Product Review

McIntosh MS300 Music Server

Part III

May, 2006

Chris Montreuil



Before I was able to get to the task of transcribing my collection, the MS300 operating system's first time set-up routine had a couple of questions for me.

The questions asked were fairly innocuous and straightforward along the lines of mode of internet connection, zip code, and the like. The only snafu I encountered was when I connected to the MS300 through my existing network, which consists of cable modem running via a hard line to a Netgear combination wireless/four port router. For some reason I had a tough time getting the McIntosh to resolve an IP and establish a connection to the internet. I tried to manually enter an IP address which is a no-no for my setup. Once I had correctly assigned it as a DHCP server connection, I was off and running. Total time, sans my incompetence, was less than five minutes. A definite plus for the non tech-savvy among us.

Before any audiophile would be willing to accept a server into their playback life the area of faithfulness to the source is at the top of the vetting list. With its audio lineage firmly in mind, McIntosh was smart enough to indulge both camps offering both high-bitrate MP3 compression for the iPod generation, as well as FLAC lossless for those discriminating audio folks. Much like Meridian's MLP technology, FLAC compresses data to a fraction of its original volume while maintaining bit for bit integrity of the original file. It essentially packs the data more efficiently much the same way WinZip or, for you Macintosh users out there, Stuffit function. Though the space saving varies from file to file, I found a 40% reduction in size to be the norm. For those who are not as finicky about lossless playback or possess a larger music library, you can opt for the lossy MP3 route, which increases the compression, thereby reducing the file size. For my modest collection, I was able to load my entire 300+ disc catalog via FLAC and still have enough room to accommodate an additional 400-500 discs.

My analysis then turned to the least enviable portion of the review, ripping of my CD collection. Even with my modest collection of 300+ albums, the task appeared daunting. As luck, or rather excellent hardware, would have it, the MS300 employs a speedy Sony CDX230EE drive. Rips typically took 3-7 minutes depending on the amount of data on the track. Simply set up the MS300 to collect disc data from the online music database upon insertion, insert the CD, press record, and voila you have a fully transcribed album from your library. It even has the courtesy to eject the disc upon completion, which was quite welcome, as the sound of its ejection was my queue to insert the next disc. A few weeknights/weekends later and my collection was fully incorporated in all of its lossless glory. I will not lie, as it was a tedious process, but when you consider the reward of a fully digital, lossless archive of your entire library, the pain is mitigated.

I did hit a bump in the road when it came to adding my high-resolution content to the server. The internal CD drive does not read DVD-A or SACD discs, so in order to get my high-resolution content on the MS300, I had to run my Pioneer DVDA/SACD player's analog audio output to the stereo analog input of the MS300. This process proved time consuming and imperfect, as I had to manually start and stop the recording for each track. Since the MS300 only provides two channel recording via the analog connection I lost the ability to keep any of the software I did have that was multi-channel in its original format. Thankfully the MS300 does support DTS, so I was able to copy my meager collection in the format bit for bit and play it back in all its multi-channel glory.

Once the McIntosh was loaded to bear, all I had left was to integrate it into my evaluation system, a task that thankfully proved far less time consuming than the library creation. While the McIntosh has analog audio outputs, my preferred method of connection was via the coaxial digital out into my Anthem D1. I found the analog outputs to be quite good, and in a fully analog system, perfectly serviceable, but the benefits from a digital connection (time alignment, bass management, upsampling, etc.) were too enticing.

On the video side, I ran the component video output to my Marantz projector at 480p 4:3 AR which is not the Marantz's native aspect ratio, but I settled for the window boxed image. For the nights I didn't want to fire up the whole rig, I ran the composite video output (which operates simultaneously with the other video outputs) to my 7" B+W portable TV. Clearly I need to begin my campaign for a Crestron touch panel to view my entire collection from a portable color interface.

Click Here to Go to Part IV.

Copyright 2006 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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