Back in 2001, Yamaha stumbled with the CDR-HD1000, its first component CD player capable of storing music on a built-in hard drive. The company's latest offering, the MusicCast Server MCX-1000, is light-years ahead of its predecessor. Featuring a built-in 80GB hard drive, the Yamaha MCX-1000 functions not only as a CD player/recorder/ripper but also as a music server, wirelessly streaming tunes to Yamaha's MusicCast standalone MCX-A10 ($600) or in-wall MCX-C15 clients. Because the pricey MCX-1000 ($2,200 list) can't stream music from networked PCs or the Internet, it's fair to say that this device is targeted squarely at people with large CD collections who want a dedicated digital music system that's independent of their computer. Those with gigabytes of digital music already on their PCs' hard drive will want to opt for a high-end multiroom solution, such as the Sonos Digital Music System, while budget shoppers should steer toward a more standard digital media receiver. The Yamaha MCX-1000's uptown price and appearance tell you it's geared to a well-healed, albeit progressive, audio enthusiast crowd. Weighing more than 25 pounds and measuring approximately 5 by 17 by 17 inches (HWD), the MCX-1000 is as large as some A/V receivers. Highlights include a black metal casing and a 2-line-by-16-character text display. Although the MCX-1000 connects to a TV, the front-panel display handily enables playing music without switching on the tube. The front panel has a useful assortment of navigation buttons and a CD Auto Store button that automatically rips a CD onto the hard drive.
The large remote control isn't backlit, but it's otherwise well conceived. A four-way keypad, and Back, Page-up, and Page-down buttons make it easy to get around in menus and lists. What's more, Artist, Album, Genre, and Playlist buttons allow skipping straight to your music.
The MCX-1000 has stereo analog, optical digital, and coaxial digital inputs that can be used for recording external devices to its hard drive. A matching set out of audio outputs facilitates feeding music to the A/V receiver. S-Video and composite-video outputs round out the video connections.
It can't record video, but the MCX-1000 has a video pass-through feature that enables setting up the device between your A/V receiver and the TV in the signal chain. Nice idea, but anyone who prefers using component video will be annoyed to find that the passthrough feature works for composite and S-Video connections only.
The MCX-1000 has built-in 802.11b wireless networking, plus an Ethernet port. Installation is surprisingly easy; the MCX-1000 even sets up its own wireless network with the MCX-A10 client. Advanced users can configure the device to employ a mixture of wireless and wired network connections to transmit music to MCX-A10 client devices and contact the Internet for Gracenote CD Database updates. According to Yamaha, a total of seven MCX-A10 and/or MCX-C15 clients can be simultaneously connected, but just five of the connections can be wireless.
The MCX-1000's TV-based, onscreen menus are generally well organized and effective, but they're not exactly artful. Seven blandly presented main menu options lead to submenus where you can browse your music library, control what's playing on connected client devices, view the video input from a connected A/V receiver, change system settings, and more. (A Flash-based demo of the onscreen interface is available at Yamaha's Web site.) That said, the MCX-1000's onscreen menus are much nicer than those of the MCX-A10.
The MCX-1000 is firmware upgradable. Yamaha supplies software upgrade CDs to users on request via the company's Web site.There are two ways to get your music into the Yamaha MCX-1000: you can use its single CD tray to rip music from CDs, or you can record into its inputs from external sources, in real time. (Unlike with entry-level digital network media devices, you cannot stream music from a PC on your network.) In its default mode, the MCX-1000 automatically creates a noncompressed PCM version and a compressed MP3 version of everything it records. The MCX-1000 plays the better-sounding PCM versions, but to save wireless network bandwidth, the MCX-A10 clients play the MP3 versions. If you have only one MCX-A10 client, it can be configured to play the PCM versions as well.
The MP3 recording bit rate can be set at 160Kbps, 256Kbps, or 320Kbps. The 80GB hard drive can store more than 100 CDs as noncompressed PCM files. If you save only compressed MP3 versions on the hard drive, you might be able to squeeze in about 500 to 1,000 CDs. The unit can play MP3 CDs but can't transfer MP3 files from a CD to its hard drive, which is too bad.
Unlike its predecessor, the MCX-1000 uses Gracenote's CD Database (CDDB) to automatically retrieve and display CD information such as album and track titles. After a CD is ripped to the MCX-1000's hard drive, it's automatically cataloged into artist, album, and genre categories that make it easy to find music. A version of Gracenote's CD Database (CDDB) is stored locally on the hard drive, but it can be updated over the Net. Unfortunately, the MCX-1000 does not display album artwork as Escient's competing Fireball E-40 ($2,000) does. A keyboard can be connected to the MCX-1000's PS/2 port to enter text information for CDs that aren't listed in Gracenote's CD Database and to enter information for music recorded through the device's audio inputs.
You can burn complete albums and user mixes from the hard drive to a CD-R or a CD-RW, and you can duplicate discs. Like other component CD recorders, the MCX-1000 requires the more expensive, "music" type recordable discs and adheres to SCMS, a flag that disallows making a digital copy of a copy. The rated maximum recording speed is 8X, the maximum rewriting speed is 4X, and the maximum ripping speed is 30X. While it's nice having a built-in CD recorder, most music lovers are probably well schooled in ripping and burning custom mixes on their PCs.The Yamah MCX-1000's CD-recording performance isn't blazingly fast, but it's acceptable. The MCX-1000 ripped a 56-minute Macy Gray CD in just more than 4 minutes, and the resulting files didn't have any noticeable data errors. The unit recorded the same Macy Gray album from its hard drive to a CD-R in about 8 minutes.
The first time we played a CD in the MCX-1000, we immediately noticed the great sound. Subsequent listening sessions confirmed that the device's analog outputs are exceptionally crisp, clean, and balanced. A recording of the Beastie Boys' To the Five Boroughs that we made through the MX-1000's analog line inputs also sounded good, but the automatic track-marking feature did miss a couple of track changes.
The MCX-1000 doesn't instantly power up, but it takes only about 15 seconds to get going. It can be used to control its own functions as well as the playback functions of MCX-A10 clients. In our test setup, which included one MCX-1000 and one MCX-A10 client, wireless control of the client from the MCX-1000 was fairly instantaneous.
If your musical universe revolves around CDs, the well-implemented MCX-1000 has a lot to offer. However, its high price and lack of support for a subscription music service such as Rhapsody, and its inability to play files stored on networked PCs makes it decidedly more appealing to audiophiles than to those weaned on Napster.