|ReQuest ARQ2 Digital Music System|
|Home Theater Media Servers Music Servers|
|Written by Brian Kahn|
|Saturday, 01 February 2003|
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I first listened to the ReQuest with music encoded at the default setting of 320 kbps, through the analog outputs. I compared the sound quality of the ReQuest to that of my reference CD playback system, a Theta Data Basic Transport, Perpetual Technologies P-1A Digital Correction Engine and P-3A DAC.
I began by listening to Dire Strait’s Brothers in Arms (Warner Bros.). I first loaded the disc onto the ARQ2 at the default rate of 320 kbps and listened through the analog outputs. As the first track, “So Far Away,” began I felt as through I was listening to a poor-quality mass-market CD player with a rolled-off upper end. Switching back and forth between the ReQuest and my reference CD playback system, I noted that the ARQ2 was recessed in the upper midrange, rolled off in the higher frequencies and lost much of the soundstage depth. The next track, “Money for Nothing,” sounded similar. The opening guitar riff seemed to lack energy when compared to the CD. The dynamic range also seemed to be reduced slightly. The sound from the ReQuest was more than adequate for background listening, but would be disappointing to the discriminating audiophile. I listened to a few albums and the same sonic characteristics remained present, sometimes less noticeable than others. I then connected with the digital outputs. I took the Krell 300iL integrated amplifier out of the system and hooked up a B&K Reference 30 preamp/processor and Parasound HALO A23 amplifier. I then connected the digital outputs of the ReQuest and Theta transport into digital inputs on the B&K.
When listening to the ReQuest through the DACs in the B&K, the differences between the ReQuest and Theta became much smaller. The sound quality of the ReQuest went from mass market to high fidelity. The sound quality of the 320 kbps encoded music was not as good as that of a CD on my reference system, but it was still much better than one would expect from any MP3 system. I listened to “Money for Nothing” again. The soundstage opened up and was nearly identical to that of the CD. The energy returned to the upper midrange and the guitar came alive. The high end was still a bit rolled off, but only slightly. The CD had marginally better imaging and a sense of air surrounding the individual instruments that was not present with the compressed music on the ARQ2. Using the ReQuest connected through the external DAC had definitely improved enough to become a primary listening source. The difference between the encoded music on the ARQ2 and CD system were minimal.
I then loaded Elvis Presley’s Elvis Is Back (DCC) onto the ARQ2. This time, I set the compression to zero and encoded the CD in the WAV format. I began listening to Elvis through the ReQuest’s analog outputs. The WAV encoding music preserved more detail, especially in the upper midrange, when compared to the MP3 encoding. Despite the WAV format, the ReQuest’s analog outputs still fell short of the sound I obtained from my reference CD system. The first track “Make Me Know It” had less energy in the upper midrange, making the piano lose much of its richness. There was also a slight decrease in detail that I noticed, especially in the background singers. I then listened to the ReQuest through its digital output. The sound quality was again nearly identical to that of the CD system. The lack of ambience and detail that I noticed on the MP3 encoded tracks was gone. The ReQuest still exhibited a slight roll-off in the high end as noted earlier but was only readily noticeable on the “Fever” track. On “Fever,” when heard through the CD system, there was a noticeable amount of tape hiss. The hiss was greatly diminished when played through the analog outputs of the ARQ2. Other than this slight roll-off, the WAV encoded music on the ReQuest came extremely close to the sound quality of my reference digital system.
During my time with the ARQ2, I used a friend’s portable MP3 player and noticed numerous artifacts from the encoding/decoding process. While listening to the ReQuest, I never noticed any artifacts, which is a sign of the solid engineering and programming that went into the ARQ2 unit.
There is, however, a downside to encoding all of your music in the WAV format: space. On a 80GB system, you can store 550 hours of 320 kbps MP3 music, but only 125 hours of uncompressed WAV files. A solution for some people may be to use MP3 for most music, and use WAV on only those discs that you want to hear at their absolute best.
ReQuest has also announced an operating system update that should be available by mid-December, 2002. The new 1.8.0 operating system will work on all ReQuest servers and contains Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC). FLAC encoded music is said to require half the space of WAV files without “any loss” in audio quality. System software updates can be easily accomplished via the ReQuest’s Internet connection or from a CD-ROM.
Expense and initial intimidation top the list. Those who are technically inclined may scoff at the $4,000 price of a 80GB ReQuest unit, feeling that they can make their own computer-based music servers for much less. This may be an alternative for those who are computer savvy, but those who take this route will miss out on a lot of functionality and performance.
As I mentioned before, the ReQuest was a bit intimidating initially. When I opened the box and found computer cables, a keyboard and a 64+ key remote, I was not anxious to continue. Once I got through the initial setup, I quickly became accustomed to operating the ReQuest and my fear subsided. This is one of those products that you should definitely purchase from a dealer who will assist you in the setup.
Last and most important is overall sound quality. The internal DACs are sub par when compared to the rest of the unit. If you use the internal DACs, you will never get sound comparable to any high-end system CD system. Thankfully, this downside can rectified by using the ReQuest’s digital outputs into a surround receiver or any other external DAC. Obviously, this is at additional cost, and at $4,000, one might argue there is no room for excuses or cheaper parts.
The ReQuest truly represents the next generation in music storage devices. The ReQuest allows you to store your entire music collection in one place and make your music instantly available to you without having to search for the disc you want. The software interface makes it extremely easy to organize and find your music. The ReQuest’s optional Zone modules make all of your music instantly available and provides playback independent from the main unit anywhere you want. With the Zone modules, you can even have your music available at your vacation home, office, or another zone in the house. This flexibility is fantastic. Imagine that your entire music collection can be with you, anywhere there is a computer.
The ReQuest isn’t for everyone. Audiophiles seeking mind-shattering resolution from their playback systems will be disappointed with the sound. However, the convenience of the ARQ2 outweighs its sonic imperfections that accompany the digital compression process. I never felt limited as I could always walk to the shelf and pull out the CD for critical listening sessions. This product can bring you closer to your music. No more searching through countless jewel cases, seeking that disc that you forgot you owned and wished you could find.
Welcome to the new millennium - George Jetson would be stoked.