Media Server Reviews

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Stephen Mejias  |  May 09, 2011  |  4 comments
Head-Direct's HiFiMan HM-602 is the second in a growing line of perfectionist-quality portable music players designed by Fang Bian, a 31-year-old audiophile and student of nanotechnology at the City University of New York's Hunter College. Bian's first HiFiMan design was the larger, heavier, more versatile HM-801 ($790; see my review here). In building the HM-602, Fang sacrificed the '801's removable amplifier module, 15V rechargeable battery, and coaxial input, thus creating a smaller, more portable product. Much sleeker and less substantial than the '801, the HM-602 measures approximately 4" L by 2.5" W by 1" D and weighs just 7oz—it can rest comfortably in the palm of a hand or a coat's inner pocket.

Overall, the HM-602 has a handsome, rather serious appearance: With its gold controls and its fine metallic finish, which at times seems a deep green and at others takes on a smoky charcoal, the HM-602, like its predecessor, exhibits an air of elegance and sophistication. And while the HM-801 proudly takes after Sony's famed Walkman—Fang Bian once owned every available model of the now-discontinued portable cassette player—the HM-602 much more closely resembles Apple's iPod Classic. On its front panel, below the 2" LCD screen, the HM-602 has a four-way control ring similar to the iPod's scroll wheel, and three sliding switches: Power, Hold (deactivates controls while music is playing), and DAP/USB.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Apr 24, 2018  |  50 comments
"Phones are the gateway device," proclaimed Marc Finer, executive producer of the Hi-Res Pavilion, at the start of the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show. When he pointed to LG Electronics' V30 Hi-Res+MQA smartphone, which includes streaming apps for Qobuz, Tidal, and YouTube, I sensed the truth in his words. The latest stats from survey company MusicWatch confirm that at least 87% of smartphone owners use a music-streaming service, including the largest, YouTube. Twenty percent of owners said that they stream music/music-related content daily, and 39% stream five or more days per week.
Wes Phillips  |  Mar 12, 2008  |  1 comments
Even the most savvy Stereophile reader might wonder what a "network music player" is. Linn rightly considers a music server to be a combination of 1) stored digital files, 2) music-management software, and 3) a device that uses #2 to transfer #1 to your hi-fi. What Linn's Klimax DS is is a high-quality digital-to-analog converter (DAC) that receives digital data through an Ethernet connection rather than optical or electrical S/PDIF or AES/EBU inputs.
John Atkinson  |  Dec 20, 2001  |  3 comments
My friend Ed (not necessarily his name) used to be an audiophile. Ed had a great-sounding pair of floorstanding Joseph speakers, optimally placed so as to create a magic soundstage when he sat in the sweet spot. His component rack featured such famous high-end names as Mark Levinson, Meridian, and Z-Systems. But then Ed went DSL and discovered MP3s. Pretty soon, he was hanging as many hard drives on his PC as he could manage. His Josephs and his Levinson CD player gathered dust. Ed was enjoying his music sitting in front of his high-end Dell, with an active NHT Pro mini on either side of the monitor.
Art Dudley  |  Mar 18, 2011  |  1 comments
My quandary on receiving for review the Linn Majik DS-I: What, precisely, is it supposed to do? Does the Majik DS-I contain a hard disk and music-ripping software, so I can use it to store all the music in my CD collection? Does it have a graphical user interface (GUI) that at least matches the one provided by the endearingly free Apple iTunes? Does it include a DAC that allows it to play the music files I've already put on my computer?
Kalman Rubinson  |  Oct 11, 2010  |  1 comments
When it comes to ripping CDs and downloading music, I've been sitting on the sidelines feeling more than a bit of envy. Stereophile's reviews of various media servers have whetted my appetite, but not so much as to overcome my timidity about getting into a new realm of technology in which I would be a beginner all over again. Still, I've sneaked a few peeks.
John Atkinson  |  Sep 26, 2013  |  5 comments
In March, to celebrate Marantz's 60th anniversary, the company launched the subject of this review, the Reference NA-11S1 network player ($3499), which Ken Ishiwata described to me as "a new start, a new era" for Marantz. Michael Fremer attended the European press conference announcing the NA-11S1, and I subsequently talked to Ishiwata via Skype.
Wes Phillips  |  Jan 22, 2008  |  0 comments
It has a fan, it won't work without a monitor, and it contains a 750GB hard drive—for some audiophiles, that's a trifecta of reasons not to buy the McIntosh MS750 music server ($6000).
Kalman Rubinson  |  Sep 04, 2014  |  9 comments
Power amplifiers are unglamorous but essential. In theory, they have only one task. But, according to audio sage Yogi Berra, "in theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not." Amplifiers must take a voltage input signal and provide an output of somewhat higher voltage but of substantially higher current, the product of which is power. The task is complex in that this output must be applied to electrical interfaces whose characteristics vary widely from speaker to speaker—across the audioband and, for some, even at different power levels. There are no control mechanisms or feedback signals to help. The power amp must just stand and deliver.
Kalman Rubinson  |  Jun 29, 2017  |  7 comments
It's been going on for a while now: Despite support for multichannel in audio/video receivers and A/V processors priced from as little as $200 to $30,000, there are still very few offerings that cater to the music listener. They may offer stereo-only streaming features through their USB or Ethernet inputs, but these inputs don't see your multichannel files. To handle such files, they would require you to add a music server with HDMI output. However, I know of no turnkey music servers that will output multichannel audio via HDMI.
Kalman Rubinson  |  Aug 31, 2017  |  7 comments
It's time to fulfill my promise to write about Playback Designs' Sonoma Syrah music server and Sonoma Merlot DAC. It all began when I asked Playback's founder and CEO, engineer Andreas Koch, when he plans to produce a multichannel digital-to-analog converter—a question I've put to so many other manufacturers. He said that he already had a multichannel system on the drawing board, and not just a DAC. Our e-mail exchange culminated in his announcement of the Playback Designs USB-XIII Digital Interface, to be used between a USB source component and as many as three DACs via PLink, Playback's proprietary fiber-optic connection.
Kalman Rubinson  |  Jun 26, 2018  |  62 comments
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.
Kalman Rubinson  |  Jan 10, 2019  |  0 comments
Although I no longer attend the audio pageant that was once the annual Consumer Electronics Show, I now seem to be traveling more, in hopes of recapturing the excitement CES had once provided. Last May I attended High End, in Munich, and found that while it was entirely as advertised, there was, alas, not enough emphasis on the playback of high-resolution files, and hardly any attention paid to multichannel music.
Kalman Rubinson  |  Feb 26, 2019  |  14 comments
One of the recurring themes of this column has been my search for servers that will support the playback of high-resolution multichannel files with DSP for speaker/room equalization (EQ), as well as the format conversion and downsampling that are often part of those processes. Because most EQ software is PCM-based, format comversion is needed to convert DSD files to PCM. In addition, because most EQ products work within a limited range of sampling rates, PCM files sampled at high rates may have to be downsampled before being subjected to EQ. Those of us who use home-theater preamplifier-processors and audio/video receivers (AVRs) should be familiar with such constraints.
John Atkinson  |  Oct 24, 2008  |  0 comments
"Physical discs seem so 20th century!" That's how I ended my eNewsletter review of the Logitech (then Slim Devices) Squeezebox WiFi music server in April 2006, and it seems that increasing numbers of Stereophile readers agree with me. In our website poll of January 5, 2008, we asked, "Are you ready for an audiophile music server?" The response to that question was the highest we have experienced: 32% of respondents already listen to music via their computer networks, many using home-brewed solutions, and 44% intend to. We've published a lot of material on this subject in the last five years, and it seemed a good idea to sum it up in this article.

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