Network Audio Players/Servers

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Review: Mark Craven, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Aug 23, 2021
hfnoutstandingThis flagship, fully balanced preamplifier comes with Bryston's BDA-3-inspired DAC plus updated BDP streaming platform and full network control. It's busier than it looks!

There's so much functionality under the bonnet of Bryston's BR-20 that you might wonder where to start. I would suggest the manual – this £7500 networked USB DAC/preamplifier isn't, it must be said, the most instantly intuitive of system hubs I've ever auditioned. But the effort is worth it though, because what the BR-20 can do, and how it does it, is quite special.

Review: James Parker, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Aug 12, 2021
hfncommendedHaving nailed the whole 'one box system with built-in speakers' category, T+A now shifts tack to a 'just add speakers' unit. It's on-trend, and with substance to match the style

Are we downsizing, simplifying, or just looking for more from less? Whatever the reasons, it seems the one-box system, to which one only needs add some speakers, is in the ascendant. There's no denying a movement is growing, with everything from 'more integrated' amps complete with onboard streaming through to complete systems such as the NAD M10/M33 [HFN Jun '19 & Aug '20], Naim's Uniti range [HFN Mar '11 & Nov '17] – which was in the vanguard of this trend back in 2009 – and the recently-announced Cambridge Audio Evo models [News, HFN Jun '21].

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jul 13, 2021
hfncommendedPowered by in-house hardware and software engineering from Korea's Citech group, the HiFi Rose brand combines slick visuals with the promise of state-of-the-art sound

One of the great benefits of the rise of streaming – be it network or online – is the flexibility it gives manufacturers to create just about any product they like. There are some basic formats, including the all-in-ones like the Naim Uniti [HFN Nov '17], NAD M-Series [HFN Aug '20] and the new Cambridge Audio Evo. There are also streaming amps and standalone playback components (network players or DACs), but within those parameters the engineers and designers have no shortage of freedom to create network audio devices in just about any shape they want…

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jun 07, 2021
hfnoutstandingNamed after founder Prof. Gordon Edge, Cambridge Audio's flagship series is reinforced by the new 'M' monoblock amp. With the NQ Streamer, does this combo have an edge?

Nothing if not ambitious, Cambridge Audio's Edge series first broke cover three years back as part of the company's 50th anniversary celebrations. It took its name from Gordon Edge, one of the company's founders and the brains behind its first product, the P40 amplifier. Designed to take on the best in high-end audio, these Edge separates also serve as 'halo' products for the company's lower-tier ranges.

Review: James Parker, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Mar 18, 2021
hfnedchoiceTouted as the 'world's first multi-DAC DAP', Astell&Kern's premium portable takes tweaking-on-the-move to a new pace. We run to keep up with the features on offer

Once upon a time there was just Astell&Kern, the company building its reputation on superior digital audio players (or DAPs) aimed at those for whom playing music from their phone just wasn't enough. In an era when the multifunctional pocket device is designed to take over every task you could imagine, from browser, emailer, camera, music player and – well – phone, the idea of carrying a dedicated audio device around may seem like something of an anachronism. 'An MP3 player, grandad?'.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Mar 15, 2021
hfnoutstandingNow housed in a 'chassis within a chassis', featuring an uprated USB interface and slicker Lightning OS, Auralic's G2.1 series kicks off with the Aries streaming transport

At first glance, Chinese company Auralic's range looks baffling, such is the choice of similar-looking units – and it's becoming more so with the arrival of new 'second generation' G2 models, confusingly distinguished by the addition of a '.1' suffix on its product designations. In the new lineup there's the Vega G2.1 streaming DAC, at £5999, the Sirius G2.1 upsampling processor at the same price, the £7999 Leo GX.1 master reference clock, and the product we have here, the £4199 Aries G2.1, described as a 'Wireless Streaming Transporter'.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Feb 11, 2021
hfnoutstandingThis unit may be compact, but it's a highly comprehensive DAC/headphone amp/preamp, with full network audio capability encompassing a huge range of formats

Based in Xi'an, the ancient city in northwest China that's home to the famous Terracotta Warriors, Matrix Audio has a classic hi-fi backstory: it was founded by three audio/music enthusiast schoolmates who regrouped some years later to launch a company to develop and produce hi-fi separates. The DA-100plus DAC was its inaugural product in 2006 since which time the company has evolved its lineup to encompass a range of digital and streaming products that covers just about all the bases, from the X-Sabre Pro DAC [HFN Nov '17] to the new £2795 Element X.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Feb 08, 2021
hfnoutstandingTrickledown engineering wins hands down as the core technology behind Marantz's 12 series is buffed to a new polish, gaining network compatibility at an even lower price

The expression 'hot on the heels' is one thing, but to launch two sets of products seemingly offering similar features at much the same price might be seen as inviting customer confusion. Yes, that's just what Marantz has done, with the SA-12SE/PM-12SE SACD player and amplifier [HFN Nov '20] followed within weeks by the arrival of the 30 Series models – yes, an SACD player and amplifier. Add in the fact that both ranges draw heavily on previous models – to put it charitably – and one might well wonder what exactly is going on.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jan 04, 2021
hfnoutstandingThe dedicated music server is in the ascendant, and every company has a different twist on the idea. In the case of Dutch company Grimm Audio, the twist is especially unusual

The continued rise of network audio has created a new game in the hi-fi world, best summed up as 'Yes, but what is it?'. You see, all sorts of network-capable devices exist right now, and it seems each of them has a somewhat different approach. For example, perhaps the best-known name in 'audiophile servers' or 'music libraries', Melco, started out by making products designed to feed network players over a network connection, paying close attention to the isolation and optimisation of the Ethernet feed. It then reinvented itself as a maker of network transports, connecting directly to a suitable DAC using a USB output, again with isolation strategies implemented.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Nov 23, 2020
hfnedchoiceOne of a growing choice of 'audiophile' network switches, this one comes from Digital Music Library specialist Melco. Can this work magic in any networked system?

When Japanese-based Melco launched its first 'Digital Music Library' [HFN Feb '15], it more or less started a trend for audiophile music storage devices, and these days there's no shortage of rivals out there, all claiming to deliver the best possible sound for your network audio. However, its first 'Audiophile Dataswitch' enters a somewhat different arena, where it's not exactly a pioneer.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Nov 16, 2020
hfnoutstandingThe new entry-level model in the Norwegian company's amp range is a sensible mix of facilities and performance – or at least it would be, if the sound wasn't sensational!

Oslo-based Hegel has been enjoying something of a purple patch of late: not content with raising eyebrows with the sheer performance of its flagship H590 integrated amplifier [HFN Oct '18], it went on to get dangerously near that level with the much more affordable H390 model [HFN Aug '19], offering almost all of big brother's sound quality for not much more than half the price. Our HFN review concluded that it was 'sensationally good value, with a clean, powerful sound and bags of musicality, not to mention exceptional flexibility including onboard network streaming'. Unsurprisingly, it won the 2019-20 EISA Award for 'Best High-End Amplifier'.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Oct 26, 2020
hfncommendedPacked with proprietary technology, this network bridge is the obvious partner for Aqua's own DACs. But does its appeal extend beyond a one-brand digital set-up?

Never let it be said that AQ Technologies is either a follower of fashion or a taker of the easy route: the Milan-based company behind the Aqua range always does things its own way. And while that might sometimes seem like an exercise in making life difficult for itself, the policy typically pays off in the performance, as we discovered when reviewing the Aqua Formula xHD Optologic DAC [HFN Apr '20]. Under the Nextel-finished anti-resonant aluminium casework of that model – one of three DACs in a total Aqua lineup of five products – is a galvanically-isolated resistor-ladder converter of novel design.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Oct 15, 2020
hfnoutstandingThis flagship DAC from Canada, complete with a raft of in-house digital and power supply technologies, and very slick control app, is a complete network music solution

When is a DAC not a DAC? When it turns into a multifunctional network-connected music player, that's when! Increasingly, the lines between products that exist to convert digital inputs into analogue audio and full-blown network players are becoming blurred. So, just as there are players provided only with digital outputs – network transports or bridges to be paired with an outboard DAC – so we now have DACs with network capability built-in. Add an app running suitable UPnP control software, and you have a complete streaming solution.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Sep 07, 2020
hfnoutstandingEver at the cutting edge of both analogue and digital Class D amplification, NAD's new M33 is the first to utilise Purifi's groundbreaking modules. All this and streaming too...

Launched last year, NAD's M10 all-in-one streaming system [HFN Jun '19] was remarkable in two ways. One was that this compact 'just add speakers' package was actually part of the brand's elite Masters Series, more usually populated by high-end DACs and amplifiers, while the other was that this little system, selling for around £2000, was exceptionally good, receiving a glowing review in HFN before going on to win a 2019-20 EISA award as Best Smart Amplifier.

Review: Mark Craven, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Aug 14, 2020
hfnoutstandingArcam's flagship integrated amplifier combines Class G amplification with features including network streaming, AirPlay 2 and offboard Dirac Live room correction EQ

Arcam is still headquartered in Cambridge, from where it took its original name, but the audiophile marque is now part of Samsung's global consumer electronics empire, through the latter's acquisition of Harman International, which had added Arcam to its portfolio in 2016. And amid these management-level changes, Arcam's product line has also undergone a refresh. The brand has withdrawn, for the time being, from the peripherals market, jettisoning its R series of docks and DACs.

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