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Ok, so how does it sound? In a word, terrific. Played back files sound full bodied, dimensional, and utterly not digital. I would challenge any mortal to hear a difference between the ripped FLAC files, and the same tracks played back on a quality CD player. One of the cd’s I ripped was Frank Sinatra's "Nice n Easy" (cd, Capital Records, 2002). Frank's voice was as smooth and clear as I had ever heard it, and the Nelson Riddle arrangements really sparkle. The MSR-1 brings to life the excellent 24 bit remastering. Next up was the 1963 Joan Baez album "In Concert" (cd, Vanguard Records, 2002), and her amazing vocal range is dazzling through the Nuforce. Not a hint of digititis on this classic old analog recording. I’ve used a couple of examples that highlight vocals and non amplified instruments to see if I could trip up the MSR-1. No such thing happened. Instrumental textures were totally believable, vocal timbres were lovely, with superb resolution that was true to the original performance.
I further tried to challenge the MSR-1 with hipster alternative (Tindersticks), neo classic singer songwriter (Paolo Nutini), grandiose pop (Sarah Brightman, Celine Dion), and a load of other genres. Not a chance of a slip up. This is one excellent sounding machine; and that's coming from a die hard compact disc spinning music lover. It must be noted that the MSR-1 offers an incredible amount of love for classical music fans, with a built in database to help organize and often hard to define collections. This is a very nice touch indeed.
Getting back to the organizational capabilities, I had to keep reminding myself of the myriad of options available to categorize the music by genre, artist, themes, tempo, style, or any custom tag. Plus, one can search the entire collection by any of the categories above, or a number of other parameters. I would have loved to have had a touch screen monitor on hand to let my fingers scroll through my ripped cd collection. Talk about interactive.
I should mention that the remote is very well designed and lets the user with out a touch screen monitor feel in full command of the MSR-1. As noted, it includes a tracking ball, mouse like right click, left click buttons, and typical compact disc player commands such as play, stop, pause, skip, and fast forward or reverse. There are so many buttons on the remote control that the typical user may need to consult the manual for the first few days of use. The manual is extremely comprehensive, and offers answers to just about every operational question. There are some gaps, and the NuForce website has plenty additional information in the form of FAQ’s, forums, and technical information. NuForce offers a limited mount of technical support, and offers an extended support plan.
What could be improved?
Of course nothing is perfect. As well thought out and user friendly as the MSR-1 is, it could use a few tweaks, in my humble opinion. It should be noted, that I was able to get it up and running in less than 10 minutes after plugging in, which speaks to its clean, intuitive design. However, I feel the interface could be improved slightly to provide more feedback to the user. This is custom software, so I can’t imagine NuForce won’t be updating it periodically, and since it will be perpetually connected to the internet, updating should be a cinch.
Secondly, sometimes the software seems to respond a bit slowly at times, but I must admit I did cause a few freeze ups by overloading the unit with too many commands from the remote control. In general, I have found that hard drives respond a bit slower than disc players. When my own Squeezebox accesses files off my PC through my home network, it definitely takes its time.
My only real complaint, as noted before, is the lack of status given to the user while a CD is being ripped. This is an annoying over sight. When I rip a cd to the hard drive on my PC, using a variety of software, I get status on how many tracks have been ripped, and what percentage of the whole disc is completed.
This is a well designed, well made, excellent solution for those who want to access their music collections instantly without having to run around looking for specific discs, store jewel cases, or burn cd mixes of favorite songs. It’s all here in one place. One can now reclaim living room space taken up by media storage. All this would be for naught if the MSR-1 did not sound great. And it does that extremely well.
It should also be noted that NuForce makes some very well made digital cables, as part of their new full audio cable line. The NuForce Precision 75-Ohm Digital Coaxial Cable in is extremely well made, and offers very high quality connectors in BNC or RCA termination. They have also added Toslink and HDMI cables to the line. More information is available on the NuForce web site.
NuForce MSR-1 Music Server Sonata Edition:
• Audio output – Zone 1 Audio RCA, Zone 2 Audio RCA
• S/PDIF output – 44.1 – 96kHz Coaxial 75-ohm output RCA
• Video output – 15-pin DB Sub-15 (VGA) output
• 500GB 2.5” quiet, low power consumption hard disk
• USB – 4 ports
• Network – RJ-45 10/100/1000 Mbps Ethernet
• Standard ports – PS/2 style Mouse, Keyboard, RS-232
• Power: External 90-240VAC, 12Vdc input
• Power consumption: 45W
• Operating Temperature - 0 to 55 degree C (Ambient)
• Nominal temperature: 36 to 40 degree C
• Chassis is made of high-grade anodized brushed aluminum to reduce audio resonance
• Noise level: < 25dBA
• Dimensions: 2.35”H x 8.5”W x 15”D Weight: 7 lbs.
• RF Remote Control with track ball.
356 South Abbott Ave
Milpitas, CA 95035
Office: +1-408-627-7859, 1-408-262-6777
Reviewers Associated Equipment System 1:
Cd Player: Naim CD5x with Flatcap 2X
Preamp: Audio Research SP16
Amplifier: Audio Research VS55
Speaker: Harbeth Compact 7ES
Cables: Kimber/QED/Acoustic Zen (AC)/Transparent (AC)
Reviewers Associated Equipment: 2
Cd Player: Marantz 5003
Music Server: Squeezebox 3
DAC:CIA VDA-2 with XPS
Preamp: Belles Soloist 3
Amplifier: Revox A722
Speaker: Spendor S5e
Cables: Kimber/QED/Transparant/Shunyata(AC)/PS Audio(AC)