This is a review summary written by Terry Ellis December 2021
For the full review please see my YouTube video linked here
45 years in the making
The Melco N10 is the Japanese high end hifi manufacturers flagship product, termed a Music Library other manufacturers call their equivalent products Music Servers for reference purposes. The 45th anniversary model speaks for itself as to why it exists, Melco was formed in 1975 but what does it offer over the standard version. Firstly exclusivity, there are only 50 anniversary N10 in existence so its a very limited edition HiFi component. Secondly the internal hard drive is upgraded to 5 TB from 3TB, very significant if you own or buy a lot of CD’s. Lastly and probably the most obvious difference is the colour Champagne Gold a throw back to Japanese HiFi design trends from the 70s and in the flesh its a nice colour, quite understated and a nice change from black and silver.
There is a price difference too the N10 costs £6999 and the anniversary N10 costs £7499 so a £500 premium, this initially seems a lot for a larger hard drive and different colour, although the value proposition depends on how much storage you really need straight away because the Melco E100 3 TB expansion unit costs £1149.
Are two better than one
The N10 is a dual half width chassis design separating all the important and sensitive digital circuitry in the head unit from the power source a low noise linear power supply. The two units connect together with an included cable. I think Melco have designed the N10 units to be placed side by side as two halves make a whole but I prefer the look of them when you stack them, I think it strengthens their visual status and as a bonus takes up less rack space like this too. There are no real heat issues to worry but some audiophiles might not feel comfortable placing digital circuits so close to power supplies so each to their own on the setup choice.
There is no real choice when it comes to connections though, the N10 is a wired Lan connection only unit, no WiFi or Bluetooth here. There is a second wired Lan connection for feeding a network player of DAC and then three USB ports, two are multi use and one is for sending the digital music signal to a DAC. I am fine with this because I feel this is the best way to go for sound quality but some may miss the convenience of WiFi.
Simple-ish to use complex behind the scenes
On the front of the N10 are 4 control buttons that allow you to scroll through the various menu options, most of which are obvious, some are semi obvious and some definitely require reading the manual. The black and white OLED screen is simple but effective and I don’t mind it because beyond looking at it to set up the N10 its a not screen you really need to see, however its not a large high resolution colour screen that some rival manufacturers are offering on streamers costing a lot less so its a worthy point of buyer consideration. I am sure you could make an argument the larger colour screen draws more power, might create more noise and no screen would be the best option for sound quality even if not as initially appealing.
The N10 is relatively straight forward to use but where its clever is behind the scenes, Melco have licenced versions of SongKong for metadata tagging and Minimserver for library management to give the user the best music cataloguing and searching experience. The accurate collection and management of metadata is crucial for you being able to find the right music in a library of potentially thousands of CD’s. This becomes even more important with classical or larger compilations CD’s where there metadata becomes very complex across the different categories of information collected. Melco have that covered which will make their Music Libraries stand out for audiophiles with a lot classical music.
If not Roon then what
The N10 is Roon ready, and there is a menu option to select and a few moments later its ready for use as I assume certain configuration changes are made. If your not a Roon customer you could control the N10 with any UPnP application like BubbleUPNP on Android but on IOS you can use Melco’s Music HD app and this is likely to be the preferred option.
Using my 2021 5th Gen Ipad Pro the Music HD app experience felt split into two halves, starting with the navigation of music stored internally on the 5Tb hard drive. The review unit was sent to me with 29% of its memory filled with 2118 albums so a lot music and initially selecting to browse “albums” following a few seconds of loading all the album information appeared straight away but the album arts loaded bit by bit. I assume these were being buffered as later visiting the same selection the album art was already there, so the N10 experience gets better the more you use it. However searching alternative categories like “Decade” or “Genre” again there is some loading and the album art is populated on a slight delay. By loading time I am talking about a few seconds here so not very long in the grander scheme of things but I do feel if all of this appearing instantly it would obviously be better.
Beyond this its a very easy to navigate around app, its straight forward to play albums or individual tracks, build play lists skip tracks or adjust the volume. All working in an obvious way with the learning curve of the app being minimal. One thing I would have preferred is for less text and larger album art, I am a visual creature and prefer my music library to work like that so hopefully this is something Melco can add in the future.
Switching to Qobuz as the music source and the app experience I think changed for the better. Firstly all the album art is displayed larg just how I wanted it to be and everything is lightning fast and near instant. You can select between your favourite albums, Qobuz playlists or anything else and everything feels responsive and quick. This is one obvious highlight downside to the Music HD app experience the separating of your own music from your cloud based streaming service favourites. The better control apps I have tried combine these into one larger library so the user experience is more seamless.
All in all the Melco Music HD app does a good job, is very easy to use and most importantly is totally usable but could be better.
But what does it sound like
I am very conscious that when listening to a digital source of course you are always hearing it through the lens of the DAC it is connected to, in my case that was Music Audio’s flagship Aquarius R2R DAC. I feel the Melco offers a “reference” level sound quality which sounds exciting as a phrase but what does that mean. For me it means the N10 delivers the exact sound quality you would expect from a high end digital source so a clean clear sound that is harshness free, the timing is excellent, the sound stage is excellent for its layering, organisation and space. There is good musicality with very good vocals, bass and treble, sonically the N10 doesn’t put a foot wrong so a reviewer could use it as a reference source to judge others against.
I think its important to clarify that I am not stating its the best sounding product of its kind, I cant possibly know that, however I feel the N10 performs at a high enough level to make it a tough job for other similar devices to sound better and if they do they are exceptionally good.
I like the Melco N10, I appreciate its simplicity with serious attentions to lots of important details paid in order for it to perform and sound the way it does, I know these make all the difference. I think if you have a large CD collection and want to easily access and play it combined with high quality cloud based music streaming the N10 is a compelling proposition even at its price point. However I find the 45th anniversary model harder to recommend because of the price difference, I feel the regular N10 offers better value unless of course you need the extra hard drive storage, really love the colour gold or just want to own something that is rare and therefore that little bit extra special.
A great introduction
At £8090 the DMS-700 is a serious chunk of money and of course that means it has a number of competitors offering the same or even more specifications and features and there are much more affordable alternatives that offer a better app experience. In saying that I think the big draw for the Cary DMS-700 will be its sound quality and sound character and synergy with the rest of the system. There is definitely something to be said for a musical sounding digital source for making listening more gratifying.
An Essential Audition Award is granted in recognition of a products high performance but with a certain uniqueness that makes auditioning even more essential.
For the full Specification of the Melco N10 45th Anniversary
See the website here