Weiss MAN301DAC Music Archive Network Player

Device Type: Media Server/DAC/CD Player
Input: 1x AES/EBU, 1x Toslink S/PDIF, 1x Coax S/PDIF, 1x Ethernet, 2x Firewire 800, 1x BNC Word Clock
Output: 1x AES/EBU, 1x Coax S/PDIF, 1x USB, 2x FireWire, 1x BNC Word Clock, 1 pair RCA, 1 pair XLR
Dimensions (W x D x H): 11 1/2" x 17 3/4" x 3"
Availability: through Authorized Dealers
Price: $12,262 as reviewed with DAC, $9,083 for the Network Player-only version
Website: www.weiss.ch
US Retailer Website: www.simplifiaudio.com

Integrita Audiophile Music Server
Device Type: Network Attached Storage (NAS)
Input: 1x Gigabit Ethernet, 1x USB 3.0, 1x eSATA
Capacity: 10TB total storage 6TB usable storage as reviewed (RAID Level 6)
Hard Drive Type: 5x SATA-II AV super silent hard drives certified for 24/7 continuous operation
Dimensions: 425w x 370d x 140h (mm)
Weight: 11.3kg
Color Options: black or silver
Price (Prices based on a 1.20 Swiss Francs to Euro exchange rate): 2.5TB (1.5TB useable) $3,870, 5.0TB (3.0TB useable) $4,470, 10.0TB (6.0TB useable) $5,435
Website: integrita.de/en
US Retailer Website: www.simplifiaudio.com

The Weiss MAN301DAC Music Archive Network Player wraps everything you need, minus music storage and the mandatory iPad and associated app, into one very smart, clean, and simple box. A lone slot drive adorns its minimalist front panel along with an on/off button and blue LED. The hardware not even hinting at all of the functionality offered by the software inside. The review sample is the DAC version which essentially stuffs a Weiss DAC202 ($6,470) inside for a one box solution. Just add music.

The MAN301, which is an Intel ITX based computer with 4GB of RAM, a 40GB SSD for the Ubuntu Linux OS, functions as a digital-only preamp, music server, network player, and CD player/ripper. The MAN301DAC can handle most popular file formats including WAV, FLAC, AIFF, ALAC, WMA, etc. and with a recent firmware update it also supports single and double rate DSD. The MAN301 also supports gapless playback.

Control of the MAN301DAC is strictly done through the MAN iPad app and the MAN301 comes with a very thorough 100+ page iBook user manual available for free from the Weiss website (WeissMAN.ibooks). For the purposes of this review I'm going to give you a very basic functional overview of the workings of the MAN301 and for those interested in more info, I'd recommend downloading the free user manual and giving it the once over.

Since the review sample came preconfigured and also included the Integrita Audiophile Music Server (its a NAS) from Germany, I did not have to go through the basic setup functions that a normal user would. I did add one of my NAS devices to the MAN301 which was simple and self-explanatory. So for me, I just plugged in the MAN301, connected it to my network with an AudioQuest Ethernet cable, connected the review loaner Integrita NAS to my network, and powered everything on. It's worth highlighting that you can have multiple NAS devices connected to the MAN301 as well as multiple user accounts, each having access to all or just specific NAS devices or even to specific directories within a given NAS. This provides a very flexible setup environment for a family, for example, where Dad can have access to all of his audiophile recordings while the rest of the family just sees their real music. With the ability to connect to multiple NAS devices, there is no real limit to the size of the music library the MAN301 can handle.

Once set up, there are two main modes of operation; preamplifier mode and network player mode. While in preamp mode, you have access to common preamp setup functions as well as DAC setup options (if you have the DAC version) including input and output selection, "Coarse Analog Output Level" (0, -10, -20, -30dB), digital volume trim (on/off), filter selection (steep or gentle slope), and polarity (normal/inverted). The Weiss' three-part volume control requires some clarification so I asked Daniel Weiss to explain:

The gain is made with three gain cells in series:
  • An analog gain stage with 4 coarse gain selections, spaced at 10dB, switched via relays
  • a digital gain stage for fine trimming the gain within the 10dB gain step [available in network player mode]
  • the main fader in the digital domain
There's also a White Paper on the Weiss website for more info: Digital Level Control.

For this review I mainly used my Pass INT-30A's volume control and set the Weiss to its max levels and 0dB for the analog gain stage and there seemed to be a slight softening with the Pass handling volume levels as compared to the MAN301DAC.

Once your preamp settings are set, its time to play. Every music server lives and dies by its control application and if this aspect of a given music server is at all cumbersome or hard to handle, you may as well scrap it and stick to iTunes. I'm happy to report that the Weiss App for the MAN301 is a winner on all counts. The sheer number of playback options are mind boggling so I'll just touch on a few here.

If you recall that slot drive, you can use the MAN301 as a CD player or CD ripper. Ripping a CD could not be simpler. Just stick your CD in the slot and click on it in the MAN app once it shows up, then select Import once the metadata shows up. You can also add/edit metadata on the fly. The location for your ripped CDs is defined in the initial setup but this can be changed easily in the Preferences settings that appear during ripping. The Preferences setting is also where you select the destination file format. Weiss recommends FLAC and ALAC but there are other choices including WAV and AIFF. Each of the CDs I ripped had associated metadata from MusicBrainz, FreeDB, and Gracenote including the correct cover art. If you don't like the cover art selected, you just have to hold your finger on the album cover and the Weiss software automatically brings up other options where available from Gracenote, MusicBrainz, and Google. Nice. You can also just Play a CD instead of ripping it.

If you have a NAS-full of music, I had two, playback of files is simple and very straight forward and is based on the notion of a playback Queue. First off there are a few ways to view your music collection—by Artist, Album, Compilations, Genres, Recently Played, and Recently Added. If you select "Albums", an alphabetical list along with cover art of every album shows up. For each view, a vertically oriented alpha-numeric display shows up on the right side of the screen so you can jump to a specific beginning letter or number of an album title. To play an entire album immediately, just tap its cover art. To add an entire album to the playlist queue, just tap on its "+" symbol. To play individual tracks, tapping on the album name brings up its track listing and tapping on the album cover associated with a given track or its "+" symbol works the same as with album playback.

Once you have added music to the queue, you can move tracks around within the queue, delete some or all, immediately play any track in the queue by clicking on it, repeat one or all tracks in the queue, and even change how new tracks are added to the queue either to its beginning or end. There's also a Play/Pause control, volume level, and progress bar that allows you to skip ahead or back within the track during playback. The file type, sample rate, and file size of each track is displayed during playback.

There's also a very powerful Search feature that allows for multiple search criteria including Sample Rate, Year, File Size, Times Played, Track Number, File Format, Artist, Album, Title (track), and Album Artist. You can also search within search results and save your searches.

You can also create and save Playlists as well as edit metadata from the same screen. During playback, there are two main "views", one that shows all of the tracks of an album (if playing back an album) and one that shows the cover art and the current track info. If all of this sounds confusing, it really isn't when working the iPad app for yourself. I found the Weiss app to be very intuitive and easy to use and in terms of response time, it bettered the free iTunes Remote app which was accessing a much smaller music library. The combined libraries for the Integrita NAS and my MyBook NAS was about 1.5TB.

You can also play back Internet radio or Podcast sources through the MAN301. There are a few ways to add Internet Radio stations but the simplest is by using the Browse feature in the app which let's you Browse to the radio station's URL and then click "Add". Simple. Weiss is also looking into incorporating streaming services like MOG and Spotify but there's no date at present for this additional functionality. Daniel Weiss also shared the following future plans for the MAN301: "...adding the ability to update metadata based on the Gracenote database, adding room EQ facilities, adding creative EQ facilities, adding various algorithms for sonic treatments, like e.g. vinyl simulation."