ReQuest Fusion Pro 250 Music Server 
Home Theater Media Servers Music Servers
Written by Jerry Del Colliano   
Saturday, 01 January 2005

Introduction
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.

Remote Access
In order to link to your server to use your ReQuest Manager application, you need to have your PC or Mac connected to the Internet via the IP address assigned to your ReQuest server likely by your modem or router. This begs an interesting question – why couldn’t you link to your ReQuest server from your office or your hotel room when on the road? Well, I do and you can, too. One of the most important features of the ReQuest Fusion 250 is that it allows you to link to your server at home and hook up a pair of XHiFi XDC-1 high-end desktop speakers ($999 per pair) to your computer, which will put you in business. You can listen to your entire music collection while you work, which to me adds tremendous value to the ReQuest system.

Listening Tests
Hardcore audiophiles are going to hurl when they read this, but adding a little compression to the files wasn’t that bad. You could definitely hear the effect if you have a trained ear. If you are treating your ReQuest server as a replacement for your CDs, not as a musical convenience, then you will want to pop for a big hard drive and stay uncompressed for as many discs as you see fit. This is obviously easier and less expensive with smaller collections. Lower compression formats and especially MP3s that you may have collected from impure locations tend to sound lousy. I am not even going to waste the virtual ink trying to tell you MP3s sound good at all. They simply don’t and I don’t recommend you rip too many albums at that level. For your iPod, MP3s or AAC files are fine but at home – even through some in-wall speakers in your laundry room – they aren’t good enough for the trained and experienced listener.

On “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” by Isaac Hayes (Stax Records), the organ had more heft and gravitas to it uncompressed. The bell of the cymbal lost its three-dimensionality when compressed, but the effect was pretty much localized on the high-frequency range. A lot of my listening to my ReQuest happens while I am cooking in the kitchen, which is located close to my listening room. The high-frequency maladies are less noticeable when you are off axis. In a serious listening session, you might reach for the CD. In the event that you feel one disc deserves better treatment, you can always re-rip it to your drive uncompressed.

On Skid Row’s “Piece of Me” (Atlantic) from their debut album, the bass on the slightly compressed version has surprisingly good energy and life to it. The snare, on the other hand, sounded thin and brittle. The highs during critical listening were etchy, like what you heard from the early versions of CDs. At higher volumes, the bass held up, but it didn’t help open up or smooth out the high frequencies too much.

On AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells” (ATCO), the ringing bell sounded pretty solid and three-dimensional with some compression. The guitars, which seem to be low enough in the frequency range to avoid the high-end problems described earlier, kept their sheen and depth nicely. At very high levels, the one-eighth-note bass line held its own, sounding tight and round. The cymbals and snare are where you can hear the effect of the compression.

On “Girl Gone Bad,” an epic jam from Van Halen’s inspirational 1984 album (Warner), Alex Van Halen’s ticking on the bell of his cymbal was hard to accept for someone who knows and loves each and every nuance of the record. With the volume sky high, you could hear the soundstage collapse slightly. This would only be of interest to you if you have parked your fine ass in front of your main speakers for a get down-and-dirty audiophile listening session. If you had your Kramer guitar strapped on and your vintage Marshall amp dimmed down to Eddie’s famous “brown sound,” you would be fine. Same with the idea of pumping these songs throughout your house – the sonic differences I noted are small and get lost in less than critical listening situations.

Listening to the ReQuest Fusion 250 really became valuable with my own playlists. I can come home from work and, in a matter of seconds, set a mood, including lighting, allowing me to leave the stress of a day’s work behind. With a distributed audio system, this feat is possible in darn near every room of your house, making it easy to see the value of having your entire music collection available on a touch screen controller installed in your den or bedroom.

The Downside
The FreeDB database simply doesn’t do a good enough job of getting you started in managing your collection. There are just too many mistakes at every level. ReQuest is a very expensive source and they might consider adding a very small subscription fee to keep an employee or two on staff to make sure the music you rip is correctly labeled. Kalidescape doesn’t charge a service fee for this, but they have people on staff keeping track of every movie ripped on one of their systems. Most are already in the database. However, when some Hollywood big shot gets a “For Your Consideration” copy from the Academy of a feature film that is still in theaters, Kalidescape can scan the art and get the DVD into their database. I am not expecting that kind of service, but it might be expected to see the database on the ReQuest managed in a more intuitive way that could at least get Led Zeppelin in the right category.

On the faceplate, the readout for the unit is a cheap green LCD display in an age where receivers come with pretty good-sized color screens. Managing your ReQuest works well on an AMX, but not everyone has a $6,000 to $10,000 remote control system in their system. If you do have a projector, you might not want to run it for prolonged listening sessions, so you can access the onscreen display. The little screen on the ReQuest will work, but I found it difficult to use.

The remote that comes with the ReQuest is loaded with features and can be hard to use at times, especially when the lights are dim. At this price, a backlit remote should be standard equipment.

The retail prices of the hard drives on the ReQuest servers are astronomically high. A 250 Gigabyte Firewire hard drive, like the one I use on my Apple G4 to back up my MP3s for my iPod, costs under $300. Upgrading from an 80 GB drive to a 250 drive can cost $2,000. To me, this begs questions as to what ReQuest does to the hard drives to make them so expensive. Assuming a stock hard drive from CompUSA would work (it would cost a fraction of the price your dealer would need to charge you), it makes you wonder. However when you consider that popping in such a drive would void your warranty, it quickly becomes a bad idea.

Conclusion
I have been heavily critical of the Request Fusion 250 as a cutting edge product in a new category. Clearly, it has a lot of room to improve, but I want to be clear – I bought the ReQuest Fusion 250 and have every intention of keeping it for years to come. I find listening to music from my server to be an entirely different and completely valuable experience that coincides with my traditional audio enthusiast way of carefully listening to an album from start to finish with the lights dimmed.

The ability to control your ReQuest with your touch screen remote and distribute your entire music collection to every room of your house is fantastic. Back in the days when I was designing high-end home theaters and multi-room audio systems, the best source we had was a five-disc changer. Try controlling that in a 24,000 square foot house with a keypad from 1992. Good luck. Today, you can make your Request jump through hoops from every room in your house. Heck, you can even enjoy your entire music collection from your laptop in a hotel room that has a high-speed connection. The same goes for your office.

Without question. in fully considering the units areas for future improvement, the ReQuest Fusion 250 will be an Audio Video Revolution Top 100 winner. If you have the hard drive space, it can reproduce your music collection faithfully and bring it to areas of your life that would have been inaccessible just a few years ago.
Manufacturer ReQuest
Model Fusion Pro 250 Music Server
Reviewer





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