For the longest time I resisted the world of music streaming because it required using a computer to kluge together programs, services, and devices of often widely differing provenance—all this without even mentioning the sixteen feet of cable stretching from sofa, where I sit with laptop, to equipment shelf, where resides the DAC with the rest of the electronics. I should come clean: As a film editor I spend most of my working days in front of a computer; ditto for my writing, not to mention correspondence, much shopping, considerable research, processing my photography, tasks for my various teaching duties, paying bills, handling bank accounts, and countless other daily activities and necessities. So maybe you’ll understand why the last thing I want next to me when I listen to music is a damn computer, not least because some of the solace I derive from music listening is getting away from keyboards and screens.
Then too, generally speaking, when it comes to music streaming my past attempts to get the various devices and services to “talk” to each other has been fraught with frustration: If something can go wrong, it will and usually does, while the threadbare “instructions” that come with most music servers and all streaming services prove next to useless. Despite the personal assistance of three different experts, I never could get my computer-based streaming setup to work consistently or reliably, and I never ran into a problem that was adequately addressed on any of the products’ or services’ Internet “Help” sites. Far easier to cue an LP or slip a silver disc into a tray after browsing through my shelves—browsing, by the way, an activity I actively enjoy if for no other reasons than, first, it is active, and, second, it’s serendipitous, often yielding happy rediscoveries of music I’d forgotten I had lying dormant on the shelves.
But I knew my Luddite days were closing fast some three years ago when, owing to a combination of work-related issues and concerns about the environment, I parted with my much-loved, thirteen-year-old BMW 330i (sighs short and frequent were exhaled) and acquired a Tesla Model S. I’ve never looked back—you have no idea, among other things, how wonderful it is never having to go to a gas station! The only thing I don’t like about it is Elon Musk’s decision that no hard media shall deface his creation—apparently you can’t even add a CD player after the fact. (Evidently the rest of the automobile world is or soon will be in lockstep, e.g., several months ago I heard that effective 2019–20 Mercedes vehicles no longer have CD players.) For a while I burned CDs to flash drives that I could play on the Tesla, but this became so time-consuming I finally took out a subscription to Tidal, then later to Qobuz, downloaded the apps to my iPhone, Bluetoothed it to my Tesla, and discovered what so many of you reading this doubtless already knew: Suddenly an unimaginable abundance and variety of music was at my fingertips.
Meanwhile, at home I was still struggling with my laptop-based streaming setup when TAS editor Robert Harley took pity and arranged for the good folks at Aurender to lend me an A10 so I could stream music sans computer (Robert was especially keen for me to experience MQA). Around the same time, Greg Stidsen, NAD’s Director of Technology and Product Planning, presented an opportunity to try out the company’s M50.2 Music Player. Robert also suggested that I share my experiences with our readers, especially those who’ve been as reluctant as I to embrace streaming. I’ll anticipate my conclusions to the extent of saying that in the fourteen or so months I’ve spent with these two products the experience has been one of almost unalloyed pleasure with very few problems and those easily addressed. It’s nice to be reminded from time to time that what looks like progress actually is progress.
Before going on, however, I should say that what follows is not a review in the ordinary sense of the word. For one thing, my colleague Andrew Quint has already reviewed the Aurender A10 very capably in TAS 278, where you can find his in-depth report.
As for how it sounds, if anything I hold that in even higher regard than Andy does, as evinced by my including it in the most recent Golden Ear awards, where I said that it exhibits “no sacrifice in sound quality that matters” (at least to me). NAD’s M50.2 has been around since 2017, yet for some reason it’s never been reviewed in TAS, so I’ll go into more detail about its principal functions and features. But my primary focus with both products is on their day-to-day use—how accommodating they are in giving me access to streaming and other online music services and sources with a minimum of fuss and bother, how they fit into or otherwise altered and enhanced my listening habits and pleasures as they’ve developed over my half century as an audiophile (man, was the last part of that sentence ever hard to write). I also want to address some consumer-oriented questions as regards use and purchasing that I’ve not seen addressed or at least addressed often enough in other reviews.