Fortuna Offers Pre-loaded Classical Server

On May 4, Fortuna Classical Music announced release of their Maestro music server, "the first and only music player for the classical music enthusiast." Maestro's launch coincides with a major two-page centerfold spread in the June issue of Gramophone magazine's North American edition, followed by a single-page Gramophone advertisement in July that will include a promo CD.

Designed specifically for classical music lovers and audiophiles, the Maestro hard-drive player comes loaded with a proprietary software-management package that includes everything necessary to navigate and manage a collection. According to Chad Frisque, Fortuna Classical Music's energetic manager of sales and marketing, "Our data and grooming guarantee that you'll be able to find what you need in the server, as opposed to other servers where you can't find the data."

Maestro's other major selling point is its pre-loaded "Cornerstone Collection" —1000 Naxos CDs containing nearly 5000 works—which together with Maestro's hardware and software offers "a $19,000 value for only $4995." (More on this later.)

As an alternative to purchasing the Cornerstone Collection, consumers can elect to have Fortuna Classical upload 1000 CDs from their personal collections to the server for the same $4995. Fortuna Classical does all the transfers, including scanning the complete booklets and putting them on the hard drive.

"We parent the booklets with the metadata, the majority of which is from Muse, creating exact digital copies of the CDs and backing them up on the hard drive," explains Frisque. "You end up with all your music in one central location. Instead of thousands of CDs all over the place, they're all in one box the size of a DVD player."

Maestro's 400GB hard drive holds somewhere between 1100 and 1500 CDs in WMA lossless format. "This guarantees that you get a bit-for-bit copy of the CD," claims Frisque. As an alternative, one can ask Fortuna to store up to 2500 CDs on the hard drive in 192kbps MP3 format.

Consumers wishing to have access to more than 1000 CDs in lossless format can elect to have Fortuna upload the remainder at $3 per CD. For someone with a collection of 5000 CDs, this would amount to an additional uploading fee of $12,000. The files would be stored in daisy-chained stations that hold 1000GB each—or in other alternatives, such as larger servers, currently under consideration. Each additional custom station costs another $1000. Since Fortuna Classical is located in California, residents of that state should figure in local sales tax before pulling out their credit cards.

To lower the financial blow, consumers can either upload "à la carte" at $5 per CD, or purchase a subscription package which covers uploading five CDs per month at a cost of $10. While it does save some money, uploading the balance of a complete collection of 5000 CDs by subscription would require 800 months.

There's yet another alternative. After the initial $4995 outlay that gets you Maestro plus either the Cornerstone Collection or uploads of 1000 of your own CDs, you can elect to rip your own CDs. The hitch is that they need to already be in Fortuna's library of 11,500 CDs of core classics for which the company has accomplished metadata pairing. This enables you to download organizational information from Fortuna's master server at no cost. Although you can, of course, rip anything you wish, Fortuna counsels against ripping CDs not in its collection because self-filing can result in organizational nightmares and defeat one of the main reasons for opting for the service.

As mentioned above, Fortuna Classical touts that Maestro is specifically designed for audiophiles. As the company proclaims on its "Audiophile Specs" web page, "Maestro has been designed for the audiophile. We have developed 'Bit-Perfect' technology to ensure that the signal coming out of your Maestro is exactly the same as what was pressed to the original CD. The device is fanless and the internal components have been German engineered to run totally silent, ensuring that your music sounds as pure as the moment it was recorded."

What comes out of Maestro, it should be noted, is devoid of resampling or bit interpolation. You get no more than what's on the CD. Audiophiles hungering for better sound can feed the signal through an external DAC via Maestro's coaxial and Toslink digital outputs. There are separate interfaces for preamps and for the video required for navigation, as well as a gyration mouse wireless remote and optional wireless keypad for titling playlists.

"Where Maestro differs from anything else on the market is that it speaks classical," says Frisque. "It doesn't try to fit into a pop mode. Instead, it addresses the classical listener with a search similar to that found at arkivmusic.com."

Okay, ma'am, you've got the facts from the horse's mouth, or at least from one of the prized ponies in the stable. Now let's look at the Cornerstone Collection, whose complete contents are available for perusal online.

Culled from Naxos' ever-expanding catalogue, The Cornerstone Collection is basically comprised of core classics that will appeal to those with more conservative, minimally discriminating tastes. You'll find plenty of Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, and Rachmaninoff, but don't expect Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Richard Strauss' operas or lieder, Adams, Reich, Glass, Riley, Pärt, Barber, Bernstein, Rorem, Carter, and others whose music has been recorded by Naxos. Nor will you spy Marin Alsop's recent Brahms series or Naxos' much-praised recording of Vaughan Williams' Symphony Antartica.

The Cornerstone Collection features CDs of Piazzola, Parry, and Bax, as well as a host of more obscure composers, but you'll find little more "modern" than Bartók in the Fortuna collection. As for the classical audiophile recordings that so many of us prize, let alone the tens of thousands of performances by first-tier artists, conductors, and ensembles found on major labels and a host of indies, you had best look elsewhere. Opera queens, it is fair to say, would never give the Cornerstone Collection the time of day.

Dismounting from the critic's proverbial high horse, if only for a brief moment, one must acknowledge the many plusses of Fortuna Classical. The service enables both classical music novices and those suffering from CD overload to easily access music with minimal bother and fuss. Furthermore, those electing the Cornerstone Collection receive it for far less than the cost of purchasing the individual Naxos CDs.

For those with spouses such as mine who threaten divorce every time another pile of CDs appears, there are definite advantages. But for those who have already assembled wonderful collections and are not prepared to replace them with a few little boxes that serve up the music file by file, nor prepared to part with a huge amount of cash, the trail to musical nirvana leadeth not to Fortuna.

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