This is always going to be a bit of a hard sell, but we should be celebrating that we are in the finest times for music servers and streamers. We have finally – in many cases – shaken off the tyranny of ‘Mac & DAC’ in the high end, and people are buying products that take the music server seriously, even if in many cases ‘taking it seriously’ actually means little more than a glorified computer, customised to our specifications.
Why a ‘hard sell’? Because audiophiles are by nature a conservative lot – there are audiophiles who see the vinyl revival as proof that digital audio was a short-lived fad and on its way out. And there are many who still think the best digital audio can get is the pits and lands of CD. So the idea of looking to the current state of music servers in the positive could be viewed as dangerous radicalism. Nevertheless, the fact is a lot of good audio replay is now coming out of really good and dedicated computer-side audio electronics. And that’s where Melco comes in.
For the uninitiated, Melco is a Japanese company that cut its teeth making record players. It diversified some years back and a subsidiary of Melco called Buffalo went on to be hugely successful in making computer server-side products. But Melco and the enthusiasts behind it, never went away.
The company leveraged that experience in making server-side products like network switches and brought this to bear into the audio world, trying to build a product that was uniquely adapted to the demands of the audiophile and not just a tricked-out PC in an expensive box. Of course, the problem then arises that the basic component of a media server is essentially a computer anyway. However, the Network Attached Storage box can teach us that there are dedicated computers for specific tasks that don’t need to be fully-fledged PCs running a full operating system and a suite of apps. And Buffalo knows its way around a NAS drive. Once you join those dots, you realise why the Melco line is different to the norm, and that only a company like Melco could make such a device from first principles.
Melco’s first and best-known offerings are the N1 series launched in 2014. Offered either with a hard disk or SSD drive in a variety of configurations, the N1 like still holds its position of power in the Melco line-up, and five years on, the products might have undergone a lot of changes to internal capacity and connectivity, it’s not hard to see the lineage. The N1 platform will continue long into the future, but that future calls out for ever better products, and the N10 answers that call as a high-end two-chassis music server.