Media Server Reviews

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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  |  44 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  |  6 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  |  31 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  |  0 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  |  21 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.

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 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.
John Atkinson  |  Mar 29, 2016  |  15 comments
When I reviewed the Antipodes DX Reference in October 2015, that $7500 media server made musical mincemeat of my regular computer audio setup: a headless 2.7GHz i7 Mac mini fitted with 8GB of RAM and Pure Music and Audirvana apps. Coincident with the publication of that review, Aurender launched its N10 music server ($7999) at the 2015 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. I had been impressed with Aurender's Flow USB headphone amplifier when I reviewed it in June 2015, so I asked for an N10.
John Atkinson  |  Mar 24, 2016  |  16 comments
In the early 1970s, I lived in a village 40 miles north of London, England, and regularly drove through an only slightly larger village called Houghton Regis. And every time I did so, this budding audiophile was thrilled to see a factory in the High Street with a nameplate proudly announcing that it was the site of Teledyne Acoustic Research's European operations. I was aware of the American brand because of a chance encounter with a pair of Acoustic Research LST speakers, and the geographical connection led to an increased interest in their speakers (footnote 1). A sort of local-boy-, er, local-multinational conglomerate-makes-good story. Sort of.
John Atkinson  |  Dec 01, 2015  |  5 comments
The 2015 T.H.E. Show in Southern California clashed with my having to be in the office to ship our August issue to the printer, so I wasn't able to attend. But in devouring the online coverage on www.stereophile.com and its sister sites, on InnerFidelity.com I found a report by Tyll Hertsens about two new hi-rez portable players that made their debuts at T.H.E. Show: Questyle Audio Technology's QP1 ($599) and QP1R ($899).
John Atkinson  |  Sep 29, 2015  |  4 comments
Perhaps because I grew up in post-WWII England, with austerity and food rationing the norm, I learned at an early age the value of frugality. It was a financial stretch for me to buy, in the late 1960s, my first real audio system: Garrard SP25 turntable with Audio-Technica cartridge, Kenwood integrated amplifier, Wharfedale Super Linton speakers. Even when I could afford to upgrade the system, other than replacing the Garrard with a Thorens TD 150 and the Audio-Technica with a Shure, I went the DIY route. Back then, in the early '70s, I assumed that the advent of op-amp chips like the Fairchild Semiconductor µA741 would make it possible for me to design and make, for example, a good-sounding preamplifier for a lot less than it cost to buy one from an established manufacturer. That assumption turned out to be wrong, of course, but frugality was, by then, a habit: too ingrained for me to shake entirely.
John Atkinson  |  Mar 23, 2015  |  70 comments
In the 1960s, musical giants walked the earth. I vividly remember the first time I heard a song called "Expecting to Fly," in a UK record store. The vast, reverberation-drenched sound was extraordinary; the frail, shaky alto voice of the singer riveting.

"Who is that?" I asked the clerk.

"It's a new American band, Buffalo Springfield . . . but they've already broken up."

I bought all I could find of the Springfield, which wasn't much, and learned that the singer and composer of "Expecting to Fly" was a Canadian, Neil Young.

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