This is a first look at the Simple Audio Roomplayer I Network HD Audio Streamer.
Simple Audio is a new UK based company who have just released a range of Streaming Audio Transport/Players and are set to follow up with a Standalone controller. The two products to hit the market early in February 2012 are the Roomplayer I and Roomplayer II, the main differences being the Roomplayer I has onboard amplification and the Roomplayer II does not.
The Roomplayers pricing at £599 & £499 respectively fits in quite nicely between established entry level music streaming products from Logitech Squeezebox & Sonos, and higher end products from the likes of Linn & Naim. The obvious advantages over Logitech and Sonos are full 24bit Audio support up to 192Khz sample rate.
They also go a different route in terms of networking with ‘Powerline’ which allows network connectivity over domestic power lines using additional ‘HomePlug Av’ modules. Simple Audio’s Roomplayer concept is a tantilizing prospect as it provides HD Audio support at a fraction of the price of the likes of Linn and on paper looks like an obvious step up from a Logitech Squeezebox or Sonos user.
What’s in the box
Well the short answer is not a lot. The Roomplayer is accompanied by a power lead, a bag of cables, a small piece of paper with some safety information and a registration card. There is no Printed manual or even a CD containing a PDF, in fact no real instructions at all.
I was a little surprised that the included Audio interconnects are of such a poor quality, I suspect most owners, like myself, will be using better quality shielded interconnects anyway but for a £500 player this is a little disappointing.
Luckily the Roomplayer itself is a different proposition, being a solidly make an attractive piece of industrial engineering. It has a reasuring weight to it and looks at home in an AV rack, unlike products like the Squeezebox Touch which looks too much like a toy for my liking.
The front facia looks very clean and business like but there are a number of connectors and controls underneath the front overhang , including a Line in (for iPod or similar) & Headphone socket.
Due to the lack of manual, I can only guess what the two indicators to the right of them do, the first I believe is an indicator light so you can check with the included software, which player is which but I am not sure what the other one does or the button on the side although it maybe a factory reset.
The power indicator located in the small dimple on the right of the main fascia is refreshingly small and white, very nice.
Rear connectivity is very good, with the ‘cover’ hiding where the speaker terminals would be visible on the Roomplayer I, the only minor aesthetic blemish on an otherwise well organised rear panel.
The USB can be used to attach additional storage devices including iPhone/iPad and will allow the Roomplayer to index their Audio files. Analogue Audio outputs as you would expect are accompanied by analogue audio inputs to supplement the 3.5mm jack line input on the front. Unlike many audio devices you can control the signal gain of the analogue inputs to suit your system. The Sub output is a handy addition to those who wish to use a sub sat system but there is no variable crossover with it being fixed at 100Hz.
The digital output is something of a sore point at present as they are not actually activated, in fact a major Firmware update is apparently due in the next couple of weeks which will activate these and the 192Khz sample rate handling as well as a few other software and hardware enhancements.
At present I seem to be in possession of only half the machine I purchased and as such am loathe to delve too deeply into the software or hardware performance but it is in my opinion not a great way to launch a new product!
Anyone who has used an streaming Audio transport will know the User Interface is an extremely important part of the product. In fact it for a lot of people the ease of use can be at least as important as the Audio quality. Whilst Sonos would appear to have the most stable UI, Squeezebox run away with things in terms of functionality, with a large online community providing numerous plugins and enhancements as well as 3rd party Phone App Controllers such as the fantastic iPeng. Even Linn have produced a plugin for their Players to utilise the Squeezebox Media Library functionality. They also feature complete control over every tiny facet of playback, organisation and sound quality, you can imagine. As you can probably tell I am a Squeezebox owner myself and whilst I question the stability of the hardware on occasion as well as the raw sound quality, I will be very impressed if the Simple Audion Roomplayer can better the Squeezebox user experience.
installation is painless enough and the PC based UI is nice and clean.
Adjusting the Roomplayer Analogue inputs is pretty straightforward with just a few options to choose from to account for gain differences with different sources.
Those used to the Plethora of settings available on opther products will be sorely disappointed with the one and only adjustment you can make to the player.
Adding your music is very easy and you can add as many libraries as you like. You also have the ability to create users which again can have multiple libraries. This makes it easy to categorise your music, so for instance if you have a growing 24bit library you may want to create a ’24bit’ user for just accessing those files.
To add a library: System -> Music Libraries… and in the pop-up window click on the ‘+’ to add a new library.
Navigate to the chosen directory (note do not try to use a network share only a direct link to networked disk will work) and click apply. Simple Audio will then scan the disc for tracks and then add them to the library.
Once complete you can view your library in a number of view modes.
The iPhone App seems to cover the basic functionality you would expect such as creating playlists etc.
So far the iPhone App is ‘OK’ in terms of functionality, it can do the basics but it could be a bit more polished graphically in some areas, especially the Radio station artwork and the extra gesture required to add tracks to a playlist is a bit unintuitive when a simple icon or ‘Add All’ could be used as per Squeezebox.
Whilst I did have a few issues with the software and App, I think most could be helped with the release of the upcoming manual as it isn’t always clear exactly how things should work and perhaps comparing the software at launch to that of Logitech which has been refined over many years, is a tad unfair.
Conclusions (so far)
I have had a few issues with the Audio Player and the software in the few days I have had the product and it has been a bit frustrating but after a call from Simple Audio and a few emails back and forth, all have been cleared up and to their credit the worst was down to some of the files in my library causing the library scan to hang.
A manual is due out soon which should help enormously and I am looking forward to a firmware update so I can test the digital output and see if 24bit 192Khz files are really worth the space they take up!
After some more time to be come accustomed to the Roomplayer I will report back with more detailed feedback on the software, iPhone App and the all important Audio quality. Simple Audio’s excellent support today has really helped reassure me after a shaky start and I am looking forward to getting into some listening as soon as possible.
Thanks for reading.