home | user reviews | User Review: M50 Digital Music Player, M52 Digital Music Vault - Great sounding combination needing just a bit of external network management

User Review: M50 Digital Music Player, M52 Digital Music Vault - Great sounding combination needing just a bit of external network management

May 8, 2014

Products: M50 Digital Music Player, M52 Digital Music Vault

Introduction The M50 Digital Music Player and matching M52 Digital Vault have been very sonically satisfying to own, but there have been functional aspects regarding file ripping, management, and backup that I have been unable to address until recently, in large measure due to the relatively sparse and topic incomplete documentation provided with these very high performing units. In this review I’d like to discuss the aspects of their performance and construction which have charmed, as well as address topics not discussed in the provided documentation which are nevertheless solvable with the right insight and approach. What has worked well from day one… the sound. There are quite a few informal discussions and comparison of the M50 with other digital streaming players that can be found on the internet with just a little effort- the general consensus of these reviews mirror my own experience, that this player has a particularly natural presentation in both sound stage, frequency response and dynamics, and delivers this with a multi-tude of file formats, probably more than any other single player on the market, which are often limited to 2-4 favored formats. My own experience is that as a transport player it beats out several expensive disk players I have on hand, with any of the DACs which I’ve tried it with (NAD M51, Berkeley Alpha DAC, TotalDAC-D1 Dual). As a streaming player, the overall sonics are superior to the best Mac setup with an Alpha USB interface; the improvements lie in the naturalness of reproduction of transients and the ability to reproduce a room acoustic from the recording with a natural sense of space. It’s performance as a digital streaming player is competitive with units costing much more; the value proposition is clear. In my present playback setup where the M50/52 are used, they AES/EBU output is connected to a Brainstorm DCD8 which functions as a digital reclocker, using an external Rubidium oscillator; the AES/EBU output from the DCD8 is connected to a TotalDAC-D1 dual. Evolution of functionality The fundamentals of sonic performance are in large measure due to the hardware design; it’s the evolution of the software platform that most impacts functionality- this has improved steadily since I purchased the M50 and M52 in September of 2013- through firmware updates to the M50, and software updates for the iOS iPad M50 remote program. This has steadily improved the quality and performance of ripping and consistency with which CD’s are identified and album artwork included in the database. Files are ripped to WAV initially then encoded in FLAC, which saves disk space through lossless encoding, much like ZIP files on your computer. This encoding is quite effective, as I have hundreds of CD’s now ripped but more disk space free than you would expect, knowing the storage requirement for WAV or AIFF files. But the functionality still has occasional glitches— a CD may not be recognized in the online data base used for ripping, and so the ripped files are placed in the “Unknown Artist” directory, without the proper track names. Even recognized CDs may be missing the album artwork, or may be supplied with incorrect artwork- and there is no way using the iOS App or controls on the M50 to directly address these problems. Furthermore, I have high resolution files purchased from vendors like HDTracks or ripped from my own SACDs that I would like to setup with the M50, on the M52, but the owners manual does not describe any method for getting these on to the M52- instead, one is to use a USB stick or external drive and connect through the USB A connector on the front panel, though it should be pointed out that a recommended folder structure and arrangement is not suggested. Fortunately, following the iTunes layout will work fine, but using a second drive connected at the front panel is not the most convenient solution. One of my biggest concerns is backup- it’s a lot of effort ripping hundreds of CDs, and while the M52 does incorporate RAID5 capability and can rebuild after replacing one of the drives (the M52 uses special high MTBF drives developed for 24/7 operating performance in enterprise environments; AFR for 24/7 is rated at 0.55% per year, which is quite good- and not to be compared with those who suggest the M52 is overpriced because they can put a cheap box together with cheap standard desktop drives- you get what you pay for, in all cases. Still, being able to backup the state of the M52 as well as address file and artwork issues would be very desirable- only by accident did I find out that actually is possible, as there is no coverage of these topics in the NAD documentation. Network based file management and backup for the M50/52 Purely by accident I discovered that the M50 can be found on the local network by my Mac’s, and will appear on the desktop as a server shared drive. Normally I never have the music system and the computers turned on at the same time, so it was an unusual situation when I discovered that recently. The name which is designated for the M50 (FamilyRoom in my case) is used for the shared folder, and within a “Music” folder is visible, and this contains at the next level all of the artists listing, and below that the album folders, with the album track contents and album artwork JPG within. This arrangement opens the door for various occasional but very desirable management tasks: Backing up all the artist and album folders to a separate drive; copying the “Unknown” folder rips and updating track names and embedded information, using a program such as Max, and updating or adding missing album artwork. Additionally, files of a compatible type in a similar folder format can be added conveniently from external sources to the M52, such as high resolution files purchased from labels or third party vendors like HDTracks. One must use the re-index function after any externally made updates. With this newly discovered management capability, my few qualms and quibbles regarding the M50/M52 functional capabilities and management have been completely resolved. I would strongly recommend NAD include this information in the M50/M52 manuals, though. Now I can say that the system functionality I'm experiencing fully meets my needs and current expectations- being able to use external network based management has raised the user experience to the same level as the sonic experience, which is truly excellent.

Jon Mark Hancock - Danville, CA, USA

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