|Escient Fireball E2-300 Music Server|
|Home Theater Media Servers Music Servers|
|Written by Brian Kahn|
|Friday, 01 July 2005|
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The Fireball E2-300 is yet another high-tech solution from Escient to the ever-growing problem of media management. The E2-300 is a hard drive-based digital music manager with a large internal 300GB drive. It also serves as the brain or control center for up to 1200 compact discs in a daisy chain of players. The E2 controls CDs by managing up to three of Sony or Kenwood’s 400-disc changers, which can be routed through and switched by the E2. The E2 also has an internal CDR-W drive which can be used to load music onto the hard drive, create music discs from the music stored in or controlled by the E2, or even as a CD player. Like the other Fireball units, the E2 also has a built-in Internet radio receiver for more increasingly good music choices. The E2-300 retails for $3,999.
The E2 is the same size as other units in the Fireball family, measuring 17-3/8 inches wide by four-and-five-eighths inches high and 11-7/8 inches deep, finished in attractive brushed black aluminum. The industrial designers at Escient have been working hard, which is proved by the front panel of the E2. The center of the front panel features an oval CD drawer above a display panel with blue LCDs. The left third of the front panel is fairly plain with the Escient logo on the top left, three buttons with indicator lights, power button and a status light. The right third of the panel has navigation and transport control buttons neatly laid out.
The back panel of the Escient E2 is not as crowded as the Escient DVDM, but it is still quite full with all the audio and control connections necessary to act as the controller/switcher between the system’s pre-amplifier or processor and the CD changer(s). The Escient E2-300 has three complete sets of inputs for the changers, including stereo analog, optical and coaxial digital audio inputs. The Escient E2’s outputs included stereo analog, optical and coaxial digital on the audio side and composite, s-video and component for the video side of things. Even though the E2 series does not play video the way a DVD player does, it generates onscreen guides for monitoring and controlling the E2 and any connected changers. In addition to the above audio/video connections, the Escient also features IR/S-link inputs and outputs, four RS-232 connections, video output for touch screen panels. One of its serial ports can be connected to an external modem for dial-up support. Escient provides numerous downloads to enable the E2 to be controlled by almost any of the popular control systems.
The Fireball E2 series allows the user to decide upon the recording quality utilized for transferring music from CD to the internal hard drive. The user can choose to convert music into MP3 audio files varying in quality from 128 kb/s to 320 kb/s. The E2 also supports the file format I have been utilizing, which is the FLAC format. This format utilizes lossless compression to store files in half the amount of space as a file in the WAV format. The 300GB model can hold an estimated 849 hours of FLAC music files or up to 5067 hours of music recorded in the MP3 format of 128 kb/s.
I installed the Escient Fireball E2-300 in my living room system between my Kenwood DV-5900M and my pre/pro. Another popular changer to use with the Escient is the Sony DVP-CX777ES DVD/SACD changer. These changers easily connect to the Escient with the analog and digital audio cables, IR and RS-232 cables. The process would then be repeated for up to two more changers. Multiple changers must all be the same in order for the Escient to control them. I then connected the E2 to my Ethernet network via the jack on the back. Later on, after I loaded a sizeable amount of music, I moved the Escient to my bedroom, connecting it only to my preamplifier and home network.
Once the physical connections are made, the set-up process continues with easy-to-follow graphic onscreen menus. First you are walked through the Internet connection, setting up the dial-up or broadband connection. Recording options are then set. If changers are connected to the E2, it will go online to build the library of all the discs in the changers. Escient utilizes the Gracenote CDDB database, which it accesses over the Internet to look up the CD information.
In addition to loading music on to the hard drive from the internal or external drives, the E2 can also import music from any computer on the network, the internal drive or from the changers. You can even set it for bulk recording, enabling you to load all of your favorite discs into the changer(s) connected to the Fireball and let it go and record them all, or you can select the music to be recorded by album or even track.
If there are multiple Escient devices on the network, you can set them up to act as a client and server and stream music. Escient has recently released the MP-150, up to four of which can be connected to any of the Fireball server products. The Escient products have a built-in peer-to-peer networking capability. When the network to which the Escient is connected is connected to the Internet, one can also utilize the Escient as an Internet radio server to stream music to any computer with an active browser connection.
If your system has an advance control system, such as a touch panel Crestron or AMX, the E2 makes it easy to connect to them with a composite video out and a fourth RS-232 jack to interface with the touch panel system. Most popular touch panel systems are supported by Escient with programming code and instructions available for free download from the Escient website. While I strongly recommend that you have an expert set up your touch panel system, being able to provide you technician with much if not all of the necessary code will reduce programming costs.
I utilized the E2-300 to listen to music from my own collection, as well as from Internet radio. Most of my own music listening was from music loaded onto the E2’s internal hard drive rather than through an attached changer. When listening to music from discs in the attached changer, the E2 was sonically transparent. If your intent is to use the E2 solely to manage one or more mega-changers, buy the cheaper version with the smaller hard drive. The Escient does a great job in making music easy to find by combining the music from all the changers and the internal drive onto one easy to search list. The music can be searched by artist or title or even graphically. In the graphic mode, album covers are displayed in a tile format on the screen and can be selected for playback by clicking on them.
As most of the music I listened to was from discs that I had transferred onto the Escient’s internal drive, I had to first load the unit up before listening. Getting music onto the internal drive was quite simple. I was easily able to locate and transfer music located on other hard drives on my computer network. Music on discs stored in the attached changers was easy to load either by particular track or disc or in bulk. When loading music from the changer, it can only be done in real time, so it is best left for bulk recording when you are not going to be using the system. The fastest way of loading music from discs is to use the internal drive, which normally takes five to 10 minutes per disc to load. When loading discs, it’s easy to select the desired recording quality.
Once the music is loaded, playback is very simple. The Escient has various menu settings to choose from, so that you can organize your music in whatever way works best for you. You can select music, piece by piece, compile play lists or have random play. The playback quality of music stored in the FLAC format is quite good. I utilized the digital output of the Escient and my own DSP/DACs (Krell HTS 7.1 in the living room and Perpetual Technologies P1/P3 in the bedroom). I found the sound quality to be comparable to that of a good transport. However, when I played the music back through Escient's DVDM-100 and forced the music file to be transmitted through my computer network, there was a slight degradation in quality. When the Escient was played back through the network, it seemed that there was a slight but noticeable degradation in the signal to noise ratio and dynamics.
The Escient’s Internet radio function was easy to use and is essentially the same as found on their other products. As with all Internet radio devices, the sound quality varies greatly and is heavily dependent on what is being transmitted. Internet radio can be fine for background listening and finding new music, but is not recommended if you want to show off your new speakers.