LANsonic's DAS-750 Pro delivers the power and features demanded by the serious digital music aficionado, integrating a hard drive-based jukebox, network connectivity to a PC, and Internet support for MP3 radio stations. For certain people, this is the perfect way to get MP3s onto the living room stereo. But getting all of these features up and running requires a bit of expertise in PC networking. You'll also need a sizable wad of cash. LANsonic's DAS-750 Pro delivers the power and features demanded by the serious digital music aficionado, integrating a hard drive-based jukebox, network connectivity to a PC, and Internet support for MP3 radio stations. For certain people, this is the perfect way to get MP3s onto the living room stereo. But getting all of these features up and running requires a bit of expertise in PC networking. You'll also need a sizable wad of cash.
Setting up the DAS-750 Pro can be downright difficult. It connects to your PC via Ethernet cables using the TCP/IP protocol. The manual offers some guidance, but you'll still need a solid understanding of networks and file sharing to get it to work. Connecting the LANsonic to your stereo system is a piece of cake compared to the PC-connection ordeal described above. The unit offers an analog stereo output, optical and coaxial digital outs and inputs, three sets of analog inputs, and a headphone jack. These various inputs and outputs make it possible to use the LANsonic with many existing setups.
The unit plays music from three sources, the first being a shared directory of an Ethernet-networked PC. In this way, the unit is similar to Sonicblue's Rio Digital Audio Receiver (DAR) or Turtle Beach Systems' AudioTron. If your network is connected to the Internet, the LANsonic can play MP3 music streamed from online radio sources such as Live365 stations. The device's third music source is its 20GB hard drive, which can store several hundred albums. Unlike some other music consoles with hard drives, there's no CD-ROM drive, so you can't rip music CDs on the unit itself.
The standard way to get music onto the hard drive is to copy files from your PC over the network, but there's a much cooler way to go if you have the scratch. For more large-scale encoding, you'll want to use the MusicLoader feature. This lets you connect the unit digitally to Sony CD changers, which have an A1 II interface (sometimes called S-Link). We tested this functionality using the Sony CDP-CX53. We programmed the LANsonic to record all 50 CDs automatically, attaching all of the appropriate title and artist tags to the resulting MP3 files. Note that ripping occurs in real time (in other words, at standard play speed). It would probably take more than two days to encode 50 CDs to the LANsonic hard drive, but considering that you don't have to be there while the encoding takes place, this isn't actually that inconvenient.
This model has another one-of-a-kind feature, called SonaPak, which compresses audio by one-half without losing any information. The LANsonic also includes RS-232 for integration with home automation setups such as AMX, formerly known as Panja. (The regular DAS-750 lacks these two features.)
There are three ways to control the LANsonic. A single dial on the front of the unit is the primary control, letting you select songs to play, create system settings, and more, but we preferred to use the device's Web interface from a PC on the network. You can also buy a third-party universal remote control to access functions such as song-skipping and playlists, but the LCD on the unit isn't readable from a distance, so this approach has its downside.
For techies and MP3 hoarders only
Once we finally got the DAS-750 Pro connected to our Ethernet network, loaded music onto its hard drive, and learned the controls, we found it a pleasure to use. Newbies would be ill-advised to attempt installation themselves, but they can use the device without problems once it has been set up by someone more proficient with home networking. Its 20-bit digital audio conversion (analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog) with 40-bit signal processing delivered excellent sound quality. The DAS-750 Pro could work as a music server for all of the stereos and PCs around your house. Priced at $995 with a 20GB hard drive (a compatible Sony CD player costs $395 more), the DAS-750 Pro's price, not to mention its difficult setup, puts it beyond the reach of the average consumer. But for those who can both pay for and take advantage of its many features, this product merits consideration.