Streaming music over your home network is a great way to enjoy a collection once it is ripped to any kind of storage device. For many of us this could be a (dedicated) computer, a hard drive, a NAS or a music server. Playback could be in one location only or in multiple rooms with as many streamers as you like. I use a combination of storage and digital music player in my main room, with streamers in other rooms as well, which sounds a little better than streaming music from a NAS to the same players over Ethernet. Probably because this NAS was not made for music, it could service a small office for data storage, email services or maintaining VPN connections. So a dedicated music storage server should be better, and this sort of device can be upgraded as the Japanese prove.
The server under review is made by Fidata, part of the I-O Data Corporation a manufacturer of data storage solutions since 1975. Fidata claims that development of the HFAS1 music server took years of listening and fine tuning before it was ready for the audio market. On the outside it looks very simple with just one button on the front and a multicolour LED. The back is just as simple with a power inlet, two Ethernet ports, only one USB connection and a recessed reset button. The casing is made out of aluminium (4mm thick top cover) and copper (2.3mm bottom) to minimise vibration and keep out RF radiation that can increase noise. Inside the HFAS1 aluminium frames separate the power supplies from the electronic circuits and the SSD drives. The 850EVO 500GB drives are sourced from Samsung and use 3D-NAND flash memory. These don’t have any mechanical parts so are ideally suited for use in your listening room, albeit there’s more to differentiating drives for music than mechanical noise. Two dedicated TDK-Lambda 50W power supplies are in use, one for the storage blocks and one for the system, tuned and refined for audio with special capacitors. Separated power supplies keep the system electronics free from noise generated by the storage devices, both use the copper base plate as single-point ground configuration. The circuit for audio data is clocked with a vacuum-type oscillator with low phase characteristics, this also limits clock jitter on the network.
The HFAS1-S10U provides two LAN ports, one for connecting the unit to your network the other for direct connection to a streamer without the need for a switch or hub. The two LAN ports incorporate LEDs showing the data rate and data transfer, but you might want to disable these to minimize noise. This can be done in the setup software, which is very easy to use and lets you import, backup and secure your music, configure discs for RAID1 (which halves storage space), set up the system parameters, the media server settings, etc. The media server software is a tweaked version of Twonky 7 running on Linux and using UPnP/DNLA or OpenHome to play gapless music over the USB port direct into a DAC, or stream it over Ethernet to DNLA-compliant or other devices. Twonky Server 7 adds support for DSD (DFF and DSF) files at bitrates of up to 11.2MHz and PCM (WAV and FLAC) files at bitrates up to 32-bit/384kHz resolution. The HFAS1's implementation of Twonky Server is designed for use in audio applications and comes configured to distribute high-resolution album art in its standard configuration. The navigation tree facilitates a large number of music files either stored on the HFAS1 internal discs or on connected peripherals like USB hard drives.
Fidata has a list of supported and tested network players and DACs on its website, from my own experience they can add both Bluesound and NAD as players and Metrum Acoustics for USB DACs. With my music copied from a NAD M52 Vault to the internal drives of the HFAS1 I was able to play all PCM file formats over my NAD M50 network player, my Bluesound Node 2 and Pulse 2 and through the USB inputs of Metrum Acoustics Pavane Level 2 and Adagio DACs. Connections were made with AudioQuest cables: Vodka Ethernet running direct between HFAS1 and M50, Carbon and Vodka Ethernet to reach other rooms (via switches) and Carbon USB plugged into my DAC.
Normally it is rather easy to describe what the differences are between components and how the systems react to changes, but this time with the Fidata HFAS1 I find this very hard. For sure I can hear that the system presentation has altered for the better, in terms of a more relaxed sound. Or take for instance a ripped Blu-ray of Adele’s concert in the Royal Albert Hall. Listening to the clapping and singing of the public I suddenly hear what the front rows are doing separate from the rest. They are closest to the microphones on stage and become an entity themselves, no longer part of the mass of people behind them. Is this important, I think not. However, translate this to an orchestra or even to a solo instrument and there is no doubt that these tiny details and micro-dynamics also appear. Meaning we are at least one step closer to reality. Another example is the latest album from Agnes Obel Citizen of glass and the track ‘Familiar’. Played over USB the sound is clearer, more open, and more fun but tonally the same, a very different experience compared to changing speakers, amps or even DACs. It is the total experience of enjoying music that alters for the better on USB. And remember I am not a fan of USB, nor of UPnP and DNLA, I love Apps like those from Bluesound because they always work, are easy to use and I am familiar with them. Switching back to the M50/M52 combination after a full re-index I am able to compare the HFAS1 over USB with my usual combination. This time I play The London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Bernard Haitink with works from Brahms, his ‘Serenade No. 2’. Compared to the M50/M52 the HFAS1 over USB is clearer, somewhat lighter in tone, with finer details on hand and yes it’s a little bit more involving and enjoyable. On a blind AB test I could certainly tell which combination was playing, but I wonder could I tell which combination it is the following day, with only one device on? I would have to listen carefully to the slightly larger and deeper stereo image, the separation of instruments, small things that add up to be more than the sum of the parts. Anyway, in my direct AB test, under all circumstances, the Fidata HFAS1 is the better although more expensive choice for the best results overall. But do not expect wonders if your digital storage/player is already a very good one. That said I still find it hard to ship the Fidata back to the distributor after intense use over several weeks.
The question to be answered is not should you invest in a Fidata HFAS1-S10U but could you invest this sum of money to store your music collection on SSD drives. From my experience with music servers, hard discs, NAS solutions and dedicated NAD/Bluesound storage, the Fidata came out as the very best solution. Both over Ethernet to my players and directly into my DAC over USB. I even preferred the combination of Fidata/NAD M50 over my NAD M52(USB)/M50 player. Both being topped when the Fidata is feeding my Metrum DAC direct with data on USB. The HFAS1 reduces the amount of background noise and digital artefacts that you may have never noticed before. This results in additional micro-dynamics, finer detail, a slightly deeper stereo stage and a more relaxed overall performance. The direct connection of HFAS1 to DAC shows all these advantages too but to a greater extent. A warning to those who are used to the ease of dedicated Apps: the Fidata depends on UPnP/DNLA or OpenHome Apps from third parties when used with Twonky Server, sometimes these are good but more often they lack a friendly and extended user interface. You also have to dig deep in your pocket for very good equipment surrounding the HFAS1 to be able to profit from the investments in time and money that the designers at Fidata spent creating it. But it pays off in the end and adds a small but very important amount to your listening pleasure.
Supported OS: Windows 10, 8.1, 8, 7 (32- / 64-bit), OS X 10.7 to 10.11
Supported browsers: Internet Explorer 9 / 10 / 11. Microsoft Edge 25, Safari 6 / 7 / 8 / 9
Smartphone supported OS: iOS 7.0.4 ~ 9.3.1, Android 4.1 ~ 6.0.1
Supported file formats (extensions): WAV, AIFF, AIF, M4A, FLAC (PCM/PCM conversion), DFF, DSF (DoP [native DSP] ), MP3, AAC, OGG (PCM conversion)
Supported sample rates: PCM format (44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176.4 kHz, 192 kHz, 352.8 kHz, 384 kHz), DSD format (DoP) (2.8 MHz, 5.6 MHz, 11.2 MHz)
Output formats: PCM format (16-bit, 24-bit, 32-bit), DSD format (DoP) (1-bit)
LAN interface: 1000BASE-T / 100BASE-TX / 10BASE-T
USB port: USB2.0
Networking: UPnP AV, DLNA 1.5
Supply voltage: AC100V-240V 50/60Hz
Power consumption: Rated for 25 W
Dimensions WxDxH: Approx. 350 x350 x 64mm
Weight: Approx. 6 kg
Operating temperature range: 5℃ to 35℃
Operating humidity range: 20% to 85% (non-condensing)
Accessories: Power cords (3 types), user manual
Product warranty: 2 years from date of purchase
I-O DATA Device Inc
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