Review of MP3 Home Devices - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 12 Old 04-23-2002, 07:20 AM - Thread Starter
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Hewlett-Packard’s de100c ($1,000), the Imerge SoundServer S1000 ($1,500), Onkyo’s MB-S1 Music Library ($800), the Rio Central from SonicBlue ($1,500), and ZapMedia’s ZapStation ($1,500)

http://www.soundandvisionmag.com/hot...?ArticleID=117

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post #2 of 12 Old 04-23-2002, 07:37 AM
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For some reason, I get this magazine. I mean, I never subscribed to it - it just shows up at my house with my name on it. I think it's because I spent a ton of money at a local list price stereo shop.

What surprised me the most about the print article was the lab tests. I can't follow the lab tests link in the online article (link seems broken or something), but the print article showed the Rio to have the lowest noise overall. No mention of it in the article proper, but some of the other units (like the ZapStation) had a surprising amount of noise and distortion.

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post #3 of 12 Old 04-24-2002, 02:16 PM
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I read that article in Sound & Vision Magazine too. What I decided was, none of these machines can compete with a well built HTPC. AND an HTPC can be used for SOOOO much more than playing back MP3/WMA's. Not to mention that you can build a pretty amazing HTPC for about $1300, which places it smack in the middle of these devices.

just my $.02

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post #4 of 12 Old 04-25-2002, 08:32 AM
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While certainly true that you (or I) can build something comparable for a lot cheaper, that isn't what I'm paying for.

Well, to be honest, I'm not paying for anything, 'cause none of these widgets have really hit my price/gotta-have-it features point yet. So, for now, I guess I stick to PC server with a Rio or Turtle Beach player.

In any case, what I would pay for are:

1) Convenience: something purpose built is usually a heck of a lot easier to operate than a PC. Boots faster (I hope)
2) Reliability: One hopes it doesn't crash as often as your generic PC
3) Not having to write all the software myself (or similarly, not having to spend hours looking for the right software that makes it work most like a stereo component, rather than PC)
4) Not having to build hardware that wouldn't look completely out of place in my HT system
5) Better sound characteristics. I know I'm climbing out on a limb here, but putting a PC into my HT system is my worst nightmare. PCs throw off all kinds of RF, and most HT audio components aren't good enough for real HT use. I know that you can find good PC audio components, but I'm not sure where ('cause I haven't looked yet).

I mean, I'm hoping that most of these boxes are not PCs worked over to look like a stereo component, but rather true audiophile components with PC bits inside.

Trouble is that most of them do seem like worked over PCs, in which case, I might as well build an HT PC instead.

Still, I'm hoping that there'll be a decent component that saves me from the hassles of PChood.

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post #5 of 12 Old 05-01-2002, 06:44 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by DCypher
I read that article in Sound & Vision Magazine too. What I decided was, none of these machines can compete with a well built HTPC. AND an HTPC can be used for SOOOO much more than playing back MP3/WMA's. Not to mention that you can build a pretty amazing HTPC for about $1300, which places it smack in the middle of these devices.
Jeff
I completely agree. The $250 AudioTron mated to my $400 emachine does all of the above and more. As far as having everything look HT-ish, I just keep the PC hidden away in a cabinet underneath my component shelf, so all that's showing is the AudioTron.

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post #6 of 12 Old 05-06-2002, 01:16 PM
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Quote:
[i]1) Convenience: something purpose built is usually a heck of a lot easier to operate than a PC. Boots faster (I hope)
2) Reliability: One hopes it doesn't crash as often as your generic PC
3) Not having to write all the software myself (or similarly, not having to spend hours looking for the right software that makes it work most like a stereo component, rather than PC)
4) Not having to build hardware that wouldn't look completely out of place in my HT system
5) Better sound characteristics. I know I'm climbing out on a limb here, but putting a PC into my HT system is my worst nightmare. PCs throw off all kinds of RF, and most HT audio components aren't good enough for real HT use. I know that you can find good PC audio components, but I'm not sure where ('cause I haven't looked yet).

I mean, I'm hoping that most of these boxes are not PCs worked over to look like a stereo component, but rather true audiophile components with PC bits inside.

Trouble is that most of them do seem like worked over PCs, in which case, I might as well build an HT PC instead.
[/b]
Hi; firstly I should introduce myself - I was involved heavily in the hardware design of the Rio Central & Rio Receiver products, and "my" team (as in, the Cambridge Audio Applications team who are basically empeg ltd who were acquired by sonicblue) designed and developed the Rio Central's software.

The Rio Central was designed to be pretty much what you're looking for; addressing the points one at a time:

1 - It is easy to use (my mother manages fine, but can't handle auto-cook on the microwave). It boots quickly - ISTR it's around 30 seconds, or about 5 from standby.

2 - It's pretty reliable. I can't guarantee 100%, but when I have seen it fall over it comes back up within 5 seconds and carries on playing from where it left off. Obviously, like any software improvements can be and are made.

3&4 - Well, that's what you pay for, although I'm not 100% keen on the industrial design of the Rio Central. I'm 100% happy with the electrical and audio design, just not the plastic box.

5 - We use a Burr-Brown (now TI) 24-bit DAC and have some *really* good audio numbers: Better than 101.5dB S/N (A-weighted), THD+N (997Hz, 0dB FS) better than 0.002%, frequency response +0dB (20Hz) -0.227dB (20kHz), better than 115dB channel separation at 1kHz, etc.

It also just *sounds* great in that fluffy unquantifiable way :)

The review is slightly misinformed in that the unit has a TOSLINK digital out - all units have had this, the reviewer obviously missed it though! The unit is *not* a reworked PC; it is a StrongARM-based custom designed box. It has a fan, but the only time we managed to get it running during testing was by pointing a hairdrier at the box - the whole thing runs cool and quiet (unlike a PC).

The huge killer app which the review missed out on (strange, as at the time of the review all units shipped with a free receiver) is that it will serve Rio Receivers over homePNA (or ethernet). With HomePNA you can just plug up to 8 rio receivers into your phone wiring and it just works, letting you access your music anywhere. We don't support Rio 500's (this isn't a current product) but we do support Rio 600s, 800s and Nike players. PC software is supplied allowing you to connect to the unit via USB or network and transfer your existing mp3/wma/wavs to the unit.

Yes, the receiver has been a bit more stagnant (and again, has worse ID) than the Audiotron, but it's out there, it works, and it's cheap - it also sounds better than an audiotron, using the same BB dac as the central.

If anyone's got any specific questions, I'd be happy to answer them.

Hugo
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post #7 of 12 Old 05-06-2002, 05:40 PM
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Hugo - what was the rationale for having NO video out on the Rio Central? Many folks (like me) have their audio gear inside opaque cabinets w/ IR repeaters & such, so a TV interface is pretty much mandatory. I bet such a large LCD also accounts for a significant chunk of the unit's manufacturing cost.
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post #8 of 12 Old 05-07-2002, 02:46 AM
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(TV out)
Many people (myself included) don't have their hifi near a TV, and have good enough hearing to hear the horizontal scan whine from average TVs :)

We felt that we could give a good enough interface on the unit itself to make a TV-out unnecessary. The display, whilst being a significant cost (it's actually bigger than the review suggests - 480x320 5.7" as opposed to 320x240) was felt to be worthwhile. Even if you go for video out, you still need a display on the box itself, ideally a VF - adding the cost of a video out chipset and a VF display comes pretty close to the LCD panel cost.

Obviously, the ideal solution would be both a large LCD and video out to make everyone happy, but it's not easy for engineering to get this sort of stuff past marketing and accounting!

Hugo
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post #9 of 12 Old 05-07-2002, 06:35 AM
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Hey, thanks for the Rio Central info.

I puzzled over the article: It said no digital out, yet it was clearly there in one of their pictures.

In any case, it looked like it sounds good. I currently have it on my list of "maybes." (Given the current market, I'm in heavy cash preservation mode, with my last splurge being a pair of high end PVRs.)

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post #10 of 12 Old 05-31-2002, 09:15 PM
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I just got a hp100 thru Ebay at a decent price! It's a great machine! The server is much more flexible than a changer!
Since I was running out of space in my built-in cabinetry; I had to upgrade first my Tivo with the serie2 which is smaller, fits in the cabinet next to it and operates with RF commands since it's hidden behind the door!
I have video out on my 42" plasma which is very convenient to read and browse thru the menus with the remote! After 10 minutes a screen saver shows up! Setting it up is easy! The connection to the internet to retrieve the informations of CD's is a great time saving. I can take my collections on the road as well by downloading the files with the USB port in the front!
I will try to post some pics! I am very happy so far with this investment. It allows me to listen to songs from CD's I haven't heard for ages!
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post #11 of 12 Old 06-09-2002, 09:57 PM
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Hugo,

Why'd you guys quit selling the receiver? I love mine in my bedroom. It co-exists quite nicely with my AudioTron and since I got the Rio for $100, I'd love to get another for the upstairs gameroom, but I can't find them!
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post #12 of 12 Old 06-10-2002, 01:49 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by hfiennes

Yes, the receiver has been a bit more stagnant (and again, has worse ID) than the Audiotron, but it's out there, it works, and it's cheap - it also sounds better than an audiotron, using the same BB dac as the central.
Who measured what sounded "better" and how?

Also, how do both the Audiotron and the Rio sound compared to using an HTPC with an M-Audio Delta Dio 24/96 sound card?

How does the Rio handle gaps between MP3 tracks? Can it smooth them out to make a continuous stream of music or do you get blips between tracks?

BTW, I recently built an HTPC for the sole purpose of doing MP3 and it sounds amazing and is virutally silent running (I have to put my ear up to the case before I can hear it!) Now I find myself using the DVD drive of my HTPC as my primary DVD player b/c the video output is sooo much better than my stand alone toshiba non-progressive scan player. The major downside of HTPC at this momment in time is UI (although that problem will go away over time as I find better ways to bi-directionally control my HTPC).

Jeff
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