Network Audio Players/Servers

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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.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Mar 28, 2023
hfncommendedKorea's Citech group continues apace with yet another 'full colour widescreen' offering from its HiFi Rose brand – this time with an updated network-attached media hub

ARose by any other name? As has happened in the past, Korean manufacturer HiFi Rose has launched a new version of an existing model – in this case its RS250 network player – with worthy specification changes and a suffix to set the two apart. But there's a mild inconsistency here, for when the company upgraded the RS150 [HFN Jun '21] to the current version, due to a DAC chip change forced upon the company by the 2020 fire at AKM's semiconductor plant in Japan, it became the RS150(B), selling for £3899, but the revised RS250 is now the £2349 RS250A, available in either silver or black finishes.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Feb 09, 2023
hfnoutstandingCombining the network streaming capability of the RS150 flagship with the GAN-FET Class D amplification of the RS180, the RS520 aims to be the 'all-in-one' for everyone

Another smart move from the Korean tech specialist? That certainly seems to be the case with the latest arrival from Seoul-based HiFi Rose, which has rapidly established itself as a major player in the network audio/video market with a string of excellent streaming players. Having taken what looked like an abrupt turn with the launch of its bonkers-styled – but great-sounding – RA180 integrated amplifier [HFN Jul '22], it's now delivering on the promises made by the company's Sean Kim, interviewed for that review. We're yet to see the simpler, more affordable RA280 integrated amp, but here's the company's all-in-one streaming amp, the RS520.

Review: Jamie Biesemans, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jan 26, 2023
hfnoutstandingNow benefitting from the latest updates to Auralic's Lightning streaming platform, the 'starter' Altair DAC also features a raft of mechanical and detailed design improvements

Although Auralic (promoted as AURALiC) only launched the Altair G1 in 2020, the Chinese brand already has its G1.1 update available. It appears together with the Aries G1.1 as the new and more affordable options within their respective tiers, with the Altair and Aries G2.1 [HFN Oct '21 & Feb '21] being the more expensive models. However, as all Auralic products share a very similar chassis design and carry names that aren't very descriptive, it's sometimes difficult to discern which box does what.

Review: Jamie Biesemans, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jan 24, 2023
hfnoutstandingAVM's flagship all-in-one network/CD music system combines cool-running power with huge flexibility while the top 'Black Edition' features a custom finish and selected tubes

Nowadays there's a wealth of all-in-one units available but AVM was one of the brands to spot the trend early on. That partly explains why, even in an industry that loves extensive model ranges, the company has an impressively large product offering – including five streaming receiver solutions. And there's little concession to price in this range, so the top-of-the-line £14,950 Ovation CS 8.3 model boasts ample power reserves, a full range of streaming capabilities and a slot-loading CD player.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Nov 17, 2022
hfnoutstandingMatrix Audio's Element X2 introduces design, control and input upgrades to the X's network DAC/headphone amp and preamp. All this and a colour touchscreen to boot

At first glance, one might wonder why Matrix Audio felt any need to update its Element X network DAC [HFN Jan '21], the latter receiving our 'Outstanding Product' tag at £2795. However, look at this new X2 model and – while it's still conceptually the same, with a broad retention of technology from the ESS ES9038PRO DAC to the Crystek clock – it's clear much has also changed.

Review: Jamie Biesemans, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Nov 14, 2022
hfnoutstandingA Serbian brand based in Chicago packs a streamer, DAC and headphone amplifier into three bijou cases, topped off with a bespoke outboard PSU. We lend an ear, man

Although UK readers might not recognise the EarMen moniker, it's certainly not a newcomer to the world of hi-fi. Its back story is quite convoluted, for although EarMen is based in Chicago, it's funded by the owner of Serbia's Auris Audio, Milomir Trosic, and most products are produced in the same Serbian factory. Auris is aimed at the premium market, with products including the Euterpe and the Nirvana – both headphone amplifiers lavishly adorned in wood and even leather – plus a neat line of luxurious-looking tube amps and even some turntables on offer.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Sep 22, 2022
hfncommendedNow in mkII guise, Lindemann's network-attached DAC and analogue preamp sees a raft of internal updates and the promise of 'production secured for upcoming years'

Look at the latest iteration of Lindemann's network music player, the £3450 Musicbook Source II, and you'd be forgiven for thinking that nothing much has changed [HFN Jun '20]. This is still a compact unit, just 28cm wide and a mere 6.3cm tall, with nothing much on show save a power/standby button sunk into one end of the top-plate and an edge-mounted volume control, with a push-to-mute function, at the other.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Aug 11, 2022
hfnoutstandingDescribed as the company's most versatile digital player to date, Lumin's P1 is an unashamedly high-end network audio solution. But can it be all things to all users?

As is so often the case with network audio products, the salient question concerning the Lumin P1, yours for £8495 in a choice of silver or anodised satin black sculptural milled-from-solid casework, is what it is exactly. The company can help with that, suggesting it can be just about anything you want: a network player, a DAC, a preamp (complete with analogue inputs as well as the digital array), or all three.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jul 28, 2022
hfnoutstandingIn raw form this is a digital streamer/network bridge governed by the Conductor app, but add optional SSD storage and the N200 becomes a fully-fledged music library

Music storage: it can be a thorny subject, not least because those network products offering internal capacity for your library tend either to have fixed, non-expandable storage, or offer the option of dealer-installed drives. The cost of such storage is usually high, too – okay, not 'adding capacity at time of ordering your new Apple computer high', where an extra Terabyte can cost you £400, but still at prices to have you looking at HDDs on the likes of Amazon and scratching your head.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jun 09, 2022
hfncommendedThe first SACD player from French audio artisans, Kalista, is also this spin-off brand's most comprehensive digital hub to date, with wired/wireless network streaming

Having emerged from French manufacturer Métronome Technologie with its inaugural model in 2003 – think Citroën spawning DS, or Seat's Cupra line – Kalista now has a growing range of DreamPlay products. This includes the £21,000 Kalista STREAM – described as 'The only streamer on the market that combines perfect functionality with exceptional looks' – and a turntable, the £44,000 Twenty-Twenty.

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