Sooloos Music Server System Page 3
For this review, I used the single-zone Source:One. The company also makes the Source:Five, a five-zone version for simultaneously playing as many as five different playlists in different locations around the house. But other than the extra zones, the different Sources are identical.
Except for the rear panel, a Source:One looks just like a Store. On the back of the Source:One is a power switch, a coaxial S/PDIF out, analog L/R RCA outs, and four Ethernet networking ports. (The rear of the Source:Five has four more sets of L/R RCA outs.)
Sooloos calls the Source:One the system "broker": it manages the communication of all of the devices. If you're having a problem, Sooloos Technical Support can remotely access your system via the Source:One-Store to diagnose the problem. I needed such support once, after Sooloos had sent an update overnight and my system could no longer find the router. While I was on the phone with HQ, someone looked at what was running and made some suggestions. A couple of specific reboots later, the system was up and I was listening again.
The Source:One also provides an important audiophile function: It houses the DAC and other sound-processing circuitry. Sooloos has not designed and built their own D/A converter, but instead uses an RME Hammerfall DSP 9632 soundcard. The RME, a 192kHz-capable DAC, provides output to both the analog and S/PDIF jacks on the Source:One's rear panel. As JA notes in his "Measurements" sidebar, this DAC is not too shabby; in the "Listening" section of this review, I compare it to Benchmark's popular little DAC1.
The Control:One: Loading Music
The most striking-looking component in the system, the Control:One, houses both the bright, 17"-wide medical-grade LCD touchscreen and the CD drive. The CD slot is in the screen's heavy base, which has a footprint of 10" by 7.5". On the rear of the base are a single Ethernet port and the power-cable.
The screen is held in an adjustable brushed metal fascia that is much wider than the basein fact, at 18", it's wider by an inch than the Source:One and Store, though it still matches the overall high-style Sooloos look, with black metal heatsinks running down both sides. The screen itself has a slight matte finish that resists fingerprintsyou don't see them at all when it's on, though smudges are visible when it's in standby mode.
The CD slot in the Control:One's base is where you add new discs to the Twinstore. There are other ways to get music into a Sooloos system: pay Sooloos to do it (footnote 1) or import sound files from your PC's hard drive using Sooloos's ControlPC software (see below). If you have a large library and don't want to pay Sooloos to transfer it, buy an Import:One ($800), which can rip 25 discs at a time via its CD/DVD autoloader, which attaches by USB to any PC on the Sooloos network. The importing is managed through ControlPC.
Fed into the Control:One, each CD takes six to seven minutes to fully import, depending on its playing time. As soon as a CD is inserted, the Sooloos system checks that it's a valid CD, then tells you that a CD has been detected. If the hard drive is full, it will tell you that and spit the disc back out. Otherwise, Sooloos then searches the All Media/Music Guide (AMG) online database for the metadata associated with the disc (cover art, song titles, songwriting credits, etc.). The Control:One identifies which disc you've inserted by counting the number of tracks and each track's exact timing, then searching the AMG database for a precise match. The chance of a mismatch increases the fewer tracks a disc contains. You can't hook a keyboard up to the Sooloos (there's no Bluetooth or USB port)metadata are edited directly on the touchscreen, using a touchscreen keyboard. It's not the same as a real keyboard, but I found it easy enough to use for quick edits.
As the importing process begins, a screen appears displaying the metadata the system has found, and allows you to edit it as the ripping continues. If all looks good, hit Continue; you'll then see a progress bar indicating how much of the job remains to be done. Rip completed, the disc is ejected and the system returns to normal mode, with your new album instantly added to the library. All CDs are imported as lossless-compressed FLAC files.
You can rip discs while music is playing, but once the ripping process is begun, you lose control of the system until it's completed. I've found that you can rip discs with the Sooloos offline, but it then leaves the metadata blank, to be later filled in manually by the user during the importing, grabbed online, or edited using the ControlPC program on your networked computer.
I found the entire process seamless, for the most part. Because the typical customer will receive an empty drive, I first deleted several hundred albums from my pre-stuffed review sample, to clear space for my own CDs (footnote 2). I was surprised at how many obscure discs the system found detailed metadata for: Korean Beatles bootlegs, Japanese imports with extra tracks, Mojo magazine discs-of-the-month, limited pressingsall came up reliably. Once in a while, when an album cover wouldn't import, I used the ControlPC app (see below) to track it down.
Sooloos says there is no limit to the number of albums you can add to the system. The system currently rips only CDs, though Sooloos hints that they might include higher-resolution formats in the futurethe Source:One's RME DAC certainly seems able to handle them.
ControlPC and more control
The Sooloos is a completely self-contained systemall you need are the core components and some CDs. However, there are other ways to control the system and manage the data on the Store or Twinstore.
The Sooloos ControlPC software is now available to download for Windows XP, and will eventually be available for Mac OSX. We run all Mac in this house, so I went ahead and added Parallels to my Intel Mac mini and installed XP. Half an hour later, after tweaking Parallels a tad, I was up and running with ControlPC talking to the Sooloos over my WiFi network.
ControlPC looks like a typical data-management application. With little instruction, I figured out how to start editing metadata and importing new album-cover art (where needed). ControlPC lets you search for metadata in sources other than AMG (such as Amazon.com), which I discovered because of how AMG sorts compilations and multi-disc sets. For example, under "Artist," AMG lists all of the tracks in Rhino's series of Nuggets compilations as "Various"; it was helpful to re-edit those sets so they'd stick together in the interface. ControlPC made this painless; buffing up my ripped library was actually fun. (I found that Amazon and fan websites are the best sources for hi-rez cover art.)
Footnote 1: Sooloos allows customers to send in their disc collections on spindles. The company's VP of Strategy, Rob Darling, revealed that one customer shipped them hundreds of discs of Beatles covers. Another had stacks and stacks of show tunesand if he liked a particular show, he had every cast version, from every country in the world. Fascinating.
Footnote 2: I deleted every one of the Britney Spears albums Sooloos had loaded.