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Option 5: Digital Media Server

Several major players in the consumer electronics space have come up with a new piece of equipment that can serve music to multiple locations. The digital media server uses a hard disk to store your music library in digital fashion. Multiple read/write heads on the hard disk can play multiple music streams simultaneously; the media server can then send these feeds over your home network to subsidiary devices in other rooms.

For example, Denon's NS-S100 multimedia server has a 120GB hard drive and functions as a high-end A/V receiver, personal video recorder, and digital audio playback device. Connect one or more companion NS-C200 multimedia client units via Ethernet, and you can listen to multiple music streams in multiple rooms. It's a pricey solution, though; you'll pay $4,000 for the main unit and $1,000 or so for each auxiliary unit.

Another option is Yamaha's MusicCAST system. The main MCX-1000 System Server has an 80GB hard drive; connect one or more MCX-A10 Wireless Digital Audio Terminals (via WiFi) and you have an instant whole-house audio system. The MusicCAST system is a little more affordable than the Denon system, with the base unit going for $2,200 and the client terminals going for $600 each.

These are the advantages of using a digital media server:

  • Easy setup. You can use either wired Ethernet or wireless WiFi connections.

  • Lots of options. Send multiple music streams to multiple rooms, as desired.

  • Excellent control of playlists. When you're playing a lot of music, it helps to organize your favorites around artist, album, genre, or other criteria—which digital media servers let you do quite easily.

Disadvantages include the following:

  • Limited source. You can play only the music stored on the system's hard disk—the digital media player doesn't stream music from CD players or other devices.

  • Prep time. You have to rip all your music to hard disk before you can use the system.

  • Limited quality. Limited to MP3-quality sound.

  • Possible speaker limitations. Depending on the device, you may not be able to connect auxiliary speakers—you may be limited to the client device's built-in speakers.

This type of system is still in its infancy. Keep an eye out for future developments—or read more in this related article.

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