Ultimately, a server's job is to make it as easy as possible for you to find and play your stored music, and that's where Sooloos truly excels. With no manual, I just jumped right in and started exploring the system. Thankfully, the smartly designed interface greatly simplified this. And if you get stuck, several screens have "?" icons offering page-specific help.
The big Control:One touchpanel makes music browsing a treat. The main screen displays eighteen 2 x 2-inch covers at a time, and it lets you page through additional screens literally as fast as you can push a button. When you know what you're looking for, the A-Z keys at the top of the screen let you jump to the first letter. Or you can tap multiple letters, like hitting F-R-A, for example, to go right to a screen with Frank Zappa albums. You can also hunt for albums, artists, songs, or any combination of the three using a virtual QWERTY keyboard. Playlists can also be quickly generated based on your most frequently played songs, or from songs played or added in the last day, week, month, or over longer periods of time. You can even generate them based on a particular decade or record label!
When you select an album, the touchpanel displays a host of information, including the date it was released, the date you added it to the Sooloos library, and other albums by that artist. You also get the option of reading a full album review. (Having immediate access to reviews helps you rediscover gems in your library.)
Tabs on the album-view screen can show the genres and Moods an album falls into, along with a very cool Credits option that lists everyone who worked on a particular album. This offers another great way to explore your music library as well as your own music preferences. For example, I like Cannonball Adderley's sax work on Miles Davis's Kind of Blue. By selecting Cannonball Adderly in the credits tab, I discovered that he performed on eight other albums in my library. Nice!
Finding what you want gets a lot harder as the size of your stored music collection grows. Randomly playing the entire library produces a hodgepodge of results, and even narrowing your choice to Play Jazz likely won't deliver desired results. Sooloos's solution to this problem is Focus. After I selected a combination of Moods and subgenres, Sooloos dialed in exactly the style of music I wanted to hear. For example, choosing the Soothing and Sensual Moods options produced 473 albums - way too many. By additionally selecting the Vocal/Easy Listening genre, I was able to whittle the list down to a more manageable 30 choices. But selecting the Lounge and Torch subgenres produced 10 relevant albums. That's focus!
While there's a "Focus on albums like this" mode, I would have appreciated a Pandora-esque feature like AMG's Tapestry or iTune's Genius to highlight the style of a single song. Fortunately, Sooloos agrees with me. According to the company, something "much better" is coming by way of a free software update.
Another very cool Sooloos feature is Swimming. This provides a way to keep a constant flow of music coming automatically, either from your entire library or from your current Focus, while still letting you jump in and insert selections. For instance, if you get the urge to hear a different song or album while Swimming in a certain genre, simply browse to the genre and hit Play Next. Once that song or album is finished, Sooloos returns to Swimming mode without missing a beat.
Sonically, the Sooloos system was utterly beyond reproach, producing detailed and engaging audio. Delicate sounds like soft brush strokes on cymbals or the subtle nuances and inflections in voices were clearly audible. I felt that the Sooloos reproduced music as faithfully to the original as my system would allow.
Sooloos is a phenomenal music server that combines style and performance in equal measure. Music lovers with large collections will be hard-pressed to find something that does a better job at any price. The company also plans to shortly introduce a photo, movie, and online component that will be compatible with all its existing systems. Based on how Sooloos handles music, these additions should catapult the system into rare territory indeed, making it a real contender for the title of ultimate server.
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