Once loaded with songs and connected to an amplifier, the Hifidelio was set a-playing. Seated two metres or so away, the LCD, though large, presents text that's too small to read without squinting. By default, it's set to use a large font for the 'now playing' screen, which kicks in after 20s - you can change the period. But there's no way to similarly increase the size of the menu readout, which would be more useful than being able to read the name of the song you're listening too. The display is great when you're up close - it's only limiting when you're sitting on your sofa. A display on the remote would, perhaps be the ideal solution - a quicker one would be to update the software to display menus in the larger font.
Hermstedt makes a big noise about how quiet the Hifidelio runs, and its fanless operation - a low-power PowerPC chip does all the heavy lifting - makes for a silent device. Well, almost. There's no fan noise, but the hard drive and CD player add their voices to the mix. Play music and you won't hear either unless you're up close, but I could hear the HDD in the gaps between tracks. To be fair, I didn't find it intrusive, but then I'm used to working with a laptop throughout the day. And Hermstedt claims the only noise the unit produces comes from the CD drive, so my review sample may simply have had a below-par hard drive.
I found the sound quality to be very good, compressed audio formats notwithstanding. Audio quality is inherently subjective, but there was no audible noise coming through during HDD and CD operation. I didn't approach this review from an audiophole - my listening environment is far from perfect and while my Rotel amp and Mission speakers are good, they're not top-of-the-range - but the Hifidelio cut the mustard alongside my other source separates. It's certainly better than my iPod. Putting it on pause and turning the amp's volume up to max, you can hear a little hiss but more than my CD player generates. That said, I had the Hifidelio hooked up to the AUX input rather than the CD connectors, and that may have made things worse.
The Pro version, which I tested, offers a couple of advantages over the standard Hifidelio. It supports MP3 encoding at 320Kbps - which Hermstedt dubs "CD quality" - and it will, at your choice, dynamically compress the audio envelope, the better to cope with loud environments or to make the sound less neighbour-annoying at nighttime. There's an 'expert mode' in which you can tamper with the settings to your heart's content.
The Hifidelio is not a cheap product, with the Pro version coming it at around £800. But consider, that's exactly the same price-per-megabyte as the 60GB iPod, and half the price per meg of the 20GB iPod, so it's not exactly out of kilter with the rest of the digital music market. That's looking at it solely from a storage perspective - you're also getting a very good network device for your money and a decent CD player.
More to the point, perhaps, £800 - or £600 for the 80GB standard version - isn't beyond the means of the sort of person who'll happily spend the best part of a grand on an amplifier. That's the audience Hermstedt is pitching at, not the guy who wants to connect his ghetto blaster or cheap composite system to a digital music store.
The Hifidelio, then, will make a superb addition to any high-end music system. However, there are flaws and things to fix. Yes, it will interface with an iPod or other MP3 player, but a computer remains the best way of getting music on to one, particularly if your music collection is larger than your player's storage capacity. That will make the Hifidelio less attractive to anyone who regularly uses a portable player.
Or indeed a computer. Yes, you can copy songs across to your Hifidelio, but not back again, and of course the Hermstedt box is no help at all if you have DRM-protected songs. The iTunes support helps, but do you really want half your music one box, and half on the other? For back-up reasons alone, I'd want my collection on both. The ability to synchronise the two collections would be perfect, but it's a feature Hermstedt doesn't offer.
For folk new to digital music, however, the Hifidelio has much to recommend it. As a focal point for your entire music collection, with the ability not only to play that music, but to beam it around the house, it's a winner. ®
|Hermstedt Hifidelio Pro|
|Pros||Excellent sound quality; integrated track identification database; wired and wireless networking powerhouse;.|
|Cons||Expensive; could be more capacious; LCD too hard to read from sofa-distance; track transitions aren't seamless; long start-up time.|
|Price||£799 (Pro); £599 (standard)|
|More info||The Hermstedt Hifidelio site|