It happened a few months ago – I had been reading about how NAS drives may contribute to hifi sound. I have a single disc Qnap, and had been toying with the idea of building a simple conventional power supply to see if there were any sonic differences.
The mistake I made was to go into the Sound Organisation, York, and see and hear a sleek silver box – the Melco N1A Digital Music Store. Hamish and his crew are not given to nine-day wonders, and to hear them enthusing about his project, caused me to borrow one for the weekend!
It can be placed between one’s existing network and the Digital Streamer. Self-installing – producing music in seconds. And I was surprised to hear such a difference in presentation of the music. Notes have a better decay, music seems slower and more luscious – yes many of the usual hifi platitudes. I got SHMBO to do an ABAB sort of test, not knowing which was which. She is not a hifi phreak but has good ears. “That one is clearer, you can hear the instruments better.”
Dear Reader, I bought one.
Worth £1,600? Well, I have spent more than that on a phono preamplifier in the past to achieve a similar sort of improvement. There are two levels of improvement, as Hamish explained. Firstly when you plug the Melco into your system, you can of course still access your old Nas. Even playing music from this, which has to reach the DS through the Melco, brings about a noticeable improvement – this, I understand, is partially due to the isolating input circuitry, which helps shield what is going on in the Melco and your streamer from the outside world. The second level of improvement is noticed when you play music stored on the 2 x 2TB drives of the Melco – presumably brought about through better power supply and quiet environment (also no fan!). Anybody else tried one at home? So perhaps the maxim of “source first” has manifested itself in the digital age....
For many hifi pundits, the Melco N1A is a bit of a mystery, and for others a
source of strong contention.
To me there is much that we cannot explain in the world of science and audio is no exception. I have never received a satisfactory explanation why a power lead can affect the sound of some amplifiers. Similar uncertainties surround the use of different speaker cables, hifi cabinets, allow cable burn-in time: no doubt you will have your own list.
But the fact that the Melco N1A has left me in no doubt, having heard it on two top of the range systems, and lived with it in my own hifi now for several weeks. Perhaps I was unhelpfully vague in my opening comments. Let me be a bit more moderate. The Melco gives the music on my hard drive a purity of sound that it did not have. Perhaps the best compliment I can give it is to say that I am now finding it easier to live without vinyl and my LP12. The Melco takes away digital fatigue. Perhaps I am making it sound like a bed-time drink.
Another great feature is that if you purchase recorded music from
HiResAudio, shortly after you
have passed the Checkout your music will be on your Melco hard drive in a
folder called "download" and ready to play - complete with artwork.
The Melco is able to store you HiResAudio password and details and
automatically communicates with the site.
The streaming software which comes with the unit currently is Twonky: after several months use I have found this to be totally stable and dependable.
I should add that the Melco is an absolute dream to install; it literally is "plug-and-play".
The two hard drives, which are silent and cushion-mounted, are designed to run 24/7; run-down and boot-up times are very short and safely managed. The case is surprisingly heavy steel, and the hand-wiring is neat and could have been hand-loomed in Salisbury or Glasgow. In fact it is hand-made in Japan - a ticket is signed by the wire-person and inspector.
The efficient Switch Mode Power Supply is neatly made and designed to provide 60W although normal use calls on only about a third of this; with the advent of the Melco to my network, I now use less power now that my Qnap NAS and Netgear switch are not required. The Melco is isolated from the rest of your network by eight tiny TDK pulse transformers. You can see them on the pcb pictured below, top, middle, just below the ethernet conncection sockets.
If you are in the north of England do get in touch with my local hifi dealer, Hamish and his crew, at the Sound Organisation, 2 Gillygate, York, YO31 7EQ. 01904 627108.
If you are in the south of England, call Chris Fuller, Hidden Systems Limited, 1 High Street, Hartley Wintney, Hook, Hampshire RG27 8PE 01252 845400
A demo will convince you that these guys are in new territory....