MEDIA SERVER REVIEWS

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Michael Antonoff Posted: Feb 09, 2016 11 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $149 (32 GB), $199 (62 GB)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Touch surface remote
Dedicated App Store
Snazzy photo slide shows
Minus
Arduous ID and password entries
Weak implementation of Siri
Lacks 4K video support

THE VERDICT
Apple TV Gen 4 brings a better remote to the table but fails to soar above other top streaming devices.

When Apple TV debuted in 2007, dozens of rival media receivers were already in place. At a time when TVs were too dumb to do their own streaming, Apple TV came along mainly to benefit iTunes users. Since then, other media players have come and gone, but Apple has persevered. The company recently shipped Gen 4.

What’s different in 2016 is that most consumers now own a smart TV, media receiver, game console, or Blu-ray player connected to the Internet. Unless Gen 4 can deliver a richer experience over other Internet appliances, notably the Roku 4 Streaming Player (see review, this issue), Apple TV will be a tough sell.

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Dec 01, 2015 0 comments

Stereo Cubes Speaker
Performance
Build Quality
Value
One S Speaker
Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $2,944 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Intuitive, easy-to-use app
Classy, minimalist cosmetics
Supports up to 192-kHz/24-bit files
Minus
No Bluetooth or AirPlay
Only four currently supported online music services
No subwoofer outputs

THE VERDICT
The Raumfeld system’s excellent-sounding active/passive speakers, ability to handle hi-res audio, and very intuitive app make it a top-notch competitor and a standout in a category that’s spawning a plethora of me-too Sonos imitators.

It’s mandatory at the beginning of any wireless streaming audio system review to mention Sonos. The company is a Goliath that launched the category more than a decade ago and now dominates it. The reason is simple: Sonos gear sounds good, is reliable, and is about as easy to use as it gets. That doesn’t mean, of course, that Sonos is perfection incarnate, nor is it totally without flaws. (There are chinks in every suit of armor.) But you do have to feel at least a modicum of pity for any manufacturer that decides to pick up a slingshot and take aim at the Sonos colossus.

Barb Gonzalez Posted: Oct 16, 2014 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $90

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Well-designed remote app with mirroring mode
Uses phone’s accelerometer to control games
Multiple users can control same BiggiFi
Minus
Touchscreen remote mode takes practice
Slight lag time when using screenshot remote mode

THE VERDICT
A versatile streamer that’s fun for playing games.

Before the official Android TVs come on the market, several small companies have been making Android-streaming devices that connect to a TV. BiggiFi is the newest Android-on-a-dongle that connects to a TV’s HDMI port. Other than its strange name, and obvious English-as-a-second-language notifications, this smartphone-controlled device might be a good streaming stick choice for users who like to play smartphone apps on the big screen.

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John Sciacca Posted: Sep 04, 2014 0 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $568 and up ($967 as tested)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Fast and simple setup
Long transmission range
Zero detectable latency
Minus
Optical input doesn’t support Dolby or DTS bitstreams

THE VERDICT
XStream works exactly as promised, beaming audio around the home with little effort. Easily integrates with existing audio distribution systems or functions standalone.

Thanks to companies like Sonos and Bluesound, wireless audio distribution systems are gaining real traction in the marketplace. And if you’re starting from ground zero, these can be terrific options for sending music around an existing home.

But what if you have an existing audio system you want to expand on? Say an older Elan, Niles, or Russound housewide system that’s feeding multiple rooms that you want to add to? Or if you purchased a multi-zone A/V receiver and want to add music to a far bedroom or porch? Or maybe you just want to add some surround channels to the back of a room or new Dolby Atmos speakers that wouldn’t be possible or cost effective to do with traditional wiring? If any of those sounds like you, Russound’s new XStream X1 wireless audio system might be the perfect solution.

Mike Mettler Posted: Aug 19, 2014 16 comments
Does Pono deliver on its promise of providing high-res digital music that best reflects how the artist intended you to hear it? I listened to a number of FLAC files at 192/24, 176.4/24, and 96/24 on a yellow PonoPlayer through Sennheiser HD-650 headphones during an exclusive listening session in New York City, and—spoiler alert—the answer is a most emphatic yes.
Geoffrey Morrison Posted: Jul 01, 2014 33 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $5,635

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Quietest PC I’ve ever used
Impeccable build quality
High-end A/V gear gorgeous looks
Minus
Incredibly expensive
Still a PC, which scares some people

THE VERDICT
A stunningly silent, built-like-a-tank, ultimate HTPC.

I am a vocal supporter of the home theater PC, a computer that lives in your home theater or media room. While not for everyone, HTPCs offer an incredible access to content for your enjoyment. This includes games, of course, but also media streaming, Web pages, and personal video/audio libraries. Sure, you can get most of that through other devices, but often not as easily or well.

Kris Deering Posted: Jun 12, 2014 3 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $2,995

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Handpicked parts and proprietary audiophile touches
Nearly plug and play
Supports all high-resolution formats
Reference level audio and video quality
Minus
Needs a tablet for easiest interface
Still only as good as what you plug it into

THE VERDICT
A no brainer if you seek audiophile performance from a media server without a lot of homework and trial and error. Customer support is exceptional and takes the IT guesswork out of the equation.

We have recently come to an enormous crossroad in entertainment. Physical media as a whole is withering on the vine and everything is moving to either streaming playback or file downloads. While I’m all about the convenience that this offers I hate the idea (and reality) of the compromise this situation can create in the quality of the content. We’ve already seen the music industry destroy the quality of music recordings to appease the iPod generation, and regardless of the convenience provided by Netflix and a host of other video streaming services, they cannot match the quality of Blu-ray video playback. So what do you do if you want to enjoy instantaneous access to your media but don’t want to compromise the quality of the material? Baetis Audio may have a few answers for you.
Barb Gonzalez Posted: May 27, 2014 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $499

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Integrates with cable or satellite set-top box with advanced One Guide
Improved Kinect camera for voice and gesture control
Blu-ray player works with voice and gesture control
Minus
Requires Xbox Gold membership to stream from some services
Some streaming services available on Xbox 360 not yet on Xbox One
Can stop playback to say “hi” to a new user that has stepped into the room

THE VERDICT
For gamers who want a streaming all-in-one entertainment device, this is the console to buy.

The Xbox One was released in November 2013, exactly eight years after the release of Microsoft's last game console, the Xbox 360. In those eight years, the Xbox 360 was updated and upgraded, including the addition of the Kinect camera for voice and gesture control. In the past couple of years, a number of streaming services were also added, making the Xbox 360 a viable whole-family entertainment device. Now, the Xbox One has “improved” on the 360’s features. The Kinect has been upgraded. TV integration and a Blu-ray player have been added. The result: the Xbox One may be poised to fulfill Microsoft’s hope to make it the only component you’ll need to add to your home theater.

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Darryl Wilkinson Posted: May 23, 2014 Published: May 22, 2014 2 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $3,396 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Support for multiple high-rez codecs
No computer needed
Up to 32 players
$449 system entry price
Minus
No AirPlay support
Limited access to some popular streaming Internet services

THE VERDICT
Bluesound’s audio system takes the pain out of being an audiophile in a streaming digital music era.

Bluesound, as I found out, has nothing to do with the mythical brown note. (Go Google it.) Instead, this is how John Banks, Bluesound’s chief brand officer, described to me the who, what, and why of the new company—a splinter of the Lenbrook family responsible for the NAD and PSB brands—and its high-resolution, 24-bit native, pure-digital streaming music system: “Bluesound is an exciting alliance of audiophiles. We are designers, engineers, and passionate music lovers who have spent our lives in the audio industry. NAD and PSB, who you know well, pioneered hi-fi in the ’70s; clearly, innovation and the pursuit of perfection in audio runs deep in our collective DNA.”

Filed under
Barb Gonzalez Posted: May 01, 2014 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $35

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Streams full-screen videos from Netflix and YouTube
Mirrors Websites
Control videos from computer or mobile device
Minus
Must go to Chromecast Website to learn when new apps become compatible
No central control panel or app
Clumsy to pause video streaming from a phone when a call comes in

THE VERDICT
For $35 and a little practice, this is the best streaming solution available to date.

The Google Chromecast was an instant hit when it came on the tech scene, selling out before its release date last August. At $35, it’s the least expensive way to stream movies and music to your TV and view photos from online. Unique in its approach to streaming media, the Chromecast dongle can stream from a Chrome Web browser (PC or Mac) and from certain apps on iPhones, iPads, and Android phones and tablets.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 25, 2014 2 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $999

AT A GLANCE
Plus
500-GB hard drive
DSD capable
Serious fun to use
Minus
No live streaming from network devices
Lightweight amp

THE VERDICT
This handsome DSD-capable audio player with built-in storage takes the pesky computer out of computer audio—and it’s way more fun to use.

Sony made waves when they announced their intention to market three high-resolution audio (HRA) products built around the company’s DSD file format. True, there was a nascent HRA movement before Sony made the move, with loads of network audio players and USB DACs flooding the market. But somehow the Sony announcement provided the extra momentum that finally made HRA seem not just promising but inevitable. That the Consumer Electronics Association has also launched an HRA initiative is icing on the cake.

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Feb 06, 2014 12 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $3,995

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Internal storage for up to 100 BDs, 600 DVDs, or 6,000 CDs
Bit-for-bit downloads of BDs and DVDs from Kaleidescape Store
System interface and operation unmatched by any other movie server
Minus
BD must be inserted to authorize playback, even if movie has been imported
Limited options for adding zones and storage

THE VERDICT
The Cinema One provides almost everything you’d want in a movie server. “Almost” not good enough? Pair it with the DV700 Disc Vault.

Sometimes I’d rather take a jackhammer to my brainstem than dig through piles of disc cases and endure the mind-numbing delays of spinning icons, non-skippable trailers, loading menus, FBI warnings, and whatever else stands in the way of watching a movie at home.

If it seems like I’m exaggerating, it’s only because you haven’t experienced the tidal wave of dopamine that comes with using a movie server in your home theater. For the uninitiated, a movie server is an A/V component that provides near-instant access to movies stored digitally on an internal or external hard drive (or drives). Some servers, such as Kaleidescape’s new Cinema One, include a built-in Blu-ray/DVD player that makes it easy to import movies or music.

Filed under
Rob Sabin Posted: Dec 13, 2013 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,277

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Simple setup
Intuitive, engaging, easy interface
Excellent sonics when mated with good speakers
Minus
Limited streaming music options
No desktop controller

THE VERDICT
Though its wireless system isn’t as built out as the popular Sonos system, NuVo delivers a worthy competitor and a foundation for the future.

Back in Sound & Vision’s July/August 2013 issue, my colleague John Sciacca favorably reviewed the NuVo Technologies Wireless Audio System, a multiroom music solution that goes after the popular Sonos system head on, delivered by a company with an even longer history in distributed audio. (Read John's review here.) About 10 years ago, when Sonos didn’t exist and companies like Russound dominated the multiroom industry with traditional pushbutton wall pads that blindly operated hidden CD players, radio tuners, or other analog sources using flaky infrared signals, NuVo had another way.

Filed under
Kevin James Posted: Sep 25, 2012 0 comments

There's no use pretending that Google TV wasn't a dud when the first products shipped back in late 2010. In fact, sales of Logitech's $300 Revue player were was so bad the company ran screaming from the settop-box market entirely, never to return. But now, like the Backstreet Boys and collateralized mortgages, Google TV is getting another shot, fueled by some much-needed upgrades to the software, including a more streamlined interface, improved search capabilities, and the ability (finally) to access the Android market, now called Google Play.

Filed under
Barb Gonzalez Posted: Sep 19, 2012 1 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $100 At A Glance: Adds Vudu and more apps to SMP-N100 • Smooth streaming performance • Controlled by other HDMI CEC remotes • Xross menu displays only 10 files at a glance

Testing the Sony SMP-N200 made me consider how far network media players have come in the past few years. Sony’s base model, an upgraded version of its first player, the SMP-N100, handles most of the basic media streaming options with ease. It plays nicely with others, easily finding connections to DLNA servers, computers, tablet media controllers, and smartphone apps. It plays a wide variety of file formats. And it does it all for $100.

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