Japanese audio specialists Melco has announced a new flagship: the N1-S38 digital music library, which claims to offer "the best sonic performance in the company's history". That's since its founding in 1975, so is quite the claim.
What is a digital music library? It's essentially what Melco (Maki Engineering Laboratory Company) calls its music servers, which act as high-performance and intelligent storage for your digital music files. You'll still need to add a DAC and amplifier to play music through your speakers, though.
The N1 is said to build upon Melco's expertise in digital music storage, transfer and playback knowledge, and the company's "unique architecture which carefully transports delicate signal data while avoiding noisy high-speed elements and fast processors." We can attest to Melco's talents in these areas: we recently tested the N10/2-S38 (£9399/ $12,200 approx / AU$15,495) and the cheaper N100 (£1999 / $1999), and both are five-star performers.
The N1-S38 is based around a new SSD-based platform and has been designed entirely from the ground up. It has a new chassis and casework, a new set of system electronics, and new power supplies, including a newly developed high-capacity power transformer, supply and local regulators.
For the all-important storage section, it has an "audio-specific custom" 3.84TB SSD drive that's used in conjunction with Melco's own layered, rigid SSD mounter. This is connected to the data path directly and circumvents any RAID controller, says Melco. The onboard memory is increased, too.
Handmade in Japan, the new chassis is constructed around a 3mm stainless steel base plate, which helps reduce unwanted vibrations affecting the music signal. The two-tone aluminium casework is complemented by teal LED lighting. An OLED display and illuminated control buttons adorn the front of the unit, alongside a USB port.
Melco uses "die-cast Amphenol USB ports", as opposed to the conventional USB connections, which the company claims can compromise ultimate performance. These are more durable too, and are used for the DAC, Expansion, Import and Backup ports on the back panel.
For connecting to your home network, Melco provides Neutrik RJ45 connectors and an upgraded LAN port. The N1-S38 also supports a switchable 10 MHz external clock input – a first for a Melco music library.
The new Melco N1-S38 is available now in black or silver finishes, and is priced at £11,995 / €14,000 / $11,995.
Read our Melco N10/2-S38 review
And our Melco N100 review
2023 is going to be a great year for hi-fi separates, and I couldn’t be more excited
A lot of the claims on this device are obvious audiophile nonsense. The bottom line is that what arrives at your DAC is going to be bit for bit identical regardless of whether you use this device or another. Nothing before the DAC can possibly have any impact on the audio quality because none of the transports involved allow bit errors.
Maybe there is something in these devices but I remember when AV publications waxed lyrical about how expensive HDMI cables improved television picture quality. That was until it was disproved unequivocally.
From their review:
"There will always be those that think digital things like servers make no difference to sound quality, but that isn’t the case in our experience. While noting that the Melco comes in at more than four times the cost of our Uniti Core, there is no denying that we hear way more in terms of subtle detail and authority when listening to a range of files off the N10/2."
And that's how you know the reviewer is either getting paid or just wants to believe.
I really want to respect Melco, being the progenitor of Buffalo, which I do like and respect very much, but this description is all rather disingenuous. For over 9 grand, they need a better description of audio-specific custom (for what it's worth, I've seen a pic of the innards of another Melco device and it had a bog standard Western Digital Blue HDD in it, and all Buffalo NAS boxes I've seen also use WD). As for connecting directly to the data path, what kind of nonsense is that, totally vague and meaningless. A storage device needs some sort of I/O chip to interface to the main board (and there will be address and control lines alongside the data path lines), typically these days that may well include RAID functionality, but it's all out of context and mumbo jumbo here. Preserving delicate music signals... All computer components these days operate on very low voltages and hence are delicate signals. Again just playing with words and I would like to see a more technical assessment of such claims in WHF.
By all means design and manufacture with fanatical attention to detail, as many Japanese companies do, but some better explanation is needed in place of the flowery language. For example with the SSD unit, they could have used a professional grade SSD (these do exist, for extremely demanding video acquisition and production - they are rated for more read/write operations), and that would be a legitimate, marketable feature.
It works the other way. A website wants to be a credible authority on the quality of products. They achieve this by not saying things that suggest they might be falling prey to payola.