly.

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