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Entotem Plato

Entotem Plato

Entotem is not your average hi-fi start-up. Rather than the one man and his dog in the garden shed that has been the traditional beginning for many in this business, Entotem consists of 10 men with a background in data storage who decided to combine their skills. Their goal was a product that did everything: ‘one box to rule them all’ if you like. It’s not hard to see the appeal of such a device in an age where space is in short supply but stuff seems to multiply. Audio enthusiasts are rare in being savvy enough to know that more is never enough when it comes to equipment, but our number is not growing. Entotem therefore set out to build a one-box solution for the modern age and, at the Bristol show in February 2015, showed Plato in prototype form, but that prototype was surprisingly close to the final production version.

Plato is a music and video streamer with a 2TB onboard hard drive and an integrated amplifier with an MM/MC phono stage. The device also features a modular construction, allowing for expansion to accommodate future upgrades or configurations. Crucially, Plato runs on the Android platform, which separates it from the herd as much as its UK build and some unusual features. By using Android, Entotem opens Plato up to work with any app that’s available from the Amazon store. This means Spotify, YouTube, Tidal, etc, are already available and any future audio or video format will launch through Plato long before most rival audio companies would be able to develop their own software. The limitation to this is that apps loaded onto the player can only be operated from the touch screen on the player and not the control app on your phone or tablet. Entotem will incorporate some key services into its own app, but having to use the relatively small (by tablet standards) screen on the device is somewhat restrictive, especially as apps like Spotify that run in portrait mode end up sitting sideways on the display. The Plato control app will run on any Android device, and there will be a version for iOS by the time you read this.

The few affordable one-box streaming solutions I’ve encountered typically had corners cut on amplifier quality. It’s very appealing to a manufacturer to opt for a switched mode power supply and Class D output stage because they are small, efficient, and are usually inexpensive. Entotem has avoided that pitfall by building a dual mono, linear powered Class AB power amp into Plato. The unit can be bought without the amp onboard and used as a source/preamplifier for a £900 saving.

 

The power supply itself fits into the central module on the back of the unit, and this has extra shielding for the toroidal transformer to help keep noise away from the flanking digital and analogue modules. The left hand module ‘block’ forms the preamp’s connector array and includes three line inputs, a preamp out, and a phono input for MM or MC cartridges. The latter is not included merely to cater for the latest fad for ‘vinyls’ but is the first stage of Entotem’s unique vinyl ripping facility.

As anyone who has tried to convert their record collection to digital knows this is usually a pain: you not only have to find an ADC to convert the analogue into digital, but also mark where tracks begin and end then type in all the metadata. Plato does all this for you, identifying the album and downloading metadata and artwork, so that you end up with a digital file as you might get from ripping a CD. It’s that simple.

The preamp gives and takes digital sources as well, in traditional S/PDIF coax and optical form at least; the second module is fully digital and is used for networking and video output via HDMI. Despite the impressive fact that Plato is capable of producing multiple video streams, there is just the one HDMI output; other video outputs can be accessed via the network connection, which after all is the way they would be sent to screens in other rooms. Given the Hi-Fi+ stance on video, I didn’t dwell too much on Plato’s video side, but it looked quite impressive.

The Plato takes the controversial route of using Neutrik Speakon speaker cable connections. This pro audio connector is not very common in domestic audio and means you can’t use your existing speaker cables without re-termination. Neutrik’s Speakon is a very robust connection, however, and Entotem supplies a three metre pair of Gotham cables with the amplifier equipped version of Plato.

The Entotem control app takes a bit of getting used to if you are familiar with more mainstream examples, but it’s not long before you can easily find and play whatever is in the library. There is a lot of control and information at your fingertips and sometimes finding it is intuitive, sometimes not. Getting your music into the library can now be done over the network by using a third party app on your PC. Entotem uses one called Acronis, but a library can also be imported from a USB drive. This requires a modicum of working out and has to be done via the screen on the Plato, but it does mean that (regular) computers are not a necessary part of the process. The hard disc drive itself is not the quietest I have encountered, and you can hear it whirring away if the Plato is within a couple of metres of your listening chair. But as the Plato doesn’t need to be on show, you could stow the whole device out of hearing. The one thing that I missed with Plato was an easy and quick way of stopping or pausing it, or changing volume. This is on the app, but when your tablet has gone to sleep and the phone or doorbell rings, it’s a bit slow to mute the thing. Apparently there are laser pointer remotes that could control it via a screen, if you are using a screen of course.

As Plato is linked to the web it can find artwork for albums that don’t have it and for vinyl records you play through it, and, even more impressively, it does so within a few bars. Entotem uses the Gracenote library for metadata retrieval and this managed to identify most of the vinyl I played, with only the obscure ones defeating it (Burnt Friedman anyone?); those that it doesn’t know you can tag manually. Converting vinyl to digital (currently to 96kHz in FLAC format) requires that you establish the dynamic peaks and set a recording level appropriately. Those of us of a certain age will remember doing this with cassette of course, but digital is a bit less forgiving if you set these levels too high. Once levels are right you put the needle in the run-in groove, hit the button and sit back while the unit does its stuff. You can also record in the same way via the line input but there isn’t so much sensitivity adjustment this way and in practice you need to stick with the onboard phono stage. Fortunately, the phono stage is a decent example of the breed that has gain and loading adjustments in software. If you have a good turntable, the Plato certainly won’t hide its performance and I made a few back ups in this way. The copies don’t retain the full dynamics or harmonic detail of the originals, but they are pretty close. As usual, the vinyl has more vitality, which is a reflection of the fact that you are comparing analogue with digital as much as anything.

Adding apps to Plato is currently complicated by the absence of the PlayStore, Android’s app store, but you can still do it. I managed to put SoundCloud on the unit with a little guidance from the Entotem guys and was able to search for and play music from that service via the Plato rather than its control app. The extra features that Entotem puts on its own app will depend on demand, but at present Tidal is in the pipeline. Currently it offers TuneIn for internet radio. I’ve seen better implementations of this and mentioned the difficulties I had to the company who said they would work on a search function, which if they are able to implement would be a real boon.

Using Plato with PMC fact.8 speakers, which are fairly current hungry beasts, made it clear that its 45 watt amplifier wasn’t quite up to offering the full dynamics of the various pieces I played. This is partly down to the supplied speaker cable, but mostly to the mismatch of power and the speaker’s characteristics in a larger than average UK room. It worked rather well with more restrained pieces, however: Entotem had a version of Chopin’s Nocturnes [Livia Rev, Hyperion] on the drive and this was utterly charming with lots of fine detail. But a shortage of bottom end encouraged a change of speaker to Bowers & Wilkins’ CM10 S2, which has a warmer balance and is an easier load. Now the sound had body, dynamics, and decent low end; words like ‘grip’ don’t really apply here, the Plato is more about fluidity and imaging. Doug MacLeod’s ‘Too Many Misses’ [Exactly Like This, Reference Recordings] sounded tonally natural and had good image depth if not the full dynamic range that the recording offers. It’s important to note, however, that I don’t usually play it on one-box source and amplification combos, and that dynamics are a strong point of the Townshend Isolda DCT speaker cables usually employed.

I also found Talking Heads’ ‘Blind’ [Naked, Warner Bros] on the drive and thoroughly enjoyed it on this combo – it brought back the fact that this band were solid right to the end. On a classical tip, the high resolution Mozart Violin concerto in D major [Marianne Thorsen, TrondheimSolistene, 2L] did its trick of soaring high above the speakers, revealing the amazing timbre of the violin and the scale of the venue to good effect.

 

Just to get to grips with the full potential of the Plato, I connected its preamp outputs to an ATC P1 power amplifier and brought the PMCs back into the room. This brought back the solidity I am used to and revealed that decent timing, dynamics, and image scale are available from the Plato when its own amplifier is bypassed or you use the unamplified version. It doesn’t have quite the finesse of a separate source and preamplifier, but it creates nice 3D imaging with tight and coherent bottom end, the better recordings producing a pretty special result. Patricia Barber’s ‘Subway Station #5’ [A Distortion Of Love, Antilles] is not actually one of her best recordings (they came a bit later), but it has a great guitar sound on it and some excellent ensemble playing. It might be a little sweeter with a system that smoothes over the upper mid, but the Plato ultimately produces a more honest sound.

If you take the video element out of the equation, Plato is up against stiff competition from the likes of Naim, Linn, and others. To me, both Linn and Naim offer better sound quality than the Plato, albeit for more money, especially if you consider factoring in the cost of networked storage. But if you are after a single box solution for all your home entertainment needs this neat player is probably the least expensive option on the market that has been designed with the end user rather than installers in mind.

The sheer flexibility of Plato is remarkable and its use of the Android platform genuinely ground breaking in the audio field. Plato is also a growing force in TVs along with Sony and others, and there is a range of set top boxes that run on the platform. Plato is capable of very decent sound quality with the right speakers or even active speakers combined with the pre only version, a pairing that would give you versatility, power, and the bare minimum of boxes. Text Box:

Technical Specifications

Type: Music and video server with built‑in storage, DAC and 45W amplifier

Storage: 2TB hard drive for music and video data storage

Analogue Inputs: Four unbalanced (via RCA jacks), MM/MC phono stage

Digital Inputs: One coaxial S/PDIF (via RCA jacks), one TOSLink

DAC Resolution/Supported Digital Formats: FLAC/ALC/wav/mp3, etc. Sampling rate for D/A conversion up to 192 kHz/24 bit

Analogue Outputs: One stereo unbalanced (via RCA jacks)

Digital Outputs: Four TOSLink

Frequency Response: Not specified

Distortion (THD + Noise): Not specified

User Interface: 5-inch touchscreen display (on main unit), Plato app for Android.

Other Features: Automatic tagging for vinyl rips

Dimensions (HxWxD): 130 × 370 × 300mm

Weight: 14kg

Price: £3,600

Manufacturer: Entotem Ltd

URL: www.entotem.com

Tags: FEATURED

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