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MELCO
#31
If this a sustainable view (difficult to be certain without a re-listen) then this is a remarkable outcome against a unit widely acknowledged to be the best, or up with the best. And particularly powerful as a view from a committed Totaldac owner.

In a sense it gives a warning to anyone thinking of upgrading the front end ... regular technical advancements ... regular spends for those who follow.
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#32
What do you make of the build quality?  I was a little disappointed by what I saw at the Bristol show, I think at the time I described them as looking slightly home made.  However, I believe they were pre production models, so maybe they are somewhat improved now?  Irrespective of this, if they sound as good as you describe, it's not that important!

A superb summary by the way, and thanks for making the effort with the tests.
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#33
I had a brief meeting with Alan Ainslee whilst he had is Naim hat on. A few years back now. Straight talking guy and the man almost solely responsible for bringing serving and streaming to Naim from what I recollect. It would be great if he joined in on discussions here!
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#34
(18-Mar-2015, 21:33)GuillaumeB Wrote: Update on the Melco session today with Fraser (Melco's distributor) and Alan Ainslie, General Manager for Buffalo's Audio NAS business. And Rufus of course! 

Predictably we didn't have enough time to try out all the combinations I wanted however we did manage to listen to both the Melco N1A and N1Z acting as transports feeding the Devialet via USB. It is not possible to connect either model to the Devialet via ethernet since the Devialet does not support UPnP.

Using the Melco as a transport means using a UPnP control point to select playlists and play tracks. They are currently working on their own dedicated app (Power UPnP) which will be released in the coming weeks.

Although I didn't set up the units myself it seemed very straight forward. It was literally a case of plugging in a USB stick and the Melco would ask you if you wanted to upload the files. Once these were uploaded it was possible to see your albums in the UPnP control point. 

We played tracks from a selection of albums including Steven Wilson's new "Hand Cannot Erase", London Grammar's "If You Wait", Gregory Porter's "Liquid Spirit", Jimmy Cobb's "Jazz in the Key of Blue", Supertramp's newly remastered "Crime of the Century" and Ibeyi's "Ibeyi". All were 24 bit FLAC recordings except "Ibeyi" which was a 16/44.1 download.

We started with the N1Z. Wow. Instantly I was awestruck by what I was hearing. The scale, the size of the image, the depth of focus, the tonal texture of vocals (OMG the vocals were ghost-like!), simply marvellous... not a hint of harshness with brass or guitars even at very loud volumes. The more complex the passage the more effortless the sound appeared. Rufus kept mumbling the words analogue, analogue. All the time I kept asking myself why it sounded so different from my totaldac d1. I honestly didn't think I would be able to improve on the totaldac but improve it did... it was stupendous for want of a better word!

We struggled to leave the N1Z but in the end it was a good excuse to replenish cups of tea and get stuck into the tray of brownies and flapjacks which my wife had brought into the room earlier. They were devoured as you can imagine; these listening tests can be exhausting!

Then it was time to listen to the N1A. Wonderful sound again. But quite different from the N1Z. Also very natural sounding with no hint of harshness at all volumes. Some of the scale and awesomeness was gone but it was still bloody good. In fact I'd say it was on a par with my totaldac d1. Possibly better in certain ways although I think Rufus still preferred my totaldac d1 to the N1A. But the totaldac is nearly £4k and this is £1.6k! 

In between all this listening we had many lengthy discussions about the Melco and its design philosophy. Alan Ainslie was able to give us a fascinating brief history of audio streaming and multi-room audio. In previous jobs Alan has worked at Naim and Chord Electronics (and quite a few others) where he has helped to shape the digital streaming business, sitting on standards committees etc. I've actually invited Alan to join to the forum as I'm sure many of us will have technical questions about the Melco and streaming in general. Alan is a wealth of knowledge and is more than happy to participate in our discussions.  Smile

On this note I think I'm going to go away and take stock; it was certainly a lot to take in in one day! Hopefully Rufus will be able to fill in a bit more detail, he's always much better than I am am at analysing the sound and explaining some of the changes that are happening. 

Oh - when both Fraser and Alan left we went back to listening with the totaldac d1. It sounded great! But we couldn't stop talking about what we had witnessed with the N1Z. The scale and performance were quite unlike anything I had experienced before! It had turned the Devialet from something great into something truly spectacular. Highly recommended Smile

Guillaume

Guillaume, thanks for sharing. Excellent summary!

This coming from you (a TotalDac believer) speaks loud and clear of N1Z sound quality. This is pretty much aligned with my views when I had the head to head vs Aurender X100L and Auralic Aeris.

Now this puts me in a position to wonder how Aurender will stack up in your system considering that in my test it came slightly below N1Z and in your test it seems that the N1Z was ahead of TotalDac by quite a measure. Accordingly, I urge you please to consider testing Aurender X100 in your system.

And it also makes me wonder even more how will the Aurender W20 sound?!!

Finally what USB cable were you using to connect the N1Z to Devialet? What UPnP control point did use?

Regards
Amgad


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Aurender X100L / Transrotor Crescendo TT / Denon DCD1520 / Macbook Pro >> D400 >> Martin Logan Montis
amabrok's system - Latest update (May 2015, Page 11, Post #109)

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#35
(18-Mar-2015, 22:53)AllenB Wrote: I had a brief meeting with Alan Ainslee whilst he had is Naim hat on. A few years back now. Straight talking guy and the man almost solely responsible for bringing serving and streaming to Naim from what I recollect. It would be great if he joined in on discussions here!

Well, I guess Naim must be wishing that he'd stayed around for longer - their streaming strategy now seems well behind most of their competition particularly with respect to supporting on-line music services.
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#36
@Guillaume.  Just wondered whether, to continue the trend started by Amabrok, you had thought about what scores for SQ you would award the N1Z and N1A ?
MacBook Pro Retina OS X 10.12.6 / Linn LP12 / Devialet 200 Wilson Benesch Discovery. 
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Cambridge, UK (Updated 8th January, 2018)
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#37
Ok - my impressions. Fascinating day and many thanks to Guillaume for providing the excellent facilities and the ever-affable and energetic Fraser from Kog and Alan for providing all the technical information on the Melco units and the back-story of how it came around and the design philosophy around it. Absolutely riveting stuff.

First off the background of the Melco units. Streaming as we know it today has progressed differently in different regions. For instance in Europe we tend to utilise our (existing in many cases) home networks and the actual hi-fi devices work in tandem with computing devices - switches, NASes which we often already have. The UPnP protocol is fairly ideal for such scenarios as it's a great way of connecting disparate pieces of equipment together.  The problem with this approach is it also assumes a fairly high level of tech savviness to iron out the kinks and get things working optimally, something we seem to have been prepared to accept but perhaps is getting rather tiresome and rather repellent to prospective streaming customers.

The US took a different route and traditionally high-end hifi used Crestron or AMX systems to provide high-end multi-room systems, with professional installers to lay the miles of dedicated cable necessary. They seem to have moved from such dedicated systems straight to the simplicity and usability (and easy installation) of Sonos. Buy it from Walmart, plug it in, it works.

The Japanese market however is somewhat different again. contrary to expectations, the typical prospective customer there is not necessarily so tech-savvy or prepared to put a lot of effort into creating the home infrastructure necessary for a good reliable-ish streaming system.  As a result streaming has not taken off in quite the way it has in Europe, USA and elsewhere.

Step forward Melco, which is a brand of Buffalo, Japan's largest computing equipment supplier by quite some margin I believe. The boss of Buffalo is a long-time hi-fi enthusiast (indeed some may remember Melco's hi-fi products from the 70s including turntables). Frustrated at the lack of streaming hi-fi equipment that would be attractive to the Japanese market he tasked a team to design a 'plug and play' streaming 'appliance'. And the Melco N1A and N1Z are the fruits of that labour.


The approach Melco have taken is to provide a device which combines storage (SSD in the N1Z, traditional spinny hard disks in the N1A), network, and the software necessary to import and maintain the music library. Recent changes have added UPnP streaming ability direct to a hi-fi renderer device by either USB or UPnP over ethernet (not Devialet AIR, so we're limited to USB only currently). Their ethos was to make this as simple as possible both from a usability and reliability point of view.   For instance the device does not even provide a web page to configure.  It doesn't need it - everything is as 'hands-off' as possible and controllability where needed is simply from the few front buttons (or remote? - which I have to admit I don't recall seeing! There may well not be one as it's probably not necessary). The front display tells you what's going on in a very concise and easily-understable way and also provides playback info, track playing etc.

Taking this single-device approach led Melco to be able to innovate some really interesting solutions which is what makes the device stand out.
first off from a networking point of view the device acts as a network bridge. It has two ethernet sockets, one for the hi-fi device/network, one for the local/internet-facing side (the 'dirty' side!).  The Melco filters out the unwanted local area network traffic by means of packet filtering/firewall so only the actual necessary audio network traffic (if any) reaches the hi-fi renderer/player. The Melco also runs a DHCP server internally providing IP addresses to devices on it's hi-fi network side. This will be automatically overridden by a home network DHCP server if detected to avoid a 'split brain' scenario of IP address provision.
Taking things further, the network traffic from the Melco to the hi-fi device is also optimised. TCP traffic is ordered as closely as possible to lessen the amount of work needed by the player.
The networking bridging design makes it possible to have a really simple audio network by using a simple wi-fi access point dongle. Plug that into the Melco 'dirty' NIC, plug the Melco into the Devialet. Connect your phone/tablet to the wi-fi access point and play music.

Moving onto storage, Melco have made some interesting innovations here too. Recognising that audio-only disk usage (a high number of reads compared to writes, frequent access of favourite albums) is pretty unlike the average usage necessary from a domestic NAS (as high speed as possible, potentially lots of writes) this has given them the opportunity to apply this in particular to the SSD-based N1Z.  Interestingly usage of SSD doesn't necessarily mean greater benefits to audiophiles. For instance the software required to provide durability to SSD is rather incompatible with audiophile needs. Simply swapping SSD for hard disks can in many instances make things sound worse. Due to the vastly reduced number of writes with audio usage, this has enabled Melco to remove some of the disk controller software necessary to provide the kind of durability needed by a typical NAS which gives audio benefits. The SSDs are optimised for audio usage in other ways too.  I'm unaware of the optimisations provided for the hard disk-based N1A but am taking a guess that the power usage and caching may well differ from a typical computer hard disk. Buffalo manufacture these disks specifically for Melco. They are not off-the-shelf disks used by other manufacturers.
Thought has also gone into data integrity - for instance what happens with a power cut? Basically a UPS is not needed - both N1A & N1Z protect against power outages by being able to shutdown and flush the disks in an orderly fashion.

To get music onto the device, stick it on a USB stick/hard disk, or the Melco also provides a network share that you can copy music onto from a computer. The music is ingested onto the device and organised. Various backup methods are provided, and initiated simply from a front panel button press.


Software. Melco use UPnP. They don't provide a control point (yet) and you will have to use one of the many available. The Melcos are Openhome compatible so you can use Linn Kazoo/Kinsky, the Lumin controller point (which is rather flashy), the usual suspects of Plugplayer, BubbleUPNP/DS etc.
The Melco devices provide a UPnP server which is also visible on the 'home network' side of things if needed. A choice of UPnP server is provided - Minimserver has recently been ported for instance. which is rather lovely in my opinion.
The software side is possibly the weakest point of the Melco devices at present, but by making things as simple as possible to avoid the pratfalls of introducing a myriad of potential issues, and also having a pretty rapid level of feature introduction (streaming for instance) I can see this becoming less of a disadvantage pretty rapidly.  Possibly the major omission at the moment is lack of ability to stream direct from internet streaming services, although the device does provide clever integration with some of the high-res download providers.   The usual UPnP problem of fast forward/reverse is also avoided by simply not providing the facility! (I quite like that approach - streaming ff/rewind is sadly an unpleasant experience whatever protocol is used).

I've probably missed a bunch of stuff in my rambling but will continue onto what it acually sounds like...
I am Devialetless!  Perhaps temporary?
Nord One SE NC500, Mytek Brooklyn, Melco N1A, Rega RP6/Exact, Raidho C-1.1, Shunyata Denali and cables, grounding boxes.
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#38
Very interesting review, thank you both very much for sharing your impressions. Although you are clearly blown away by the N1Z, it seems to me that the N1A is a very good piece of equipment also. Especially at its price point, it may give the Auralic Aries a run for its money. Hence, suggestions for future comparisons could be:

Melco N1A vs Auralic Aries (and maybe also Aurender N100, but that one is more expensive)
Melco N1Z vs Aurender X100 or W20 (of course I realize that amabrok compared the N1Z and X100 (I was there with him), but impressions from more people would be interesting)

I really think only that Melco shall provide a high quality dedicated app, with the main streaming providers (the likes of Tidal and Qobuz) integrated. Streaming really should be as simple as the (oldfashioned) CD player: buy - connect - play.
NAS: LaCie Cloudbox
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Speakers: Magico S1
Digital cables: Audioquest Cinnamon
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#39
Continued ...
We tried the N1Z first.  Incidentally Guillaume's system is basically much better than mine and is so transparent that it's excellent for making comparisons!   I'm pretty familiar with the Totaldac d1-server which has provided much listening pleasure so far and I considered that to be the very best device I'd yet heard plugged into a Devialet so this was going to be a tough test. To be honest my expectations weren't stratospherically high for the Melcos. One early magazine review had been a bit non-committal and not terribly enthusiastic.
Well my preconceptions were completely destroyed. The N1Z sounds phenonemal with Devialet. The most obvious thing is the actual presentation. The actual soundstage seems to wrap round you, from floor to ceiling, wall to wall. The detail is stunning, micro-details seem to be even more precise than the Totaldac. Guillaume mentioned above that I mumbled the word 'analogue' - possibly the most hackneyed phrase in relation to digital music but it did seem to have a flow that is rather absent from my streaming experiences so far. Possibly the closer analogy is relating it to a brilliant CD player. It's like analogue, but with the benefits of digital!
Some point into the listening Fraser used Entreq grounding on the USB cable connecting Melco to Devialet, and rather depressingly this improved the soundstage/imaging depth even more. I wish he wouldn't do that!

OK, the problem for me is that the N1Z is outside my price range. The problem being it's too damn good! This has left me with a bit of a quandary and with this I'm praying 'please let the N1A be nearly as good'.
So N1A... Possibly the more interesting of the two devices because the price is dangerously close (for me, the world's stingiest person) to what I'd call a 'bargain'.  Think of the price of the Auralic Aries with the posh power supply, and then realised the Melco provides all your disk storage needs too.
Well it's still bloody good. The soundstage doesn't have the height of the N1Z. It also has a slightly grainier sounded to me, but it's actually quite a pleasing graininess. This is purely in comparison to the N1Z I must emphasise. It is definitely not what one would call 'grainy' in comparison with other players/transports.  It still has that rather analogue-y feel I was rather failing to allude to with the N1Z.  Basically like the N1Z it's a really musical device but also matches the Devialet in terms of transparency and detail.

So I've been a bit concise regarding sound as it's very much down to context of the system it's plugged into plus your ears. I'm actually pretty blown away by both devices. The N1Z is fabulous and I'm afraid to say I think it's better than the Totaldac d1-server. The presentation of the N1A is quite similar to the Totaldac but perhaps lacks the air and clarity of it, by a teeny margin I might add.
Incidentally we also didn't use Entreq grounding on either the N1A or N1Z. This could well improve things again, but the grounding design of the Melcos sounds pretty clever so could well negate some of the benefits.



I forgot to mention the visual appeal of the devices. The N1Z is actually narrower than the N1A. The case design on the N1Z is quite rugged-looking with sunken hex bolts locking down the top cover. The N1A is rather a lot like a good old fashioned 70s/80s hi-fi device from the likes of Sony! It has that wrap-over top/side sleeve which made me feel slightly nostalgic. I don't personally think either are particularly pretty but they're understated & look solid and well built (which they are). The front display is actually pretty useful in terms of playback display. They're certainly not 'cheap' looking to me and  and I have to admit I prefer the rather conservative understated look to some of the more radical hi-fi designs foisted up us. The relevant sockets on the back (and there's as USB socket on the front of the N1A at least I think) are of very high quality.
I am Devialetless!  Perhaps temporary?
Nord One SE NC500, Mytek Brooklyn, Melco N1A, Rega RP6/Exact, Raidho C-1.1, Shunyata Denali and cables, grounding boxes.
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#40
(19-Mar-2015, 11:48)EricDH Wrote: Very interesting review, thank you both very much for sharing your impressions. Although you are clearly blown away by the N1Z, it seems to me that the N1A is a very good piece of equipment also. Especially at its price point, it may give the Auralic Aries a run for its money. Hence, suggestions for future comparisons could be:

Melco N1A vs Auralic Aries (and maybe also Aurender N100, but that one is more expensive)
Melco N1Z vs Aurender X100 or W20 (of course I realize that amabrok compared the N1Z and X100 (I was there with him), but impressions from more people would be interesting)

I really think only that Melco shall provide a high quality dedicated app, with the main streaming providers (the likes of Tidal and Qobuz) integrated. Streaming really should be as simple as the (oldfashioned) CD player: buy - connect - play.


Melco vs Aurender is probably the significant one. I realise I might be in a bit of a minority here because they seem to sell bucket-loads of them, but I don't actually like the Aries that much! It's fairly big and impressive in terms of soundstage but I find it a little compressed, but more importantly it's not very involving musically for me. Again this was on Guillaume's system and it may sound quite different on mine or someone else's.    From listening on that one system and not doing a direct comparison and with 6 months between listenings, my impression is still that the N1A is in a different league to the Aries.

Quite agree about internet streaming... I think there will be a step change in the way most of us listen to music in the next few years towards streaming direct from high-res providers. I personally still like my local storage as I tend to like collecting different masters of recordings, which the internet streaming model doesn't really provide. Perhaps a hybrid local storage/internet streaming will be the likely scenario for most.
I am Devialetless!  Perhaps temporary?
Nord One SE NC500, Mytek Brooklyn, Melco N1A, Rega RP6/Exact, Raidho C-1.1, Shunyata Denali and cables, grounding boxes.
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