Hermstedt Hifidelio wireless music centre
Time to scrap that PC music hub?
Review Germany's Hermstedt isn't a name you'd usually associate with hi-fi or digital music. The firm is better known for its ISDN-based file-transfer solutions for media companies, so the Hifidelio Music Centre marks something of a departure - I suspect the hand of a company staffer who had the product developed because he or she wanted to buy one.
If the mention of ISDN sounds old-fashioned, the phrase 'music centre' seems even more so. To me, it recalls slab-like stereos from the late 1970s combining a radio, tape player and record deck. But it's an apt phrase for the Hifidelio, which takes the concept into the 21st Century: this box doesn't just play music, it stores it too.
What we have is an 80GB hard drive - 160GB on the Pro version - CD player and network hub - all it lacks is an integrated amplifier, which is no great surprising since Hermstedt is targeting the audiophile market. Its US partner, which offers the Hifidelio under the Symphony brand, is likewise pursuing the high end of the market, classical music fans in particular.
Out of the box, the Hifidelio is an empty shell waiting to be loaded with songs. Slide a CD into the neat, trayless drive and you're ready to rip the contents to the hard drive. You've a good selection of formats to choose from: raw, uncompressed audio for the purist; FLAC lossless compression for the purist who worries he or she might not have enough storage capacity; Ogg for the Linux buff; and MP3 for everyone else. Out of respect for iTunes users, Hifidelio also supports AAC, but unlike the other formats, it's only available for playback.
An on-board CD database identifies inserted discs and populates the ripped tracks with the appropriate artist, album, track title, genre etc. Hifidelio uses the FreeDB database, and when it's connected to the Internet can update itself. Still, it was able to identify most of the obscure stuff I chucked at it, including a couple of discs picked up in Australia for the kids. Only relatively recent records remained unidentifiable.
You can change the default tags for unknown songs using the machine's control wheel, but it's tricky. The remote control, with its numeric pad, is a little easier to use. It operates like a mobile phone keypad, with several letters assigned to each number. Unfortunately, they're not printed on the remote, so you have to guess or refer back to the manual. Hifidelio's web interface, of which more later, is a better bet.