Network Audio Players/Servers

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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.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Aug 06, 2020
hfnoutstandingThis is not quite the most affordable of Lumin's network-attached players, but the D2 looks good, is sensibly priced and – thanks to a super-slick app – is a delight to use too

As the model number suggests, the £1845 Lumin D2 is the latest version of the company's affordable network audio player, the entry point for a range that started with the A1 back in 2012. And while the range has expanded, and some things have changed, much still seems the same: the D2 is compact, at just 30cm wide and a mere 6cm tall, and so light at 2.5kg that my stiffish Chord Company interconnects almost lifted it off its feet!

Review: James Parker, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jul 23, 2020
hfncommendedBased on Arcam's 'FMJ' CDS27 CD/SACD disc spinner and network audio player, is the more affordable CDS50, complete with new DAC, the brand's best kept secret?

CD players, along with integrated amps, have long been such a mainstay of the Arcam product catalogue that it comes as something of a surprise that the CDS50 we have here, selling for £699, is now the sole silver disc spinner in its lineup. This, after all, was the company responsible, in 1986, for the first CD player both designed and manufactured in the UK, just four years after the format hit the shops and at a time when Linn and Naim were both sticking to their 'no good will come of this' guns.

Review: Christopher Breunig, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jul 16, 2020
hfnoutstandingWith trickle-down tech from the flagship M1, a custom DSD DAC plus network and headphone amp options, Bricasti's M3 looks like the new go-to star of the range

With its upgraded M1 Dual Mono DAC now in 'Classic' form and selling in the UK at £9499, Bricasti has also announced a more affordable alternative, but still offering 'an incredible array of performance'. The basic M3 USB DAC is offered at £5399, but this increases to £6999 when fitted with its DNLA/UPnP-compatible network streaming card and new headphone amplifier option. The latter includes both 4-pin balanced XLR and 6.35mm single-ended jack outputs, and is available as a return-to-factory retro-fit option as the front fascia requires some reworking.

Review: David Price, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jul 13, 2020
hfncommendedWith multiple inputs, streaming functionality and plenty of power, this elegant and compact system promises consummate convenience and super sound. Does it deliver?

Since 1993, Lindemann has been making distinctive products, all with an accent on design and technology. Although the company has also sold loudspeakers in its 27-year history, electronics have formed the staple of the product portfolio – and it has shown a particular interest in digital technology. The D680 of 2001, for example, was the first German SACD player, while the original Musicbook was an early example of a highly advanced streaming front-end [HFN Jun '14]. Lindemann's thinking has been eerily prescient, as other brands have since scrambled to get similarly elegant so-called 'style systems' into their ranges…

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Mar 17, 2020
hfncommendedAiming high, this flagship two-box music server uses a separate, outboard linear power supply. But is this the perfect solution to all your music storage and playback needs?

The role of the hi-fi music server is changing. As we've noted in the past, what was once no more than an optimised NAS device, designed to feed an external network music player, has now become a complete storage playback solution, designed to connect straight to a USB DAC or, in some cases, with onboard digital-to-analogue conversion straight into an amp or preamp.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Feb 24, 2020
hfnedchoiceThis high-end digital music machine is a comprehensive package offering ripping, storage, streaming and a built-in DAC. Is Aurender's flagship player master of all?

For many hi-fi enthusiasts, the idea of 'computer music' is still an alien one, not least because what's claimed to be a simple way of accessing music can seem to be extremely complex. After all, unless you're going to listen to everything via online streaming you need a means of ripping your existing discs, a way to tidy up the metadata tags used as signposts for indexing and search, and of course somewhere to store all the music files. And that's before you even think about how to play it.

Review: David Price, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Feb 13, 2020
hfncommendedWith wireless streaming, class-leading connectivity and 200W of Class D power, this sophisticated Scandinavian pre/power combination covers all the digital bases

Primare – the company that describes itself as 'the sound and vision of Scandinavia' – is also becoming rather more visible in the UK and rest of Europe thanks, in part, to the boost provided by a couple of EISA awards. Based in Sweden and founded by Danish designer and audiophile Bo Christensen, Primare has found its métier over the past few years. Its Prisma platform brought integrated wireless streaming functionality to the hi-fi world before most – and delivered it with typical Scandinavian panache. Ergonomic excellence is central to the brand's values, and this is surely a concept whose time has come.

Review: Adam Smith, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Feb 11, 2020
hfnoutstandingAdding full network connectivity to Mytek's Brooklyn DAC+ beefs up an already comprehensive feature set. Don't be fooled by its size – this is a pocket rocket!

Although the New York-based Mytek company has traditionally named its products after the city's landmarks, it has really nailed the title of its latest offering – the £2500 EISA Award-winning Brooklyn Bridge. After all, to describe this all-in-one preamp, streaming network player, DAC and headphone amplifier as 'versatile' or 'useful' would be something of an understatement. Rather like its namesake, which replaced multiple ferry services across the East River in 1883 to provide a single solution that made life easier for everyone.

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