I've logged thousands of hours listening to music with my CD player, but after auditioning Integra's NAS 2.6 Network Audio Server, I could only reluctantly go back to a traditional single- disc player. The NAS 2.6 Network Audio Server is a robust and easy-touse audio jukebox that allows you to rip, store, and distribute music to multiple listening zones in your home. It's different from traditional-sounding audio servers in that it actually sounds like an audiophile component. The NAS 2.6 uses Imerge's Xiva platform to manage the software that allows music to be played, ripped, and shared.
Solid, simple, and housed in a conservative black case, the NAS 2.6's front panel sports a sliding CD player bay, an LED display, and a bevy of controls. The rear of the unit provides four sets of analog outputs, a pair of digital outputs (one optical and one coaxial), and one set of optical, coaxial, and analog inputs. VGA, composite and S-video outputs to your display are supported for the onscreen menus. Two USB ports, an RS-232 controller port, Ethernet, and a 56K modem port round out the rear-panel connections. You control the NAS 2.6 by using either its remote and onscreen menus or the LED display and controls on the faceplate of the unit. I mention the faceplate controls for you dedicated audiophiles who don't have displays in your listening rooms. Every basic function that you see on the main GUI display is mirrored on the face of the unit—it's extremely user friendly. The main screen prompts you with five options: LIBRARY, CD, LINE-IN, SETTINGS, and LOOK UP. The LIBRARY function allows you to play music by album, artist, genre, or to choose music from a personal playlist. When you place a CD in the tray, the CD function brings up a prompt to either listen to the CD or rip it to the internal hard drive. Using Ethernet or an analog modem, you can connect the NAS 2.6 to Gracenote's CDDB database to retrieve album information. Although times will vary based on the amount of music on a CD, I ripped an average length CD (60 minutes worth of music) in about 3 minutes—blazing fast at 22x!
The NAS 2.6 allows you to capture music either as uncompressed PCM files or as compressed mp3 files with bit-rates from 128 Kbps to 320 Kbps. The server supports recording from a line-level source such as a DAT or an analog turntable/phonostage using analog or digital inputs and the LINE-IN function. Audiophiles may scoff at the mp3 option, but Integra is leaving the decision to compress or not to compress audio files up to you. With a whopping 160GB worth of hard drive storage, you can save 241 hours of uncompressed music or up to 2662 hours of compressed music.
Larger hard drives are available through authorized Integra dealers. With USB ports on the unit, it seems logical to me that external storage devices will be made accessible with a firmware upgrade in the near future. The SETTINGS function allows you to upgrade the firmware, configure Ethernet or dial-up settings, and change the default recording quality. Finally, if you've ripped a CD without having an Internet connection present, you can use the LOOK-UP function to retrieve album art and song information from the Internet. I was intrigued to learn that the NAS 2.6 could stream up to 2600 hours of music and could support up to 16 independent zones. If you have a Net-Tune compatible receiver or client, you can attach up to 12 Net-Tune devices to the NAS 2.6 and stream the contents of your entire music collection between them. The unit also supports four sets of traditional analog outputs, allowing you multiple zones of independent music playback.
I was impressed by the NAS 2.6's ability to carry out multiple tasks. For instance, while ripping a CD, I was able to simultaneously play a track and copy music to the player from my PC. Transferring music from the NAS 2.6 to a portable music player is also simple and easy, which is why I was puzzled by the manual not detailing how to transfer music to the player from a networked drive. You can indeed save music from your PC to the server using a program called Xiva Producer. But impressive as all these functions and connection options are, the big news about this server is its sound.
I first listened to The Ray Brown Trio and the track "It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing" from the album Live at the Loa [Concord Jazz, Hybrid SACD]. Naturally, the NAS 2.6 cannot decode the SACD layer of this disc, but I ripped a copy of of the CD layer to the Integra and, without first listening to the recorded version, decided to compare its sound with that of the SACD layer as played through my Philips SACD/CD player. Or at least that's what I meant to do. As I listened to what I thought was the SACD layer through the Philips (its display indicating that the SACD layer, and not the CD layer, was in play) I thought, "This SACD layer sounds amazing!" But when I looked at my integrated amp I discovered to my amazement that I wasn't listening to the SACD layer or to the Philips; I was listening to the uncompressed track from the NAS 2.6. The resolution, clarity and openness I heard made my jaw hit the floor. On conventional CDs, the Integra sounded good enough to fool me into thinking I was hearing an SACD!