Category Archives: Ogg-Vorbis

Naim Mu-So In The Lottery


Naim Mu-SoNaim have put a Naim Mu-So up for draws among customers who purchase a Hi-resolution digital album from their music shop. The Mu-So is Naim’s take on a wireless, monolithic speaker to compete with products such as B&W Zeppelin. Inline with Naim’s usual graphic style, the Mu-So has a visual punch unlike most other products in its genre. It streams everything up to 24-bit/192kHz Flac on a wired connection and plays it back at 75W per channel. Unusual among its peers it supports multi-room streaming with more Mu-Sos connected and is controlled by either an iOS or Android device or via the [equally] unusually rudimentary remote that comes with the package.

Denon Heos

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Hifi ubiquity Denon has entered the multiroom streaming scene that Logitech so abruptly left last year. While not the only Sonos alternative around, the Heos is certainly the most affordable and Denon sufficiently household to actually pose a serious competitor of Sonos.

The Heos system consists of a three self-contained speakers not unlike the Play components from Sonos. At the moment there are no reception-only units á la Sonos Connect but given Denon’s serious line-up of hifi-equipment, it would be surprising if they didn’t add a receiver to the system. There is a Heos Amp that can feed a self supplied set of speakers with 2x100w akin to the Sonos Connect:Amp. Everything is controlled by an app for Android or iOS. None for Windows Phone, alas. The Heos system operates on traditional wifi and/or ethernet connections and does not require a bridge, thus also does not ruggedise its streaming by way of a grid such as Sonos.

Supported file formats ranges the usual except high resolution audio and certain levels of DRM. Files can be fetched from network sources or from directly attached media such as USB sticks and optical or analogue inputs and from there shared across the Heos system.

Already announced, according to Recordere.dk, are extra speakers, a subwoofer and a soundbar.

Norwegian Bits Are Just Purer

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Norwegian high-end dominatrices Electrocompaniet, have entered the stage and now offer digital purity for the discriminating audiophile. The ECM2 is a no-frills streamer that plays from a multitude of sources, from low-fi internet services to hi-res digital masters on your network. What stands this device apart in the world of inch-thick aluminium fronts, is the EMC2’s ability to stream video in HD. And not just that; it does it in 24bit/192KHz! Take a bite at that!

Digital attenuation allows you to stick it straight into the power amp and lets you sit in the couch and do you business straight from a phone of your choice [if it runs iOS or Android, that is] or from a DLNA controller.

Bluesound

01Canadian newcomers (and to some extent, former NAD dudes) Bluesound are going abroad with their jazzy looking 24-bit audio streaming system. A few weeks ago they appeared in Hifiklubben in Sweden and now they are available in Denmark as well. The system includes an optional server, ever so aptly named Vault, which can rip CDs in numerous formats, store them and stream them to the Bluesound players as well as act as a player itself. The satellite players come in three flavors: Node, Powernode and Pulse. The Node is a streaming client with analogue and digital outputs, natively supporting up to 192KHz sampling rates. The Powernode is akin to the Node adding a 90W class D amplifier to free it from a hifi system. The Pulse is a completely self contained system with 80W amp and speakers. In other words, a system not unlike the Sonos family; except in 24-bit resolution.

Control is done from a desktop computer or from the now ubiquitous smartphone or tablet. Presently only iOS and Android is supported.

Unlike Sonos, the Bluesound devices can access files from USB devices. It is unclear if each device can stream these auxiliary inputs autonomously, though.

Sonos Playbar

playbarSince some time last year, when the Sonos Playbar name showed up in FCC findings, rumors have speculated on whether it was a TV-playbar for surround sound or something more like a under-cupboard-music-bar. Then last week Sonos lifted the curtain to what indeed turned out to be a surround sound bar for the TV.

The idea is pretty nigh hand, considering the ever present conundrum of wiring satellites and minimising the cable chaos in general. On its own, the Playbar gives you 2.1 system. Add a Sonos Sub and you automatically get 3.1 and add another 2 Play:3’s at the rear and you get full 5.1. Further than that it cannot go, but for most it should suffice. The other Sonos components cannot be paired with the Playbar for surround because they don’t have the sufficient wifi-specs for the low latency needed to sync with video.

Cambridge Audio Sonata NP30

Sonata NP30 Cambridge Audio have been lurking in the streamer business for years but have been hard pressed show any appearance on the shop shelves. Now it looks as if they are finally getting to a shop near me with their recently announced Sonata NP30 Network Music Player. The apparatus is neatly designed yet slightly on the conservative side of the front panel fence.

On the spec side the player offers 24-bit/96KHz playback of Flac and other formats through its Wolfson DAC, streaming from a variety of sources – wired and not.

As with everything else on this planet, the device can be remote controlled from the ever present iPad/iPod/iPhone.

Head-Direct HifiMan HM-602

HifiMan HM-602 Last year audiophile Fang Bian released a first shot at a true high-fidelity portable audio player (we can’t go around calling it an MP3 player now, can we – let alone a walkman!?) with a slightly bulky exterior boasting some really impressive specs. It even had a detachable amplifier section. Now he has gone and done it again, releasing a somewhat smaller but definitely not less impressively spec’d player. The HM-602 uses a Philips TDA-1543 dual DAC to support 24bit/96KHz Flac files as well as Ogg Vorbis. When you are not out there jogging in a crystal clear soundscape, the HM-602 can be used as a USB DAC feeding off of your computer stocked music.

It may not run Angry Birds or remote control your garden sprinkler, but at a price somewhat lower than your average iPod, this is quite an interesting piece of hi-fi equipment that does one thing and one thing only: Deliver sound.

Linn DS does Apple

kinskydesktopThe latest upgrade for KinskyDesktop, the remote software for Linn DS, now works with Mac as well as Windows and additionally lets you play music from your iTunes libraries on your Linn DS. At the same time the Linn DS itself now supports Ogg Vorbis files in addition to the Flac support mandatory in these high-end circles. Where exactly iTunes fit in in these same circles, is an entirely different discussion: We have a music library consisting of thousands of Flac’ed CDs, a decent collection of native HD Flac files and a good handful of records bought through iTunes. As I see it, there are only two scenarios that warrant iTunes support in the Linn DS and that is if you rippped your entire collection with iTunes and don’t want to go through it again or if you bought the occasional CD in Apple’s music store. The first scenario is perfectly understandable. Re-ripping an entire collection is a daunting task and if the CDs are Red Book and saved as Apple Lossless, sound quality is unscathed anyway. It is merely a matter of convenience. Music bought through iTunes is DRM protected and will not play on the Linn anyway.

Now we really need Apple to get their fingers out and add support for 24-bit HD music so our Linns can have a something of proper nutritional value. It is, after all, at this elevation in the hifi-pyramid that Linn makes a difference.

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

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