|ReQuest F Series Music Server|
|Home Theater Media Servers Music Servers|
|Written by Andrew Robinson|
|Saturday, 01 July 2006|
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My review sample came by way of AVRev.com publisher Jerry Del Colliano’s personal stash. It was already loaded (and I mean loaded) with tunes from select classical works to tasty jazz to damn near every heavy metal or guitar rock selection you might want to hear. While construction rages on at the Del Colliano house, including the new AVRev.com reference theater (which will be featured in ModernHomeTheater.com later this summer with a Flash tour), I took the opportunity to swipe his beloved ReQuest and give it a once over for this particular review. Out of the box and into my living room system it went. The physical set-up of the ReQuest server is as easy as plugging it in and making the necessary connections, be it RCA or digital. I opted for an analog connection, taking advantage of my favorite Monster M Series interconnects. Since I do not have a control system from the likes of Crestron (which will be how the server is ultimately controlled), I connected the ReQuest directly to my Vizio Plasma screen to take advantage of its onscreen menus. I chose to go with the component video outs on the ReQuest for the best performance possible. However, video quality was the least of my concerns as this is a music-only server. Still, I applaud ReQuest for going the extra mile here. Once everything was connected, I booted her up and prepared to wait. And wait. And wait. The first time you boot up your ReQuest server (or swap out hard drives and/or power down), you’ll be prompted to basically grab a cup of coffee or two while the system boots. Once the system is booted up, it’s ready to rock.
Like I said earlier, this particular ReQuest came fully loaded, but for the sake of this review, I added a few musical selections to publisher Del Colliano’s playlists. Importing music is rather elementary and I didn’t really need the manual to help figure it out. To say it’s as easy as, say, iTunes would be a bit of a misstatement, but it’s far from complicated. I began by putting in Alanis Morrisette’s second album, Supposed Former Infatuation Junky (Maverick). I ripped the entire CD three times, with each rip being of a different compression quality. For starters, I set the rip to MP3 at 128kbps, which is the lowest quality the ReQuest will allow. At 128kbps, the 17-track CD took approximately six minutes. Next, I ripped the same disc again, but in FLAC format, which I set to lossless compression. At that particular setting, the CD took roughly 13 minutes. This is an amount of time that is grounds for concern, in my opinion. Sure, the quality is bound to be better, but if you’re attempting to rip a multitude of discs at once, you best not make any dinner plans. As iTunes is as quick as it is, with entire discs sometimes taking less than a minute, asking the user to wait 10 minutes plus is pushing it. Happily, I only had to rip a couple of discs before being able to enjoy the music.
Once I was done with my importing, I sat back and prepared to bask in endless music. A few keystrokes later and that’s exactly what I got. One only needs to spend a couple of minutes with the ReQuest playing sweet-sweet music before the idea of a music server becomes less of a novelty and more of a necessity. It’s addictive and thoroughly enjoyable. To be able to go from Counting Crows to Guns N’ Roses at the drop of a hat is not only easy, it’s just downright cool. With the help of the ReQuest’s onscreen menu, navigating the endless collection was a snap and remarkably intuitive. The menu itself is very user-friendly and laid out in such a way that I’d even let my mother use it without having to first give her a tutorial. Make no mistake about it, the folks at ReQuest have done their homework when it comes to user accessibility, which is more than I can say for some other music server interfaces.
Music and Movies
For the purpose of this review, I chose to focus on a single disc to best illustrate the differences in the varying encoding options that the ReQuest offers, which should be able to be applied across the board to numerous CDs. Obviously, with recording quality varying from disc to disc, the best option would be to rip everything in as pure a form as possible. However, for the sake of hard drive space, you may want to pick and choose which albums are for critical listening and which ones are simply for ambient noise.
I kicked things off with the aforementioned Alanis Morrisette album, Supposed Former Infatuation Junky (Maverick). I consider this particular album to be one of Morrisette’s best and a huge step forward in terms of musical maturity for the once-budding young artist. I chose the MP3 version of the track “Unsent” to begin my listening tests. Right off the bat, the ReQuest proved it was no iPod. Even at the lowest resolution supported, the ReQuest sound quality was such that I had to double-check that I had the proper format selected. I did, but nevertheless, I was not as offended by the ReQuest’s MP3 sound as I have been with other players. Overall, the sound was lively, dynamic and weighty. On closer inspection, I was able to detect a bit of spatial flattening, giving the soundstage a feel more linear than arc-like. Still, the musicians and instruments were steadfast in their space, with a fair amount of air surrounding them. Bass was very good and, while not as deep as possible, it did maintain its overall rhythm when directly compared to the CD track itself. The midrange was the most notably affected by the MP3 format, adding a bit of digital raspiness to Morrisette’s vocals, which made the overall presentation a bit flat and one-dimensional. The highest frequencies were slightly plagued by the same phenomenon, but they never became objectionable to the point where I felt like stopping the track. If it sounds like I’m nitpicking, it’s because I am. When critically listening, I could hear the MP3’s lower quality. However, the second my attention was diverted for even a second, the anomalies were less noticeable.
Turning my attention to the FLAC-encoded version of “Unsent,” it became clear to me why lossless is still the way to go. I couldn’t detect at any point any differences between the FLAC encoding and the actual CD itself. I would even go so far as to say that the ReQuest’s playback of the track was slightly more enjoyable than the CD itself through my reference Denon player. The highs simply sparkled, while the bass gained in weight, scale and impact. Morrisette’s vocals were lifelike in weight and scale and exhibited none of the earlier-mentioned digital compression found with MP3s. Most notably, the depth of the soundstage improved dramatically both front to back and left to right. Dynamics also improved noticeably, as the music seemed to gain a bit of snap in its step.
Without a doubt, if you are planning on doing nothing but critical listening, I would have to recommend the FLAC or WAV encoding. While the ReQuest can swing as an audiophile player, it must be pointed out that it is a lifestyle piece, one that is meant to fill your everyday life with music. I have to imagine that most users will use the ReQuest server as part of a music on the fly or multi-room system and not solely as a critical listening device. If this is the case, I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending any of the various MP3 settings for ripping your music library to the ReQuest server. Regardless, the ReQuest exhibits strong traits in both the casual and critical listening arenas that make it a bargain compared to the competition.