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The MS-1 ( usd $2,500 ) is Cary's first entry into the digital server market. This isn't just a spiffed-up hard drive, but an audiophile-grade digital server with a 1 terabyte SATA hard drive capable of storing music data from approximately 2,800 compact discs in lossless FLAC format. It also can output high-resolution audio, up to 24-bit/96 kHz over USB, and comes ready to tap into SHOUTcast Internet Radio and its network of more than 40,000 stations. Cary designed the MS-1 to work with an Apple iPhone/iPod Touch or iPad Touch; any of the three devices can serve as the system's remote control and display.  

The MS-1 sports a silver aluminum faceplate backed with a brushed black chassis. It weighs 8 pounds and is slightly deeper than wide, measuring 3.5 inches high, 11 inches wide and 12.5 inches deep. Four hard rubber feet anchor the server. The minimalist front features a single blue LED light, indicating power on, a single 24x slot-loading drive that accepts discs and a button to eject discs just beneath the CD slot. The rear panel has two USB 2.0 outputs, one Ethernet 10/100/1000 port and AC IN for power.

The MS-1 behaves like any other audio component: It turns on via a power button on the rear panel, which activates the server and a blue LED light signaling game time. Press the power button once more and the unit shuts down. It worked perfectly for me. 

Set Up

Setting up the MS-1 requires two additional pieces of gear: the aforementioned Apple “remote” and a USB-compatible digital-to-analog converter. Cary recommends pairing the MS-1 with its own Xciter Series USB DAC. I've read good things about Cary's DAC (retailing for $1,499), and I'm confident it would take this unit to another sonic level, but for this review I paired the MS-1 with HRT's Music Streamer II, a USB DAC that sells for just under $150. More about the sound later. One last component to complete the kit is the MS-1 Remote App, available for free through iTunes. Cary's Billy Wright was kind enough to include a loaner iPod already loaded with the app for this review. Otherwise, a simple search for Cary Audio in the iTunes App Store will get you going. 

The MS-1 requires wireless and wired access to a network. This is a simple matter of connecting the server to a router, whereby the MS-1 retrieves an IP address and connects to the network. Wireless access allows control via an iPod, etc. An Internet connection is necessary for accessing SHOUTcast; no connection is needed to play music from the MS-1 itself. For the final “audio” connection, I ran a USB 2.0 cable from the MS-1 to the HRT. Lastly, I connected the Streamer to my amplifier using standard RCA interconnects. 

All that's left to do is establish remote control:

1.    Select the Cary Audio App on the Apple device
2.    Press “Settings” button
3.    Select “Discover Servers”
4.    Select server, wait for a checkmark to appear next to the server name
5.    Press “Done”

Now, via the respective remote device, the music library is accessible and at your command.


In Action

The first thing to do is load the MS-1 with some music. Simply insert a compact disc into the CD slot and the server will begin copying. When complete, the MS-1 automatically ejects the disc and searches the Internet to retrieve album and artist name, along with song names and album art. 

By default, the MS-1 copies all music data as FLAC files. I like that the MS-1 makes FLAC its native file format, as it protects the fidelity of original recordings while preserving drive space. The server is also designed to play MP3, OGG, AAC, WAV, M4A and WV files, and I also discovered it will play AIF files, too, though sometimes with a slight hiccup between songs. All the discs I fed the machine were copied perfectly, but the unit isn't particularly speedy transferring audio, even with its 24x slot-loading drive.  For example, The Band's self-titled 1969 release (with bonus track) contains roughly 48 minutes of audio. Via the MS-1, the disc took 8 minutes and 20 seconds to copy. Through iTunes, as uncompressed AIFF, the same disc took 2 minutes 55 seconds. Using MAX, a program that converts WAV files to FLAC, took 3 minutes. Ripping music from an outside source may be faster initially, but you still have to get the files onto the MS-1 before playback so by the time you transfer outside files into the server the score mostly evens out. The MS-1 relies on two metadata services – FreeDB and MusicBrainz – to obtain album information. I was less than impressed with the retrieval, as many albums were tagged as “Unknown”; others, such as The Flower Kings' Stardust We Are and the previously mentioned album from The Band displayed incorrect album art. The former showed cover art from The Rod Stewart Sessions 1971-1998 box set, the latter displayed The Band Perry's 2010 self-titled release. Across the board, it was hit or miss regarding album info and artwork. Rather obscure releases including Miller Anderson's Bright City, Quicksand's Home Is Where I Belong and Kayak's Merlin were tagged accurately including album art. Thus, I found it strange when Van Morrison's Beautiful Vision and ELO's On The Third Day were relegated to the land of unknown albums. If you want to edit and make corrections, it's necessary to first copy the album to your computer, manually tag the album and then copy it back to the MS-1. That may not sound like a big deal, but if you're suddenly faced with a dozen or more “Unknown” albums it becomes a hassle. The last thing you want to face is a sea of unlabeled albums and tracks, unless you like guessing. My advice: deal with any Unknowns immediately; tag the tunes and drop 'em back into the server and be done with it. Managing the files on the MS-1 can done either through a Web interface or FTP. Both are accessed using the IP address from the Settings menu on the respective remote control device. Cary supplies username and password to login. Once connected to the interface, it's simple to highlight folders and files to delete any unwanted data. Manually transferring and/or backing up music is accomplished via FTP and/or USB. Though the owner's manual includes a screenshot of the local file system and MS-1 file system, it doesn't completely explain the upload process. If, for example, you select a file (album) from the Local Site and add it to the upload queue, the music ends up in the File System Source folder. It's not a big deal, but albums in that realm don't display album art – they're treated as if untagged. The artist/album/tracks will still be identified, though. One other note regarding tagging: WAV files can't be tagged as such, so any such music by default can be accessed only via the SOURCES/FILE SYSTEM menu. If you have a hard drive already full of music, the MS-1 can automatically sync with an external USB drive to i