Astin Trew is still a pretty new name on the hi-fi scene, though the company's products are starting to enter the general consciousness. Designed in the UK, they are built in China and as a result offer the typically generous parts and build quality of their kind.
The AT3000 is built into a case constructed largely from aluminium channel sections, suitably cut and bolted together. That may sound industrial, but it's all very tastefully done. Inside, the workings are based on a CD-Audio mechanism surrounded by neat circuit boards populated with almost entirely through-hole components of good quality.
Of those components, the most striking is a lone valve, which buffers the output. We wouldn't want to accuse Astin Trew of valve tokenism, but the audio signal has already been through plenty of op-amps (good ones) in the filtering stages of the circuit and it's hard to see what one valve will contribute apart from a little local colour.
In common with many current players, this one offers upsampling to 96kHz, switchable so that one can listen without it if preferred. It's a satisfyingly quick loader and has very low mechanical noise levels. You need the remote to search within a track, a pet hate in these parts, but otherwise operation is pleasant.
Our listening panel heard this player in upsampling mode, our logic being that most listeners will use it that way. Subsequent experience showed this to be a wise choice as upsampling added a considerable degree of refinement to the sound. All the same, it's a sound with a degree of character that doesn't suit all tastes.
That character makes itself felt principally in the midrange, not surprisingly affecting voices more obviously than most instruments, though the precise details of how it hits you may vary. One of our listeners described the sound as 'plasticky' and lacking body, although he was happy enough to concede that in some specific areas, including detail, the performance was highly satisfactory.
At the other extreme, one of his colleagues rather liked the player's subtle highlighting of the female voice in particular, finding that it added to the definition and clarity of presentation.
However you take it, there is definitely an emphasis on the presence band. Voices apart, though, it doesn't necessarily manifest itself as a tonal aberration. In purely instrumental tracks, it seemed instead that instruments whose sound is mostly in that band were slightly further forward in the stereo image, although this can occasionally lead to the dreaded 'listener fatigue'.
All the same, there is plenty to like in other areas. There's strong and tuneful bass (not quite as rigorously controlled as some but that's a compromise many will be happy with), treble is on the whole good, although it doesn't quite have the feeling of unlimited extension that the best players can manage, and detail is very solid.
Perhaps ironically, we felt the AT3000's strongest suit is in background music, where it vanishes quite successfully. But is that really all you want from a bit of specialist hi-fi? Richard Black
Output is distinctly on the high side, by enough to make the player stand out from the crowd in quick demonstrations. It is sourced from a low impedance that should have no fear of interconnects. Noise is good and low, with next to no hum in it, while distortion is pretty low but perhaps not one could call vanishing - at just above 0.01 per cent it is on the high side for modern CD players and may perhaps be marginally audible. None of those parameters vary between upsampling and non-upsampling modes, but frequency response does vary slightly, mostly in the transition band where the upsampling filter cuts off just a touch faster, though still at too high a frequency - and jitter does quite a lot. When upsampling, the player's jitter matches the current trend for performance near the measurable limit, but otherwise it is sub-optimal, findings that may well explain our preference for upsampling in this case.