Playback recently received and tested the Micromega WM-10 WiFi Music Streamer ($1595), an unassuming black box that seems to be exactly what a lot of people are looking for (even if they don’t know it yet). The WM-10 was launched at CES 2010 and offers the ability to play high quality audio streams remotely using the Wi-Fi (802.11n) wireless system.
Consider this music streamer if: you want to store your music collection on your computer but play it back on your main audio system in another room, and if you value a smooth, relaxed sound.
Look further if: you want a music client, but value maximum resolution and vividness (and can pay for it)
What Does It Do?
Some people find the parts and pieces of a computer audio system a bit confusing. So, before we get into the WM-10 specifically, let’s review some of the general concepts behind products of this kind.
Products like the WM-10 assume that the customer has (or is willing to buy) a music server. A music server is a device for:
Since a music server can be configured using an existing PC or Mac, almost everyone is in the situation of having a music server. Audiophiles may wish to have a dedicated music server, of course, to avoid competition for resources between computing activities and music activities.
A music server could be hard wired to a D/A converter and from there be plugged into amplifier and speakers or headphones. As an alternative, one could purchase a music client (also known as a networked music player or music streamer). Here we use the term music client because it fits the server-client metaphor borrowed from computing (where the server is the base for massive central data storage and organization and the clients are remote devices for viewing and lightly manipulating data). The music client receives music data streams from the music server over some kind of network connection, then performs D/A conversion, and finally outputs analog audio signals to an existing audio system.
So, in summary, the WM-10 is a music client. It is designed to work with a music server (that is, with a Mac or PC with iTunes and Wi-Fi). The WM-10 receives Wi-Fi music streams from the server and does D/A conversion. In turn, you plug the WM-10 into your preamp or receiver via a stereo analog connection. You control the songs that are being streamed from the server using an iPod Touch or iPhone (or via the server itself).
The WM-10 Design
With the above in mind, the concept of the WM-10 is pretty simple. The first idea is that audiophiles will probably want to place their PCs and audio systems in different rooms. This isn’t some whole house audio lifestyle B.S., but rather an arrangement that is very desirable because PC components tend to be noisy so that the easiest way to nip noise problems in the bud is to relegate PCs and related items to another room. It can also be a practical matter. Audio equipment is often placed in a more relaxed living space in the home than computer gear, which is typically assigned to a functional workspace. The WM-10 is therefore conceived as a remote client.
The second idea behind the WM-10 is that remote clients should ideally be wireless. Many homes are not fully wired with Ethernet connections in all the right places, so wireless connections are simply an easier way to go. One could conceivably use AC powerline networking connections instead, but some designers are concerned about how easily and well this works.
The third notion behind the WM-10 is that audiophiles will want a high quality music client if they want one at all. While the WM-10 starts life as a humble Apple Airport Express, Micromega has redesigned it, making modifications in three critical areas. Micromega has installed a higher quality power supply. They’ve also redesigned the clock circuitry for better D/A performance. Finally, instead of the Apple’s standard Toslink digital output, Micromega has used an S/PDIF output for easier and better interfacing to external DACs (should you not want to use the internal DAC of the WM-10).