I've only heard this kind of openness on players costing substantially more than the Integra. The NAS 2.6's uncompressed track's soundstaging beat that of my Philips player in CD mode by a big margin, with instruments laid out cleanly and threedimensionally. The mid-bass from the bass drum and toms was tight and rhythmically solid, while the treble response on cymbals sounded clean and clear, yet and not at all clinical. Most hard-drive-based audio playback systems that I've heard use inexpensive DACs that sound "musically challenged." The NAS 2.6 DACs, however, sounded musical and lively—at times making instruments and performers sound almost magically present. Bass guitars had extension and clarity without bottom-end bloat, while intimate details such as the sound of Ray Brown's bass strings striking the fingerboard helped convey the musical realism of the moment and transported me from my living room to the intimate club setting in which the recording was made.
I kept gasping at how lifelike the NAS sounded. I was jonesing to hear acoustic guitar, so I put in 3 Guitars [Chesky Records] and the song "Seu Jorge E Dona Ica" by Larry Coryell, Badi Assad, and John Abercrombie. The acoustic guitars sounded natural and full bodied, with each distinct guitar offering its own resonant and clearly distinguishable character. Two minutes and 15 seconds into the track, Larry Coryell, who is heard on the left side of the soundstage, plays a couple of ringing high harmonics on his guitar. On less detailed players, these harmonics would sound like a jumble of high E-string notes, but on the NAS 2.6 I could clearly distinguish the overtones and nuances of each plucked harmonic. The overall sonic character of the Integra is unbelievably neutral; it never imposes any added tonal emphasis of its own.
Despite everything that the NAS 2.6 does right, there remain a few features I wish the server offered. For one, a screensaver built into the onscreen menu output would mitigate screen burn on plasma monitors. Two, a rewriteable CD drive for making song compilations would be useful. After all, competing media servers do offer rewriteable drives. Finally, a tablet-type remote for selecting songs would allow you to view album covers and song information more easily on the built-in display. The Integra NAS 2.6 Audio Network Server is designed for audiophiles who desire the high-quality sound and ease of use of traditional audio components, but who also need the content recording and storage capabilities, and network connectivity options, that only a media server can provide. At $3600 this unit won't fit every budget, but given the quality of the musical experience it provides, the NAS 2.6's price of admission strikes me as an absolute bargain.