REVIEW: MELCO N100 MUSIC LIBRARY AND D100 CD DRIVE - SIZE IS NOT IMPORTANT
Melco will be a familiar name to many, and at the end of last year, they announced a new, more affordable unit in the N100. Well, we do like to check out the entry-level as much as the flagships here at StereoNET, so we eagerly awaited delivery.
For the past couple of months, we have had the Melco N100, and D100 sat in our system. Here is what we thought about them.
N100 Music Library
D100 CD Drive
£1800 / £999
Melco started its life in essence pretty much four years ago as in February 2014 Buffalo Inc launched its Audiophile NAS Project. The goal of this project was to create the world`s first audiophile grade source component to access, store and deliver Hi-Res Digital Music without any of the compromises of computers and their peripherals. The result was the MELCO N1 Series which debuted in the UK in November 2014.
Melco Syncrets Inc became an independent company and inherited the Melco Audiophile NAS Project from Buffalo in 2016. The 1st Generation N1Z and N1A Series achieved great success, transforming NAS into a real Music Library.
Many amongst us are increasing their digital music libraries. Some will be playing their virtual collection from a laptop, PC or Mac. However, there is a growing number who are storing their music on Network Attached Storage or NAS. I have a QNAP with a DIY RAM upgrade loaded with Western Digital 8TB Red Helium drives. This is all well and good, but not everyone knows (or wants to know) how to set NAS up and get them to talk to their Hi-Fi system.
Enter Melco who has unquestioningly been one of the leaders in this area. However, with their latest high-end release, the N10, coming in at £6,750 it won't be for everyone.
Thankfully, in September, Melco released the N100 at a much more palatable price for most people.
Like the top-flight N10, the N100 features a half-width case design measuring 215 x 61 x 269mm (WxHxD). Additionally, its partnering D100 USB CD drive came along for review too, and together they look very attractive.
The N100 has an internal 2TB HDD, but this can be further augmented by the E100 3TB external drive which comes sporting the same aesthetics as the N100 and D100. That said, 2TB is capacious enough to store the equivalent of 4,000 CDs in a lossless format. Granted, full-fat hi-res audio will soon chomp through that storage, but the N100 is aimed at those with a moderate library or those just getting started who are looking for a quality solution.
The internal drive is mounted using Melco's HS-S2 (Highly Stable Storage) system that's designed to ensure the drive is unaffected by external forces as found in the N1ZS/2A flagship model. Format support is pretty much universal and will play nicely with files up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM and DSD512.
Around the rear of the N100, you will find not one but two Ethernet ports. Before you start scratching your head as to the whys and wherefores, the pair of ports enable you to connect the N100 to your network router, as usual, using one connection. The second port is used to connect directly with your player which will be purely handling the information needed for audio playback rather than all that other network noise.
Additionally, there are three USB ports, one of which is a dedicated DAC output. Adding a DAC, such as the Chord Electronics Qutest as we have, transforms the N100 from a library to a fully-formed front end. You can navigate using the buttons on the N100; however, it's much slicker using a UPnP app if you're an Android user such as I. If you are rocking an iOS device then you have bragging rights to being able to use the Melco HD control software.
The remaining USB ports, one at the front the other at the rear, are there to hook up additional storage or the D100 CD drive.
As you would expect from a Melco device, the N100 looks and feels exceptionally well put together. There are no hints here that the N100 sits at the foot of the brand's ladder. The quality brushed aluminium casework is finished to a very high standard and would not look out of place amongst even the most esoteric systems. Furthermore, unlike most computers, the N100 is fanless which translates to perfectly silent running.
Rounding off the features is a little screen that displays information such as album name /track title/artist as well as storage capacity, address and status of the N100. To the side of this are four navigation buttons used to get around the menu - back, select, up and down.
As mentioned earlier, I connected the N100 to the Chord Qutest DAC linked to a Musical Fidelity M6si integrated amplifier. To truly experience the Melco N100's magic is to use it as a networked streamer.
In this format, the Melco and Chord combo worked exceptionally well. Compared with playing files from my QNAP which I have configured as a Roon server, or even my laptop, the Melco is much quieter for starters. Furthermore, perhaps as a consequence of its hushed performance, the music not only seems to be less constrained but also has more depth and contrast.
For instance, Thom Yorke's voice in Radiohead's Burn The Witch jumps out from the backing instrumentation. Additionally, the low-end appears to be more explicit and strings more enthusiastic.
The jazzy soundtrack stylings of Vision by Yello slinked out from an inky black background. Brushed snare washes hypnotically behind bass and horn. The synth pads and sound effects all sit perfectly in the piece as I look up at my resting television expecting to see a private investigator film noir full of smoke and dark alleyways. Again, through the N100 there feels more involvement with my digital library than through my NAS.
Flicking through Bubble UPnP for the next track brings me on to the interface between the user and the Melco. I use Bubble as its the app I've used since needing to control UPnP devices. There may well be better ones out there, but many people rate it, as do I. However, it's not perfect and certainly does not have the look and feel of a well-sorted network controller such as Roon.
Being an Android and PC user, I did not have an iPad or iPhone to hand to test the N100 with the Melco HD app. I do not doubt that it works well, but it leaves us, non-iOS users, to search for alternatives that may not show the N100 at its best. I do realise that Melco has its reasons for not getting its devices Roon certified, although I am sure that the N100 would more than fill the requirements. That said, it would have been great to have the Roon option to control the playback.
Melco D100 Performance
Moving on to the little D100 USB CD drive and I was expecting something functional that merely expands the N100's usefulness. However, sometimes when things work perfectly, they risk being overlooked, and I was not going to make that mistake with the D100.
Firstly, whether sat side-by-side or stacked, the pair of Melco units do look great together. When side-by-side they take up roughly the same amount of rack space as a single full-width unit.
The D100 is there to make ripping CDs even more straightforward, and it certainly does that without any hesitation.
In use, the drive itself is extremely smooth and quiet. The first three A Perfect Circle Albums were first to go through. The D100 makes short work of these and SongKong's metadata is as faultless as always.
Putting the drive to the test, I dug out one of my other half's Indie CDs. Suffice to say that she took the promise of compact discs being indestructible to heart; moreover, she really put that to the test.
Ripping to WAV is as easy as loading a CD, selecting Import (which is the default) and letting the D100 do its thing. Naturally, you can also play CDs using the drive.
The CD in question was ripped perfectly with no vestiges of its hard life before I came along being evident.
There may be less expensive alternatives to the D100, but it does work swiftly and effortlessly.
If you are familiar with Melco's products, there is little here that you wouldn't expect already, except the price.
The N100 looks good and works wonderfully. The Melco unit won me over with its superior performance and flexibility. The N100 music library is a worthwhile addition to any audiophile set-up, even more so when used in conjunction with a good DAC. Adding the D100 is a nice bonus but, as it is a separate item, not something you need to do straight away as it does push the price up a bit.
My only regret is that the brand's app is iOS only and that the N100 is not Roon compatible. If those minor niggles are not deal breakers for you, and I for one am willing to overlook them in regards to this quality bit of kit, then the Melco N100 needs to be on your digital audio shopping list. I like it. I like it a lot.
For more information, go to Melco.
StereoNET UK's Editor and Bass playing gadget junkie. He's captained the good ship GadgetyNews for over a decade, making low jargon high tech a very handy thing. His passion for gadgets and Hi-Fi is second only to being a touring musician.
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