Author Topic: MELCO N1A Digital Music Library/NAS/Streamer Questions and Answers  (Read 83863 times)

Offline AndrewC

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Part 4…

N1A’s OS
From Wireshark it was pretty clear the N1A runs on a Linux kernel, which is well hidden from the user experience with a super simple front-panel menu/buttons/display, and pre-configured (SMB) folder network access to it’s hard-drives.  Firmware supplied on my machine was version 2.10 (Jul’15), but early on Christmas eve last week Melco released version 2.20 (now thats dedication! ;D).  I tested updating over the Web and from USB, works well and pretty fast.



Note: the bugs mentioned previously is with the latest 2.20 firmware. My listening comparisons were done with both firmware, though more with the latest.

There’s no remote control or imbedded web server for managing the N1A remotely. So I was curious and Telnet’ed into the box and found that they leave the N1A telnet daemon wide open (not sure why! :O). Unfortunately, Melco doesn’t supply a root or admin password in their documentation (unlike with Buffalo NAS’es)… tried asking my retailer, didn’t provide it to them either… tried emailing Melco, got the silent treatment ;D… (so, if anyone has any special kang tao, I’m all ears! ;D)

I was curious to see what other ports they leave open, so I did a quick port scan;



Telnet port 23 I already knew was open. NetBIOS SSN and Microsoft Directory Services are associated with the SMB folder access… all 3 are major security holes if the N1A is exposed to the Internet, so be warned (by the way, the N1A also advertises itself as a Microsoft NETBIOS Print server… don’t know why).

That “Tungsten-https” on port 9443 was intriguing, as were ports 9050 and 49494. Turns out port 9443 is for HTML management of the embedded Twonky server (they re-assigned Twonky’s default management port 9000 to 9443, with embedded security certificate). There’s no mention in the Melco documentation about the Twonky server management, so this was a useful find :). Clearly the N1A can easily support hosting Video files and Photographs as well like a normal NAS, though I haven’t bothered to test it out.




From Wireshark, Port 9050 is used for the embedded Twonky UPnP server to broadcast it’s device service capabilities on XML. Port 49494 remains a mystery… the only google hit I found is some reference to Apple Xsan file system access (investigations for another day).  Fortunately there doesn’t seem to be any LG or Xiaomi style dodgy “ET phone home” type security concerns with Melco ;)

While not officially supported, the N1A does also support embedded MinimServer (obtainable through unofficial channels - scan the MinimServer forum for details). Most folk seem to feel it runs better than Twonky, it probably does a far better job with metadata and file management, still, the current embedded version of Twonky (7.1.1-b2-DSD) supports pretty much everything MinimServer does (including DoPE), so I’m holding off testing MinimServer until I’ve tested everything else. No DSD ISOs support on either servers though (unlike JRiver), but not a huge issue, with DSF extraction utilities abound.

At the OS level, looks like there’s plenty Melco could do to clean things up if they wanted to.
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Offline AndrewC

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Part 5 (final :P)

TWEAKS & SUCH

Melco includes a simple CAT7/RJ45 Ethernet cable with the N1A (not their after-market “C1AE” CAT7 cable), but I heard better results with my Nexans CAT 6A Ethernet cable… I haven’t tried Melco’s after-market CAT7, or Audioquest’s CAT7 Ethernet cables for that matter, but I confess, based on what I’m seeing, they’re unlikely to better the Nexans. I did try with and without Ethernet isolators (pair of Acoustic Revive’s RLI-1s) on either ends, there was no appreciable difference that I could readily tell blind. Likewise with Power cords; as long as the N1A is kept on a separate mains circuit away from other audio gear, after-market Power cords had little effect that I could reliably tell blind.

The N1A has no fan within the unit, but runs cool and the 2 hard drives within run completely silent. The drives are Seagate 3.5” 2TB model ST2000VM003 designed for 24x7 video streaming. They’re very well anti-vibration mounted on double soft-rubber grommets within the N1A, and can be formatted to store music sequentially spanning the two drives giving 4TB of storage, or RAID 0 striped giving faster (playback) performance, or a RAID 1 mirrored-array giving 2TB of storage with 100% redundancy. All my listening was done with the RAID 0 configuration. Will possibly swap the Seagates out for the new Samsung 2TB SSDs at some point (bringing it a little closer to it’s N1Z sibling at a fraction of the cost ;D)

Speaking of which, the motherboard of both the N1A and the N1Z appear to be identical! The N1Z has two 2 SSDs (2 x 512GB) instead of 2 HDDs (2 x 2TB), and dual 30W Power supplies instead of a single 60W in the N1A. It also doesn’t have the 4th front-panel USB port unlike on the N1A, and instead has a USB 5V power-out port at the back. The N1Z also has a significantly better machined-aluminium chassis, instead of the sheet-metal one on the N1A (which rings when knocked, a little electrical tape on the inside improves the ringing without ruining grounding). Both units come with excellent (TAOC) wood and rubber footers.

THE COMPETITION
I only had the Aurender W20 briefly in my system in the past. While it’s well engineered, I don’t recall enough of it’s sonic attributes to honestly compare against the N1A, but I never had a “Wow!” moment first listening to the Aurender. Strike-two against it is the lack of Ethernet output (IMHO, USB just doesn’t cut it for Audiophile playback long term). I never tried any of the Auralic devices, but once again, no Ethernet output. Likewise SOtM sMS-1000SQ. Against stock PCs/Macs, the Melco is a no brainer, and for not crazy money.

FINAL VERDICT
Ironically, my first all-in-one digital audio “streaming” product was also purchased from the UK, the iMerge S2000, almost a decade ago!!… Which I sold not long after acquiring. All things considered, progress on digital streamers appears to have been rather “slow” :P

Is the Melco N1A worth the price? Despite some usability “issues”, I absolutely think so! (I’m not about to part with it just yet ;D)

The sonic difference against a well set-up Computer system may not be day&night huge (at least in my case) but it’s readily audible. To the extent that I’m having 2nd thoughts about my plans for updating my compute system. The N1A simplifies setups dramatically; compute-hardware/software/Ethernet noise-isolation/USB.

But storage capacity is a bit of an issue. Although the N1A supports external storage, it’s via a USB interface. Less than ideal IMHO. If I was Melco, I’d extend the “Downloader” capability to also include access/caching from large-scale cloud storage providers like AWS, DropBox, Google Cloud, etc. - this would eliminate personal storage woes. How it would work practically in terms of performance on-demand etc. remains to be worked out… but before anyone jumps to quality concerns, think about this; IIJ in Japan has just launched a DSD64/DSD128 streaming service called PrimeSeat (designed by Korg, but works great with the Chord Mojo DoP), so it’s possible.

A small part of me wishes I had picked up the (5 times more expensive) N1Z instead of the N1A. But I expect Melco can take this platform even further in its next hardware iteration (there’s already a 40th Anniversary Japan-only Edition, N1ZS10P). And not the least of which hopefully includes integration with Roon in some fashion at some point, maybe implementing Roon Advanced Audio Transport (RAAT) - already rumoured to be in the works - whether it would work in USB mode only, or even Ethernet streams remains to be seen.

Bottom line; if you’re an audio-only purist and want to get seriously into Computer Audio but could do without the hassle of dealing with Computer hardware, software configuration, and tweaks and such, this is the perfect product - it’s almost Apple-like in it’s simplicity, but offers complex capability including playback of practically every known audio codec/format, plus DSD64, DSD128, DSD256(needs fixing), DoP/DoPE, DSD-to-PCM, as well as both standard and the OpenHome variant of UPnP/DLNA… All this for not a lot more money than a souped-up Mac Mini!!… 

Most importantly, it sounds fantastic! BUY! ;D

(Disclosure: I’ve got no affiliation whatsoever to Melco or any of it’s dealers/distributors, local or otherwise :) ).
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Offline nfnc

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Re: MELCO N1A Digital Music Library/NAS/Streamer Questions and Answers
« Reply #32 on: December 29, 2015, 00:36 »
Thank you taking the time and effort to put your thoughts in writing.

It is certainly one of more comprehensive write-ups that I have seen; certainly nothing better from the technical perspective.

On the USB output, would you be able to hazard a guess as to whether the N1A would outperform, say, the Aurender N10/N100H via USB?
« Last Edit: December 29, 2015, 01:00 by nfnc »

Offline watchdog

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Thank you taking the time and effort to put your thoughts in writing.

It is certainly one of more comprehensive write-ups that I have seen; certainly nothing better from the technical perspective.

On the USB output, would you be able to hazard a guess as to whether the N1A would outperform, say, the Aurender N10/N100H via USB?


I can't speak for the N100H, but the N10 outperforms the N1A by a large margin when connected via USB to my DAC. The margin becomes even larger switching from the USB output on the N10 to AES.
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Offline nfnc

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Re: MELCO N1A Digital Music Library/NAS/Streamer Questions and Answers
« Reply #34 on: December 29, 2015, 02:08 »
Thanks. Not unexpected, but not always, given the price difference. Having said that, AndrewC did appear to indirectly compare the W20 and N1A. 

Deliberating over using the N1A + Lumin A1 to output SPDIF or N1A to output USB into a pair of digital active speakers, which accept USB, SPDIF or AES inputs. 

Unfortunately, the USB input is limited to 16/48 whereas the SPDIF/AES inputs accept 24/192, which I can upsample from RB using the Lumin.

The N1A is an elegant solution, instead of having to stream through the Lumin.

It also does not make sense to output USB via the N1A and get a USB to SPDIF/AES converter, or does it ... ?

Btw, was MinimServer installed on the N1A that you listened to?
« Last Edit: December 29, 2015, 02:25 by nfnc »

Offline Audio

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Thanks AndrewC for such a delightful review.   I promise not to argue with you over networking matters.   :)

(Audio)

Offline watchdog

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Thanks. Not unexpected, but not always, given the price difference. Having said that, AndrewC did appear to indirectly compare the W20 and N1A. 

Deliberating over using the N1A + Lumin A1 to output SPDIF or N1A to output USB into a pair of digital active speakers, which accept USB, SPDIF or AES inputs. 

Unfortunately, the USB input is limited to 16/48 whereas the SPDIF/AES inputs accept 24/192, which I can upsample from RB using the Lumin.

The N1A is an elegant solution, instead of having to stream through the Lumin.

It also does not make sense to output USB via the N1A and get a USB to SPDIF/AES converter, or does it ... ?

Btw, was MinimServer installed on the N1A that you listened to?

Nope, I am using the preinstalled Twonky. To provide more context on my comparisons, the N10 was in my system for close to a month while my Melco was from the first batch sold by Sound Affairs.

Prior to that, I was using a Synology NAS connected via ethernet to an Auralic Aries which was in turn hooked up via AES to my Totaldac D1-Dual. Due to a compatibility issue, the Totaldac and Aries do not get along via USB.

In an ideal world, the Melco would have replaced the Synology and Aries. The Melco works fine (both PCM and DSD) connected to the Totaldac via its USB port.

However, after trying various configurations, I still felt that putting the Aries into the mix gave the best sound, with a firmness and dynamics that bettered the direct connection. You could say that the direct connection was more detailed but more analytical, drier and less enjoyable.

The Aurender N10 comfortably outperformed the Melco and the Melco / Aries. The N10 didn't really seem to care much about the connected NAS, possibly due to the way the N10 works - data streamed directly off the NAS is transferred to the internal SSD first.

That being said, I think the Melco is a no-brainer solution if you are just starting out in computer audio. I could comfortably have lived with it directly connected to the Totaldac.

In comparison to the Synology NAS, it totally smokes it. It also smokes my Mac Mini running on regenerated power with Pure Music software.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
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Offline naimster

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Thank you andrewc for such a detailed review. Will take my time to decode the findings as I consider myself novice in music streaming.

Watchdog, how would you rank your various steamer permutations?
There’s no point in having great presentation unless you have the content. I’d far rather talk to Einstein on the telephone than talk face to face to a doorman in a hotel. - Julian Vereker, Founder of Naim

Offline watchdog

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Here is my rough ranking.

Assuming that the highest ranking solution is the N10 at 100, the ranking and scoring would be something as follows,
N10 (AES) - Totaldac – 100
N10 (USB) – Totaldac – 90
Melco – Aries (AES) – Totaldac – 70
Melco (USB) – Totaldac - 65
Synology – Aries (AES) – Totaldac – 55
Brand X Streamer (USB) – Totaldac – 50

I am not naming brand X streamer as it belongs to one of the forummers here and it would not be polite to identify it. It is the company’s flagship product and is just slightly more affordable than the Aurender N10. It was quite new when we tested it (a few days old), so we could also consider that it wasn’t properly broken in.
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Offline RAYRAY

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Thanks to AndrewC and watchdog for the detailed and feedback.

Very keen to see a review on Melco N1A Direct Mode with ethernet cable into a PSA Directstream or MSB Analog with Network Renderer module.

Offline nfnc

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Re: MELCO N1A Digital Music Library/NAS/Streamer Questions and Answers
« Reply #40 on: December 29, 2015, 17:03 »
Here is my rough ranking.

Assuming that the highest ranking solution is the N10 at 100, the ranking and scoring would be something as follows,
N10 (AES) - Totaldac – 100
N10 (USB) – Totaldac – 90
Melco – Aries (AES) – Totaldac – 70
Melco (USB) – Totaldac - 65
Synology – Aries (AES) – Totaldac – 55
Brand X Streamer (USB) – Totaldac – 50


Thanks. I understand from Vincent that the TotalDac works best from its AES input.

Wonder where the following combinations would end up...?

Melco - Lumin A1 (SPDIF) ->

Melco (USB) + Regen (with or w/o TotalDac or Curious USB cable) ->
« Last Edit: December 29, 2015, 17:06 by nfnc »

Offline nfnc

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Re: MELCO N1A Digital Music Library/NAS/Streamer Questions and Answers
« Reply #41 on: December 29, 2015, 17:09 »
I also wonder if the Melco (via USB) would be significantly improved once James implements the LPSU modification to the N1A? 

Both the Aries and N1Z employ LPSUs and they better the N1A.

Offline AndrewC

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Re: MELCO N1A Digital Music Library/NAS/Streamer Questions and Answers
« Reply #42 on: December 29, 2015, 18:29 »
...
On the USB output, would you be able to hazard a guess as to whether the N1A would outperform, say, the Aurender N10/N100H via USB?

You’d be far better off listening directly for yourself :P

I looked into the N100, lots of great features like caching, it’s an excellent idea that more vendors show should implement (they should do it with lots of RAM rather than SSD though).

Unlike over Ethernet, USB is inherently much more timing (and power-noise) sensitive being a synchronous bit-stream (“Async USB” has more to do with the bitstream pace), so Aurender and other USB output focused devices need to go to great lengths around Clocks and Power design.


...
Deliberating over using the N1A + Lumin A1 to output SPDIF or N1A to output USB into a pair of digital active speakers, which accept USB, SPDIF or AES inputs. 

Unfortunately, the USB input is limited to 16/48 whereas the SPDIF/AES inputs accept 24/192, which I can upsample from RB using the Lumin.
...

What brand are your speakers? Does it have an external channel separator box?

If you want an all-in-one music server unit that has AES and S/PDIF (and no built-in DAC cost)… I can think of two;

- The Bryston BPD-2
- The Aria Music Server

I have absolutely no idea how they sound though :P

Alternatively, you’d have to consider a Network-to-AES or USB-to-AES converter. Like the N1A + Auralic Aries, or N1A/N100H +  Weiss INT204 or Berkley Audio Alpha USB (if you don’t mind off-box DSD-to-PCM conversion)…

…but it’s still a single AES (dual-channel) output, designed to go into a DAC not into a pair of digital speakers.


Thanks AndrewC for such a delightful review.   I promise not to argue with you over networking matters.   :)

Always welcome a good debate though! ;)


...
The Aurender N10 comfortably outperformed the Melco and the Melco / Aries. The N10 didn't really seem to care much about the connected NAS, possibly due to the way the N10 works - data streamed directly off the NAS is transferred to the internal SSD first.
...

Can’t say I’m surprised that the N1A’s USB output can be bettered.


Thank you andrewc for such a detailed review. Will take my time to decode the findings as I consider myself novice in music streaming.
...

If you’re using the Naim NDS, it’s a rare animal indeed with it’s built-in control-point function! Seems to be Melco’s natural stablemate ;)


Thanks to AndrewC and watchdog for the detailed and feedback.

Very keen to see a review on Melco N1A Direct Mode with ethernet cable into a PSA Directstream or MSB Analog with Network Renderer module.

(Unless I’m mistaken) both the PS-Audio DS-DAC and the MSB Analog DAC will have the same “issue” that I had with my DAC; a Control-Point App required.

Which will force the need for a dedicated Ethernet switch in-between. N1A’s Direct mode (unless the DS-DAC has a Control-Point function with it’s front-panel display that I’m not aware of).


I also wonder if the Melco (via USB) would be significantly improved once James implements the LPSU modification to the N1A? 
...

I'm pretty sure it would  ;)
« Last Edit: December 29, 2015, 18:33 by AndrewC »
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Offline RAYRAY

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(Unless I’m mistaken) both the PS-Audio DS-DAC and the MSB Analog DAC will have the same “issue” that I had with my DAC; a Control-Point App required.

Which will force the need for a dedicated Ethernet switch in-between. N1A’s Direct mode (unless the DS-DAC has a Control-Point function with it’s front-panel display that I’m not aware of).

Hi AndrewC,
Yes, you are right. I forgot on the Control-point App which required a Router due to the requirement of WiFi.
A solution to use 2 media converter to optical switch where a ethernet port is available for connection to a Router.

May I know which DAC you are having with ethernet port capability?

Offline naimster

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If you’re using the Naim NDS, it’s a rare animal indeed with it’s built-in control-point function! Seems to be Melco’s natural stablemate ;)

Haha... NDS too rich for my blood. Using a Soundaware D100 Pro China brand streamer but it happens to have front panel control point. :)
There’s no point in having great presentation unless you have the content. I’d far rather talk to Einstein on the telephone than talk face to face to a doorman in a hotel. - Julian Vereker, Founder of Naim