|[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.
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.