Network Audio Players/Servers

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Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Nov 11, 2021
hfnoutstandingBuilt as a 'box within a box', and promising a slicker all-round performance, Auralic's G2.1 series now extends to the fully-fledged Altair streaming DAC/preamplifier

We've commented previously on the similarity – at least in styling – between many of the products in the Auralic range, and here's another head-scratcher in the form of the Altair G2.1. It's only a little more than the Aries G2.1 'Wireless Streaming Transporter' [HFN Feb '21] – £4599 plays £4199 – yet this model, designated a 'Digital Audio Streamer', is a much more comprehensive product. It comes complete with onboard DAC, a preamp that allows it to drive a power amp or a pair of active speakers directly, and there are even analogue inputs – a line level and MM phono – to reinforce that role as a complete system hub.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Oct 18, 2021
hfnoutstandingIf it isn't broken, don't fix it... but Simaudio's MOON 280D outboard DAC is certainly enhanced by the addition of the updated MiND 2 streaming module and app

There are two ways to make a network music player. One is to take a streaming platform and integrate a DAC to provide analogue outputs, while the other is to start with a DAC and then build in the network playback capability. The two approaches have their strengths and weaknesses. Typically, the network player with DAC will be just what it says: a full-featured machine, usually complete with a display, but with limited connectivity for external digital sources. The DAC with streaming, meanwhile, will commonly have more digital ins, but sometimes less network audio capability.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Sep 16, 2021
hfnoutstandingThe evergreen Uniti Atom all-in-one platform, complete with custom streaming solution, is adapted to service the needs of the most demanding headphone users

Never let it be said the product name isn't long enough – in the 12 years since Naim launched its network audio all-in-one, to which the buyer need only add speakers, it's grown from the simple NaimUniti of the initial model, all the way to this, the £2399 Naim Audio Uniti Atom Headphone Edition. And yet here, less is more.

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.

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