|Slim Devices Transporter Digital Music Player|
|Home Theater Media Servers Music Servers|
|Written by Brian Kahn|
|Thursday, 01 November 2007|
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Whether we are in the car driving to the grocery store or on a plane suffering through yet another painful flight to somewhere, music lovers are able to access what used to be an impossibly large music collection right in the palms of our hands. Why shouldn’t we be able to do the same when we are at home? Over the past few years, AVRev.com has reviewed several top-notch music servers from the likes of ReQuest, Escient QSonix and others that give music lovers better than iPod audio quality, along with larger than iPod storage. In 2006, we reviewed the very affordable ($299) Squeezebox from Slim Devices (since purchased by Logitech) which differs significantly from the aforementioned competition in that Squeezebox does not have a hard drive to store music, but rather interfaces with your computer system to access the music files stored therein, as well as Internet radio.
The Slim Devices Transporter, which retails for $1999, is the big brother to Slim Devices’ Squeezebox music server. Like the Squeezebox, it can play both files you have stored on your computer network (PCs, TiVos, hard drives, etc.) through its SlimServer software, as well as being able to access Internet radio stations and dig into pay music services, such as Rhapsody and Pandora. While the Squeezebox is a small format box, the Transporter is built much more like a traditional audio component, a full 17 inches wide, three inches high and 12-and-one-quarter inches deep. Rack-mounting is an option. The aluminum-encased unit’s weight is not specified, but it definitely feels solid. The unit comes in either silver or black finish; my review sample is black and has a sleek, sexy appearance when paired with my reference audio system, which includes gear from MartinLogan and Krell.
The front panel is flanked by simple tubular silver metal handles, the bottom half of the front panel is aluminum with approximately 14 flush buttons in one row. The panel is dominated by a large TransNav knob in the center with a small Slim Devices logo above it. The knob controls several functions and provides tactile feedback. The top half of the panel consists of two vacuum fluorescent displays that can be configured to provide a variety of information and/or visuals. The most popular set-up appears to be text describing your listening selection on the left and retro VU meters on the right.
The back panel is fully populated and provides many options, with balanced and single-ended analog outputs, TOSLINK, coax S/PDIF, BNC S/PDIF and AES/EBU Balanced digital inputs and outputs; word clock input, IR input and output, Ethernet port, RS-232 jack, Wi-Fi antenna jacks and, lastly, an IEC power cord connector. The remote is a slim black unit that is very similar to the remote supplied with the Squeezebox, but it is backlit, which is a much appreciated detail.
The feature set described above is nice, but in itself does not set the Transporter apart from the pack. What the Transporter does is join the convenience of a music server with true high-end audio performance. Don’t expect to get audiophile performance from low-resolution MP3s downloaded from iTunes (not that the Transporter is capable of playing the iTunes songs encoded with digital rights management protection), but more excitingly, you can get a very high level of performance from high-resolution lossless and uncompressed audio files from your CDs or from new services selling higher-resolution downloads. iTunes users are not ignored by any stretch of the imagination, as iTunes playlists and catalogues are neatly recognized and playable by SlimServer, so long as the songs are not restricted by digital rights management.
The Transporter’s technical details are what sets its performance apart from the Squeezebox and other music servers, as it uses AKM AK4396 multi-bit delta-sigma DACs, with a signal to noise ratio of 1290 dB, THD of .00005 percent, linear super-regulated supplies for the DAC and line-out stages, word clock input for synchronization with an external clock and dedicated high-precision crystal oscillators. The Transporter is configured to support 44.1, 48 and 96 kHz sample rates with 16 or 24-bit depth. The supported audio formats include Apple Lossless, FLAC, WMA, AIFF, WAV, PCM, MP3, AAC, Ogg Vorbis, MP2 and MusePack. The architecture includes flash upgradeable firmware and a 325 MHz eight-way multithreaded RISC processor that allows for easy updates via download to make sure that your system can play the newest formats. There is much more to say about the technical aspects of the Transporter and its software and, for those of you who are interested, I highly recommend spending some time viewing the dedicated Wiki pages and forums, which are accessible through the Slim Devices web page. Last but not least, the Transporter has the audiophile attribute of not having a fan that interferes with listening.
As is the case with many products today, the Transporter does not come with the required software in the package. A quick visit to the Slim Devices website, and I was able to select and download the newest version of the Slim Server software, as well as browse the available plug-ins for future experimentation. System requirements include a computer system with Ethernet or Wi-Fi, and a computer system running Windows 2000, XP or Vista, Mac OS (10.3.5 or later), Linux/BSD/Solaris or Perl (5.8.3 or later). I personally use, and highly recommend, Infrant’s (recently acquired by Netgear) ReadyNas NV+ network attached storage device. I have the 1TB version configured in a RAID 5 array to give me about 670 GB of storage. I have the Slim Server software, as well as all of my music files on the ReadyNas NV+, so that I do not need to have my computer on to access my music collection. Furthermore, it is extremely reliable, never having gone down in the several months I have been using it and ensures that my music will be safe even if I lose a drive. Before purchasing a NAS device to do this with, be sure to check the Slim Devices support page to see which ones will work. You will want a device that can access the server software without the assistance of a computer.
Setting up the Slim Sever software is relatively simple. The set-up wizard asks basic questions and allows you to choose many options to personalize the organization of music and the behavior of the player. Ken Taraszka goes into some detail about the set-up in his article on the Squeezebox, which may be of interest to you in our archives. Once the software is set-up, you will need to populate your library. I already had iTunes and another music server on my system, both of which were recognized by Slim Server and their music catalogue.
There are many programs that allow you to rip music off of your CDs and onto your computer. When you add more music to be played back over the Transporter, you want to be sure that you are getting the best music quality possible. To do this, you need accurate rips and compression. I found Exact Audio Copy to be fairly simple and easy to use. The program is free to download and often comes bundled with format converters, such as one for FLAC. I downloaded this bundle and was accurately ripping CDs in just a few minutes. I note that it took me on average 20 minutes per CD to make the copy, which is much longer than most programs, but I have had no problems with dropouts with any of my Exact Audio Copy rips. Another easy way to get high-quality digital music files is to download them from high-resolution music download company Music Giants. The Transporter will play any of their non-DRM files. Unfortunately, you cannot yet use DRM status to search the fairly large database.
I began my listening sessions using my favorite integrated amplifier, Krell’s FBI. The FBI was connected to the Transporter via Transparent Cables’ MusicLink Ultra series cables, the Transporter was connected to my Theta Digital Data Basic CD transport via one of Transparent Cables’ older and, I believe, now discontinued basic digital cables. For speakers, I used my MartinLogan Summits, which were connected to the Krell via Transparent Cables’ MusicWave Ultra speaker cables. All of the above components were plugged into an EquiTech power conditioner with Richard Gray Power Company’s High Tension wires.
Towards the end of my listening sessions, I received a Conrad Johnson CT6 preamplifier and Nuforce monoblocks. With these components, I haven’t had enough time to decide if I prefer the Transparent or Cardas Golden Presence cables. While the Transporter had no weird compatibility issues with these newer components, all of my critical listening was done with the Krell-based system.
Lastly, I note that the output volume of the single-ended analog outputs can be adjusted two ways: first, through a series of resistor jumpers inside the unit, which let you adjust in 10dB increments, and second, through the use of the digital volume control. I left the analog attenuation at its default position of -0dB and left the digital volume control open all the way so as not to lose any resolution. If you must use the volume control in the Transporter, use the analog attenuation to get as close as possible in order to minimize any resolution loss through the digital volume control.