Media Server Reviews

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Jason Victor Serinus  |  Sep 29, 2021  |  21 comments
On the face of it, playing and streaming digital music files is a straightforward process. You direct data from various sources—some local, some "in the cloud"—perhaps via a reclocker/signal conditioner to a digital-to-analog converter (DAC). "And the music comes out here."

Not so simple. Bits, it seems, aren't bits, or not only. A digital datastream is also an analog signal. Noise and other signal errors endemic to multi-function computers not designed primarily for music playback can affect how music sounds. And then there are the practical issues of setting up and connecting everything optimally, and then organizing music files correctly, which can be especially difficult when ripping files from multidisc sets.

Robert Schryer  |  Sep 21, 2021  |  52 comments
In 1968, I was a 2-year-old toddler living in Paris, France—my birthplace—on the 14th floor of a diplomat-occupied apartment complex overlooking the Seine. My dad, a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, was stationed in Paris, working security at the Canadian embassy. My mom and I were there with him.
Kalman Rubinson  |  Apr 06, 2021  |  0 comments
A digital front end comprises several elements: data storage, library management, program control, signal distribution, signal conditioning, and digital-to-analog conversion plus all the necessary interconnections. All this can be contained in a convenient single box, or it can be distributed.
John Atkinson  |  Feb 24, 2021  |  11 comments
In 1979, I visited Philips Electronics' renowned Research Center in Eindhoven, Holland, to examine a prototype of what would eventually be called a compact disc player. In 1989, I returned to the Eindhoven lab to witness the birth of the first sigma-delta DACs, which eliminated the problem of large linearity errors at low recorded levels in resistor-ladder DACs.
Kalman Rubinson  |  Jan 29, 2021  |  11 comments
Is this all there is to it? I had done some superficial investigations of Volumio online, after the Primo was suggested to me for review. I had learned that the Volumio player software is available for several hardware platforms including Windows, Mac, and Raspberry Pi, but I had not tried it before. I discovered Volumio's reputation as an efficient, Linux-based music player, installable with an SD card on minimal hardware and said to support virtually all music formats and resolutions including DSD and multichannel. But I had not experienced any of this for myself.
Kalman Rubinson  |  Nov 27, 2020  |  19 comments
My, how we've grown! The experience that convinced me of the inevitability of streaming was in 2010 with the tiny, tidy Logitech Squeezebox Touch that, despite being discontinued and disowned by its manufacturer, still has a cult-like following. Since then, we have seen an explosion of devices for file playback from local or nonlocal storage and web streams.
Kalman Rubinson  |  Sep 28, 2020  |  11 comments
On the cold and sunny morning of February 19, 2020, a dozen or so audio critics and writers gathered at Gilmore's Sound Advice on New York's far West Side to see some new NAD and DALI products that had been unveiled the prior month at CES. It was a friendly group, and we kibitzed over coffee before clustering in the arranged seats for presentations and auditions. I doubt any of us realized that it would be the last time for the foreseeable future that we would experience this familiar rite.
Jim Austin  |  May 15, 2020  |  27 comments
At the 2019 AXPONA, I took part in one of my first official meetings, as editor of Stereophile, with members of the manufacturing community: the German company T+A. They were presenting in the room of Texas dealer Lone Star Audio, which was owned by the late Jim Hench. They had a corner hallway to themselves: two rooms and, at the time when I arrived, a hallway table brimming with coffee and pastries. Fortuitous timing.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  May 01, 2020  |  94 comments
I am a Sharpener. I can acknowledge being a Sharpener—someone who, as explained by Stereophile reviewer/psychology professor Robert Deutsch in our March 2009 issue, tends to look for and exaggerate differences—without feeling a need to enter a 12-step program or confess to a crime. That's because there's nothing wrong with being a Sharpener.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Apr 03, 2020  |  30 comments
We carry within us the wonders we seek outside us.—Rumi

There are plenty of difficult obstacles in your path. Don't allow yourself to become one of them.—Ralph Marston, The Daily Motivator

Put these two quotes together, shake vigorously, and you've got the essence of a music server. Unless your container isn't tightly sealed, in which case you've got a mess.

John Atkinson  |  Dec 23, 2019  |  32 comments
High-quality playback of digital audio is evolving in two opposed directions. One is where a smart wireless loudspeaker, like the KEF LSX or DALI Callisto 6 C, needs to be connected to a simple source of data. The other is where a smart amplifier takes the data from wherever it needs and sends it to a pair of dumb loudspeakers. NAD's Masters Series M32 integrated amplifier ($4848 with its optional MDC DD-BluOS module), which I reviewed in May 2018, is a great-sounding example of the latter approach.

In the spring of 2019, NAD introduced the Masters Series M10 ($2749). At first I assumed that the M10 was a stripped-down, less-powerful version of the M32, but the new amplifier offers a unique set of features.

Kalman Rubinson  |  Aug 29, 2019  |  10 comments
There is necessity as well as comfort in having a long-term reference recordings and, system. The necessity derives from the familiarity with the reference that allows for comparisons and contrasts with the equipment being tested. The comfort that comes from the familiarity lets me relax and enjoy recreational music, relieved from the need to focus my attention intently on the sound. I do relish getting my hands on lots of interesting audio equipment and getting to play it in my own home, but it's like a two-month one-night stand: The new stuff usually goes back even if I am impressed. I don't change my audio equipment often.
Jim Austin  |  Aug 27, 2019  |  29 comments
A DAC/preamp/headphone amp from Class A of Stereophile's list of Recommended Components, updated with streaming and network-server capabilities—and it still sells for less than $3000? If you believe that, I have a bridge I'd like to sell you. (Har, har!)

Most Americans have heard that line before, but many may not know the story behind it—I didn't. George C. Parker, a real American person born in 1860, is famous for perpetrating audacious frauds, specifically sales of property he did not own and could not possibly have owned. He is reported to have sold the Statue of Liberty, Grant's Tomb, the original Madison Square Garden, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and—most famously—the Brooklyn Bridge that last one twice a week for several years, at prices ranging from $75 to $5000. Or so some say.

John Atkinson  |  Jul 30, 2019  |  19 comments
Apple may not have been the first to market with a portable digital audio player, but its original iPod defined the genre: a device small enough to fit into a shirt pocket. When companies like Acoustic Research, Astell&Kern, Fiio, HiFiMan, and Questyle introduced portable players that could play high-resolution files, they echoed the iPod's form factor. The exception was the Toblerone-shaped PonoPlayer, but even that was small. The subject of this review is another exception: The DMP-Z1, from Sony's Signature Series, is comparatively enormous—almost the size and weight of a regular preamplifier. At $8500, it's also considerably more expensive than other players.
John Atkinson  |  May 17, 2019  |  8 comments
I have reviewed several network-connected music servers in recent years, from Antipodes, Aurender, and NAD. All performed well but are relatively expensive, and their associated player apps didn't equal Roon's user friendliness in terms of interface, organization of the library, and inclusion and updating of metadata. So when Roon Labs introduced their own server, the Nucleus+, I first reviewed and then purchased it, along with a lifetime subscription to Roon. But at $2498 without an internal drive for storing music files, the Nucleus+ is still relatively expensive, and even Roon's less-powerful Nucleus costs $1398. I was still on the lookout for a server that would be more accessible to our budget-minded readers.

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