Media Server Reviews

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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  |  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.
Jim Austin  |  Jul 17, 2018  |  71 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.

Wes Phillips  |  Oct 05, 2003  |  0 comments
It was John Atkinson, that legendary ornithologist, who first pointed it out: "Have you noticed how frequently you see women using the iPod?"
Michael Fremer  |  Oct 19, 2017  |  26 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.

John Atkinson  |  Jul 25, 2013  |  First Published: Aug 01, 2013  |  18 comments
Apple's iPod came of age in the fall of 2003, when, with the release of iTunes 4.5, the player was no longer restricted to lossy compressed MP3 or AAC files. Instead, it could play uncompressed or losslessly compressed files with true "CD quality"; users no longer had to compromise sound quality to benefit from the iPod's convenience.

Enter Astell&Kern. At the beginning of 2013, this brand from iRiver, a Korean portable media company, introduced its AK100, a portable player costing a dollar short of $700 and capable of handling 24-bit files with sample rates of up to 192kHz.

Michael Lavorgna  |  Jan 29, 2015  |  0 comments
Do you travel? Commute, perhaps? Just like to listen to music privately around the house? No matter—the Astell&Kern AK240 is the luxury choice in high-resolution portable music players (footnote 1). It even comes with a lovely leather case that beautifully cradles its angular beauty. The AK240 can play all of your PCM files, up to a resolution of 24-bit/192kHz, as well as DXD and single- and double-rate DSD, natively, and can do so from its internal storage, from a microSD card, or from your computer via WiFi or a wired connection. It can also function as a DAC or USB-to-TosLink converter. I'm not so sure there's much left wanting.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Jul 01, 2014  |  7 comments
I'm the editor of AudioStream.com, Stereophile's sister website devoted to computer audio. We review all manner of hardware, software, and music related to file-based playback, and offer helpful (we hope) "How To" articles as well as interviews with industry people—all designed to ease your journey to and through the world of computer audio. I envision my new Stereophile column, "Audio Streams," as an extension of this mission—and the addition of that trailing, plural s gives me some leeway to explore a wider range of hi-fi topics.
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!"
John Atkinson  |  Mar 29, 2016  |  16 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  |  Apr 09, 2013  |  2 comments
I bought a Slim Devices Squeezebox network player in the spring of 2006 and my life changed. Having audio files on a server and being able to play them through my high-end rig via the Squeezebox's S/PDIF output liberated my music from the tyranny of a physical medium. As I wrote in my review, "physical discs seem so 20th century!" After Wes Phillips reviewed the Squeezebox's big brother, the Transporter, in February 2007, I bought the review sample and lived happily ever after in the world of bits rather than atoms—at least until the summer of 2010, when Slim Devices' new owner, Logitech, brought out the Squeezebox Touch. The Touch did everything the Transporter did, with a full-color display, at one-eighth the price!
Larry Greenhill  |  Jun 15, 2011  |  1 comments
James Tanner, VP of marketing at Bryston Ltd., was frustrated. He'd borrowed a Music Vault 4000 music server to play high-resolution digital music files at Bryston's exhibit at the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show. Most of the time, the server delivered some of the best sound at that event. The rest of the time, there were dropouts and crashes. Tanner later experienced similar dropouts and crashes when he streamed hi-rez digital files over his home network to a Bryston BDA-1 digital-to-analog converter (see my review in the February 2010 issue).

I found a more relaxed Tanner at the 2010 CES. This time, he'd borrowed an Auraliti L-1000 digital file server ($3000 at www.auraliti.com), a box with no front-panel controls, no display, no hard drive, no fans, and no CD drive. Instead of a Windows operating system, the L-1000 ran a stripped-down version of the Linux open-source operating system. Its simplicity of design solved the reliability problems Tanner had encountered the year before.

Then and there, Tanner decided to ask Auraliti to help Bryston create a simple digital music file player. The result is the BDP-1.

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  |  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.
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.

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