What is it, What Does it Do, What Doesn't it Do?
What is it?
The PK100 file player is a computer underneath it's understated black metal housing. This computer is configured to function like a toaster. When I put bread in my toaster and depress the lever I can guarantee toast will pop up after a few minutes. It's that simple. Insert bread + depress lever = toast every time. The PK100 is a file player that requires no setup. In fact it cannot be setup by the end user. The PK100 arrives from Auraliti pre-configured and set in a read-only state of operation. When I connect music via USB hard drive to the PK100 the music appears in one of the many remote control applications and starts paying when I hit the play button within the app. Connect music + Select music = Play music. It's so easy even a caveman could … oh wait that's been used already. The PK100 design can be described with an analogy to the automobiles used in NASCAR races. The cars are purpose built to drive in an oval turning only to the left at a high rate of speed. For example Dale Earnhardt, Jr. drives a Chevrolet Impala on the track. This Impala would not function as an every day driver because all the modern conveniences such as power locks, windshield wipers, trunk, back seat, and normal tires, to name a few, have been removed. The PK100 is designed to play music and will not function as an every day computer because all the modern conveniences such as printing, office applications, and internet browsers have been removed or excluded from installation. It's not even possible to rip CDs with the PK100. Geeks will be happy to read the PK100 uses Linux with MPD installed to a small solid state flash drive set as read-only on an Intel D945GSEJT Johnstown Mini-ITX motherboard and a completely fanless design. Non-geeks should know that this is a great configuration that's nearly indestructible short of physical damage. The power can be removed and the user can click, the mouse, more times than people speaking the Khoisan languages without impacting the file player's configuration or functionality. Astute readers may have already noticed the PK100 is very similar to the Bryston BDP-1. The two players use the same concept of a Linux operating system, MPD, attaching USB drives, and iPhone control. Many of the differences between the PK100 and the BDP-1 are hardware related. The most obvious visible difference being the expensive casework housing the Bryston BDP-1. The PK100 is a very small square running 7.5 x 7.5 x 2.25 in and weighing in at 5 lbs. including power supply.
What Does it Do?
The Auraliti PK100 file player is not a jack of all trades music server. It simply connects to a USB drive full of music, an external DAC, and an Ethernet port. The PK100 supports zero-config or what's commonly called Apple's Bonjour communication protocol that enables configuration free connecting from one device to another. Bonjour allows users of the PK100 to open a web browser and type http://auraliti-player.local into the URL box and be presented with the player's web interface. There is no need to find the player's IP Address on the local area network in order to connect to the unit. The player comes with a simplistic web interface that directs users to its pre-installed control software (NeoMPC) and to other sites where users can download other applications to control the PK100. The built-in NeoMPC interface is text based and allows the user to browse the folders of the attached hard drives. It's very straight forward and doesn't require a training session before the user is well versed in using the player. NeoMPC functions very well on the iPad but is not the best control app for readers using an iPhone. The NeoMPC buttons are very small via the iPhone.
One of the best things about the PK100 is it's only capable of outputting a bit perfect audio signal. Without any configuration options for the user there is no way to screw this one up. Most other players on the market require anywhere from minor to major adjustments before they're capable of bit perfect playback. The PK100 supports FLAC, WAV, AIFF, and MP3 according to Auraliti, but I was able to play some lossy 256 kbps AAC downloads from the iTunes Music Store without an issue. Another very impressive feature of the PK100 is its ability to play all relevant sample rates from 16 bit / 44.1 kHz through 24 bit / 192 kHz without a hiccup. The PK100 automatically changes the sample rate based on music selected for playback assuring the user of bit perfect operation. I like to test manufacturer's claims so this is one of the first items I test when receiving a product for review. The PK100 passed with flying colors.
A feature I did not use is the built-in Digital to Analog Converter (DAC) with modified analog RCA outputs. The DAC is a 24 bit AKM that's capable of sample rates from 16/44.1 through 24/192. I prefer to use an external DAC with volume control and a few other features. The built-in DAC may be very nice for users just entering the computer audio world who don't want to purchase another piece of gear or simply don't have room for another box on their desk or in their living room. This is a great way start with a minimal outlay of cash.
What doesn't it do?
Understanding what a product does and does not do is key when making a smart purchasing decision. This way there are no surprises when the new product is connected to the audio system. There is nothing worse than purchasing one component and realizing another product of equal or greater value must be purchased in order for the initial product to function as needed. Readers considering the PK100 must know that another computer is required to use this file player. The other computer is not required while playing music rather it's required for housekeeping tasks such as ripping CDs and editing metadata.
Here are some important considerations for potential PK100 buyers.
- No physical CD/DVD drive
- No ability to rip CDs
- No Network Attached Storage (NAS) support yet
- No usable onboard hard drive
- No physical buttons or user interface on the actual player chassis
- No USB or FireWire DAC support
- No Squeezebox / SqueezeCenter
- No iTunes music sharing capability
- No UPnP support
Some readers will look at this list and consider the PK100 worthless. In fact that's a good thing because these readers are likely not the ideal user for the PK100. Readers seeking all the above features in a single box can immediately rule out this Auraliti unit and move on in their search for a music player or server. Remember the PK100 was created to play music and do it very well. There are many reasons why the PK100 doesn't offer the above features. There is no need for a physical CD/DVD drive since the player does not rip discs. The design decision to not include the CD ripping capability in the PK100 was very smart. Currently there are numerous applications that rip CDs very well and allow the user to edit the metadata. There's no reason for Auraliti to either reinvent the wheel with its own ripping app or to enable one of the open source ripping applications. In fact enabling the PK100 to rip CDs would require enabling many other features that have nothing to do with playing music. For example the PK100 would have to allow access to the attached hard drives over the network, for metadata editing purposes, thus becoming a network file sharing server. There is really no reason to enable features 100% of the time when they are used 1% of the time. The PK100 file player has a very purist design. Support for Network Attached Storage that would allow the PK100 to pull files from a NAS drive would be nice but would also involve more complexity from a design and usability perspective. I believe Auraliti is working on a NAS of its own that will function seamlessly with the PK100. No official release date has been provided as of this writing. The only drive the PK100 ships with is the onboard solid state flash drive. This drive is not usable for music storage as its very small and marked as read only. Auraliti was wise not to include a usable hard drive in this unit. Companies like Seagate, Hitachi, Toshiba, and Samsung are far better at selling and servicing hard drives than Auraliti. Plus, user size requirements are all over the board and advances in storage technology happen very quickly. If Auraliti did ship the PK100 with an internal hard drive I'm wiling to bet many users would replace it with a drive of their choice anyway. One feature the PK100 doesn't offer and the Bryston BDP-1 does is a front panel display with user interface. This type of display can have negative consequences on sound quality. According to Auraliti excluding such a display, "eliminates background processes which induce jitter inducing interrupts and noise from the GPU supplying a graphic interface." Readers who like the ability to see exactly what's happening or the ability to physically press play on an actual audio component may find the PK100's lack of onboard display frustrating. Perhaps the biggest potential show-stopper with the PK100 is its current lack of support for USB and FireWire DACs. Audiophiles with wonderful USB or FireWire DACs will have to think long and hard about replacing their DAC to accommodate the PK100's S/PDIF output. Auraliti did have a USB capable unit on display at The Show in Las Vegas this year but there is not scheduled release date yet. Lack of UPnP support, Squeezebox / SqueezeCenter support, and iTunes music sharing support are the three remaining items users should consider before purchasing the PK100. Some servers offer these options as they allow users to access or send music to other devices or rooms in one's house. It's been my experience that these server type features are best run from a NAS device not a high quality file player like the PK100. Again, Auraliti was wise to exclude these and many other features from the PK100. This file player is certainly not for everyone. Understanding what it doesn't offer should be something every potential purchaser considers.
The Auraliti PK100 In My Listening Room
In my listening room I used the PK100 in a few different systems. I spent a considerable amount of time with the unit connected to a new Peachtree iNova integrated amp with Peachtree D5 loudspeakers. I also used the PK100 connected to my Benchmark DAC1 PRE sitting on my desk with a pair of Sennheiser HD600 headphones. The PK100 produced absolutely no audible noise when placed at arms length on my desk. Originally this was not a configuration I was going to try but for testing purposes I gave it a shot and fell in love with this little system. The PK100 would be a great addition to many office audio systems no matter what components are already in place. Using one's office computer for music playback just doesn't cut it anymore once you've tried the PK100 approach. I highly recommend CA readers give this a shot.
To give readers a better idea of how to use the PK100 I compiled a step by step list of the process I used in my system.
- Connected the PK100 to my home network via a single ethernet cable.
- Connected the PK100 to the Peachtree iNova via coaxial S/PDIF cable with a BNC connection on the PK100 end and a BNC with RCA adapter on the iNova end.
- On my OS X 10.6.6 MacBook Pro I formatted my external 750GB Oyen Digital USB hard drive as FAT32. This enabled me to read and write to this drive from my Mac or PC.
- On my Windows 7 PC (MacBook Pro running Boot Camp) I ripped music using dBpoweramp to the 750GB USB drive in FLAC format.
- I also copied AIFF files and other FLAC files from my NAS drive to the 750Gb USB drive.
- I ejected the 750GB USB drive from the MacBook Pro and connected the USB drive to the Auraliti PK100.
- On my MacBook Pro running OS X 10.6.6 I opened my web browser (Google Chrome) and typed http://auraliti-player.local into the URL box. This brings up the PK100 home page.
- Once a USB drive is connected the PK100 can take a few minutes to search the hard drive and create its local database of music contained on the drive. I used the NeoMPC user interface to check on the status of the database building process. This user interface is accessed by clicking a link on the PK100 home page.
- Once the database was fully populated I mainly used the free MPoD iPhone application to browse and play music straight from the connected 750GB USB drive. I also use NeoMPC from my iPad as there is no iPad version of MPod available at this time. An iPad version currently named MPaD is in development. I briefly used the Mac OS X application Theramin to control the PK100 but the experience was less than enjoyable.
The process to add music to the 750GB hard drive was very straight forward. I disconnected the drive form the PK100, connected it to my MacBook Pro, ripped a CD to the drive in any folder structure I wanted, ejected the drive from the MacBook Pro, and reconnected the drive to the PK100. While this process is easy I did get tired of moving the drive back and forth to add more music. I purchase three to five CDs per week which required me to go through the hard drive routine fairly often. Whether this is a show-stopper or not can only be answered by each individual. I would much prefer ripping my CDs to a NAS drive and refreshing the library on the PK100 with the click of a mouse or tap of the iPhone screen.
The music I placed on the 750Gb hard drive for use with the PK100 was FLAC and AIFF originally ripped via dBpoweramp. Both types of files had all metadata including cover art embedded into each individual file. Using NeoMPC and MPod I was able to view all the metadata and cover art when paling FLAC files. FLAC is by far the best format for embedded metadata on all platforms except iTunes. MPod also handled AIFF embedded metadata without issue. NeoMPC on the other hand required a picture of the cover art be placed in each album folder and named folder.jpg in order to view AIFF cover art. Thus NeoMPC doesn't support embedded cover art with AIFF files. Ripping with dBpoweramp allows users to embed with cover art and simultaneously place the cover art into a folder.jpg file. This is a great way to cover more bases when ripping a collection. It's impossible to know what platform one will use in the future so this belt and suspenders approach is highly recommended.
Sonically the PK100 out-punts its coverage or out-performs it's $799 price point by a long shot. The internal Juli@ audio card in combination with the single purpose finely tuned Linux operating system is every bit as good or better than a PC or Mac with Lynx AES16 audio card. It's impossible to compare apples to apples here because the Lynx AES16 cannot be placed into the PK100 chassis. It's very likely the Lynx would benefit from a simplified Linux OS, but I have a hard time believing it would sound better than the stock PK100. No doubt a fair amount of this great sound quality stems from PK100 designer Demian Martin's incredible knowledge and skill. Many Computer Audiophile readers already use components designed by Demian from Spectral Audio, NuForce, and a host of others for which Demian does't take credit publicly. He frequently shares much of his computer audio knowledge here on the CA forums. I'm always surprised when Demian spends his own time to research what may seem like an inconsequential issue raised by a CA reader and share his findings in a detailed response.
Simply because I can I briefly compared the PK100 to my Pyramix machine with a several thousand dollar Mykerinos audio card running into a Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC. This is a totally ridiculous comparison on many levels including price and the user unfriendly professional software interface of Pyramix software. To my ears in my system the Pyramix / Mykerinos combination was clearly more resolving. In addition readers should know a very nice feature of the Mykerinios card, and a Lynx card, is the ability to externally clock the card from a DAC with word clock output such as the Weiss DAC202. External clocking is not a feature of the PK100 but I'm pretty positive nearly all PK100 users are thankful for this exclusion as an externally clocked card is quite cumbersome to operate.
The Auraliti PK100 is a finely tuned well designed computer file player. It's simple user interface that requires no tweaking is a major benefit to many computer audiophiles. The fact that users can't adjust any settings and obtain bit perfect playback automatically cannot be emphasized enough. this is a big deal. In my experience the most common cause of dissatisfaction with computer based sound quality is lack of bit perfect output. The PK100 completely solves this issue. Potential PK100 purchasers should ensure they've considered all the features this player offers and does not offer. This player is not a one size fits all music server and will not help complete one's taxes before April 18, 2011. The PK100 is capable of changing the way one listenings to music with it's highly refined minimalist feature set and simple operation. My tagline for this CA recommended player is, The Auraliti PK100 connect, select, and play.
- Plays FLAC, WAV, AIFF, and MP3 music files
- 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, and 192 KHz
- Automatically selects for correct sample rate
- Remote control from any web browser
- Bit perfect, low jitter, and no resampling
- SPDIF 75 ohm BNC digital
- Internal Digital to Analog converter allows option of RCA output or*balanced*output*over TRS connectors
Analog output: RCA stereo pair
Optional Analog output: Balanced differential TRS connections
Dimensions: 7.5 x 7.5 x 2.25 in; 190 x 190 x 55 mm
Weight: 5 lbs, 2.27 Kg with power supply