Still unknown to the general public but acclaimed by audiophiles, the HiFi network player is gradually being installed in place of the CD player. We explain why.
What is a network player?
To put it simply, a network player is a digital gateway that brings together on a single device – and a single interface – all of your content sources, whether audio or video. Via the internet network – hence its name – it accesses your stored content – on a NAS server, a computer on the network, your mobile devices, etc. It is even offered by a remote service such as audio or video streaming. The network player centralizes all your sources. It also allows you to control them remotely, well installed in your armchair with a remote control or even better an application.
When dealing primarily with audio-video content, it is referred to as a media gateway. Android boxes, Apple TV, or in another genre the Chromecast with Google TV or the Nvidia Shield. The Chromecast with Google TV is the typical example of a simple and complete network player. Simply plug it into your television to find:
- audio services like Deezer,
- video streaming like Netflix,
- access to a home NAS server like those found at Synology or,
- files stored on a shared folder on the same interface.
What about the network audio player then?
As its name suggests, the network audio player focuses on audio content. By using an internet connection via wifi or even better Ethernet, it brings together all your digital sources in a single device. In this, it replaces the CD player as the main source on our stereo systems, offering many more features.
- One can access a number of audio streaming services. Most of the time, we find the most popular services like Deezer or Spotify. The audio servers, especially those with high-fidelity claims, also offer high-resolution streaming services like Tidal and/or Qobuz.
- You can connect a digital source to the inputs of the same type offered, either in coaxial, USB or optical format. For example, you can connect an aging CD player to the optical or coaxial input of a network player to enjoy its newer and supposedly more capable internal DAC. You can also connect a computer via the USB input to use it as an audio server via internal software.
- Many audio servers provide access to thousands of internet radio stations from around the world, sometimes even in near CD quality for some audiophile stations.
- Many audio servers have a USB port, often located on the front. This allows you to connect a mobile device, an external hard drive or even a USB key and play the files stored on it.
- Some models offer multiroom functions. This is particularly the case with Play-Fy compatible models or those supporting BlueOS, Roon or HEOS.
Network Player Benefit
The main advantage of a network player is to offer music wirelessly with significantly higher audio quality than Bluetooth, lossless and often even better than CD quality. The connection is relatively simple. You connect the digital sources to the dedicated inputs and you get the sound via the analog outputs to connect it to an amplifier or even a powered speaker.
How to choose your network drive?
Choosing a network drive depends on your existing system and what you are looking for. You should consider some criteria carefully.
Supported streaming services.
If you are a Deezer subscriber, it would be a shame to direct you to a model that only offers Spotify and Tidal. This would require you to go through a third-party application, which would not be comfortable or convenient. Choosing your network player according to the music service you will use as a priority, therefore, makes sense.
If you want to connect a CD player, a computer, an external hard drive and the optical output of your television to your network player, it is better to check that it has suitable digital inputs and in sufficient numbers and in the appropriate formats to meet your needs. your need. This is often the case, but not always. Choosing a player with balanced outputs, deemed more qualitative from an audio point of view, will be a good idea if your amplifier has inputs in this format.
In addition to Ethernet and wifi, it will be necessary to ensure, depending on your needs or your equipment, the presence of Airplay 2 to make the most of your Apple products. Most servers – if not all – are DLNA compatible. However, not all of them offer Bluetooth to stream audio from your mobile devices. Not really popular with audiophiles, this connectivity has the advantage of being easy to set up. It also doesn’t require an application. Useful if a visitor wants you to listen to a new title stored on his smartphone, for example.
Compatibility with high-resolution formats
Whether it’s through audiophile streaming services or via a local or remote storage unit, you want to be able to enjoy your high-resolution content. First, check the compatibility of the network player you’re tempted to. Most handle ALAC, WAV, FLAC, AIFF or even DSD x64 files. As a reminder, DSD ( D irect Stream D igital ) is the format used on the Super Audio CD, an ultra-quality medium created by Sony and Philips.
Other readers process DSD x128 files and the most advanced offer support for the more anecdotal DSD x256 and DSD x512 files. Note that x64, x128, x256 and x512 correspond to oversampling compared to CD quality. Some players support the rarer DXD format, used in recording studio master production.
There remains the case of Roon. Roon is a service with a software layer that allows you to get the most out of your dematerialized music while providing unparalleled comfort and practicality. To enjoy it on your network player, you will have to make sure at the time of purchase that it is Roon Ready certified.
The presence of a screen
If it is not really essential (we often control a network player via a smartphone and/or a tablet), the presence of a screen brings undeniable comfort. It allows you to view the current title, sometimes to display the cover art and information on the type of file, the duration of the title currently being listened to, etc.
CD player + internal hard drive
CD player + internal hard disk. The presence of a CD player (combined with an internal hard disk) will allow you to:
- import your CD library,
- store it on the storage disk
- access it instantly whenever you want.
It will be a valuable backup in case the physical media deteriorates.