Review: Autonomic Controls MMS-2 Mirage Media Server

Most new Blu-ray players are capable of streaming both movies and music, so why would you ever consider buying a dedicated music-streaming device? I mean, if you learned nothing else from your mother, you’re probably at least squared away on the concept of not buying the cow if you’re already getting the milk for free.

Well, what if Mom was wrong? What if there’s more milk out there? And not just more but better milk: sweet, creamy, fresh, and in a virtually limitless supply that can be enjoyed from anywhere in the world. And what if that milk is actually music? Then maybe you’d be interested in some streaming options beyond what your average Blu-ray player can offer.

That’s right where the Autonomic Controls MMS-2 fits in. Autonomic Controls, a company that manufactures integration and control solutions for the custom-install market, has shifted its award-winning control-system expertise to media servers.

Beyond being just another server, the MMS-2 is designed to integrate with virtually any control system on the market, and it features a little bit of awesome called cloud-based synchronization. Love your music collection but hate the idea of keeping it in sync across several devices or even locations? Yeah, Autonomic’s got you covered.

Setup

The MMS-2’s shipping box — essentially a small cube that in no way could hold a standard 17-inch-wide piece of gear — alerted me that the unit inside wasn’t your standard audio component. Once the MMS-2 was unboxed, its svelte shape reminded me of a Windows Media client back from when Microsoft was making its big Media Center Extender push.

After I pulled everything out of the box, one of the first things I said was, “Hey. No remote.” Fortunately, Autonomic provides a plethora of way better control options, so you’ll never miss using a pedestrian IR remote, or even miss the lack of IR control. (That is, unless you don’t own one of the other, far cooler control options. In which case I’d say: Go buy an iPad.)

A high-speed Internet connection is mandatory for any streaming device. But, as you’ll read later, the MMS-2 doesn’t see all high-speed connections as actually being high-speed.

Connections are available for each of the MMS-2’s two discrete outputs: optical digital for the “Main” zone,and an analog minijack connection for the second. (A mini-to-stereo RCA cable is included.) There are also two USB ports, but according to Autonomic, these are “mainly used for troubleshooting, firmware updates, and support sessions,” and they won’t accept an external drive. HDMI and VGA outputs are used to send the unit’s GUI and screen-saver images to an HDTV.

The MMS-2 lacks an RS-232 connection — a sign of the times. But lest you think this will impede advanced control, let me tell you that, Harmony excepted, Autonomic very likely offers a driver for your favorite controller, including ones from AMX, Control4, Crestron, HAI, RTI, URC, and iPhone/iPad. (It’s working on developing Savant integration.) And if you don’t have any of those, full control is available via a Web browser. Web-based IP control has arrived, and the Mirage embraces it in a big way.

After making all the connections, I proceeded to Step 2: Upgrade your firmware. (This is always prudent advice when dealing with a Web-connected device, to make sure you’re up-to-date with the latest features and fixes.) This takes you to a setup and configuration page that’s split into six tabs: Machine Settings, Display Settings, Source Settings, Content, Schedule, and Firmware.

Most of these contain the usual host of adjustments like IP settings, unit name, video resolution, time zone, fixed or variable audio output, etc. But working with the Schedule tab is like configuring the ultimate alarm clock. Basically, anything you can do manually — tune in an Internet radio station, or play a specific song, playlist, or album — can be scheduled to happen with specific start and stop times. That’s very cool. The Firmware tab contains options to enable remote tech support and install the media sync software on a computer. Once installed, not only is your music library automatically copied to the MMS-2’s internal 500-GB drive, but any library changes — new music, metadata edits, playlist changes, etc. — are updated and synced to the server. The software also lets you “point” the MMS-2 to any music sitting on drives on your home network.

But the real magic can be found under the Content tab. This is where you set up your accounts for services like Pandora, TuneIn (Internet radio), Sirius/XM, and Spotify. (Only premium Spotify accounts are supported.) Autonomic plans to add Rhapsody and Last.fm in a future firmware update. You can also enter Amazon Cloud Drive and MP3tunes account info. The MMS-2 can copy content either from or to these services, which offer both free and paid storage options. This means your music is available anytime, anywhere — powerful stuff.

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