|Onkyo NC-500 Net-Tunes Audio Network Receiver|
|Home Theater Media Servers Music Servers|
|Written by Bryan Dailey|
|Monday, 01 March 2004|
Page 2 of 3
Playing Audio Files from your computer
Beginning with the NC-500 wired up to my Kenwood VR-5700 receiver and Paradigm 5.1 system, I cued up some Deftones on MP3. The dynamic drums and guitars of this nu-metal band came ripping through my speakers with an impressive quality that I wouldn’t have expected from an MP3. Although not as clean and loud as the CD version that I was easily able to A/B directly through my Kenwood DV-5700 player, the MP3 version through the server couldn’t fool anyone with a decent set of ears, but it would pleasantly surprise the skeptics who don’t think of MP3 as a viable audio format.
Other formats supported by the NC-500 include WAVE (PCM) and WMA. WAVE files are non-compressed digital audio files. WMA, which is more compressed than MP3, has better sound quality than MP3 files, according to the file type’s creator Microsoft. Listening to the track “The Outsider,” which I had ripped to my computer as a WAVE file, I was even more impressed by the ability of the NC-500 to take a signal that routed from my computer, through about 45 feet of Cat 5 wire, into the NC-500, into my receiver, then to my speakers, and still make it sound musical. I was prepared to hear much more digital compression and digital-to-analog issues than I did.
I found that rock music worked the best on the NC-500, as blues and other types of recordings did not shine as much as their original CD counterparts that had supplied the tracks for the device. Former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha’s guitar tone and Tool singer Maynard James Keenan’s sonically meld together on the most aggro track on the new A Perfect Circle album. The soulful guitar of jazz blues artist extraordinaire Keb Mo was just a hint less emotional yet still quite listenable. The NC-500 will never be used for critical listening, but it adds one more way to enjoy the music on your computer in your theater is worthy of your consideration.
Like Pirate Radio before it, Internet radio has been very controversial. These stations generate essentially no money, yet the RIAA and other recording company interests have made bold moves to enforce payment of royalties to artists whose songs are played on Internet radio. Whatever the future holds for Internet radio, the fact of the matter is, the NC-500 allows you to access a wide range of Internet radio stations. Using the Net-Tunes™ software, the NC-500 can pull in a wide range of Internet radio stations, ranging from ultra-hip to incredibly lame. This can also be done without the Net-Tunes™ software and without even being hooked up to a computer. The sound quality of the stations is all over the map. Some stations have more commercials than songs and some stations will play long extended sets of music. For channel surfers, it’s good fun to hunt around for something interesting to listen to, but don’t count on always being able to find something great.
The only other Internet radio tuner that I was familiar with before reviewing the NC-500 was the one that is built into Apple’s iTunes. The iTunes software and interface is a little slicker, as most Apple applications tend to be. However, I didn’t have any problem navigating with Net-Tunes™ and the front panel of the NC-500. It’s not the biggest selling point, but having Internet radio at your fingertips makes for yet another option that adds to the available source material in your home theater.
Although the NC-500 puts all of the songs on your computer network easily at your disposal, there are surely times when you’d rather just tune in your favorite AM or FM radio station. It is easy to forget than the NC-500 is essentially a small receiver with a few specialized tricks. From my townhouse on the backside of a hill facing away from where most radio signals are broadcast to the Los Angeles basin, I tend to not get the best reception from terrestrial radio stations. With the NC-500 connected near my main home theater system in the bottom floor of my home, there was a small amount of static on a few of the radio stations that I listen to. However, with the supplied AM and FM antennas, the NC-500 was able to pull in stations slightly better than my Kenwood VR-5700.
Upstairs, the reception was much stronger, especially in the AM stations. I was easily able to pull in some basketball games from the local AM sports station that I had trouble with downstairs. The radio tuner controls are fairly straightforward and you are able to choose up to 40 AM and FM presets.
Killer bedroom, Office or Dorm Room System
As previously mentioned, I decided to pull the NC-500 out of my main theater and try it upstairs in a bedroom system where the Audio Network Receiver became the main component, actually acting as the receiver for the system. I took a Sony Discman and plugged that into the auxiliary input, then ran an Ethernet cable into the back of the NC-500. Because it has its own amplifier and speaker outs on the back of the unit, I hooked some small Sony satellite speakers that I had from a Sony surround system. I wanted a small system that could be played at night in my room without disturbing anyone and didn’t take up much space on the shelf above my bed.