Sonically the DS-S101-G has two slightly different personalities, depending on whether you use the analog or digital output. Obviously, the digital output's final sonic character will be determined by the DAC to which you connect the ELAC server. A majority of the time, I connected the ELAC's SPDIF output to a PS Audio DSD Jr. DAC. With 16/44.1 music, I found very little difference between the ELAC server's feed and what I got from my Mac Mini's USB connection to the PS Audio. On some tracks that I know well, I did notice slight differences between the ELAC's analog output and the PS Audio DSD Jr receiving a digital signal--the PS Audio DAC retained some additional low-level information that translated primarily into slightly more specific imaging and better dynamic contrasts.
During my listening sessions with the ELAC, I was struck by its overall sonic quality. With some new streaming devices, after a couple of weeks of listening I grow bored with the sound due to my lack of emotional involvement with the music. I did not find this to be the case with the ELAC server. Instead of being aware of any sonic shortcomings or an overall "grayness" to the sound, I was far more aware of the shortcomings of many of the recordings. The ELAC delivers, even through its analog outputs, a level of sonic sophistication that should keep any music lover enthralled with the amount of resolution and detail delivered to their ears. With Wild Beast's "Big Cat," I was impressed by the micro-dynamics and punchy and tuneful bass line.
Another pop guilty pleasure, Bea Miller's "Dracula," is populated by big synth drum hits that came through with great clarity and impact. If you compare the YouTube video with the same cut from TIDAL, you can hear how much more dynamic the TIDAL version is. The ELAC server allows this expanded dynamic palette to pass through without dilution.
Overall I found little to fault with the ELAC's sonic presentation when compared with the other streaming sources I had available. I do look forward to the update that delivers a newer version of Roon that promises to support MQA for anyone with a TIDAL Hi-Fi subscription.
The main downsides of the ELAC server are a result of its reliance on the Roon Essentials Control App and this app's current limitations. For one, I found the 30,000-file limit to be a problem because I could not add new music unless I deleted other files, which was not, for me, an option. When I asked an ELAC rep about increasing the file limit, he replied, "For customers who need a larger track count and full Roon features, we will offer a higher-end product called Discovery Q [which the company showed at CES 2017]. Final details of this product are not completed yet; however, the price will be around $2,000 and may require a separate Roon license." So, if you're interested in the Discovery Music Server but have a more robust library, be prepared to wait and pay more for the new product.
The second potential downside is the requirement of a 64-bit device for the app. If you do not already own a device that is 64-bit, you will need to purchase one in order to operate the ELAC server. This could add $300 to $700 (depending on what device you choose) to the price of the ELAC system. For those readers who already have a 64-bit device, this won't be a problem. How can you tell without delving into "about this device" settings? Try downloading Roon Essentials. If it downloads successfully, you are all set.
Comparison and Competition
As I mentioned at the beginning of the review, nowadays we have a plethora of options when it comes to music servers. But when you look at servers priced within a couple hundred dollars of the ELAC's $1,099 price, there are few components with a similar feature set and none with the built-in Roon option. The Sony HAP-S1 Hi-Res Music Player has a similar price, but it does not offer TIDAL or multi-library options like the ELAC.
If you only need Internet radio, access to your NAS drive, TIDAL HiFi (but no MQA Masters), no digital outputs, and a single analog output, you can do it for as little as $60 with the Muzo Cobblestone, but don't expect much in the way of an elegant or adjustable user interface and certainly nothing as sophisticated or elegant as Roon. Also the sound, while decent, isn't as involving or detailed as what you can get out of the ELAC.
The Sonos Connect ($349) offers similar features to the Muzo (minus 24/96 abilities) and the addition of a digital output. It also runs on older smartphones and pads. But I did not find the Sonos system's overall fidelity up to the level of the ELAC.
After my time with the DS-S101-G Discovery Music Server, it is clear that ELAC has assembled an excellent piece of hardware that only needs a few tweaks and updates to its software/firmware and control interface to make it a very attractive streaming option. As is, even with its current OS, the ELAC server delivers excellent sound and provides access to all the important sources for music. And with the Roon software, you get an elegant control surface that is both flexible and powerful. As of right now, for the price, the ELAC server is a clear winner.
• Check out our Media Servers category page to read similar reviews.
• Visit the ELAC website for more product information.
• To learn more about the Roon user experience, click here.