What is a NAS & Why Do Computer Audiophiles Need One?
What: Readers unfamiliar with Network Attached Storage (NAS) can think of a NAS unit as one or more hard drives that connect to a home network instead of directly to a personal computer. Many times NAS units with several hard drives will combine the drives so they appear as a single large drive to other computers on the network. This large drive may appear on Windows computers in the My Computer area as the E:, F:, or other letter, drive just like the very familiar C: drive. On Mac computers a NAS drive simply appears on the desktop and in Finder. This is a very over-simplified description of Network Attached Storage and may not be used to answer an essay question on any school exam as you will fail miserably.
Why: Do computer audiophiles NEED a NAS device like the Synology DS411 Slim? According to most definitions1 of the word NEED they don't NEED a NAS. Many people are more comfortable with one, two, three, or more external drives hanging off their computer via USB, FireWire, or eSATA. Plus, access to the music contained on these individual drives is not required from another computer or device in the house. I completely understand why audiophiles select this method to store their music. There's nothing wrong with the piece of mind this method may provide to such users. A broader definition2 of NEED contains words such as "essential" and "very important". Cherry picking this broader definition above all others, it's easier to see many computer audiophiles' are in NEED of a NAS.
1. A need is something that is necessary for organisms to live a healthy life. Source: Wikipedia
2. Require (something) because it is essential or very important : I need help now | [with present participle ] this shirt needs washing | [with infinitive ] they need to win tomorrow.
Source: Apple Dictionary
I've used NAS devices for many years and recommend them to every computer audiophile who asks for disk storage advice. The most common feedback I receive after someone takes this advice is, "Why did I wait so long to get one of these? I can't live without it." Some basic uses of a NAS device for a computer audiophile include a single source of all digital entertainment (files) for all devices in the entire house, redundant disks protect against data loss, backup location for data contained on other hard drives, Apple Time Machine location, capacity to hold several terabytes (4, 5, 10, 14, and more) of data in one chassis with ease, ability to play music without the need for a traditional computer to be running, ability to store the device hundreds of meters away from the listening area, and many more that escape my mind at the moment. Using a NAS device ads a layer of complexity to the initial setup. I don't believe this added complexity is a good enough reason to not use a NAS. The local Geek Squad will be happy to setup a NAS for far less money than some of us have spent on downloads from HDtracks. Despite what the some readers may think, I still pay for my downloads. In fact I just purchased and downloaded Elvis Costello's North album at 24 bit / 88.2 kHz [Link] and placed it on the DS411 Slim NAS.
Is The Synology DS411 Slim Right For Computer Audiophiles?
Is the Synology DS411 Slim the right NAS for computer audiophiles? I believe it's the right NAS for many computer audiophiles but not every computer audiophile. Readers with music collections over 2.5 TB can rule this NAS out straight away. The current maximum size of 2.5" drives is 1 TB and the Slim can hold four such drives. Using RAID level 5 this equates to 3 TB of disk space and approximately 2793.96 TB of usable disk space. Readers without music collections of this size will be hard pressed to find reasons why the DS411 Slim may not be right for them. It's not impossible, but it's unlikely.
Quiet, inexpensive, and feature rich describe the Slim very well. I currently have the DS411 Slim sitting one arm's length from my desk chair and a few inches to the right of my Apple 24" display. Directly beneath my display is one Oyen Digital fanless 2.5" USB bus powered 750 GB hard drive [Link]. When both the Oyen drive and the Synology DS411 Slim are being accessed simultaneously the DS411 Slim NAS is much quieter than the Oyen drive. This does not mean the Oyen drive is loud. It's just a testament to how quiet the Slim operates. The Slim's smart fan can shut off during periods of little access and fires up to a fairly slow speed to dissipate heat when required. Subjectively the noise level is quiet enough for a computer audiophile's listening room. Objectively the noise level is, "21.1dB(A) when fully loaded with Seagate 320 GB ST9500325AS hard drive(s) in operation; Two G.R.A.S. Type 40AE microphones, each set up at 1 meter away from the DiskStation front and rear; Background noise: 17.2 dB(A); Temperature: 23.6°C; Humidity: 58.2%. More details about dB(A) value, check: http://www.memtechacoustical.com/facts.asp" according to Synology. The smart fan technology and small laptop sized 2.5" hard drives is a winning combination. If money were no object I would have installed four solid state drives and possibly disconnect the fan3 for absolutely silent operation. Maybe a CA reader will pull this configuration off and share the results with everyone.
3. Disconnecting the fan is not recommended by Synology.
The DS411 Slim is small in size and in price. I contacted Doug from Synology to inquire about price and availability. I was really surprised and thrilled to hear the DS411 Slim will sell for $309.99 (diskless). This is $60 cheaper than it's less capable predecessor the DS409 Slim and $150 cheaper than the price of the DS409 Slim the day it debuted on the market. A quick search at Newegg.com reveals the least expensive four-bay NAS unit is $50 more than the price of the DS411 Slim [Link]. The DS411 Slim will be available in the next few days from Newegg.com and shortly thereafter from only stores such as Amazon and Buy.com.
The rich feature set of the DS411 Slim is very attractive for computer audiophiles who will use it as a central media server. Access from Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux computers is supported without any caveats. Apple users should feel fortunate that the Slim supports Time Machine backups thus enabling them to leave the expensive Time Capsule at the Apple Store. The Slim is a fully compliant UPnP / DLNA media server capable of streaming to the PS Audio Perfect Wave DAC, Linn DS players, iPads, PS3s, and Microsoft's XBox360. I enabled UPnP support on the DS411 Slim and tested the functionality using J River Media Center 16 on a Windows 7 computer. I had no problems viewing and playing music stored on the Slim and outputting the audio to any device connected to my Windows 7 computer. The Slim can also serve as an iTunes server sharing content with computers running iTunes on a Mac or Windows PC. I tested this using iTunes version 10.1.2 (17) on my MacBook Pro running Mac OS X 10.6.6 without a single issue. Users of Logitech Squeezebox devices can also install the Squeezebox Server package, downloadable directly from Synology, to serve music right from the Slim to the Squeezebox. The Synology Audio Station feature offers users access to their music collections and Internet radio stations whether they are on the local home network or anywhere on Earth with a reasonable Internet connection. The Audio Station feature is also what allows USB audio output directly to some USB DACs. Thanks to an astute CA reader and confirmation from Synology I can report that the software only supports 16 bit audio for bit perfect playback. However, playback using this interface is less than desirable and will not be acceptable for many computer audiophiles.
The heart of the DS411 Slim, and all Synology NAS units, is the DiskStation Manager NAS operating system currently at version 3 (Version: DSM 3.0-1372; Build Date: 2010/12/14). In addition to the features listed above the Slim offers features such as multiple iSCSI LUN support, firewall, secure network access, eMule download service, BitTorrent support, email serving, web serving, print serving, and a host of energy saving options. I recommend readers browse the DSM 3 features on Synology's site for a much better explanation of everything the Slim supports [Link].
Without a doubt the Synology DS411 Slim is deserved of a spot on the C.A.S.H List. The Slim is so far from the big beast that is my five-drive Thecus N5200B Pro yet both are worthy of C.A.S.H List entries. It all depends on the needs of each computer audiophile. Quiet, inexpensive, and feature rich are attributes about which nobody should complain. The 21.1dB(A) noise level is about one decibel louder than a buzzing insect. The insect is annoying and possibly loud when located inside the ear canal. The DS411 Slim produces an opposite and enjoyable experience and although small will not fit inside one's ear canal. At an arm's length the Slim is quieter than a single external hard drive (fanless or not). Need I say more about the $309.99 price point Synology has hit from day one of the DS411 Slim's release? I think not. The Slim is full of more features than anyone will ever use. One beauty of the DSM 3 operating system is that all of them can be disabled. "Purist" Computer Audiophiles looking for a simple Network Attached Storage unit to serve music files to a Mac, PC, or Linux computer without all the bells and whistles couldn't ask for more. Ok maybe they could. This is high end audio after all and the DS411 Slim does not have an aircraft aluminum chassis with mother of pearl buttons and a silver plated Ethernet port. "Purist" hard core computer audiophiles, computer using music aficionados, and newbies looking for direction all NEED a NAS and the Synology DS411 Slim could easily meet this NEED.
- Price - $309.99
- Product Page - Link
- Manual - (PDF 7.0 MB)
- Quick Installation Guide - (PDF 1.8 MB)
- Data Sheet - (PDF 506 KB)