Tag: network-enabled hi-fi equipment

Australian Audio And AV Show 2014


IMG_2138In October I had visited the Australian Audio And AV Show which was hosted at the Intercontinental Melbourne The Rialto hotel and this was about observing the way hi-fi and home AV were progressing especially on the Australian market.

Video Technology

Regular readers may have seen some coverage about the new 4K ultra-high-resolution TV technology and I had a chance to see this technology in full flight for myself at this show, courtesy of Sony. But the Sony representatives have remarked that this technology’s appearance in the broadcast-TV context is still a long way off especially in Australia. Here, they remarked that 4K UHDTV content will have to be delivered in a packaged form i.e. Blu-Ray Discs, file-based video delivered via USB hard disks or via the home network.



BenQ and Epson presented Full-HD video projectors that were more or less targeted at home-theatre setups and were demonstrated in that context.

Audio Technology

The two main distribution trends that are hanging on for quality hi-fi sound reproduction at the moment are the classic vinyl record or file-based audio content delivered via the home network.

The classic vinyl record

A turntable equipped with an optical cartridge that uses light to follow the stylus vibrations

A turntable equipped with an optical cartridge that uses light to follow the stylus vibrations

The classic vinyl record is still focused on new-cut records that have been mastered using newer techniques that permit increased dynamic range. These are played on turntables that are equipped for improved stability and the sound path implements high-grade components from stylus to speaker.  The equipment that I have seen in operation at this and previous Australian Audio And AV Shows is more for those who value the vinyl format as a hi-fi content source rather than to be part of the image.

VinylPlay - an integrated-phono-stage turntable that raises the bar for this class of turntable

VinylPlay – an integrated-phono-stage turntable that raises the bar for this class of turntable

One manufacturer even implemented an “optical cartridge’ that uses reflected light rather than friction to follow the stylus’s vibrations in that groove. Here, this cartridge can be fitted to most tonearms associated with high-quality turntables and is connected to a special preamplifier which exposes this cartridge’s output as a line-level signal. Here, it was about using light as a tool to “follow” a source of acoustic vibrations before it is converted to an amplifiable electrical signal as well as being able to use this cartridge with most turntables.

One turntable that was exhibited here that is considered a proper specimen for bridging the classic medium with today’s Sonos speakers or the computer is the VinylPlay “integrated phono stage” turntable. This has a similar build to most of the recent Rega, Pro-Ject or similar turntables that properly welcomed back vinyl and has what is expected for stability, but has a built-in phono preamplifier with digital and USB outputs as well as line-level and “cartridge-direct” analogue outputs. Another feature that increases its useability, especially for a manual turntable, is a distinct arrow on the cartridge’s front that indicates where the stylus is, so you can be sure the needle is where you want it i.e. on that record. What I see of this USB-equipped record player is that it isn’t about a gimmicky flimsy unit but one that can properly bridge the classic records to a lot of equipment.

Digital audio

On the other hand, the quality of digital audio, both in the recordings that are distributed and the “file-to-speaker” playback chain has improved. For example, the “high-resolution” file-based audio content has been represented here as being above the 44.1kHz 16-bit CD-Audio or the 48kHz 16-bit standard-play DAT specifications that was “cemented” for digital audio recording and playback in the late 1980s. Typically, audio that is made to this specification will resolve towards 24-bit 96kHz or 24-bit 192kHz digital-audio streams and this will either be in the form of FLAC or similar audio files and it yields what could be perceived a clearer sound. It is also augmented through the use of digital-analogue converters or digital-amplifiers that are designed to “pull more out” of a digital-audio stream with very little in the way of unwanted sound artifacts.

Sony MAP-S1 network-capable CD receiver

Sony MAP-S1 network-capable CD receiver

Equipment that was designed to cope with the “master-grade” high-resolution digital audio sound could also bring out the best from classic digital audio content as I had seen for myself with the Sony MAP-S1 network-capable CD receiver. This unit was set up completely as a system with a pair of the Sony SSH-W1 3-way bookshelf speaker and I had let it perform with my Whispers “Love Is Where You Find It / Love For Love” CD. Here, it came through clearly with the soul music, yielding that desirable “punch” to the sound yet coming across clearly.

The home network as part of digital audio

Auralic Aries network-to-digital media bridge which serves an external DAC

Auralic Aries network-to-digital media bridge which serves an external DAC

Again, the home network is still considered as part of enjoying digital audio. This is typically with a network-attached-storage device or music-focused media server holding all the music and network media receivers playing the music that is held on the NAS or from one or more online sources. It has been brought about with the larger size of music files that are prepared according to high-resolution “master-grade” standards and these files being offered on a “download-to-own” basis.

There were a few of the network audio receiver devices which were built to work with an external digital amplifier or digital-analogue converter rather than doing the digital-analogue conversion themselves. These were pitched for use with the top-notch digital-analogue converters and digital amplifiers the were becoming part of a high-grade digital-audio setup.

.. which serves this Auralic Vega digital-analogue converter and Auralic Taurus control amplifier

.. which serves this Auralic Vega digital-analogue converter and Auralic Taurus control amplifier

One of these was Auralic Aries network audio bridge connects between home network or online content and DAC,  DLNA support and works as Media Renderer. Connects to DAC via USB, AES/EBU (Digital XLR), SPDIF Coaxial or SPDIF Optical, network via 802.11a/g/n Wi-Fi or Ethernet. As well, it works with Linn’s Songcast “network sound card” software so it and the DAC work as a computer sound card. This device is controlled using Auralic’s Lightning DS mobile-platform app but has the ability to work with an Auralic remote control for ad-hoc program selection and transport control.

The QNAP NAS works as a music server

The QNAP NAS works as a music server

This small network-media bridge  was fed by a QNAP NAS full of music and passed its digital signals via USB to an Auralic Vega digital-analogue converter. It in turn passed the analogue signals to the Auralic Taurus Pre control amplifier feeding a pair of Merak monobloc power amps to drive a pair of floor-standing speakers.

Another was the latest iteration of the NAD Masters Series of premium digital hi-fi components with the M12 digital control amplifier and M22 stereo power amplifier being driven by the <model number> digital media player. This unit appeared at previous Australian Audio And AV Shows and was an example of an optical-disc transport and network audio bridge device.

Latest iteration of the NAD Masters digital-driven hi-fi system

Latest iteration of the NAD Masters digital-driven hi-fi system

There is an increased number of dedicated music servers or “ripping NAS” units being presented at this year’s show with some of them working as the music servers for their distributors’ rooms. Two examples included the RipNAS Solid v3 and the Naim HDX. The Cocktail Audio music servers still appeared but were on static display, not serving an active system. As always, Naim pushed their music servers in to service as content libraries for two music systems, this time it was the NDS which was serving the Statement ultra-premium hi-fi system and the mu-so wireless speaker.

RipNAS Solid v3 ripping NAS

RipNAS Solid v3 ripping NAS

Lifestyle and multiroom audio

Lifestyle audio still had its strong presence at the Australian Audio And AV Show. This was mainly dominated with single-piece wireless speakers and soundbars with some of the soundbars being used to play music. Some of these systems implemented subwoofers to “lift” the bass response, whether they were packaged with the soundbars or simply as to be set up to work with one of the wireless speakers just to add that bit of “bite” to the sound.

These were part of the multiroom trend where you can have music systems located in different rooms  There was even a seminar on the multiroom audio trend and this highlighted the arrival of the home network and online media as key drivers of this technology.

Naim mu-so wireless speaker

Naim mu-so wireless speaker

But they highlighted the fact that different companies, including chipset and technology vendors, are working on their own solution to permit audio content to be delivered to many speakers via a packet-based network like the typical Wi-FI or Bluetooth network in sync without jittering or packet loss. This was to open up paths for situations like 2 wireless speakers being set up to work as a true stereo pair with proper separation or “party-streaming” setups with multiple speakers and sound systems. At the moment, most of these systems can only work with equipment that implements the same technology and I am not sure whether these systems can work properly on a multiple-access-point setup such as with a wireless range extender or traditional setup with access points connected via an Ethernet or HomePlug AV wired backbone.

Denon HEOS wireless speakers

Denon HEOS wireless speakers

Denon had exhibited their HEOS Multiroom setup consisting of three different single-piece wireless speakers while Definitive Technologies used Room 320 for showing a highly-complete wireless audio system. This one consisted of a few different single-piece speakers, a soundbar, a wireless amplifier and an “on-ramp / off-ramp” audio adaptor module for their PlayFi-based system which uses a small Wi-Fi network as its carrier. Polk also made us aware of their wireless multiroom system which was based on one of the existing synchronisation technologies.

Definitive Technologies W-Series soundbar - as part of their multiroom setu[p

Definitive Technologies W-Series soundbar – as part of their multiroom setu[p

Ruark Audio had surfaced this year with a collection of table radios and music systems. This was headed by the R7 Radiogram which has a CD player, FM/DAB/Internet radio, Bluetooth playback, DLNA MediaRenderer functionality and access to online services. Here, it is styled in a form similar to the archetypal “radiogram” or “console stereo” that served as the main household music system for most people through the 1950s and 1960s and is something that is pitched at the “baby-boomer” generation.

Definitive Technologies Adapt "on-ramp / off-ramp" for the W-Series multiroom setup

Definitive Technologies Adapt “on-ramp / off-ramp” for the W-Series multiroom setup

Naim also came to the fore with a single-piece wireless speaker called the mu-so. This could pull up content from a DLNA server or online content services (think Spotify or Internet radio), AirPlay, Bluetooth A2DP with aptX amongst other sources. It is primarily controlled through Naim’s mobile app and works tightly with their multiroom streaming setup. But this uses a 3-way speaker arrangement for each channel with each driver having its own amplifier and it also implements DSP technology which Naim implemented in the sound system used in the newer Bentley cars.

Ruark R7 Radiogram - the up-to-date take on an old classic form factor

Ruark R7 Radiogram – the up-to-date take on an old classic form factor

The Headzone still appeared, representing the increased role that headphones and earphones played in the personal AV life. The theme here still was to listen to music or video content through the headphones rather than have them available to hear the other party of a phone conversation or hear the sound effects associated with computer games played on our mobile devices. But I would see these still play a strong role with VoIP or mobile communications services that implement “HD Voice” or newer telephony-audio technologies which sound as good as AM radio, if not better.

They still are important for the connected life as we use them to be able to listen to music, video and games effects from our computing devices privately. Most of the premium sets were demoed with dedicated headphone amplifiers but some of the headphones were either connected to regular integrated amplifiers or the headphone outputs on some CD players, or simply available for us to plug our mobile devices in to.

It is also worth being aware of the efficiency that particular headphones show up, especially if you are targeting them for portable use with battery-operated equipment. Here, I had discovered this for myself with the Sony MDR-10RC headphones I previously reviewed and a pair of newer portable-focused headphones I am using as my regular set and tried both of them on the Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth adaptor associated with my Samsung smartphone. I ran the Bluetooth adaptor at the same volume setting on both headphones and the portable-focused headphones sounded louder but not as clear compared to the MDR-10RC set. The fact that one pair may sound louder at the same volume level compared to another, thus being more efficient, may be of benefit with that battery-operated device because you are not “running the device hard” for the same volume level, thus not drawing on the batteries more.

Speaker technology

An example of one of the many systems that were demonstrated with bookshelf speakers yet yield the bass

An example of one of the many systems that were demonstrated with bookshelf speakers yet yield the bass

A lot of the hi-fi systems were demonstrated with the conventional-architecture speakers, some of which were the traditional floor-standing types or most of which were the bookshelf speakers that were set up on speaker stands. These still yielded strong unassisted bass response with the amplifiers at “ideal listening volume”.

On the other hand, another firm were exhibiting a surround-sound setup which used flat-panel speakers in a traditional quadraphonic layout but these required the use of a subwoofer to convey the bass response.


What the last few iterations of the Australian Audio And AV Show have underscored was the fact that recorded-music reproduction has taken many methods and has improved on the methods. The signal path from the content source, being a vinyl record, optical disc or a file held on a computer or network-attached storage, to the speakers will under a continual path of innovation and even the medium itself will under a path of innovation.

I have provided a Spotify playlist of some of the songs that have heen played here.

Another step in the DLNA direction from the Danish king of design


Bang & Olufsen unveils Playmaker wireless audio bridge, makes sure AirPlay and DLNA speak Danish – Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

Bang & Olufsen – Product Page

My Comments

Previously I had touched on Bang & Olufsen launching the Beosound 5 Encore which is their first DLNA-enabled music system that put Sonos on notice as far as “cool” hard-disk-based music systems were concerned. Again B&O have launched another music system which, this time, can be driven by a computer or a mobile device, achieving this same goal of effectively putting Sonos on notice.

This device, known as the Playmaker, can connect to any B&O Beolab active speaker system and works to the AirPlay or DLNA Media Renderer standards, thus being able to be under the control of a computer running iTunes, TwonkyMedia or similar software. Even your iOS device running its stock iTunes implementation or your mobile device running a DLNA controller app like TwonkyMobile or PlugPlayer can be the control point. Of course, you could adjust the volume or move between tracks using a Beo4 or Beo6 remote control.

Like an increasing array of network media players made by companies who have their feet planted in good sound, the B&O Playmaker supports FLAC and other codecs considered as part of high-grade sound reproduction. This is in the same manner as what I was often seeing at the Australian Audio & AV Show at the Melbourne Marriott Hotel where all of the network-capable audio systems were working to DLNA setups and using FLAC and other high-grade audio codecs.

Here, this Danish design king has provided two paths for DLNA-based audio – a system with a local control surface and display in the form of the Beosound 5 Encore and a system that is managed entirely from remote control in the form of the Playmaker. These are another example of “audio companies of respect” embracing standards-based high-grade network audio reproduction.

As I have also said before in the article on the Beosound 5 Encore, this is one design masterpiece that would come in to its own playing that piece of European chillout music in that trendy inner-urban café, wine bar or beauty salon.

Product Review–Rotel RCX-1500 Network CD receiver


I am reviewing the Rotel RCX-1500 network CD receiver which is one of the first “big-set” hi-fi units that I have reviewed that can do proper Internet radio and benefit from the DLNA Home Media Network. Previously I have been reviewing Internet radios that are mainly “small-sets” which are table / clock radios or portables and are intended for use as secondary or auxiliary audio devices.

The product class

This unit is infact a CD receiver, a class of “single-piece multi-function” hi-fi music system which continues from where the music centres and casseivers (receivers with integrated cassette decks) of the 1970s and early 1980s left off. Here, some of these units were equipped with the functionality and quality of modest separate-unit hi-fi systems yet they offered this in a single box, which you could just hook up a pair of speakers to. The manufacture of high-sndard pieces of this class of equpment had diminished through the late 80s. This is although Bang & Olufsen were consistent in this field at a premium price and a few other manufacturers like Proton, Bose and Onkyo were releasing in to their model ranges  one or two receivers with integrated CD, tape or MiniDisc transports that weren’t just second-rate music systems.

Then there had been a slow but sure renaissance in this class of good-quality integrated-function hi-fi equipment as the trend for “downsized” living especially in “executive” city apartments became more intense. This is where most of the good hi-fi names ran with at least one CD receiver in their line-up that didn’t come with a set of substandard speakers and this Rotel RCX-1500 that I am reviewing is one such piece of equipment.

Rotel RCX-1500 CD receiver


Unit alone: AUD$1999 (recommended retail price)

Speakers (Cabasse Antigua MT30): AUD$999 / pair (recommended retail price)


Analogue Radio FM RDS
DAB+ Yes
Internet Radio Yes
Network Media Audio
CD Yes
Stored Memory USB memory key
iPod / iPhone Yes



Input Count as for a device
Audio Line input 1 x RCA-connector pair
SPDIF input 1 (PCM – Coaxial and optical)
Headphone output 3.5mm
Pre-amplifier output RCA-connector pair
Wi-Fi 802.11g WPA2 (supplied dongle)
Ethernet 10/100Mbps (supplied dongle)



Output Power 100 Watts (RMS –
8 ohms, )
2 channels
Speaker Connections Binding-posts


This unit was tested with a pair of Cabasse Antigua MT30 bookshelf speakers connected using premium audio cables. These speakers were also on loan from the distributor so I can review this unit properly. They are built using an orthodox two-way driver arrangement and use a bass-reflex enclosure and can work with amplifiers that have a minimum power output of 75 watts and maximum of 500 watts. As far I was concerned, these speakers worked very properly with all kinds of music and could yield a decent sound for their size.

The Rotel CD receiver

Functionality comments


Rotel RCX-1500 CD receiver - slot-load CD player
Slot-load CD player

It is also worth knowing that this CD receiver has a pair of pre-out connections so one can connect it to a more powerful and better-sounding power amplifier or a pair of active speakers like an active subwoofer or some of the active speakers like B&O’s Beolab range or any of the Bose Powered Acoustimass speakers.

It can connect to your home network via Wi-Fi or Ethernet using supplied network-adaptor dongles. The Ethernet option can also allow it to be used with a HomePlug AV network segment using an appropriate “homeplug” adaptor and I would recommend this as a “no-new-wires” option for connect this CD receiver to the home network.

This functionality allows this CD receiver to provide Internet radio or work with a DLNA-compliant media server that is on your home network. The only limitation with this function is that it doesn’t work as a MediaRenderer which means that you have to select your network media using the Rotel CD receiver’s display.

The tuner is “up to the minute” with broadcast radio in Europe and Australia by supporting FM RDS as well as DAB+ radio. There are two antenna connections for both FM and DAB but you can choose to use the FM aerial for DAB. It came with two aerials – the typical “T-wire” for FM and a small whip one for DAB. With this one, it was able to pick up Melbourne’s DAB multiplexes reliably as long as it was near a window.

But I would rather that this unit be connected to an outdoor aerial especially for FM reception so it can provide clear signal reception. You may also be able to use a digital-optimised Band III aerial for better DAB+ reception especially on fringe areas.

You can connect an iPod or iPhone to the front USB socket using the data cable supplied with your Apple device and the sound that is played off the iPod will be converted to an analogue form using the Rotel receiver’s internal digital-analogue converter. As well, this same socket is used for playing music held on USB memory keys.

The CD player is a slot-load type that performs as expected for a decent-standard player. It can play the regular CDs or file-based MP3 discs and gives “best-case playback” for any CDs recorded with the HDCD mastering technique. This does yield to high-quality sound from these discs.

As for connection of external equipment, this is feasible with a line-in connection in the form of RCA connectors or SPDIF digital in the form of coaxial or optical connectors. There isn’t a line-out connection that is independent of the volume control for use as a recording connection, which may limit this unit’s utility with cassette or MiniDisc decks.

It is also controllable by a supplied remote control which has a numeric keypad for direct access to 30 presets in each of the radio bands – FM, DAB and Internet. As well, this remote also allows for direct access to tracks on a regular CD and is a preferred control surface when you are searching content on a well-stocked media server or using the CD receiver’s setup menus.

Rotel RCX-1500 CD receiver remote control

The unit's remote control

This unit’s amplifier is engineered for sound quality. Here, the volume control is a motor-driven potentiometer managed through the control on the front or the remote control. There aren’t any tone-control options, which may please audio purists who believe that tone adjustment affects sound quality.

The display is the white bright fluorescent display but uses four lines of text. This also works with the menu-based operation for advanced functions.

Sound quality

The sound quality for the Rotel RCX-1500 CD receiver is what you would expect for equipment in its class. This is even so with the Cabasse Antigua speakers that I am testing this unit with.

It comes across as being tight and good across all frequencies. This means that it gives all the instruments in a sound recording a proper chance rather than sounding like the old pub jukebox. This has come across so well with well-recorded rock like Peter Gabriel’s “1 – Car” album which was considered to be in the same league as Pink Floyd. Here, you still had that “punchy sound” while hearing the vocals and other instruments.

This system was even performing well with classical music especially as I was playing through a recording of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto which was done with “period” instruments. Here, the combination of this CD receiver and the Cabasse speakers shone through the whole of this popular concerto and was clear with all of the instruments.

As for handling the audio codecs, this amplifier answers the requirement for handling properly-encode music properly especially if you use the “maximum” throughput settings for the codecs like 320kbps MP3 or 192kbps WMA.

Limitations and points of improvement

The network connectivity could be improved on by not requiring the user to deal with easy-to-lose dongles. This is more so with Ethernet as most Internet-enabled hi-fi components and TVs use integrated circuitry with an Ethernet socket on the back.

As well, the Rotel could benefit from WPS setup for Wi-Fi wireless networks especially as most current-issue routers implement this easy-to-use setup method.

An improved version of this unit could support a proper tape loop and a phono input for use with a turntable especially as a lot of the older people may keep records or tapes lying around and could benefit from a simplified system with these inputs.


This is one network-enabled CD receiver that I would recommend for people who have a pair of good-quality bookshelf or “piece-of-furniture” speakers that they wish to keep going but want to benefit from newer sources like music held on their home network or iPod; or Internet radio. I would also consider this unit as a the core of a simplified music system if they want to choose their own good speakers.

This unit, along with the Cabasse Antigua speakers or bookshelf speakers of a similar standard, would be an ideal simple music system for use in an apartment or small house by people who place high value on music. It is especially more suitable with older retired people who are moving towards smaller flats or retirement villages.