Music in the Round #92: Digibit Aria Piccolo +

Lovers of high-resolution multichannel sound still don't have it easy. While the two-channel market is replete with snazzy, efficient music servers in stylish boxes, the only multichannel equivalents are Merging Technologies' Merging+Player Multichannel-8, and a handful of stereo devices that are rumored to do multichannel, though no such claims are made in print. To be candid, the latter will play multichannel tracks via USB, Ethernet, or HDMI outputs to suitable DACs (but that's another story), but because they're aimed at the two-channel market, they tend to skimp on the CPU horsepower and RAM needed to handle higher-resolution multichannel files. Even the Merging+Player Multichannel-8 ($13,500), with its Intel i3 CPU running Roon, couldn't entirely keep up with everything in my library.

Among the many multichannel wannabes was DigiBit's elegant Aria music server, which I reviewed in March 2015. At the time, I noted that DigiBit's website made "no mention of the playback of multichannel files," though their representatives told me that all Arias could play multichannel files. Sure they could.

The datasheet for the Aria Piccolo + boldly announces "Multichannel Support via HDMI and USB outputs." This piqued my interest, not only for the overt declaration of multichannel support but also for the mention of HDMI. Given the fact that, currently, there are only three multichannel USB DACs on the consumer market, we should welcome support for HDMI so that we can play multichannel audio through an AVR or preamplifier-processor.

The Piccolo + runs a Celeron CPU and 4GB RAM and comes in three configurations, depending on the internal storage capacity: 1TB SSD, $2999; 2TB SSD, $3299; or 3TB HDD, $3499. It includes a standalone USB DVD drive for ripping CDs, with automatic ripping and tagging features. I opted for the 3TB version, as uncompressed multichannel files are about six times the size of equivalent two-channel files. On the other hand, none of the three configurations is constrained by the internal storage—the Aria can access and play files from a NAS or a directly attached USB drive.

At 17" wide by 2.4" high by 9.8" wide and 13.25 lb, the Piccolo + is somewhat smaller than the original Aria, and though it lacks its predecessor's beautifully sculpted, and no doubt expensive to machine heatsinking, its looks are equally elegant. There are no visible heatsinks—the Piccolo + clearly relies on radiating heat from its sealed and smoothly machined case. Throughout my testing and listening, it never got more than barely warm to the touch.

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The black front panel is empty but for the illuminated On/Off button. A lot more goes on around back. At left are pairs of RCA and XLR analog output jacks that are fed from the internal stereo DACs, and above them is the single HDMI connector. In the middle of the panel are AES/EBU (XLR), S/PDIF (RCA), and USB output jacks, along with a LAN (RJ45) jack and a USB in/out port for local storage devices. To the right are an IEC power inlet, the main power switch, and a connector for a possible future dedicated linear power supply.

The Piccolo + is operated via DigiBit's iAria app, which I downloaded to my iPad from the Apple Store. (There's a version for Android devices.) After I'd connected the Piccolo + to my LAN and powered it up, the app found it, then presented me with a well-designed GUI, with which all setup and playback functions can be controlled. The iAria supports automatic tagging and display of album-cover art via web access to Discogs, FreeDB, GD3, MusicBrainz, and SonataDB (classical). Albums and tracks are accessible by almost any category, and there is full playlist support. In addition, the GUI permits user editing of tags and cover art, as well as library backup.

The setup options offer a degree of user control suitable for a music server. But, consistent with DigiBit's intention of making everything as foolproof as possible, there's no real access to the Aria's operating system. For instance, I could send files from the Piccolo + via the stereo analog outputs of the built-in DAC, or via USB 2.0 if no special driver was required. (The Piccolo + is compatible with Apple AirPlay and DLNA.) But to use my exaSound e38 DAC, I had to e-mail DigiBit, who then magically downloaded and installed the driver in the Aria overnight. Now, I prefer a more hands-on approach, but I have to admit that, with DigiBit's way of doing things, there's no way the user can screw things up.

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After testing the Aria's communication and playback via the exaSound e38 with the provided sample files, I directed the Piccolo + to access my NAS, then told it to add to its library all of the more than 20TB worth of music files stored there. This was not accomplished instantaneously. While the Piccolo + was busy doing all that, I played some of the files. All two-channel formats played well, as did multichannel 24-bit/96kHz PCM and DSD64 files, but to my great disappointment, all higher resolutions played only with frequent interruptions. "Here we go again," I muttered.

But the Piccolo turned out to be much better than that. First, I canceled the comprehensive library process and instead downloaded only about 2TB of music to the Aria's HDD. Listening to those, I found that the Piccolo + played everything, including DXD and DSD256 in multichannel, without a burble or hesitation or interruption. The sound from the e38 and the rest of my Manhattan system was as clean, smooth, and satisfying as ever. From this, I concluded that the frequent interruptions I'd heard earlier were the result of playing hi-rez multichannel files while the Piccolo + was busy transferring my entire library over the network.

I then asked the Piccolo + to add another 2TB of files to its library, but without downloading them to the Piccolo's internal HD. Only after that process was completed did I try to play any of them over my LAN, and again, it was everything I'd hoped for. The logical conclusion: The Piccolo + could play every music format I had on hand, either from internal or network storage. That it couldn't play the highest-density files while simultaneously adding files to its library over a network was no big deal. As my mother said, "First, finish your homework; then you can go out and play."

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What about HDMI? I toted the Aria Piccolo + up to our place in Connecticut, intending to plug it into one of the HDMI inputs on my Marantz AV8802a preamplifier-processor, but there was another wrinkle: HDMI output is not enabled on the Piccolo + by default, but requires an e-mail request to DigiBit to activate it via the Internet.

Playing files on the Piccolo + and sending them via HDMI to the Marantz was completely successful, with two small limitations and one convenient advantage. The first limitation is a common one: HDMI output from the Aria's Intel motherboard doesn't support DSD, but converts DSD to hi-rez PCM on the fly. The second limitation is the Marantz's inability to accept any input resolution higher than 24/192. If your pre-pro can handle more, the Piccolo + will do it, as I proved by using it in my Manhattan system. The advantage: You can apply to the feed from the Piccolo + all of your AVR's audio-processing facilities, including room EQ, bass management, or whatever else it has onboard.

Given the closed structure of the Piccolo +'s GUI and its not-ready-for-gaming CPU, there's no easy way to implement bass management or equalization. For the same reason, massive library operations should not be performed while listening. Normal operations, such as adding a few albums, are not problems.

COMMENTS
Bogolu Haranath's picture

Somebody stole my "car radio" and now I just sit in silence :-) .............

Kal Rubinson's picture

I just listen to the navigation system.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

How "ironic" :-) ..............

Kal Rubinson's picture

Not really. I listen to music a lot and it is generally not just for background music because I attend to it. OTOH, I only drive on weekends and, when driving, I prefer to attend to that and music would be distracting.

T-NYC's picture

Dr Rubinson,

If you were the CFO of BBK, one of the largest semiconductor firms in the world, and owner of the fourth largest mobile phone company in the world (and largest mobile phone company in China), would you continue to put resources into the ever-diminishing niche market of "audiophile" audio? This firm makes thousands of times more profit annually from just accessories for its phones. Oppo Digital was a wonderful experiment which many of us benefited from, but in the final analysis, a CFO who did not act in this manner does not deserve the job. People in the rapidly aging, rapidly diminishing audiophile market believe it is big news. However, as anyone who reads the history of high fidelity audio (or consumer goods) knows, in the 1950s annual attendance at Hi-Fi shows just in North America was several hundred-thousands. Current audio stringers are excited by any show that breaks the 5,000 attendance mark. This is a dying market which has mainly killed itself. With luck Denon - Marantz (superior optical disk playback technology) may step in and offer a premium universal optical disk player. However, looking at the number of audio business failures (explicit or otherwise) and the number of mergers and acquisitions these last five years, and the ever-less viable demographic -- this game is over. The BBK CFO recognizes this and acted accordingly. I'm sorry for all those who did not acquire or have the opportunity to acquire, an Oppo player. BTW, thanks for your Digibit review. I expected a good product and based on your write-up my expectations are fulfilled.

T. Brendan McCarthy

Kal Rubinson's picture

Thanks for your comments. Yes, the times they are a changing. However, I do not think that "audiophile audio" will disappear completely nor will it wither rapidly. Rather, I think, it will morph as older, traditional enthusiasts pass and less traditional enthusiasts take it in directions not yet seen.

As can be seen in almost all hobby/enthusiast endeavors, there will always be those with greater demands.

dalethorn's picture

I welcome the new things, and there will be gimmicks or ideas not thought out well, and they will fade away. The most intrusive things - to my thinking - will be new DSPs and codecs like MQA, not to mention the "Loudness Wars" compressions. Some multi-channel or "surround/3D" efforts could disrupt things in a negative way, if the music owners somehow decided they'd be the only versions - i.e. not available in audiophile-quality stereo, or multi-channel that easily flops over to good stereo.

But audiophiles will see all of these for what they are, and there will be significant pressure on the owners of the music to maintain (and provide, to an extent) high-quality music tracks that are as good as or better than the best masters we have now. There would be little or no point in the music owners issuing lower-quality or poorly-manipulated jazz and classical music albums, since those customers are much more discriminating than pop music buyers.

And as far as streaming goes, it will never be able to do what a local digital library can do. Just one example is making available every version of everything I have now, so clearly labeled and instantly accessible that playing any track is as easy as pressing a couple of buttons on my existing music player. That feature and others are downplayed constantly by streaming advocates, but you'll understand if downloads are ever eliminated.

One thing that's clear is that gear will continually be developed to meet new demands, and hackable gear will be developed to get around music industry restrictions.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

"Vertigo" ...... Bedspins ......... Surround sound ......... Just kidding :-) ............

Bogolu Haranath's picture

The future is headphone based surround sound .......... both for music and movies ........ also, for VR and may be for AR ......... Lot less expensive than loudspeaker based systems ........ Also, portable ......... Surround sound is already being used in automobile audio ....... More are on the way in the automobiles .......

dalethorn's picture

I've been using headphones forever, and exclusively now, for playback as well as reviewing. But - I have no interest in anything except stereophonic sound of real instruments and voices. Nor do I want anything that's not hi-fi in the pure sense, i.e. things that adjust the sound outside of normal reproduction.

For some odd reason, outside of a few of the binaural demos stereophile has featured recently, where John and others sit listening to big systems at trade shows, I haven't heard any binaural recordings that sound as good as or better than conventional stereo recordings. My best example of stereo is the wonderful remaster of Duke Ellington's "Indigos" - more than 50 years old and sounds spectacular on headphones.

Maybe someday there will be something beyond stereo that sounds realistic on headphones, but then again, stereo is two channels and we have two ears, so I doubt it.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Our ears can hear sound(s) almost 360 degrees ......... That is how we localize sound(s) ......... That is what HRTF is all about ........ Binaural recordings can capture that, if done well .......... Also binaural recording can do surround sound .......... There is a recent show report on inner-fidelity where Tyll (previous editor) has a demo of this surround sound (on headphones) of one of the companies ......... Chesky has some binaural recordings of surround sound ............ Check out "Dr. Chesky presents you are surrounded" ..............

Bogolu Haranath's picture

To add to the above ......... If one has this type of surround sound (binaural or otherwise) on the phone or portable DAP, they can listen to the surround sound via IEMs while traveling or anywhere .......... Think about that .........

dalethorn's picture

I taught Tyll the important things he knows, which does not include HRTF. That HRTF is about as relevant as what headphone (around-ear, on-ear, in-ear, dynamic, planar, ES) you're using. If it's designed correctly and it fits you OK, it should sound right.

I've known all about binaural since the 1970's. Not impressed. If sound is recorded correctly, the headphone plays it back correctly. And BTW, I don't sit in the center of music bands, nor do I want to hear the people behind me. I want to hear the music.

If you have experience in a real-world application of normal music listening to groups playing in front of you, that requires surround sound for best results, please share. And BTW, the caveman didn't develop his binaural hearing to work effectively when fully surrounded by hostiles. His hearing was developed to focus on specific threats from a specific direction and distance. Stereo or binaural hearing serves that end.

dalethorn's picture

"The caveman didn't develop his binaural hearing to work effectively when fully surrounded by hostiles. His hearing was developed to focus on specific threats from a specific direction and distance. Stereo/binaural hearing serves that end."

Bogolu Haranath's picture

BTW, lot of other species can hear in 3-D, not just humans ............ Some can even hear beyond 20KHz ........

dalethorn's picture

I don't know what you're talking about - 3D - we humans hear in 4D when you include timing info.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Yes ..... Also, 4-D ....... Other species can hear in 4-D too ...........

dalethorn's picture

No they can't.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Are you sure? ........

dalethorn's picture

We can assume that some animals have great hearing, but tiny brains. The owls hear the sound of a juicy mouse, and wild bunnies the air swoosh of a hawk. But neither could appreciate stereo, since their tiny brains are optimized for one thing. Which BTW is why predators are so successful - their prey can hear OK, but they continue to lose to their predators due to tiny brains. If the owls and hawks had big brains, they'd be fat and lazy and have someone else do their work for them.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Owls can turn their necks 360 degrees, BTW ........ May be there are other species like that ......... Yeah, those owls and hawks could have chauffeurs drive their limos ...........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Are we talking about cavemen, who sell insurance? :-) ............

dalethorn's picture

They sold a lot of insurance, but the problem was too many cases dragging through the courts. The cavemen lawyers had the finest clubs, but when they discovered golf, nothing got done after that.

Anton's picture

Hmmm, so which direction does the threat have to be in for this caveman to perceive it?

Are you telling us that you are "deaf from behind?"

Ho ho ho!

You lack 360 degree ability to locate a sound?

That's a good one!

I like the "animals don't hear in the time domain," as well.

So, that owl can hear the mouse but doesn't know when he heard it?

Oh, man.

That's good stuff, Dale.

dalethorn's picture

So you're both smug and uninformed. Not a good mixture.

Anton's picture

Not smug, just amazed at your ability to be so wrong yet not in doubt!

Buy a book!

dalethorn's picture

You are completely wrong, yet you are willing to air your misconceptions here like waving a flag. I cannot help you, so please go consult with someone who can.

Anton's picture

Seriously, buy a book. You are wrong in such a fundamental way, we don’t know where to begin.

How about this: do you know why crickets stridulate?

Why frogs croak?

Why birds sing or coyotes howl?

It happens all up and down the food chain, Dale.

“3D or 4D” spacial orientation is nearly ubiquitous.

Stop the crazy! Maybe start by looking up the origin of the word!

dalethorn's picture

More blah blah from Anton. See an audiologist.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

JA describes some of the phenomena of perception and localization of sound in his article, including about cavemen .....

dalethorn's picture

All of those are valid *as* he describes them, however, while headphones for example are used extensively for gaming, in listening to orchestras or even small acoustic combos, sounds coming from the rear or directly to the sides are undesirable, unless they are ambient reflections, which are well-planned and accomodated by the recording engineers for stereo reproduction.

If you know of specific recordings that are made for "surround" sound gear that provide a superior hi-fi experience in reproducing *ambient reflections*, and there are reviews by respected audiophile reviewers that point that out, please list those here. Once we have those examples, we can hopefully discuss what went wrong - i.e. how "surround" didn't become the standard.

BTW, I can rip a stereo CD to bit-perfect WAV files, and I can download high resolution lossless FLAC and WAV files, and keep those forever to play on any device I have now or will have in the future. If the "surround" files that exist now or in the future are not so universal and free of restrictions as my stereo files are, then chances are they will never have a chance to become the standard.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Tyll, the previous editor of Inner Fidelity, has a report on one of the recent shows, about surround sound on headphones ............ "Object based" sound for movies like Dolby Atmos, DTS-X, Auro 3-D etc can be done for headphones (and IEMs) ........... The new Audeze "Mobius" does some that, from what I have read, including VR and AR .............

dalethorn's picture

Exactly as I said - gaming and other 'VR' applications, not for music played only in front of the listener.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

5 or 7 channel surround sound can be played for music for orchestra in the front, if it was recorded for surround sound .......... Did you read the show report by Tyll in the Inner fidelity? ...........

dalethorn's picture

"Can be played" means spending lots of money on gear, for what? For something I don't need?

Tell me why I and millions of other audiophiles *need* what you are talking about.

I don't believe in what most of Tyll talked about, because he was selling something and I am not.

Try to reply *not* with ideas for me to spend money on gizmos, but try to explain exactly why I *need* the extra stuff for better sound of orchestras.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

You may not need to spend extra money for hardware when it comes to headphones and IEMs ........ For loudspeaker based systems, yes ........ This surround sound for headphones and IEMs is mostly software driven ......... So, it can also be updated, if and when updates become available ......... It can also be switched off for 2 channel listening, for 2 channel recordings ........

dalethorn's picture

I don't use "software" with my headphone. Why would I want "software" when the sound I have is perfect now?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Do you use software for EQ? .......... Similar thing ........ If you don't want, you don't have to ..........

dalethorn's picture

No. You can't sell me your surround sound because you have no sales case. I asked, but you can't offer a need for it, so this is a fail.

If you do have a case that I can sell to audiophile orchestra fans, do tell. But everything I hear so far is a fail.

dalethorn's picture

Addendum: The only software I would use is "open source", and that eliminates surround software.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Ok ....... I rest my case :-) ..........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

BTW ....... I am (eagerly) waiting for KR to install speakers in the roof of his listening room and report about that kind of surround sound ........ I am just kidding KR, if you are reading this :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Have you checked the Chesky recording, which I mentioned? ......... BTW, not only we can hear 360 degrees in the horizontal plane, we can also hear almost 360 degrees in the vertical plane ........ In other words, we can hear 360 degrees in almost 3-D ( in X and Y axis and Z depth axis) .......... That is what Dolby Atmos, DTS-X, Auro 3-D etc. are ......... Also, that is what VR sound reproduction does .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Also, in the not so distant future, we could have speakers in the roof of our automobiles ...... Now that is what I call audio Nirvana .......... Wonder how they can do that with retractable panoramic sun-roof? ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Singing from "up on the roof" by the Drifters ...........

dalethorn's picture

Apparently you're 30 years behind on automobiles.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3yI7Av8kGw

dalethorn's picture

Not relevant. If humans were designed to hear as you say, the bears and lions would have eaten us. Take a look at your outer ears - there's a focus to hearing, which is why we have a rotatable neck.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Other species have rotatable necks too, although somewhat limited ....... All those species can turn their bodies towards any threatening sounds including humans .......... What differentiates humans from other species is, we are the most intelligent and smartest species that ever lived on this planet ....... That is why we are the dominant species ......... We are going to be for a long, long, long time to come unless we destroy ourselves ....... which we are quite capable of .........

dalethorn's picture

"we are the most intelligent and smartest species that ever lived on this planet"

Right there you have defined utter despair.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Don't fear, audiophiles (including headphone-o-philes), are here to save the planet :-) ..........

dalethorn's picture

I don't mean to besmirch your very interesting points, but I must point(!) out that most of your fellow patrons of the Save The Oceans foundation are missing the point -- they believe that the Greenhouse Effect is going to raise global temperatures by 3-5 degrees celsius by 2100. That's not how the greenhouse effect works. Look at Venus. You know, the planet.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

I have to check with Al Gore about that :-) ............

Anton's picture

So, if there is a sound six feet behind you and to the right, you can’t tell?

What happens if you face away from your stereo, Dale?

If you face away from an orchestra, do you lose orientation?

Some spots are more acute that others, but we 360 degrees on all planes, Dale.

When a plane flies overhead, can you tell where the sound is coming from only if it’s in front of you and you’re looking at it?

dalethorn's picture

You're not making any sense. I hear fine, and from the things you're muttering about, you apparently have more than a few issues.

Anton's picture

Salesman: "Dale, these two speakers offer all the three dimensional cues people are capable of perceiving."

Dale: "Sold!"

dalethorn's picture

Apparently you're stuck in that dream the hi-fi industry (JGH especially) sought 30-odd years ago, but didn't materialize. John Atkinson discusses that in more detail elsewhere here, recently in fact.

Kal Rubinson's picture

I am running out of popcorn. :-)

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Me too :-) ...........

Kal Rubinson's picture

I have run out of popcorn (and lost interest in the direction this thread has taken).

jaypederson@yahoo.com's picture

Mr. Rubinson, thank you for this informative article. Since apparently there is only one multichannel music server bold enough to proclaim their ability to do multichannel, would you be willing to reveal the brands and models of the other stereo music servers you referenced that are rumored to do multichannel? Thank you

Kal Rubinson's picture

It is not something that I can list from memory but, as an example, when the SOtM sMS-1000SQ-Windows Edition was announced, I asked if it could do multichannel even though the word "multichannel" does not appear anywhere in their literature. I was told "yes."

Of course, we do know that any server with USB output that runs JRiver, Roon or foobar under Windows is theoretically capable of handling multichannel if its CPU is up to the task.

See my review of the SOtM (https://www.stereophile.com/content/music-round-79).

Same for the Nimitra (https://www.stereophile.com/content/music-round-85-nimitra-exasound-baet...) and others.

jaypederson@yahoo.com's picture

Thanks! I will check those out. Jay

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