|Escient Fireball SE-80 Music Server|
|Home Theater Media Servers Music Servers|
|Written by Brian Kahn|
|Wednesday, 01 February 2006|
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The SE-80 allowed me simple access to the music stored both on the SE-80 and my E2 series Escient on the same network. When viewing the onscreen listing of available music, the music from both servers is integrated into one simple-to-use list. The audio quality of the SE-80 when listening via its analog outputs is the same as the previously reviewed E2 series, which retails for $3,999. This is because both units feature the same MP3 encoders, D/A converters and analog output stages. Accordingly, in this review, I will focus on the differences between the units.
The SE-80 cannot encode music into the FLAC format, but it can play back FLAC-encoded files that are either on another Escient or encoded elsewhere, then transferred onto the SE-80. On the output side, the SE-80 lacks a coaxial digital output. This probably won’t be much of an issue, as it is unlikely that someone who buys a sub-$1,000 music server is going to spend the hundreds of dollars required to better the Escient’s internal DACs.
I encoded a couple of albums onto the SE-80 in the MP3 format at the bitrate of 320 kb/s and on an E2 series Escient in the FLAC format. I first listened to Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors (Sony). On the track “True Colors,” when encoded via MP3, I found that the soundstage was not as well anchored as when encoded with the FLAC format. The instruments and vocals floated a bit, with highs not quite as clean or transparent as on the FLAC-encoded version. I then listened to “Iko Iko,” where I found the FLAC version had more ambience and a deeper soundstage than the MP3 version.
Just to make sure that my results weren’t limited to 1980s pop discs, I loaded the more recent Souls Core by Shawn Mullins (Sony) onto both the E2 and SE-80 in FLAC and 320 kb/s MP3, respectively. Listening to the track “Lullaby” confirmed my earlier listening results, with the MP3 version’s image not being quite as stable and slight loss of texture in the vocals.
Escient’s Internet radio function was easy to use; the unit creates a list of available stations, which are then easily selected from the graphic menu system. I found that I had to refresh the station list occasionally, because the stations were not always available. This was also a simple and painless procedure. The sound quality of the Internet radio sources varied wildly, as there is no set standard for broadcast quality.