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User Review: M51 Direct Digital DAC, M50 Digital Music Player, M52 Digital Music Vault - Great for Playback but not for Playlists

June 11, 2013

Products: M51 Direct Digital DAC, M50 Digital Music Player, M52 Digital Music Vault

For about 10 years I’ve been using a home-made digital system. I would rip wav files and playback via AlbumPlayer software, going ASIO out from a PC via M-Audio soundcard to a high-end DAC (Sonic Frontiers 3). This is, in effect, is what NAD has done with the M50, M51, M52 – of course they have done it with dedicated, high-quality, expensive components. My system worked extremely well but I got tired of replacing windows machines every 3 years when they invariable died. So about 6 months ago, I bought the M50, M51 & M52. The M52 has plenty of storage – I’ve ripped in flac about a thousand CD’s and barely made a dent. It works very well with the M50 and is easy to locate/access on a network. It is not a NAS and doesn’t work on its own so you must have the M50 to use it. The file folders, file names and artwork need to be laid out in a particular manner – this is done automatically when ripping via the M50. You have to follow that format if you are copying in from another source. The hard drives used on the M52 are of the highest grade and the data is more secure because of its RAID 5 configuration. It is, however, still recommended to back up your entire collection to another location for couple of reasons. I had a blinking drive light pretty early on in my ownership which means the drive lost connection to the RAID controller (not that you would find that printed anywhere), so, with the help of tech support, I reset the unit. You must back up your data prior to reset as there is the possibility of losing it. The reset procedure didn’t solve the issue so they sent me a new one to which I transferred the backed-up music. The new one has been working fine. If a hard drive fails, they would also want you to have a back-up; it’s not clear to me that they would send you one hard-drive to replace the failed one as there is not clear drive-failure procedure established (they may send a replacement unit). In any case, because it takes sooo long to rip CDs, make a backup! The M51 DAC is outstanding. It does a great job of playing the ripped files. Flac encoding works very well and I don’t hear any shortcomings in sound quality. I think flac files played through the M51 sound better than when I recorded wav files - plus one can easily add tags with flac which is not the case with wav files (but see M50 below). While the DAC can handle most music formats, the M50 only rips in either flac or mp3 – though I don’t know why anyone would rip in mp3. If you, like me, are downloading high resolution files to take advantage of the M51’s capabilities, then you are doing it from a computer and transferring the files to a folder in the M52. Of the three components, the M51 wins the cost/benefit analysis. The M50 is more complex to analyze. It works well with the M52 and M51. I have a null modem cable from the M50 to the M51 to be able to control the volume from my IPad (this only started to work with the May/June 2013 software update). As virtually everyone who has reviewed the M50 has noted, ripping is VERY slow – especially when you are ripping hundreds of CDs like I did. I did come across some ripping problems but for the most part, it handled the CDs very well. There were some artwork issues – no or incorrect artwork and some ripping issues: CDs hung and were not encoded to FLAC, some songs were truncated. Given how many CD’s I ripped, it did an admirable job overall. I occasionally have some playback issues where I get a FLAC Encoder Error and playback stops. I have to see if re-ripping solves this – unfortunately, you cannot only rip a song or a few songs from a CD to the M50, it’s all or none. The M50 has two major weaknesses: 1. its lack of ability to Tag edit & 2. Its lack of playlist capabilities. You might as well plan on buying JRivers excellent media center software ($50) or something similar if you want to correct tags and fix artwork. I’ve also had some difficulty with compilations where it shows each song as a separate album. The M50 would be unbeatable if NAD would just incorporate JRiver into it. I suggested to NAD months ago, they need to fix the editing and playback capability and while they say they are working on it, the pace of changes has been excruciatingly slow. Let me emphasize, there is NO ability to fix tags: if any item – name, album, artwork, etc. is ripped incorrectly, it stays that way unless you have tag editing software. The playback software is mediocre at best. Yes, you can create playlist but adding and subtracting from them is painful. I won’t go into all the details but some lacking items are: the ability to add songs currently playing to a saved playlist, having to scroll through a possibly huge list of songs to delete one song, inability to restrict duplicate songs in a playlist, no volume leveling capability, no genre playback, etc, etc. The playback software on an IPad is very good and straightforward to use. There are some bugs – for example, switching back from player mode I typically get “loading” messages on the playlist, but overall, it works well. There are some other playback options besides playing your music library: internet radio is available and works well. There is an option for streaming services but it is grayed out and not yet available. Would I recommend the M50, M51 & M52? If one is interested in playing whole albums at a time, doesn’t want to bother getting a PC to work as a music server and has the money to spare, then yes, I would recommend buying the M50, M51 & M52. If you are interested in creating playlist and playing back music as you see fit, then the M50 is not ready for prime time. You could easily get a large hard-drive computer and go digital-out to the M51 and for a lot less money have far superior capability. In any case, I would recommend the M51 DAC.

Eric - CT

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