Simple Audio Player

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Simple Audio Player

Simple Audio Player

Independent product review from Germany's leading audio magazine, Audio

May 2012

A Simple Plan

Simple Audio has an ambitious goal: to build an uncomplicated, intuitive networked player, which sounds fantastic and is affordable for all music lovers.

Network music players can be attractive to music lovers for a variety of reasons. On the one hand, the removal of the process of ripping CD's and the associated interference (for example problems with the CD-drive) create ideal conditions for high quality digital music playback. On the other hand, network Hi-Fi becomes even more attractive because it is designed for comfort. Once music is stored on the server, all players in the home whether they are small or large, independent, expensive or cheap, large or small, can be connected. A complete digital music collection, from the paid download to the ripped SACD, is available all over the house without any loss of quality.

Manufacturers like Sonos, Raumfeld and Logitec have continuously developed comfort and diversity within their players, having conceptualised players and systems suitable for every listening situation, be it in bath or home cinema. They have intuitively programmed understandable and easy to use interfaces and integrated a steadily growing number of online music services, all with the aim of accessing local music libraries perfectly. In contrast, high-end companies like Linn or T+A have focused more strongly on optimising the tonal elements of the network technology. Until now, there has been a gap between these two.

Of course, there have been multi-room systems consisting of a dozen Linn's, and conversely one might find Sonos and Squeezebox players alongside exclusive technology. However, only Simple Audio has developed the technology to explicitly fill the gap with two Roomplayer models that can work with a minimum of network infrastructure and easily handled even by IT philistines - just like Sonos. At the same time, they do not compromise on tonal quality and are not at the superior price of other high-end products.

There's no lack of technical and commercial competence at Simple Audio with Peter Murphy as Managing Director, Martin Dalgleish as Director of Commercial Affairs and Alastair Brown Director of Product Design - three prominent former Linn members in its executive seats. It's logical then, that the company has its headquarters in Glasgow. What is not as immediately apparent is that the Roomplayers are fully assembled in Scotland.

Same, But Different

When describing the concept, one cannot get round the immediate comparison between Simple Audio and the two big, but officially unnamed role models, Sonos and Linn.

In parallel to Sonos, if you own several Simple Audio Roomplayers, only one of them needs to have direct contact with the LAN. All the other players effectively carry their own network. However, unlike Sonos, these players do not use their own radio network, but rather power modems that have been integrated into the players. These modems send data packages via electric connection from player to player. Even the first connection to the freely chosen 'master player' can be made via electric connection (PowerLine Communications Technology) just by interconnecting a commercially obtainable PowerLine adapter (e.g. Devolo). Therefore, the electric connection also becomes a network connection - Simple Audio hopes that this will ensure better protection against interference and data scope as with WLAN.

Simple Audio did not leave these bigger transfer rates unused though and has made the Roomplayers HD file compatible from the outset: 24bit/96Khz is already possible, the less common 192KhZ-data will also be playable after a future software update. In this regard, the Scots prove they are already ahead of their US colleagues.

UPNP? No or Maybe?

When accessing the music library on a user's hard drive, Simple Audio uses similar techniques to Sonos: with its own intelligence and without reliance on a media server programme. The 'master player' knows its path to the music folders on the hard drive through a simple and well-organised controller application (Mac or PC), and then scans and sorts the content by itself. It does not matter whether the music is stored on the PC itself or whether it is externally stored on a network drive (NAS).

Currently, the set up program still needs to run during playback, otherwise the player will not find the music on the NAS. Instead of correcting this weak point, the next (but not obtainable at the point of writing) software update promises to give additional support to external UPNP-servers. In other words, if Twonky Media for example is used on NAS, Simple Audio can use its functionality just like conventional UPNP-network players. Nevertheless, Simple Audio should make the results of their own indexing available without an accompanying PC.

One Player - Many Faces

This is especially important with the Scots because one of their enticing and original features is their ability to offer different users bespoke music libraries. Whilst universal access to one big music library is one of the attractions of a network player, there are limits to this attraction. The youngest child's complete collection of 'Bibi and Tina' (a pony audio tale for young girls) does not have to interfere with the album collection or listening pleasure of the parents in the evening.

Conversely, meticulously arranged playlists are also often only of interest to specific users, so it follows that these users would be quite happy if they did not have to find the DJ attempts of other users under 'playlists'. With the Simple setup, you can 'tick' the music that should appear for each individual user (there are no limitations in numbers). The change from one user to the next happens in seconds. Speaking of playlists, these can be created, saved and changed in the running computer software or via the iPhone app while the software is running; just as users are used to from Sonos, Logitech and Linn.

The Roomplayer is available in two varieties: as a player to connect to existing systems and as a player with integrated amplifier. Both models are based on identical network parts. Roomplayer 1 has an additional mains adaptor board and circuit board with digital output stages.

Those who want to build a compact, reasonably priced system can get additional amplifier functions for a mere additional €100. An amplifier alone, with comparable quality, would normally cost significantly more. Even with difficult systems, the Simple Audio amp sounded significantly grand and with attention to detail.

The testers used a Linn-sneaky to compare, and that worked a bit more structurally in the high and middle tones. The Sonos equivalent ZP-120 next to Simple Audio was rougher and less colourful, so does not constitute real competition to the Simple Roomplayer 1. And, as the testers connected the amp-free Roomplayer 2 with the reference system via Cinch, it even put the Linn-Sneaky surprisingly in its place.

This confirmed the impression that Simple Audio had already left with the author of this text in its weeklong acclimation-period with the author's home system. Even during this time, the very lively character, pleasantly unobtrusive in its high pitch tones, stood out as being broadband, informative and with great precision in its timing. The Sneaky may have seemed a bit more relaxed, and more expressive in the vocals, but this is only a miniscule advance.

So, Simple Audio has developed excellent streaming platforms with their Roomplayers. Now it is really important for the Scottish developers to listen closely to the wishes of their customers. The abilities and functions of these Roomplayers can then develop as dynamically as Linn and Sonos have done reliably for years now.

AUDIO, at the time of testing, especially missed gapless playback and the consequent support of NAS-networks. Both of which are being worked on in Glasgow - until then the excellent audio sound will sweeten the waiting time.

The mixture sounds temptingly easy - but is incredibly hard to implement. One mixes the audio competence of Linn with the populism of Sonos and makes delicious little players out of this - rich on sound nutrition and not too heavy on the purse. If the Scots of Simple Audio consequently maintain and nurture their Roomplayers, many a hi-fi fan will find their new favourite product this year.

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