ACTIVO was directly originated within the same philosophy that shapes groovers Japan, a company devoted to let more people enjoy high resolution music, a market that continues to grow steadily due to improvements on playback equipment and new distribution channels, particularly strong in Japan. groovers Japan has offered a high-quality music streaming service since 2013 and targets the potential needs of younger generations who love music growing in the related market. With ACTIVO, the company expands directly to portable hardware devices that are focused on providing ways to enjoy high resolution sound sources for those who love music, and to generate new high-res audio fans.
To realize that vision, groovers Japan asked IRiver, the South Korean consumer electronics manufacturers responsible, among other things, for the Astell&Kern range of portable audio players, to support development of the CT10 portable audio player, the first product in the ACTIVO brand. Combining iRiver's manufacturing experience with groovers' vision and focus to succeed in creating a device with the technical features of Astell&Kern players, in a condensed form, the CT10 resulted in a very distinctive solution that will easily be appreciated by a wide consumer market.
The brand name ACTIVO combines the Latin word "ACTIO" meaning action and "VITAL" meaning lively and vitality. In the future, as an audio brand, ACTIVO already anticipates to release earphones, headphones, and speakers, "proposing an environment where young generations will be able to enjoy high-res sound sources easily. An ecosystem for an active and fashionable younger generation where they can enjoy high resolution music in a more simple and convenient way that fits their lifestyle."
ACTIVO's CT10 was designed to do just that. It is a portable high resolution music player able to handle any digital audio format and deliver the fullest details available in the original recordings. It encompasses a variety of features including advanced hardware technologies, Wi-Fi for music streaming and OTA updates, high resolution Bluetooth 4.1 streaming with aptX HD, a powerful quad-core processor and a fast and intuitive user interface, all in a compact and sleek design with just 112 grams (3.95oz).
Basically, the CT10 adopted Astell&Kern’s TERATON, a compact module combining advanced hardware technologies, with a proprietary design that incorporates a clock generator, power, amplification, and high-end DAC. This makes the CT10 a small device, without sacrificing sound quality. No doubt thanks to groovers input - compared to Astell&Kern's ugly designs - the CT10 benefits from a modern, clean design that focuses on functionality. Featuring a 3.4" (480x854) LCD, it is one of the first portable audio players that doesn't intend to look like a smartphone, and was designed instead more like a wearable device.
The result is a fresh, fun design that allows for the device to fit snugly in the hand with smooth contours to enhance usability. The convenient side buttons enable users to operate the player easily without removing it from the pocket and the buttons’ fine details add a decorative element to the design.
Of course, benefiting already from the lessons learned in smartphone interfaces, the CT10’s user interface is fast and easy to use. The playback menu is located at the center of the screen, so users can easily move to other menus with a swipe from any direction on the screen. Frequently used features are located in customizable shortcut menus, allowing users to turn them on/off easily. In that clean interface, users will find many music-oriented options, such as 8 pre-set filters, and a customizable 10-band graphic equalizer.
As an affordable device shipping now, the CT10 offers the convenience of wireless with Bluetooth 4.1 - with easy pairing for Bluetooth earbuds, headphones or speakers - and Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n (2.4GHz) to allow for convenient over-the-air updates and streaming or downloading music. This allows users to access all their connected music libraries, computers, NAS drives, other Wi-Fi enabled products or other DLNA compatible music systems on a local network to access their content and playback/download music. Also, with Wi-Fi, Tidal streaming in high resolution is available directly from the Services menu.
The internal storage is not exactly the ideal for hi-res files. The CT10 features only 16GB of internal NAND memory, and needs to be expanded with a microSD memory card - the slot supports up to 400GB capacity - which will add $150, at least. Also the built-in 2,500mAh Li-Polymer battery was restricted by the compact design and will support only up to 10 hours of continuous playback, less using Wi-Fi streaming of course.
Somewhat more doubtful was the option to use an USB 2.0 Micro B type interface for data and charging. In 2018, to have a device that doesn't explore already USB-C is not a wise decision - especially for those users who need to transfer large hi-res libraries before leaving home, and would like to have a faster charging option. Even worse, the CT10 does support using the internal DAC - a Cirrus Logic CS4398 chip - as a USB DAC for a an external computer. Using an extinct "Micro USB" connector for that is not clever.
Otherwise, the CT10 will please many music fans with its combination of 24-bit/192kHz and DSD support, support for virtually all the important file formats including up to DSD256, and, most importantly, MQA support, which is probably what will convince many potential users to buy the device now, and upgrade later when there will be a USB-C version available.