Network Audio Players/Servers

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Review: Mark Craven, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jan 23, 2024
Pure in name and hi-fi heart, Matrix Audio's 10th anniversary Element X2 model loses its headphone amp but gains a pair of new, cutting-edge ESS Sabre DACs

While the list of 'legacy products' on Matrix Audio's website begins with the DA-100 Plus DAC, which debuted in 2006, the Chinese brand insists it only really began life in 2013 when it was registered as Matrix Electronic Technology Co. 'Before that, Matrix Audio existed in the form of a studio', says marketing manager Yang Tao. This explains why the literature for the new Element X2 Pure network DAC (and the sticker that graces the top of the unit) proclaims it a celebratory model, launched to mark the company's 10th anniversary.

Review: Jamie Biesemans, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jan 04, 2024
hfnoutstandingFollowing hard on the heels of Denon's DCD/PMA-1700NE SACD player/amplifier, this new network-attached DAC brings a host of streaming options – including HEOS

Our review of the Denon PMA-1700NE amplifier [HFN May '23] included the observation that the Japanese brand was missing a standalone streamer. A glaring oversight, it seemed at the time, as Denon in all other respects is a believer in offering similarly dressed separates for a neat hi-fi stack. So while you could pair the PMA-1700NE (or another PMA series amp) with a DCD series CD player or a Denon turntable, if you wanted to listen to your Tidal playlists you had to look elsewhere. The introduction of the £1399 DNP-2000NE closes the loop.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Dec 14, 2023
hfnoutstandingSome ten years after its introduction, the minimalist Vega USB DAC has grown into a fully-fledged streaming solution incorporating a host of proprietary technologies

The Auralic Vega G2.2, selling for £6899 in best basic black, comes in at just £100 more than the previous G2.1 [HFN Oct '22], and appears to offer evolutionary changes rather than anything truly radical. One thing's for sure, however – the brand has come a long way since it launched its original Vega model, which was basically a USB-input DAC, getting on for a decade ago [HFN Jan '14].

Review: Andrew Everard, Review and Lab: Paul Miller  |  Dec 04, 2023
hfnoutstandingThe second phase of Naim's 'New Classics' launch brings a new streamer, a preamp and monoblock power amps, all in redesigned slender casework. Are they true 'classics'?

At times of late, it seems Salisbury's Naim Audio is wilfully courting controversy. It's been causing ripples with the brand's faithful fans ever since it launched its all-in-one Mu-so systems and second-generation Uniti products. It wasn't that these arrivals were on a mission to make hi-fi simpler for all, eschewing the tweakery and 'black magic' once suggested as a prerequisite for realising its true potential – no, what broke the usually calm surface was the fact the Naim logo, for decades lit in green, had turned white. Cue Naim aficionados fanning themselves like Edwardian grandes dames with a fit of the vapours.

Review: Jamie Biesemans, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Nov 24, 2023
hfnoutstandingBuilt into an enhanced H590 chassis but featuring 'sound tuning' from the P30A/H30A pre/power, Hegel's fully-networked flagship integrated gets off to a flying start

After an extended period of Covid and component shortage-related calm, Oslo-based Hegel has seemingly shifted into overdrive, launching multiple new products in just half a year. First up in 2023 was a major update to its flagship pre/power system in the form of the P30A and H30A [HFN Jun '23], followed by the Viking CD player [HFN Sep '23]. The third act is the launch of the H600, which takes over from Hegel's popular, top-tier H590 integrated streaming amp, and sells for £10,500 in a very dark grey, almost matt black finish.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Nov 02, 2023
hfnoutstandingKorea's HiFi Rose has moved upmarket with its first DAC-less, transport-only network player – the result is an impressive combination of purity and innovative technology

As if on a one-company mission to prove all the variations possible when it comes to network audio, Korean brand HiFi Rose has gone in very short order from being an upstart newcomer to its current role as a pillar of the digital establishment. And it's done so not by the simple expedient of taking one platform and pitching it at a range of price-points, but rather by expanding its offering to fill every niche from the all-in-one 'just add speakers' system [HFN Mar '22] to the highly-focused high-end network component explored on these pages.

Review: Jamie Biesemans, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Oct 26, 2023
hfncommendedItalian brand Volumio is responsible not just for a series of network-attached digital players, but also an open-source OS and bespoke app. The Rivo (stream) is its 'bridge'

Launched in 2022, the Rivo is the middle model in a trio of new streaming devices from Florence-based Volumio, and this digital-only streamer, together with the second-generation Primo streaming DAC and the Integro networked amplifier, concludes an unlikely journey for the Italian start-up.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Sep 25, 2023
hfnoutstandingThe premier 'server/player/reclocker' from New Zealand brand Antipodes Audio boasts a host of proprietary technology and supports up to 24TB of user-installed SSD storage

Network audio is a significant growth area in hi-fi, helped along by network-connected transports and servers, designed to be used into offboard DACs. We used to call these devices 'network bridges', interposed between the home network, and any storage devices thereon, and an audio system. Nowadays they've grown beyond that basic functionality, being able to access music stored internally or via directly connected drives. Meanwhile, the 'network connectivity' is used to access online streaming services, and offer remote control via a tablet or smartphone app.

Review: Andrew Everard, Review and Lab: Paul Miller  |  Aug 17, 2023
hfnoutstandingAurender's flagship two-box network music library isn't the traditional PSU/player you might expect. Instead, the functionality is elegantly split between data in and data out

Look at any multi-box component and you can usually work out what's going on: CD transport and DAC, preamp and power amp(s), for example. But just as often those two boxes are an 'audio product' – phono preamp, headphone amp, DAC or even a digital audio transport – plus an outboard power supply. The rationale for these latter two-boxers is clear, for by isolating the electrically noisy parts of the system away from delicate audio signals, interference is minimised and signal purity maximised.

Review: Jamie Biesemans, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Aug 15, 2023
hfnoutstandingMarrying old-school Yamaha looks with new-fangled digital functions, the R-N2000A streaming amplifier offers convenience in a package to delight vintage devotees

Few audio brands have escaped the component shortages and wonky logistics of the last few years, including Yamaha, but the company is putting all that behind it with a slew of new products. The £2895 R-N2000A is in the vanguard of a new series from this venerable Japanese manufacturer, one or two sneak-previewed at High End Munich 2022. The 2023 show then saw the launch of its lower-tier R-N1000A and R-N800A network-attached amplifiers, sharing many features with the flagship model reviewed here. Yamaha is also offering a range of speakers to match, so if you want to go full Yammy then matching high-gloss piano black NS-2000A floorstanders are available to pair with the R-N2000A. This fits with the brand's efforts to re-establish its once-familiar position in the two-channel hi-fi scene.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jul 10, 2023
hfnoutstandingBased on the Tesla G2 platform used in Auralic's premier G2.1 range, but lacking the box-in-box build and some circuit detailing, the Aries G1.1 remains a top-flight streamer

Yes, the £2699 Aries G1.1 is another one of those similar-looking Auralic components that will blend seamlessly with its brand partners, even if we're never immediately sure what box does what... In this case, we have a network player without onboard digital-to-analogue conversion, designed to be used straight into an external DAC. In this guise, it brings the niceties of Auralic's Lightning Streaming Platform, and its Lightning DS control app, to owners of third-party DACs. This also includes amps or preamps with digital inputs, which can be fed via USB or optical, coax or AES.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  May 18, 2023
hfnoutstandingDebuted in the flagship Vivaldi, and now trickled down to the Bartók, dCS's APEX upgrade brings enhancements to the PSU, Ring DAC clocking and analogue output

Maybe it's a sign of the times, or the state of the specialist high-end audio market, but this latest version of dCS's Bartók streaming DAC, often referred to as the company's 'entry-level' model, is now almost twice the price of the original [HFN May '19]. Then, the Bartók was £9999, or £11,999 when fitted with the optional headphone amplifier; now the Bartók APEX, taking on board the company's latest package of enhancements, first seen in the Vivaldi APEX [HFN Jun '22], is £19,000, rising to £21,500 if you choose to take the headphone option.

Review: Mark Craven, Lab: Paul Miller  |  May 04, 2023
hfnoutstandingArguably the 'sweet spot' in Lumin's range of network-attached players, the new T3 retains the core features of its costlier models, including full use of the super-slick app

The product catalogue of Hong Kong's Lumin, neatly divided between four network players, three network transports, and one-off power amp and streaming amp options, deserves the description 'small but perfectly formed'. That would also be an apt way of looking at its T3, a network player/DAC possessing a neat, easy-to-accommodate design and a feature roster designed to satisfy the needs of the performance-hungry streaming audio enthusiast. In essence, it takes much of what's offered by Lumin's flagship one-box P1 [HFN Jul '22], but trims the spec. (and size) down to a price point of £4195, almost half that of its bigger brother.

Review: Jamie Biesemans, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Apr 26, 2023
hfnoutstandingBuilt into the same chassis as the NEO iDSD, with the same DAC onboard, this new version loses the headphone amp in favour of a bespoke, app-driven streaming platform

To say iFi Audio is an industrious producer of compact hi-fi solutions would be an understatement. More recently the brand has been on a steep upward path of technical evolution, employing designers as accomplished as the marketing department is imaginative. The result? IFi Audio is successful because it has identified new hi-fi hotspots that appeal to both younger and older music lovers alike.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Apr 13, 2023
hfnoutstandingPitched as 'the music server against which others are judged' and featuring a battery supply, 4TB SSD storage, a 1TB cache and custom upsampling, this is no idle boast

You're on somewhat shaky ground when reviewing a big-ticket music server, especially one with no onboard digital-to-analogue conversion. The scythes and flaming torches of the 'digits is digits' brigade might appear at any moment on the path up the mountain on which such devices are perched, and there's always the nagging doubt that the choice of partnering DAC will have more impact on the final sound.

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