Melco N50 Digital Music Library

Melco, the Japanese maker of the N50 Music Library featured in this review, is not a household name among US audiophiles. Veterans may recall the Melco 3560 turntable, which was considered extravagant at its 1978 launch, in part because it supported three tonearms. Confusingly, several subsidiaries of the giant keiretsu Mitsubishi are called MELCO (for "Mitsubishi Electric Corporation"), but the maker of the N50 is not one of those MELCOs. This "Melco" is, rather, short for "Maki Engineering Laboratory Company," and though it got its start in hi-fi, these days its best-known products are network-attached RAID arrays made by Melco's American division, Buffalo Americas.

Melco's audio division, known as Melco Syncrets, sells products similar to those produced by Buffalo Americas but tuned for hi-fi, including servers that incorporate all the digital elements that benefit from a being in a single box. The new N50 lacks only a DAC to be a complete digital source.

A digital-audio front end has several parts, and in the streaming era, those parts can be put together in different ways. It starts with a digital audio file, stored either locally or anywhere else—anywhere else on the whole internet—and ends with a DAC. The trend among audiophiles and manufacturers is to optimize every step in the process. Start with NAS drives, servers, or streamers, and go through digital-to-digital converters, network audio appliances, USB reclockers, isolators and signal conditioners, all perhaps with upgraded power supplies and optimized connecting links, and ending up at a versatile, high-quality, jitter-rejecting DAC. It conjures an audiophile's nightmare, Zeno's Achilles-and-the-tortoise paradox for the modern audiophile.

Eventually, one hopes, the data will become music and end up at your ears. But as complexity grows, so does cost, and the chance that incompatibility creeps in increases. That's part of the challenge for streaming digital audio.

There's another part: Many audiophiles have vast libraries of ripped CDs and SACDs and hi-rez music downloads, and these days most subscribe to at least one streaming service. Somewhere in the front end, there must be an application that manages that library and allows easy access to the music.

A Clean, Simple Appearance
Upon unpacking the N50-S38 ($5499, footnote 1), I was impressed with its clean, simple appearance. Starting at the left of the front panel, Melco's distinctive brush-font logo is directly above an on/off button with an LED indicator. To the right are a USB 3.0 port—you can insert a flash drive full of music here, for playback or to transfer to the N50's SSD—and a central alphanumeric display. The four small buttons farther to the right are for navigating the controls and setup menu (Back, Menu/Enter, Up, Down). On the rear panel, from left to right, are a USB 3.0 port optimized for sending music data to a USB DAC and then three other USB 3.0 ports, intended for connecting an optical drive (not included) for ripping and playing CDs, a USB drive for library expansion, and a backup drive. To the right of the USB ports are two Ethernet RJ-45 ports, one for connecting the Melco to your local network, the other a direct output to a network-enabled "Music Player"—more on that later. Finally, there's an IEC power connector (footnote 2).


In the complex world of modern digital front ends, it can sometimes be hard to figure out what part a particular component plays. Melco calls the N50 a "Digital Music Library" or, sometimes, a "Music Store and Stream." Neither term told me exactly what to expect. Even after I read the Quick Setup Guide, which identifies all the controls, connectors, and menu/display operations, I still wasn't sure how to get it to play music. Downloading the full User Manual from the Melco website got me pointed in the right direction, with fully detailed descriptions of every operation and function. Some mysteries remained.

With the manual and an iPad, I found that the N50 provided almost everything needed for streaming local and web-based music. The front-panel controls and the small, highly legible alphanumeric display worked fine for setup and basic music selection, but I quickly realized that the use of a tablet—iPad only; there's no Android support—and the Melco Music App (footnote 3) is essential for easing music selection and making the Melco enjoyable to use.

Playing from the N50? At the core of the N50 is a custom Melco circuit board. Its job is to retrieve the music files, from the rigidly mounted internal SSD, or from other sources, and send the output directly to a local DAC via the Type-A USB port on the circuit board or to the dedicated Ethernet port that connects directly (not, as with most such devices, via a network switch) to a networked DAC's Ethernet connection. Everything—hardware, firmware, outputs—is tightly controlled by Melco.


There are many ways to listen to music with the N50, but the simplest and most obvious is to load music files into its internal memory and attach a USB DAC. You can load up the SSD in different ways. Using the USB 3.0 ports, you could connect an external hard drive, SSD, or flash drive filled with music files and import the files. What I did was even simpler: Once the N50 was connected to my local network, I accessed the N50 with my desktop computer. From there, I dragged and dropped files from my main NAS storage directly into the N50. More than 12,000 tracks loaded smoothly and took up less than 8% of the N50's internal storage. Then I connected a Mytek Brooklyn+ DAC to the N50 via the Melco's dedicated USB output port.

I was immediately able to play any of the files now stored on the SSD using the N50's front panel controls and display, but no one would want to use the machine this way: It's cumbersome, and there is no album art. Clearly, an iPad is the way to go. So I installed the Melco app on the iPad and connected it to my Wi-Fi network. It immediately "saw" the N50, so I selected it (and the USB-connected Mytek DAC) as the device to "Play to" and as the "Library." I could then access the library, organized by album, genre, artist, and so on. Navigation was easy.

I sampled all the supported file formats, except AAC, to confirm that the N50 would handle them. It did—including MQA, although it wasn't listed as a supported format. For DSD, the N50 has three user-selectable playback modes. "Standard Mode" plays DSD as native DSF/DFF if your DAC supports it; if not, DSD files will be played as DoP (DSD over PCM). "DSD over PCM Priority Mode" plays all DSD content as DoP, even if your DAC supports native DSD. "PCM Mode" forces conversion of DSD to PCM, for use with DACs that do not support DSD at all.


Among the files I copied to the N50 library was a classic recording of Stravinsky's L'histoire Du Soldat recorded in 1956 by Westminster Records, with Robert Mandell conducting Ars Nova (an all-star ensemble) and Stanley Drucker and Herbert Sorkin playing the crucial clarinet and violin parts, respectively. It's a transfer from two-channel tape to digital (24/96 FLAC High Definition Tape Transfers HDTT10464, footnote 4). This is a spectacular performance and recording. There's no dialog to distract from the music, and the recording captures the instruments vividly, precisely, and closely. Played by the N50 via the Brooklyn+, HDTT's 24/96 FLAC files provided one of the most convincing "they are here" experiences I've had with classical music.

The Melco N50 is a networked device, so, once it was connected to my local network, the Melco App's "Library" choices included every device on my LAN, including the small library on my exaSound s88 and my JRiver server, which in turn has access to everything on my NAS. The NAS was of course directly accessible, but only after I installed MinimServer on the NAS, a simple procedure. I was able to play any track I had anywhere, sometimes in more than one way.

Footnote 1: S38 designates the specific model of N50, with specific processor and storage. The S38 includes 3.84TB of storage space on an internal SSD.

Footnote 2: Also, on the bottom of the back panel on the far right, is a simple, unlabeled screw described by the manual and quick-start guide as a "grounding port." Its function isn't mentioned, but presumably it's for addressing any hum that might arise. I didn't experience any.

Footnote 3: Or some other, non-Melco app.

Footnote 4: "Rare recordings remastered in audiophile sound." The label, HDTT, makes hi-rez transfers of open-reel tapes of "forgotten performances of historical importance." See

Melco Syncrets Inc.
Authorized US distributor: Luxman America
27 Kent St., Suite 105A
Ballston Spa, New York 12020

cognoscente's picture

I always wonder "what's wrong with using the iPhone (which you already have, like in my case) as an iPod with the Onkyo HF player app. for the Hi-Res files and an USB cable?"

Kal Rubinson's picture

I cannot answer your question because I detest using my iPhone for anything except phone calls and texting. Screen size is too small and navigation is torturous.

trynberg's picture

This seems to have less functionality than my i5 NUC, running Roon ROCK, which is controlled by either Apple or Android tablets, plays multi-channel music, and cost under $400 to build.

I fail to see why anyone would purchase any of these ridiculously priced streamer devices.

Brown Sound's picture

I totally agree. It is way overpriced, indeed.

Brown Sound's picture

I kept reading to see how this thing sounded. I figured it must sound pretty damn good, for it to warrant a Stereophile review. But nope, and Kal confirmed it, there was very little audio comparison. So this $5500, glorified music server, with all of the listed fussiness and being locked behind the Apple wall, it somehow deserves a pass and positive review? Sorry, but for that kind money, it should be close to flawless and hell, make breakfast too. I have been reading Stereophile for over thirty years, and this one really has me shaking my head. I am sorry, you got stuck with this one, Kal.

T.S. Gnu's picture

“Computer-based server devices (including, for example, the Roon Nucleus and Nucleus+) have a single Ethernet connection, so they must be connected to a network-capable DAC via a network switch. That means the server device cannot guarantee the integrity of the Ethernet signal. Because it provides a second, dedicated Ethernet port, the N50 can ensure the integrity of that digital waveform.”

In case you are uninformed, the server NEVER guarantees the integrity of the Ethernet signal; that guarantee is provided by the TCP/IP protocol that is used to transfer the packets from server to client (and, NO, it is not UDP for audio streaming from any NAS or computer). The client ACKnowledges the receipt of each packet, hence this is a bidirectional communication wherein the protocol compares the ACKnowledgement with what it sent; if there is a mismatch, the packet is resent thus ensuring the integrity of the “signal” (as you put it), although packet would be the more appropriate terminology. Hence, the N50 does not do what you claim it does; rather it is the transport protocol that does so…as it does for any two devices communicating for the purposes of this discussion.

It would be tremendously useful to the reader if these misstatements were clarified now that you ARE informed of the same. Even better yet if there were some effort made into preventing them in the first place. If you are not claiming this, and simply repeating marketing material, it would behoove one to confirm the veracity of these claims before repeating them. Considering the relative permanence of your words on the internet, it would be a good way to minimize any unfortunate decline in the credibility of your columns.


Kal Rubinson's picture

You would be correct if you presumed that the statement was an assertion of the product manufacturer and should have been placed in quotes for proper attribution.

FWIW, my personal Baetis server does have two Ethernet ports and have never found that using both of them (so that the output is direct-wired to the streamer) has never made any operational or audible difference as compared with using a single port and switch for input and output.

Thanks for bringing this up.

T.S. Gnu's picture

if, as mentioned in my earlier comment, the assertion of a manufacturer were verified even if and when it is included in quotes; mere repetition of the information may be viewed as a tacit endorsement. Assuming that this isn’t the case, the propagation of incorrect information is simply misinformation or (worse) disinformation and part of the responsibility of disseminating information is indeed ensuring that it is correct information.

Again, this a good way to minimize any unfortunate decline in the credibility of your columns, especially with their relative permanence online and in print. Thanks for the response and clarification, including the example of your Baetis.


nbk1943's picture

Hi Kal,
website of DELA AUDIO, domestic brand of Melco, states the producer of turntable 3560 the "Melco" is the predecessor of Buffalo. Hope this clarify the history of Melco.