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The Giga Juke NAS-SC500PK is Sony's multi-room audio system, comprising a server unit with a hard drive and CD player, and a wireless media streamer for listening in another room. The package costs around £630 and, like similar systems from Sonos and Logitech, allows both units to either play music independently or be synced up to play the same song in unison.
With or without wires
You certainly get plenty for your money with the NAS-SC500PK. Open up the box and you'll find the main NAS-S500HDE server unit along with a pair of stereo speakers and an iPod dock to complement the unit's built-in Walkman dock. That's not all -- there's also the NAS-C5E wireless music player and a combined wireless and wired Ethernet router.
Setting the system up takes quite a while -- there's a great tangle of cables to hook up to get the speakers, radio aerials and network connections working. Some of these seem a trifle unnecessary. For example, the server unit doesn't have wireless networking built-in -- you have to hook the supplied USB Wi-Fi stick up to an extension cable and then connect it to the rear of the server.
With the Wi-Fi stick attached you'll find that you can choose to run the system either on its own Wi-Fi network, or alternatively connect it to your existing wireless LAN. We chose the latter and with a little help from the hefty manual we had it up and running in a matter of minutes.
The main server unit acts as the brains of the package and contains a built-in amp, 160GB hard drive, CD player, FM/AM tuner and DAB tuner for digital radio. There's a dock for a Walkman music player at the top or if you have an iPod you can connect up the external iPod dock. To pipe music into the system you can either rip it from the CD player or an external source via the auxiliary connections on the top and rear, or alternatively you can transfer it from a computer using the supplied software. The server unit and wireless music player can also stream music from NAS drives or PCs that are connected to the same network.
The NAS-C5E wireless music player is a much simpler affair. It looks like a cross between a posh clock radio and a boombox -- the front is taken up by a small monochrome LCD display with speakers mounted to either side. Its main function is to allow you to listen to tunes stored on the main server unit from another room, but it can also be used to listen to Internet radio stations, or just to tune to normal stations via the FM tuner.
Sound from the server unit is very meaty. Bass and mid range have plenty of poke and the higher frequencies sparkle prettily, so it handles both pumping dance tracks and more subtle acoustic workouts without any problems. As the wireless player has smaller built-in speakers, it's naturally not as impressive as the server unit, but it certainly doesn't disgrace itself and has enough volume to easily fill a mid-size bedroom.
Wading through sludge
So far so good, but the problem with this package is that it's just so poorly thought out and awkward to use. For example, rival systems from Sonos and Logitech have screens on their remote controls so you can browse through tracks without having to leave the comfort of your sofa, but this is not the case with Sony's units. The server has a colour LCD screen, but it's too small to read from more than a metre away, while the tiny monochrome screen on the wireless player is even less useful.
The other issue is the system's overall sluggishness. For example, switching between inputs takes an age and moving through the menus feels like wading through sludge. Plus, to access the party mode -- which lets you set both units to play the same track in sync -- you have to exit the normal play mode and wait around 15 seconds for the party mode to start up. By comparison, syncing units on the Sonos system is nearly instantaneous.
There are inconsistencies between the server unit and the wireless player too. For example, the wireless player can be used to listen to internet radio stations, but the server bizarrely omits this feature. Conversely the server unit has a DAB radio tuner, but the wireless music player doesn't.
This lack of uniformity across both devices, plus the poor interface adds up to a pretty disappointing user experience.
The package has a good range of features, including the built-in hard drive, onboard DAB tuner and CD player. The awkward interface and sluggish performance, however, make the whole package difficult and frustrating to use. Other systems from the likes of Sonos and Logitech may do less, but they get the important stuff right, which is something Sony has sadly failed to do here.
Edited by Nick Hide