The new Melco N100 EX. Trick or Treat?
The new Melco N100 EX. Trick or Treat?
I’m glancing at the substantial wall unit in the lounge with every shelf is fully laden with vinyl. Oh, there are the three books too...about vinyl and record labels. I’m a lost cause to analogue and Struan MacKenzie, MD of Hi-Fi Corner was fully aware of this when I visited his amazing new shop in Joppa, Edinburgh. We had a good long chat and catch-up, and sure as eggs is eggs, the conversation turned to analogue vs. digits.
Last Christmas I was working at John Lewis... in the Home Tech dept of course, where else? Apart from it being a total waste of time financially having spent more on home tech than I earned over the 3 months, I was obliged to gen up about streaming, downloading, mirroring, up-scaling, Hi-Res, Lo-Res,UPnP et al. I had to face complicated questions posed by digital newbies, much like myself. Can you imagine the initiation trauma I had to go through? Then I did something treacherous. I bought a Google Chromecast Audio dongle as well as a Bose speaker with Wi-Fi connectivity. Lord have mercy on my soul! But I compounded the Sin. I signed up to the Deezer streaming service to hear music on these two manifestations of Satan I’d purchased. Now I had Struan offering more forbidden fruit. How could Analogue Eve resist? Not a manky apple on offer though, but a Melco N10 “Music Library”, part of their new Melco EX series.
The new N10 EX is a flagship two small unit design, one of the units being the outboard power supply. An external DAC is needed and for my purposes a reference level Chord DAVE was supplied by Hi-Fi Corner, Did I hear Struan say I could keep it after the test?
This was going to be an interesting foray into the Garden of Eden for me for the N10 isn’t the only example of Melco equipment in my flat. Not 20 cms away, but separated by over 4 decades of technological progress, is a top tier Melco turntable system from the 70’s. Melco Inc. has been in business since 1975, started by Makoto Maki, formerly as an engineering company during which the turntables were produced. Clearly a passion for audio is deep rooted in Melco.
The Melco turntable here is pretty high up in the desirability stakes. It was at the top spec. one and is fitted with a Fidelity Research FR66 arm and Kondo Io-M cartridge. Will the new N10 kid on the block croon more sweetly than this Daddy of all record decks?
So what exactly is an N10 “Melco Intelligent Music Library”. Well, it’s foremost function is the storage of all your music, either downloaded from one of the myriad of providers or imported from a USB connected device such as a flash drive, laptop or a CD drive . Its internal HDD is 3TB, sufficient to store 4000 CD’s worth. It will handle virtually any sampling rate and up to 32 bit PCM, DSD/ 1 bit. The N10 has music file sorting abilities that will conveniently categorise under title/artist etc. With the installation of MinimServer (who Melco collaborates with), an extraordinarily extensive and sophisticated browse and search functionality becomes available. In addition to downloading music, Internet radio can be streamed via the N10 using the Melco Music HD app.
Setting up proved pretty straight forward. Connection to a DAC is via a USB socket on the rear panel, USB connection being the only option. I used BubbleUPnP as the server app . Via this, Tidal, Qobuz services are available with their associated hi-res options, though Deezer and Spotify, (which are not high-res) aren’t an option. HighResAudio.com can provide 24 bit Studio Masters for downloading direct to the N10, without the need for an app or external computing device/phone.
I had the N10 up and running within an hour. The four menu controls on the Melco fascia gave access to all the built-in functions. The options can take a bit of getting used to, but once you’re familiar with them, they become intuitive. The unit will of course respond to the controls on the server app.
From the outset, the Melco offered excellent sonics, even on 44.1Khz 16 bit material. Generally speaking, it’s amazing to have access to such a wealth of music, trying new sounds without having to risk £20 for a vinyl album you may not like. The sound quality on the albums I was familiar with was very good indeed on the Melco, but different to the analogue LP. In a perfect, Nirvana vinyl world, where the pressing is pristine and the cutting engineer was top notch, the unmistakable deliciousness of analogue would generally trump. There just seemed to be that extra depth and weighty quality so beloved by vinyl fans - more satisfying but perhaps at the expense of accuracy? With classical music particularly, I felt the analogue was as true to the concert hall sound as I can recall, but where total accuracy is less of a prerequisite, streaming/downloading is a bit of a win win. On occasion, a rock/folk album was manifestly better via the N10. I suspect that either the streaming service had access to a better studio master or the analogue disc production chain was less than optimal. The overall convenience of no surface noise, any hint of tracking distortion, ultra-fast transients, smooth HF were an absolute delight.
I always felt the Melco N10 was never going to be a weak link in a digital chain and, despite my earlier comments, most certainly doesn’t have the steely, flat, tiring quality for which digits are criticised. I found I could listen for long periods without any hint of “that’s enough for now” . I also admired the build quality as befits a company with such an illustrious past.
Am I about to ditch my wall of vinyl in favour of downloads/streaming? Plainly no. If something terrible happened and I lost all my worldly chattels, would I begin collecting analogue discs once more? Highly unlikely I’d say. I don’t think I’d even buy a turntable again. The Melco N10 would most definitely be a contender as the sole music source.
I think that if I were to purchase a downloader/streamer in addition to the analogue equipment/records I have, I’d consider buying a unit that had a built-in DAC. The cost of the N10, plus the purchase of a commensurate quality DAC, would be in the region of £ 15K - quite a significant sum for anyone. As an example, the dCS Bartok is a quality integrated streamer/dac/headphone amp which would knock £5k off this cost. The N10 has storage which the Bartok doesn’t, so an outboard drive would be necessary if one were to download. Something will end up on my shopping list.
Both the Melco N10 EX and dCS Bartok are on demo at Hi-Fi Corner in Edinburgh. Take a listen to this and the much less expensive option the Melco N100. And don’t be afraid of the use and setting up. In the unlikely event you had a problem, it’s just the assistance a good retailer can provide.