Arctic Audio Relay - Streaming Renderer Review

GhostyDog

Active Member
Background

I've wanted to be able to play music in the house in most rooms from a centralised source for some time now, there's a dead easy way of doing that, but it would more than likely make me very unhappy with the neighbours and that's to buy a really loud stereo and just put it on full blast day and night. :evilgrin:

The alternative I have chosen though to keep neighbourly relations on an even keel is to centralise my music on a Network Attached Storage (NAS) Server and stream the music to various HiFi kit I already own situated in the various rooms in my house.

To do this I did quite a bit of research and there are lots of proprietary vendors who have systems that will do this, but it would mean either replacing the kit I already have with something like a Philips Streamium or augmenting it with costly wireless bridging devices like SONOS.

In my research I stumbled across a small black box that talked a good game about providing a streaming endpoint that you could connect to pretty much any existing audio equipment that had an auxiliary input.

This box supports streaming music from UPnP/DLNA CertifiedTM digital media server and to test it's functionality I used the following products.

  • Media Server (centralised music source) - Asset uPNP on Windows 7 serving an iTunes Music Folder.
  • Control Point (software for queueing music and managing playlists) - Linn Kinsky iPhone Version
  • Renderer - Arctic Audio Relay

Setup

On delivery of the device I was surprised at how small it is, it is well packaged and has a glossy black plastic exterior. I plugged it into my network following the instructions that came in the box and it picked up an IP via DHCP from my router straight away.

I followed the instructions to get the device up and running on my home wireless network then moved it to it's location and plugged it in. Initially when wired into the network I could see the device no problems but once moved to the new location I could no longer see it, after some experimentation I found that the wireless range of the box in my house (and your mileage may vary here as I have stone and brick internal dividing walls) was not adequate for it to connect to my network.

I thought this may be an issue so I am planning on adding a wireless access point on that side of the house as the wireless coverage isn't great and often drops even on my iPhone or Laptop.

I set the box up within range and connected it to an old iPod Dock using a twin phono to 3.5mm jack plug, fired up the Linn Kinsky App and there was my target device ready and waiting to be used.

Browsing through the library on the Asset Media Server installed on my laptop was quick and easy on the Kinsky App and I fairly quickly had songs streaming across to the dock using the Arctic Box as the middleman.

I'm very happy with how it has turned out and with the addition of the new Access Point I should be able to add a few more of these devices to I can control my music from anywhere in the house using the app on my phone.

One of the things I have read in other reviews but not tested is that the technology has the capability to stream different music to different rooms concurrently, so this is something I hope to test in future when I buy a NAS to complement the devices.

Conclusion

There are quite a lot of products out there that do similar things, it really can be as simple as choosing a vendor and replacing all your existing kit, but if you have invested in kit that more suits your needs and the proprietary systems don't do things in just the way you want there seems to be very little choice other than to build a home multi-room system to your own specification using the Arctic Audio Relay as the device that connects your HiFi to your Music.

The price was good @ £70 delivered considering a similar box from SONOS is closer to £300, it does exactly what I wanted it to do in a very simple no frills way. Configuration was easy and out of the box and with a little troubleshooting of wireless connectivity problems I had it up and running in about an hour, that includes downloading and installing a uPNP Media Server, figuring out how to work the Kinsky App and configuring the Audio Relay itself.

The box documentation mentions that the audio relay only supports MP3, AAC, WAV and WMA however it also says it only supports WiFi b/g standards but other reviewers have found it also supports the wireless n standard so again your mileage may vary in what you can get it to play.

With phono outputs and a toslink output it gives decent flexibility for hooking up to various HiFi systems and with both wifi and ethernet you can have your cake and eat it with regards network connectivity. This device also comes with a two year warranty from Arctic for piece of mind.

All things taken into account, I feel this is a great bit of kit that's easy to setup at a very competitive price.

Links

Audio Relay · Wireless Audio · Living · ARCTIC
Linn
Asset UPnP DLNA

GD
 

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larkone

Member
Looks like a good device, shame it doesn't support FLAC
 

davide445

Standard Member
Really considering to buy it, but will work with any DLNA media server, such as Synology Audio Station?

And what about Synology DS Audio iPad app, will be recognize Arctic Audio Relay as a target for music play?
 

larkone

Member

davide445

Standard Member
Reading the specs can play AAC files, but can also play m4a?

I want to import my classic music CD library and iTunes by default convert it into m4a. I also want to listen my iTunes bought songs, also in m4a format. Need I to reconvert all my library into WMA or AAC format?

Can AirPort Express be a better choice? I can't understood the differences in terms of remote control using iPad.
 
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GhostyDog

Active Member
I've been using Asset uPNP as the Media Server and tested quite a few others along with pretty much every controlpoint app in the appstore, no two work in quite the same way.

Asset uPNP will transcode FLAC to WAV and with the reference file I had it sounded pretty damn good.

I've been tinkering more with the Audio Relay, and found out some more about it.

I know that they are using a SIP Module from Jorgin Tech, not sure which one yet (I can't read Kanji) but the amplitude gain on the integrated Wi-Fi chipset just isn't enough in a large house like mine. I don't know whether this is because the SIP Module is underpowered by the transformer or whether there is an issue with the firmware or the module just can't take a greater power load. At a distance of around 6-10 feet from the access point there are no issues and I spent most of an afternoon listening to album after album without a problem, beyond that it starts to get ropey, at about 15 feet it can't even connect to the network.

The other day I spent some time getting the device up and running with a Netgear PowerLine XAV101 HomePlug Kit (200Mbps) to see if there was any difference using the device over Ethernet. This has been successful despite the occasional drop in sound (could be because I'm using the laptop I have asset installed on), and bizarrely when I connect and manipulate the Audio Relay using WIFI or Ethernet I am getting access to different controls but not all of the controls using this controlpoint software

On WiFi, I can access volume control, stop and play but cannot skip to the next track or previous track or pause.
On Ethernet, I can access skip forwards, skip backwards and stop, I cannot set the volume though via the ControlPoint app and still cannot pause music, if I set the volume to the lowest limit it turns the sound of completely, set it higher anywhere in the volume range and it just sets it at full volume.

Obviously I am finding this both confusing and illogical, I don't know if the Audio Relay is at fault, the ControlPoint software or the Media Server and I don't want to get into a situation where people are pointing fingers at other vendors.

I'm gave Plex a go as the Media Server to see if that affected things differently and it just wasn't suitable, great media server if that's the sort of thing you want.

The device is hooked up via TOSLINK to my DENON AV-F100 Receiver through a couple of cheap as chips acoustics solutions 3 foot floor standers and the quiet bit at the beginning of Phil Collins All of My Life with the Saxophone sounded pretty damned good all things considered.

In summary, I don't think that all the component parts of the setup adhere strictly to the standards which is why different aspects of my setup work differently under different scenarios.

The question is, can I or you live with the idiosyncrasies over forking out a fortune for a proprietary system like the SONOS.
 
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davide445

Standard Member
Thanks for your detailed response.

Sure I won't pay the amount of money requested for Sonos.

Considering your explanation the remaining questions are: there is a controller that is working for a single Arctic? I need to stream to a single stereo. I don't need to change volume by controller, can use stereo volume controller.

And the distance btw wifi router and Arctic will be around 16 ft with two walls between. Too much? What wifi router are you using?

Also will play m4a audio files?
 
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GhostyDog

Active Member
Thanks for your detailed response.

Sure I won't pay the amount of money requested for Sonos.

Considering your explanation the remaining questions are: there is a controller that is working for a single Arctic? I need to stream to a single stereo. I don't need to change volume by controller, can use stereo volume controller.

And the distance btw wifi router and Arctic will be around 16 ft with two walls between. Too much? What wifi router are you using?

The controller I use with the arctic (mentioned in previous post) works fine.

Also will play m4a audio files?

I really think it depends on the house, my house was built in 1630 and interior walls are brick and stone with lots of strange angles that increase reflection and absorption so I have appalling problems with wifi at the furthest extents of the house which I'm planning to augment with an additional access point or two. Most of my devices can access the wifi pretty much anywhere with just my router though, laptops, iStuff, etc.

My router is a Draytek Vigor 2710n.

The tests above were in line of sight of the router though, I honestly can't say how it may interact in another environment.

As for m4a, I don't know but if your media server can transcode it to a known supported codec then I'd say yes it will work.

Even if you bought a secondhand set of poweline adaptors of ebay and one of these audio relays it will still be vastly cheaper than a SONOS and less proprietary.

Hope this helps.

:)

Sean
 
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davide445

Standard Member
I finally bought yesterday an AirPort Express...and wondering if was a good decision.

I can stream audio from my NAS, using Synology DS Audio iOS app for control, but when I exit from the app the stream will also stop.

With Arctic you can use a external DLNA controller and close it after launching the audio stream?

I have just few days to decide if return AirPort and have a try for Arctic.

My concern on Arctic was about wifi range, but if you can confirm the remote control work in the way also video control do I think can worth a try.
 

GhostyDog

Active Member
Okay,

If I set some music off playing using the controlpoint app I get the following scenarios.

App running, App has focus - Music Plays and tracks play in sequence
App running, Another App has focus - Music Plays and tracks play in sequence
App running, Phone Locked - Music Plays and tracks play in sequence
App closed - Music continues to play but the next queued track does not play

Hope this helps.

Sean
 
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davide445

Standard Member
Okay,

If I set some music off playing using the controlpoint app I get the following scenarios.

App running, App has focus - Music Plays and tracks play in sequence
App running, Another App has focus - Music Plays and tracks play in sequence
App running, Phone Locked - Music Plays and tracks play in sequence
App closed - Music continues to play but the next queued track does not play

Hope this helps.

Sean

Yes thanks, that's the behavior I was expecting.
Fine for me, if I can't solve the problems with AirPort in the next couple of days Arctic is the next one.
 

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