QSonix First Experience
I have now had my QSonix server up and running for almost 3 weeks and I thought I'd share my initial impressions:
Why a dedicated server?:
I wanted the ability to develop a single hi-res (cd quality, anyway) music library for my listening room and distributed music system. Music Giants allows cd quality downloads and has recently dipped a toe into non DRM content - so I have decided to move from i-tunes to Music Giants. A recent TAS article made me aware of QSonix and Sooloos and further research turned up a bunch of other choices. After comparing my options,I ended up choosing QSonix
Normally, I wouldn't address this, but it is very different from any other component so...here goes. The key word is patience. You shouldn't buy a server on Tuesday morning and expect to be sipping a martini and browsing your cd collection on Tuesday night. My timeline:
1) Deliver 550 cds (about 20% of my library) to the dealer to rip onto the internal 750 Gig QSonix drive. (app 2 weeks)
2) Compress my library of app. 7,000 tracks to 320 kbs MP3 for use on i-pod and (Sonos) distributed music system (just under 4 days). This can (and was) done intermittently around listening sessions using the "interrupt compression/resume later" toggle on the QSonix software.
3)De-bug the problems with the Cat-5 network in my home (app 3 days). Obviously unique to my application.
4) De-bug the media sharing function allowing Sonos to access the music files on the QSonix drive (app 1 week). Note that media sharing is relevant only to those seeking to allow other network devices - like my Sonos - to access the music library on the QSonix internal drive. A software bug prevented the routine execution of this function.
5) Back-up all files (overnight)
One of the striking aspects of this experience was my interaction with the Qsonix people. I'm quite sure that they spent a lot more time on the phone with me than they would have wanted, yet they were always pretty good humored and very helpful. The only issue in set-up that proved product related was the media sharing software glitch and the company had an on-line uodate out in less than a week.
The 2 lessons here are:
1)Many systems - including your network architecture -make for potentially complex set-up issues when installing a server. The QSonix side is unusually intuitive and user friendly, yet be prepared to work through some issues
2) Large files take time to process. It's easy to forget that I got a 750 Gig QSonix and $300 Terabyte back-up drive for this system. Even though I'm only using about a third of it so far: This is an UNGODLY amount of data storage capacity. Be patient.
Okay, how does it sound?
Short answer: very, very good.
I will note that I haven't used the internal DAC because A) lots of sentiment in the press recommended an external DAC and B) cabling issues unique to my room and system favored a single run of 75 ohm co-ax from the server to the DAC. Hence, I'm using a Benchmark DAC-1. I've already posted my initial impressions of the DAC-1 vs the internal DAC on the Cary 303/300 which it replaced. You can look that up if you want more expansive commentary, but my current impressions are pretty similar. The Cary is more versatile and a touch more dynamic. The Benchmark provides startling depth and tighter, more relaxed presentation.
I know many people prefer hard drives to optical transports, but I found the differences between the Cary as a transport and the QSonix very subtle. I'm not sure that this distinction will prove out over time, but the QSonix again seemed slightly (and I mean slightly) more relaxed as a drive than the Cary. Those preferring the Cary might say "less dynamic" while the QSonix proponents would argue "more natural". The difference is small enough that I'd hesitate to characterize it either way. Here's what I will say: The QSonix/DAC-1 sounds decidedly closer to my analog set-up and I prefer the combo to the Cary. However, I ascribe significantly more of the delta to the DAC and less to the transport.
Here's the thing - the QSonix touch screen GUI is a life-changer. With the caveat that it will probably be most useful to pop/rock/country listeners who favor shortish songs and least useful to those whose listening sessions comprise a single composition, this machine really fundamentally changes the way you interact with your music.
1 quick example. A recent A'gon thread asked about diffferent versions of "Mood Indigo". I typed the phrase into the QSonix search and 6 versions popped up - including 2 by Duke Ellington that I'd completely forgotten I owned. Listening through these tracks allowed me to really enjoy the differences in interpretation, performance, sound quality, etc. This type of session is almost impossible w/out a server and much more pleasant with a graphic interface.
Scads of meta-data come immediately to hand at a tap. Stream of conciousness playlists start to assemble themsellves while you listen. Recordings from the depths of your collection will surely be rediscovered. In fact, it seems almost inevitable to me that the QSonix interface will serve as a model for the future. IMHO, untill we get to the Star Trek conversational computer interface, this is the edge of the art.
The Sonos interface is also up and running. I have both libraries (i-tunes at 192kbs and QSonix compressed at 320 kps) available throughout the house. While QSonix does not yet support FLAC (meta data handling in FLAC has proven problematic according to the company) and Sonos is incompatible with WMA lossless, the 320 kps MP3 is really pretty good for a distributed audio application. Should QSonix eventually move to support FLAC, I can re-process my compressed llibrary at that time, if I so choose. "Till then, I'm okay with the current Sonos sound quality. Critical Sonos listeners may have a different opinion.
A quick operational note - you can add additional touch panels via Cat 5. Sonix supports 4 zones via analog out. You can either run those analog signals through a wired distribution system or a wireless system for multi-zone operation. However, you must use a software toggle to choose between the analog or digital output. As a practical matter, this is a moot point to me. I'll use the digital in my listening room and access the QSonix library on the network, controlling the library via the Sonos handheld remote.
Should I decide to add additional touch screens, I will still route the audio to Sonos as a "line in". This will allow wireless distribution of the audio signal and Cat5 distribution of the control function via additional QSonix touch panels. I will simply need to toggle from analog to digital at the end of a session in my listening room and then toggle back to digital out when I return. This is a 10 second operation.
I'm sure I'll get my head around the performance minutiae of this unit over time. I can't yet speak to the sound of this system with the internal Qsonix DAC, but It's safe to say that, with your prefered external DAC this is a very fine sounding unit. While I am clearly getting outstanding performance from my QSonix/Benchmark system. in time, I'll report further on performance details. Until then, I'll just enjoy using it.
I hope that this has been interesting and/or useful.