exaSound Audio Design PlayPoint Network Audio Player and e32 DAC

Roon without a Computer

Equipment report
Digital-to-analog converters,
Music servers and computer audio
ExaSound Audio Design e32,
ExaSound Audio Design PlayPoint
exaSound Audio Design PlayPoint Network Audio Player and e32 DAC

My music files were stored on a QNAP TS-251 NAS attached to my home network. ExaSound recommended three days’ continuous play for break-in, so I let it play much longer than that before I began critical listening.

The only set-up problem I encountered was when the Roon Server asked me the network path to my NAS so it could find my stored music files. I’m sure a real computer geek would have had that information at his fingertips, but I didn’t. However, I sat down at a Windows 10 computer attached to my network, and used File Explorer to browse to a file stored on my NAS, then looked at the Properties of the file. In the Location field was the path to the file, which was the information Roon needed to see. (I’m not sure how to do that using a Mac or Linux computer.) The next Roon release (v1.3) is expected to simplify this process.

Fortunately, I have a lifetime subscription to Roon so I could readily use it with the exaSound gear. I went through the set-up process that identified the PlayPoint as a zone and told Roon where my music files were stored so it could use them and watch for new files when I purchased a download or ripped a CD. Roon has proved to be the best music player program I’ve tried at identifying music files you’ve just added to your drive. I also had to set up Roon to use my Tidal account. After that easy process, Roon played Tidal files as if they were on my own network—and the integration of those with my own file collection was amazing.

During the review period, I also reviewed HiFiMan’s new HE1000 V2 headphones. Since the e32 includes a very accomplished headphone amp, it was one of the amps I used to drive those ’phones, and it acquitted itself quite well. The low-sensitivity HiFiMan headphone benefited from the e32’s generous power output: 4 watts into 16 ohms.

I used my iPad as the main Roon remote, selecting music to play from its screen. Roon shows your albums sorted in several ways: by date added (the default mode that shows you newly added albums), by album title (like iTunes), by artist, by album date, or by the albums most played. I sometimes have trouble finding an album I’m looking for, but fortunately, Roon has a fine search field. Most remote apps scroll through the available album display vertically, but Roon scrolls horizontally. When you install a new album on your drive, you probably want to play it right away, but many playback programs take quite some time before they recognize newly added albums; Roon recognizes these almost immediately. Like any other playback app, Roon takes a while to master, but the learning curve is not too difficult, and the availability of the aforementioned user guide helps a lot. Occasionally, when sitting at another computer, I would use a second copy of the Roon software as a remote. It had the advantage of looking exactly like Roon Server software.

The PlayPoint doesn’t have a routine for backing up your music files, and it has no capability for ripping CDs. That’s no big deal; a system where your music files are stored on a NAS usually has its own backup routine. If your music files are stored on an external USB drive, there are lots of backup and sync programs to help back up your files. And ripping CDs is easy to do using specialized computer programs, like dbPoweramp.

One change in my system affected what I heard in the review: Two wireless Syzygy Acoustics SLF870 subwoofers in for review had temporarily replaced my single JL Audio f110 sub. I liked them a lot, so I decided to use them for this review. Since I replaced a single 10” sub with two 12” subs, it should come as no surprise that the pair of Syzygy subs could play louder and lower, which enabled me to better evaluate bass performance.

Time travel is a favorite theme in science fiction stories, but as far as I know, it’s still a fictional concept. The closest we can come to traveling in time is via the arts, where through music, paintings, sculpture, and literature we can travel to past eras. So without deliberately trying to listen to music from periods ranging from long ago to very recent, I realized that’s what I’d done.

Jordi Savall leads his band of Renaissance specialists in the old favorite “Folia Rodrigo Martinez,” ripped to AIFF format from the CD Alia Vox AFA 9805 (La Folia 1490-1701). Its estimated composition date is 1490. The PlayPoint/e32 combination revealed lots of detail in this über-familiar recording, with an extended but not peaky high end. (Well, OK, once or twice I thought a smidgen of peakiness may have crept into the reproduction, but very little and very seldomly.) Thanks to this treble extension, I heard extra detail in the percussion instruments that rendered them audible throughout the piece. The castanets, for instance, are played fairly softly and often smear into the background; here they remained distinct. On the other end of the frequency spectrum, the bass was quite powerful, though not overdone. The Syzygy subwoofers enabled the PlayPoint/e32 combination to show me some details about the bass in this piece I hadn’t previously heard; specifically the drum, which extends into the mid-20Hz range, is being struck with different force at different points in time. Previously, these different drum whacks seemed much closer in forcefulness. However, the PlayPoint/e32’s midbass seemed slightly discontinuous—slightly congested in comparison to the deep bass. In the midrange, the exaSound gear provided plenty of air around the instruments, and accurate tonal textures with precise scaling of microdynamics.

Allegri’s “Miserere” from The Tallis Scholars’ Allegri’s Miserere & Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli, a 96/24 FLAC album downloaded from Gimell.com, is another familiar piece I often use because it provides a lot of useful sonic information. An a capella choral piece thought to have been composed in the 1630s, it’s arranged here for a main choral group and a solo tenor positioned at the front of the soundstage, with a small solo group located some distance behind the main group. The PlayPoint/e32 combo portrayed the recording with a wide-open soundstage, revealing lots of detail about the solo tenor and main choral group. The distant solo group was accurately portrayed as having a slight high-frequency roll-off, and a well-defined impression of distance behind the main group. There was only a slight reverberant delay in the solo group’s output, caused by echoes from the recording environment (a small church). Reproduction of the solo tenor’s voice exhibited no hardness, as is sometimes the case through other equipment.