Review sample supplied by Hexagon Audio
Retail price in the NL (incl. 21% VAT): 8.700 euro
For the longest time, I have resisted all the streaming possibilities because I had not encountered a single music server that could beat my then-favorite Wadia 861 CD player in terms of timbre, soundstaging, and pure involvement. After having tried various music servers and all sorts of DACs, years later, the Antipodes DX server turned out to have a similar timbral presentation to the classic Wadia sound and this worked especially synergistically with the Apogee Diva magnetostatic speakers. The DX was not quite as fluid nor quite as 3D as the CD player, but it was certainly robust, sonorous, and impactful and that is what I required at that time. What ensued was a gradual move away from CD players until I became fully invested in music servers. For a solid period, the Antipodes CX marked the pinnacle of the period running Roon via a direct Ethernet connection to the CH Precision C1 DAC. This served me well until the Antipodes K50 emerged, which marked a new benchmark in terms of organic sweetness and liquidity.
Above and below: the original La Diva with the familiar CD-Pro 2 mechanism
La Diva and LinQ
At this point during my music server adventures, I briefly encountered the Aqua La Diva CD transport and, frankly, it turned things upside down for me. No matter how much I had been enjoying the music server ride, the La Diva had an irresistible combination of aspects that I just could not find in any music server.
And then, the Aqua LinQ Network Interface came along, stirring the pot with its amazing solidity, neutrality, and dynamics, which sparked renewed interest and resulted in a series of raving reviews.
Around this time last year, I was anticipating doing an extensive review of the La Diva, along with a comparison between the player and the then-brand-new LinQ. Alas, as time moved on and the LinQ development took an unexpected turn and Roon support was dropped in favor of HQPlayer NAA, I decided to focus on the LinQ, HQP NAA, NAA Core module, and all the related facets, and assess the La Diva later.
Once I completed my coverage of all the LinQ’s modules and their functionalities, it was time to return to the CD transport. Alas, it was not to be. By this time, Aqua’s stock of Philips CD-Pro 2 mechanisms (which were already a discontinued model) was all but depleted and Cristian of Aqua Hifi revealed that they were working on a successor for the La Diva. What the new model would be called was still up in the air, but it was soon confirmed that the CD-Pro 8 S mechanism would be used.
New La Diva M2 – Transport Mechanism
The new generation of La Diva is a machine that, while keeping the name, is completely new, both in terms of CD mechanics and all internal electronics, power supply, FPGA decoding, clock, display, and more. The Diva M2 features the new CD Pro-8S CD transport, modified and tweaked for maximum performance and mechanical silence. Contrary to the original model’s tiny-character display, the new display offers a really nice and big micro-LED display that is reminiscent of the Mark Levinson digital components from the nineties.
Whereas the original Diva has smooth but tiny digits that I can’t read from the listening position even with glasses, I can actually read the new display content without glasses from 5 meters away!
Based on the StreamUnlimited Blue Tiger Optical Drive Platform, the CD-Pro 8 Series is the successor of the CD-Pro 2 and like its predecessor, it has its roots in Philips technology. At its core is the tried-and-trusted Sanyo SF-HD 850 optical unit. The mechanism features a solid Aluminium chassis, carbon fiber cover, and carbon fiber turntable. Coming from the CD Pro 2, the CD Pro 8 seems to me like an entirely natural next move because StreamUnlimited has extended the famous Philips heritage, and prior to that, has acquired solid experience developing OEM CD mechanisms and loaders for many industry-leading companies, including Wadia Digital.
The mechanism allows the manufacturer to choose an internal or external master clock for the lowest jitter and upon checking with Aqua, Cristian confirmed that the “Master Clock” is fed to the transport mechanism via a dedicated coaxial cable, and the AES/EBU and S/PDIF outputs are created in FPGA via proprietary code (as it is also done for the LinQ). The internal S/PDIF of the CD Pro-8S is not used. Further, the Diva M2 contains proprietary circuitry to control the servo system.
Instead of merely being mounted on the standard silicon dampers, inside the La Diva M2, the mechanism is hard-coupled to a custom stainless steel plate that in turn is suspended from a large and thick metal base panel via large rubber dampers. This assembly is then mounted to the component’s chassis via a second set of large rubber dampers.
For those who wish to dive deeper into the StreamUnlimited background, the company has a dedicated optical storage daughter site with lots of additional information. And for those who wish to dive even more deeply into CD reader mechanism history, there is a dedicated Philips CDM section right here on HFA.
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