Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Last day

Today, the 31st of December, is the last of 2015. At least in the western world. On Monday, February 8, the Chinese calendar is reset too.

We’ve had a great year at PS Audio and I will remember 2015 with great fondness. Our return to high end audio amplification with the launch of the BHK amplifiers–and soon a preamplifier as well as a new transport that plays SACDs into our DAC–were real highlights. So too, the launch of the NuWave DSD, which many have claimed is the best under $2K DAC in the world.

But it is with you, our friends and community that I most treasure. The sharing, the camaraderie, the sense of true community, of giving, of helping each other, that’s what makes it all worthwhile.

I want to share a quick story with you that really warmed my heart.

A few months ago I received a note in my inbox from out of the blue. Happens all the time (I get a lot of email). The writer asked if he might bring his family to hear the IRSV in Music Room One. Only one problem, the only day they had available turned out to be the Friday after Thanksgiving – the company was closed. He wrote back and asked one more time. Is there any way to make an exception?

How could I say no?

After lunch and my traditional afternoon 20 minute snooze, promptly at 1:30 in the afternoon, I hauled my butt down to the shop and turned the lights and system on. The family arrived 30 minutes later. Mom, Dad, and five boys. Big ones, all Colorado natives. One was a firefighter, another, a musician, and there was a helicopter pilot, and a mechanic, the last, a farmer. And dad had run a metal fabrication shop for most of his life. Family business. Salt of the earth. All of them.

He brought his own CD. It was Mark Knopfler, and it wasn’t one of Knopfler’s best recordings–but they sat mesmerized and the father cried. He had heard Knopfler play this very song in concert and this was as close as he’d gotten since. He said this might even be better. One track. That’s all they expected to hear and thanked me.

No, no, that won’t do. And we stayed for another hour–mom and dad swapping the hot seat–sometimes applauding after the track, and smiles were many and wide.

That evening I sat next to the fire in our living room, though the warm glow I felt inside came not from the flames in the hearth.
Have a wonderful New Years holiday and an even better 2016.

From all of us at PS Audio to all of you.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

NAS. summary

We’ve been covering the advantages and disadvantages of the Network Attached Storage (NAS) as a means of both storing music as well as serving over a network. It’s time to summarize all that we’ve covered and learned.

NAS provide hard drive storage accessible over a home network. Instead of the requirement USB hard drives have, being tethered to a computer and only accessed by that computer, what’s stored on a NAS is available to any device connected to the home network.

NAS have a computer built in. The only difference between a USB attached hard drive and a NAS is the computer built into the NAS – not found on a USB attached hard drive.

NAS deliver isolated data. Unlike any other method including USB, and S/PDIF, packetized data from NAS are unaffected by the transmission means. The beauty of this is that the server, the hard drive, the wires connecting them to your DAC do not matter. They have no affect on sound quality. Packetized data can be sent around the world or around the corner and remain identical. No other data transmission format I am aware of can do this.

NAS are slower. The internal computers of NAS are typically a bit slow, relative to our desktops. That lack of speed, coupled with slower connection speeds over home networks, means that the time it takes to load data onto a NAS can range from hours to days. This is only a problem initially, when we first populate the hard drive. Once the hard drive is full, reading individual files happens in perfectly adequate time.

NAS have built in servers. Usually a program called Twonky, but increasingly others as well, the majority of consumer NAS have DLNA servers installed that obviate the need for an external computer.

A network music system can be built without a computer. One of the beauties of NAS is their built in computer, which can act as a standalone music server.

The quality of the NAS makes no sonic difference. Something completely untrue when it comes to computers connected to DACS.

NAS based systems are limited by the quality of compatible controllers. Because NAS are nearly always DLNA based music servers, they require a DLNA based controller. There are no outstanding DLNA based controllers on the market. There are many adequate ones, some are even good, but none, in my opinion, are great.

Lastly, I want to reprint a comment made from the post NAS, controller. In that post I list the available controllers and suggest my favorites, with the caveat none are great. One of my readers, Jonny, posted the following comment. Yes, it is critical of us, but his summary is excellent and his conclusions spot on. It’s worth sharing with the community. I have added the links to each he mentions.

I have Qnap Nas with Twonky and use this now with the Directstream with Bridge2 but initially started with PWD2 and Bridge 1 and have upgraded step by step in recent years.

The lack of of a decent controller for me has always been the weakest link and still lets the PS Audio brand down compared to my friends who have Linn and Naim setups. The majority of third party controllers out there can do the job of playing an album straight off but I look for more. E.g creating a playlist on the fly when you have a party on the go or simply passing the IPad round the dinner table to have easy ability to play next track instantly or queue at end or start random play etc. I have yet to find the perfect controller but give some thoughts on what works below:

McConnect – good for playing an album straight off but poor at creating playlists.

Plugplayer – not sexy but was the most reliable with Bridge 1 but with Bridge 2 keeps skipping tracks in playlist so have retired that one now.

Creation5 – lovely user interface does most things well, volume control bit fiddly and clearing playlist needs app reboot.

Songbook HD – bit pricy but closest to perfection at moment, user interface with album artwork very good. When playing random playlist it has habit of cutting last few seconds off track but otherwise very stable.

Songbook lite – loses connection regularly and can lose playlist entirely.

Linn kinksy – I know it well as my brother has Linn Accurate system. Doesn’t work with Bridge 1 or Bridge 2 In that it doesn’t move to next track in playlist automatically.

8 player – like Mconnect only good for playing an album and user interface is basic in extreme.

When you have a high end system having to tolerate these limitations is ridiculous. Using Paul’s analogy it is like taking delivery of your new Ferrari but they didn’t include the steering wheel. The Elyric app, previously supported by PS, was as good as things got but to drop it with no replacement was a poor decision in my mind.

I see Meridian have outsourced their Sooloos controller to Roon and PS Audio have suggested a similar hook up in these page. The sooner you achieve this the better, to give the PS Audio brand full credibility and to deliver a user experience your brand should be setting out to achieve.

I have a few closing comments referencing this great summary.
When it comes to controllers, the only great one I have found is Roon, but Roon is not compatible (yet) with NAS. And, even if it were, Roon requires a computer in the mix. We’ve worked with Roon and are working with Roon because we love the interface, but Roon requires its own server that must run on a separate computer or computer in a box. And, Roon costs a lot. $500.

eLyric. eLyric was started and created by PS Audio a few years ago in response to all the miserable attempts of making a controller that worked. eLyric was the best out there, and in many ways, still is. But we abandoned it after it nearly killed us. If memory serves correctly we dumped over $350,000 in development to get the program to where it was before we left it. It was unstable, it had too many problems for us to keep the PS brand on it. And so I made the command decision to abandon it. It was like letting one of my children go. Toughest decision this CEO ever had to make.

The future looks good. We are working hard on a long term solution that will make everyone smile, including me – the harshest critic of them all. But I emphasize the words: long term. For now, we have to tolerate quirks and stupid stuff to enjoy a wonderful experience with network audio.

Let’s have fun and enjoy the music.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

NAS, the system

I’ve been asked multiple times to include a diagram of a network music playing system including a NAS. I have hesitated doing that because my artistic skills…well, they aren’t too hot. But, then, I realized I can use Google Drawing – and as a diehard Google Docs user that wasn’t too far a leap to learn the simple program. Voila! Here’s my creation.

Not too shabby, eh?

I think one of the helpful benefits of such an illustration is to point out the importance of the WIFI router in the setup. Note how everything branches off the router. It is the router that actually forms the LAN (Local Area Network) or, for the purposes of these discussions, we can simply say the router forms the network.

The modem, in this drawing, is really the only piece not entirely necessary. If you’re not streaming music, you don’t need a connection to the internet. That’s how I run my traveling music system, without a modem. I included it because chances are good your router is connected to a modem (in some cases the router and modem are one piece).

Of course the elements in this illustration are just that, illustrations, and you can substitute different DACs, different network players (no, I haven’t any clue what the image of the network player is or where it’s from).

I would make one suggestion. Get a good, high speed router. I spent the money to get this Linksys router and I have never regretted it. Do you need to spend that much? No, but make sure it’s the latest, high speed type – and anything else in the network, like switches, they need to be good ones too.

The greatest number of help calls we get from our customers concerning network audio is almost always network related. Like power matters, the network matters too. And a lot. Don’t assume the router you’re using is adequate. Really. Spend a few bucks and get a new one. And every five years or so, do it again.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

NAS, controller

A home music system without a controller is like a car without a steering wheel. There’s little you can do with it. Maybe once Google and Tesla perfect driverless cars, and voice recognition gets a lot better, we won’t need steering wheels or music controllers, but for now, they’re a fact of life.

The controller in a music system is the interface between you and the machines that run everything. For many of us the controller is all we’ve ever seen, all we’ve ever known about.

Open the app on a tablet and you’re presented with a list of what’s in your library–fancy controllers have attractive views of cover art. Select what you’d like to listen to, build a playlist, turn the level up and down, fast forward, select a radio station, edit metadata that’s not to your liking.

The controller IS the raison d’être of a music system. There’s little advantage to storing your music on a hard drive if you don’t have or use a controller. And, I would argue, the quality of the controller experience defines the level of pleasure extracted from a network music system. In my opinion, the controller through its interface is THE most critical element of the three we’ve been discussing: server, controller, renderer.

What exactly does the controller do and how does it work?

Surprisingly, for such an important element, controllers are rather dull witted. A well designed one, in fact, is hopefully as close to stupid as possible. Why? The less the controller has to do, the faster it works, the fewer connection and speed problems users are likely to experience. Designers with high expectations for the user’s experience would be well advised to let the server’s internal computer do as much of the work as possible. But, that isn’t always practical – especially when the server is rather dull witted itself. Like Twonky. But I digress.

Remembering the three elements of a DLNA music system:

Server, controller, player; the controller reaches out to the other two parts of the system for what it needs. Let’s say, for example, you open your tablet and want to scroll through your music library. The controller, which is a program installed on a mobile device–either Android or IOS–sends a request to the server.

Send me all the cover art. The server complies and the mobile device displays what it’s been sent. You touch one of the covers–perhaps Abbey Road–and a new request is sent to the server. Send me the track listing for Abbey Road. In the time it takes for the mobile device to animate the cover flipping to its backside, the track listing is sent over and displayed. Now, you wish to play the entire album, or perhaps one song. This time the controller sends a command, rather than a request.

Each track in your music library is actually a separate file with a specific memory location on the hard drive. It’s like a street address. Along with the track listings is the address where the track is located on your hard drive. Let’s say it’s 1234567. When you select that track, or a group of tracks (files), the controller sends a command to the player something like this: go to memory location 1234567, connect and play. Now, the player and the NAS, through its internal computer running Twonky server, open a connection to the file located at 1234567 and the player essentially downloads the file from the hard drive.

As a user, you now hear music through your DAC. The controller does one more thing at this point. It request information from the player about time–how long has the file been playing and how much is left. If you want to fast forward, the controller simply says: move to the middle of the file. Or, stop, or, play the file again, etc.

There aren’t that many good UPnP/DLNA controller programs around–and zero great ones. Of the good ones, there’s MConnect for IOS, and MConnect for Android. Bubble UPnP (for Android only). Other controllers include PlugPlayer for IOS, and PlugPlayer for Android. Linn’s Kinsky for IOS, and Kinsky for Android. There are others, but these are the most popular and will work with all NAS equipped for DLNA.

My favorite is MConnect for IOS, Bubble UPnP for Android.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

NAS, the heart of streaming

For those interested in the results of yesterday’s package unwrapping, Henry’s fart gun was a bust. I’ve agreed to return it, much to both our disappointments. It doesn’t actually do what it’s name implies. Instead, it’s a difficult to use gun that puts out a puff of air if you pull back on the rubber stopper–far too difficult for a 3 year old. Worse, it makes no obnoxious sound. Disappointing to both the 3 year old it was intended for and the 67 year old who bought it for him.

Nothing upsets us more than expecting one thing and getting something else. Like expecting Plug N Play (UPnP) to perform as its name implies. It may work for printers and other simple devices, but not when it comes to a DLNA music system.
I had detailed how a NAS is a hard drive with an internal computer built in. It is accessed over a home network through ethernet cables, and sent on its way by the home router. Pretty simple setup.

Computers can do nothing without a program to instruct them. Like a car needing a driver to steer it, the complex mechanisms inside computers are powerful tools in need of direction. When we read that a NAS (Network Attached Storage) is DLNA “ready”, it means nothing more than a DLNA server program has been installed and configured to control the NAS. The internal computer does the work, but this DLNA server program tells it what to do.

One DLNA server program dominates the NAS landscape. Twonky. Twonky has been around for a very long time. It was founded by a company called PacketVideo who started business in 1998 out of California. Twonky is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Japan’s largest mobile phone provider, NTT DoCoMo .

Twonky performs as well as its name suggests. Not well. But, it is stable, low cost, handles most media (not DSD) and pretty much is what you’re going to be stuck with if you run a NAS. Some companies, like QNAP, have their own version of DLNA server that outperforms Twonky – I am guessing hoping that trend will continue.

So, what does this all important program do?

Let’s first review the three critical elements in a DLNA music system: server, controller, renderer (player).

The server, in this case Twonky, can do the following tasks (among other things):
• Tells other devices on the network what the NAS is, what it is capable of doing and playing, and what it has stored on it
• Reads the stored contents and delivers a list when asked to
• Connects the player to a specific memory location on the hard drive where music is

Tomorrow we’ll look at the controller.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

NAS: the music system

Two reasons Audiophiles all over the world, and especially in Asia, use a NAS (Network Attached Storage) is their strong desire to build a high end music system without engaging the services of a desktop computer, and taking advantage of the isolation provided by the network.

As I had written in yesterday’s post, networks provide a type of insulation between machines that’s hard to attain anywhere else. As an example, take my own traveling music system, which I purposefully built to be small and simple enough to put into my suitcase along with two nights of clothing. It consists of a Mac Mini, an iPad, a WIFI router, ethernet cable, USB cable, USB Disrupter, USB Regn, Jitterbug. What used to be simple has begun growing and gotten me thinking about its redesign.

The basic system I built had few components: Mini, iPad, router, ethernet cable, USB cable. The router is there only to communicate over WIFI with the iPad, the ethernet cable connects the router to the Mini. The USB cable connects the Mini to the DAC. But, over time, the shortcomings and lack of isolation of the USB connection has caused me to add more stuff to compensate. Regens, Jitterbugs, disrupters–and all to help a compromised connection. This problem is exactly why people move towards network audio solutions instead.

Now, let’s imagine a different scenario for my traveling audio system. A NAS, two ethernet cables, WIFI router, iPad. This is actually less stuff than my old system and would sound better. Why have I hesitated? Because it requires one more item I did not mention. A DAC that can accept the ethernet cable. Most don’t have them. In our own PerfectWave DACs, we have an optional slot where you can insert what we call the Network Bridge. It’s essentially another input to the DAC, one that can accept the ethernet cable. A few British and Japanese DACs also have this feature already built in. But, most DACs haven’t one – and when I travel to give talks and demonstrate stuff, I can’t rely on having one. So I am stuck with the Mini system previously described.

How does the network based system work, and what are the elements inside?

It’s called a UPnP system and you’ll note in my list, there’s no Mac Mini, or any other desktop PC Mentioned. The four elements required to build this setup are:

• NAS with a DLNA server installed (most have them already)
• iPad or Android mobile device
• WIFI router
• DAC that can accept an ethernet cable

I’ll go through each starting tomorrow.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

NAS: Serving Music

Network Attached Storage devices (NAS) are hard drives that can attach to, and be accessed over, a home network or even the internet. To manage that feat they include a built in computer, which handles all the work of preparing data into a form acceptable to the network.

But that internal computer can often times do even more than just prepare data. It can also serve music, something no other external hard drive can do.

Serving music over a network requires a computer with a program specific to the task, just like transferring music requires a computer and program specific to that task. The two tasks are different. And this is an important distinction to understand.

Transferring data over a network does not depend on what the type of data are. NAS transfer word documents just as easily as they transfer music, video or, actual programs. To a NAS with its basic file transfer program running on its internal computer, data is data.

Serving music is different, and requires a specialized program. It’s not that musical data is fundamentally different than any other type of data. It is not. It’s just that in order to keep everything working well in a complex digital world, we need to be very specific with what we choose to play in our DACs. We don’t want to try to play a word document in our music player. It would foul the works, like trying to burn diesel in a gasoline engine. It pays to be selective.

In 2003, our old friend Sony, who have always been on the forefront of digital home entertainment (they, along with Philips invented the CD and S/PDIF format), built a protocol for selecting specific programs over a network, like audio, video, etc. That protocol was DLNA, an acronym for the Digital Living Network Alliance. They formed a committee to spell out rules and standards. The end result of that committee’s efforts created yet another acronym, UPnP (Universal Plug n Play).

The upshot of DLNA is that multimedia devices like game consoles, home theater systems, speakers, storage devices, audio players, and smartphones can talk to each other over a home network. And what do they talk about? Compatibility between devices and capabilities. Who gets along with who, and what can compatible devices offer to each other. When it’s all working well, a UPnP based network music player connects only with a UPnP equipped NAS that contains music. So, if I have two UPnP equipped NAS on a home network, one filled with video files and word documents, the other with music, my network audio player sees only the music and ignores the video and other file types.

Like a guard protecting the entrance to a fancy neighborhood, UPnP standards make sure only those acceptable to the neighborhood are let through the gates. Video can’t go into the music’s neighborhood.

Tomorrow we will start down the rabbit hole of learning about UPnP and DLNA.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

NAS: pros

I mentioned in yesterday’s post the biggest negative of a NAS (Network Attached Storage) is the time it takes to load data to it and offload from it. This is a big problem for people who rely upon a NAS for that very purpose; getting data onto and off of a storage device quickly – and who do it often. But, when it comes to building a music library that’s not really an issue since we only occasionally load a big library. So we’ve concluded that for purposes interesting to us, a NAS is a good device.

We also learned the big value add of a NAS, vs. other external storage devices: its access from any device on the network and its built in computer. It’s to this last bit we’ll focus on today.

The built in computer on a NAS is needed for several reasons, chief among them is the requirement that network access demands. Because computers are not directly connected to anything over a network, like they are with their internal components, everything on the network must be translated to a language capable of being transported over great distances and through many different machines. The traffic on your home network is identical to the traffic on the internet. That language consists of a group of packets, or containers, holding a chunk of data. Each container has an address and a set of instructions, and each is an independent entity. When I send you this email, the data containing the words I am writing are broken up into small packets and mailed to your address. The route it takes may differ from second to second, day to day. Like a clever mailman who takes different routes to deliver your letters, depending on the traffic and time of day.

The job of the NAS internal computer is to receive this stream of packets, make sure they are the correct ones, containing the right data, and assemble them into the proper order. Once collected, they are turned back into their original form as if they lived inside of your computer. This process takes computer power, supplied by what’s built into the NAS. So, that is the first job of this computer – and it’s main function. Arranging and receiving data into packets, and distributing them where they need to go. Think of this process like the job the railroads do. A long freight train has many cars, each loaded with different cargo going to different locations. The train (your ethernet cable or WIFI signal) is a long stream containing lots of different cars filled with “stuff” and an address for each car to eventually go. The computers at each end of the line sort and distribute the goods on cars to where they should go.

There is no direct connection to your computer. The same info you access on your NAS can, if you set it up right, travel around the world or from your office to your music room, with exactly the same results and sound quality. Read that statement again. Unlike USB, S/PDIF, or analog signals, the data over a network is agnostic as to how far it had to travel, how many switches it went through to get there, or what type of wire or WIFI signal was used to move it.

When you download a track from a music service, like Blue Coast or HD Tracks, how it got to you does not matter. When Cookie sends you the San Francisco Symphony via download, it leaves a big server somewhere, travels by land line, satellite, microwave, fiber optic, hundreds of switches and machines. It’s broken apart, then reassembled back at your computer–some of the packets going one way, others another–all without any degradation or action on your part. And that track sounds the same if it traveled over your home network or around the world twice. This is important to understand, because it’s one of the strengths of network audio – the transmission of data does not affect sound quality. The same cannot be said for USB.

Aha! you say. I have heard that the quality of the ethernet cable matters. Perhaps that’s true, though I have not experienced it. But even if it were true, it would have more to do with electrical and noise issues rather than data accuracy – which is unaffected by the purity of the copper or the time it took to get there.
Lastly, there are no jitter issues with network audio signals. We shall continue tomorrow.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

NAS: cons

Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices would seem a no-brainer for anyone wishing to store their music. They come with a built in computer that can be quite powerful, connect to multiple computers at the same time, and from anywhere in the house, are cheap, and can include backup capabilities as well. Seems the perfect solution. But, nothing’s perfect.

I have owned multiple NAS in my forays into computer audio and have abandoned each and every one of them over time. It’s kind of like Netflix. Great idea, but I have subscribed and unsubscribed at least four times. But both are getting better.
The biggest problems I have with NAS is speed. The transfer of data over your home network is considerably slower than what happens inside your desktop computer. Let me give you an example. On my office computer at PS Audio I have an internal hard drive with 1tB of music (about 1,000 albums). Let’s say I want to transfer the contents of that hard drive, all 1,000 albums, to my new NAS. Simple enough.

On my computer screen I can see both hard drives. I open up the one with all the music, click on the first track with my mouse, then press Control A (Command A on the Mac) and every album on the hard drive is highlighted. I then drag that group over to the image of the NAS and a little window pops up telling me it’s being copied. It’ll take 19 hours. Frick! 19 hours?

Ok, same scenario, but this time I have a USB connected hard drive. I follow the same procedure and I am told it will take 9 hours, about half the time. If I were to try the same transfer with two internal hard drives on my desktop computer, it would take about an hour. Your mileage may vary.

There are three things working against us: the speed of the network that connects the two, the speed of the internal computer on the NAS, and the speed at which your desktop computer can organize and send the data over an ethernet port. USB, in particular, USB 3.0, is quite a bit faster. But, we’re discussing NAS.

Speed of transfer is the biggest drawback of NAS. But now, let’s put things in perspective. Imagine that you made the transfer, got up the next morning and she’s all done. That took a long time, but it’s not out of the question. What’s really the issue is using the NAS. If we want to now stream a movie, or music from the NAS to our DAC or player, is it fast enough to send the data without a hiccup? You bet. No problem, as long as you have a reasonable network–and most of us do.

So initial transfer time’s the biggest drawback for NAS. If you’re not as impatient as me, then that might not be an issue.

Tomorrow, let’s see what the benefits might be. And there are many.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

NAS: what is it?

A NAS is a network connect hard drive. Which means it’s a hard drive that can be placed anywhere on your home network. Some have asked me what is a network? And that’s a fair question. A home network is simple. It’s what a router provides. And most of us have a router in our setups. Take mine for example. I have a Linksys router and a Comcast modem. The modem connects my house to the internet. The router connects everything in my house to the modem and each other.

This router couldn’t be a lot simpler. The ethernet port on the left connects to the modem so I can access the internet. The four other ethernet ports are where I plug in a computer, or two computers, or a NAS. The two antenna are for WIFI, which is a wireless ethernet port.

Imagine that in my home I have my laptop connected to this router via WIFI, and a NAS connected to the router through ethernet–using one of the ports pictured above. The router and NAS are in my office, the laptop is in the living room or the music room. I can easily connect the laptop to anything stored on the NAS. Voila! That is the essence of a NAS. Connect the hard drive inside to any device on your home network.

There are two basic styles of external hard drives we can buy: USB and NAS.

Above is a USB hard drive. It’s a case with a USB cable connecting it to your computer. Inside is a hard drive for storage.

Above is the back of a NAS. Same hard drive, different way to connect. See the ethernet connector? Instead of plugging into a computer, it plugs into your home’s router.

A USB hard drive is restricted. It can only connect to an external computer. A NAS is restricted as well. It can only connect to a router. But a NAS, once connected to the home router, can be accessed from anything else on that network. A USB drive, on the other hand, can only be accessed by the computer it is connected to.

What is inside the NAS that allows it to connect over a network is a full blown computer. Yup. So, think about this. A USB drive connects to an external desktop or laptop computer only. A NAS is really no different, only, it has its own built in computer. This makes the NAS an incredible bargain. For nearly the same price as a USB hard drive that can only connect to an external computer, a NAS has its own computer built in – thus eliminating the need for an extra computer in the mix.

And for music systems this is a real plus. A NAS, which we now understand is a hard drive and purpose-built computer in one affordable box, need little else to store and stream music. We’ll find out how, soon enough.

There are distinct advantages and disadvantages to the NAS we shall begin covering soon.