Sooloos Music Server System Ensemble DAC & Hard Drive
Critics of Sooloos often complain about how much the hardware costs, pointing out that similarly endowed off-the-shelf computer components retail for far less than a complete Sooloos system. Leaving aside the facts that you can get the brilliant Sooloos touchscreen interface and software only with Sooloos products, and that their gear is beautifully built and dead easy to set up, some in this age of cheaper-faster-better would rather trade refinement for a few grand in the pocket.
While I was listening to the Source:One-Store system, Sooloos shipped me an almost-final version of their new Ensemble, which should be available at Sooloos dealers by the time you read this. Essentially, an Ensemble is a Source:One and Store in a single case for a lower price ($3500). Going the Ensemble route entails some restrictions: You're limited to a maximum of one removable hard drive, and you have to attach an external hard drive to your computer to manually back up your library via the Sooloos ControlPC software. The removable hard drive can be bought from Sooloos ($175/500GB, $350/1TB), or the user can supply his or her own drive. A single 1TB drive limits you to a total of about 2400 losslessly compressed CDs, but you can upgrade to a larger drive when they become available. The Ensemble's hard drive and fans make noise; if they're kept in the listening room, they must be in an enclosed space.
Another important difference is that, unlike Source:One-Twinstore rigs, Ensemble systems are incapable of Location Sync. All other software features remain the same: the Ensemble retains the full remote monitoring, support, and control options of the Source:One-Twinstore.
The Ensemble hooks up to the same 17" Control:One touchpanel, and other control devices as the Source:One (see below for information about a new, smaller panel), so it may be the way to go for those on a budget who want to get the Sooloos interface. Like the Source:One-Store, the Ensemble uses the Control:One disc slot or ControlPC application on your computer to load music into the system. It can also be remote-controlled by the ControlPC program, or any iPod Touch or iPhone.
The Ensemble can simultaneously run as many as five stereo zones: one S/PDIF and four sets of L/R RCA jacks. You can link them up, or have each play a different playlist. On the rear are: an RS-232 interface for hookup to a home-automation system; an Ethernet jack to connect to your router (unlike the Source:One, the Ensemble has no built-in router) to network with the Control:One, ControlPC, and Internet; and a USB jack just in case.
I used the Ensemble for a couple of weeks and found the interface to work identically to the Source:One-Store system, but I ran into some software bugs. It occasionally displayed the wrong playing times, and sometimes stalled if I was running different playlists in multiple zones. It would also, every once in a while, unlink the zones; I'm told this will all have been fixed before the Ensemble is officially launched.
Source:One DAC Upgrade: Sooloos says that while the Source:One and Source:Five will remain current for a while, their internal DAC will likely be upgraded in the next few months. Having taken a few hits on sound quality in comparisons with outboard DACs, Sooloos is responding to audiophiles' need for better sound to go along with their innovative interface. They're talking with another high-end audio manufacturer about the DAC, and may have something to announce by the end of the year.
New Touchpanel: Sooloos says they're about to add to their product line a portable, battery-powered, 12" touchpanel with charging dock. It's unlikely to replace the Control:One for many folks, but an additional remote control will help make the system even more sleek and easy to use. Sooloos says the custom casework is ready now; the final product will cost somewhere between $2000 and $2500, and we should see it before the end of 2008.
Interface and Software Updates: As new functions are added, Sooloos plans to continue updating its software's feature set and interface "skin," or screen appearance. These updates will include making room for more music sources and streamlining some of the functions to make the skin easier to use. For example, managing multiple zone playlists and putting the system to sleep require some extra steps that will likely be eliminated. They also have plans to improve the Swim software. Let's hope they also let us sort the entire library by additional criteria, and add a Preview function to the album page.
There's More: At press time, Sooloos was unwilling to make any public statements about some of the content-streaming deals underway, but what I've heard about so far sounds exciting. They also plan to introduce some video- (including YouTube) and photo-server products at this month's CEDIA Expo.Jon Iverson