It doesn’t win any prizes for build quality, looks, finish or indeed ease of use, but this £1,000 black box is one hell of a CD ripper. What it does, it does brilliantly – which is to convert your Compact Discs to FLAC files store them safely. It’s sold as a ‘one stop solution’ to rip and keep your music, ‘fit and forget’ network attached storage which works as any other NAS drive, aside from the fact that it rips the music in extremely high quality on its internal CD drive, as well as storing it.
The unit is basically a slimline (60x430x290mm) pressed steel box with a black plastic fascia, which sports a CD tray recess and a rather crude blue dot-matrix alphanumeric display. Inside is a high quality TEAC CD-ROM drive, plus a 1TB hard disk to hold your ripped music on; there are a number of disc options including a 120GB SSD working with an HDD for £1,580 (2014 price). Round the back there are slots for the hard drives (so they can be easily changed, upgraded or swapped), four USB sockets to hook up external USB hard drives and/or DACs, HDMI and S/PDIF digital outputs, plus a Gigabit LAN socket into which you need to put a wire from your router. A fast AMD dual-core processor takes care of the number crunching, a buffered and stabilised switched-mode power supply provides the juice, and the system comes bundled with Asset server uPNP software. Basically, the RipNAS is a versatile centre which can store and play vast amounts of music. In stock trim, it weighs in at 5kg.
After switching on, you have to wait about a minute while it remembers what it is and what it should be doing. During this time the display isn’t very informative, but it eventually spews out the disc tray in order for you to feed it a disc. The tray is nasty in a way that all computer-based CD-ROM drive trays are, which means noisy and flimsy. Push the disc tray back into the unit and the mech spins up, and the RipNAS goes online to look up the CD’s metadata. Then the unit starts to whirr, rather like a toy helicopter that seems about to take off but never does. The display then pipes up and tells you it’s ripping the disc. This normally takes a minute or two, depending on the speed of the disc rip; the fastest I ever achieved was x46, which is jolly fast, but even at x30 it doesn’t take longer than a couple of minutes.
This done you have an immaculately ripped FLAC file of your prized CD. The RipNAS uses dBpoweramp (version R14), which is widely thought to be the best sounding ripping software around, and it employs the AccurateRip where an online database tells you if the disc’s digital fingerprint is as it should be. It also accesses five databases to get the best metadata; the information it gleaned on my admittedly rather diverse collection of CDs was excellent, with just one CD (a Japanese pressing of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s B2 Unit) coming up as an ‘untitled artist’. You can always edit the metadata later, on your computer, by the way.
When you’ve fed the RipNAS with music, you can then stream your music off it as you would a standard NAS drive, with media server controller like Linn’s Kinsky, through a network music player. The built-in Asset software means you don’t need to install anything on the RipNAS itself. You can also access the files on your RipNAS as you would normally a network device; meaning you can copy your ripped music onto another hard drive or portable music player. This is something you cannot do with every CD ripper.
There’s more; the RipNAS has hidden depths. If you load the correct USB drivers onto it, then you can get it to play music out through a USB DAC, so there’s no need for a streamer. This takes a wee bit of fiddling and so it’s useful to have someone who’s a tech geek or IT professional to get this done. It will play out at up to 24-bit, 192kHz resolution. The RipNAS can be controlled by Microsoft Remote Desktop software, whereupon you can get right into the system if you wish, even check the number of ripping errors. This is bundled in Microsoft Windows, but you’ll need to download the Mac version from the Apple AppStore (for free). Overall then, it’s a great product – no prizes for operational refinement, but it does the job it is purposed for brilliantly.