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Qsonix Q100 Digital Music System Print E-mail
Monday, 01 May 2006
Article Index
Qsonix Q100 Digital Music System
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During my time with the Qsonix, I had the opportunity to listening to a wide variety of different musical material, as well as comparing the different compression ratios. I've had a complex about using any type of compression schemes for music that I wanted to use as reference material, but this is based mostly on emotional perspective rather than scientific fact. To assess the ultimate sonic quality of the Q100, I used Qsonix’s lossless compression mode to load a compilation disc of well-recorded favorites that I commonly use to demo equipment and systems. The lossless compression utilized by Q100 appeared transparent to me, relative to the uncompressed original source; I could discern no relative differences between them. Mary Black’s “Columbus” from Looking Back (Curb Records) stresses the entire range of dynamics and micro-dynamics of high-resolution playback systems, as well as the ability to accurately portray the female voice. Black’s vocals were extremely smooth yet capable of being quite expansive. Any substantial alteration to the original recording would be easily discernible. In the case of the Q100’s lossless mode, it was not. “Into My Arms,” from the Best of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (Reprise), successfully recreated the interesting juxtaposition of Cave’s delicate piano and the evocation of his tender yet gravelly vocals. Similarly, the Q100’s lossless mode provided no substantial hints of varying sonically from the original track.

Listening to Santana’s Abraxas (Columbia) using the 320 kbs compression mode proved to be more than satisfying. Songs such as “Black Magic Woman” and “Oye Como Va” reproduced Carlos Santana's atmospheric guitar licks with great ease and sounded comparatively unaltered from the original CD. Though this disc is relatively dynamic and multidimensional, it would seem reasonable that this higher-bit compression scheme should work quite well.

Creating more of a torture test, I created a 192 kbs recording of Metallica’s diabolical “Enter Sandman.” Having previously experienced limitations of lower-bit recordings, I wanted to see what would happen to the bombastic bass introduction of this track. There was definitely a loss of bass extension, impact and definition from the original recording, as well as increased high-frequency hardness over the somewhat strident original CD. More complimentary to this compression scheme was Anthony Kiedis’ poem turned ballad “Under the Bridge,” performed by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. This cut does not have the same dynamic extension as the previous track, yet at the 192 kbs setting was capable of capturing the heartfelt vocals and accompanying instrumentals with very little loss of musical and emotional connection. There is definitely a discernable difference between the 192 kbs and higher bit-rate schemes, so users will have to assess for themselves whether this is appropriate or not for specific source material.

The Downside
Although the Q100 proved to be an extremely flexible and intuitive device, there was one major component missing: a hand-held remote control. Even though everyone marveled at the touch-panel and its user interface, there were times when it would have been convenient to modify the playlist from our seating location. Qsonix’s Mike Weaver discussed the progress that the company has been making in addressing this issue and, by the time this review goes to print, there may be a solution available.

Mechanically, the Q100 functioned flawlessly, yet its fan was quite audible during quiet passages, as well as during times when no music was playing. Again, I was informed that modifications to the unit are in the works to reduce the noise level significantly.

One inconvenience was the inability to load one or multiple tracks from an album without ripping the complete disc. Quite often, there are only a few tracks on a given disc that are desirable for storing on the Q100. There is currently no function for removing individual tracks.

Universally, the Qsonix Q100 Digital Music System received more enthusiastic interest from my guests and associates than any other piece of audio equipment I've owned or auditioned. The “wow” factor was immeasurable, especially while I demonstrated the Qsonix’s drag-and-drop functions on the bright, colorful display panel. The user interface is undeniably fun to play with and a breeze to use, avoiding certain limitations found on other more conventional servers’ displays. Add this to the plethora of useful data that becomes available to the user, and you end up with one of the most recreational pieces of equipment ever to have graced my music system.

Fortunately, Qsonix is capable of backing up all the glitz and glamour with outstanding performance and functionality. Its lossless processing mode worked extremely well. With the material that I auditioned, I was unable to detect any discernable difference between the original CD and the lossless encoded copy.

Excellent performance was achieved recording files at the 320 kbs setting, and for the most part, this proved emotionally and intellectually satisfying during a majority of listening situations. While using the 192 kbs mode, the Q100 was more than adequate for recreational and non-critical listening, though it did seem to reduce overall resolution, bass content and extension by a slight but noticeable margin. Admittedly, I did not spend equal time critically auditioning the lower-resolution compression schemes, preferring the higher-resolution options. Though I chose minimal compression for my music selections, many users will be adequately served by storing their complete collection at 192 kbs, and therefore maximizing the storage capacity of the Q100.

Qsonix has redefined what a music server should be and how it should function. Though not flawless, the device offers more functionality, ease-of-use, performance and sheer unadulterated pleasure than any other music server I've experienced to date. Qsonix is dedicated to addressing certain outstanding issues and committed to improving the Q100 as the product matures and technology progresses. For the serious and even moderate music enthusiast or collector, the Q100 will provide access and enjoyment to your entire music collection at the touch of your finger. The Q100 Digital Music System is unequivocally is in a league of its own.

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