T+A Music Player Media Streamer
Music lovers now have an ever-churning sea of compelling digital audio sources lapping at their feet. Into this vast ocean dive the equipment manufacturers and computer leviathans and their attendant tinkerers, trying to channel the steady flow of new formats and datastreams into something usable and sonically acceptable. Thanks to lossy formats like MP3 and the popularity of lo-rez streaming, this hasn't been easy.
Back in audio's salad days, before the interwebs, you had radio, discs, and tapes. If only the choices were still so few and so simple. These days, as a result of the dozens of sources for music, audio components can resemble a meal put together from an a la carte buffet. You can choose any combination of amp, preamp, tuner, DAC, disc player, music server, networking device, phono preamp, iPod dock, and more. As the permutations increase exponentially, in many cases the standard component categories of preamp, disc player, iPod dock, etc., no longer apply.
So the trick for manufacturers is to sort the options down to usable products that tap into the audio zeitgeist of our historical moment of post-disc streaming. With its Music Player ($3600), the German company T+A elektroakustik has made some intriguing choices; the question is whether or not the resultant concoction will satisfy the widely varying tastes of contemporary audiophiles such as reader Peter DeBoer.
Come and Get It
Here's what T+A pulled from the menu and piled on the Music Player's (MP) plate: CD player, iPod Dock, FM tuner, built-in Web-radio streaming, computer and/or NAS drive networking, and a DAC with input switching for two external digital sources. The MP also has a remote control, and variable output so it can function as a digital preamp (more on this later).
The MP's design and metalwork are top-notch, with precise fit'n'finish and an elegant yet understatedly to-the-point modern style. Curved, satin-smooth side panels of dark metal contribute to the luxe lookthis is one component you won't want to hide in a cabinet. It's solid and heavy, with no flimsy sheet-metal panels.
Out front, starting at the left, are: a power button, four input selectorsDisc, Radio, SCL (Streaming Client), Dig 1/2 (for the two digital inputs)and a Menu button. In the center is the monochrome alphanumeric display, below it the disc drawer, and to the right of that the Open/Close button, an Enter button surrounded by navigation buttons in the four directions, and to the right of those are six CD-player buttons: CD Stop, Play, Skip, FF, Favorites, and Mode.
To the Backcave
The rear panel is recessed from the rear edges of the top and bottom plates and the side panels by about 2", which, in an open equipment rack, gives you a very tidy-looking componentall connectors are hidden. A steel bar runs from side to side below the rear connections, over which you can run your wires in a neat array. At the very least, such a rear-panel design lets you push the MP right up against the wall, with all cables tucked out of sight and routed downwardbut it also keeps the rear panel in the dark, and forced me to learn Input Braille to find the right jacks when switching cables for comparisons.
Facing the rear panel and starting from the left are: the two-channel RCA analog outputs, an FM antenna jack, S/PDIF RCA digital out, S/PDIF and TosLink digital in, WLAN and 10/100 Ethernet (marked "LAN") ports, and a USB input for connecting to a USB stick or USB hard drive. There's also a blanked-off spot for an FM/DAB antenna, if and when it becomes available. Next is an iPod connector that uses an included adapter and cable, and an RS-232 connector for firmware updates and for networking with external control devices such as those made by RTI, Savant, Crestron, and AMX. Finally, there are two E Link connectors for interfacing with the T+A Power Plant amplifier, which then takes over control of the MP. The MP can handle MP3, WMA, AAC, FLAC, OGG-Vorbis, and WAV files, but not AIF files.
Though high-resolution downloads are becoming easier to find, I wasn't able to use the MP with them. The current product's network processor, via USB, LAN, or WiFi, peaks at a depth of 16 bits and a sampling rate of 48kHz, though its DAC can handle 24/96 via the S/PDIF input. By the time you read this, however, T+A says it will have released a firmware upgrade that allows the network processor to handle anything up to 24/96 for FLAC or WAV files, which will then grant access to some of the downloadable 24/96 or 24/88.2 files offered by HDtracks, Music Giants, Blue Coast Records, Linn, and others.