Media Server Reviews

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John Atkinson  |  May 17, 2019  |  7 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.
Art Dudley  |  Mar 19, 2019  |  8 comments
The late Julian Vereker, the sharp-minded former racing driver who founded Naim Audio and designed its first products, did so because he wanted audio amplification of a quality he felt no one else was making at the time, reasoning that if he wanted such a thing, so might others. Thus came about Naim's first domestic-audio product, the distinctive NAP200 solid-state amp (1973).
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.
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.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Aug 30, 2018  |  6 comments
Ever since the Tokyo Electro Acoustic Company (TEAC) founded its Esoteric division, in 1987, Esoteric's slogan has been "state of the art." Given Esoteric's impressive displays at audio shows, which reflect a consistency of ownership, staff, and philosophy of engineering, design, and manufacturing, I have longed to evaluate one of their hand-assembled models in my reference system. Any brand named Esoteric, and whose top line of products is named Grandioso, had better make superior products.
Jim Austin  |  Jul 17, 2018  |  73 comments
It's after 5pm on Wednesday, and I'm finishing up the listening part of my review of Apple's wireless speaker, the HomePod ($349). On a whim, I've just asked Siri to play me some drinking songs.

I mention this because the HomePod's "smart" features—its integration with Siri and the Apple Music streaming service—is a big part of its appeal. In its natural element, the HomePod provides a way of accessing music that, although as old as our century, to me is still new and unfamiliar: Forget your hoary music collection, your Rolling Stones and Beethoven. Decide what kind of music you want to hear—a genre or a mood—then leave the choice to Siri and her algorithmic minions.

John Atkinson  |  Jul 17, 2018  |  19 comments
Sssssshhhhhh—I forget what music was playing, but as the sound faded away, I could hear a loud hissing coming from the 2011 i7 Mac mini I was operating headless with Roon 1.3 to play files over my network. Checking the mini's shared screen on my MacBook Pro revealed that it was completely unresponsive, so I yanked its AC cord, after which it wouldn't boot up.

This was the second time the Mac mini had died. The first time, in 2015, the local Apple Genius Bar had repaired it. This time, the hipster at the Genius Bar turned me away: "We don't offer repair work on vintage computers."

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.
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.
Ken Micallef  |  Feb 15, 2018  |  27 comments
Audiophiles are oblivious to the low-end music-reproduction medium that's currently staging a comeback: the cassette tape (footnote 1). I've adopted the cassette craze in my own small way. I glory in the trusted mixtape, which I play in the stereo cassette deck of my 1990s Toyota. An automobile is a dearly cherished possession in New York City; when I cruise the outer boroughs on Sunday, I want tunes galore. So I retrieved my 1996 Aiwa cassette deck, and, attic-bound as it had been for 20 years, it was in need of repair. Via Yelp, I came across Hi-Tech Electronics, a small repair-everything-electronic shop at the east end of Canal Street, in New York's Chinatown, and a mother lode of classic audio gear and audiophile nostalgia.
Larry Greenhill  |  Dec 27, 2017  |  7 comments
In February 2017, Bryston announced the latest upgrade of their Digital Player, introduced in 2011 as the BDP-1 ($2195), and upgraded in 2013 to the BDP-2, with a faster Atom N450 processor. The new BDP-3 Digital Player ($3495) comes equipped with an even faster Intel Quad-core processor; a Bryston-manufactured integrated audio device (IAD) in place of a third-party sound card; a custom Intel Celeron motherboard; a bigger power supply; and two additional USB ports, for a total of eight—three of which use the faster USB 3.0 protocol. Two USB 3.0 ports run on an entirely separate USB bus, making the BDP-3 compatible with the Streamlength protocols used by DACs from Ayre Acoustics and Berkeley Audio Design.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Dec 21, 2017  |  54 comments
A huge fuss was made over Aurender's first music server, the S10, when it premiered in 2011 at the California Audio Show. While I didn't feel that the room acoustics and setup were good enough at CAS to permit an honest appraisal, the looks and features of the S10 (now discontinued) thrust Aurender into the spotlight. So when John Atkinson, who had very favorably reviewed Aurender's N10 server in April 2016, asked if I would evaluate Aurender's new A10, the opportunity to serve so many audiophiles with a single review elicited from me an unequivocal "Yes!"
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Nov 30, 2017  |  34 comments
John Atkinson asked me to review the dCS Network Bridge ($4250), which was designed to be paired not just with the dCS Vivaldi DAC ($35,999) running the current v.2.02 software, but with any DAC. This meant I was forced to endure several months with the state-of-the-art Vivaldi as a replacement for my reference dCS Rossini ($23,999). Oh, how I suffered.
John Atkinson  |  Nov 28, 2017  |  1 comments
Back in May 2014, I reviewed NAD's Masters Series M50 Digital Music Player ($2499) and M52 Digital Music Vault ($1999 with 2TB storage). At the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show, NAD announced the M50.2, which is almost identical to the original M50 but now incorporates two 2TB hard disks, arranged as a 2TB RAID array, to ensure data integrity, and adds TosLink and coaxial digital inputs, Bluetooth with aptX for streaming music from a smartphone or tablet, and two single-ended analog inputs—all for $3999, or $499 less than the combined cost of the two earlier products. Like the M50, the M50.2 offers WiFi and Ethernet connectivity, and has a CD drive, accessible via a slot on the front panel under the color TFT touchscreen, that can be used to play CDs, or rip them as FLAC, WAV, or high-bit-rate MP3 files.
Michael Fremer  |  Oct 19, 2017  |  27 comments
People often ask me how I listen to music when I travel. I play MP3s on my iPhone.

That answer always surprises, and sometimes disappoints: "You listen to MP3s?"

The response is moderately tempered when I add that I use good in-ear monitors (IEMs)—either Westone ES50s (ca $995) or Jerry Harvey Audio Laylas (ca $2725), both with eartips made from molds of my ear canals.

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