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(Post Link) post #1 of 18 Old 29-01-13 Thread Starter
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Arctic Audio Relay Multi Room Receiver Review

Background

I've wanted to be able to play music in the house in most rooms from a centralised source for some time now, there's a dead easy way of doing that, but it would more than likely make me very unhappy with the neighbours and that's to buy a really loud stereo and just put it on full blast day and night. :evilgrin:

The alternative I have chosen though to keep neighbourly relations on an even keel is to centralise my music on a Network Attached Storage (NAS) Server and stream the music to various HiFi kit I already own situated in the various rooms in my house.

To do this I did quite a bit of research and there are lots of proprietary vendors who have systems that will do this, but it would mean either replacing the kit I already have (Philips Streamium) or augmenting it with costly wireless bridging devices (SONOS).

In my research I stumbled across a small black box that talked a good game about providing a streaming endpoint that you could connect to pretty much any existing audio equipment that had an auxiliary input.

This box supports streaming music from UPnP/DLNA CertifiedTM digital media server and to test it's functionality I used the following products.
  • Media Server (centralised music source) - Asset uPNP on Windows 7 serving an iTunes Music Folder.
  • Control Point (software for queueing music and managing playlists) - Linn Kinsky iPhone Version
  • Renderer - Arctic Audio Relay

Setup

On delivery of the device I was surprised at how small it is, it is well packaged and has a glossy black plastic exterior. I plugged it into my network following the instructions that came in the box and it picked up an IP via DHCP from my router straight away.

I followed the instructions to get the device up and running on my home wireless network then moved it to it's location and plugged it in. Initially when wired into the network I could see the device no problems but once moved to the new location I could no longer see it, after some experimentation I found that the wireless range of the box in my house (and your mileage may vary here as I have stone and brick internal dividing walls) was not adequate for it to connect to my network.

I thought this may be an issue so I am planning on adding a wireless access point on that side of the house as the wireless coverage isn't great and often drops even on my iPhone or Laptop.

I set the box up within range and connected it to an old iPod Dock using a twin phono to 3.5mm jack plug, fired up the Linn Kinsky App and there was my target device ready and waiting to be used.

Browsing through the library on the Asset Media Server installed on my laptop was quick and easy on the Kinsky App and I fairly quickly had songs streaming across to the dock using the Arctic Box as the middleman.

I'm very happy with how it has turned out and with the addition of the new Access Point I should be able to add a few more of these devices to I can control my music from anywhere in the house using the app on my phone.

One of the things I have read in other reviews but not tested is that the technology has the capability to stream different music to different rooms concurrently, so this is something I hope to test in future when I buy a NAS to complement the devices.

Conclusion

There are quite a lot of products out there that do similar things, it really can be as simple as choosing a vendor and replacing all your existing kit, but if you have invested in kit that more suits your needs and the proprietary systems don't do things in just the way you want there seems to be very little choice other than to build a home multi-room system to your own specification using the Arctic Audio Relay as the device that connects your HiFi to your Music.

The price was good @ £70 delivered considering a similar box from SONOS is closer to £300, it does exactly what I wanted it to do in a very simple no frills way. Configuration was easy and out of the box and with a little troubleshooting of wireless connectivity problems I had it up and running in about an hour, that includes downloading and installing a uPNP Media Server, figuring out how to work the Kinsky App and configuring the Audio Relay itself.

The box documentation mentions that the audio relay only supports MP3, AAC, WAV and WMA however it also says it only supports WiFi b/g standards but other reviewers have found it also supports the wireless n standard so again your mileage may vary in what you can get it to play.

With phono outputs and a toslink output it gives decent flexibility for hooking up to various HiFi systems and with both wifi and ethernet you can have your cake and eat it with regards network connectivity. This device also comes with a two year warranty from Arctic for piece of mind.

All things taken into account, this is a great bit of kit at a very competitive price.

Links

http://www.arctic.ac/en/p/living/wir...ay.html?c=2327
http://www.linn.co.uk/support/software#kinsky
http://www.dbpoweramp.com/asset-upnp-dlna.htm

Sean
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Last edited by GhostyDog; 29-01-13 at 16:29.
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That is an interesting bit of kit and a good review of same.
Have installed Linn Kinsky onto my iPhone to see what it is like - my Samsung Smart TV is a UPnP/DLNA renderer. The app found it and my Twonky server straight away and I can stream music and video to the TV no problem using the iPhone as a controller.
The Kinsky app is better than the TVs built in control point. A particular bug bear with DLNA enabled players is often that it doesn't read tags correctly and presents the tracks of an album in alphabetical order instead of by track number - not so with this app though, the albums tracks are in the correct order.
I imagine that if the sound quality of the Arctic product is good enough it is a sensible mid budget alternative to the high end Sonos or Squeezebox products.

I have a Squeezebox based system and the iPhone control app - iPeng - is still quite a bit more featured than the Linn software and the proprietary Logitech Music Server is streets ahead of DLNA in a considerable number of ways but as with all things "you do pay for what you get".

Sean - can you let us have an update on the sound quality when you have tried it with a Hi Fi rather than an iPod dock ?
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Been playing some more today, it appears the boxes wifi range aint too great, currently got it sat around 7 feet from my Draytek Vigor 2710n router with Asset uPNP as the media server (although I'm about to try Plex) and binned off Kinsky as it stops playing after every track, lovely piece of software to use but just doesn't work to the DLNA standard as it;s designed for LINN streaming kit primarily....

So I've been using a piece of software called media:connect on the iphone and it's spot on with lots more features and there's an iPad version for when I get an iPad Mini as my home multiroom controller.

I've emailed the manufacturer to find out if the poor WiFi range is a feature or a failure

I'm about to hook it up to my DENON Receiver and 5.1 Setup to see what the sound quality is like, most of my stuff is either downloaded from the itunes or MP3 ripped at 192kbps though so might not be the best test.


Last edited by GhostyDog; 31-01-13 at 19:59.
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Have you considered Vortexbox instead of a NAS? You could try it on an old PC for zilch before parting with real dosh ?
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Quote:
Originally Posted by biggreenzebra View Post
Have you considered Vortexbox instead of a NAS? You could try it on an old PC for zilch before parting with real dosh ?
Problem is my 'old' PC has the noisiest fans on the planet, you'd think it was a server, not much I can do about it though, it's a low profile chassis packed with cards for this and that, I took the side off in the hope there was some intelligent cooling and it didn't make any difference.

I've been tinkering more with the Audio Relay, and found out some more about it.

I know that they are using a SIP Module from Jorgin Tech, not sure which one yet (I can't read Kanji) but the amplitude gain on the integrated Wi-Fi chipset just isn’t enough in a large house like mine. I don’t know whether this is because the SIP Module is underpowered by the transformer or whether there is an issue with the firmware or the module just can't take a greater power load. At a distance of around 6-10 feet from the access point there are no issues and I spent most of yesterday afternoon listening to album after album without a problem, beyond that it starts to get ropey, at about 15 feet it can't even connect to the network.

This evening I have spent some time getting the device up and running with a Netgear PowerLine XAV101 HomePlug Kit (200Mbps) to see if there was any difference using the device over Ethernet. This has been successful despite the occasional drop in sound (could bebecause I'm using the laptop I have asset installed on), and bizarrely when I connect and manipulate the Audio Relay using WIFI or Ethernet I am getting access to different controls but not all of the controls.

On WiFi, I can access volume control, stop and play but cannot skip to the next track or previous track or pause.
On Ethernet, I can access skip forwards, skip backwards and stop, I cannot set the volume though via the ControlPoint app and still cannot pause music, if I set the volume to the lowest limit it turns the sound of completely, set it higher anywhere in the volume range and it just sets it at full volume.

Obviously I am finding this both confusing and illogical, I don’t know if the Audio Relay is at fault, the ControlPoint software or the Media Server and I don’t want to get into a situation where people are pointing fingers at other vendors.

I'm going to give Plex a go as the Media Server now to see if that affects things differently. I do have another laptop that basically sits next to my sofa in my play room for browsing game walkthrough's so might set Vortexbox up on that as long as it doesn't replace the OS completely.

P.S. It's hooked up via TOSLINK to my DENON AV-F100 Receiver through a couple of cheap as chips acoustics solutions 3 foot floor standers and the quiet bit at the beginning of Phil Collins All of My Life with the Saxophone sounded pretty damned good all things considered.

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Umm. That doesn't sound very clever. The control issue points at the software or the Audio Relay device. I'd say Asset UPnP is pretty rock solid as DLNA servers go but ...

DLNA isn't really a standard and that is the biggest problem. Is the AR DLNA certified or DLNA compatible. There is quite a difference.

Vortexbox is an OS so if you installed on a laptop you would need to dual boot to keep Windows.

My Squeezebox system just works. You don't need an actual Squeezebox to try it. There is a Windows software player - SqueezePlay - and a Windows version of LMS (Logitech Media Server). They can both run on the same box if need be. Vortexbox includes the server and player. There is also an iPad / iPhone app which is both a controller and a player. Logitech don't make the hardware anymore but it's got a lot of life left in it as arguably the best music streaming solution available. LMS runs on a QNAP and other NAS even on ReadyNAS as well as being part of Vortexbox. You really ought to try it. The software is streets ahead of DLNA and the functionality is brilliant.
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Downloading it now, Plex looked awesome but it just didn't work with my setup, has a lovely web interface but I think it's more about consolidating multiple channels of content to stream to a handheld device than in a traditional three tier uPNP/DLNA setup.

It also served up a weird browsing experience on the controlpoint app I use and didn't show any artwork, i'll give Asset it's due, it was slick, worked perfectly and served up album Artwork instantly.
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Might not have made it clear that AR thing should work with LMS on Windows but won't if its on NAS unless the NAS / Vortexbox runs both LMS and DLNA. You'll find SqueezePlay on the nightly builds. Can't send a link from here but can tomorrow.
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That Apple TV works with LMS using iPeng on a iPad or iPhone and the Airplay interface. The Apple TV only has HDMI & Toslink, no analogue though.
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Didn't like the way Logitech served up the structure, the best one so far with the most compatibility is Asset and I've just discovered the transcoding and done a test of transcoding a reference FLAC track I got of the LINN website to WAV and it worked beautifully.
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If i can get on a wifi I'll show you on my phone on Saturday. Using DynDNS I can get a connection to the server from anywhere.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by biggreenzebra View Post
If i can get on a wifi I'll show you on my phone on Saturday. Using DynDNS I can get a connection to the server from anywhere.
I don't really have that sort of need, I just want to play music at home, in multiple rooms concurrently from a single source. An added bonus with the app I have on my iPhone is that I can stream music and net radio stations direct from the iPhone to the Audio Relay.

You should be able to do it over HSDPA if the signal is strong enough as well though.
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I meant I will show you the Squeezebox interface and why it is better than DLNA.

WiFi guarantees the IP won't constantly change. 3G can change umpteen times a minute.
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Quote:
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I meant I will show you the Squeezebox interface and why it is better than DLNA.

WiFi guarantees the IP won't constantly change. 3G can change umpteen times a minute.
Only if you are in a poor coverage area
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Okay, bit of an update.

To remove wifi issues i bought an Edimax WIFI repeater.

Edimax EW-7438RPn - N300 Universal Wi-Fi Extender

This works great for most things but after failing to see the Arctic box after connecting it to WiFi I contacted the manufacturer and they told me it wasn't compatible with DLNA/uPNP.

They have updated the FAQ

So i'll be swapping that out with something that can support my setup.

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For anyone remotely interested in this thread, I've been researching storage options for what seems like ages, looking at NAS with integrated DLNA software and I've come up with the following and I'm really looking forward to getting all this setup. It's going to look really cool, basically two bare hard drives sticking out of a box, plugged into my laptop.

I've gone with this approach as it is completely simple and retains the flexibility to use a multitude of Windows DLNA Servers.

The worry I have with the cheaper network storage devices you can buy is that they have proprietary RAID technologies to 'blend' the data between two drives. Essentially giving you a level of disk resilience, but by design there is no resilience in the device itself or the software that creates the virtual binding of data, it's great if one drive fails as you can put another in and it will rebuild the data array, but if the software on the device fails, or if the device itself has a hardware fault, your data is pretty much stuck inside a proprietary container that you cannot get access to without either buying the exact same sort of device again or (if possible) sending your drives off to the device manufacturer and paying for data retrieval.

My approach is to not have any complex virtual data arrays that span two physical disks and just use a JBOD (Just a Bunch Of Disks) approach where the disks are presented as two physical disks and I use software on my laptop to synchronise the data, ideally one piece of software would perform both backups to a designated disk and then do the synchronisation between source and destination disk periodically of only the changed data. Quiscent (unchanging) data does not need to be synchronised which means the sync process would be fairly quick.

If one physical disk fails I just replace it with a new one, the disks I have chosen have a 5 year warranty if the hard disk dock fails, it was cheap enough to just replace it and it has no bearing on the data sitting on the drives, the data is still easily accessible.

Total cost about £170 for 1TB of mirrored data storage with total flexibility and redundancy.

I bought 2 x WD Black 1TB plus a Thermaltake BlacX Duet eSATA twin drive dock and can't wait for it all to show up so I can move my Lightroom Library to it and migrate my iTunes Library to my laptop from my old PC.
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