Author Topic: MELCO N1A Digital Music Library/NAS/Streamer Questions and Answers  (Read 83861 times)

Offline milk_vanilla

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Re: JRIVER - MELCO UPNP Question for Experts.
« Reply #15 on: October 15, 2015, 16:19 »
Similar like melco approach

i recently played around with my apple mini (which is my current DLNA server, formerly i used synology), by adding usb to ethernet converter (thunderbolt also available), and have direct connection to lumin, cat7 ( enable bridge mode, with cron job during startup).

The jumping is very obvious for lumin ( i believe it should be applied to other streamer), comparing when i shifted from Syno to the mini as my dlna server.

Though it may not a same league as melco does, but this was cool
« Last Edit: October 15, 2015, 16:21 by milk_vanilla »

Offline Tubist

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Re: JRIVER - MELCO UPNP Question for Experts.
« Reply #16 on: October 15, 2015, 17:11 »
Thanks all for the feedback.  I will let my friend know for him to make decision. 

From the discussion, there is one point of the Melco NAS which I feel is not brought up.  Yes the Melco does NAS duties, have light-piped Ethernet isolators and separate ports for Player and home LAN. 

What is most important to me is that all these is housed in 1 box, signal path is extremely short to reduce noise and all action clocked by an audio grade ultra low jitter clock. 

This eliminates jitter otherwise by using external components like external Ethernet isolators and Ethernet switches which have their own internal clock generators. And needless to say we know the clock quality of these commercial devices, even though they provide the necessary functions and improvements.  Even Ethernet cables or perhaps fibre optics cables will have their contribution to final jitter to the sound?  Even uptone Regen is reported to have improvement by a clock upgrade, though that is in the USB domain and the designer originally thought it should not have any effect.

There is a demo unit N1A at Sound Affairs and from James shipment will come next week or week after next.  We listened to the difference between N1A and his very respectable Integrita NAS from Germany Certon (which is more expensive).  The improvement is obvious. 

Offline watchdog

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Re: JRIVER - MELCO UPNP Question for Experts.
« Reply #17 on: October 15, 2015, 17:24 »
+1. Very very obvious when comparing the Melco with the Integrita.

But its the direct connection between the Melco and a USB DAC that is most interesting.

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« Last Edit: October 15, 2015, 18:36 by watchdog »
Less is more !

Offline AndrewC

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Re: JRIVER - MELCO UPNP Question for Experts.
« Reply #18 on: October 16, 2015, 08:14 »
...
It’d be interesting to know if Melco actually uses a single Ethernet chip (like a Broadcom or Marvel) for both Ethernet ports (which kind of defeats the purpose a little), or they actually have different chips support each Ethernet port (in which case the OS kernel will need some packet routing code! ;D)

(Quoting myself ;D ) ‘coz I got curious and went digging…

These Melco guys are serious ;), they use separate Marvell 88E family GbE transceiver chips for each Ethernet port - a primary ‘1514 chip network facing, and a secondary ‘1518 chip DAC/Player facing (at least on the N1Z). Nice :)

That said, the “Light-pipe” is merely a reference to the Ethernet Tx/Rx LEDs being piped off the motherboard via plastic “pipes”, there’s no Ethernet opto isolation, but the DAC facing chip has reduced interface data pins; less chance of noise traveling across to the DAC.



The main Clock chip though is a very ordinary low-noise Crystal job that pretty much everyone uses, not temperature or voltage controlled, nothing special really (doesn’t look like a Crystek part even).

The main CPU is a Marvell 88F6 family SoC (ARM-compliant). The motherboard has Buffalo stamped all over it, so I’m guessing it has the same OS as Buffalo’s LinkStation NAS; Linux based like pretty much every other NAS.
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Offline Sound Affairs

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Re: JRIVER - MELCO UPNP Question for Experts.
« Reply #19 on: October 16, 2015, 09:04 »
Hi Andrew. 

Thanks for the pictures.  From the picture, we can see that the Ethernet ports are galvanic isolated via data transformers and further filtered near the Ethernet port side. So from home LAN network to your Player, there are 4 layers of noise isolation/filtration at least (not to mentioned the isolation provided by the 2 transceiver chips).

The light-pipe concept is to eliminate another noise source at the Ethernet ports: the blinking LED indicators.  In Melco NAS, you have the option to turn off the Ethernet port LED indicators, to eliminate LED switching noise from the Ethernet port to the data lines at Melco end.  Don't think this in an option for other NAS.  From our testing, this turning off of the LED indicators at the Ethernet port does improve transparency of the sound.

Cheers.

James
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Offline Instek_88

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Re: JRIVER - MELCO UPNP Question for Experts.
« Reply #20 on: October 16, 2015, 09:15 »
I did a bit of digging after AndrewC comments. AndrewC is correct, it seems like the Melco is not optically isolated:

http://forum.minimserver.com/showthread.php?tid=2032&pid=14917#pid14917

Strange that they use terms like "light-piped ethernet port" in their marketing.

Technical stuff aside. Guess its good to do a shoot-out using Melco N1A vs the following (for streamers and not DAC):

(1) Netgear GS108 with with a good LPS
(2) Optical media converter with good LPS

Good LPS can be maybe Teddy Pardo LPS, Paul Hynes LPS, or Uptone LPS. I had yet received the Uptone JS-02 so I am not sure how it compares to Teddy Pardo or Paul Hynes. I have all of the above but my system may not be good enough to reveal the differences properly.

We are organising a comparison between Teddy Pardo LPS and Uptone JS-02 soon, hopefully that will happen soon.



Offline durianlover88

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Re: JRIVER - MELCO UPNP Question for Experts.
« Reply #21 on: October 16, 2015, 09:47 »
+1. Very very obvious when comparing the Melco with the Integrita.

But its the direct connection between the Melco and a USB DAC that is most interesting.

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Broler watchdog....can you share what is interesting for the USB DAC connection piece?
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Offline AndrewC

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Re: JRIVER - MELCO UPNP Question for Experts.
« Reply #22 on: October 17, 2015, 08:21 »
...  From the picture, we can see that the Ethernet ports are galvanic isolated via data transformers and further filtered near the Ethernet port side. So from home LAN network to your Player, there are 4 layers of noise isolation/filtration at least (not to mentioned the isolation provided by the 2 transceiver chips).
...

James, right, figured thats what that array of L45 -L51 inductors/capacitor and filters further up is doing… Very nice :)


...
Strange that they use terms like "light-piped ethernet port" in their marketing.
. ;)..

Yeah, I too found it rather misleading (intentional or otherwise ;)). Always a good idea to validate a manufacturer’s marketing pitch ;D 
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Offline AndrewC

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Re: JRIVER - MELCO UPNP Question for Experts.
« Reply #23 on: December 23, 2015, 07:28 »
Just back from vacay. The Falcon has landed!  (Review in a couple of days )

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Offline naimster

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Re: JRIVER - MELCO UPNP Question for Experts.
« Reply #24 on: December 23, 2015, 10:42 »
Congrats! Look forward to your feedback on this one.
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Offline RAYRAY

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Yes. Looking forward to the review on the Melco N1A ;D

Offline Sound Affairs

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Melco N1A wins Editors Choice 2015 for Hifi News and Record Review :
http://www.hifinews.co.uk/

Melco N1A wins the product of the year by The Ear Magazine :
http://www.the-ear.net/review-hardware/products-year-2015-various
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Offline AndrewC

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Another Christmas holiday, another little project ;D…  While spending time in the UK recently, I couldn’t resist picking up a Melco N1A. Just spent the last couple of days playing around with it.  There are quite a few reviews online, but none that really go into much depth, so, here’s a slightly more comprehensive look at the N1A… there’s just so much to play with this thing, sorry this post is going to be a little long :P… but hopefully useful for others seriously considering the Melco.

SO, HOW DOES THE N1A SOUND?
Let me just cut to the chase here, my initial reaction to the N1A’s sound was “Wow!”… Seems to have an incredible sense of effortlessness, an apparent improvement in dynamics, and definitely less grainy sounding/cleaner, and what seemed like quieter background.  I use cautionary adjectives because when I did quick/immediate A/B comparisons against my dedicated (Apple) Xserve, those attributes seemed almost the same, but kinda, almost/not quite…

With some longer term listening of just the N1A across a couple of days then switching back to my Xserve, the differences were much more pronounced/discernible. Especially the better dynamics and an 3-dimensionality to the music which has always been one of the key missing factors with my Xserve (when compared to my disc transport).

When the N1A’s Ethernet LEDs and front panel display were turned off, and up-sampling on my streamer/DAC enabled, things got even better.  Nora Jones’ “Come Away With Me” on 192/24 PCM streamed over Ethernet and up-sampled to DXD sounds better than her SACD disc - better clarity/separation, tighter bass, more dynamic… (that said, no doubt some might recall the controversy surrounding this album’s SACD release as being from PCM sources, so perhaps not surprising results?).

Jeff Buckley’s “Grace” on DSD DSF (DoPE) sounded virtually as good as the recent (corrected) ORG SACD disc. Even the 192/24 PCM version sounds pretty fantastic!



This really flies in the face of “it’s all just 1s and 0s in check-summed asynchronous packets!!” — but there it is, a definite “Wow!” factor from the get-go compared to my Xserve, which rarely, if ever, bettered or came close to my disc transport. The N1A comes close, if not occasional as good!! Thats a £1,600 packet transport vs. a US$40,000 disc transport (not quite apples-to-apples when including an up-sampler, but close enough comparison).

I’m really struggling to understand how it’s possible for the N1A to better my xServe when they’re both purely digital packet transport platforms, the differences after a while becomes too obvious to be just placebo. All this is pretty much straight out of the box for the N1A… it does’t seem to need any “burn-in” as such, just my ears getting used to hearing the subtle but discernible differences. It’s a bit of an eye-opener for whats possible, won’t be difficult to put together a “giant-killer” with the N1A.
« Last Edit: December 28, 2015, 21:59 by AndrewC »
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Offline AndrewC

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Part 2…

TECHNICAL TIDBITS
Sonics aside, there are quite a number of interesting nuances with the N1A.  Technically it behaves like a standard NAS with built-in UPnP/DLNA Server (and Renderer - for control of USB output streams), but Melco doesn’t have its own Control-point App (unlike some other vendors), nor music playback buttons on the front-panel (which creates a problem - more on this later), but it happily works with pretty much any generic Control-point App like PlugPlayer, or Foobar2000, as well as OpenHome variants like Linn’s KinskyApp (which is quite nice), but I mostly used dCS’ native dCS HD App on my iPad (so that I could control things like Volume from the App itself). Melco are supposedly working on their own App (or rather, renewing what they had before - there’s App store dead links to an older App from them).

There are two primary music playback modes that the N1A operates in; Network mode and Direct mode.

In Network mode, the N1A connects to the home Router on it’s “LAN” Ethernet port while the streamer/DAC can also be directly connected to the same home Router just like any traditional NAS or Computer Audio connection, but the recommended configuration is “in-series”, where the streamer/DAC is instead plugged into the N1A’s “Player” Ethernet port.



Like mentioned earlier in this thread, but not anywhere in Melco’s documentation or any reviews for that matter, in Network mode the N1A bridges it’s two Ethernet ports; meaning all Ethernet traffic appearing on the “LAN” port is also forwarded to it’s “Player” port. I had assumed (wrongly) that Melco might route packets between the two Ethernet interfaces; this would make the networking code more complicated of course, but at least it would not expose the streamer/DAC to miscellaneous Ethernet packets from the home Router/“LAN” port. Or at the very least, I wished they had tweaked the bridging-code to filter out as much as possible - it’s still possible in a future firmware release I suppose.

So, the only real benefit in this configuration, compared to a traditional NAS or a Mac Mini type configuration, is that the N1A has specially designed Ethernet PHY port filters separating the home Router from the streamer/DAC. Miscellaneous Ethernet traffic, like your internet browsing etc, will still get exposed to the streamer/DAC. I Wireshark’ed the N1A’s “Player” port to see if it was doing anything special at the packet layer… nope, straight bridging.  Ironically, this is where my Xserve setup is better, because it has a dedicated Ethernet port to the streamer/DAC, without my home Router traffic flooding… Still, sonically the N1A betters the Xserve, so kind of a moot point ;D.

In Direct mode, the N1A operates unplugged from the home Router, and with the streamer/DAC still plugged into it’s “Player” port.

Unlike in Network mode where it picks-up an IP address via DHCP request to the home Router (or you could manually configure in an IP address), in Direct mode it allocates itself an IP address from 169.254.0.0/16 (per RFC 3927) - defaulting to .254.2) - often called “zero-configuration networking”, same as how Apple’s Bonjour works, so there’s no need to pre-configure any IP address manually. DHCP requests from the streamer/DAC is assigned an IP address from the same subnet starting with .254.10.

The problem with Direct mode though is that since the N1A is not connected to the home Router, and it doesn’t have front-panel music playback buttons (only buttons for setup menu traversing), if the streamer/DAC also doesn’t have front-panel playback controls, there’s no way for a Control-point App to connect to the system and initiate playback! :O

In fact, the Melco User Manual specifically states;
Quote
Notes:
• Direct mode is not suitable if your Network Audio Player is operated only via a remote control app on mobile devices.
…

Many of the Melco reviewers talk about Direct mode, but none explain how they actually tested it. The only credible review I’ve seen is Martin Collom’s Mar’15 HIFICRITIC N1Z review where he used a Naim NDS streamer/DAC, which does have front-panel playback buttons/display even for UPnP/DLNA control.

I consider this a major faux pas/poor design choice on Melco’s part… they could fix this “issue” by implementing a Control-point function via their front-panel buttons/OLED display.

In my case, since my streamer/DAC doesn’t have front-panel playback buttons, I had to work-around it; inserting my dedicated Ethernet switch (which usually front-ends my Xserve to my streamer/DAC) to now go between the N1A, streamer/DAC, and my Macbook Pro acting as the Control-point. Sure, its not as “clean” as exclusively point-to-point, but with a good dedicated switch it’s easy to ensure there’s no other Ethernet traffic pollution… and there’s an upside; since my Ethernet switch has SFP ports, with a pair of GbE SPFs and a Converter, I was able to actually optically isolate my streamer/DAC ;D



Sonically, this Direct mode configuration was a step up! Practically confirming that optical isolation plus removing miscellaneous Ethernet packets from appearing on the streamer/DAC’s Ethernet port adds to sound quality (for reasons that aren’t exactly clear; extraneous Ethernet packets are not the same as analog noise, they shouldn’t have any real sonic effect in this kind of a configuration).

Telarc’s Erich Kunzel - Cincinnati Pops Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture on DSD DSFs over DoPE was fabulous! I’d swear it sounds better, than the already excellent SACD disc (and far better than my Philadelphia Orchestra/Columbia Records R2R tape which is somewhat rolled-off). Ironically, the optical isolation alone didn’t bring that significant a sonic benefit, straight Ethernet cable between the switch and my streamer/DAC sounded pretty similar… Possibly because of the (DC powered) optical Converter - lots of potential for tweaks here.



Likewise, Duke Ellington’s “Blue In Orbit” (OOP) in DSD64 DSF was also pretty scary spectacularly close to my SACD transport!! (I can now keep my SACD safe & sound ;D - replacing it with an unwrapped one, even if you can even find one, will cost >US$300 today).

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Offline AndrewC

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Part 3…

Also, the way UPnP/DLNA Control-points work, I can unplug the Mac from the switch right after initiating playback without disrupting the track playing. Ensuring that the Mac wasn’t “interfering” in any way with the playback bitstream - not very practical in real-world use of course, but nice for testing sonic extremes ;D.

With the Macbook Pro as the Control-point, I was also able to simultaneously Wireshark everything going on between the N1A and streamer/DAC… Here’s a screen shot of my Mac (@ 169.254.254.20) initiating a track playback on the streamer/DAC (@ 169.254.254.10) - frame 5718, deep-blue, towards the top.



Interestingly, I noticed the N1A attempts to request Google QUIC support from the Control-point - which likely implies Melco are exploring something other than UPnP/DLNA for Ethernet streaming - bodes well for future support for Roon.

USB output - While the N1A is designed for optimum playback via Ethernet streaming, it’s USB output is no slouch either. Any of the four USB ports on the N1A can be connected to a DAC which it automatically detects and configures itself for playback with. From the control-point App, the N1A has to be selected as both the Server and the Renderer. I don’t playback via USB from my Xserve, but I benchmarked the N1A against my Macbook Pro/Audirvana+… which got smoked completely! I haven’t yet tried tweaking with USB dejitter/regens (like the AudioQuest’s JitterBug - I can’t remember where I kept the damn thing!).

The N1A uses a dedicated Renesas’ uPD720201USB 3.0 host controller chip which supports up to 4 x USB 3.0 ports. So all four USB ports are 3.0 compliant, though they only labeled one of the ports as “3.0” (at the back)… I’m guessing it has a maximum transfer rate limit to 5Gbps for just one port only at a time. In any case, not a problem as such unless one expects to playback via USB and attempt to backup over another USB port - not sure if the music playback will be impacted, I didn’t try.

Bugs
The only significant bugs that I found with the N1A was to do with high-rate DSD handling.

While DSD128 on DoP works perfectly fine over Ethernet or USB. When the N1A is configured for DSD-to-PCM conversion (not DoP) for USB output, DSD128 files were strangely converted to 44.1k/16bits PCM, instead of the necessary 176.4k/24bits. To confirm it wasn’t something dodgy going on with my streamer/DAC’s USB port, I tested the N1A with my Chord Mojo… same results! 

(with DSD-to-PCM configured, N1A showing DSD128/5.6Mhz playback, but Mojo shows USB input as Redbook 44.1k/16 PCM)


Clearly something’s wrong with the N1A’s DSD-to-PCM conversion. Not sure if the conversion is performed by the built-in Twonky server, or if the fault is with Melco’s code (might know when I try the MinimServer).

DSD256 on the other hand, wouldn’t work on DoP or DSD-to-PCM (should convert to 176.4k 352.8k/24), taking a minute or so to even show-up onscreen that it’s playing back the file, but to complete silence - I verified that my DSD256 files work perfectly with the Chord Mojo and Audirvana+ (DoP) on my Mac.



Hopefully Melco will fix these soon, although theres a dearth of DSD256 content anyway, and I don’t use DSD-to-PCM conversion, but I can see how this could be a problem for others.

Couple of other minor quibbles….

- When selecting random tracks, the front-panel OLED display takes a a couple of seconds before track changes appear unless the previous track was Stopped first (although, the new track does starts playing immediately).

- The latest firmware slows down the track-name scrolling on the front-panel OLED display, making it lot more jerky… I prefer the much faster but smooth scrolling of the earlier firmware version.

- Occasionally, metadata like album art goes missing on the UPnP/DLNA client (tried with multiple clients)… I suspect the problem is with the embedded Twonky server. Haven’t had time to go dig further into it.
« Last Edit: December 28, 2015, 22:24 by AndrewC »
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