Mobile library

Malcolm Steward discovers a neat solution for losslessly storing up to 3,000 ripped CDs with zero effort, a minimal outlay and no catch

The Vortexbox name represents two things: it is a suite of Linux (Fedora-based) software applications that provide users with a music library. It is also the name of the software installed on the company’s ripping NAS (Network Attached Storage) appliances. The software is freely downloadable, while the hardware – a range of fully equipped DLNA-capable (Digital Living Network Alliance) appliances – starts at the genuine value-for-money price of £385.

3,000 albums at CD-quality

You can load Vortex Box software onto any PC, where once installed, it will automatically rip CDs to FLAC and MP3 files, ID3 tag those files and download the cover art. It will then serve the stored music to network media players, including those from Arcam, Linn, Logitech, Naim and Sonos.

We opted to test the complete £385, 1TB VortexBox package: the software installed on an energy-efficient hardware platform specifically designed to suit it and provide general-purpose NAS functionality, along with CD-ripping and audio server capabilities.

The compact appliance is based upon a 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor and 1GB of DDR2 RAM. It connects to the rest of the world through a GigaBit (10/100/1000 Mbps) NIC (Network Interface Controller) and Ethernet cable. Its 1TB hard disk will provide sufficient storage for around 3,000 CDs, using the lossless FLAC format level 5 (default) compression.

The box is fitted with six USB connections: four at the rear, allowing you, for example, to connect external hard disks for back-up purposes, as well as two at the front, which are convenient for quick downloads of music from memory sticks.

The silent type

The VortexBox Appliance is a very neatly assembled unit and is contained in a modestly proportioned, substantial and good-looking case. Its internal layout is made tidier through its use of an external power supply. This is a switch-mode type, so we plugged it straight into a Russ Andrews Silencer mains unit to counter any negative effects it might have.

Based on a Micro-Star 7418 mini- ITX motherboard, the unit offers connections for on-board audio, but VortexBox is keen to point out that this unit really is a NAS and ripper, rather than a media player.

Satisfying sounds

We tested the VortexBox both as a UPnP server and as a media player with a USB connection feeding a Cambridge DacMagic USB input (which admittedly doesn’t deliver the DAC’s optimum performance) and a small Arcam/NEAT system. The results were encouraging, nonetheless.

At the end of the day, the VortexBox works well and delivers a consistent, musically rewarding performance through all the media players in residence. It is whisper-quiet and communicates without any glitches, over a mixed Windows domain/workgroup network.

Whether auditioned through a revealing high-end system or a simpler set-up typical of the sort deployed in a music-lover’s office, the tunes emerge flawlessly with no evidence of constriction or audible limitations. Pitch accuracy, dynamics, detail and timing information all seem spot-on and the all-important pace and rhythm aspects are resolutely well defined. Overall, this commodity-priced ripping NAS gives a commendable performance.

Ticking the boxes

The VortexBox Appliance ticks all the boxes. It’s a well-equipped NAS and it rips capably. It’s also environmentally sound and very reasonably priced. If you want storage for your unpackaged media, then there surely cannot be a better, more cost-effective option.

LIKE: It does what it says on the tin and does it well
DISLIKE: It needs a more comprehensive manual
WE SAY: Apart from one hiccup, which a call to the distributor sorted in minutes, everything about using the VortexBox is plain sailing

PRODUCT: VortexBox Appliance
TYPE: Automatic CD-ripping NAS
WEIGHT: 3.9kg
DIMENSIONS: (WxHxD) 300x65x240mm
• Built-in dual-layer drive
• Low-power: 25 watts
• Built-in consumer-quality soundcard
• Can also store photos and documents
TELEPHONE: 01892 888456