Meridian Sooloos Control 10 Media Server Page 3
While some people claim that FLAC files don’t sound as good as Red Book CDDA or AIFF files, I didn’t find that to be the case. I used the same DAC to compare the ripped FLAC file to live CD playback, and I found the sound to be identical. Overall, though, I have found what many experienced listeners claim: Hard-drive playback sounds better than live CD playback. Why? Potentially less jitter and far less error correction.
After all, CDs don’t really contain digital data. CDs are analog. What? It’s true. There are no analog audio waveforms stored on a CD, but there are no discrete bits either. Instead, there’s a trail of land and pit surfaces. The leading and trailing pit edges are analogs of 1s, and the areas in between are the analogs of 0s. The system produces a lot of errors, most of which are successfully corrected by various means and restored to the original digital data stream before being output. Errors too big to be corrected are concealed by interpolating the missing data (basically making an educated guess from the good data before and after the error). Of course, better transports produce fewer errors and less jitter, but who needs expensive transports anymore? Sooloos uses the Exact Audio Copy importing software to ensure that the data it rips is precisely what’s on the disc, so the 1s and 0s are error free. When you play a ripped file, you get all of the data and very low jitter. It should sound better. Your choice of DAC determines the sound quality.
There were a few. After all, below all that sexy skin, Sooloos is a computer. If you use the slider to scroll through the covers on the latest version of the software (for this review, I downloaded an unreleased version), it often freezes the screen, requiring a reboot. Once, I got no sound downstairs. So I went to my wife’s Mac to see if I could get sound there, and when I selected an Albert Collins album, it began to play downstairs. The only way to get the system back in sync was to shut it all down and reboot. As is often the case with computers, that solution solved any problems I encountered, none of which should make it to the final version of any software made available to Sooloos owners.
Since Meridian bought Sooloos late last year, the system enhancements have been major. This isn’t unexpected since Meridian has been a major player in digital audio innovation, even if the name isn’t well known outside of the high-end audio niche. Expect even more in the future. Fortunately, since the system is software based, updates will come via the Internet as push-of-a-button downloads.
Also, the Control 10 units shipped as of early summer 2009 can’t pass 88.2-kHz/24-bit data. If you download an 88.2-kHz/24-bit file from sites like HDtracks.com, the Control 10 downconverts them to 44.1 kHz, which produces an unacceptable level of hiss. We were unable to test it, but at press time, Meridian said the downconversion hiss has been addressed with new software, and another planned software fix due later this year will allow 88.2-kHz native output.
Sooloos isn’t cheap. OK, to put it another way, it’s expensive. True, you can cobble together your own network-based server system for much less, but there’s no way it will be as elegant, easy to use, and versatile as Sooloos. And it will still be computer based both above and below the surface. With Sooloos, you have a single, compact, attractive touchscreen in your home theater from which you can access your entire CD and download library. You can move those CDs to a storage facility or sell them, along with the space-wasting shelving. [Home Theater makes no presumption on the legality of selling CDs.—Ed.]
But more important is the incredible access to your music. Thanks to the instant-access ease and the swim function, I’ve heard more great music from my own collection that’s been sitting on shelves for decades than I have in decades! If you’ve got a big CD collection, you’ll get more value and more enjoyment from it with Sooloos than you can possibly imagine. Highly recommended.