We've seen several attempts at media servers here at CNET Australia, and while most high-end offerings seem pretty cool there's always some sort of drawback, and usually it's because there's some sort of ugly PC hanging off of it. But the new Sooloos system by high-end manufacturer Meridian is different. And expect to pay for the privilege.
The Sooloos uses a similar approach to thewe saw recently, but integrates it into a box that you wouldn't mind putting on display. The system is controlled via the Control 10 touchscreen (AU$11,299) which is a stylish 17-inch LCD with an integrated CD drive. The Control 20, a smaller and "more economical" 15-incher, is promised soon and should mimic the Meridian design aesthetic a little closer.
The beauty of the Sooloos system is the smarts on-board. The interface is easy to use, and incredibly powerful — and like most systems, it uses cover art as the basis for its navigation. Where it differs from others is in the "random" modes available: instead of Apple's Genius, you have a system called "Swim" which works to the parameters you set up. The Sooloos gets its data from All Music Guide (AMG), and bases its choices on AMG's recommendations system, but you are free to add your own favourite tracks as well. According to Sooloos, the Swim mode will play your favourites up to 20 per cent of the time, and the tracks you don't like almost never.
The advantage of using AMG instead of a service like GraceNote is that you not only get reviews of the albums, but detailed credits with producer and guest musos as well. Not only that, but you can click on a name, and then the system will find all of the other tracks on your system that feature that artist. It's easy to get lost in discovering new aspects to your music as a result. The whole system is very easy to use and also quite fun.
The Ensemble forms the guts of the system (Credit: Meridian)
The "server" side of the system consists of one of several different "hi-fi"-sized units, the cheapest being the Ensemble system with a 1TB drive on-board, and it connects to the main touchscreen via Ethernet. If you don't have a Meridian system, it also features four stereo RCA outputs with an RME Hamerfall DAC, or a single S/PDIF output for connection to any system.
The Soolos system is quite flexible, and can read not only MP3 and FLAC files but AAC, WAV and Apple Lossless as well. While the system is designed to rip your CDs from scratch, it's possible to import your own collections using the Control:PC application. You can also control the system using a PC, and an iPhone application is available as well.
It was hard to get any sort of subjective opinion on sound quality at the demonstration, as it was designed around the interface, but playing some Björk and Peter Gabriel through the DSP5200 speakers was able to uncover the entire sound spectrum without undue emphasis on the treble.