Plinius Tiki Network Audio Player

Excellent Sound, Drop-Dead Looks

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

Physically, the Tiki is a full-width component, measuring 17.75" by 3.5" by 15.75", and its solid build feels like it weighs more than its 12 pounds. It should fit on virtually any equipment rack shelf and won’t cause a hernia when you pick it up.

In my experience, a server’s success depends largely on the quality of the user interface that controls its operation. Plinius offers an app for iPads called Arataki Media Controller, which is the Tiki’s user interface. That means it shows you the music you’ve loaded on the NAS, lets you select which music you want to hear, and then creates a playlist of songs for the Tiki to play. At the suggestion of Frank Gazzo, Sales Manager of Plinius USA, I also downloaded PS Audio’s eLyric Controller app for iPad. Although not written specifically to control the Tiki, eLyric does that nicely, providing a different interface than Arataki. Arataki costs $7.99 from Apple’s App Store, eLyric, $9.99.

Setting Up and Using the Tiki

As I mentioned earlier, the Tiki requires a network attached storage, or NAS, drive to store music files. There’s no way you can plug in an external USB drive or use some other form of storage. The NAS must be connected to the Tiki via a wired network. For purposes of the review, Plinius USA loaned me a 1TB NetGear ReadyNAS Ultra 2 unit, already loaded with 273GB of music, and a NetGear wireless router. Since there are a number of other NAS’s available, each with its own set-up process, I won’t go into set-up details for this one. Setting up servers on a network can be very challenging, but the Tiki was almost plug-and-play. If you run into a snag, your Plinius dealer should be able to help you set up the Tiki. The NetGear NAS was so quiet I put it on a shelf of my equipment rack. Several visitors complained that the NetGear’s blue pilot LED was too bright, but I figure that’s what duct tape is for (no, I didn’t try it). If I planned to have a NAS around on a long-term basis, I’d put it near my desktop computer in a separate room.

Once the network was established, I installed Plinius’ Arataki remote control app. The first version I installed was version 1.1, which I later updated to version 1.2. Arataki’s screen layout has two windows. The right window shows the cover art for each album installed on the NAS, so you can use it to select the music you want to play. To select an album, touch the cover art thumbnail and drag or flick it towards the left window, where a playlist is built. To play songs on the playlist, touch the Play button at the bottom of the left window, and Arataki will play the playlist in the order created. If you don’t want to play an entire album, touch the cover art thumbnail and Arataki will show you all the songs on the album, and you can flick or drag the songs to the left window to create a playlist. There’s a trash can icon in the left window; when you’re through with the playlist, touch the trash can icon, and the playlist is cleared.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? It was, but there were a few glitches. First off, not all of the albums on the NAS had cover art, and those that didn’t had only a couple of musical eighth notes displayed as a cover art placeholder. There’s no text to tell you what the album is. You have to touch the cover art placeholder thumbnail on the screen to view a song list, which also shows you text that tells you what the album title is and who the performers are. Since you can’t tell what the album is, it will probably take several trial-and-error iterations to find the album you want to play. To make things tougher, Plinius has chosen a color scheme for Arataki’s control buttons—black symbols on a dark grey background—that makes it very hard to see what function a button performs. And Arataki’s screen layout wastes lots of screen space for cosmetic purposes, space that could make the information displayed easier to read. For example, there’s a 3⁄4" border around the two windows that comprise the app. Even on a 10" iPad3 screen, I found it difficult to read Arataki’s information. Also, some of the albums I loaded onto the NAS just didn’t show up at all in the album view window. To be fair, this problem sometimes occurs with other servers’ album views. Several servers provide folder views, which lets you view the files like a folder on your computer. This view shows all the music files on the drive. So I had a problem: To evaluate the sound of the Tiki, I needed to listen to music with which I was familiar, and, after I copied the music files to the NAS, some of those files didn’t show up on Arataki’s screen so I could select them.

ELyric to the rescue. Its user interface was more fully developed than Arataki’s, on a par with other control apps I’ve used. Thankfully, eLyric has a folder view that let me see most, though not all, of the files I loaded onto the NAS. So I wound up using eLyric for most of my critical listening. I also found eLyric’s operational controls more flexible, although that’s a personal reaction. The eLyric app has a few quirks of its own; after you make a playlist and start it playing, when the iPad turns off its screen to conserve battery power, the playlist stops working. You’ll need to set your iPad to never turn off its screen, which rapidly drains the battery. Be sure to reset the iPad to turn off after a short wait when you finish using it as remote control. Even though I use a PC with Windows 7 installed as one of my servers, I usually rip CDs to Apple’s AIFF format. Unfortunately, eLyric didn’t display the AIFF files I had uploaded to the NAS, so even though the Tiki will play those files, eLyric can’t queue them up in a playlist. Arataki will display and play AIFF files—if it can find them.

I placed the Tiki on a shelf on my equipment rack. I connected the analog outputs of the Tiki’s internal DAC to my linestage with Audience Au24 e balanced interconnects, and used an Audience powerChord e to provide power. The Tiki was already broken in, but for around 100 hours I played music over the network, with the Tiki driving the linestage.

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