The "Hifidelio" music server
I usually don't do product reviews, but I'll make an exception in this
case as I'm very pleased with this device and I think it deserves wider recognition.
With music, as with many other things, I'm old-fashioned. I still
have the same amplifier and speakers I bought when I was a student.
They're probably not what you'd call "high-end", but I think they're
very good and I enjoy listening to good music with an appropriate
sound quality. I don't have an iPod or any other MP3 device (except
for the players in our family's cars), I don't buy music on iTunes or
hang around in file sharing networks, and I still mostly listen to CDs
(the real ones that you buy in a store) and (gasp!) LPs. The
most "advanced" part of my audio equipment is a CD-R/RW recorder (a
Denon CDR-W1500, no longer in production) that I
bought several years ago to digitize some of my LPs.
However, with almost 1,500 CDs and more than 500 LPs it was getting
more and more of a nuisance to store all this stuff in such a way that
old albums are easy to find while new ones can be added quickly. (If
you think I'm exaggerating, you should probably wait until you have a
real job and a family.) So, some time ago, I started to think that it
would be nice to have at least a significant part of my music
collection stored on the hard disk of some server that could be
controlled from the laptop I'm working at while the music would still
be played through my trusty old amp and speakers.
I could have done this myself by building something suitable from
off-the-shelf hardware and hacking the software I needed based on a
Linux server. Or maybe I could have bought a Mac mini and used
Apple's software. But while this (especially the first solution)
would have given me the warm and fuzzy feeling of complete control, I don't
really have enough time for such endeavours. Not to mention that I'm
working with computers all day and I really don't need another one
that wants to be administered by me.
So, I looked around for pre-built solutions I could simply add to my
hi-fi system. I certainly didn't look at everything that's available
in this category, but the devices I saw (for example the one from
Marantz) seemed pretty overpriced and lacking in features to me.
Until, more or less by chance, I came across
server manufactured by a small German company. When I saw the
description, it seemed to me as if the Hifidelio had everything I
deemed important and the price was also pretty reasonable.
Luckily, my local hi-fi
dealer had one available and gave it to me for a couple of days so
I could try it out myself and didn't have to buy a pig in a poke. I
was sold after the first day and kept it.
I'm not going to describe every feature or provide an exhaustive test
here, I'll just cherry-pick some things I particularly like.
The Hifidelio's exterior fits nicely with the rest of my hi-fi
components. It doesn't look as spiffy and elegant as some of the real
expensive stuff, but then again it isn't expensive, so that's
Setting the machine up and connecting it to our local WLAN (802.11g)
was easy and painless. It also has four Ethernet jacks which are
connected to the Wifi access point via an internal router. You can
integrate the Hifidelio into an existing network as well as set it up
as a server for its own network. In short, they got networking right.
Yes, it can do that (unless it's busy). I have a
lot of live recordings and albums where songs segue into each other
and I'm always annoyed if my car MP3 players make these dramatic
pauses between tracks.
One the one hand, the user interface seems simple and intuitive enough
for non-technical users. On the other hand, if you dig deeper
into the menus, there are tons of detailed settings you can (and
sometimes want to) tweak. Looks like a good compromise to me.
Given that this is a commercial and in a way proprietary product, it
is remarkable how open it is. It is based on Linux and you can even
telnet into the machine's root account and hack away.
When ripping CDs, you can encode
to AIFF, WAV, FLAC,
or MP3 in various bit
rates. You can also import music in any of these formats as well
and Ogg Vorbis.
(Importing means that the Hifidelio acts as
server to which you can transfer files.) And you can even play MP3
After I had unpacked the machine and ripped my first CD, I wanted to
try out the web frontend and I was pretty disappointed at first. It
looked very lame and you could only poke around in the music database - that
was it. Luckily, I checked whether software updates where available
and installed them. And suddenly I had a pretty spiffy AJAX-based web
frontend that can control almost every aspect of the
Hifidelio and, as an alternative, a GUI application exported
via VNC that completely
mimics the device's front panel. Which to me also shows that
the company is taking updates seriously - they have released
a regular basis in the last years and they not only use them to
fix bugs but also to add completely new features.
The Hifidelio offers a convenient way to record analog music like LPs.
After I had ripped most of my CDs, I started working on my LP
collection, and overall this is a pretty painless process - but see below. Luckily,
I'm working at home most of the time, so usually during the day I record a
couple of LPs, and in the evening I sit down with a headphone and cut
and edit these recordings. This is certainly more work than archiving
your CDs, but in a way with a much higher reward as - once you've done
it - you have all your old LPs available digitally and can play
individual songs with one keypress like with any CD.
Things I haven't done yet but which are available and top off the
overall good impression:
There's a good Hifidelio user forum
at hifidelio-user.de where
you'll most likely find answers to your questions (if you have
any). The forum isn't officially endorsed by Hifidelio, but some of
their hackers seem to be regulars. The main language of the forum is
German, but it seems to be fine to post English questions as well.
- listening to Internet radio,
- feeding "clients"
like iTunes, UPnP/AV
devices, or Hifidelio's
over the network,
- playing music from a DAAP server,
- connecting the Hifidelio with an iPod or another MP3 player.
Some things which are slightly irritating but wouldn't prevent me from
buying the Hifidelio again.
Ripping a CD with the Hifidelio is a two-step process in which the
tracks are first extracted from the CD in AIFF format and then
converted into the final format (MP3 by default) in a background job.
That's kind of clever as you can feed it a lot more CDs that way, but
the background process seems to run at a pretty low priority - after I
had ripped about three dozens of CDs on my first day, the Hifidelio
was still converting when I looked at it again the next
morning. Probably not a big issue anymore once you've ripped the lion's share of
your CDs, but while you're at it, it is a nuisance. And for
some other reason as well: you can't reliably start editing all the
song titles, album titles, and artist names
freedb got wrong,
while the Hifidelio is still converting - it can get confused and put
things in the wrong places. Seems their algorithm could use some
improvement. (The best workaround is to edit the CD after it has been
inserted and before you rip it. You can also save the edit
information, so that the CD will be displayed correctly the next time
you insert it.)
I've seen quite a few song titles that were a lot too short, like one
word instead of four or sometimes even just one character instead of a
whole word. I know that there are myriads of typos in
the freedb database
(is it really so hard to proof-read ten lines of text before you
submit them?), but I'm pretty sure that what I saw was due to glitches
in the routine that retrieved the data over the Internet.
It's a slot-in drive, and I don't like that. It makes me nervous
because you're at the mercy of your appliance once the CD has
disappeared. And some CDs aren't ejected completely so that you're
forced to touch the rear side to pull them out. The CD player also
has severe problems with CDs with a black or dark front side. For
example, it completely refused to accept
Phaze III" from Frank Zappa or
Update: After having ripped several hundred CDs I have to say that the
drive is a bit annoying. It pretty often (my estimate
would be one out of thirty) fails to read a CD other players or my
laptop don't have a problem with. Furthermore, when it hangs trying
to read such a CD, there's no way to eject it other than power-cycling
the whole device. That's really a PITA!
Editing analog recordings works quite nicely and
doesn't take up too much time, but the process could still be improved
IMHO. For example, the visual feedback when adjusting the recording
volume is not very helpful, and it is a bit hard to cut tracks that
have only very small pauses (or none at all) between them. I hope
that this will be improved in the future.
Not exactly a reason to buy or not to buy the Hifidelio, but I
personally think that the website looks really cheap
and ugly. Maybe I'm corrupted because I worked for an advertising
agency in the nineties, but I think they're shooting themselves in the
foot. I'm pretty sure that typical hi-fi customers expect something a bit
What I want from Hifidelio. (Are you reading?)
In the future, they should provide some upgrade path where you can
replace your hard drive with a larger one without losing your data and
without having to buy a new device. Alternatively, there should be a
way to attach an external drive and use it as a "transparent"
extension. (Yes, 160GB aren't enough for me, I'm afraid.)
It would have been nice if they had located one of the USB ports in
the front panel.
The front panel display is switched off if you haven't pressed a key
for a while. That's good. However, it is switched on again as soon
as you do something via the VNC client. That shouldn't happen.
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