Plinius Tiki Network Audio Player

Excellent Sound, Drop-Dead Looks

Equipment report
Music servers and computer audio
Plinius Tiki
Plinius Tiki Network Audio Player

Computer-audio music files are the hot topic in audio magazines these days. To listen to this form of recorded music, you’ll need two items: 1) a server, which displays the music in your collection, lets you pick which music you want to listen to, and then plays that music for you; and 2) a digital-to-analog converter, or DAC, which converts the digital PCM stream from the server to an analog signal that your amplifier can handle. Like most anything in audio, there are a variety of ways the server and the DAC can be implemented. One area that has several possible configurations is where your music is stored. Some servers store it on internal hard-disk drives, some store it on solid-state drives which have no moving parts, some store it on external hard-disk drives, while others store it on a network, where it’s available to all devices which can access that network. In its $4495 Tiki server, the New Zealand company Plinius has opted for the network-storage option, which is why they call the Tiki a network audio player.

Plinius cites its reasoning for picking network storage for the Tiki as isolation, clock configuration, simplicity of design, cable lengths, and multi-room capability. I would add that using network storage for your music files lets you load and retrieve those files from any device attached to the network.

Like any design choice, there are tradeoffs. First, you must have a wired Ethernet network in your home as well as Wi-Fi, and second, you need a device called a network attached storage unit (or NAS for short) connected to your network. From Wikipedia: “A NAS unit is a computer connected to a network that provides only file-based data storage services to other devices on the network.” If you have to buy a NAS to use with the Tiki, it can be a sizeable additional expense, depending on the number of drives involved and the size of the drives.

The Tiki follows the styling design used in most other Plinius components: a front panel that curves back into the sides of the unit. You can have any color Tiki you want as long as it’s black or silver. Except for a large engraved “Plinius” label and a blue pilot light, the Tiki’s front panel is blank. The Tiki’s bright blue rear panel is fairly austere, too; there are left and right channel outputs (both balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA jacks), a ground-lift switch, which may be useful in minimizing noise, an Ethernet input, an IEC power connector, and the on/off switch.

The Tiki combines the player part of the server with an internal DAC. I suspect that many audiophiles will appreciate that configuration, since it eliminates the need for two separate components, as well as a cable to connect them. It also eliminates the need for a separate shelf on your equipment rack. There is no remote control; you’ll need a tablet computer or smart phone for that. You probably have one or more of those already, so a separate remote would be a waste of money.

What’s missing from the Tiki? For one thing, there’s no S/ PDIF or AES/EBU digital output. That means you’re limited to the Tiki’s internal DAC. I’m not suggesting it’s not a quality unit, but no matter how good it is, eventually a better DAC will come along. Also, there’s no volume control, so you can’t use the Tiki to directly drive a power amplifier. And except for the RJ-45 Ethernet network input, there’s no digital input, so external digital sources like a CD transport can’t use the internal DAC. I find a CD transport still comes in handy for playing CDs brought by visiting friends, or when I want to play a CD checked out from our local library, which has a sizeable CD collection. If you want an optical drive, Plinius makes a device called the Toko, which looks like a Tiki with a slot-loaded drive. The Tiki has no indicator to tell you what digital sampling rate is being played— useful, if not essential, especially if you have several copies of a song with different sampling rates. But maybe that’s something only reviewers or other nut-cases would care about.

The Tiki will play music files in the following formats: FLAC, WAV (which it calls LPCM), AIFF, and MP3. Except for MP3s, files up to 192kHz/24-bit will play for all formats. The Tiki can’t play DSD files, and while it’s uncertain whether that format will become widely popular, a few servers do offer that feature. With a 100-ohm output impedance, the Tiki should be compatible with any well-designed preamplifier or integrated-amplifier input and capable of driving long interconnects. The Tiki uses the ThreadX real-time operating system. I had not heard of ThreadX; see Wikipedia if you want more information about it.