It’s been going on for a while now: Despite support for multichannel in audio/video receivers and A/V processors priced from as little as $200 to $30,000, there are still very few offerings that cater to the music listener. They may offer stereo-only streaming features through their USB or Ethernet inputs, but these inputs don’t see your multichannel files. To handle such files, they would require you to add a music server with HDMI output. However, I know of no turnkey music servers that will output multichannel audio via HDMI.
When I reviewed the Antipodes DX Reference in October 2015. that $7500 media server made musical mincemeat of my regular computer audio setup: a headless 2.7GHz i7 Mac mini fitted with 8GB of RAM and Pure Music and Audirvana apps. Coincident with the publication of that review, Aurender launched its N10 music server ($7999) at the 2015 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. I had been impressed with Aurender’s Flow USB headphone amplifier when I reviewed it in June 2015. so I asked for an N10.
In the early 1970s, I lived in a village 40 miles north of London, England, and regularly drove through an only slightly larger village called Houghton Regis. And every time I did so, this budding audiophile was thrilled to see a factory in the High Street with a nameplate proudly announcing that it was the site of Teledyne Acoustic Research’s European operations. I was aware of the American brand because of a chance encounter with a pair of Acoustic Research LST speakers, and the geographical connection led to an increased interest in their speakers (footnote 1). A sort of local-boy-, er, local-multinational conglomerate-makes-good story. Sort of.
“Physical discs are so 20th century,” I wrote back in 2006. when I began experimenting with using, in my high-end rig, a computer as a legitimate source of music. These days I rarely pop a disc into my Ayre Acoustics C-5xe MP disc player, unless it’s an SACD I want to hear, or a CD I haven’t yet ripped into my library. But many audiophiles, even if attracted to the idea of using a file-based system as a primary music source, do not want a computer in their listening rooms. Nor do they want to be bothered by the fact that a computer demands too intimate a relationship with its user.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: High-end audio is the tail of the dog that is the consumer audio business. We have little leverage in determining where the technology is going, even though we undoubtedly know more about it than the average buyer. On the other hand, after the mainstream has determined where it’s going (or thinks it’s going), the high-end business must accept that, and try to optimize it for those of us who care deeply about getting the best sound. The ubiquitous iPod and its fellow MP3 players kicked off the playing of music files and allowed listeners to carry around their music wherever they went.
In March, to celebrate Marantz’s 60th anniversary, the company launched the subject of this review, the Reference NA-11S1 network player ($3499), which Ken Ishiwata described to me as “a new start, a new era” for Marantz. Michael Fremer attended the European press conference announcing the NA-11S1, and I subsequently talked to Ishiwata via Skype.