Product Review

McIntosh MS300 Music Server

Part II

May, 2006

Chris Montreuil


Since the MS300 is really a customized storage solution at its heart, I was hoping there would be some provision for expansion. Although the internal hard drive can accommodate a sizeable collection that would suit most buyers, I felt there should have been USB ports to connect external drives should a user possess a larger collection and not wish to go the external changer control route. With hard drive prices falling rapidly it would have provided a cost effective solution to increase capacity. When I inquired about this, McIntosh informed me they did not want to foray into the world or external device support. Since third party products can open a can of tech support worms, I could see their reticence had some justification. Chris, their designer did note the hard drive markets volatility, so don't rule out the possibility of future models sporting larger drives.

The other area I found the MS300 lacking in connectivity was the absence of a digital video output with multiple output resolutions. These days, nearly every Home Theater PC (HTPC) employs a video card with a DVI output and custom resolutions and timings, so I was a bit bummed when I realized I would have to go the 480p analog component route for my video connection. My Marantz projector is a native 720p device, so the look of the upscaled interface was not as crisp as it could have been with a 720p option. Since the MS300 is not really a video device per se, and its output is solely for music browsing and not for critical viewing, I begrudgingly accepted the omission.

Included with the MS300 is a wireless keyboard which came in handy for editing track information and the creation of custom playlists. The keyboard communicates with the MS300 via IR, so I did have to point it in the general direction of the IR receiver when typing. Had I been a bit more enterprising I could have programmed my MX-3000 with each key command and transmitted it via RF so as to avoid directional issues, but it would have required multiple pages to fit the entire alphabet on a 3.5" touch screen. For everyday operation, the supplied backlit remote, an OEM from the same company who makes Anthem's remotes, was adequate, though it does suffer from the same high-pitched sound during backlit operation as the Anthem branded model.

On the front end of all this hardware is the MS300's aforementioned custom OS. This interface serves as the visual middle man in accessing your transcribed music, connected CD mega-changers, and internet radio stations. It allows for browsing by genre, artist, title, song, or cover art. Features such as custom playlists and groups are included to allow for an additional level of personalization. I personally found the genre listing effective but preferred the cover art method, as it was easier to recognize the work.

Not to be outdone, the MS300 possesses an impressive range of networking features that were impressive in their scope and simplicity. Included is a web-enabled interface that mimics the operation of the embedded OS. Functioning in much the same as your typical website, the interface allowed me to browse my collection from any computer connected to the network. The interface even allows you to stream MP3 files stored in the MS300 directly over the network to your computer. While this feature can eat up network bandwidth, McIntosh's designer mentioned the MS300 can safely accommodate four clients.

The MS300 has a backup feature that allows you to duplicate your library by copying files over a network connection to a computer or external hard drive. Though it took some time, I was able to copy my entire FLAC collection over my network during the course of a day without holding vigil over my computer. The MS300 appears on a network just like another hard drive, so if you have any experience with a computer network, you should be set. But, even if you are not, the well written manual guides you through the process. Without geeking out too much, I must say it was a real trip to have over 350 of my CDs backed up on a portable 3.5" external hard drive. Yeah, I know I need to get out more.

With the collection archived, you can then take advantage of the MS300's restore feature in the event of a system failure. It functions essentially the same as the backup feature, just in reverse. All you need do is import all of the files you backed up via the network import directory and you are back up and running. All of these functions were exceedingly straightforward. Best of all, this long suffering Apple user rejoiced at the ability to conduct all of these tasks on my Power Mac! Of course the MS300's network connectivity is fully PC supported as well.

Click Here to Go to Part III.

Copyright 2006 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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