Skip to main content

Melco N100 review

A high-quality music server from a network computer specialist Tested at £1999 / $1999

5 Star Rating
Melco N100 review
(Image: © Melco)

Our Verdict

If you’re looking for a high-quality streamer with built-in storage, Melco’s N100 is a great place to start

For

  • Slick operation
  • Clean, precise and expressive sound
  • Plenty of storage

Against

  • Needs external DAC for streaming

Most audio specialists have a tough time breaking into the network audio sector. With their expertise in traditional analogue electronics or mechanical engineering, the world of hard-drives, network protocols and the associated software engineering is often way outside of their comfort zone.

The obvious solution, one taken by all but the largest companies, is to partner with a specialist that can do all these things and buy-in a complete, configured, ready-made module to do the job. It was much the same in the days of compact disc, where most specialist hi-fi companies ended up buying in the transport, display and associated software from the likes of Philips or Sony.

But Melco is a different proposition. Essentially the hi-fi wing of Buffalo – a huge player in the computer world, known for its storage solutions and network products – that gives the Melco N100 something of an advantage.

Features

Melco N100 features

(Image credit: Melco)

The Melco N100 packs 2TB worth of storage (around 3000 CDs, less with higher res recordings) and includes both the MinimServer and TwonkyMedia server software. Knowing how important it is to get the right metadata tagged onto your music files, there’s also dedicated software that references multiple databases to ensure that every file is categorised as accurately as possible, with specific treatments for the requirements of different types of music.

For example, in classical music where multiple works are included on a single album, it’s important to identify them as well as the album. The same applies to information about the composer.

Melco N100 tech specs

(Image credit: Melco)

Type Music server with HDD storage

Storage 2T

Streaming services supported Qobuz, Tidal

Dimensions (hwd) 6.1 x 21.5 x 27cm

Weight 3kg

We’ve used a number of music servers over the years, and the Melco is probably the slickest and least obtrusive we’ve come across. It just gets on with its job quickly and without fuss.

The front panel control layout is simple, but together with the small but clear display, the N100 is easy enough to set up. The supplied manual deserves a mention for being well laid out and easy to understand.

Connectivity is limited but covers all the essentials. There are three USB 3.0 sockets and two of these can be used to connect the N100 to external storage in the form of sticks and hard drives or optical drives for ripping CDs. The third is intended for use with an external DAC.

This Melco doesn’t have a built-in DAC, so if you want to use it as a streamer, playing music from its internal storage, for example, you’ll need to add one. We partner the N100 with Chord’s excellent Qutest (£1195/$1895) for this test and it proves a good match.

There are two ethernet ports, one of which is used to hardwire to your network and the other connects to a stand-alone streamer. There is no provision for going wireless here, and that’s fair considering the additional stability hardwiring gives. Network audio set-ups normally use a dedicated network switch, but the N100’s arrangement makes things cleaner and more direct.

Melco has a dedicated app, but it currently only works for the iPad. If you use an Apple or Android phone, you’ll have to use third-party alternatives, such as mconnect Player or similar, which work well enough.

Build

Melco N100 build

(Image credit: Melco)

Build quality is good with a solid casework finished to a high standard. The chassis is made of 2mm thick steel with the rest of the panels using aluminium. It’s a fan-less design to minimise unwanted noise and proves quiet during use. It’s clear that Melco takes a great deal of care over how its products are made.

We connect the N100 into our test room network and use our reference Naim ND555/555PS music streamer to compare its performance as a server to our usual Naim Uniti Core HDD unit (cheaper at £1899, but you’ll need to add the hard drive). The other main difference between the servers is that the Naim includes a disc drive for ripping CD while the Melco doesn’t.

The company makes a dedicated unit called the D100 for £1099, but if that feels a little excessive, there are plenty of more affordable USB optical drive alternatives on the market.

Sound

Melco N100 sound

(Image credit: Melco)

We load the same music files (hi-res and CD quality) on both the N100 and Uniti Core and listen through our reference system, which includes a Burmester 088/911 Mk 3 pre/power combo and ATC’s SCM 50 speakers.

The differences aren’t massive but they are consistent, whether we listen to a Shostakovich symphony or Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly set. The files from the Melco sound crisper and cleaner. Leading edges are more precise and the overall presentation is a touch more stable. It’s not all one-way traffic though.

Those same music files have greater body and fluidity when using the Naim and flow better rhythmically. But as for the question of which one is better, that’s down to taste and system.

We also use the N100 as a stand-alone streamer, listening to the music from its own storage and that of the Uniti Core. It can cope with pretty much everything from 32-bit/384kHz PCM to DSD512 and also supports Tidal and Qobuz. The Melco works well when partnered with the Chord DAC, and is right up there with the best streaming solutions we’ve heard at this level when partnered this way.

We listen to Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker and the Melco/Chord combo does an excellent job communicating the brooding mood of the track. There’s plenty of detail and it is well organised, with Cohen’s rough tones coming through with the right amount of gruffness and authority. 

Melco N100 sound

(Image credit: Melco)

There’s a good amount of drive to that menacing bassline, giving the song a solid foundation. It all sounds impressively detailed, but with enough in the way of dynamic expression, punch and drive to prevent things sound too analytical.

The story is similarly positive when we play Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The Melco/Chord pairing delivers a forceful yet controlled sound, one that has an expansive and precise sound stage that exploits the scale of the recording well. We have no complaints when it comes to outright sonic authority or punch.

Tonally, things are even and open, with a decent dose of natural warmth to convince. It’s a refined sound, one that never veers towards undue aggression or harshness.

Verdict

The Melco N100 is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a high-quality streamer with storage built-in and already have a capable DAC. The company’s computer heritage shines through in the slick, fuss-free operation, making the N100 highly recommended.

SCORES

  • Sound
  • Features 5
  • Build 5

MORE:

Best NAS drives

Best music streamers

10 of the best songs to test your system

How to add a streamer to your hi-fi system

  • manicm
    Nah, by the time you add a DAC you’re looking at 3k. That’s a serious wad of cash even if it’s got built in storage.
    Reply
  • Dom
    My PC has a 4TB HDD, 512GB NVME M.2 SSD, a NVidia 1660Ti, Intel 7700k and USB 3.1 gen 2. This is like a cable debate. There's USB specification, otherwise your 10Gb's would fail. I would still like to try it though.
    Reply
  • ijabz
    The dedicated software that references multiple databases to ensure that every file is categorised as accurately as possible is called SongKong, also available for other PC. Macs ecetera - http://www.jthink.net/songkongformelco/
    Reply
  • Santa
    What Hi-Fi? said:
    If you’re looking for a high-quality music streamer, Melco’s N100 is one you should consider.

    Melco N100 : Read more
    So I have some flac original recordings, lossless and essentially the original data. If I'm playing these I'd expect that a streamer should be decoding the data and outputting PCM to my DAC without touching it. It's being processed digitally.
    The exception might be if you are playing a lossy/ compressed format the codec may be upscalling so would be dependant on algorithms.
    Any change in sound is going to come from the DAC, Amplifier, Speakers or any analog interconnects which for this test remained the same.
    Some additional information on the codecs the manufactures use would be interesting and also analysing the PCM data to see if there are actually any differences.
    And another question, were both streamers sending PCM or DSD?
    Reply
  • LeighHughes
    This does not look like a £2k piece of kit. If I'm spending that amount, I want it to look the part, as well as sound good.
    Reply
  • simonali
    What a lot of nonsense. I bet if the tester didn't know which bit of kit was playing they'd not be able to tell which was which!
    Reply
  • biker_rich
    What Hi-Fi? said:
    If you’re looking for a high-quality music streamer, Melco’s N100 is one you should consider.

    Melco N100 : Read more

    If you want a high quality streamer without a DAC, with the same - if not better - functionality then get a cheap PC or Raspberry PI. This review just reinforces What HiFi's ineptitude and total lack of understanding of digital technology. More expensive does not necessarily mean better. The Melco does not produce better 1's & 0's than a £40 Raspberry PI once it's decoded a compressed media file using standard decompression algorithms they are the same 1's and 0's.
    Reply
  • marconiuk
    It may or may not sound good but to be honest, it looks like something you would buy off wish.com
    Reply