Network Audio Players/Servers

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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.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  May 30, 2022
hfnoutstandingThe compact but comprehensively-equipped Matrix Audio digital front-ends are distinguished by chipset and features. We look at the flagship 'headphone-free' DAC

For anyone still labouring under the misapprehension that Chinese-made hi-fi means cheap and cheerful alternatives to the big-name brands, it's time for an eye-opener. In practice, not only are quite a few of those big names having their products made in China, but its home-grown brands are upping their game and making inroads into markets once dominated by Western and Japanese names. A case in point is the Matrix Audio X-Sabre 3 we have here, following on from the X-Sabre Pro DAC [HFN Nov '17], Element X [HFN Jan '21] and more recently the Mini-i Pro 3 [HFN Feb 22].

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  May 23, 2022
hfnoutstandingComputer giant Buffalo's high-end audio brand, Melco, has an updated two-box flagship with enhancements debuted in the limited-edition N10 anniversary edition

There are two distinct Melco families: the conventionally-sized N1 models, 430mm wide, and the half-width, 215mm, N10 series, of which the new N10/2 models, starting from £6999 for the N10/2-H50 and rising to £8999 for the N10/2-S38 flagship we have here, are the latest iteration. Why the two prices? In a word, storage: the N10/2-H50 packs 5TB of conventional HDD, while the -S38 includes 3.84TB of (solid-state) SSD.

Review: Jamie Biesemans, Lab: Paul Miller  |  May 16, 2022
hfnoutstandingWhile Marantz's new 40 series shares its industrial design with the Class D Model 30, its core networking and Class A/B amp technology borrows from an earlier generation

By all accounts stylish, network-attached amps, including Cambridge Audio's Evo 150 [HFN Nov '21] or the compact NAD M10 and C 700 [HFN Jun '19 & Feb '22], are carving themselves a successful niche. So it's not surprising that Sound United, parent of Marantz, is making its own pitch. Marantz traditionalists needn't fret, however, for while the new £2199 Model 40n includes high-res wired/wireless streaming, USB and HDMI ARC inputs, the chassis is properly hi-fi-sized and the aesthetics are pure 'Marantz'.

Review: Mark Craven, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Apr 28, 2022
hfncommendedThe most comprehensively-equipped component of Roksan's Attessa quartet combines phono, line and digital inputs with a BluOS streaming platform and beefy amplifier

So it turns out that network amplifiers built around BluOS streaming technology are like buses. No sooner had we waved goodbye to the £1299 NAD C 700 [HFN Feb '22], then up popped the Attessa Streaming Amplifier from Roksan, a little more expensive at £1495 but cut from the same just-add-speakers cloth. This joins a competitive market alongside not only NAD's device but Bluesound's £850 BluOS-based Powernode, plus other streaming integrateds including Cambridge Audio's Evo 75 and Audiolab's Omnia. Handy for Roksan, then, that it has a lot going for it.

Review: James Parker, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Apr 26, 2022
hfncommendedWith powerful battery pack and styling inspired by the Mars rover, the CA1000 aims to squeeze the performance of a full-sized 'digital' headphone amp into a portable player

The new Astell&Kern ACRO CA1000 desktop player/DAC/headphone amplifier, selling for £1999, has a raft of functionality built-in – and yet I'm still not quite sure who it's for… Of course, this is far from the first step beyond its core expertise in high-quality pocket music players taken by the company. After all, it's already given us the extraordinary AK500 stack system [HFN Apr '15], active speakers and the chunky ACRO L1000, its first desktop headphone amp/DAC.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Apr 25, 2022
hfncommendedKorea's Citech group is ploughing its considerable in-house hardware and software resource into a series of network-attached players. Here's its most compact all-in-one

One of the great advantages offered by network-capable audio hardware is that, once a platform has been designed, it can be rolled out across a number of products, re-purposed and scaled depending on the target market. We've seen the same from brands as diverse as AVM [HFN Dec '21], Cambridge Audio [HFN Nov '21] and Naim [HFN Aug '21], and now recent arrival HiFi Rose is following the same path with high-end players designed to be used in existing systems all the way through to one-box soundbar set-ups.

Review: Mark Craven, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Mar 25, 2022
hfnoutstandingNAD remains a key partner in the BluOS wireless ecosphere and the C 700 is its most streamlined – read affordable and flexible – all-in-one network player/amplifier yet

With its latest 'just add speakers' hi-fi solution, Canadian manufacturer NAD's intentions are crystal-clear. Take the form factor and functionality of its award-winning Masters M10 BluOS-integrated amplifier [HFN Jun '19] but rethink the specification in order to nearly cut the asking price in half. This isn't a surprising move – at £1299, the C 700 is the 'mainstream' all-in-one system that has been begging to be built.

Review: Ed Selley, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Mar 15, 2022
hfnoutstandingPitched at the very affordable end of MA's comprehensive DAC/headphone series, the network-attached mini-i Pro 3 supports a huge range of formats with a powerful punch

The exact definition of what constitutes a DAC has become a little blurry in recent years. Where once the outboard 'Digital-to-Analogue Converter' offered S/PDIF and possibly USB digital inputs together with fixed and/or variable outputs on RCAs and/or XLRs, the latest generation has undergone a fair bit of mission creep. Some of this is undoubtedly in response to the wealth of new digital sources but it also speaks to the relaxing of the principles of hair-shirt minimalism that audio has worked to over many years.

Review: James Parker, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jan 10, 2022
hfncommendedThe latest all-in-one compact Class D streaming system from the German company features an enhanced network audio platform – but that's only the start of its appeal

As the model designation suggests, this isn't the first all-in-one network audio system from German high-end company AVM. Replacing its existing Inspiration CS 2.2 model, the new Inspiration CS 2.3, selling for £5250 in black or silver finishes, with a chrome 'Cellini' finish available as a somewhat glitzy extra-cost option, is based around the company's latest streaming platform.

Review: James Parker, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Dec 16, 2021
hfnoutstandingThis London-based company may be a relative latecomer to the all-in-one streaming system market, but its debut models have style a-plenty – and performance to match

Given Cambridge Audio's track record in digital audio, it is perhaps a little surprising it's taken the company so long to enter the network systems arena. It was an early developer of add-on DACs in 1994 [see HFN Jun '21] and has been making streaming components for a good while, even going to the lengths of developing its own network audio hardware. The Cambridge catalogue currently caters for 'computer audio' enthusiasts with the entry-level £169 DacMagic 100 right up to the £4499 Edge NQ network preamp.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Dec 13, 2021
hfnoutstandingThe latest additions to Chord Electronics' range don't immediately give up the secrets of what they do – but dig deeper, and you'll find they're intriguing digital components

There are times when one might think Kent-based Chord Electronics is being wilfully abstruse in its selection of model designations. After all, its flagship DAC is called DAVE [HFN Apr '16], and its pocket-sized DAC/player combination is the Mojo [HFN Jan '16] and Poly. Then there's the portable Hugo DAC/headphone amp, now in both Hugo 2 [HFN Aug '18] and less-portable Hugo TT (for 'tabletop') versions [HFN Dec '15], to which the company has now added two extra units, named 2go and 2yu.

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.

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