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Melco N1A / 2 Digital Audio Library Review

Amplifiers, CD players, digital-to-analog converters, record players, phono preamps, speakers and even streamers – all these and many other types of audio equipment have long been familiar to lovers of high-quality sound, but if it comes to digital audio / video library, then this format of technology not yet familiar to everyone. This state of affairs seems very strange, because there is no longer any reason to deny that the future of sound reproduction, mainly, lies in audio files, which threw physical media in the form of CDs to the sidelines and dealt another, albeit not fatal, but tangible blow to vinyl … This means that systems for storing, transferring and playing digital audio and video files will more and more reliably penetrate the life of music lovers, and digital music libraries will take a special place in this process.

Although the popularity of uncompromising storage and transmission of audio data can hardly be called ubiquitous at the moment, some manufacturers have already made bets on this particular market segment and started developing. One of the most significant and recognizable players in this field is the Japanese brand Melco. It is on their example that we will try to understand the question of why all this is needed. For this purpose, I decided to get acquainted in detail with the Melco N1A / 2 library model, which I successfully fell into my hands. Let us explain that the N1A / 2 is one of the youngest models, apart from which there are even more interesting N1ZS / 2A devices and the top-end N1Z EX.

The need to include a digital music library in your home system needs to be realized, because the obvious need for this does not appear immediately and not for everyone. The fact is that most music lovers, who have at their disposal an impressive collection of audio files, still do not quite understand why they should “relocate” it from a cheap Chinese NAS server or hard drive (portable external or internal to a computer) to a relatively expensive one, albeit a very advanced device from Melco in every sense.

The doubts of the skeptics are understandable. In fact, a cheap NAS works for itself and works, drives zeroes and ones through penny cables in the home network and there are no problems, why increase the cost of this system, does it make sense? It will take some time to realize and accept these very questions. In the end, at one time the same bewilderment was caused by expensive cables or very expensive High-End CD-transports (instead of cheap players), whose primary task also consisted only of removing from the disk, buffering and transferring the very ones and ones further. Nonetheless, cables and transports have taken their place in audiophile systems, so why shouldn’t Melco’s audio libraries accomplish the same feat? If we talk about the readiness of the audio public for something new, previously absent in the home system, then it is enough to remember

For those who, nevertheless, consider the Melco N1A / 2 a usual more expensive NAS server, we will gladly answer that this is not so. Of course, no one will forbid the user to turn Melco N1A / 2 into a regular NAS, and just pull music from it, but personally it seems to me that for the price paid you will want to use all of its functionality.

Melco N1A / 2 Review

Melco N1A / 2

Unlike a regular NAS, the Melco N1A / 2 library does not have an urgent need to connect a computer to it. Controlling the device (as well as the settings) is possible through the application or using the buttons on the front panel, although, let’s not get ahead of ourselves and first figure out how music initially gets to Melco N1A / 2 hard drives, of which there are two inside the device , each contains 3TB of information (total 6TB).

How to Upload Music to Melco N1 A / 2

There are four ways to download music to Melco N1A / 2 hard drives. Let’s start with the most common and familiar – downloading files from external USB drives. In most cases, this is how the music “wanders” from the collection of one music lover to the playlist of another. It’s simple, I copied the files to a flash drive, then plugged it into Melco and started the download. But here it is worth considering one nuance. Although the device has four ports at once, only the one designated as USB 3.0 is used to download files.

After connecting the flash drive, Melco N1A / 2 offers two options: load files into internal memory or play files from the drive without copying them to the hard drive. This is very convenient, especially when the guests brought their own music, which they absolutely do not want to have in the collection. If, after all, downloading files is the main goal, then two options are also available here: the first one offers to save files about the common ass, where the rest of the previously copied music is already stored, and the second creates a separate folder for this download, as a name in this case the date of the music download is rising. If you choose to download to a shared folder, the machine automatically checks the downloaded files with those on the internal drive, filtering out duplicate files and downloading only new ones. This is a very useful feature, after all, after loading, finding doubles among several thousand tracks is not an easy task. When uploading files to a separate folder, Melco copies everything without checking.

The second way to add to your digital music library is by ripping (copying) optical discs. It is logical to assume that Melco N1A / 2, which does not have any slots for drives, will need a reliable companion for reading discs. The most suitable, to say the least, ideal partner is the branded transport Melco D100. In addition to proprietary transport, some third-party devices are supported, a list of which should be found on the Melco website.

When the D100 transport is connected to Melco N1A / 2 via USB (another option is not provided), it is automatically recognized, and as soon as the disc is in the tray, the user is offered two options – copy data or play the disc. Thus, by purchasing Melco N1A / 2 in a set with Melco D100 transport, you can exclude a traditional CD-player from the shopping list. The key advantage of such a solution in relation to the usual CD-player or transport is the use of only the USB interface for data transfer, which most manufacturers consider to be more advanced than coaxial S / PDIF or optical Toslink. The copied discs are stored in the automatically created “Import_CD” folder for easy search and playback. Saved data can be moved from folder to folder,

By default, all tracks are recorded on the Melco N1A / 2 hard disk in uncompressed FLAC format, but if desired, in manual mode, through the menu, you can change the format to WAV or FLAC with compression. If Melco N1A / 2 is connected to the network, then, as far as possible, it will pull up the covers, the names of albums and tracks to the copied discs, but this possibility is not guaranteed by the manufacturer (what it finds, it will pull up). If several suitable options are found, the user will be prompted to select one of them. If nothing is found, the copied disc will be named in the form of download date.

The third option for downloading music to Melco N1A / 2 is direct import from a computer, for which the device must be connected to a home network. According to the instructions, it is proposed to enter Melco N1A / 2 through the Web interface. In this case, it will open as a Twonky Serwer. My personal experience has shown that this is not so easy to do, since the device clearly does not want to be detected by Windows Explorer and is hiding from it in every possible way. Fortunately, you rarely need to connect this way. It is much easier to look into the “Network” folder on your computer and find that Melco N1A / 2 has long settled there in the form of a public folder, inside which everything that has been accumulated by you back-breaking labor is stored. All that remains is to enter the folder and drag everything that was planned from the computer hard drive. This option is very convenient for editing files and folders. It is here that you can most easily transfer files from folder to folder, delete unnecessary tracks and perform other actions with your collection.

The last, but at the same time, the most interesting way is to download directly from streaming services (in particular from HighResAudio). It is this option that the developers call the best, since it allows you to download purchased music directly from the seller’s website without the involvement of a computer or other devices, on which some of the data may be damaged or lost. Moreover, while downloading files, Melco will automatically check them for possible damage. If the music is scheduled for purchase and paid for, the device will regularly check the possibility of downloading and uploading it to its discs. You can purchase the album you need on the road using your phone and be sure that your Melco N1A / 2 digital audio library will download the purchase on its own without additional reminders.

How the music library is stored and maintained on Melco N1 A / 2

We figured out how to place all of our music collection on Melco disks, but how to stop worrying that some kind of failure may cause the loss of all records or an impressive part of them? Agree, it would be a shame to irrevocably lose the musical heritage accumulated over many years. Realizing this, the developers of Melco N1A / 2 took care of the safety of the collection. For your peace of mind, Melco N1A / 2 comes with the ability to back up all of its content to an external drive. For this, a dedicated USB connector is located on the rear panel of the device, signed as “Backup”. The complete copying process of all content can be started from the Melco front panel menu. In addition to the tracks themselves, all the settings of the device can be copied for the possibility of its quick and easy recovery.

If everything is already clear with data recording, then what can you say about storage from inside Melco? It would seem that the data is written to the disk and there are no questions, but even here the developers provided the user with the opportunity to choose one of three options for organizing storage (configuration of RAID arrays). The modes are named Spanned, RAID 0, and RAID 1. The first two options are more risky in terms of data storage security. They combine both hard drives into a single REID array, giving the user access to all 6 TB of storage. The difference between these modes is only in system performance, RAID 0 is more risky and faster than Spanned. However, in both modes, if one of the disks fails, all data in the array is lost. But don’t worry, the Melco itself is a very reliable machine.

If you are a very careful person and prefer to play it safe once again, and your music library does not exceed 3 TB, then the RAID 1 mode is designed just for you. In this mode, the disks are not combined into one common array, but exist completely separately from each other. One of the disks becomes the primary, and the second becomes the backup, on which everything is recorded as on the first disk. In other words, when a track is recorded on Melco N1A / 2, it is simultaneously recorded on both discs. If one of the disks fails, then you are left with the second one, which stores exactly the same music library.

How to play music from Melco N1 A / 2?

If you look at the rear panel of Melco N1A / 2, you will find only USB and Ethernet connectors. There is nothing familiar from the category of coaxial or optical outputs. Therefore, music playback is possible using network players or USB DACs. In the first case, Melco N1A / 2 acts as an audiophile-class NAS server, in the second, among other things, it takes over the functionality of a player without the need to use a separate additional streamer.

The presence of two Ethernet connectors at once may puzzle someone who first got their hands on Melco N1A / 2, especially since they have different names – “LAN” and “PLAYER”. In fact, everything here is as simple and logical as possible, if you remember that Melco N1A / 2 does not need a computer or an external router. A distinctive feature of the device is the ability to connect to a network player (streamer) directly with ordinary (but better quality) twisted pair cable. As you might guess, a connector marked “PLAYER” serves for this purpose, as for the “LAN” connector, it is intended for connecting the library to a home network and the Internet (Wi-Fi is not provided).

Melco can work without an external router, router, switch, etc. if it is connected to the network transport with a twisted pair CAT 6 and higher via the Player port (in the server menu, select the appropriate operating mode). In this case, the server will create its own music network and assign its own IP address to the transport. The gain is obvious: additional conversion of files when they pass through an external switch is eliminated, as well as mixing up unnecessary information from network traffic, which is inevitable. And digital jitter is significantly lower.

Melco N1A / 2 Review

Melco N1A / 2

If you have a good USB DAC in your path, then, by and large, you can, in principle, do without purchasing a streamer as such. As mentioned just above, the Melco N1A / 2 has the ability to act as a turntable. It is quite logical that a natural question arises in the mind of a potential buyer: can Melco replace a full-fledged streamer? More likely no than yes, but it all depends on what tasks he has to perform. The fact is that the internal player is designed to play only the library of files loaded on the internal disks. As for playback from external streaming services (such as TIDAL, Spotify, Qobuz and the like) and Internet radio, here, unfortunately, Melco N1A / 2 is powerless, such opportunities are not provided. As a result, if you prefer to download, save and listen to the accumulated music, the Melco N1A / 2 certainly fits. If the passion of hoarding is not yours, and you only prefer to “rent” music from streaming services, then you will have to buy a separate streamer.

How do I control music playback on Melco N1 A / 2?

In the case of using Melco N1A / 2 as a network storage device for playback through an external streamer (network media player), in the settings it is enough to open access of external devices to files, and all further manipulations with playback are carried out through an external streamer. If you dispense with intermediate devices and connect Melco N1A / 2 directly to a digital-to-analog converter via a dedicated USB port, then everything happens more excitingly.

To be honest, a week of acquaintance with Melco allowed us to conclude that the device is not as easy to understand as we are used to. By trial and error, avoiding the operating instructions, it is not possible to understand everything. The easiest and most intuitive way is to control playback from the front panel of the device, where there are only four buttons. The method is simple, but not always convenient. Firstly, not everyone will like to approach the rack with the equipment for switching tracks, and secondly, if the collection has a couple of thousand records, then looking for the desired track on a small, albeit very clear display, endlessly pressing the button, will have enough patience reserved listeners.

As a rule, in such cases, the real salvation is a proprietary application, which are available in the arsenal of almost all manufacturers. Melco also mentions such an application, it is called “MELCO Music HD”, but one should not immediately rejoice, the Japanese are not trying to simplify the user’s life. According to the information on the manufacturer’s website, the application is only supported by Apple tablets. There is simply no proprietary application for owners of Android devices.

In theory, the proprietary application provides convenient management of the entire library of files, and also allows the user to access the Tidal service for listening to music by subscription. One way or another, but I did not manage to verify this from personal experience, since I could not find the application in the AppStore, at the time of my attempts it was not there. Is this a problem? Of course not, because in addition to the proprietary application Melco N1A / 2 can be controlled by several other public applications, including those for Android devices. In particular, among others, Melco recommends using the Bubble UPnP app.

Bubble UPnP is a universal open application that can connect to almost all DLNA / UPnP devices, but it does not always do it easily and easily. In particular, the Melco N1A / 2 is not immediately recognized by the application. To connect, you have to delve into the settings of the device, but as soon as the rebus is solved, the entire library of files appears in full view. Searching and controlling playback becomes simple and convenient. Hence, I would like to give good advice and parting words to the future owner of Melco N1A / 2 – when buying such a talented and expensive device, ask the seller to customize its work from start to finish (including the application), you should not refuse his help, on the contrary, insist on it. This will save you from the agony of studying the user manual, save a significant amount of time,

What formats does Melco N1 A / 2 support?

So, at the moment we have already managed to figure out that from the point of view of storing, transferring and playing a collection of music files, Melco N1A / 2 is a clear contender for the acquisition, but what kind of files can our experimental be able to store and play? There are quite a few formats nowadays, and although the overwhelming majority of listeners use a very limited number of them, when buying audio equipment, they still look for something multi-format, and Melco N1A / 2 will come in handy in this case.

The manufacturer provides the following data regarding format support:

  • Supported files (LAN port): DSF, DFF, FLAC, WAV, ALAC, AIFF, AAC, MP3, WMA, OGG, LPCM
  • Supported files (USB output): DSF, DFF, FLAC, WAV, ALAC, AIFF, AAC
  • Sampling rates (LAN port): 44.1K, 48K, 88.2K, 96K, 176K, 192K, 384K, 2.8M, 5.6M, 11.3M
  • Sampling rates (USB output): 44.1K, 48K, 88.2K, 96K, 176K, 192K, 384K, 2.8M, 5.6M, 11.3M
  • Data width: 16-32 bit (for PCM), 1 bit (for DSD)

It should be noted that Melco has developed a format for transmitting a native DSD stream devoid of PCM markers. This format has become an industry standard and on the Melko website (on ours too) you can find a list of manufacturers that already produce USB DACs that can digest this format.

The most interesting thing happens next, because a user who has uploaded music to discs does not have to think about whether his external USB DAC supports this or that PCM format, or whether it can, in principle, accept a DSD stream, Melco will take care of this itself. The manufacturer’s website has the widest list of recommended digital-to-analog converters of various brands, which, from a technical point of view, will best combine with the Melco N1A / 2. When a recommended DAC is connected, Melco recognizes its type and draws conclusions about the limitations of a particular device. After that, all data sent to the DAC is pre-converted into the most suitable form, which the DAC can perceive and convert to analog.

In particular, if the external converter has limitations on the PCM sampling rate, for example, 96 kHz, then all files with a higher frequency (for example 192 kHz) will be converted to 96 kHz in advance, and only then sent to the DAC. A similar situation occurs with DSD files. If the DAC does not support DSD formats, they will be converted to 32-bit PCM. If downsampling of PCM formats occurs without user intervention, then the DSD format will require user intervention in the initial settings (you must select one of three options for Melco to work with DSD files).

The user is offered three options for handling DSD files. The “Standard” mode is set by default. It sends the native DSD stream to the DAC if it is able to “digest it”, or converts it to DoP if the native stream is not accepted. Melco decides what to do with the file itself. DSD over PCM Priority mode forcibly converts native DSD to DoP, even if the native stream can be accepted by the DAC. “PCM only” mode means full conversion of DSD to 32-bit PCM format.

What does Melco N1 A / 2 sound like ?

Here it is the kingdom of occultism and esotericism – reasoning, how digital transports and servers sound! This is the very area where a shadow of doubt falls on the minds of even the most enthusiastic audiophiles, and skeptics completely disown any hint of such discussions and conversations. Nevertheless, even in this case, you can always find something to talk about, even though the conversation will not be the longest.

Of course, in conjunction with a digital source (in our case, the server is also a player) and a DAC, it is the digital-to-analog converter that will have a huge advantage in influencing the final sound. This is quite logical, because an analog signal is infinitely diverse and it is much easier to make a mistake in it, while a digital signal has only two options “0” or “1”. We can hardly speak of a slightly better or slightly worse reproduction of the sequence of zeros and ones. Here we are talking only about possible losses during data transfer, as well as about various noises that complicate data transfer and processing by the DAC. Although the probability of losing a part of the data is very small, and all kinds of noise and interference are also not as significant as in the case of an analog signal, theoretically this effect still exists, whether we hear it or not.

Instead of arguing about whether you can hear the difference in sound or not, the developers of Melco N1A / 2 decided to make the design of the device as thoughtful as possible and devoid of all or most of the known flaws so that those who hear the difference hear it, and those who does not believe in it or simply does not hear, we got the confidence that in any case they have the most perfect device in terms of recording, storage and transmission.

So what has been done to ensure that the Melco N1A / 2 can be considered the most advanced and uncompromising member of the home system. First, the complete absence of all digital outputs, which have restrictions on the skipping of audio formats and complaints about significant jitter, is ensured. As a result, only the most versatile USB and Ethernet connectors remained.

According to the manufacturer’s information, the Ethernet ports “LAN” and “PLAYER” are completely isolated from each other. This ensures that only clear and accurate data is received by the player, all packets are synchronized with low jitter, and all unwanted traffic is blocked. In addition, a high-precision audio-class clock generator, special miniature high-performance mains switching transformers, a voltage control system on FPGA matrices, noiseless medical-grade power supplies and an audiophile-grade film capacitor battery, a built-in surge protector that eliminates the incoming power from mains noise, are fighting for the playback quality and hard drives are powered by a separate power source.

Conclusion

Is it possible to save money and buy a simple nameless NAS server instead of Melco N1A / 2? Probably you can. Will this decision negatively affect the sound of your music collection? Chances are not. But if you do not like compromises, are not ready to save on yourself and the quality of the objects around you, prefer a professional solution to the tasks, then Melco N1A / 2 should certainly be on the shelf of your rack with equipment. The pedantry and precision with which the developers approached the creation of the Melco N1A / 2, in some moments it seems even a little excessive, but this is what allows you to feel unconditional confidence that you have the best of what is available.