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

Sound

The Tiki sounded harmonically rich and dynamically robust. Frequency response was extended. On Jennifer Warnes’ CD The Well, the song “The Panther” has a variety of percussion instruments that produce lots of high-frequency information. A system with overemphasized highs can sound a bit brittle on this piece. The Tiki presented the high frequencies with no peakiness or edge—no digital nastiness here. Argento’s “For the Angel, Israfel,” played by Eiji Oue and the Minnesota Orchestra on Reference Recordings’ 30th Anniversary Sampler, opens with delicate strikes on orchestral chimes, which were detailed without any edge; however, through the Tiki I could tell that each of the chime strikes was louder than the one before. I’ve never heard that effect before, so obviously the Tiki was capable of resolving very slight differences in microdynamics.

Remember when digital recordings of stringed instruments sounded like fingernails dragging across a blackboard? Neither do I, but I do remember when digital recordings of strings sounded somewhat bleached and threadbare. The Tiki belied that impression, sounding sweet and harmonically dense with stringed instruments. On Rachel Podger and arte dei suonatori’s recording of Vivaldi’s La Stravaganza (192/24 FLAC, Channel Classics), the sound of the strings was delicate and harmonically complete, disproving the notion that digital string sound has to be unpleasant.

The Tiki’s bass had plenty of weight and detail. I’ve heard a few DACs with a bit more low-frequency extension, but the Tiki’s low-frequency performance was solid. You don’t normally expect to hear deep bass on early music recordings, but on Jordi Savall’s music from the CD La Folia 1490-1701 [Alia Vox], the bass drum extends down into the mid-40Hz range. The Tiki did a respectable job of reproducing both the frequency extension and the detail of the bass drum. On the cut “Folia Rodrigo Martinez,” it was obvious that the Tiki accurately tracked the continuously varying microdynamics, allowing the music to sound more expressive. You could tell the musicians were having a terrific amount of fun playing the piece.

Already on the NAS was a recording of The Tallis Scholars’ “Allegri Miserere,” which I assumed was ripped from CD Gimell’s Allegri Miserere. This a cappella choral setting of Psalm 51 has the singers arranged in two groups within a church. The larger main group has several singers placed at the front of the soundstage, while a small solo group is located well behind the main choral singers. A good measure of a component’s ability to reproduce depth is provided by comparing the main group of singers with the more distant solo group. Through the Tiki, the solo group sounded appropriately distant, but was a bit nebulous, slightly fuzzy. I’ve heard them sound slightly more focused.

Comparison

A computer-based music server uses a standard computer running a server program to perform the server functions. Music files may be stored on the computer’s internal drive or externally. For comparison to the Tiki, I used a Hewlett-Packard dv7-3188cl laptop computer running 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium, and the Windows server program J. River Media Center. J. River plays back WAV, AIFF, FLAC, ALAC, and a host of other PCM file formats. It also plays DSD files with a compatible DAC. My HP laptop is connected to my Audio Research DAC8 DAC via a WireWorld Platinum Starlight USB cable, which was everything Alan Taffel said it was [see Golden Ear Awards this issue—Ed.]. So whereas the Tiki puts all the hardware (except the NAS) in one box, my server consisted of two boxes (the computer and the DAC) plus an expensive USB cable. Although J. River has a beautiful user interface, the computer is tethered to the DAC by a relatively short cable, so I used an iPad app called JRemote to remotely control J. River. JRemote lacks a folder view, but its album view displays almost every music file on the server. J. River itself has a folder view, as well as an amazing ability to capture cover art from a wide variety of sources, art that’s then displayed on JRemote. You’ll see very few cover art placeholders. It also displays the sampling rate of the music file being played.

J. River can be adjusted to provide excellent sound quality. For some, that’s a drawback: To get the best sound quality, you have to adjust J. River properly, whereas with a prefab server like the Tiki all the adjustments necessary for best sound have already been made, giving you a plug-and-play unit. The cost of my digital playback system, including the server, cable, and the DAC, was around $6360. That’s nearly $2000 more than the Tiki/ eLyric system, although that price doesn’t include the cost of the NAS and the router, which you may already have. If you have to buy a NAS and a router, they could cost $500–$700, maybe more, depending on the capacity of the drives you choose. I’m currently using one of my laptop’s internal drives to store music files, but that’s nearly full, so I’ll be exploring more capacious options soon.

Through the computer server, “The Panther’s” high frequencies were hard to distinguish from the Tiki’s. The Tiki made the microdynamic differences on “For the Angel, Israfel” more distinct, though; on my system, they sounded essentially equally loud. Remember when I said “I’ve heard a few DACs with a bit more low-frequency extension?” Well, the Audio Research DAC8 was one of those DACs. On “Folia Rodrigo Martinez” the DAC8 produced noticeably deeper bass with more slam, and just as much detail as the Tiki. Leading-edge transients seemed better defined by a slight margin.

I tried to compare the DAC8’s performance on “Allegri Miserere,” but I had replaced my 44.1/16 rip with a 96/24 FLAC version downloaded from Gimmell, which absolutely stomped the 44.1/16 rip. In my experience, one of the most audible advantages of a high-resolution music file is a better-defined soundstage, which the 96/24 version displayed in spades. It also had higher definition and clarity, so that I could better hear how each individual singer sounded. But although interesting, this was not a fair comparison. Oh, yes, the hi-res version’s channel balance was also better, though that’s why we have balance controls. Or at least some of us do.

Bottom Line

Excellent sound, drop-dead looks, a quality built-in DAC—what more can you ask for? Well, in today’s market, you can ask for and expect an easy-to-use user interface, and while serviceable, Arataki 1.2 doesn’t measure up to other control apps I’ve tried. Arataki is constantly being upgraded and may someday be competitive with other remote-control apps, but as of the time of the review it made using the Tiki a tad harder than other servers I’ve tried. Fortunately, PS Audio’s eLyric Controller resolved most of my objections to Arataki. It’s weird to recommend part of a server system from one manufacturer, and another part from a different manufacturer, but if I didn’t do that I would be unable to give the Tiki a strong recommendation. Besides, if Plinius recommends eLyric, why shouldn’t I?

The Tiki itself sounded excellent. It had no trouble playing all commercially available PCM files I loaded onto its NAS, including 192/24 FLAC files. And while I personally would prefer the upgradeability that a digital output provides, I suspect most people will really appreciate that the Tiki has an excellent built-in DAC, which won’t need to be upgraded for some time. Like all Plinius gear, the Tiki’s looks are just smashing—a welcome change from the typical box-with-a-thick-faceplate styling of most components. The Tiki will grace any equipment rack, looking right at home beside the highest-end equipment, and providing high-resolution sound that’s easy on the ears. I hope Plinius upgrades the Arataki Media Controller to make an all-Plinius system easier to use.

SPECS & PRICING

File formats: AIF, WAV, FLAC, MP3
Bit rates: 16 and 24-bit
Sampling rates: 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192kHz PCM files
Outputs: Analog balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (RCA); no digital output
Inputs: RJ-45 Ethernet
Internal storage capacity: None
External storage: On network attached storage (NAS) drive connected via network
Optical drive included: No
Operating system: ThreadX
Remote control: Yes, via user provided Apple iPad
Dimensions: 17.75" x 3.5" x 15.75"
Weight: 12 lbs.
Price: $4495

PLINIUS USA (U.S. DISTRIBUTOR)
3439 NE Sandy Boulevard #128
Portland, OR 97232
(503) 662-8210
pliniususa@gmail.com