Qsonix Music Management System
Model Q205 - $7,450 base configuration
Model Q210 - $7,750 base configuration
James L. Darby
First we'd like to thank Qsonix President Mike Weaver and CEO Oscar Ciornei for working with us on this review.
If you've been reading our Stereomojo reviews or checking out our lavish audio show reports, you know that we've been telling you for years that the "next big thing" in the stereo universe is computer-based reproduction. It's been pretty well documented by now that music files played back from a hard drive in most cases is superior in sound quality to those read by a laser from a spinning silver disc. There are basically two ways to enjoy this new technology, the first being to assemble a system yourself consisting of some flavor of Mac or PC sporting some type of music playback software such as iTunes or Windows media Center or a myriad of others.
DO YOU REALLY WANNA ROLL YOUR OWN?
What most people don't realize however, is that what software you choose profoundly affects the audio quality; they are not all created equal. If you think iTunes sounds perfectly fine, give a listen to the iTunes add-on Amarra and you will come away swearing that you'll never listen to iTunes on its own again. Of course, Amarra will cost you an additional several hundred dollars depending on which version you choose. And which version DO you choose? Or is something else even better than that? Some new software package comes out every week!
So once you've narrowed down to Mac or PC, (don't forget you also need to choose a monitor plus how much and what type of memory you need) and your GUI/playback software, you need to think about a DAC. Tube or solid state? One that does both? What bit rates to you need - all the way out to 24/192? The cost of a DAC that will natively play back those ultra-resolution files can easily run you $5000 or more. FireWire? USB? But you're not done yet! You need a storage device! How big? How fast? How dependable? And then you’ll search the net for a week to find the cheapest price. And then comes the real fun part; connecting it to your home network. Even the most computer literates have spent hours, days and weeks talking to some guy in India trying to get the firkin' thing to work.
THE OTHER SOLUTION
Things can get even more complicated than that, but you get the picture. The other solutions are turnkey types that are preconfigured, but even then stories of long tech phone sessions with guys that don't quite speak English abound. The other main issue with the "already assembled for you" systems is the price: you're probably looking at around 10 grand or more, and then the learning curve can be a bitch.
“Qsonix was founded in 2004 by music lovers that had been reviewing and evaluating the available music server systems available on the market at that time”, says company President Mike Weaver. “Even though there were quite a few brands competing in the marketplace at that time, the software on these systems simply didn't meet what we felt was the needs of the typical music enthusiast. Qsonix strives to create products designed to remove the "computing" from listening to digital music and to return the consumption and enjoyment of musical content to the living room or listening room where it can be enjoyed by all. We feel that all too often, technical aspects of these types of products are allowed to outweigh usability and enjoyment”.
I have to tell you that his review began based on the Qsonix Q105/Q110 product, which I have spent most of my time with, plenty long enough to award it our 2009 Product of the Year. The problem has been that every time I went to publish the review, I would receive a new update (delivered via the net directly to the Qsonix and installed automatically) that would make what much of what I'd written obsolete. That happened three times. That last time, Qsonix President and founder Mike Weaver informed me that the Q100 series was soon to be replaced by the new Q200 series with major changes to the audio sections and a bit to the appearance, but the operating system which is mostly what I'd already written about would be the same. So, he asked if I wanted to do an exclusive preview of the new Q205. Of course, as much as I have fallen for the original, how could I say no to the new versions?
Please note that this review is a bit different than normal. We are comparing the new models to the older models - the 100 versions vs. the new 200's, but we are also comparing the new models to each other and to other machines. More complex than normal, so concentrate; there may be a snap quiz at the end...
While there have been several changes, upgrades and improvements, the biggest news here is that the new Qsonix Q205 model includes a completely new digital output section by one of the first names in digital, Wadia. Now, the DAC in the original was no slouch, but after Wadia has woven it's magic into the fabric of the Q, we're talking a whole new ballgame! Wadia, a company not given to bursts of undue hyperspeak has said that the hard drive based Qsonix Q205 series is one of the best sounding playback systems they have ever heard - period. Wadia has also agreed to take over the worldwide distribution of Qsonix system which will greatly expand the company's visibility in the market place.
Before I go father, let me say a couple of things; one, I'm pretty jaded when it comes to new audio products. You can understand that after 45 years of my being a devout audiophile and many years of attending audio shows, talking to pretty much every big and small company president and audio designer in the biz and seeing, hearing and reviewing tons of products. I don't impress very easily and often find it hard to get really excited about much of anything. Two, I very much guard against writing "rave" reviews. Partly because of the what I just confided to you, but also because most other publications find a way to rave about almost everything they review. I never want Stereomojo to be, or even appear to be, "in the tank" for anybody or anything. Thus, our reviews are meant to be an honest evaluation of what we see, hear and experience. But sometimes a product comes along that stands out from all the rest and fundamentally changes the way we experience music. In those rare cases, we report what we honestly think, even if it means writing a very enthusiastic review. Honesty is honesty either way you slice it. We don't pull punches on the down side, so we can't intentionally downplay something on the upside. Does that make sense?
TWO NEW TO BE TRUE
As before, there are two models available in the new Qsonix line, the Q205 and the Q210. Previously, both 100 series models had built-in DACs and digital boards leading up to them, so they both sounded identical, the main differences being in the number of analog outputs for different zones in your home; 2 versus 4 zones. Both models then let you simultaneously play different playlists routed to different zones in your home or office. Or yacht. So you could have rock 'n roll playing in the family room, smooth jazz out on the patio, death metal in Little Johnny's room, and of course, Barry White in the, umm, master bedroom. That is, if you purchased the Q110 and its four zone capability. The Q105 was limited to two zones. And both models had analog outputs so you could connect directly to your preamp - or even use the units as preamps themselves.
THE NEW Q205
The NEW model line changes most of that. Now the Q205 is even more of an audiophile piece than either of the old ones by means of the all new Wadia digital processing board inside. However, while there is every imaginable digital output on the back, there are no analog outputs. Simply put, you will still need an outboard DAC (unless your amp or processor has digital inputs) to play your music. Mr. Weaver tells me this was a difficult decision, but the company is looking more toward the future and new/current technology than that of the past. We're seeing more and more preamps and integrateds with built-in DACs (my Halcro that is several years old has one) and even newer disc players have digital ins to access their DACs. In addition, most audiophiles already own some kind of DAC already so the thought is that people buying this audiophile model might not want to pay for a DAC they don't need. Also, stand alone DACs are getting much more plentiful, cheaper and better sounding by the month so with this unit you can stay up with the bursting digital market and not worry about obsolescence. Of course, it also keeps the cost to you lower for anew unit.
So, if the new Q205 is Wadia-fied, but there's no DAC, just what did the digital gods do to the new machine? As we all know by now, the signal that flows into a DAC is as important as the DAC itself, perhaps even more so, sort of like hooking up an old Pioneer receiver to a pair of state-of-the-art speakers. The speakers are going to sound like crap because they will reveal even more of the cheesy amp's flaws. Like computer data, garbage in, garbage out. So what did Wadia do? Let's take a look at what they say:
Complete output stage circuit design and performance optimization by Wadia Digital
Support for high bandwidth audio data rates (up to 24bit 192kHz)
High Performance, Military Grade components throughout
Isolated signal input featuring opto-coupling technology for complete isolation of signal and ground-plane noises.
Opto-coupling provides 100% electrical isolation between main processing board and the digital output signal. This means the digital signal output will never carry or transmit signal / grounds noise from the main digital signal processing board.
Fully balanced digital output signal for AES/EBU and SPDIF Coax (BNC, RCA); extremely robust digital output stage capable of driving long digital cables.
Ultra-High Speed Output Transmitters (up to 10 megabit)
Eliminates ringing or signal reflections (ensuring low jitter), ESD protection without degrading signal integrity.
Transformer isolated outputs
Very Wide bandwidth transformers offer very complete CMR (common mode rejection), as well as extremely low capacitive coupling due to customized additional shield winding.
Benefit – Transformer coupling eliminates out of band noise while maintaining extremely accurate digital signal integrity; eliminates potential for ground noise in the digital signal path.
Audiophile Grade impedance-optimized output
Incorrect impedance matching is among the most common sources of jitter in digital audio. By using only the highest quality precise impedance output connectors, we ensure accurate output impedance for each digital output stage.
Three stage, fully regulated power supply dedicated exclusively to the digital output stage.
Common mode Choke
Bulk Capacitor Filters
So, chances are that your existing outboard DAC is going to sound better via the Q205 that it does with whatever you have right now. Note we're guaranteeing that to be the case, but it's highly likely unless you already have a new generation, very high-end digital processor. Note also that this unit natively plays back ultra-hi-res files up to 24/192 - the current state of the digital art. Note the emphasis on "natively". As we've discussed here several times, many DAC and digital devices display a "24/192" logo or claims, but they do it with smoke and mirrors and some dubious processing. In other words, it can be a big fat lie. There's none of that here. I made sure to ask that question very pointedly.
You also need to know that while the previous 105 had two-zone playback, this one is geared toward stereo aficionados so there is only one "zone" for your main listening room, though a second discreet output/zone can be added via a USB Audio DAC.
ZONING OUT - THE NEW Q210
Let's review: the new Q205 has a super-duper-extra-crispy Wadia (pronounced "wah-DEE-ah" in case you always wondered) digital out board with lots of digital outs but no DAC and one main zone for playback that does 24/192 natively included in the base price. It also includes the wonderful 15" touchscreen drag-and-drop monitor as well as a one TERRABYTE hard drive. You can opt for up to a 19" monitor and TWO terrabyte drive if you wish. Hope you're paying attention, there may be a pop quiz at the end....
The new Q210 however, is a much different animal. It is geared more toward the AV market with less emphasis on us audiophile weirdos. Specifically, the Q210 does not get the super-duper-extra-crispy "wah-DEE-ah" treatment, but it does include the same DAC as the previous models. I know you're asking, "So Darby, how good is the Q210 DAC?". I'm glad you axed. Here's my evaluation:
In a word, pretty darn good. Okay, that's three words, but the audio performance was more than a little surprising, especially from the analog outputs without using an external DAC. Speaking of DACs, for comparison purposes, the PS Audio Perfect Wave DAC was tethered to the Q and played extensively. If you read our world's first review of the Perfect Wave system, you might recall that the DAC by itself costs $3,000, a large chunk of the price for the whole Q system, so you would expect the Perfect Wave it to perform better; it did, but not by a wide margin. The PW was more detailed in the high-end especially with a little more air in the midrange and texture in the bass, but it's overall character was a little cooler and more detached than the Q, most notably when playing back standard CDs. The PW was considerably more pristine in nature while the Q was softer and warmer with more grain. But bear in mind the PW is one of the best DACs on the market at the moment, a true bargain at its $3,000 tag.
We have reviewed several DACs from Benchmark, we're very familiar with their sound. Personally, I've never been a big fan, their character is too icy and analytical for my tastes. Too dry, especially in the high end. Very clean and detailed and if your amps or speakers are a little rolled off or too soft and warm sounding, the Benchmarks might be a good fit. I prefer the sound of naked Q210 outputs. And I'll confess this: the Q's other qualities that have added so much to the new level of enjoyment and appreciation of not only for my music collection, but music in general, vastly overcomes the need for the Nth degree of the very top of the high-end experience. That may sound like heresy for a reviewer and high-end magazine publisher, but I have to be honest. And here's another confession: when one is called upon to constantly listen to music with their brain in critical analysis mode, it can take the gleam off the musical paint sometimes. This job isn't always as fun and glamorous as you might think, at least if you do it seriously and do it right. I'll just say it; sometimes we get a little burnt out and we have to give ourselves regular pep talks to keep our game up.
The Q for me is Vince Lombardi and The Gipper rolled into one - inspirational and motivational. Part of that may be because it saves me so much time and effort. Heck, just dragging all my favorite evaluation cuts into one playlist saves a lot of time since I can pull all of them up at once. Then if I want to want to play some other tracks such as pipe organ to test the low end, I don't even need to get up out of my chair. I can find it and play it instantly. I think it actually makes me a better reviewer.
When playing back ultra-high bitrate WAV files like the stunning Reference Recordings HRx releases on data DVDs, the Q sounded wonderful. Speaking of Reference Recordings HRx discs, the new Qsonix software update specifically addresses that format and recognized all of them including artwork, ripped them to the hard drive and play them back flawlessly at full resolution. That was a big surprise because the logo on the Q faceplate is for compact disc with nothing about DVD, so I didn't even know it would read DVDs like the HRx's. How'd dey do dat? It turns out that the transport actually is a CD/DVD spinner. When the Q was launched, they did not put the DVD logo on the front because they didn't want to confuse their customers since the DVD update had not yet been finalized and released. Smart.
I also inserted a new Chesky "1-to-1 Master Series Limited Edition 192/24” DVD of "Impressions" by the Larry Coryell Organ Trio and it again was recognized, ripped and played back perfectly, something even the Perfect Wave has yet to accomplish.
Bottom line? Most people with less than 24 karat ears will love the sound of the new Q210. It's not great, but it ain't bad either. And I'm picky. For the crowd that just wants music with four independent and simultaneous analog outputs that can be independently controlled with separate play-lists, playback and volume control, the sound will be a revelation.
But...just in case...you can add an optional high quality digital output with USB to Coax S/PDIF connector and Performance Audio Pack upgrade which can be paired with your own favorite outboard DAC. That will give you yet another output for an additional 5th zone, too. But, since it's USB, it's limited to 24/96 instead of 24/192 of the Q205. No HRx for you.
Here's the Qsonix rundown for the Q210:
Q210 = Multi-Room / Integration / Automation Focused
1. X4 Analog discreet outputs
2. The Performance Audio Pack is available as an upgrade of $600 (this allows you to add a high-quality 5th output to the unit via a DAC of your choosing)
3. Available in 1TB, 2TB capacities and 15”,17” or 19" touchscreens.
4. Updated Industrial design, including new ½” Aluminum faceplate, with engraved logo, smaller chassis, new machined feet, new backplane.
5. External power-supply
6. Fanless mainboard, whisper Chassis fan, thermally controlled (Silent operation under normal operating/ambient conditions.
7. All new components, internals, etc
8. V2.8 includes high-resolution view/GUI for 17” panels
9. Starts at $7750 MSRP
Did you note that both models come equipped with "Fanless mainboard, whisper Chassis fan, thermally controlled (Silent operation under normal operating/ambient conditions)? That is very significant because there was one rather serious flaw in the old generation, though it had nothing to do with the impeccable operating system. Here's what I reported to the Mr. Weaver shortly after receiving the old original unit: "
"Mike, the fan is, how shall I say this, way too noisy. Sitting atop my Stillpoints rack about 16 feet from the listening position, it was clearly audible in the silence between cuts. I'm typing this on my Apple Mac G5 which is essentially silent. A tower model PC is on my right, quieter than the Q. So is my Dell laptop as are all the computers in my firm's offices. Not good. As mentioned earlier, the Q110 was designed more for AV use where most components are hidden anyway, but for the Q105 edition, this is a negative. There are simple solutions of course; the noiseless monitor can be placed up to 600 feet away from CPU, so you can stash the noisy unit in another room, or just put it in a well ventilated cabinet. I'm sure you can think of other solutions, but for me even the noise is not a deal breaker by a long shot. I'd bet there's a fix in the works for this issue, knowing how perfectionist you are".
So, with the new models, they took our observation to heart and fixed it. As Mike told me, "Bottom line we have removed both of the offending noise maker fans (the CPU fan and the PSU fan)..all that remains is a low rpm thermally controlled fan that makes zero noise until ambient temp is greater than 85 degrees". Ooooo! Kinda like my MAC! If there's one thing I've learned form working with Mike and Qsonix is that they do not rest on their laurels and they take their products seriously.
Now that we've gone over the audio improvements and changes, it's time to get to what REALLY sets the Qsonix systems apart from the rest of the world and why it garnered our highest Product of the Year Award.
Q-ING THEM UP
Both systems come in two pieces: a stylish yet non-bling-encrusted black box and your choice of a 3 different sized monitors. The big difference between this and other competitors is that either monitor features touchscreen operation. Everything for the most part is simply drag and drop, with the emphasis on simply. I've loaded thousands of music files of different types and have never needed an external keyboard or mouse. When needed, a keyboard appears on the screen so you can “touch” in whatever you want, and the “keys” big enough even more my ham hock fingers. Here's what Mr. Weaver told me about that: "By coupling our music server with a dedicated simple, touchscreen user interface we find that novice computer users are able to learn and begin to use the system quickly. A common scenario that illustrates this difference is if you have a small gathering at your house. With the Qsonix system, we find that guests that would previously be unable to operate the homeowner's computer-based music solution will have no difficulty using the Qsonix touchscreen-based system and will quickly become a participant in the selection of music for the gathering."
I can attest to that. I taught my wife Linda to operate this system in less than five minutes. When Stereomojo reviewer Bill Schuchard and his strikingly gorgeous wife Elizabeth visited us, she was also finding her favorite artists and recordings, building playlists and playing them on her own in less than five minutes as well. "But", you say, "both of those chicks are used to being around high-end stereo stuff". True, but we've also had several guests over and a a couple parties with folks that find it difficult to locate an FM station in their car and the results were pretty much the same. This thing is simple to use! And you know what else? Women really dig it. It's easy, it's cool, it's fun to use, and they can build their own favorite music selections completely apart from yours and play them anytime they want. Oh yeah, chicks dig it.
Have kids? Yes, it’s easy enough for anyone that knows the alphabet. Have tunes you don’t want them (or anyone else) to see (can you say Snoop Dog?) you can password protect them. And yeah, that’s easy to do, too.
This is a breakout of the 6 touchscreen sections in the "all" view which shows you two albums at a time which you choose from the menu bar (1). Section 2 is where the main info for each CD resides, including the luscious album art, album and artist name as well as the name of each track. You can also choose to display more info for each track such as artist (there are often more than one), bitrate and file type, composer etc, from the drop down menu entitled "Details". When you see a white down arrow such as that next to the details tab, that signifies another drop down menu with more control options. You can even display reviews of each album if they're available on the net.
Section 3 is the browser control where using the white arrows you can scroll through your collection. By touching on of the letter of the alphabet, it will take you to album, Artist's name, composer, or whatever you have displayed at the moment.
Section 4 is where the playlists you assemble (there are several ways to do that, too) are stored. Playlists can contain any number of CD, individual tracks or both. For example, at Christmas I just searched for the genre Christmas and it pulled up about 40 Christmas albums. I saved them in a playlist. I also assembled a playlist of my favorite demo tracks from various CDs so they are all there. All you have to do is touch and drag a playlist down to the the next section (5) which is the active playlist of cuts ready to be played. You can add new tracks anywhere in the list, beginning, middle, end - anywhere - determined by where you drag them on the list. Too small to see well, the yellow text on the bottom of section 5 tells you how many tracks in the list and their playing time.
The last piece is section 6 which is the playback control, just like you'd see on any player. Just touch and play - immediately, with no delay. you can also just tap any song in your active list and it will immediately play.
Suppose you want to play a whole CD. All you do is touch the album art and drag it to the active list or section 5 and it's there in order. Want to add just one or two tracks from the CD? Just drag and drop the individual title over the active list, anywhere you want in it, and it's there. All, of course, while music is playing if you wish. But suppose you see a track named in the big CD section and you want to hear what it sounds like before you add it to the active list. No problem! Just tap it twice; the cut that's playing is reduced and the preview track is heard over it, but the track playing does not stop. You determine in the extensive preferences how quiet the main selection play is to be and how loud you want the preview to be, as well as for how long it plays before going back to the main track.
Going back to section 5, you see there are tabs that say "living Room" in blue and "Pool/Patio" in green. Those are two different zones which you can run anywhere in the house you like with the Q210. The whole theme turns green (or any color you choose) when that zone is active. You can have four (or an optional 5) completely different playlists going in different areas simultaneously. Perhaps you can comprehend how easy everything is. It took a lot longer to learn my Iphone.
Ripping a disk to the hard drive couldn't be easier. Stick the thing in the tray and close it. A screen pops up (pic on the right) that tells you it gathering data from the net. In about a minute, the next screen appears showing you what was found and asks you if it's the right CD. If it is, just touch the big green arrow and it loads - perfectly. About 98% of my collection loaded just like that, but I have several custom CDs and my own recordings, so if the Q can't find the info from All Music Guide, it let's you put in all you own info via large keyboard that appears on the screen.
There are several ways to easily get music into your Q. We already know how to rip a CD automagically, but you can also connect directly to your computer either hooked up or wirelessly and let the Q automatically search your HD for music files and transfer them. They are catalogued on the Q just like if you inserted a CD.
You can also copy selected music files to your backup HD and let the Q automatically find and import them for you via USB. I used this method a lot, it gave me more control of want I wanted and didn't want on the Q. I also easily copied CD cover art for the CD’s that didn't have them.
Oh yes. If you want to use a USB memory stick to load some songs or CDs, you can do that too. Easily.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
I almost forgot to talk about initial set up, mainly because it was so simple and stressless that it's almost not worth mentioning. If you can connect a monitor to a PC, you're pretty much good to go. Once the two boxes were unpacked and I ran the 4-page onscreen setup, BANG! I was ripping CDs to the hard drive in less than 10 minutes. No calls to second or third world countries needed. You plug it in and get a welcome screen. You then set the date/time. The next screen is Network settings. I had the unit plugged into my wireless router, so I hit “auto configure” and a few seconds later the Q was connected. It was easier and faster than my Tivos! I had to call Tivo support to get it to connect – after about an hour on the phone. The Q is easier and more powerful than an Iphone, too. Miscrosoft should hire these Qsonix guys….
And, speaking of Iphones, one of my most favorite things in the Apple Qsonix app. It gives you almost all the power of the Q itself, except that you can’t do as much editing. But you can do all the same searches – with the album art plainly visible – that you can from the Q. AND folks, you can also operate the Q machine’s volume, play, next track, stop , pause, etc right from your Iphone, sitting in you listening chair, completely wirelessly! You can scroll through your entire CD collection from anywhere your network reaches in your home or office and cue up CD’s OR individual songs. Have the new Ipad? It works on those, too.
Using the main monitor while programming your playlist, say you pull up a CD that you haven’t listened to for awhile or see a track on it that looks interesting, but you’re not sure how it sounds, so you want to preview it, even while your music is playing. No problemo. Just double tap the song and immediately it begins to play , automatically reducing the volume of the track already playing. It plays at a volume number of seconds you choose among the vast array of preferences. Know anything else that does that?
If you’ve worked with different file types and importing them to be played and catalogued correctly, you know that naming protocols and tagging conventions are a nightmare. The Q is easily the best at sorting these things out. But when all else fails, the Q includes a special technology that “listens” to the track, then using “fingerprinting” over the net, matches the track to a huge database of music programmed to identify music by matching samples. If you’ve used phone apps such as Sound Hound or Shazam, you know what we’re talking about. I have a lot of very obscure recordings and I have a stack of about a dozen that the Q could not identify out of the 1,600 it did. I also have a lot of recordings that I did myself that are not on any database. The Q imported them and then let me add the artist name (me), genres, track titles and even add my own cover art. So when I scroll through the artists list, I see James Darby right next to James Taylor. Yowsa!
But for me, here’s the best part; I like variety. Linda and I often listen at night for two to four hours or more. Most of the time, we’d rather not listen to a whole CD at a time, but rather listen to a bunch of cuts from several albums. How do you accomplish that with a regular CD player? Right, you have to burn a “various artists” CD, or get up, scrounge through your all your CD’s and feed them in one at a time, wearing a path in your carpet. Well friends, those days are over for us! I can cue up three or four songs, touch play and we’re off. Then, (and this is the killer part), while we’re listening to those tracks, I can lean back, scroll or search through my 1,600 CD’s or so in seconds via my Iphone and choose which track or tracks I want to play next! I can hand it to Linda and she can add her Tom Jones tunes..hehe. Or, it’s so easy, I can hand my phone to a friend and they can do the same thing with a couple of seconds of “Here…just do this”. I’m not a control freak (just ask our reviewers), but this defines the word “empowerment”.
Don’t have an Iphone? No problem! You can do the same thing on your laptop or netbook over your wireless. Just put in the IP address of the Q in your browser and BOOM! It comes right up. I know…I’m starting sound like John Madden….
For example, I cue up a Miles Davis tune and while it’s playing, I hear Herbie Hancock play some blinding riff and instantly I can find all my Herbie CDs, look at their individual tracks and cue up “Maiden Voyage” to play next! Or if I listen to a track of Beethoven’s Fifth by Marriner, I can instantly cue up another conductor’s version and play the two back to back – or go back and forth between them - to hear how the two differ – and which one I prefer.
The possibilities are endless, limited only by your brain and CD collection.
Think about this, too; when you feel the need to listen to music, how do you choose what CD to play? If you are like I was, you’d just plough through your racks and stacks until you find something that is acceptable, probably something you’ve played many times before, but you play it anyway because you really don’t want to do more rummaging through all those jewel cases. Again, for us those days are history. I now have access to everything – CDs, mp3s, WAVs, FLACs and even ultra Hi-Rez tracks I’ve ripped from DVDs right at my fingertips – literally. I’ve been listening to music I didn't even know I had, and you know what? I’ve found some albums that I haven’t listened to for years and discovered that they sound amazing. Also, I’ve found some that are truly sucksational, so in a second I can just delete them from the HD so I don’t have to have them in my collection.
Perhaps I shouldn't mention this, but when your friends come over with their CDs, just show them how easy and fast it is to rip them to the Q. A great and cheap way to add to your collection…I never do that of course….
How many times have I loaned CD’s to fiends who “forget” to return them. Now, I really don’t care, they’re on my Q. Also, several years ago I lost about 6,000 LPs to a hurricane. You really can’t back them up, can you? Well, just plug a USB hard drive into the Q, press the back up button and it backs up your whole collection. You can keep it at your office in case of a fire. Or hurricane.
And here’s yet another uber cool and useful thing. Say you’re even too butt lazy to scroll through all your music on the Q, but you know you just want to listen to some music to which to relax. No problem – just touch the “Tapestry” tab and instantly you see a long list of moods, feelings, places (like the beach) – dozens of dozens. I usually select the “feeling cocky” one. (just kidding, but it’s there!). So just choose “relaxed” and instantly a list appears of – not whole CDs – but individual tracks from among your collection that fit that mood or feeling. I didn't know there was info out there that identifies individual tracks and their “moods”, but somehow the Q does it. Lets see Itunes – or anything else - do that!
By the way, once you’ve created your dream playlist either by dragging and dropping various tracks or CDs or via tapestry, just insert a blank CD or CD-RW and press “Burn CD” and guess what happens. Yes, it burns your tracks to the CD! Play it in your car, office, bedroom or give to friends. Or send it to me here at Stereomojo. Or make a romantic “mix CD” for that hot secretary in your office. Or…um…your wife. I gave Linda a mix of mushy love songs for our anniversary. Scooooore!
Friends, I can go on for hours and pages about the versatility and power of the Qsonix. There’s so much I haven’t covered, but I think you’ve gotten the message. You won’t see me saying that I “love” amps, speakers, etc in my reviews. That word has been way overused and marginalized, but this thing has become almost a part of the family. We push it’s buttons and it pushes ours right back.
DO TRY THIS AT HOME
Here's something else you can't do with your CD player, no matter how much it costs. I have a pretty good record collection that I've been honing, oh, for about 50 years. Every LP I own is in pristine condition and sounds wonderful because I'm not a collector, I just keep those LPs that are outstanding. For years now, when I get some new ones, it means I have to relinquish a like number from the collection. I've tried several times and several methods of digitizing them, but transferring them at standard CD resolution of 16 bits/44.1 kHz never sounded good enough, 24/96 is better, but still... Now however, I can record them at 24/192 and transfer the individual tracks to the Q. I've only done a few - it's very time consuming, but lordy do they sound good! AND, I don't have to listen to the whole LP as before or flip the LP to hear what's on the other side. Just like CDs, I can cue up individual cuts regardless of from what side of the LP they originated. I can even intermix them cuts from CDs and/or Hi-Rez files to compare. At some point I'll be able to scroll through my multi-thousand LP collection as quickly as the CDs. Can you imagine?
WHAT YOU CAN’T DO
While this is a short list, you need to know the limitations.
First, you cannot play SACD’S or DVD-A music disks. If you have a DVD-A collection, there are ways to rip them to files that the Q will play. Just do a Google search about DVD-A ripping.
The Q does not play videos or display your family pictures either.
It will not currently play any Apple format files: AAC, AIFF or Apple Lossless. Newsflash! I just found out that AAC, MPEG4, AIFF and Apple Lossless playback support will be available in the upcoming version 2.9 firmware scheduled to be released as a free upgrade to registered Qsonix users later this summer.
Speaking of music sales, you also cannot buy and download music files directly through the Qsonix system. They had a collaborative effort set up with Music Giants where you could audition, buy and download their CD quality (and many even higher rez) tracks and albums directly to your Q, but Music Giants went belly up so that option went away. There is currently no other service where you can download lossless (not mp3) mainstream labels like BlueNote, Columbia and Sony and artists like Miles, the Beatles, Coldplay or yes, Britney. It’s another example of the moronic record execs. It cost Music Giants sometimes $50,000 to license ONE ALBUM. How many downloads of that one CD would it take just to break even? So now the record execs and artists get bupkis. And you get stuck with low quality mp3’s. Grrr…
While you can search for and play music while ripping or burning a CD, or while you’re doing a normal search, the music stops when you need to back up to an external drive. No problem, just do it overnight or while you’re away. It’s um…easy.
Lastly, perhaps the most important thing you can't do with the Qsonix systems is break them. My unit has been powered on almost continuously for several months. I have put the software through several torture tests trying to see if overlapping commands, "click" mistakes or other things that would lead to ugly crashes on a Windows system would do the same with their proprietary software, but no luck. Perhaps because the Q does daily self-maintenance to update music info you have and check to see if the system is running right. As far as I can tell, this operating system is bulletproof.
Just in the last few days, I noticed yet another golden envelope and was surprised to see that my unit had automatically been updated to version 2.8! You'll have to wait for our follow up review of the new Q205 coming as soon as they get their dealers the new stock. In the meantime, I'll be sweating spinal fluid in anticipation.
I have never been as excited about a new product as I am Qsonix Q205. Yes, it is by far the most simple music storage and playback system in a sea of contenders. It makes Itunes seem like a physics exam. My wife learned to use it in less than 5 minutes, about the same amount of time it took to unbox it and get it connected to our wireless network. The first thing she does now when she gets home is cue up some music. All of that is great in and of itself, but the real bottom line it this: The Qsonix Music Management System has fundamentally changed the way I listen to music. It has deeply enriched my appreciation of recorded music because I'm now playing recordings I haven't listened to for years, simply because every cut is there at our fingertips - instantly! And listen up Sony and all the other music labels, I'm BUYING more music now than I have since my college days. I can sit in my chair and cue up tons of tracks from my Iphone while other tracks are playing. Talk about musical empowerment!
The only question is, how large a collection of CDs, mp3's, FLACs and WAV files (and now Apple, too) do you have to own to fork out the bucks for this unit. And, how many do you think you're going to purchase in the future to make this a viable investment. 100? 500? A thousand? We can't answer that for you. How important is it to you have your whole collection backed up? How often do you listen? How important is the enjoyment of music rather than just fussing around with your system? Some of you are more into audio gear, trading and buying the latest gear like golfers who have to have the latest Big Bertha. Of course, Big Berthas can't be obsolescence proof by regular system and features updates.
Also, do you think you will be interested in higher resolution 24 bit recordings that are becoming more prevalent?
The job of us here at Stereomojo is not to convince you to buy or not to buy something. And we know that something we may think is extraordinary you might find less so. Our job is to do a good enough of job of describing the items under review so that you can make your own decisions. We endeavor to point out product's strengths and weaknesses so you can decided which are the most and least important to you.
The Qsonix does for music what the Tivo has done for TV. It may not only be the Product of Year, it’s our Product of the Decade as well, and it’s at the top of our list for Product of the New Millennium!
Now if they could only invent a Qsonix for my record collection…
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