|Cary MS-1 Digital Music Server/Player Review|
|Home Theater Media Servers Music Servers|
|Written by Todd Whitesel|
|Friday, 22 October 2010|
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A few years ago I asked my woodworking brother to build a cabinet to house my collection of compact discs. The result was a striking, wall-sized unit replete with gorgeous wood grain and a welcome addition to an otherwise drab basement. Here I could store more than one thousand discs, catalog them alphabetically by artist for easy retrieval and show off my collection for anyone who cared to investigate. But as the months went on and more CDs came into possession, the once-hulking shelf drew full to capacity and stacks of discs began to “decorate” various rooms in my house. I again struggled to keep my music organized and accessible. There had to be a better way.
The MS-1 sports a silver aluminum faceplate backed with a brushed black chassis. It weighs 8 pounds and is slightly deeper than wide, measuring 3.5 inches high, 11 inches wide and 12.5 inches deep. Four hard rubber feet anchor the server. The minimalist front features a single blue LED light, indicating power on, a single 24x slot-loading drive that accepts discs and a button to eject discs just beneath the CD slot. The rear panel has two USB 2.0 outputs, one Ethernet 10/100/1000 port and AC IN for power.
The MS-1 behaves like any other audio component: It turns on via a power button on the rear panel, which activates the server and a blue LED light signaling game time. Press the power button once more and the unit shuts down. It worked perfectly for me.
Setting up the MS-1 requires two additional pieces of gear: the aforementioned Apple “remote” and a USB-compatible digital-to-analog converter. Cary recommends pairing the MS-1 with its own Xciter Series USB DAC. I've read good things about Cary's DAC (retailing for $1,499), and I'm confident it would take this unit to another sonic level, but for this review I paired the MS-1 with HRT's Music Streamer II, a USB DAC that sells for just under $150. More about the sound later. One last component to complete the kit is the MS-1 Remote App, available for free through iTunes. Cary's Billy Wright was kind enough to include a loaner iPod already loaded with the app for this review. Otherwise, a simple search for Cary Audio in the iTunes App Store will get you going.
The MS-1 requires wireless and wired access to a network. This is a simple matter of connecting the server to a router, whereby the MS-1 retrieves an IP address and connects to the network. Wireless access allows control via an iPod, etc. An Internet connection is necessary for accessing SHOUTcast; no connection is needed to play music from the MS-1 itself. For the final “audio” connection, I ran a USB 2.0 cable from the MS-1 to the HRT. Lastly, I connected the Streamer to my amplifier using standard RCA interconnects.
All that's left to do is establish remote control:
1. Select the Cary Audio App on the Apple device
2. Press “Settings” button
3. Select “Discover Servers”
4. Select server, wait for a checkmark to appear next to the server name
5. Press “Done”
Now, via the respective remote device, the music library is accessible and at your command.
By default, the MS-1 copies all music data as FLAC files. I like that the MS-1 makes FLAC its native file format, as it protects the fidelity of original recordings while preserving drive space. The server is also designed to play MP3, OGG, AAC, WAV, M4A and WV files, and I also discovered it will play AIF files, too, though sometimes with a slight hiccup between songs. All the discs I fed the machine were copied perfectly, but the unit isn't particularly speedy transferring audio, even with its 24x slot-loading drive. For example, The Band's self-titled 1969 release (with bonus track) contains roughly 48 minutes of audio. Via the MS-1, the disc took 8 minutes and 20 seconds to copy. Through iTunes, as uncompressed AIFF, the same disc took 2 minutes 55 seconds. Using MAX, a program that converts WAV files to FLAC, took 3 minutes. Ripping music from an outside source may be faster initially, but you still have to get the files onto the MS-1 before playback so by the time you transfer outside files into the server the score mostly evens out.