Category Archives: Featured devices

Devialet D-Premier


Conditionnement DevialetThis Fritz Langian breathe-on-it-and-it-tranfers-your-brain digital amplifier and world-domination-in-a-chrome-box, is simply the most awe inspiring piece of hi-fi equipment I have seen in a long time. Inside a sleek chrome box, it harbors 240 watts of weird class A and D combinatrix, 24-bit/192KHz DAC, SD card reader, wifi connectivity and streaming over network. And that is not all… look at that remote. I know a remote has fairly little to do with soundstage and transparency; but look at it! Is that cool or what?!

Outputs include XLR and HDMI, and they are routable (!). On the input side it goes novel even more by including a programmable phono stage to satisfy most, if not all but the most pernickety, vinyl lovers. What can I say? I want one!

Software rundown–part 2

In an earlier article, I had a quick run through of 4 media player applications. Apple iTunes, Foobar2000, WinAmp and J. River Media Center. This time I will go another set of players; a triplet that are not that much unlike the previous batch – at least not on the surface.

This week’s selection are: Microsoft Zune, Clementine and Logitech SqueezePlay.

Microsoft Zune

zuneMicrosoft Zune is not only a portable MP3 player. It is also the name of a piece of companion software specifically made for said player. It is, however, a quite capable software player in it’s own right.

Installing it can be a bit of a challenge. If the version downloadable from the official home page will not install, try and download the complete package from Microsoft’s download center – download.microsoft.com. It is quite large but less prone to installation hick-ups. Unlike most of its cousins, Zune comes in both 32 bit and 64 bit versions, letting you take advantage of those RAM blocks above 4GB on your 64 bit Windows. Not sure that it makes much difference with this particular piece of software, though, but there you are.

Zune sports a minimalistic and classy user interface. Everything scrolls smoothly and has a high-key prettiness not often seen. Surely not your average Microsoft application look. On the UX side of things, this is not always a good thing – in fact, Zune is exactly as unintuitive as the majority of media players out there. Barebones and adequate. Not much more to say about this one, except for one thing: It doesn’t support Flac.

3 out of 5 for slick operation but few supported formats and no multi room.

Clementine

clementineAmarok is a renowned media player for Linux and the antecessor of Clementine. It cannot deny its roots but at the same time it is curiously sleek and sports a fluent navigation many players could learn from. If you want a snappy interface that reacts promptly to your every command and a UI with no bells or whistles whatsoever, this one is for you. Add to that a thriving community and a promising future is ahead. It doesn’t do much in terms of remote control or multi room playing – but when it comes down to it, not many do. Needless to say, Clementine plays both Flac and Ogg Vorbis.

3 out of 5 for uncomplicated and slick operation but no multi room.

Logitech SqueezePlay

squeezeplaySqueezePlay is a PC version of Logitech’s (formerly Slimdevices) SqueezeBox media streamer family. The software version of the player ties seamlessly into the SqueezeBox universe and the SqueezeBox Server. The latter is responsible for managing your music library and streaming to your devices.  The wonderful part about SqueezePlay is not its tidy UI or abundant features but the fact that it can remote control other SqueezePlay’ers as well as any SqueezeBox you may have on your network.

If you don’t already own a Squeezebox thingy, installing this piece of software makes it very difficult not to want a Duet or a Transporter too. Previously the server (once known as SqueezeCenter) was overly complicated to set up and operate. This is all history. The server UI is clean and to the point. If you want to tweak advanced settings, you can get to them through little inconspicuous dropdown boxes – and quite frankly; you shouldn’t need to. There are some pretty nifty things hidden in the advanced settings, though. Among other things, you can make the server transcode certain file formats to save bandwidth or improve compatibility.

Sonos could learn a bit from Logitech here. Sonos have a desktop controller that runs on Windows and OS X. Logitech’s adds Linux and Solaris to the mix. The Sonos controller is exactly that; a controller. It doesn’t play music by itself – it just controls your hardware. The reason is fairly straight forward. Sonos don’t want computer savvy would-be customers create their own media players from scrapped PCs undermining their business model. Quite an understandable position, inarguably. Logitech’s approach, however, is equally understandable. They let you build your own stuff and as you do that you are left to wonder: Can I do this cheaper and more energy efficient? Yep! I can buy one already finished. I can get a kitchen radio, a kid’s room boom box and a Transporter for my Electrocompaniet in the living room. And they communicate. Not only among themselves but with my DIY media player. How cool is that? This is why I am prone to going the Logitech way instead of the Sonos ditto or indeed any third way. It is extremely modular. I can live with the fact that they are hoodwinking me into buying more stuff. I can live with that – ‘sure. One selling point that gives Sonos an edge over the SqueezeBox family, is their analog input stream. Logitech need to do that. They do. They do.

4 out of 5 for extremely well done inter-communication and cleverly hidden subliminal messages saying: *buy* *buy* *buy*.

Naim UnitiServe

UnitiServeWith the UnitiServe, British Naim completes their Unity system. The UnitiServe is a Windows XP Embedded based media server with a built in Red Book CD drive. The server supports a multitude of audio formats, including Flac at a resolution of up to 24bit/192KHz. The innards include parts from equally cool British lads, Digital Fidelity.

The main idea, of course, is for the UnitiServe to act as a server for multitude of NaimUniti and UnitiQute clients already casually spread across your house. It supports streaming unique content to 6 simultaneous receivers. But being a full fledged DLNA server, it will do the biddings of any compliant device on your home network.

The UnitiServe comes with 1TB of disk space or, if you so prefer, with only a 16GB SSD disk, requiring a NAS for its data.

UnitiSystem

Shoe horning a Sooloos

joesixsooloosSince hardware vendors seem reluctant to put new stuff on the street at the moment, it is refreshing to see how audiophiles can help themselves. Chris Connaker of Computer Audiophile saw a parallel between the stunning Sooloos media controller and a humble Dell multi touch computer monitor. In his blog he explains how tweaking and poking, he fused a computer, the J. River Media Center and a Dell monitor into a home grown and very shiny Sooloos clone. As he himself readily admits, the Sooloos is of another world and not quite replicable. The idea, however, of having an easily navigable media center composed of off-the-shelf parts, is just plain wonderful in all its simplicity.

We have tried something similar ourselves, using an earlier generation resistive single touch monitor and Foobar2000. The problem with this setup was mostly lack of screen real estate, making an on-screen keyboard hard to use, and lack of slide response; it was just not easy to scroll. A better touch monitor, such as the Dell SX2210T used here, would have helped quite a bit. Another issue we had was lack of multi room support. This issue is present with the Sooloos clone too. With iTunes you can use Airports and have real time control of other rooms. The rigid implementation and lack of HD support makes iTunes an unattractive solution, though.

While we stuck with a good-quality-but-no-thrills soundcard, there are some high-end solutions that can make such a setup sound incredible.

Naim UnitiQute

NaimQute The people who gave us the NaimUnity last year have gone and done it again. This time with a cute little device aptly and cleverly named The UnitiQute. The main difference from the NaimUnity is the absence of a CD transport. In other words, the UnitiQute is for those who don’t care about perloid plastic discs or those who have a plenty of sound elsewhere and needs an extension.

The front is sleek and minimalistic and very Naim.  The back panel abundant with connectors for all things digital and a few analogue for good measure. The UnitiQute streams from internet radio stations and from network storage devices, be it a regular NAS or that equally sleek Naim HDX in the living room. In addition to networked music, the UnitiQute plays music from attached devices, such as iPods and USB harddrives.

Flac support of up to 24bit/96KHz puts it well in the clear with the competition. With a built-in amplifier yielding 30W of smooth niceness it is fairly self contained and should fit any small living area. Put an HDX in the study with your Focals, a Unity in the living room and a Qute in the bed room and your retirement is pretty much secured.

Wifimedia

Wifimedia Can you even imagine this – a store selling practically nothing except wireless sound equipment? Specifically streaming devices. This must surely be heaven.

Dutch Wifimedia is not just your regular web shop. They do offer most of their stock online, true, but the distinguishing mark of Wifimedia is their physical showroom in the centre of Arnhem. Here you will find Sonos and Sooloos, Squeezeboxes and NAS-disks… and probably everything not mentioned in that [granted] very short list.

NaimUniti

Naim have always been associated with extreme high end and baffled the world not long ago when they extended their product line to Bentley in-car hifi with KW-fed 11 speaker extravaganza and a price tag to fit the car. Well, none of that. Now Naim went out and did an all-in-one package for the home sporting some rather nice specs and a compactness leaving little else to be desired.

Naim Uniti The NaimUniti is a 50W integrated FM/DAB receiver with built-in CD transport and internet connectivity. It accepts USB devices, controls an iPod, reads CD-R discs and streams music from the network, including internet radio stations. Ogg Vorbis and Flac are supported as is Apple Lossless. On the input side there are 5 digital and 4 analogue. The latter including one specifically for the Naim Stageline phono stage for all that vinyl screaming for attention and so often forgotten in other solutions.

RipNAS

RipNASThe RipNAS is not an audio streamer per this blog’s usual definition but a uPnP compatible server based on Microsoft Windows Home Server. Devices that are compatible with the uPnP standard can then connect to the RipNAS and use it for storage. What makes the device stand out is its built-in optical drive that lets you rip automatically to a number of audio formats, including Flac. Just insert a CD and rip away. The device comes preconfigured with 320GB, 640GB or 1TB harddrives and can be extended with a matching external drive to up to 7TB. That should suffice for all but the most extreme of needs.

For streaming the device supports Logitech SqueezeCenter, Sonos , iTunes and uPnP. Also it connects automatically to such services as freedb and MusicBrainz for tagging music. Needless to say; since it is a Windows Home Server you can install just about any piece of software you can think of, such as automated backup of music or online purchases. Indeed, the server can be used simply as a Windows file server.

Goldster Audio Concertino

Concertino This one had me sold by looks alone. It doesn’t even come close to being an audio streamer. What it is, though, is one cool looking iPod dock.

With a power consumption of 190W and an output of 7,5W it is a classic example of tube driven class-A inefficiency but undoubtedly a notch up the hifi-ladder for the iPod. Of course, this isn’t the first ipod tube dock but it certainly is the one most becoming in a Mac home.

Concertino Speakers The amplifier is built specifically to drive a set of accompanying speakers. The output transformer has been built into the speakers to keep the amplifier’s form factor down and thus its cuteness factor up.

Impact Acoustics USB wall plate


usbsuperIf you have a USB device you need to connect to your media streamer and need to run it more than the 5 metres USB is usually capable of, Impact Acoustics offer a neat little wall plate kit that lets you run USB through twisted pair up to 50 metres. The end points fit a standard American wall plate but a bit of ingenuity should suffice to fit it in a European panel. This repeater is USB 1.1 compatible so it should actually be able to feed a DAC like the Bel Canto or Benchmark from a PC based media center stoved away in another room. Definitely worth a try.

Impact Acoustics offer a broad range of connectors, flush mount or on-cable.

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