UPnP AV / DLNA media-playback hardware) Archive

Sony enters the network CD receiver market as part of their new home AV lineup

Articles – From the horse’s mouth

Sony Europe

Sony’s expanded High-Resolution Audio line-up brings you musical clarity you’ve always dreamed of (Press Release)

My Comments

Sony MAP-S1 CD receiver courtesy of Sony

Sony’s new entry to the CD-receiver scene

Sony had launched some newer hi-fi components in to the European market including the STR-DN1050 and STR-DN850 surround-sound receivers and the BDP-S7200 optical disc player which can play SACDs or Blu-Ray Discs. All of these can be part of the home network by implementing at least DLNA functionality and access to varying online-content services with the receivers even supporting Bluetooth and AirPlay functionality.

But what drew my attention to this playlist was Sony climbing on to the high-quality network-enabled CD-receiver bandwagon by offering the MAP-S1 CD receiver. These are systems that have a CD player, broadcast-radio reception, amplifier functionality and, now. access to network-hosted and online content like Internet radio but are optimised for high-quality sound. They take on the spirit of the late-1970s music centre or cassette receiver (casseiver) where a very good unit of this class could offer what a baseline component-based hi-fi system of the time offered in both sound quality and functionality.

Previously, I had given a fair bit of space to the network-enabled CD receiver, including my review of the Rotel RCX-1500 as well as a fair bit of commentary about this product type in my coverage of the Australian Audio And AV Show 2013. This is due to the “lifestyle audio” product class becoming more relevant as the small elegantly-furnished apartment becomes more relevant especially for those of us whose children have flown the family nest.

This product is different from their CMT-series micros systems due to the idea of users being optimised for high sound quality. One of the factures was that a user could supply their own speakers for this system or they could purchase a pair of Sony high-grade bookshelf speakers and use them, very much like Onkyo’s FR-435 CD/MiniDisc “music-centre” system.

The Sony MAP-S1 offers the network connectivity for DLNA, AirPlay and access to online music services like Spotify and Internet radio, and also offers the ability to work with Bluetooth smartphones using the NFC pair / connect functionality and the aptX codec. As well you can have it become a USB DAC/amplifier for a computer thus exploiting the high-resolution audio content available for download if you host that on a Windows or Mac regular computer.

One question that can be raised with this class of network-capable AV equipment is whether the equipment will support dual-band wireless networks whether using 802.11n or 802.11ac technology. Similarly, there will also be the issue of network and online functions not being available with developments that offer “headline” Wi-Fi Internet that implements Web-based login. In these situations, the Sony MAP-S1’s Bluetooth and USB Audio functions would come in to their own when it is used with a regular computer or mobile device to “pull in” online music services including Internet radio.

As more of these network-capable CD receivers come on the market and yield the high-quality sound, especially from mainstream as well as boutique AV-equipment manufacturers, a compact hi-fi system for that apartment or house could be about buying one of the CD receivers and buying or resurrecting from the garage a pair of good hi-fi speakers.

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A Shazam-like service integrated in a set-top box

Article – French language / Langue Française

Freebox Révolution : InfoMusic et DNLA dans une mise à jour | Numerama.fr

From the horse’s mouth

Free.fr

Press Release (French language / Langue Française – PDF)

My Comments

Freebox Révolution - courtesy Iliad.fr

Freebox Révolution now with Shazam-style abilities

Often when you are watching TV, you may hear that piece of music that was used in that movie or TV show even though it may not be visibly identified.

Normally you could use Shazam or SoundHound on your smartphone or tablet (iOS, Android, Windows 8) to identify the songs but you have to “cock” your device to your TV’s speaker and have Shazam running before you know when that song is to play. Here, it can be difficult if you are watching broadcast TV content in real time rather than from a user-controlled recording like a PVR, optical disc or streamed on-demand service.

In France, the country where the set-top box is not the ordinary set-top box and the pay-TV and Internet service is delivered highly competitively, Free.fr have integrated this function as part of a software upgrade for their Freebox Révolution set-top box. Here, the software version number is 1.2.11 to gain this functionality.

This software, like Sony’s TrackID Android app is powered by GraceNote music-recognition technology and works from any of the video sources passing through the Freebox Révolution Player set-top box. This includes content available on the home network.

For that matter, Free has even improved the DLNA abilities for this software by having the Freebox Révolution Player be a DLNA MediaRenderer. This means that, like with the Sony BDP-S390 Blu-Ray player, you can “push” image, audio and video content to this device using software like TwonkyBeam, Gizmoot or BubbleUPnP to appear on your TV.

This is another example of what the competitive telecommunications and Internet market in France is bringing about in a healthy manner.

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The Cyrus Lyric CD receiver now arrives on the Australian market

Article

Cyrus Lyric Launches Down Under | Australian Hi-Fi

My Comments

Cyrus's latest CD receiver

Cyrus’s latest CD receiver

Previously I had reviewed the Rotel RCX-1000 as a network-capable CD receiver capable of high-quality sound from CDs, FM radio, DAB+ digital radio, Internet radio along with access to content held on one or more DLNA media servers. This, along with the Naim Uniti and a few others, was the kind of CD receiver you could pair off with a set of high-quality speakers of your choice, be a pair of new small bookshelf types that are on sale at the hi-fi store or that pair of good bookshelf or furniture-piece speakers that you had dusted off after finding them in your Dad’s garage.

This follows on from the music centres and casseivers of the 1970s and early 80s along with the steady run of high-grade integrated audio systems that Bang & Olufsen turned out i.e. the Beocenter 7000 series LP/cassette systems, the Beocenter 9000 series CD/cassette systems along with the Beosound 9000 6-CD system. This was also augmented with the Proton AI-3000 CD/cassette music system which came on the scene in 1988 and the arrival of the Bose Lifestyle music systems in 1990 and followed on with the Onkyo FR-435 CD/MiniDisc music system of the late 1990s.

Now Cyrus have launched the Lyric “full-width” CD-receiver range to the Australian market. This system which was premiered at the Australian Audio And AV Show which was held at the Intercontinental Melbourne The Rialto hotel, is one that follows from this lineage of integrated audio equipment that is about top-quality sound. Here, this unit can play CDs or tune in to FM, DAB+ or Internet radio broadcasts or stream in content from your NAS or PC-based network media server. It also uses Bluetooth with aptX to stream through content held on your smartphone or effectively work as your laptop’s sound-card. Here, I had seen the advance-preview sample in full-flight playing content from a smartphone via Bluetooth and driving a pair of newer “furniture piece” speakers that were being demoed at the show.

Even the way the product was styled eschewed various conventions like the classic “box with knobs and buttons” approach. Rather this used a touch-panel with a colour LCD screen for local control across the top half of the front panel along with a neatly-disguised CD-loading slot. This is similar to how the Bang & Olufsen Beocenter 9000 series was styled with a dynamically-lit-up touch panel below a large aluminium panel that had the CD and cassette bays hidden under doors that slid away.

There are two variants of this music system – the Lyric 5 with a a 100-watts/channel amplifier going for $4000 and the Lyric 9 with a 200-watts/channel amplifier going for $6000. I asked the demonstrator men about how much a decent music system for a small apartment which is based around the Lyric 5 CD receiver and he could call the Lyric 5 with commensurate-standard bookshelf speakers for around $6000.

This is definitely a sign of things to come for “integrated” lifestyle audio solutions that can work with any regular speaker, yet lead the way to a neat sound system that puts up some high-quality music.

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Australian Audio & AV Show 2013

IMG_1174This past weekend I had visited the Australian Audio & AV Show which was hosted at the Intercontinental Melbourne The Rialto hotel in Collins Street, Melbourne. This is one of the hotel-based hi-fi shows where, in addition to most if not all the banquet rooms at the hotel being used, at least two, if not three floors of guest-rooms are block-booked with the beds removed out of most, if not all of the rooms. Here, these rooms serve as demonstration rooms with the aesthetics and sound qualities comparable to most living rooms, music rooms or home theatres.

This show underscored particular audio and AV trends, especially the use of network-based digital audio setups. This is more so as the file-based “download-to-own” audio services and the subscription-driven “cyber jukeboxes” like Spotify mature and gain real traction. Of course, it wasn’t feasible to demonstrate the online services from the equipment involved due to the common situation where public-access wireless networks such as what exists at this hotel implement that browser-based authentication routine which doesn’t work with consumer electronics.

One concept that was underscored through this show is that all the good quality recording and playback equipment in the world can show up the poor recording or remastering techniques that can occur in the studio. It doesn’t matter whether the recording had been worked up to a 24 bit 192 kbz master file or turned out as a “new-cut” vinyl record or digital-remaster CD.

Preservation of Media and Technology Comfort Zones

Linn Sondek LP12

Linn Sondek LP12 – the 40-year-old turntable keeps on as a legend

There was an effort to preserve media and technology comfort zones with a few demonstration systems playing from vinyl or regular CDs and some of the systems in “full flight” were based on valve (tube) amplification. An example of this was McIntosh, an American hi-fi legend, showing one of their valve power amplifiers while some other companies even ran with amplifiers that implemented valve/solid-state hybrid construction.

One company even played a “new-cut” vinyl pressing of “Blood Sweat And Tears” which sounded so clear on their demonstration equipment. As well, the distributer for Harman and JBL had a setup which was based on a regular CD player playing through JBL floor-standing speakers and I had played Genesis’s “Many Too Many” off my CD copy of “And Then There Were Three” through this setup.

Yamaha and a few others even ran demonstration systems where a turntable, CD player and network audio player were connected to the system’s amplifier to show that these sources had an equal chance of yielding high-quality sound when fed good recordings no matter the medium. Similarly, Linn demonstrated their legendary Sondek LP12 turntable which was celebrating the 40th anniversary of this classic’s design and presented a record which was a compilation of choice cuts from their record library while they put the way forward with file-based digital audio with their DSM network media players.

Wirelessly-networked audio setups

I had watched a presentation by Cambridge Audio about the direction for wirelessly-networked audio setups and they mentioned that Bluetooth and Wi-Fi were on a level footing.

Arcam rBlink Bluetooth DAC adaptor

Arcam rBlink does a very good job of linking your Bluetooth phone to your stereo

There has been a message that, even though vinyl has been making its steady return, convenience-based AV technologies aren’t undermining the sound quality. This is similar to how I saw the cassette format “earn its stripes” and become respected through the late 70s and the early 80s, what with Dolby noise reduction, better tape formulations like chrome dioxide, Dolby HX recording-improvement technology along with those high-grade musicassettes issued through the mid 80s.

Pure Jongo T6 wireless speaker

Pure Jongo T6 wireless speaker playing from my phone

Here, the aptX codec was introduced in to Bluetooth A2DP setups to provide high-grade audio quality when you use Bluetooth headsets or speakers as I had noticed when I played “You And I” by Delegation from my Samsung Galaxy Note II through a pair of Aktimate Blue Bluetooth speakers and they yielded that punchy bass and clear treble.

The DLNA / UPnP AV technology had been highlighted by Cambridge Audio as enabling high-quality open-frame audio distribution over Wi-Fi and Ethernet home networks. This technology allowed equipment that was able to play 24-bit audio content to discover and play this content off a NAS or similar media server.

USB speakers with a laptop

USB-driven hi-fi speakers rais the bar for laptop sound and bring through audiophile quality

The idea of one-source multiple-speaker wireless audio setups is not perfect due to the use of packet-based technologies implemented with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. This typically requires the implementation of a “master device” which keeps all the devices in sync when it comes to what they are playing and Pure implemented this with one of their Jongo devices being considered a “master devices”. This network was simply served by an ordinary wireless router that served as an access point and DHCP server to cover that room where the speakers were shown. Their solution allowed for “party-streaming” from multiple speakers and  a pair of the same-model speakers to operate as a stereo pair for wider separation.  Dynaudio demonstrated a wireless speaker setup that worked on their own wireless-distribution technology which was primarily circuit-based rather than packet-based.

Stronger foothold for file-based audio distribution

This leads me to the fact that there is a stronger foothold in file-based audio distribution in the hi-fi space. In this show, a lot of companies were demonstrating music that was played either through a room-wide DLNA Home Media Network or a laptop that was connected to a USB digital-analogue converter.

The USB digital-analogue converters that were used in this show typically presented themselves to Macintosh OS X or Windows as another “sound card” according to USB Audio specifications. Some of these devices were components that were connected to existing amplifiers or were part of a control amplifier, integrated amplifier or powered speakers.

Netgear ReadyNAS

A NAS like this ReadyNAS or the ripping NAS nearby is as much a hi-fi component

On the other hand, the more popular method for file-based audio distribution was the UPnP AV / DLNA Home Media Network. A significant number of the rooms were running these networks that comprised of a NAS full of music and one or more components or systems capable of audio playback from a network, typically a Wi-Fi wireless network. A typical router served as the “glue” to hold each room’s network together.

With these setups, it was feasible to run content presented as 24-bit FLAC or similar files or regular PCM-format WAV files to allow the hi-fi equipment to perform at its best. Some of these networks used a heterogenous mix of devices with only the exhibitor’s brand being highly positioned.

Cocktail X30 music server

Cocktail X30 full-width music server and receiver

Cocktail X10 music server

Cocktail X10 music server which is a stereo system

I had also seen on show the Cocktail Audio X10 and X30 network media servers which are themselves capable of being the heart of a 3-piece music system or working with another sound system. I had previously covered the X10 on this site but the newly-previewed X30 full-width unit has more inputs, an FM radio tuner, and a highly-powerful amplifier with proper binding-post speaker connections. These units can be DLNA music servers for a home network or be capable of pulling up content on a network-attached storage this way,

Rise of Spotify and similar online services

There is the rise of the online service, especially Spotify which been perceived as the “online jukebox”. It still works on the three tiers with a free ad-based setup, an “unlimited” desktop-only setup as well as a premium setup with desktop and mobile ad-free listening. Some markets have a “mobile free” listening service but it will be rolled out to all of the markets. The mobile services provide content download to the local storage on the mobile device while the desktop service is primarily about streaming the content.

Naim NDS network audio player

Naim NDS network audio player

The Spotify Connect feature that was just launched is more about “passing” content playback directions to equipment that supports this service via the home network. This has been more about “freeing up” a smartphone or tablet that is the Spotify control surface to be able to be used for communications or game playing.

Denon DNP-F109 network audio player

Denon DNP-F109 network audio player

Similarly, Spotify is working with vehicle builders to provide an integrated experience for drivers. Ford’s AppSync variant is focused on the app in the mobile device doing the heavy lifting and the dashboard working as a remote control surface and AUX input.

High-quality lifestyle audio

A class of audio-playback equipment that tends to be forgotten about in the hi-fi sphere is “lifestyle audio” or “lifestyle-centric audio”, This represents the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi speakers along with the CD receivers or network media receivers that are the hub of a three-piece music system. Traditional hi-fi enthusiasts find that if you don’t have the component-driven setup with individual pieces of equipment in separate boxes doing their job, you are not leading to good sound but the “lifestyle” equipment that was shown here was about equipment that can yield high-quality sound yet be in a compact enclosure that is still aesthetically pleasing.

As I said in my review of the Rotel RCX-1500 CD receiver, I touched on the music centres and casseivers (receivers with integrated cassette deck) of the late 1970s where mid-priced and high-end variants had the expectations of a good component-based hi-fi system in one piece. Then Bang & Olufsen kept the flag going with their Beocenter and Beosound products like the legendary Beocenter 7000 series through the 80s until the likes of Bose and Proton drew back this class of system as a high-quality “lifestyle” product.

Naim UnitiQute 2 on dressing table

The Naim Uniti!Qute 2 – a high-quality network-connected music system for that small room

A system that demonstrated this concept very well was a Naim UnitiQute 2 network media receiver that was connected to a pair of Totem DreamCatcher bookshelf speakers and presented on a dressing table in one of the hotel’s Club Junior Suite rooms. This conveyed to me an image of something that would fit in well in an elegant master bedroom or the kitchen where you show off your gourmet cooking skills.

Cyrus's latest CD receiver

Cyrus’s latest CD receiver

There has been an increased number of full-width slimline CD receivers which have Wi-Fi DLNA home-network connectivity including an advance-sample preview of Cyrus’s first CD receiver. This unit was demonstrated through a pair of floorstanding speakers which show up how flexible these systems were. Here, it could play CDs, receive FM or DAB+ broadcast radio, stream from a Bluetooth smartphone or pull in network or Internet hosted content with an integrated Wi-Fi module. Other examples included Arcam’s Solo Neo and Naim’s Uniti 2.

Arcam Solo Neo CD receiver

Arcam Solo Neo CD receiver

One lifestyle system, the Elipson Planet series, which had speakers shaped like spheres and a centre unit shaped like a cylinder implements the Bang & Olufsen icePower power-amplification technology for its power amplifiers. This system’s industrial design along with the use of B&O icePower technology could be seen as “Clayton’s” B&O music system – a B&O when you don’t have a B&O.

Elipson Planet music system

Elipson Planet music system – the B&O when you don’t have a B&O

These three-piece systems are being considered because of their relevance to the “downsized home”, which is becoming more real with baby-boomer couples moving to smaller homes as their children grow their feathers and fly the nest. Similarly, the look towards the minimalist interior design is underscoring the need for these systems as is the concept of some of these systems offering “primary-system” capability and quality in a package suited to a secondary music system.

At the same time, there has been an increased number of wireless speakers that work with Bluetooth or Wi-Fi wireless networks with Pure launching a good range of the “Jongo” speakers which are able to exploit a Wi-Fi segment as a self-sustaining synchronised multi-speaker network. Cambridge Audio also used this to launch a range of Bluetooth / Wi-Fi speakers that work with Spotify Connect.

Speaker technology

JBL speakers

These classic speaker designs still hang on in the hi-fi conscience

There were some manufacturers and distributors showing the traditional floor-standing speakers with Harman and VAF showing some that would be considered “furniture pieces”. The ones that Harman showed were a pair of JBLs that would be considered par for the course with a 1970s receiver and had the large horns for the tweeters while VAF presented a speaker with wallpaper on the outside and 50s-style spindle legs, calling it “Maximising Spousal Acceptance Factor”.

But many manufacturers were demonstrating small traditional-arrangement bookshelf speakers that could put up a very punchy sound. With these speakers, it could be easy to doubt whether they are working by themselves or whether people who are demonstrating them are using a subwoofer as part of the setup.

Aktimate bookshelf active speakers

Aktimate bookshelf active speakers do punch out the music

As well, there has been an increased number of active speakers which have integrated amplifiers. This class of speaker was being given ore thought in the hi-fi world and not just thought of as computer speakers, lifestyle speakers (B&O, Bose) or as PA speakers. This is even though at the early stages of hi-fi, audiophiles used public-address amplifiers that they tuned to drive their custom-built speakers.

One company used another of the Club Junior Suites to demonstrate a set of floor-standing active speakers which used two power amplifiers per cabinet and line-level crossovers, thus proving that you can have a decent-sounding hi-fi in full flight based around this technology. Another regular-sized hotel room was used to demonstrate the Aktimate speakers which are bookshelf speakers that have an integrated stereo amplifier

I also see this as providing for high-grade right-sized sound-reinforcement setups where you can create an all-active-speaker sound system around JBL EON PA speakers for a large room full of people or an outdoor setting while these hi-fi active speakers could satisfy a smaller room where extra sound quality comes in to play,

To the same extent, Linn improved on what Philips started on in the early 1990s by refining a high-quality digital speaker system fit for the 24-bit studio master recording. This system, known as the Exakt is set around a digital sound path to just before the actual speaker driver with the Exakt speakers implementing a digital crossover and one digital amplifier for each driver. This implements a proprietary “Exakt Link” from the controller which is the Klimax Exakt DSM to these speakers.

Headphones

There was a special section of this show dedicated to headphone technology and you may think that this is to be taken up by exotic audiophile headphones. But these headphones also shared the HeadZone space with headphones that are capable of delivering high-quality sound from your smartphone, tablet or laptop while you are on the train for a reasonable price.  This increased show space underscored the reality that the role of “cans” as part of our AV equipment is increasingly important with out portable entertainment gadgets rather than just as accessories.

As well Denon and Sennheiser used space in their banquet rooms to show off their headphones that suited most user needs. Oh yeah, I had compared a pair of the higher-grade UrbanRaver AH-D400s against the Urban Raver AH-D320 “cans” that I had reviewed and the ‘D400s had the stronger punch in the sound. Yet I still consider the D320s as the value option that still does justice to rock and pop.

Conclusion

Here, the Australian Audio And AV Show 2013 had exemplified that the digital audio that is hosted via a home network or the Internet is the way forward. This includes using a smartphone or tablet with a Bluetooth link to play music either to a wireless speaker or to a high-quality Bluetooth adaptor plugged in to your favourite hi-fi system’s digital or line input.

In some ways, you could even create a music system around top-notch equipment and speakers that is ready to play vinyl, CD and/or network-hosted media.

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Feature Article–DLNA Media Network Series: Getting Started With DLNA Media Sharing

Updated: 13 October 2013

Pure Sensia 200D Connect Internet radioMost of us will end up with a large collection of picture, music or video files on our computers, especially if we use our computers as a large media library. It would be nice to have access to this content without having to copy it out to thumbdrives, SD cards or iPods before we can enjoy it.

As for music, this is more so as we buy music as digital-download files rather than buy physical media and copy it to our conputer’s hard disk. It will also become a trend if we visit video sites that offer video content on a download-to-own basis.

The instructions in this article are more focused with a person who is pressing a regular desktop or laptop computer running Windows, MacOS X or Linux as a media server and may be the way to go when you start out with DLNA especially if you are using a desktop comptuer.

Why share your music, pictures and video the DLNA way?

Sony BDP-S390 Blu-Ray Disc Player

Sony BDP-S390 Network Blu-Ray Player – a Blu-Ray player that adds DLNA to an existing TV

An increasing number of dedicated network media client devices are on the market and nearly all of these devices work according to the UPnP AV / DLNA media-client standards.  Most manufacturers who are selling premium table radios are supplying at least one which can pick up Internet radio broadcasts through a home network and these sets are also capable of picking up media made available to them from a UPnP AV media server. We are also seeing an increasing number of wireless speakers that connect to your home network and receive music via Apple’s proprietary Airplay system or the common DLNA system. These units can be controlled by mobile devices equipped with controller apps.

Similarly, DLNA is becoming an important feature for any well-bred “smart TV” or similar video peripheral like a Blu-Ray player or home-theatre system that is connected to the Internet. The ubiquitous Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3 games consoles that every teenage boy dreams of having both work according to these standards and this feature is becoming a requirement for up-and-coming TV-connected games consoles.

By using a DLNA-based setup, you don’t need to install different media-server programs for each network-media client that you happen to buy. In some situations, you may only need to run whatever is supplied with the computer’s operating system.

Setting up your network for DLNA media

Basic DLNA Media Network

Basic DLNA Media Network

Most home, small-business and some branch-office networks don’t require any revision because they typically are one logical network that spans the premises with the router that exists at the network-Internet “edge” being the device that handles basic network housekeeping. This doesn’t matter whether the network has one or more media segments like WiFi wireless, Cat5 Ethernet or HomePlug powerline cabling.

You will need to know the ESSID and the WEP or WPA security key for your wireless network. This may be obtained through the router’s Web administration page or through your client PC’s wireless-network-setup parameters such as in Windows Connect Now. If you are connecting your DLNA media client to the network via wireless, you will need to make sure that the wireless access point or router is broadcasting the ESSID so you can pick it from a list using the device’s user interface and be sure you are “in reach” of the network. This practice would be important when you run a multi-access-point wireless network or simply to help with making sure that neighbouring wireless networks are set up properly. As well, you will need to be ready to enter the WEP or WPA security passphrase by “picking out” characters from a list using buttons on the device or its remote control.

Some networks such as the public-access networks provided by cafes and the like, including the headline “Wi-Fi Internet” that resort apartment developments provide won’t work well with DLNA. This is due to implementation of a Web-based login system as well as client isolation which doesn’t work with most DLNA-capable devices.

Setting up your PC jukebox or media server software for DLNA

Settings for ripping CDs in Windows Media Player

Settings for ripping CDs in Windows Media Player

If you are running any Microsoft Windows version since Windows XP, you can use Windows Media Player 11 or newer versions as your media server. Before you start “ripping” CDs to the hard disk, make sure the program is set to rip without DRM (Copy Protect Music checkbox in the Rip Music options tab is cleared) and that it is set to rip CDs at 192kbps WMA or 320kbps MP3. The reason I would rip at these settings is to be assured of sound reproduction that is as close to the CD album as possible. You may use the MP3 codec for maximum compatibility or WMA for efficient storage if your DLNA media clients can handle WMA.

As well, you will have to set Windows Media Player 11 to automatically permit devices to benefit from its media library. This is done by going to “Library”, then selecting “Media Sharing” and clicking on “Settings”. The “Media Sharing – Default Settings” dialog box will open whereupon you make sure that the “Allow new devices and computers automatically” checkbox is selected.

If you don’t use any sort of ratings in your media as far as sharing is concerned, you may have to select “All ratings” in both the “Star Ratings” and “Parental Ratings” options. This will make sure all media is available for all of the devices.

Windows Media Player Sharing settings for DLNA

Windows Media Player Sharing settings for DLNA

For your pictures and videos, you will have to add the folder that contains your photos to Windows Media Player’s media library. Similarly, you will have to do this for your video folders.

Linux users have access to a large plethora of media-server software such as TwonkyMedia and TVersity as well as a large collection of open-source media-server software. You will still have to use a CD jukebox program set up to rip CDs at 320kbps MP3.

Apple and Windows users who use iTunes as their CD jukebox but will need to use either TwonkyMedia, PS3 Media Server or NullRiver MediaLink. They will need to make sure that the iTunes directory is the one to be provided by the media server. Again, iTunes will need to be set up to rip at 320kbps MP3 for best compatibility and quality. The program may support transcoding to lower bandwidth settings for use whenever music is being transferred out to an iPod.

Infact, I have written up some more detailed information about setting up an Apple Macintosh computer to work as part of a DLNA-based home media network because of the increasing popularity of these computers. The article, “UPnP AV (DLNA) for the Apple Macintosh platform”, covers other media server programs that exist for that platform.

The media server would need to be set up to work with the folders that are being used as the primary folders for music, photo and video storage.  I have explained how to go about this for your music, especially if you use iTunes or Windows Media Player. For your photos and videos, you simply add the folders used by your photo management and video management software to store your images.

As well, if you, a friend or associate uses SkyDrive, Dropbox or similar cloud-based storage services to share a media collection, you may need to copy the media that you received through the sharing to your media library to share them via DLNA. Similarly, images shared through the Social Web may need to be downloaded from the service to your media folder.

The DLNA media-server programs typically index music files according to artist, album, track, genre, and some may support separate identification of composers, contributing artists (important for soundtracks and compilation albums) and other metadata for pictures and videos. Some, like TwonkyMedia, allow for alphabetical clustering and other efficient sorting arrangements. This is typically because UPnP AV / DLNA allows for the server to determine how it presents the library to the client devices.

As far as playlists are concerned, they will typically be listed in a “Playlists” collection with each playlist being its own collection in that tree. By having a playlist as a collection of tracks rather than a reference to a playlist file, it means that the media clients don’t have to be compatible with the playlist file format that the jukebox program works with.

Some of the media servers like Windows Media Player 11 or TwonkyMedia support transcoding to common file formats for situations where a DLNA media client cannot handle a particular media type. This can come in handy for file types like WMA or high-definition audio files which aren’t handled by all UPnP AV media players.

Setting up the DLNA clients

Enrolling the DLNA clients in to your network

You will need to make your DLNA media client become part of the network. This can be a simple task of plugging it in to your Ethernet network segment or into your HomePlug powerline network segment using a HomePlug-Ethernet bridge.

Integrating wireless-enabled DLNA clients to the wireless network

If you are connecting your wireless-enabled DLNA media client to the WiFi network, you will need to configure it for this network. This will require you to enter the device’s setup menu and select the option pertaining to wireless network setup. Then you get the device to search for your network’s ESSID which is commonly referred to as the SSID, Network Name or something similar. Once your device has detected your wireless network, you will be prompted to enter the WEP or WPA security passphrase. At this point, enter the passphrase in to the device. These procedures will have to be done as mentioned in the “Setting up your network for DLNA media” section.

Nearly all of the recent DLNA network media clients may use a “quick set-up” method like Windows Connect Now or WPS. This will typically involve either transferring a USB memory key between a Windows XP or Vista wireless-equipped notebook computer and the device; or registering the device with the wireless router. This procedure may be as simple as pressing a “register” or WPS button on the router and the device or copying the device’s PIN number (which would be on the device itself or in a WPS setup option in the device’s setup menu) in to the wireless router’s setup menu.

If you use MAC-address filtering on your wireless router, you will need to register the DLNA media device as an “accepted” network device. This will require you to copy the device’s wireless MAC address, which will be on a sticker attached to the device itself, in to the router’s trusted MAC-address list.

Making sure the DLNA clients detect the media server

DLNA media directory provided by server PC

DLNA media directory shown on TV screen as provided by PC

You will need to make sure that the media server program is running on the PC that has the media that you are sharing. Most such programs may run a media server component as a background task while the computer is fully on but some may require the jukebox program to be running all the time. Similarly, you may bave to stop your computer going to sleep or hibernate mode under automatic control for this to work properly.

Another thing to check is the desktop firewall software. This should be set to allow the media server software outbound and inbound access to the network as a server. The Windows Firewall software that is part of all Microsoft desktop operating systems since Windows XP Service Pack 2 makes this easy by allowing immediate access to Windows Media Player or asking you if you want to allow the application to have network access. Other third-party firewalls may require the server application to be allowed Internet access by you adding the software to their application “white lists”.

DLNA collections listed as sources on the TV

DLNA content collections listed as sources on a Samsung Smart TV

You may have to select “Network Music”, “PC Music” or something similar on most network-enabled music devices like Internet radios in order to gain access to the music library that you have made available.  Then you select the “hostname” of the PC, which may be commensurate to its standard computer name or its primary owner’s name. The DLNA client will then show the media type that it can work with. You then select that type and use the controls to select the media you are interested in.  Some devices like the recent crop of Samsung Smart TVs list each DLNA server on the home network they are connected to either as a source alongside the integrated TV tuner or external connections on that device.

Summary

Once you have your network and media-server computer set up properly, you can work with providing music and other media to network media receiver devices without much hassle.

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Another network audio player with hi-fi credentials this time from Cambridge Audio

Article

Cambridge Audio’s Minx Xi music streamer packs built-in amp and 24-bit DAC (video)

Link to video

From the horse’s mouth

Cambridge Audio

Product Page

My Comments

Another product appears that bridges the home network with high-quality sound, this time in the form a network media receiver that can connect to a set of high-quality speakers.

Cambridge Audio have released the Minx Xi which is a network media receiver that has an integrated 40-watt amplifier that can drive most good-quality bookshelf speakers. This is similar to equipment like the Denon CEOL Piccolo music system that I previously reviewed or the Linn DS network media players.

This unit has been engineered for high-quality digital sound reproduction and can serve as a digital amplifier for most digital-audio sources. Like most of these devices, the Minx Xi can pick up the “new shortwave” that is the Internet radio as well as access to BBC iPlayer or Pandora.

You can play the file-based digital music content from your UPnP AV/DLNA network-attached storage device and have the best-case sound coming from the content. This includes the content that is prepared for high-quality sound reproduction such as 192khz/24-bit master files or files delivered using FLAC or AAC. This content can also be held on a USB hard disk or memory key; or you could stream content from any Bluetooth-capable smartphone or portable device.

You could set this system up to work with a pair of bookshelf or freestanding speakers and choose to augment the bass for those speakers that are “thin” in that regard using an active subwoofer.

Like most of this equipment, this unit supports control from smartphones or tablets using a manufacturer-supplied app which can lead to quicker access to desired content. Of course, you can control the Minx Xi from its front panel or remote control, which comes in handy if you quickly want to skip tracks, pause the music to take a phone call or “wind the wick up” for your favourite song.

It represents a trend to provide network-capable audio equipment that can be the heart of a high-quality three-piece music system suitable for those small apartments that are part of the downsizing culture.

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Product Review–Marantz Audio Consolette speaker dock

Introduction

I am reviewing the Marantz Audio Consolette speaker dock which is the first item issued as a tribute to Marantz’s 60th anniversary as a major force in hi-fi sound. The name came about from the first product issued under this brand which was an amplifier which was about top-notch record reproduction and mono hi-fi sound.

Here, we are talking about one of a few top-shelf speaker docks or network-enabled single-piece audio systems that are all about top-notch sound reproduction/

 

Marantz Audio Consolette speaker dock

Marantz Audio Consolette speaker dock

 

Price

The unit itself:

RRP including tax: AUD$1650

Form Factor

One-piece music system with integrated speakers (stereo speakers).

Functions

Internet audio Internet radio via vTuner,
Network Media DLNA network audio client with Renderer remote-play function, AirPlay remote-play function
Stored Memory USB port (Mass-Storage)
Apple iPod support 30-pin dock, USB connection,

 

Connections

Input Count as for a device
Audio Line Input
(connect a tape deck, CD player, etc)
1 x RCA-socket pair

Speakers

Output Power Bi-amplified
25 watts per channel (tweeters)
50 wats per channel (woofers – bridged (BTL) amplifers)
Stereo
Speaker Layout 1 speaker system per channel Per channel
2.6” midrange / tweeter
4.3” woofer

Network

Wireless 802.11g/n with WPS setup
Wired Ethernet

The unit itself

Marantz Audio Consolette speaker dock control panel detail

Control panel detail – press on the Marantz logo to reveal the 30-pin dock for legacy iPods and iPhones

The Marantz Audio Consolette has been designed as a high-grade hi-fi system with a timber back panel that is effectively curved amongst other symbols of elegance.

There are the elements of style that are very consistent with some of the high-end Marantz amplifiers, tuners and receivers over the years, such as a large thumbwheel for tuning and a porthole style presentation for power / tuning-aid meters found on these components.

Here this is reflected with a large thumbwheel that serves as a volume control or selection control as well as a “porthole” display for showing the unit’s operational status including the current time.

Marantz Audio Consolette rear view with wooden back

Rear view with wooden back

There are six power amplifiers integrated in this unit (3 per channel) and these are arranged in a combination of a bi-amplified and a bridged setup. For each channel, one 25 watt amplifier looks after the middle and high frequencies while a pair of 25-watt amplifiers bridged to work as a 50-watt amplifier handle the bass frequencies. This makes sure that this unit can provide a clean and meaty sound as well as not “running out of steam” when it is taken to higher volume levels.

Setup and connectivity experience

The Marantz Audio Consolette follows the trend for most network-based audio equipment when it comes to network setup. Here. the device becomes its own access point and Web server during the setup phase to obtain Wi-Fi network parameters for non-WPS networks and you have to associate a smartphone, tablet or laptop that is equipped with Wi-FI to this access point and open a Web page hosted on the device’s Web server to determine your Wi-Fi network’s credentials.

Marantz Audio Consolette speaker dock external equipment connections

External connections – RCA connections for other hi-fi components as well as Ethernet connection and network setup buttons

You can also connect this unit to an Ethernet network and the line-in connections for existing hi-fi components are infact gold-plated RCA sockets rather than the typical 3.5mm mini phone jack.

Pushing on the Marantz logo bar under the speakers yields a 30-pin dock for Apple iPhone and iPod devices that are suitable equipped such as the iPod Classics, the iPhone 4S and the iPhone 3GS. You may have to buy a Lightning-Connector adaptor to use this connection with newer iPhones or iPads.

Useability

Marantz Audio Consolette remote control

Remote control

It can work with most third-party DLNA control point programs for music playback from network resources. This comes in handy when a control point program excels in certain tasks like playing from a mobile phone’s music collection or an online music service.

If you are using the Internet radio function, you would need to use Marantz Consolette app to find the stations you are after but can use this to allocate them to the presets that you can use to directly access them on the remote control.

There is the large thumbwheel on the front of the unit for adjusting volume or selecting options and sources. But you can also operate this unit with its supplied infra-red remote control for source selection, track navigation and other basic tasks. Here, the remote control has that metallic feel that is all about quality equipment.

Sound quality and network prowess

The Marantz Audio Consolette speaker dock does sound very clear with most sources and yields a very tight bassline that doesn’t dominate even with the latest dance tracks, which I had observed with a few of the Hed Kandi dance tracks.

I was able to get this speaker dock to 80%-90% of the volume level before it started to clip and sound awful, which shows that the amplifier array including the BTL-bridged power amplifiers makes for a very powerful system. This would make the Consolette be able to fill larger rooms like dining rooms or small lounge areas with good-sounding music and could satisfy party needs or even challenge the Sonos as a music system for that small café or bar.

As far as the home network was concerned, the the Marantz Audio Consolette worked well even on the “edge” of the Wi-Fi network segment, staying associated with the the Wi-Fi segment. When it cam to streaming Internet content like the Internet-radio channels, it kept the stream going and didn’t “give out” even in worse conditions.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

Personally, I would see this system equipped with Bluetooth A2DP wireless audio for environments which don’t represent the typical small network such as business networks or resorts that implement Wi-Fi hotspots which require Web-based login.

As well, the Marantz Audio Consolette could benefit from access to Spotify and related services from Android and other devices or simply from the unit’s control surface.

To satisfy the newer network trends, this could benefit from dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi networking as we see a move away from the crowded 2.4GHz band for the small Wi-Fi wireless network. The RCA connections can be complemented with a 3.5mm stereo jack for walk-up connection of smartphones, laptops and similar devices.

Similarly, Marantz could also provide the ability to operate Internet-radio and DLNA media player functionality using either the controls on the unit or the remote control rather than you using a smartphone app to perform these tasks easily.

Conclusion

I would position the Marantz Audio Consolette for a person who wants a single-piece speaker dock / Internet radio for an iOS device or for a small network that has DLNA-based media sources but places high value on the sound quality.

Here, the Audio Consolette could come in to its own with the trend for downsizing to the many city apartments or simply for use as something that can earn its place on the dining-room sideboard as a secondary music system.

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Pioneer joins the ranks of the slimline network-capable surround receivers

Article –From the horse’s mouth

Pioneer

New slim receiver from Pioneer: compact, powerful and feature-rich

My Comments

Pioneer VSX-S510 Slim Surround Receiver - Press picture courtesy of Pioneer

Pioneer VSX-S510 Slimline surround receiver with home-network abilities

A current-generation surround-sound receiver that is expected to reproduce a 5.1 channel soundmix through six passive loudspeakers would require the use of six power amplifiers. This has required the construction of very large units in order to cater for these power amplifiers as well as the signal-handling circuitry plus a broadcast-radio tuner and this requirement is underscored with power amplifiers that implement traditional design techniques.

The year before last, Marantz released a series of surround-sound receivers that are the same height as a CD player, tuner or other source component. Some of us would have thought of them as being stereo receivers but these are able to do the 5.1 channel surround-sound job through the use of Class-D amplification which can allow for a smaller cooler-running amplifier.

Now Pioneer has come to the fray with a pair of slimline surround-sound receivers that appear to be as big as a hi-fi tuner or CD player.One of these units, the VSX-S510 has network abilities including the new Spotify Connect feature that allows Spotify Premium subscribers to “push” playlists or similar content established on their smartphones to this receiver. There are of course the usual suspects like adding vTuner Internet radio to this receiver’s broadcast-radio abilities and working with DLNA or AirPlay network-media setups.

What I see of this is that it is a step in the right direction towards a neater surround-sound setup without the need to head towards an integrated home-theatre setup. Yet, this model is able to exist in a position for those of us who are moving up from an entry-level surround-sound receiver towards something more capable and able to the part of the home network.

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Sony now issues the latest premium home-theatre system with the expected features

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Sony

Sony launches new premium 3D Blu-ray Home Cinema System : Consumer Products Press Releases : Sony Australia

My Comments

I had some experience with two of Sony’s premium network-capable Blu-Ray-based home-theatre systems, especially the BDV-E990W (BDV-N990W) unit. This was in the form of setting up the prior model which was the BDV-E980W (BDV-N980W) for them and eventually troubleshooting it to find out they had ended up with a faulty unit which was replaced under warranty with the ‘E990W. Even when they received the replacement model, I was involved in setting it up and testing it to make sure it worked.

These home-theatre systems were very capable when it came to functionality such as being able to work with their setup which involved their first flatscreen TV which was a low-end entry-level model from a discount store along with a recent-issue cable-TV set-top box. This was because of the number of HDMI input ports along with the HDMI output port that these systems were equipped with.

The reality with this setup was that most older and low-end “bargain-basement” flatscreen TVs don’t have the HDMI-ARC functionality for returning sound from the TV’s tuner or video peripherals connected to the TV’s HDMI ports. Also, by connecting the cable box to the home theatre system, there is a guarantee of “best-case” video and audio quality for the premium pay-TV channels even if the TV had just one HDMI connection which is something that a lot of cheaper sets like the Kogan “Kevin 37”, which was on sale at the time of Kevin Rudd’s economic stimulus package, had. Here, you have the ability to have best-case sound and vision even if you start out cheap with your flatscreen TV and gradually upgrade to better equipment as you can afford it.

For that matter, I would like to see the HDMI Consumer Electronics Control and Audio Return Channel features effectively “pushed down” to lower-tier flatscreen TV sets. This is more so as we see manufacturers equip Blu-Ray home-theatre systems, soundbars and similar “compact” AV equipment with this functionality and use it as a way to cut costs by reducing the number of HDMI and other connections on these devices. Similarly, from my experience the HDMI Consumer Electronics Control functionality has helped with simplifying the operation requirements with consumer AV setups and this has been a boon with older friends of mine who aren’t confident with operating consumer-electronics equipment.

I have also been pleased with the wireless surround-speaker link which pleased the house-proud owner who wouldn’t like the sight of cables coming from the front to the back of the viewing area. The microphone-assisted auto calibration routine made things easier for keeping the soundfield at an optimum level which has led to a “properly-placed” surround-sound experience when I watched the “Back To The Future” Blu-Ray with her and is to be used when you rearrange the lounge area in such a way as to relocate the speakers relative to each other.

These sets also offered what was expected for equipment that was to be part of the home network where they gave access to Internet-hosted radio and TV services as well as access to DLNA-hosted media collections on that network.

But the Sony BDV-N9100 Series adds some extra icing on the cake for Android users. It has integrated Bluetooth A2DP audio streaming so you can wirelessly play your smartphone or tablet through the system’s speakers. This is finished off with NFC “touch-and-go” setup for Android devices that implement NFC functionality. Like the rest of the current Sony Blu-Ray home-theatre range, this unit also has the “sports sound” mode labelled as “Football” but this should be used with all of the stadium sports like cricket, baseball or most Olympic Games events.

An improvement that I would like to see for these systems is for Sony to provide units with the same connectivity and functionality at a more reasonable price that can appeal to most purchasers. The best way to go about this would be to add some of the high-end functionality to mid-tier models and add extra functionality just to the high-end models. Similarly, these units could effectively answer Panasonic by integrating Skype capability with the optional camera. But, as high-end highly-capable home-theatre setups that are part of the home network, they have earnt their keep in this regard.

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A micro hi-fi system from Cocktail Audio that is a music server

Article

X10 From Cocktail Audio | Australian Hi-Fi

From the horse’s mouth

Cocktail Audio

Home Page

My Comments

A newcomer to the consumer audio stage has fronted up with a music centre that is not just like the micro music systems on the market. Cocktail Audio have presented the X10 which can connect to a pair of speakers or an existing hi-fi amplifier to work as a CD player, network media adaptor, “hard-disk deck” or music server.

Here, I could play regular CDs or data CDs full of audio files through the system or simply “rip” the CDs to the integrated user-replaceable hard disk in order to create a music library. This music library is served over a home network through a Web server or available also to regular computers as an SMB/CIFS share. It is also part of the DLNA Home Media Network as a server, media player or “renderer” that is managed by a UPnP AV / DLNA control-point program.

The internal amplifier is rated to work at 30 watts per channel for an 8-ohm speaker load with 0.1% THD but the line-out connection can also be worked as a preamplifier output for active speakers or a better power amplifier. Thus it can work with most small speakers.

It also can pull in Internet radio streams but I have wondered whether you have access to Spotify, last.fm or a well-known Internet-radio directory like vTuner or TuneIn Radio through this system. As well, it can effectively be a “hard-disk deck” where it can record from and play through an amplifier’s tape loop in the same vein as the classic cassette deck or MiniDisc deck. This means that you could go on “dumping” many records or tapes to this unit’s hard disk or using the hard disk along with a tuner to record a long radio broadcast whether it be your favourite talk programme or a favourite DJ’s “shift”. Then you could move the recordings to your regular computer and use the audio software on it to “polish up” the recordings.

As for connectivity to the home network, the Cocktail X10 could be described as being “Wi-Fi-ready”. This is where it has an Ethernet socket for Ethernet or HomePlug segments but can be connected to a Wi-Fi wireless segment using an optional adaptor dongle that you buy from Cocktail Audio. Rather, I would connect this to Ethernet wiring if your house is “wired for Ethernet” or buy a HomePlug-AV kit to connect it to the home network.

Cocktail Audio could improve on this design by offering either a variant that has integrated broadcast-radio functionality or a matching tuner that can pick up broadcast radio. This could preferably be working with FM and DAB+ for markets that use DAB-based digital radio or IBOC-based HD Radio for the American market.

This music system certainly shows up what can be done for a system that can be a music player and a DLNA-capable music server.

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