Disclaimer: Headfi’s Amos Barnett lent me the Calyx M for the purposes of this review. The DSD-capable Calyx M goes for just over 1000$ USD.
Long-time Nathan readers are rolling their eyes. “Nathan’s gonna thrash this thing for being too big, for being too obtuse, for having crappy battery life; oh, and for being Korean.”
Am I that transparent?
Absolutely. High prices alone do not mean luxury.
Calyx Audio have been making components for medium and hi-end products for about fifteen years. For about seven of those, they have released well-received hifi components of their own. They’re not a low-end company aiming high; they’re an established brand aiming for a market they understand.
Still, I have a few serious questions regarding the M.
Mainly, why’s it so big? It’s a freaking brick; larger even than the iRiver AK240. It fills an iPhone 6-sized footprint and thicker than three 6s stacked, one on top of another. Its boasts nearly as much volume as an iPad mini. Maybe Calyx should have called it the iMad. And maybe they should have marketed a special holster, or frame-pack for it. Where’s it going to fit? One of those audiophile bum-bags?
Its headphone output is on the top, like an old iPod. Or, sadly, like an iRiver AK series. That means that even if you can fit it in your trousers, you then have to flip it over before you use it. And always, your headphone cable will tip out of the top and get in the way. In other words, it’s not a great player for the crowded Tokyo train.
At least its shape doesn’t come straight out of the original TRON. It sports a comely hue and shape. Its magnetic volume slider boasts hard stops, and can be removed if you don’t need it. Nudging it won’t turn its massive screen into a dangerous touchscreen. Its hardware navigation buttons are flush with the body; accidentally changing tracks, or pausing your music, is going to be hard to do. These are nice touches.
But if you’re going to spend a grand on a player, you probably also want to sound good. Don’t worry, it does. Very, very good.
In The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Steve Carrell planted candles and incense around his room before firing up naughty videos. My ears are as far from virgin as can be. Still, I prepped them good for this review. Why? The M is the first pricey audiophile player that retires the zoot suit for a Zune suit. Earthy, stayed, and fastened by Volvo corners. Its much-too-large screen is beautiful, and contrasty.
It comes wrapped in a black cloth, and packed in a tight cardboard box. There’s a full-size CD in there, somewhere, and a vomit-coloured USB cable to boot. And, as an Android device, it requires software to connect to, and transfer music from, your computer.
There’s no web surfing, no wifi, or bluetooth; the M is not mired by a wireless connection to a shabby music shop. It’s music, plain and simple, that drives it. And it’s music which I expected the M would easily play.
Alas, as is the case with all hi-end music players, the M’s interface is a mess of good and really bad. It comes replete with poor navigation screens, mixed-up interface cues, the reinterpretation of classical UI icons, and worse.
Exhibit A: the […] that indicates a parent directory, back, or directory up? On the M, it is the shortcut to the (long) settings menu. What? Swiping back (sometimes) takes you to a previous navigation screen. Paused music plays when track forward or back is pressed, breaking the wonderfully utilitarian compact disk UI. Finally, the on-screen play/pause button is practically hidden thanks to overly opaque album art.
To be fair, I expect crap UI from audiophile companies. I just didn’t expect so many disconnects from good design from from a player that looked like it might be designed by Assar Thorvald Nathanael Gabrielsson. I expected an interface that my grandma (god rest her soul) could stalk with ease. (Interestingly, the overuse of reflective surfaces, circular borders, and sombre colours, reminds me of early-2000s Deviant Art, a website which my grandma frequented.)
And yet, the M is refined. Its chamfered edges comfortable. Its volume slider is surprisingly easy to use (and difficult to lose). When I first touched the M back in May of this year, I was most worried about the slider. To be honest, I still consider it a gimmick. A simple volume rocker is more accurate, and less prone to breakage or theft. But after a month and a half with the M stretching my largest trousers pockets, I’m convinced that my first impressions were a bit harsh.
Never once have I changed volume accidentally. And even if I were worried that it would, I could remove the magnet, or software lock volume at a certain level. People that don’t like the idea can disable the volume slider for a touch control buried deep in the settings […] menu. (Don’t though, it takes at least three clicks to change the volume thence.)
Continues after the jump: