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Escient Fireball SE-D1 and SE-80 Media Servers

Part II

June, 2006

Piero Gabucci

 

Escient Fireball SE-80 Digital Music Manager

Whereas the SE-D1 is purely a movie/music manger, the SE-80 is a CD player with an 80G hard drive.

The SE-80 is a typical looking audio component. It's available in both black and silver, and I received the brushed black aluminum faced unit.

The unit is simply designed with a pretty oval CD tray and the familiar Escient logo slash through the entire face. Other than Play functions, only a power On/Off button and a subtle blue LED glow indicating it's on.

The rear also might remind you of a typical CD player with video jacks included.

The SE-80 comes supplied with a short and to-the-point instruction manual. Also included are audio cables, an Ethernet cable, an optical cable, detachable power cord, and the remote control (the remote is identical to the one supplied with the SE-D1, but more on that later).

Connecting the SE-80 is quite simple: pass both audio and video through to your receiver or controller. Passing the video signal through can be done with either composite, S-Video, or component video cables.

Audio can be passed through with either analog RCA stereo, or with an optical cable. I actually used both, passing analog to a tube amp, and the optical through to my processor.

Having a high-speed Internet connection is critical to the enjoyment as well.

Set-up begins with selecting your time zone, the type of interface skins or background, and setting a password, if desired, for protecting your time investment.

The network Ethernet connection settings are typical: IP address, subnet mask, gateway address - luckily no changes need to be made unless the SE-80 has trouble finding your system. For me it connected with no problems, thank goodness.

Audio preferences include how you want to record and at what bitrate from 128k to 320k. It defaults to 192k. Burning music onto the server can be simple if you choose to automatically have it record and eject upon inserting a CD. The other option includes displaying and playing the CD as well. If you do choose to load the CD, it takes about 5 minutes for the average CD, obviously depending on the bitrate chosen.

Video set-up can be quite involved, surprisingly. You may select your screen format: 4:3, or 16:9. The way you view the images and artwork can be altered, including brightness, contrast, sharpness, and even tint and hue. One very nice extra is a screensaver that scrolls through classical and modern artwork, very thoughtful for Escient to be thinking of screen burn.

Finally, just like the SE-D1, the SE-80 has a utility menu that gives you system information, every possible code, serial number, software update, etc., that you might need. You are also able to restart the system if you have problems, but for the SE-80, I had no problems. Periodically, you may want to search for software updates on the Escient website, a simple command in the utility menu.

The Remote Control Unit

At first glance, you'll find the remote control supplied is easy to read and full-featured.

Considering the remote control is identical to the one supplied with the SE-D1, up to four Fireball products can be controlled from a single unit. It's not backlit, or glow-in-the-dark,but the remote is invaluable for many reasons.

Firstly, it also controls the Sony changer. In the case of the SE-D1, selecting a CD or DVD, the Sony finds and loads the disc. All major functions for the Sony disc changer are then handled by the Escient remote. However, I did use the supplied remote from Sony for the player's set-up menu.

Secondly, in the event the Gracenote service cannot find your CD or DVD, you must manually enter the disc's information with the remote. I now envy any music/DVD manager supplied with a keyboard. For either of these Escients, a keyboard is an option.

Other features include some customization: Playlist hotkeys are programmable into your remote, for example "Favorites".

Playing Some Music

As I mentioned, if you're starting from scratch, simply insert a CD in the tray, and if you originally instructed the SE-80 to record and eject, within minutes you've stored your CD. Escient was kind enough to send me a unit preloaded. As an added feature, you may decide to send your CD collection to Escient and they'll do it for you when you order a unit.

I did load a CD or two that it did not recognize, which forced me to enter the information manually, what a pain! I entered the data using the remote control, which is equivalent to using a cellular phone for text messaging. Otherwise, through Gracenote CDDB the SE-80 finds the CD, lists each track and also finds the artwork.

Once all your music is loaded, scrolling through and selecting what to play couldn't be easier or any more enjoyable. You may choose from the entire collection, or by Playlists or Genre: Bluegrass, Blues, Classical, Country, Jazz, Pop, R&B-Soul, Religious, Rock, and also Soundtracks. Again when Gracenote finds your CD, it will assign all that for you. If you're not happy with what it's selected, you have the option of changing most or any of the information.

A Play Mode menu allows you to decide how you want to hear the music, i.e., Randomly, Repeating Tracks, Random Titles, etc. Of course, you may just load a CD and play it.

Radio

On the remote, you'll find that you have a choice of music (CD), movies (DVD using the SE-D1), and Radio (actually Internet Radio). The popularity of Internet Radio is rising, and the SE-80 finds and stores Internet Radio stations in the same way it finds and stores CD information, including genre.

The menu to enter a radio station is simple: it asks you to name and identify its location (Internet), and most importantly, its URL. Enter a bitrate, genre, stereo or mono, and the type either MP3 or WMA.

You can also update automatically and have the Escient re-load those stations for you. I will tell you the audio quality varies based on the transmission; some are quite superb, others moderate and weak.

The Fireball SE-80 does run a bit hot, and a fan will be heard from time to time, even when the unit is off, but it's not much of a bother at all.

Fireball SE-D1 Conclusions

Having a movie server like the SE-D1 can be a Godsend. No longer handling discs, or cases, or DVD/CD storage, I can't think of a simpler way of getting organized. I will say the Sony changer is not the best DVD player I've used despite it playing SACD.

Fireball SE-80 Conclusions

I must tell you this unit surprised me. I was truly looking forward to having the SE-D1 DVD server much more than the music server, but I became quite fond of the SE-80 for all its feature, sound quality, and convenience. With an 80 gig hard drive, there seems to be plenty of space for a tremendous amount of music. Keep a fresh supply of batteries and for heaven's sake, do not lose the remote.

General Conclusions

When you're planning a budget for your new system, make room for a Fireball, either the SE-D1 or SE-80, or both, depending on your taste. Not until you have it in your system can you appreciate the convenience. And for the last time, I will say, "A whole lot of fun!"


- Piero Gabucci -

Copyright 2006 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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