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This is the eighth in a series of reviews dedicated to the concept of 32Ohm Audio as embodied by the store of that name in downtown Portland/Oregon and described here - Ed.

This reader review first appeared in the October 2009 issue of hifi & stereo magazine You can also read this review in its original German version. We translated it through a syndication arrangement with our German colleagues. As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end shows an e-mail address should you have questions or wish to send feedback. All images contained in this review are the property of - Ed.

Reviewer: Jens Bondarenko

CD racks burst at the seams, the hard drive screeches under heavy file loads and you cannot recall where to bloody find a particular album. All the while what you really want to do is relax and enjoy the tunes. But hundreds of new albums appear daily in Germany alone. Where to park all of this stuff? If you recognize this catastrophic scenario, you surely have long since given thought to a digital music server for your hifi rig. The idea is anything but novel. Today has numerous new machines and external D/A converters as well as sub €200 notebooks which promise the world.

There’s plenty of room to come up with perfectly individualized solutions. Meanwhile to hell with tiny CD player displays and limited connectivity. Nor that Internet radio is all that shabby either. My personal solution as described below followed a few initially rather less than firm goals. Nonetheless, those vague goals became the criteria by which I doggedly sifted through the alternatives:
  • high-end sound
  • maximal flexibility for file formats
  • easeful use with minimal maintenance requirements
  • tasteful cosmetics
  • low cost and energy consumption
  • Internet access

The first central question was, where should how many files be stored; and in what specific formats; and how would they be accessed? Since I’m not averse to oldies but goodies, there would be the usual suspects of FLAC and MP3 which had to be available to all PCs on my local area network, the former for CD rips, the latter for online music files. (I’ll note in passing that I love to purchase music directly from the artists. This insures that nearly each cent ends up with those whose work sweetens our lives. Daniel Lanois for example offers WAV downloads from his home page DRM free which negates concerns over audiophile quality).

Since the hardware inventory of my crib includes a computer which plays back music and was put together accordingly, I identified it as the resident CD ripping and tagging center. That PC also connects to my WLAN which limited the search for the perfect server. My solution had to support WLAN but not an optical drive. Concerns about operational noise in use (i.e. not merely at idle) limited the scope to portable solutions since fan-less desk-top computers tend to be very special affairs and hence quite expensive. Plus, they lack built-on screens to negatively affect energy consumption by having to add another device.

Desk top monitors in general consume a lot of energy but serve precious little music playback necessities save to display cover, title name, play time and the like. Anything extra becomes silliness sooner than later and redundant for serious music listening. Desk top monitors do have the advantage of often being high performance and appropriate for video. I thus had to decide whether video from DVD or BluRay would be important to me. If so, I’d need an external large screen and in the case of BluRay, a high-speed computer processor. Needless to say, this once again would impact energy consumption and operational noise, hence I said no. My chosen solution would eschew video save for YouTube feeds over its small screen. I thus settled on one of those cute netbooks with essentially interchangeable OS that have triumphed in all our local media marts. One might demur that media players like Apple’s iPod or Sonos equivalents should have been considered too. Not so. Under my prerequisite of maximum format flexibility, desired optical connectivity and the highest degree of control over data processing, any solution that’s based on firmware control was out of the question. My rationale for that statement is that firmware providers, often the makers of the actual device, only support the machine and new or later versions of data formats while there’s a profit to be made. This limits use of alternate formats and one is held hostage to one’s original platform. It’s worse even with changes in network technologies.