Over the past 3 years Melco has been an incredible success here at Audio Therapy. From the award winning N100 all the way up to the flagship N1ZS every model has proved to popular, working brilliantly with all manner of equipment and they have revolutionised the way many customers listen to music.
You can integrate a Melco into a hi-fi system in a couple of different ways – the most popular method around these parts has been connecting to a USB-DAC, controlling the Melco via their own app or a third party app such as Linn Kazoo or Lumin. I’ve used all manner all of DAC’s from brands such as Exogal, Vitus Audio, Chord Electronics, dCS, Devialet, Goldnote, Cayin, Cambridge Audio and T+A to name just a few.
The other way of using a Melco is by using the 2nd ethernet socket, called the ‘Player Port’. The Player Port is designed to be used with UPnP Network Players such as those from Linn, Naim and Moon. You connect your Network Player to the Melco Player Port and then your Melco connects to your network via the LAN port as normal. This essentially turns the Melco into a switch for the connected Player. It is still connected to the outside world for software updates, streaming online services, internet radio and of course controlling via a phone or tablet using the same app you always have (i.e. the Naim app with a Naim Player)
This method of connectivity essentially uses the Melco as a ‘bridge’ between the network player and the network itself, this delivers a nice step up in performance compared to having both items connected to the network separately, largely due to the ability of the Melco to keep network noise away from whatever is connected to the Player Port, in a good system it’s an obvious benefit when you hear it.
You also have the option to run the Melco in what is called ‘Isolated Mode’ – this essentially kills the LAN port connection on the Melco to the network and the Melco itself becomes a DHCP server issuing the device connected to the Player Port with an IP address.
Isolated mode will not work with all equipment – you need to be able to control your Network Player/UPnP server from its front panel or via its traditional remote control where appropriate. Conventional app control will not work in isolated mode as the network player is not connected to the network – this further boosts performance, but it comes at the expense of a lack of convenience at the same time, if you have a big music library control is a lot less flexible!
Typically, a customer who owns a Network Player as outlined above will also own a NAS drive of some description, acting as the music store to serve up music to the Player – QNAP and Synology are 2 of the most popular brands of NAS drive.
I speak to a lot of people about Melco via phone and over email, but I have noticed over the past few months there has been an increase in people getting in touch who own Naim Network Players who are thinking about adding a Melco to their system and decommissioning their IT NAS drives.
After home demonstrations at distance over lockdown a couple of customers have made the jump and have been delighted with the improvements a Melco (an N1A EX and an N1ZH/2) has brought to their systems.
With this distinct upturn in interest in Melco from Naim owners I felt it would be worthwhile to reach out and try and get an extended loan of a Naim Network Player so I could listen to it in a variety of configurations in my demo system so I could compare a conventional NAS drive to a couple of different Melco servers at different price points to see what happens.
A couple of phone calls later (and the promise of a few beers for the future!) I had a shiny Naim NDX2 to play with for a week. I wanted to get familiar with it before introducing any of the Melco players into the system, so I connected the Naim to my network (via a Melco S100 dataswitch) and used Minimserver to play a copy of my music library stored on a QNAP TS-431P2 NAS drive, this was also connected to the S100. The music on the QNAP is essentially an additional back up of my main library stored on my Melco N1ZS EX. This music is either CD’s ripped to the Melco using a D100 (all ripped to WAV) or 24 bit downloads from HighResAudio and Qobuz.
Starting with some CD rips playing from the QNAP the NDX2 sounds like a typical Naim source component – there is great energy, a real sense of drive and an infectious level of foot-tapping going on in all the music I listened to. Switching over to Tidal on the Naim and it’s more of the same, however comparing the albums on Tidal vs the QNAP there is an obvious improvement with the tracks stored locally, more presence and more engagement.
Priced at £5299 there is no doubt the NDX2 is a great bit of equipment, it’s musical and an enjoyable listen, but how much more performance could we squeeze out of the Naim if we served music to it via a Melco using its isolated player port instead of using the QNAP and a direct to network connection?
N100 & N1A EX
First up is the N100, this is Melco’s award winning entry level server and is priced at £2000. The N100 is a compact ‘shoe-box’ design and features a single 2TB hard drive. Connectivity is ample, with 2 USB and 2 Ethernet sockets on the rear, there is also a single USB socket on the front. As with all EX machines the N100 comes with Minimserver 2 (starter edition) and SongKong (lite edition) pre-installed and has the same feature set as the larger Melco models.
Integrating the N100 into the system couldn’t be easier. Give it mains power and a network connection and you are almost there, the only other thing you need to do is disconnect the NDX2 from the network and connect it to the N100’s player port. Once both devices are powered on the NDX 2 receives an IP address as normal and it’s ready to use.
Open up the Naim app and all we need to do is select the Minimserver icon for the Melco library and we are good to go.
From the opening notes of ‘A Thousand Kisses Deep’ on Leonard Cohen’s ‘Ten New Songs’ the impact of the N100 in the system was pretty obvious – the musical landscape was instantly sounding larger with greater weight, presence and more impact, the system sounds noticeably quieter as well – that old hi-fi cliche of an inky black background was more evident now than it was previously. The overall presentation was very well balanced and I never found it strident or fatiguing with extended listening.
Playing Radiohead’s ‘Everything In Its Right Place’ there was much more of the swirling atmospherics that underpin this brilliant track, switching over to Tidal and streaming the same track it’s very much the same experience as before, it sounds excellent but I personally prefer the version playing directly from the hard drive vs the streamed version from Tidal.
The addition of the Melco N100 into the system really allowed the NDX2 to do its thing compared to using the QNAP and it has turned what was already a very good source component into one that sounded much more expressive, musical and ultimately simply more enjoyable to listen to
Switching over to the N1A-EX (£2750) there was virtually nothing to tell it apart from the N100 in terms of performance/sound quality but, the big benefit here is the N1A has 6TB of storage vs 2TB in the N100, much more relevant for those with larger libraries – a decent selection of 24 bit music (work on 1GB to 2GB per album) and a couple of thousand CD rips will quickly fill up the 2TB drive in an N100 whereas you will be barely scratching the surface on a 6TB N1A!
For many this extra storage on the N1A coupled with the same fantastic performance as the N100 is well worth the price of admission. It’s personal preference ultimately, but I know several customers who prefer the full size case of the N1A as opposed to the smaller case of the N100 – it certainly blends in well with a rack of Naim components.
Next up was the N1ZH-EX, this is the next model up in the N1 range and has the same 6TB capacity as the N1A (although N1ZH uses 2.5 inch hard drives compared to the 3.5 inch drives in the N1A). Twin power supplies in the N1ZH help boost performance by isolating the HDDs from the data processing side of the machine and the drives are mounted on a heavy, non-magnetic plate and are completely covered over by an internal shield to help isolate them from the rest of the machine and to lower noise, the whole machine is built around an rigid H frame to keep the sensitive components isolated from one another as well.
Priced at £5250 the N1ZH EX is almost the same price as the NDX2 and is nearly twice the price of the N1A, a big step up over the original QNAP and even the N100 and N1A. In my experience the N1ZH has always delivered a quantum jump in performance over the Melco models below it, it has quite comfortably been the most popular Melco I have sold in terms of numbers over the past 3 years – I honestly can’t recall of someone trying one and not being immediately impressed and subsequently investing in one. Lots of original N1A owners have made the jump up the ladder as well.
With the same tracks to hand it doesn’t take very long to hear what the N1ZH is all about, the presentation is much more open and articulate with bigger dynamics, even greater detail and improved tone whilst remaining wonderfully composed and refined, although more information is being presented it doesn’t get anywhere close to being forward, aggressive or strident.
The combination of the Naim and the N1ZH plays music with such conviction and engagement it really shows what the NDX 2 is capable of delivering when you feed it with a better source component. Every step of the way the NDX 2 has sounded very good, but going from the QNAP to the N100/N1A and then up to the N1ZH the performance coming from the Naim just kept on improving. It’s all too easy for an hours listening to turn into a full evening when this music is this engaging.
Going to back the QNAP and comparing to the N1ZH directly was a very interesting comparison, there’s a big price difference between them both, but in my demo system (a Vitus RI-101 mk2 and a pair of Vimberg Mino loudspeakers) the gulf in performance was obvious as soon as the music started playing, the QNAP makes the NDX 2 sound much coarser compared to the Melco and you certainly lose the composure and refinement the Melco brings to the table.
Which Melco is potentially right for you and your system really depends on the system in question and your budget. There is also the N1ZS EX and N10 which weren’t used for comparison here (as they were both out on loan), both of these models can take things even further in the right system.
The upshot really is if you have a Naim, Linn or Moon network player and you are using it with an IT NAS drive of some description you simply won’t be hearing it anywhere close to delivering its best performance in your system.
We keep the whole Melco range on demonstration, including the D100 and S100 (all available for home demonstration as well) so if you want to find out what level of improvement you could bring to your system please get in touch, any questions fire away!