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Melco Audio N1-S38 music server

Melco Audio N1-S38 music server

Music servers should be universal, but when Melco Audio first re-emerged as an audio brand with its original N1, things didn’t quite go as planned. Although Melco’s debut HDD-based N1 was available in the USA from day one, a complication with SSD-technology libraries meant solid-state Melcos got off to a slower start. This is why when the Melco Audio N1-S38 server hit town recently, on this side of the pond, it was met with praise and interest, but in the Americas, the response was more “Who’s Melco?”

Melco was founded in 1975 by Makoto Maki. The Japanese brand first made turntables but looked to diversify. One of Melco’s first products outside of audio was a printer buffer, which helped give the subsidiary its name: Buffalo. Fast-forward to today, Buffalo makes a massive range of computer peripherals and has extensive expertise in computers, networks, and solid-state hard drives.

Melco never wholly shook off the love of music, though, and the Melco name reemerged in the 2010s. But no longer making turntables. With its background in music reproduction and an entire computer division to hand, Melco Audio was destined to become a maker of fine music servers.

Home team advantage

The music server was considered particularly important in the home market because—despite Japan’s technological reputation—personal computers are comparatively rare in Japanese homes. However, until recently, Japanese people mainly bought CDs and SACDs. That’s all starting to change, and the N1-S38 represents the pinnacle of server performance from Melco, so there’s some confluence.

The N1-S38 – and, in the broader context, all of Melco’s servers – are an extremely ambitious project. They are servers for those who don’t want a retasked computer doing the job. Instead, Melco has designed its music server from scratch. Granted, it uses parts and connections used in the computer industry. But where many servers are a Windows or Linux ‘box’ with server software running on top of that operating system, Melco made dedicated hardware to its exacting design. It can do that because… Buffalo. Melco can specially select 3.84TB SSD drives – choosing the quietest samples to keep vibration and RFI low – because it has a whole division dealing with SSD. It can access the best network connections and SFP ports for the same reasons.

Melco Audio N1-S38 music server

As the name suggests, the N1-S38 is a reimagining of the original N1 flagship from Melco, with the S38 suffix to differentiate old from new; at least in stock control terms, they look almost entirely unlike one another. It also denotes using that internal 3.84TB SSD drive (enough for 6,000 albums). Everything about the N1 has changed; from the thicker aluminium chassis and elegant side-cheek look (with blue lights running down the sides, it’s slightly reminiscent of the current Marantz line, but with an up to 5mm thick case and machined-from-solid design, the Melco bows to no man).

Densely packed

Under the lid, there’s a more densely packed and thicker main board, the same time-proven CPU and more flash memory. While the primary screen and button layout remains the same, both are changed for the better. SFP is an exciting development for music servers, and while it has been done before, previous users were more ‘kludge’ than ‘integrated into the unit itself’. SFP is a fibre-based Gigabit Ethernet connection (1000BASE-T), which you can use for a fast (and more importantly, galvanically isolated) connection to the outside world. You can’t simply connect this to a 10/100BASE-T or RJ45 network connector; you need a router or hub with an SFP port. Fortunately, Melco has this covered with the S10 and S100/2 data switches.

What have the Romans ever done for us?

So, aside from the case, the display, the buttons, the hard drive and its data path, the system electronics, mainboard, memory, transformer, power regulation system, connectors, the addition of SFP, and provision for a clock… it’s the same as its predecessor!

In their early days, Melco’s servers were excellent at dealing with a local network but less good regarding streaming and Internet radio replay. That all changed (for the better) with the development of the Melco Music HD App, which helped integrate streaming services like Qubuz and Tidal into the Melco ecosystem. The Melco Audio product line is now pre-loaded with TwonkyMedia and MinimServer 2 software. Meanwhile, the metadata tag-editing tool SongKong offer additional features for those wanting to fine-tune a collection. Even Roon Readiness has come to Melco Audio now.

What hasn’t changed is Melco’s devotion to making music served or streamed by the N1-S38 sound as good as it gets. Or at least, as good as it gets this side of a Taiko or top Pink Faun, both of which make the £11,995 price tag of the N1-S38 read like a small change!

The sound is dynamic, expressive and lithe. It’s got authority and presence and plenty of detail. Music played through the Melco N1-S38 is a very impressive thing, not overly so, and I don’t mean that even the smallest voice is amplified and overblown. Instead, that track is presented like new. And, in the manner of a good server, it doesn’t matter where those tracks come from. It will perform good track husbandry to make them sound at their best.

Stacked out network

I stacked out the network with a range of storage, everything from a NAS drive through an older Melco N100 to the Innuos Statement and Naim Uniti Core, and a couple of USB drives thrown in for good measure. There were a few glitches, primarily caused by having the same ripped version of Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks on all of these devices at once, but the N1-S38 made ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ perfectly full of the angst of someone going through a breakup.

Melco Audio N1-S38 music server

Tracks sounded best when stored on Melco’s SSD drive, giving them a snap and immediacy alongside the detail and authority. A rip of ‘Celestial Echo’ by Malia and Boris Blank [Convergence, Boutique] showed off everything the Melco Audio N1-S38 does well, placing her voice rock-solid in between the speakers, with almost perfect articulation (you can not only hear just how close the microphone is, but the mild compression used). This is backed by some powerful and deep synth work, which is spatially correct, very deep, and fast enough to sound natural.

Though considerably improved, I still maintain that the Melco App is behind the curve. While many will migrate to other ways of driving the Melco, this App needs to be as good as the hardware. But elsewhere, the N1-S38 is a product of exceptional sophistication, matched by outstanding sound quality.

You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!

Truthfully, many of my prior feelings about Melco Audio’s products were based on previous generations of devices. They’ve come a long way in a few years. This is still a configurable and sophisticated server, meaning it’s perhaps not as immediately ‘out of the box’ ready as something like an Innuos Statement. However, the basic setup is just setting the date and time zine. The Melco Audio N1-S38 needs a little love to make it sing; it must be configured to your needs and system. But that’s OK… it’s worth it.

The Melco Audio N1-S38 is a music server. It comes from a family of music servers. But it’s also one that treats that music with the utmost respect. In previous iterations of the brand, that respect was primarily limited to music held in its hard drive or on the local network, the N1-S38 is equally adept at making the best of services like Tidal and Qobuz. It’s also one of the best-built servers in production right now. And most of all, it sounds the part, too.

Technical specifications

  • Music storage 1 × specially selected 3.84 TB SSD
  • Network connectivity
  • LAN Port-Gigabit Ethernet (1000Base-T)
  • Dedicated PLAYER port
  • Gigabit Ethernet (1000Base-T)
  • SFP Port (1000 mbps MAX)
  • USB connectivity
  • USB 2.0 port USB DAC-dedicated
  • USB 3.0 port USB DAC-dedicated USB 3.0 backup port
  • USB 3.0 expansion port
  • USB 3.0 front panel port for importing and DACs
  • USB player file support DSF, DFF, FLAC, WAV, ALAC, AIFF and AAC
  • USB player sample rate support
  • 16-32 bit (PCM) to 384 kHz:- auto downsample to suit connected DACs
  • Gapless PCM support
  • 1 bit (DSD) to 11.3 MHz Quad DSD Markerless DSD support
  • DSD to 32 bit PCM conversion selectable Gapless DSD support
  • OLED displays player sample rate
  • Size 440 × 82 × 353mm
  • Weight 14kg
  • Price £11,995


Melco Audio



Audiophile Digital Music Masters Ltd


+44(0)1252 784525

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