Media Server Reviews

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Kris Deering  |  Dec 11, 2019  |  1 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $4,739 (as tested)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Easy setup and installation
Sleek, attractive user interface
Scalable—can add other rooms as needed
Minus
Does not retain HDR metadata
No Dolby Vision or HDR10+ Support
Requires wired network for best results

THE VERDICT
An easy to use digital ecosystem with a sleek interface that lets you rip your entire music and movie disc library and access it from any room in the house.

With today's streamers and smart TVs offering myriad apps to watch movies from, one thing has become painfully obvious about discs: they're clunky. While I'm a firm believer in pre-recorded media due to its superior technical merits, I'll admit that shelves overflowing with discs can get overwhelming. Also, let's face it: case spines aren't nearly as sexy as a slick onscreen interface. From early Windows Media solutions to the latest apps like Kodi, I've seen numerous solutions crop up over the last decade to bring pre-recorded media to a modern playback environment.

Al Griffin  |  Oct 03, 2019  |  First Published: Oct 02, 2019  |  2 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $5,495

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Impressive sound quality
Extensive feature set
Flexible control app
Minus
Limited remote control IR range
Pricey

THE VERDICT
With its extensive features and flexible sound output options, Cary Audio's DMS-550 network audio player represents digital audio playback done right.

Network audio players are an emerging component category aimed at audiophiles who have made a full leap into music streaming. Many such components can also act as a preamplifier by accommodating externally connected sources such as a CD player or turntable and passing on a line-level signal to an amplifier. Because they are network-connected, streaming high-res audio files from a computer or NAS is also on the features menu, and higher-end models are often Roon Ready and MQA Certified.

Al Griffin  |  Mar 06, 2019  |  1 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $5,300

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Excellent sound quality
Strong feature set
Good ergonomics and control app
Minus
Pricey

THE VERDICT
Simaudio's Moon 390 is a high-res stream machine that combines high-end sound with an extensive feature set and solid ergonomics.

Canada's Simaudio has been designing and manufacturing audio electronic components from its home base in Quebec for almost four decades. While the company's product lineup clearly skews toward the high end—a pair of its flagship Moon 888 monoblock amplifiers will run you around $120,000—the company also makes a wide range of other components with more approachable price tags. A number of these, such as the Moon 390 preamplifier ($5,300) we have under review here, feature the MiND 2 streaming module, a built-in network player that lets you stream audio from services like Tidal, Qobuz, and Deezer, along with files stored on a NAS or USB drive or computer.

Daniel Kumin  |  May 03, 2018  |  1 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $3,000

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Outstanding sound quality
Very high standard of fit, finish, and industrial design
Generally excellent ergonomics with well-conceived app
Minus
Premium pricing may scare off some buyers
Occasionally slow volume-control response via iOS app

THE VERDICT
An excellent solution, for those who can afford it, for a streaming/computer-audio system where sound quality is as important as features or user interface.

Is it an integrated amplifier with onboard wireless and network streaming, or an audio streamer with built-in amplification?

Yes. The Uniti Atom, from British iconoclast Naim Audio, is both of these, as well as a quarterback for the company’s Mu-so wireless- multiroom ecosystem (and a few other things mixed in). Like all Naim products since the brand’s inception in the mid-1970s, the Atom is distinctly different from most competing designs in both appearance and operation; the company’s proximity to the powerful vibrations of Stonehenge doubtless has something to do with this tradition. That said, the Atom is less different from its competition than many a previous design, because this sort of streaming amp is what the classic stereo integrated amp seems to have morphed into, here in the post- physical-media 21st century. But perhaps the rest of the world has simply caught up, or caught sideways, to Naim.

Michael Antonoff  |  Mar 01, 2018  |  5 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $200-$500 plus service plan

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Voice-assisted search and channel changes
Skip button for vaulting commercials
QuickView feature
Minus
Voice control adds little to program navigation
New Experience interface is sometimes cluttered and confusing

THE VERDICT
Finding cable, streamed, and recorded content through the voice remote is much faster and more fun than using an onscreen keyboard. But the joined-at-the-hip New Experience interface may frustrate TiVo veterans until they get the hang of it.

With folks chatting up their smart speakers and smart TVs, TiVo owners may have felt like they were living in the silent era of cinema. Being behind the tech ball was especially galling for the TiVo community, which, not unlike the Apple fanbase, is willing to pay more for superior technology. In late 2017, TiVo, a name synonymous with the DVR, finally responded with a new remote and interface that recognize the value of voice recognition—especially when a viewer is searching for something to watch from among innumerable over-the-air, cable, streaming, and recorded-program options.

Al Griffin  |  Feb 15, 2018  |  5 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,100

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Free app from Roon Labs
Wired and wireless multiroom playback options
Impressive sound from built-in DAC
Minus
Track count limited to 30,000
Requires wired LAN connection

THE VERDICT
Elac’s Discovery provides a simple, elegant option for adding a networked music server with Roon to an existing audio system.

Before diving into a review of Elac’s Discovery DS-S101-G music server, it seems apt to ask: What is a music server? In the past, it was a standalone audio component with a built-in hard disk that stored and played a ripped CD collection while connecting to the internet to fetch metadata. While products that fit this description still exist, a music server can also be something as basic as a software application running on a computer or on a network-attached storage (NAS) appliance. The server application, wherever it may reside, acts as a librarian for your digital audio files, sorting and retrieving them, and then routing the data to a USB DAC or a networked audio component that translates the ones and zeros into music.

Al Griffin  |  Nov 07, 2017  |  2 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $2,995

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Neutral sound from Class A/B amp
Upsamples and converts PCM and DSD
Compact form factor
Minus
Futuristic design means no mechanical controls
No wired headphone output

THE VERDICT
Cary Audio’s all-in-one system looks great, sounds great, and is packed with cutting-edge features.

Cary Audio is known in the high-end audio scene for making vacuum-tube and solid-state stereo components, and the brand has also established a foothold in the home theater world with its Cinema 12 preamp/processor and multichannel amplifiers. Cary’s AiOS (All-in-One System) is the first offering in the company’s Lifestyle series. With built-in aptX Bluetooth, wired Ethernet and Wi-Fi connectivity, AirPlay and PhoneShare support, and onboard Tidal, Spotify, and vTuner streaming, the AiOS really does have everything you need to immediately start playing music. Just download the company’s iOS/Android app, connect speakers, and you’re good to go.

Barb Gonzalez  |  Jan 17, 2017  |  6 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $130

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Excellent 4K HDR picture and sound quality
Optical audio output for full Dolby Digital Plus surround sound
Agnostic voice search finds movies/TV shows on most streaming channels
Minus
Playback control for music and slideshows is awkward
Doesn’t play Dolby Atmos from Vudu

THE VERDICT
Roku has once again upped the streaming game by including HDR and more in its highly recommendable Ultra 4K media player.

Continuing to up their game, Roku has introduced new products that add HDR (high dynamic range) to 4K streaming while maintaining their anyone-can-use-it simple menu structure. A slew of new models range from the Express player to a new top-of-the-line player, the Ultra. While both the Premiere+ and the Ultra support 4K and HDR (the standard 4K Premiere lacks HDR), the Ultra has a few more features for those who insist on the best picture and sound, and more. It’s proof of how far the streaming player has come from the low-quality picture of its first generation.

John Sciacca  |  Aug 23, 2016  |  8 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $4,495 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Unrivaled user interface
Terrific image quality including HDR10
Fast access times with no buffering
Excellent HDMI handling
Minus
Limited to content bought from Kaleidescape store
No Dolby Vision support

THE VERDICT
Strato serves up gorgeous, full UHD images using Kaleidescape’s unparalleled interface, with content delivered from the company’s store.

Michael Antonoff  |  Jul 26, 2016  |  1 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $50

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Private listening via mobile device
Voice search via Roku Mobile App
Quad-core processor
Minus
No motion control for games
No 4K Ultra HD support

THE VERDICT
Roku Streaming Stick offers a glut of net-sourced channels enhanced by rapid performance and tight integration with the Roku mobile app.

Roku media receivers continue to ride the tsunami of internet-delivered movies, videos, and TV channels but with fewer company-owned turfs to protect than competing products from Apple, Amazon, or Google. In so doing, Roku’s users now have more than 3,000 channel choices. Its latest device, a finger-sized Wi-Fi receiver that juts out of an input on your TV or A/V receiver, largely solves two problems that have plagued the stick-it-in-HDMI category compared with tabletop streamers—lower performance and inferior interface.

Michael Antonoff  |  May 26, 2016  |  1 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $300 (500 GB), $400 (1 TB)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
One-touch leapfrogging of any size commercial block
Four tuners
Can play shows 30 percent faster
Mobile device transfer
Integrated search functions
4K UHD compatible
Minus
On-demand cable may not be available
No component video output
No clock on front panel

THE VERDICT
TiVo Bolt is an indispensable tool for TV-obsessed viewers who hate commercials and value the ease of managing all their cable, online, and local-network-stored entertainment from one smartly designed receiver/recorder.

With 412 scripted TV series originating on broadcast, cable, and online channels last year, viewers face the twin challenges of finding shows that appeal to them and having enough waking hours to watch them. TiVo’s new flagship digital video recorder, Bolt, purports to help solve both problems. An admitted TV addict, I bolted for a Bolt to see if it could rekindle the excitement I felt when TiVo debuted in 1999.

Michael Antonoff  |  Feb 09, 2016  |  13 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.

Barb Gonzalez  |  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.

John Sciacca  |  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  |  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.

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