The Short Form
|$5,495 / SERVER, 17 x 4 x 14 IN, 21 LBS / TOUCHSCREEN, 17 x 16 x 6.75 IN, 12 LBS / qsonix.com / 818-332-9504|
|•Very simple to set up and use
•Wonderful drag-and-drop touchscreen interface
•High-end build and performance
|•Supplied touchpanel cables too short
•Can't drag music from zone to zone or start a playlist simultaneously in both zones
|•160-GB hard drive stores up to 3,000 CDs
•Sort, browse, and play music by artist, album, genre, year, or playlist
•Outputs to 2 independent zones
•15-inch (diagonal), 1,024 x 768-pixel touchpanel
•connections: VGA video, coaxial digital audio, and 2 analog stereo audio outputs; Ethernet port; 2 USB ports; 2 RS-232 serial connectors
LOADING MUSIC Like any media server, the Qsonix Q100 lets you trade off quality for storage (playback time) - the better the quality, the fewer CDs it can hold. There are three quality levels: CD Quality uses Windows Lossless, High Quality rips in WMA format at 320 kbps, and Normal rips in WMA at 192 kbps. The 160-GB model can store roughly 500 CDs in CD Quality mode, 1,500 in High Quality, and up to 3,000 in Normal.
The Q100 was Speedy Gonzalez when it came to ripping discs, gobbling most in around 5 minutes. Furthermore, I could continue to listen to anything already in the library while ripping, with nary a hiccup in the output to either zone.
Whenever a CD is inserted, the system springs into action, going out to the Net to grab appropriate metadata (track and artist information) and cover art. Qsonix uses the All Music Guide (AMG) Web site for retrieving CD information instead of the more popular Gracenote CDDB. Given my musical tastes, which run toward the mainstream, it was successful at looking up nearly everything that I threw at it. It did stumble on some classical discs, though, such as a LaserLight collection of Baroque music. Those with more obscure collections might find that AMG doesn't have the depth of CDDB.
Fortunately, filling in the blanks was quick and painless for unknown discs or homebrew mix CDs. When a disc wasn't recognized, an onscreen prompt walked me through manually entering album, track, and artist information along with the appropriate genre. You can type on the touchpanel's virtual keyboard or use a standard USB-connected keyboard (not included). A small selection of generic covers are available for unknown discs; unfortunately, importing cover art from another source isn't an option. It was also mildly irritating that CDs must be ripped in their entirety - you can't cherry-pick a disc for the best tracks. Nor can you go back afterward and delete specific tracks you don't want - only the whole album.
Besides fixing the problem mentioned earlier with the coaxial digital output, the Version 2 software will also address the current inability to import or drag over previously ripped media files from a computer on your home network. That's a serious drawback in an age when many people have a huge music collection already stored on their PC before adding a networked music server.
OPERATION The 15-inch screen is large by touchpanel standards, and the graphics and text were clear and easy to read. I could surf my collection by album, artist, genre, or year, but browsing by cover art was by far the coolest way to go since the Qsonix Q100 displays 15 albums at a time. Touching a cover produces a larger view with all of the tracks listed.
See a song you want to hear? Touch it and drag it to the zone where you want to listen. This automatically creates a playlist that can then be easily saved and recalled later. But don't just drag individual songs: Drag entire albums if you like. Drag entire collections by an artist. Drag a genre. Drag a year.
The interface is so cool and so, well, touchable that you'll want to give your entire music collection the finger - but not in that New York cabbie way! Since every song must be touched - lovingly hand-selected by you - you'll reconnect with your music, literally. It's this physical interaction that bonds you to your music - and to the Qsonix gear - on a visceral level.
It would be nice, though, if there were a way to "sync" the outputs of the two zones at will. You can't command the system to start playing the same music in both zones simultaneously - to hear the same songs all over the house, you have to load your playlist or album into both zones and start them separately. No matter how hard you try, they never quite sync up. Nor is there any way to drag a playlist from one zone into the another. For example, if I created a song list in one zone that I wanted to continue listening to in the other, I'd first have to save and then reimport the list to the second zone. That's awkward.
On the other hand, Qsonix has added some flourishes that make the system even more lovable. One is called Softfade, which gently fades music out when you stop playback or change tracks. Another is Fast Preview, which lets you check out a track before adding it to your current session. But instead of starting at the beginning, the track you're previewing starts playing about a third of the way into the song, making it far easier to identify. Smart! Both of these features are user adjustable - you can alter, for example, the duration of the fade or the length of the preview.
Sound quality was terrific, and the Qsonix Q100 should be right at home in even topflight systems. Fan noise, a concern with many hard drive-based systems, never called attention to itself.
BOTTOM LINE By the time you read this, Qsonix should have rolled out the Version 2 software upgrade I've mentioned. Along with enabling dual-zone digital audio output and importing of files from networked devices, this will add support for CD burning and direct CD playback, plus a Web interface that can be used for remote system control from a computer or wireless PDA. These added features, coupled with its gorgeous and fun-to-use interface, will only add to the standing of the Qsonix Q100 music server as a best-in-class contender. It's true that, in the end, the Qsonix doesn't do anything you aren't already familiar with. It just does it very, very well, and helps you reconnect with your music in a way that other servers just can't.
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