• Synology DS411 Slim Network Attached Storage (NAS) Review

    Sunday January 9 was the final day of the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Sundays at CES I usually head over to the main show floor at the Las Vegas Convention Center to meet most of the computer hardware and software company reps. This year was no exception. As usual the show floor was very crowded with people and full of every electronic product imaginable. Thanks to the developers of the CES iPhone app I found my way to the Synology booth to meet with Product Marketing Manager Douglas Self. While talking and perusing Synology's products I set eyes on a tiny Network Attached Storage (NAS) device capable of holding four 1 TB 2.5" hard drives. My first (over exaggerated) thought was, "where has this been all my life?" One month later the Synology DS411 Slim became part of my computer audio system and I fell in love with the device as much as someone can fall in love with an inanimate object. The incredibly practical DS411 Slim is very quiet, inexpensive, and full of features.



     

    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: Wikipedialink
    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]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]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]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]link.

     

    Conclusion

    CASH-ListWithout 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.

     



         


         


         




     


    Product Information





     

     

     
    Comments 64 Comments
    1. Audio_ELF's Avatar
      Audio_ELF -
      Chris, I don't think you've mentioned it in this review, nor in previous reviews of NAS devices, but an important consideration is how easy it is to create a backup of the NAS. Maybe you could comment on the facilities Synology include for backing up data stored on the NAS. <br />
      <br />
      Eloise
    1. netchord's Avatar
      netchord -
      Eloise, one powerful feature of many NAS arrays is the ability to use RAID, so that your data is in effect, always mirrored w/ other drives, and therefore backed up.<br />
      <br />
      the Drobo will allow one to hot-swap drives, w/o losing any data.<br />
      <br />
      of course, this is not a substitute for off-site backup.
    1. Audio_ELF's Avatar
      Audio_ELF -
      @netchord<br />
      <br />
      I'm completely aware of RAID and this is not a substitute for backup: on site or off. As you may (or may not) be aware RAID will only protect you from actual failure of a hard drive. This is by far the least common reason for data loss. The most common causes of data loss is (1) user error and (2) corruption caused by OS. <br />
      <br />
      My question re backup facilities are quite relevant (IMO) for instance some NAS devices can be set to sync to a second NAS or have 1 button to initiate a backup to a USB connected drive. I would be interested how these cope when your backup drive is smaller than your NAS (i.e. 2TB USB drives and 2.5TB on the NAS). <br />
      <br />
      Eloise
    1. zerung's Avatar
      zerung -
      Chris.<br />
      Are you using the NAS with your MAC? Does it do time machine, etc?
    1. Pegasus's Avatar
      Pegasus -
      Hi Eloise,<br />
      <br />
      I have an older model of the Synology 4-bay NAS (CS-407e), and I have an external drive connected to one of the USB ports on the device.<br />
      <br />
      I have an automated, incremental backup scheduled to the USB drive. I would be surprised if that feature is not included in this device - even though it is a "slim" version.<br />
      <br />
      You are, of course, completely correct in saying "RAID is not backup". I learnt that one the hard way
    1. Exeric's Avatar
      Exeric -
      A noob question on the general use of NAS drives. Since I'm using a windows system direct to DAC it is important to not connect it to the Internet because of virus issues. I don't want want to use anti virus software that uses computer resources. Would a NAS drive allow me to do that by either using a separate Mac or pc attached to the network and also to the Internet and having either iTunes, or preferably JRiver on pc and running anti virus software, installed on it?<br />
      <br />
      What would be required to set Up such a system. Thanks.
    1. 7worlds's Avatar
      7worlds -
      @Exeric,<br />
      <br />
      Your question raises some good points. When building a dedicated music server such as Chris's design for the C.A.P.S., or when using a dedicated PC for music playback, it's good to turn off unneeded computer processes. As long as you have no data on the music PC that cannot be replaced, I suppose you can leave off Anti-virus software. To actually block the PC from making any connections to the Net is a bit more complicated unless it is not connected to your *internal* network. If that is the case, it's also not connected to your NAS or your Net-connected download PC. There are ways to create a segmented network, but now we're getting into really complicated territory.<br />
      <br />
      From your question, I presume you have a home network with a router connecting to the Net. The router provides your first line of defense against attacks into your network. All traffic in and out goes through the router and the router plays the role of traffic cop. It is possible to configure the router and music PC to prevent the music PC from accessing the Internet. Here's the glitch: how will you keep Windows (and other software) up-to-date? Without doing so, your music server will become vulnerable to exploits that are easily prevented by staying up-to-date. <br />
      <br />
      A NAS is primarily a data storage device and a NAS will have much more data capacity than the typical PC or Mac. A NAS such as the DS411slim is also quiet and energy efficient and runs as a standalone file server so your other PC can be turned off when you don't need it and you'll still have access to your full music library via your music PC. <br />
      <br />
      The NAS is not an essential part of the chain for you. If you have sufficient capacity on your music PC, you can use the other PC to download music, scan it, and then copy it over to the music PC. <br />
      <br />
      As far as data backup goes, in IT, RAID is considered more of a data *integrity* measure. As Eloise noted, RAID protects you from a disk failure. In my experience, Synology products typically support connection of an external disk, either USB or eSATA, to which all or part of the NAS data can be backed up. For a large music collection, I suggest running RAID 1 on a 2-drive NAS or RAID 10 on a 4-drive, and having 2 external backup disks. One of these would be connected so that the Synology can periodically back up to it. The other is best kept in a safety deposit box at your bank. Swap these external disks from time to time, depending on how frequently you add music to your collection. <br />
      <br />
      For smaller volumes of music data, for those precious recordings you can't easily replace, and for your important personal data, also do an *encrypted* data backup to an online backup service. You would need *serious* data upload capability, not just an ADSL or cable modem, to consider uploading an entire large music collection to an online backup. Either that, or you would have to be very, very patient...<br />
      <br />
      @Eloise, many Synology NAS's have backup options that will backup locally, or to another Synology on your network, as well as r-sync and Amazon S3. See: http://www.synology.com/us/products/features/backup_server.php<br />
      The DS411slim isn't on the list yet, but I expect it will be.
    1. Exeric's Avatar
      Exeric -
      Thanks much, that pretty well answered my question.
    1. the monkey's Avatar
      the monkey -
      Thanks for the helpful review, Chris. I think it's time for me to go with a NAS instead of JBOD, so this is timely.<br />
      <br />
      How does the DS411 compare to your recently reviewed Synology DS710+?
    1. zerung's Avatar
      zerung -
      I could wait no longer.<br />
      I decided to go instead for the Synology DS411J. The slimline with its 2.5 disk was a premium to pay, the DS411J is more economical all around. <br />
      So in Raid5 config, the setup is as simple as it can be.The file transfer time is killing...<br />
      <br />
      I wonder why there is no firewire or other faster method of transferring the files on day one??<br />
      <br />
      http://www.synology.com/us/products/DS411j/index.php<br />
      <br />
      <img src="http://chung298.dyndns.org:82/ecshop/images/201101/goods_img/397_P_1294386034281.jpg" alt="DS411J" height="400"/><br />
    1. jookyon's Avatar
      jookyon -
      "This is by far the least common reason for data loss."<br />
      <br />
      Wrong. Hardware failure is the most common cause of data loss.<br />
      <br />
      75% of all data loss is hardware failure or human error (wikipedia), of which studies show that 40% of data loss is hardware failure compared to 29% for human error (http://gbr.pepperdine.edu/2010/08/the-cost-of-lost-data/).<br />
      <br />
      Google is your friend, don't spread misinformation.<br />
      <br />
      This is my only post.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi jookyon - I read that Pepperdine article and really question its validity in 2011 and the quality of the sources from back in 2003. Technological advances in hard drive longevity have increased dramatically over the years. Plus, the author himself said, <i>"Statistics on data loss are sparse."</i><br />
      <br />
      Can you find any recent and reliable source of this information? It would be very valuable in terms of planning for computer audiophiles.
    1. jookyon's Avatar
      jookyon -
      While I agree that hard drive longevity is better overall, I wouldn't categorize it as dramatic or even groundbreaking, with the exception being SSD. I will now present a logical argument to my statements.<br />
      <br />
      Every hard drive made today will fail 100% of the time. It is just a matter of time.<br />
      <br />
      Industry ratings of Mean Time To Failure for a platter drive is about 600000 hours but a recent study released by Russia shows that the average lifespan for a hard drive is around 2-3 yrs with a low average of 1.5 years and a high average of 5 years (http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/hdd-reliability-storelab,2681-2.html). SSD harddrives have a rating between 1.5million to 3million hours and due to SSD only being widely available and used over the last couple years, there is no reliable research on actual reliability just yet.<br />
      <br />
      In conclusion, I can only make two statements that I can apply across all of your users with great certainty:<br />
      <br />
      - It is possible for everyone here to never make a mistake that will lead to data loss, ergo human error can be eliminated (though highly unlikely). <br />
      <br />
      - It is 100% inevitable and certain that hardware failure will occur due to the limitations of our technology and is simply a matter of time.<br />
      <br />
      This underlies why I spoke up, as telling people that "RAID isn't backup" incorrectly inferred backup as a better protection of data for a cause that can be eliminated or reduced, whereas a RAID1 or any kind of redundancy related solution is a necessity to combat a problem that will occur 100% of the time.<br />
      <br />
      From my own experience, I have lost data 100% of the time due to hardware failure in the time before I invested and used RAID1 technology to my own systems, and 0% since (going on 3 years).<br />
      <br />
      Thank you for your time.
    1. Audio_ELF's Avatar
      Audio_ELF -
      @jookyon<br />
      <br />
      Okay, so I was relying on my personal experiences and anecdotal evidence (reading forums such as this) where questions about receiving from user error (accidentally deleting tags, loss of directory structure, etc) out weigh complaints of drive failure. <br />
      <br />
      Skimming the article quickly it says:<br />
      <em> Estimates from this combination suggest that the most common cause of data loss is hardware failure, accounting for 40 percent of data loss incidents. These include losses due to hard drive failure and power surges. </em><br />
      There is no separation of these factors. My comment was that HDD failure is the only protection you get with RAID in a NAS; a power surge could likely affect multiple drives in the array, and possibly the array hardware itself. <br />
      <br />
      At the end of the day my point was probably overstated, but was encouraging (a) Chris to write about the backup facilities offered in the NAS ad (b) a warning to people who say "I have RAID 1 / 5 / 10; I'm protected and don't need a backup". <br />
      <br />
      Eloise
    1. chasw98's Avatar
      chasw98 -
      Chris-<br />
      <br />
      I have read the owners manual and cannot find any reference to the ability of the Synology DS 411 slim to playback aiff files through the menu system of the DLNA server. Will this unit playback aiff through the dlna server with tagging, i.e., Artist, Album, Title, and cover art?<br />
      <br />
      From Page 157 of the PDF Manual<br />
      <br />
      Audio: AAC, FLAC, M4A, MP3, Ogg Vorbis, PCM, WAV, WMA, WMA VBR, WMA PRO, WMA Lossless <br />
      <br />
      From Page 160<br />
      <br />
      To enable transcoder Settings: <br />
      Tick the following checkboxes to enable transcoders if your DMA does not support the following audio formats: <br />
      FLAC, APE, AAC, OGG, and AIFF.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi chasw98 - I just verified that I can stream FLAC and AIFF files using the built-in UPnP server in the DS411 Slim. However the Artist meta tag and cover art can't be read by J River Media Center with AIFF files. I can read all the other tags like album name and track title. All files playback without issue. I have no transcoding enabled.<br />
      <br />
      Edit: I just copied the cover art as folder.jpg into the AIFF album folders and I can now see it with J River.
    1. chasw98's Avatar
      chasw98 -
      Thanks, Chris!<br />
      <br />
      This might be promising after all. I appreciate it.<br />
      <br />
      Chuck
    1. Mike Gillespie's Avatar
      Mike Gillespie -
      If the unit is $309 without a hard drive, why is this better than just buying a 4tb Seagate BlackArmor NAS 220 2-Bay 4 TB (2 x 2 TB) Network Attached Storage ST340005LSA10G-RK which was $390 in December at Amazon and now about $430? I have such a drive with about 3tb of music -- and increasing weekly as I rip -- and it works flawlessly. I have a backup copy on a Western Digital My Book Studio II - 4 TB (2 x 2 TB) USB 2.0/FireWire 800/400/eSATA Desktop External Hard Drive which is now only $265 at Amazon.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Mike - It's not who can get the cheapest price on disk storage that matters for everybody. This NAS is vastly different from the one you mention. I believe I specified why I like this unit so much in the review. This nay not be the right tool for everyone so I highly recommend people research all the options like you have. <br />
      <br />
      Thanks for chiming in :~)
    1. kdubious's Avatar
      kdubious -
      This was a great article, thanks.<br />
      <br />
      I'm new to the world of Computer Audio, and am fuzzy as to where I should start. Maybe I could just blurt out some questions, and someone could point me along.<br />
      <br />
      Let's say I set up this NAS, since my current receiver doesn't do streaming, do I use a PC to "play" the music? How do I pipe it into my reciever (a several year old Denon)? Do I need a USB DAC? Can I "just" use a sound card with an optical out? If I want to play BluRay discs as well, can I use that same PC? (Are internal BluRay players for a PC a joke?) Are the files on HDTracks substantially better than CD audio? Is increasing the "cost"/"performance" of the NAS / USB DAC going to be outweighed by limitations in my listening room, my $1200-ish receiver, my $1000-ish speakers?<br />
      <br />
      Please help.<br />
      <br />
      Kevin