Getting to know the Melco S100
Patrick Cleasby, Hi-Fi Journalist
Working with a bunch of hardened, time-served BBC engineers, as I did until very recently, it was hard to advance any notions of the hi-fi perfectionism that occupies the contentious end of the hi-fi industry. Anything to do with posh cables, posh power supplies and even posh DACs tended to get dismissed emphatically. Imagine what these ultimate exemplars of the ‘bits are bits’ crowd would have thought of an audiophile ethernet switch?
In truth I was originally of a similar bent myself. Yet people from our own crowd who I know and respect had repeatedly reported good findings from their digital explorations, revealing the benefits of their hardcore and arcane tweaking via blogs buried in the dusty parts of the internet. It was almost like the good old analogue days.
From this I acquired a strong urge to experiment with the electrical isolation and distance capabilities of fibre around the house (especially now that I am blessed with fibre TO the house). In principle the SFP port-equipped S100 would give me a very straightforward option to feed the switching hub of my A-V operation directly with fibre. I still have a bunch of wiring work to do before I get to that point though.
Until the various lockdowns I had none of the time, funds or energy necessary to explore any of the digital improvement options. Some downtime recently allowed me to try one of the oft-favoured, fan-less and second-hand Cisco industrial switches in the place of my commodity TP Link switch. These legacy marvels are beloved by some, and there was indeed some audible improvement, but nothing earth-shaking. There does however appear to be something gained in the move from a standard gigabit-fed/gigabit-switching box to an ‘old-time’ gigabit fed/100BaseT-switching model. But there is a downside - there is some stuff you may wish to run at gigabit speed alongside, such as Sky Q UHD downloads…
After I saw the Melco switch at Bristol last year the first person who rhapsodised to me about its capabilities in situ was Simon Nash of MinimServer. Interest piqued, by the end of the year I had the opportunity to try an S100 in place of my own switch gear and the findings were indeed revelatory. I am not an audio-only purist, and if one sensibly eschews wi-fi a full living room setup needs a fair amount of switch capability. The gigabit allocation of half the S100’s RJ45 switching ports is useful to enable all that go-faster UHD download stuff (gigabit also helps responsive app control), and while that side still sounds mighty fine when used for the streaming playback of high-res music there are easily discernible benefits of switching the pure audio stuff to the 100BaseT-aspirated ports alongside. While the former tightens up the bass, the jump to the latter just causes the sound staging to leap outside the locus of the speakers. I recommend a comparative audition.
There is much still to think about if I’m to put together the ideal network topology to take advantage of these findings, but that will have to wait until I’ve saved up!
Managing and sorting large music collections with SongKong
In case you haven’t been keeping up with SongKong (and, of course, SongKong for Melco),
there has been a steady stream (!) of updates in recent months.
Highlights are many, but of note include:
- Do remember that when trying SongKong actions, you can always use the UNDO FIXES
to restore the original situation.
SongKong also lets you save your settings with a profile name and to clone and rename as profiles are modified.
When browsing and searching to play music, the information usually comes from metadata
associated with the music files.
SongKong is a powerful tool for ensuring that the metadata is accurate, complete and is consistent within a library.
However, metadata is not used by Windows File Explorer or Mac Finder – these file and folder finder computer interfaces use filenames to identify the music files and folders, rather than the metadata.
So, sorting music on a PC will give different results compared to using metadata on a digital player such as a Melco or your car.
SongKong offers a handy and very powerful function if you like to organise music on a PC: you can set SongKong to make new filenames based on the metadata. This will move the position of albums within a Windows or Finder view as the folder and file names will change to match the metadata, of course. So, be prepared for what will happen if you use this function.
You can rename files based on metadata whether matched or not – it’s safer to select ‘if matched to a release’.
- This function on is located in the BASIC menu tab
Default is set to ‘NO’ so that normally whatever happens to metadata, the file stays in Explorer
or Finder in the same place with the same file name.
So let’s go back a step: why are we wanting to rename files when the player does not use file names anyway?
The main reason is housekeeping: the tidying up of libraries when viewed on a computer and to allow sorting (and possibly division) of a library to categorise classical, or HD, for example. Or create small, specialist libraries of all HD classical, perhaps.
For this situation, there is an even more powerful function within SongKong: the Rename Mask function on the FILE NAMING tab.
You can create a rename mask for your purposes, but there are many already created by SongKong
The selection below will create a new file name prefixed with HD, providing that the album is indeed Hi-Res.
Similarly, the IsClassical/ HD etc. mask will identify HD which is also classical.
- We can see how this works with this small library:
After running the rename masks
- We get this revised view within Windows for the same library:
- And within the newly created HD folder, we see the HD artist folders and albums:
If we run a different Rename Mask IsClassical:
Then, new folders are created CLASSICAL and ROCK/POP; anything not definitively sorted remains for manual sorting.
- So within classical we now have:
- And similarly within pop:
So the rename mask is a very powerful tool for renaming the album file and folder names to allow for easy maintenance when using PC or a Mac.
Status reports are provided at all stages as either HTML or a spreadsheet.
The metadata itself is not alerted beyond the initial processing that SongKong performs to optimise the metadata.
SongKong: more than a re-tagger
As always, the SongKong website is a valuable resource for discovering the power of indispensable music library management tool which is so much more than a simple re-tagger.
So aside from the power of SongKong in creating accurate, complete and consistent metadata for libraries, SongKong is also a great tool to assist managing libraries using file and folder names.
SongKong is within the Melco on V4.10 machines, but the same full license will also apply to SongKong on a networked computer that can also access the Melco Music library and might be a more convenient way to apply SongKong for large libraries.
If you have any questions on how SongKong for Melco can work for you, please speak to your local Melco dealer or comment below.
Melco Range Overview
Daniel Raggett - Melco Europe General Manager
The Melco product range has grown and evolved over the past seven years, so I thought it would be useful to provide an overview of the products we have today, and how we got there.
Melco first emerged with two products: the N1A/H40 (43cm wide) and the N1Z/H40 (35cm wide). These were both HDD-based UPnP servers with 4 TB hard drives (2 x 2 TB HDD) and both featured a key unique feature, two Ethernet ports: one for the signal from the router to the music library and another from the music library to the renderer/streamer (to make a direct signal from the music library to the renderer).
Melco then added the N1Z/S10 (35 cm wide) flagship and the only SSD model in the range (2x 0.5 TB SSD). All the models were made up of 2 x equivalent HDD or SSD drives and involved a Raid system and controller. They all had multiple USB ports to attach a backup drive, expansion drive, optical drive and/or USB DAC; this was the MkI journey for Melco.
Today, Melco still has the same models in production, but in MkII guise; these have been available for about three-and-a-half years. The MkII models have different-sized HDD and SSD drives, a dedicated USB output for a USB DAC, improved power supplies, improved capacitors and more mechanical and electrical isolation engineered into them.
About three years ago, Melco added two accessory products to the range in half-width chassis configurations, the D100 (high-performance optical drive) and the E100 (3 TB HDD expansion drive). Both are built in the same quality aluminium material as the music libraries.
With the introduction of these half-width accessories, two years ago, Melco launched two half-width music libraries: the N100 (the new entry-level 2 TB HDD, 21.5 cm-wide) and the impressive N10 (3 TB, separate linear power supply, 21.5cm wide) music library. This brought a great new option to customers who were either downsizing their systems or were space-limited.
The last product to join the line-up was the S100 audiophile switch. Again, built in the same solid aluminium casework of the N100, D100 and E100, the S100 has brought a greater amount of detail, musicality and reduced noise to many customers’ systems since launch. Melco works fantastically well and perfectly complements many top brands, including Linn, Naim, Chord Electronics, T+A and many more, but the 100 switch has proved even more universal.
Today’s Melco range
N100-H20 – Entry-level 2 TB HDD music library. Three USB ports, two Ethernet ports, supplied with a 12 V DC off-board power supply.
N1A/2EX-H60 – Full-sized, 6 TB 3.5-inch HDD, five USB Ports including a dedicated Neutrik DAC port, 2 Ethernet ports, single high-quality military grade AC power supply (internal), single high-quality capacitor bank.
N1Z/2EX-H60 – 35 cm-wide (Linn-sized), 6 TB 2.5-inch HDD, four USB ports including a dedicated Neutrik DAC port, two Ethernet ports, dual high-quality military grade AC power supply (internal), dual high-quality capacitor bank, high-quality mechanical and electrical isolation.
N10-H30 – half-width 21.5 cm two-box unit. A ‘head’ unit with and OLED and separate linear power supply. Connected with specialist Neutrik three-pin connectors, 3 TB 2.5-inch HDD, three USB ports, 2 Ethernet ports.
N10-H30 half-width 21.5cm two-box unit
N1Z/2EX-S40 – 35 cm-wide (Linn-sized), 4 TB 2.5-inch SSD, four USB Ports including a dedicated Neutrik DAC port, two Ethernet ports, dual high-quality military grade AC power supply (internal), dual high-quality capacitor bank, high-quality mechanical and electrical isolation.
All products are available in silver and black brushed aluminium finish.
A Customer perspective - Melco EX Series upgrade
If you have a Melco system, I am guessing that, like me, you probably have a decent-sized library and whether you have it well organised or not, the EX upgrade will save you the frustration of hunting for the needle in the haystack. On top of that, the professionalism of Alan and his staff when they discovered a fault on my machine, needs to be applauded. They kindly fixed the fault at the same time as the upgrade, for no extra cost.
But why upgrade to EX when you already have a working system?
Personally, it was not that it would become Roon Ready - although that is an avenue I look forward to exploring. For me, it was for the ease of cataloguing the almost 2 TB of Bach recordings I have carefully collated over the years. Also when you purchase an album, frequently you will find a couple of composers on the same recording and you are left with the choice of tediously organising folders and splitting up recordings just for ease of finding the one piece of music you are looking for.
If you have the time, and precision to organise your library, that is not a serious problem until you start downloading straight to your Melco when albums get automatically assigned to the ‘Downloads’ folder. You could, of course, back up everything, reformat the drives, reorganise your library and upload again, but the time and effort it takes to get this right can be frustrating and tedious.
Having purchased and used several programs which claimed to organise classical libraries with ease, I can testify that it is a gamble and I once had my whole library scrambled by software purchased, just because websites claimed that it was excellent at tagging classical recordings. Lesson learnt: always keep a backup.
I look forward to never having to manually split recordings again! It keeps composers and works well organised. Another positive is when I search for the pinnacle of Bach’s Canon, his Mass in B-Minor (of which I own over 100 recordings), they are all available with a simple search and the information tagged with them has enabled me to discover new data.
With the Melco Intelligent Music Library and SongKong music tagger, searching for, let us say, BWV 99, I can just look for the BWV field and find all recordings of that particular work available on my system. I even discovered that my organisational skills were not as good as they should have been and SongKong found pieces I had tagged incorrectly. Arrogant as I was, I first thought SongKong had it wrong, only to be pleasantly surprised that this was not the case. So, whether I have downloaded directly, or organised incorrectly, MinimServer 2, with SongKong can discover, tag and organise with the ease I have been longing for and if I want to change the way it is tagged, that is also possible. I can even use SongKong on my iPad to make changes directly to Melco thanks to Minimserver.
Lutz recording, good as it is, has BPM that would have caused Shaw to faint! Is that important? To me, yes it is, sometimes I do not want to listen to Suzuki or Herrewege again, but I know I want a recording with a similar speed, or mood, and to being able to define my search with BPM is a blessing I did not know I wanted until the upgrade.
Yet after all that, it is the listening experience that is important and Melco does not compromise where music quality is concerned. The beauty is that I no longer waste time searching for the right recording - all that is taken care of with the neat precision that you would expect from Melco and at the end of the day, we have not purchased music to fritter away time looking for that one recording, but for the joy of listening to it.
Thank you, Alan and Melco. You have simplified my life and given me more time to enjoy stress-free listening. So yes, the upgrade fee is well worth it. The only question now is when I start exploring the wonders of Roon.
Melco Customer Perspective –