NAS drives for home use – cheap can deliver high quality

Adrian

Western Digital NAS driveMy HiFi streamer at home needed a NAS drive that was UPnP™ enabled for music streaming. I tried using the cheapest with a high-end music system. A gamble.

The NAS drive I chose was a 1 Tb Western Digital MyBookLive (under £95/$100 from Amazon). For ripping the music I chose cheap software recommended by an expert friend – dbPowerAmp CD ripper ($38 online).

  • The same costs 5x as much from HiFi manufacturers such as Linn and Naim Audio.
  • The NAS drive itself costs 3x as much if it is a twin-disc RAID array instead of a simple disk.

 Musical fidelity | Convenience | Reliability | Speed | Conclusion | My HiFi

Musical fidelity

In theory the streamer merely needs its data in advance of when it wants to play it. The precise timing needed for musical reproduction is done by the streamer’s precision clock, using the music it has already copied into its memory buffer.

I’ve tried variations in NAS drive (home use) and I can’t hear the difference – if it’s there, it’s very subtle. (My kit is described below.)

Convenience

Dedicated devices such as the Naim UnitiServe-SSD include a CD player and the ripping software, so it’s not necessary to use a computer. But it makes no difference to me whether I put the CD in a computer or a HiFi unit. That’s the easy part of it. The problem is for most classical CDs, world music and some esoteric labels where the CDs have incorrect (or missing) information – it’s essential to review the labelling and location of the music. That needs a PC or Mac. I found it more convenient to do it at the time the music is ripped rather than try to remember to do it later.

Backup now!

Whatever you do, you must have a backup copy of your hard drive – especially important for NAS drives for home use, where the reliability is lower than the ones used in the office. There is a huge investment in time to get CDs onto it, and one day the drive will fail. And long before that there is a risk that someone accidentally deletes music.

A backup is needed to another disc drive – in my case an even cheaper USB drive.

There are two cheaper USB drives. One is set to backup the computer and NAS drive automatically using dbPowerAmp CD ripper software. The other has a complete copy of the NAS drive, updated every month and left in a different building – it’s there in case the normal backup is damaged.

Reliability

The cheap box won’t last as long as the best solutions, and will have to be replaced. But does it matter?

  • For the best, use the twin-disc RAID which keeps a copy of the music on both discs so that if one fails the other is still there.
  • For the most expensive, use a proprietary drive from a HiFi manufacturer where you have to send it away for the disc to be replaced, instead of getting a screwdriver and doing it yourself.
  • For the cheapest, accept that in a few years it will be necessary to replace the disc with another which by then will be much cheaper or better. Perhaps we’ll be adding our videos, too.

Speed

Cheap drives have a slower rotational speed than the best. However the rate that music is delivered to a streamer is slow compared to other data computing demands – any disc should be able to cope. Even when I’m adding more files, there’s no interruption to the music that’s playing.

However when copying files it’s noticeably slower than the external USB drives I’ve used before. The slowness was inconvenient when copying hundreds of CDs between computers, but other than that it barely matters.

The main performance problem comes when using Linn Kinsky and there are noticeable delays displaying the lists.

Appearance

The Western Digital NAS drive is small compared to normal HiFi components. It’s also prettier than most HiFi units, and a lot prettier than a utilitarian twin-RAID drive for computers. Mine is on the HiFi rack, but it’s small enough to hide behind a cupboard.

NAS drives for home use: Conclusion

If you want the least hassle, spend extra. But for all that extra money you won’t save much time, and you appear to gain nothing musically.

Notes about my HiFi

I’m using this with a Linn Majik DS, a custom-built pre-amp & power supply, Avondale 130 monoblocks (power amps) and Acoustic Energy Radiance 3 speakers, all mounted on a pile of Mana tables to support their natural vibrations. The overall effect gives me a sound stage that seems to stretch to the next house and takes on the characteristics of the recording hall/room; the dynamics of rock music and jazz shake my bones and forced me to reinforce a cupboard to stop it shaking.

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