Setting Up and Using the N-05
You need to make three connections to get the N-05 up and running: a power cord, an Ethernet cable to your home network, and a connection of the output signal to your preamplifier or integrated amplifier. The network connection provides two functions: It connects the N-05 to the network storage where you store your music files, and it connects the N-05 to a WiFi router on your network which lets your iPad running the Esoteric Sound Stream app control the N-05’s operation. I connected the N-05 to my preamp using Audience Au24 SX balanced cables, and to my home network using an Ethernet cable. The drawing below shows how the N-05 connects to the home network.
If you buy your N-05 from a dealer, you probably won’t get to appreciate how well the unit is shipped: It’s packed in three nested boxes and trucked in on a pallet. Outside of personal delivery by the manufacturer, that’s the most carrier-proof shipping mode I’ve ever experienced.
The N-05’s designation as a network audio player tells you that the preferred file storage medium is a network drive. The primary purpose of a network NAS drive is to store and retrieve files, but since it has an internal computer processor, it can also run programs on its own, and for use with the N-05, the NAS should run the MinimServer program. MinimServer is free, although donations are encouraged. Many NASes come with MinimServer already installed, or at least with an installation program for it already installed. My QNAP TS251 came with a MinimServer installation program. Often, review components come with throw-away power cords, but the Esoteric cord looked pretty robust, so I used it for the review.
I downloaded the free Esoteric Sound Stream app to my iPad Air2. The set-up process was easy; all I had to do to get started was select the N-05 as the music player and the Minimserver program running on the NAS as the music library. It was also fast, scanning my NAS and preparing a display of all the music there in about five minutes. Many apps have taken over an hour to accomplish that task.
A typical audio component’s user interface consists of the knobs and switches on its front panel and a remote control, but a music player’s user interface is its remote app running on a tablet computer, in the N-05’s case, the aforementioned Esoteric Sound Stream app, which I’ll call ESS for short. It was straightforward to use ESS; all you do to play an album is tap its cover art, and ESS shows you the songs in that album, and when you tap one of the songs, ESS starts playing the songs beginning with the one tapped. That’s quite easy—if you’ve ever used a music playback app before. If not, it could be confusing. An icon that looks like a gear brought up the Setup menu, which is where I found the user guide for ESS. To reach it, tap Setup, then scroll down to the bottom of the Setup menu. Tap App, then About, then Help, then English Manual. An online user manual will be displayed. Just scroll down to see how to use ESS. You can also either read the manual online or if you’d like, perhaps print it out from Esoteric’s website.
ESS’ main screen is divided into three sections: the top section shows information about the selection that’s currently playing; the section on the bottom left shows the playlist of songs selected to play; and the bottom right section shows the library, the albums available to play. The Now Playing section provided lots of useful information, such as the sampling rate of the song being played and its file type. Another thing I appreciated was ESS’ “folder view” at the top of the Library section (not visible in the screenshot above), which lets you view the contents of your music storage folder as if it were a computer folder, which of course, it is. Sometimes that’s a more reliable way to find an album you want to play.
Setting up Tidal was child’s play. I tapped the Tidal button on the ESS screen, entered my Tidal user ID and password, and Tidal’s menu was displayed on the screen. Playing a song or album on Tidal was similar to playing a song or album in your library: just tap the cover art thumbnail for the song or album and it will be added to the playlist. If you want to hear an entire album, touch and hold your finger to its cover art and you’ll see several options for playing all the songs. The four buttons to the right of the cover art, from left to right, let you play a selection immediately, play the selection after the current selection finishes playing, add the selection to the end of the playlist, or clear the playlist and play the selection.
You can name and save a playlist if you want to play the same assortment of songs several times. Since I was playing the same list of selections using several different filters and upsampling, I created a review playlist of the selections I used so I wouldn’t have to select them individually each time I played them. There’s also an icon on the ESS screen that shows the newly installed albums in your library—very useful.