Integra NAS-2.6 Network Audio Server Reviewed

Published On: February 15, 2005
Last Updated on: October 31, 2020
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Integra NAS-2.6 Network Audio Server Reviewed

From Onkyo's big brother company, Integra, comes a high end media server solution for music that is designed to work with the entire line of Onkyo and Integra AV preamps and AV receivers. See how it compares with Yamaha's MusicCAST and others.

Integra NAS-2.6 Network Audio Server Reviewed

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If you're like most people these days, you probably have at least some of your music collection stored on your computer. Sure, it's convenient when you're working at your desk. But most people don't have their computers hooked up to their main systems - for good reason.

Integra's NAS-2.6 Audio Network Server can cram thousands of CDs onto its internal hard disk. Most computers aren't configured to look good or work well in a home theater equipment rack, and hooking a PC up to your primary home theater display is not always possible.

Additional Resources
Read more Media Server Reviews from the likes of Logitech, Apple, Escient, Russound and many more.
• Read about Integra's Fall 2010 Lineup of AV gear here....

Enter the hard disk audio server, a rack-sized component that puts the vast storage space of today's hard disk drives to work to hold your entire CD collection. These usually work by compressing the audio from CDs using MP3 or some other coding method. Typically, they'll have a video output so you can operate them using menus on your TV screen, and they access some database so you don't have to manually key in title and track information for all your discs. That's the basic idea behind the $3,600 NAS-2.6 Network Audio Server from the Integra division of Onkyo.

Unique Features
The NAS-2.6 server not only has a hard disk drive that can store up to 2,600 hours of music, it can stream the music to other "clients" on the network. The clients can either be desktop PCs or compatible Net-Tune gear also made by Integra and Onkyo. What's more, the NAS-2.6 has four sets of analog stereo line-level outputs that you can feed to other rooms in your house. And family members don't have to listen to the same music -- each room can have its own selections playing.

The server can store music in four different quality settings ranging from uncompressed to three levels of MP3 compression. In essence, you can trade off audio quality for an increase in the number of discs you can store. At the lowest quality (128 kbps), you can cram more than 2,500 hours of music into your disk library on the 160 GB hard drive. Uncompressed, that capacity shrinks to 240 hours.

The MP3 encoder in the NAS-2.6 proved to be very good. Even at the lowest quality (Standard), I rarely found encoding artifacts to be intrusive. Even so, I usually stuck with the High and Very High Quality settings, which provided recorded music virtually indistinguishable from the original CD.

The NAS-2.6 makes ripping a disc to the hard drive very easy - slip a CD into the drive drawer, press Record on either the remote or the front panel, and the server does the rest. There are two ripping speeds - the normal speed gets things done in about eight minutes per disc. A high-speed mode gets most discs ripped in less than five minutes, but the drive mechanism seemed too noisy at that speed for my tastes. While the server is busy transcoding the CD data and storing it, it also goes out to the Gracenote CDDB Music Recognition Service to download the track and title information and to the XiVA online service to gather the cover art. This worked very well, even bringing up the correct track titles for a limited-edition, not-for-sale sampler of The Clash, though the cover art was replaced by a generic "rock" image.

The only anomaly I ran across with this process happened when my Internet connection went down. The server still announced that it was getting the information for the discs, even though it had lost communication ability. I ended up with track names consisting only of numbers and a disc name of "Album 20". However, once I reset my DSL router and restored connectivity, a simple Update Album Information command let me force the server to update the information without re-ripping the disc.


Installation/Setup/Ease of Use
What the NAS-2.6 can do is pretty complex, but it's surprisingly easy to set up. The complete user's manual is a refreshingly concise 40 pages. The hardest part is probably hooking the server up to your home computer network. But that isn't difficult, especially if your network has a DHCP server to automatically issue an Internet Protocol address to the NAS-2.6.

The initial setup instructions, in fact, make little mention of the Ethernet connectivity. Instead it's handled later in the "Advanced Settings" section of the manual. The initial instructions tell you to connect the internal modem to a phone line. This is ideal for people who just want a hard disk library of all their music in their rack and don't want to be bothered setting up a home network. Independent multi-room operation is still possible using the analog outputs.

Without even cracking the user's manual open, I found the NAS-2.6 easy to use, thanks to a fairly attractive, straightforward menu system and a remote control that's not overcrowded by buttons. (It has no backlighting, unfortunately.) You can also control virtually all operation of the server from the front panel. The display is easy to read and to follow, though the button labels aren't visible in dim lighting.

Once you store hundreds of discs or thousands of tracks on the hard drive, you need some way to access them without drowning in a sea of titles. The NAS-2.6 makes it possible to organize your music so you can get to it without a lot of hassle. You can, for example, sort your music tracks by artist, genre or album title. You can also create play lists and what Integra calls Presets, which are very much like play lists, but are especially easy to access without turning on the TV display. 

Final Take
When I saw my first disk-based audio server I thought, "Hey, what a really cool idea!" After using a couple of servers, I thought, "Now if they could only get it to work!" By using Imerge's XiVA platform, which, in effect, is the operating system of the server, Integra seems to have not only a fine-sounding system on its hands, but a very stable one, too.

While the basic performance of the NAS-2.6 was first-rate, I can find some things to quibble about. The user interface was easy to figure out, but I'd like to see more information on the screen. It's skimpy, I suppose, because the base-level output is composite video and it has to be readable on a standard NTSC TV. But if I'm using the server's VGA output with a plasma display, I'd like to see more tracks on the screen at the same time. And I'd really like to see a screen saver so the menus don't get burned into whatever display I'm using. Even when the server is put into its Standby mode (instead of being fully turned off) it sends video out to the display telling you that it's in standby. I could probably figure that out by myself.

Perhaps the real power of the NAS-2.6 is the combination of both Ethernet and analog outputs. If your home isn't wired for Ethernet and you have multiple audio systems scattered about, the server is a great way to share a single library throughout. You'll still have to run wiring to the remote locations, but it's sure to be a great option for non-networked people. Each analog output can be set for variable or line-level operation. For even more options and flexibility, you can use Net-Tune-ready clients to extend the server's output.

Hard-disk-based storage of music is great, but I'm not ready to give up on physical media like CDs anytime soon. However, I can pretty much guarantee that with the NAS-2.6, you'll move your CD collection to the back of a closet and free up all that shelf space for something else. 

Additional Resources
Read more Media Server Reviews from the likes of Logitech, Apple, Escient, Russound and many more.

• Read about Integra's Fall 2010 Lineup of AV gear here.... 

Integra NAS-2.6 Audio Network Server 
Capacity: up to 2,600 Hours 

Encoding Bit Rates: uncompressed or 128, 
192 or 320 kbps 
(1) Optical and (1) Coaxial Digital Audio Output 
(4) Independent Analog Stereo Audio Outputs 
(1) VGA Output 
(1) S-Video and (1) Composite Video Output 
(1) Modem Jack 
(2) USB Ports 
(1) Ethernet Port 
RS-232 Serial Control Port 
4" H x 17-3/16" W x 14-17/16" D 
Weight: 19 lbs 
MSRP: $3,600

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