UNBOXED: Reviewing the Activo CT10 Portable Hi-Res Music Player
I’m going to be perfectly honest with you. The last time I purchased—or even considered purchasing—a portable device whose sole purpose was to play music had to be more than a decade ago when I got my iPod Touch. And even that’s a bit of a stretch given the access the device had to the early days of the App Store. Since then, though, my main music experience on the road has been driven by the smartphone du jour.
That’s not to say I haven’t been intrigued by the portable media player market. Having attended plenty of hi-res audio shows over the last few years, I’ve been exposed to some pretty awesome tech designed to deliver studio-quality listening experiences that don’t involve being attached to some turntable or massive DAC. However, it’s been made painfully clear to me that manufacturers in the space understand who their target audience is—an older generation with much deeper pockets than my own—and they’ve seemingly had no interest in appealing to the next wave of audio enthusiasts.
Until now, perhaps.
Enter into the fray the Activo CT10. A company and product born out of a partnership between IRIVER, the parent company of audio industry heavyweight Astell&Kern, and Japanese streaming service Groovers, the Activo CT10 seems to correct nearly every problem that’s plagued this industry of attracting the fresh consumer blood it so desperately craves.
The Activo CT10 held up next to a Google Pixel 2
Starting with the hardware itself, the Activo CT10 is so markedly different from any other product you’d find at a hi-res audio show. It flies in the face of everything audiophiles would typically expect from a company with ties to Astell&Kern, which is what makes it so appealing. Gone are the rigid edges and awkward angles, replaced by sleek curves, glossy finishes, and a form factor that harkens back to an early iPod. It’s a refreshing design that still features some pizzazz with its frosted volume knob.
Around the edges, the user has access to a power button, track forward/back and pause/play buttons, the aforementioned volume knob, a microSD card slot that’s able to handle up to 400GB of added storage (on top of the 16GB of internal storage), a micro USB port, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. The experience is driven by a 3.4inch LCD display. It’s a no-frills kind of product that ditches fancy inputs and larger internal storage capacities that you might find on more expensive options.
Inside of the CT10, you’ll find some pretty impressive technology as well. Leveraging the close relationship with Astell&Kern, the Activo CT10 is the first audio player to adopt the company’s TERATON TM200 module. The tiny circuit board is what houses the powerful DAC technology and enables the hi-res listening experience. The CT10, impressively, can support audio outputs up to 24bit/192kHz, including the Master Quality Audio format (MQA) and FLAC, as well as WAV, MP3, WMA, OGG, APE, AAC, ALAC, AIFF, DFF, and DSF. The module can also be used to turn the CT10 into a mini DAC for your laptop or PC.
Beside the TERATON module is a quad-core processor that really makes the CT10 a snappy product to use. The user will notice absolutely zero lag when listening to music off of their microSD card, and they’ll be able to cruise through the operating system with ease.
As to the software, the experience will be very familiar to anyone who’s ever powered on and operated a smartphone. The swipes come naturally, and working the keyboard—even on a smaller display like the CT10’s—is a breeze. Users can browse tracks in a number of different ways, customize their EQ settings, opt for some EQ presets, toggle their WiFi and Bluetooth settings, and more. Furthering its status as a tiny, affordable powerhouse, the CP10 has support for Bluetooth aptX HD codec, which means you can stream hi-res quality audio to compatible aptX-enabled Bluetooth headphones.
Out of the box, the Activo CT10 comes with support for Tidal and Groovers (Asia-only) streaming services. If there’s one thing holding the device back, though, its that there doesn’t seem to be a way to add additional streaming services to the device. That could be a turnoff for a good chunk of potential younger consumers. But it also could be enough of a reason for them to try out a service like Tidal, which would give them access to some 30,000 MQA tracks.
Considering all of the above, the $299 price tag of the Activo CT10 makes it feel like you’re robbing the company blind. The CT10 comes in at less than half the cost of other normal-priced portable player options from Astell&Kern or other manufacturers, and you really don’t feel like you’re missing out on a whole lot. It’s been a while since I could truthfully look at a portable music player and say it’s worth the investment, but that’s exactly how I feel about the Activo CT10. It’s appeal to a younger generation of audiophiles, it’s affordability, and it’s high-end features make it one of the easiest recommendations I’ve ever had come across my desk.