ELAC Discovery Series DS-S101-G Music Server
Input: Ethernet. WiFi, USB (USB storage), AirPlay
Output: Coax S/PDIF (24/192), Toslink (24/192), 2x unbalanced RCA pairs (separate Zones), Roon Endpoints
Dimensions (W x H x D): 8-1/4" x 1-7/8" x 4-5/16"
Availability: Online and through authorized dealers
All-In-One With A Twist
The ELAC Discovery is a one-box solution for people looking to turn their digital music collection, streamed and stored, into analog while using Roon to control playback. The Discovery handles gapless playback and PCM resolutions up to 24-bit/192kHz (WAV, AIFF, FLAC, ALAC, OGG, MP3, AAC) while offering two analog outputs + WiFi for multi-room(s) audio. Here's the twist: Discovery runs on Roon Essentials, which negates the need for a separate device running Roon Server/Core, and Roon Essentials is included in the Discovery's price.
What this means is when comparing the ELAC Discovery to other Roon-based solutions, you need to take into account the cost of Roon ($499/lifetime) and the device Roon Server/Core runs on into your overall Roon solution cost. Remote control of the Discovery can be via a computer, iOS, or Android device.
Inside Discovery resides a Quad Core ARM9 Processor running at up to 1.2Ghz, 512MB of storage for the OS, 8GB of flash memory for meta data storage, and Cirrus Logic CS4398 DAC’s (24-Bit/192kHz) with Burr Brown op-amps. There are two linear power supplies, one for each set of analog outputs.
Connecting Discovery is as simple as plugging in a network-connected Ethernet cable (required), connecting up your output of choice, and powering it up. You'll need to be running Roon Essentials on your remote control device of choice and once done, just tell the Roon app where your music is stored, your login info for Tidal HiFi (if applicable), and which output to play through. Total time: minutes or much less time than trying to figure out how to load MinumServer on your NAS.
To my way of thinking, most Discovery shoppers will want to use its analog outputs since they are paying for them. So that's how I used Discovery the majority of the time it was here. Its analog outputs were connected to my Ayre AX-5's inputs, while the Ayre drove the DeVore gibbon X. I streamed music from my NAS and USB storage to the Discovery. To my way of thinking, most Discovery users will be happier with the latter approach as it's simple and it works.
Since the Discovery is also multi-room ready, offering two analog outputs which can be run as separate Zones or 'Grouped' as well as the ability to add additional Zones/Roon Endpoints and AirPlay-enabled devices, you can think of a USB drive directly attached to a Discovery as network attached storage for your Discovery network. Note: you can only run one instance of Roon on your network at a time so you cannot run Roon Server/Core on another device in addition to running Roon Essentials on the Discovery. Also Note: the Discovery allows you to connect to other Roon Endpoints, e.g. Sonore microRendu.
When I first received the Discovery some months ago, Roon Essentials limited your library size to 15,000 tracks. This has since been updated/upgraded to a 30,000 track-limit (combination of Personal and Tidal Content that has been added to your library) via firmware update. If you are just starting out with computer-based audio and plan to rip your CDs and buy downloads, 30,000 tracks is a lot of music.
I like looking at Discovery's aluminum-wrapped lozenge-shape adorned with a square white LED dead bottom center and the shiny ELAC logo up top. That's it; no buttons, knobs, or display leading many-a-visitor to ask, "What is it? What does it do?" I like it when something looks like that.
I tend to harp on music discovery as the raison d'etre for hi-fi along with enjoyment. In me experience, the more we enjoy our listening time, the more we are inclined to discover. It is also the case that the quality of our listening experience, and by experience I mean experience, not some abstract notion of the quality of sound, directly informs the whole shebang. The ELAC Discovery allowed me to easily get seduced into discover-mode.
As an all-in-one Roon Server/Endpoint/DAC, the Discovery delivered the experiential goods. As regular readers know all-too-well, Roon is by far my preferred interface to digital music and the Essentials variant doesn't really feel any different from Roon proper. I did not hit the track-limit so for all intents and purposes it did not exist, for me. Looks, sound, and interface joined forces to lead to hours upon hours of enjoyment.
The Discovery is a fine music maker. Music sounds rich and full, never bright or unnaturally sharp, and overall I kept thinking...smooth. Its tonal character is ever so slightly on the dark side, which translate as a warm, rich sound. There's also a nice weight to the sound picture, a heft and drive that keeps things moving.
Armed with a small bevy of remotes, OK two, I was able to compare the Discovery's analog output to its digital output running through my totaldac as well as the totaldac getting its digits from my microRendu (remember, the Discovery supports Roon Endpoints, too!). Overall, I preferred the microRendu/totaldac combo but whether running the totaldac from the Discovery's digital out (Toslink or Coax) or running straight Discovery all the way through to the Ayre, music was convincing and inviting.1
In other words, the Discovery as everything did not sound like a huge sonic letdown from the totaldac. Of course differences we there for the hearing including a richer, better lit, and bigger and more striking sound through the totaldac, but the important takeaway for me is the Discovery gets you a very important part of the way there.
For a more level playing field I plugged the AudioQuest DragonFly Red into the microRendu and was presented with a more lit up sound as compared to the Discovery's analog output where music felt more alive and punchy. I'm not talking about night and day differences or even good and bad differences, rather subtle shifts in sound that may or may not matter to you, your system, and your room. All told, I kept thinking—Wow, all of this sounds really good and I'm using the Discovery to make it all work; no server or computer needed.
Discover The Discovery
If I was just starting out, I'd also be thinking—Wow, I can get the Discovery, attach a USB drive to it, plug it into my hi-fi, and play music. When, if, I decide to add music to others rooms, I can get another Discovery or any Roon Endpoint, plug & play. When, if, I want to juice up the performance of a Discovery I can go digital out to my DAC-O-Choice.
Then again, you can get the Discovery, plug it into your hi-fi, play music, and live happily ever after.
1 After the review period, I reconnected the review sample Sound Galleries music server SGM 2015 ($16,000) which fed my totaldac and it's worth noting that this combination bettered the Discovery/totaldac by a fairly wide margin.
Also in-use during the Discovery review: AudioQuest DragonFly Red, Sonore microRendu