|ReQuest Fusion Pro 250 Music Server|
|Home Theater Media Servers Music Servers|
|Written by Jerry Del Colliano|
|Saturday, 01 January 2005|
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These days, the landscape of traditional audio/video source components is changing at a blinding pace. In the glory days of high-end audio, you had your compact disc player and/or a turntable – maybe a VCR and a laserdisc player – and you were considered by darn near everybody as pretty ahead of the technical curve. More than a decade later in today’s connected home, your sources make up a completely new cast of characters. Beyond the ubiquitous DVD player, you might find the HD Tuner/DVR, a D-VHS deck, a satellite radio receiver and, with increasing likelihood, a music server.
The ReQuest Fusion 250 is a $9,000 music server designed to work with your home theater, as well as your distributed whole-house audio system. The immediate question is – how is the ReQuest different than a fractionally-priced iPod? The most notable way is how the ReQuest is reliably controlled via RS232. The second most important issue is the variable compression levels you can archive your music as well as the format. Apple’s iPod uses AAC files yet ReQuest uses more standard MP3 and WAV files. This allows you to import your MP3 collection to a ReQuest server (via an Ethernet connection) while managing your uncompressed or slightly compressed files.
The ReQuest Fusion 250 is called the “250” because of how many Gigabytes there are in the unit’s removable hard drive. I started my experiment with ReQuest servers with a Fusion 80. It took me about two weeks to realize that I was quickly going to use up my drive. Swapping hard drives is pretty easy. You can unscrew the faceplate from the rack mount-friendly ReQuest, power it down and use the velcroed key to unlock the drive. Slide it out and have your dealer use the ReQuest ripping station to copy your songs over to a larger drive. Pop the new drive in, lock the key, restart the unit and you are back in business without losing one song from your collection. The ReQuest servers start at 40 Gigabytes priced at $2,500 and range to their Terabyte multi-drive models priced from $15,000 to $25,000.
The aesthetics of the ReQuest server are pretty sexy from the front and utilitarian from the back. There is a Firewire port, which is a somewhat unique feature that is not found on a lot of other servers. Audio output can be completed via a digital connection or by unbalanced analog outputs. I preferred the digital connection in my system. Video can be connected via S-video or component. Since the ReQuest Fusion 250 is a music server only, you will want to consider using the s-video connector to connect the ReQuest’s video connection for menu operations so you can save a component video input for a more critical video component, like a DVD player or video server. ReQuest also makes a VideoReQuest DVD Management System, but that is for another review.
Ripping Your Collection
A good number of my friends own ReQuest servers and they warned me that the unit opened them up to listening to and archiving music in positive new ways. Ripping my collection of music turned into a project that I quickly became very enthusiastic about. The way I look at my server is that it is a back-up to my CD collection, so I could therefore afford to compress the files a bit (assuming it didn’t cost me very much audio quality), since I could always reach for the CD if I wanted to sit down for a lights-dimmed, serious listening session. My goal with my ReQuest was to get my collection of over 1100 pretty carefully selected albums on a server, so that with very little work, I could make my AMX remote system get tunes rolling at my house with ease.
It is important to note that the ReQuest only has one CD drive and it takes between seven and 10 minutes per disc to rip. With 1100 discs working at 100 percent efficiency, ripping my collection would take 129 hours. The problem is that being 100 percent efficient is completely impossible. The process of ripping a disc is, you walk into your theater and drop a disc into the drawer and walk away or sit down. The unit spins up and makes a good bit of fan and drive noise while you are ripping, thus kinda wrecking the mood for a serious listening session if you sit anywhere near the ReQuest. Many times, when a disc is done, it sits there with the drawer open, waiting for you to return and put in the next disc.
Managing Your Music on a ReQuest Server
When working to get your collection of music on the server, I recommend you do one of two things. First, organize your CDs alphabetically and work in manageable segments of, say, 15 to 25 discs at a time. For example, start with AC-DC and work towards Aerosmith. You get the idea. Switching the compression level of each disc is pretty easy and you can make game time decisions about each album as they come up. If you are ripping a beautifully recorded Lyle Lovett record, you might want it uncompressed. If you run into a copy of Jermaine Jackson’s “Jermaine” album (note his truly spectacular afro on the album cover) and can’t live without it, perhaps you can agree to archive the record at a higher compression to save on hard drive space. Considering how long it will take you to rip your own collection, you will want to stay organized. Otherwise, you can lose your place and waste time ripping discs twice, despite the ReQuest’s software protection against such an event. Another option many well-heeled clients opt for is to hire their AV design firm or dealer to rip their songs for them. I know of one top installer in Seattle who has his design staff sit at their desks while working on CAD drawings or bids, ripping clients’ entire collections. This is not the most affordable way to go, but it certainly saves one a lot of time and effort. Personally, it felt therapeutic to physically touch all of my CDs again. I found myself playing long-lost albums in their entirety on my Meridian 800 series system while I was ripping the “next” album on my ReQuest. Despite my desperate wish for a 100 or 300 disc-ripping transport, I had a really fun time ripping my collection.
Ripping discs doesn’t go without its hitches. There are times my ReQuest server got completely hung up and needed a hard restart, which requires unscrewing the front plate to hard boot the machine. Other times, things got so hung up that I had to use the manual open for the drive to get my disc out. Generally, these crashes were rare, but they did slow me down at times. Once restarted, the ReQuest worked like a champ.
Anyone with an iPod knows your collection of music can be as organized as you want it to be and the organization has a lot to do with your overall enjoyment of your communication when working with a music server-based system. You can spend hours upon countless hours fine-tuning the spelling of your song titles or album names. The same is true with the ReQuest. It is wise to connect your Request server to the Internet via an Internet connection so that the unit can collect relevant data about your music from the FreeDB database. The problem is that the FreeDB database is tremendously flawed – or, more bluntly, pathetically inaccurate at times. For example, when ripping all of my AC/DC albums (yes, I own quite a few of them) the band’s name was spelled three different ways: AC/DC (the correct way), ACDC and AC-DC. This is a data input problem at the database company, but it reflects poorly on ReQuest. ReQuest has a very cool Java-based software program that runs on both Mac and PCs that allows you to log onto your ReQuest server from a computer and make corrections and modifications to your vast collection of music.
The importance of having your music archived correctly is that if you want to search for music by genre like Latin Jazz and there are only three of your 30 albums from your collection waiting for you, you quickly get discouraged. The FreeDB database spelled plenty of artists and albums incorrectly, but it was worst with genres. There is really no rhyme or reason as to whether Led Zeppelin is categorized as “Rock,” “Classic Rock,” “Hard Rock” or “Various Artists.” For example, you could find Houses of the Holy in Hard Rock and then Zeppelin 3 in Various Artists. There is simply no consistency and that is nothing short of lame on FreeDB’s part. My solution to the problem, considering I haven’t had the time to spend dozens of hours fine-tuning the archiving my collection, is to start creating custom play lists of my music and calling them genres. For example, I can create “Lounge 1” in ReQuest’s application and drop Coltrane tunes along with Thievery Corporation and Jobim or whatever. I can come home, access my ReQuest, select this playlist and hit random. I am immediately in the game. As a point of comparison, the video-based server from Kalidescape is significantly more expensive (starts at $27,000 and goes to over $100,000). The company not only manages their own database of DVD movies, but also archives high-resolution screen shots of the film for you to use as a screen shot along with the correct aspect ratio, which your theater can reference to trigger screen masking or projector options. After seeing Kaledescpae’s impressive feature set, it is hard not to compare the two servers’ database integration, even though Kalidescape only manages movies and the ReQuest Fusion 250 only manages music.