Review: Elac Discovery DS-S101-G audio server/streamer
Articles,  Blog

Review: Elac Discovery DS-S101-G audio server/streamer


A streaming server for slightly over a
grant that does up to eight streams, manufactured by a loudspeaker company that
throws in a life time Roon subscription. Has the world turned mad? Elac is a 90 year old German company that now has
fresh blood streaming through the vanes in the form of new management and two key
persons from TAD/Pioneer: the internationally acclaimed
loudspeaker designer Andrew Jones and Vice President of Product
Development Chris Walker. They introduced the Discovery server/streamer with
the promise that the Discovery sub brand will bring many more networked products: a wifi amplifier
that has a line input and a network input, a range of active speakers with wifi inputs and a table
speaker. And that’s just what has been announced. The DS-S101-G, as it is called, is a small and elegant
heavy aluminum box that on the front only shows a light to indicate it’s powered on.
The rear is far more crowded: let’s go from the right to the left this time.
First we see two stereo line outputs on RCA. These normally offer separate signals with separate
volume control and thus separate d/a-converters. The third output is the TOSlink
and yellow RCA digital output. They both feed the same volume controlled third
output. All three outputs can also individually or together be fixed to maximum output and
can be coupled to feed the same signal. Further left is a USB 2 input for connecting an external
storage device like a hard disk or thumb drive. Music can not be stored internally, there is a small
solid state drive for the operating system and Roon’s database. There also is a 1 gigabyte
network connection, a reset button and a 12 volt DC input to connect the
supplied wall wart power supply. The Discovery runs on Linux as many servers
and network players do. On top of that runs Roon Essentials, a ‘light’ version of Roon. This is
music player software in a class of its own. I have seen it called a music magazine
but that doesn’t do it justice. It is like the experience of playing vinyl albums, reading
the album covers and having a music magazine alongside. It is a completely new way to discover your
music collection. See the top right corner for a review of the full Roon version. The ‘lite’ version
here has some limitations, the most noticeable is that the maximum number of tracks is limited to
15,000, which equals to around 1,200 to 1,500 albums. That’s more than most people will have, save the
real music lover. Yet it is considerably less than popular brands like Sonos and Bluesound
do. There are more less significant features missing from Roon Essentials, like the
lacking support for DSD and the missing graphic representation of the signal path, but those are of
far less importance. Apart from that, the user interface has been made more logical, functions are brought
together in one menu in stead of all kinds of buttons all over the screen. So here Roon Essentials is even better, although
I expect these changes to appear in the full version as wel. The Roon Essentials software has
Tidal fully integrated. So if you look for David Bowie you see the old albums from your own collection
but also his latest album, Black Star, from Tidal. You could even have Roon Essentials add Tidal
albums in one of more genres to the album oversight. But again with the restriction of a total maximum of
15,000 tracks. It is therefore wise to first have your own music collection loaded before
you log in to Tidal for the first time. Tidal easily fills the 15,000 tracks capacity
and you need that for your own music. If you exceed the 15,000 tracks `you can still
access the Tidal music by going to an artist and then scroll down to find the
albums on that artist Tidal offers. The Discovery is a streaming server and player at
the same time but has no internal music storage. The essence is that you don’t need a computer,
the Discovery is the computer and the streamer. Music can be stored on a directly
attached hard disk or on a NAS or share on a computer elsewhere in the house. The Discovery needs to be connected to the home
network over a network cable since it can provide up to 8 streams and when they are stored on a NAS,
they have to come from the NAS to the Discovery, to be sent from there to the endpoint This
means two times 8 streams, thus 16 streams. When they are 24 bit 192 kHz each stream will be
9.2 Mbit/s and that adds up to almost 150 Mbit/s. That’s ok on a gigabit network but even on current
speedy wifi networks it will be hard to guarantee 16 uninterrupted continues streams all the time. Therefore no Wifi was integrated, forcing
you to do the sensible thing: use a wire. As we have seen, it has one digital and two analogue
outputs that can be sent to the stereo in the living, a mini set in the kitchen and so on. As soon as
the other Discovery products become available, they can connect to the Discovery server over Wifi
since each output only uses one stream. Apart from the Discovery products, Airplay
and Roon Ready Endpoints are supported, according to the manual. The Airplay products work
fine, I could directly send music to the Apple TV, an Airport station and the Auralic Aries Mini using the
Airplay protocol, But my Sonore microRendu, which is a Roon Ready Endpoint and does work with the full
version of Roon, was not seen by Roon Essentials. Nor was the Raspberry Pi with HiFiBerry board
running the official Roon Bridge software and the the iMac the Roon
Essentials software was running on. As usual you can skip the tech by going
to the time code in the top left corner. Elac was clever enough not to try to design a streamer
right from scratch. Instead they sought partners in development: Variscite for the ICT part, Sonavox
for the audio hardware and Roon for the software. The Discovery uses a 32 bit 4 core 1.2 gigahertz Cortex
ARM v7 processor that seems to have 512 KB RAM and 8Gig DDR3 memory as storage. If you’re
surprised by the 32 bit, there is no need for 64 bit since the only advantage is more addressable
memory which isn’t needed here. Linux is used as operating system
and the light version of RoonServer, RoonEssentialServer, is the main software running. The computer part is completely closed for the user,
which I like. There is no way to ruin the Discovery. Computer nerds better buy a computer, this is
a consumer electronics devices like your tv or cd player and you don’t hack those either.
The computer part is on a separate board that is connected to the main board using an edge
connector. That main board holds the interfacing with the audio world plus two sets of stereo d/a-
converters. These are Cirrus Logic CS4350-DZZ multibit delta-sigma converters that handle up to 24
bit 192 kHz. I have said it before and say it again here: the type of DAC chip doesn’t guarantee a good
sound, it’s the implementation that counts. I was pleasantly surprised by the analogue outputs.
The designers were either rather lucky (which I don’t believe) or skilled. Don’t get me wrong, the Discovery doesn’t sound clearly better than other products in this price range, although it’s
a difficult product to compare. Still the analogue outputs are voiced to sound nice with every kind of music. The main importance of good
equipment is that it does sound right, without nasties. This sets the specialist companies
apart from the supermarket brands. The analogue outputs would fit nicely in the
lower range of my Set 2. That can’t be said for the digital output that must be
rated somewhat lower due to jitter that decreases the quality of the mid-highs. Bare in
mind that the audio quality is determined by the play-out device. Next to the two analoge and
single digital output you can also use the future Discovery components, Airplay devices
and – if Elac fixes the Roon Ready Endpoints promise they make in the manual – a lot of other devices. Let’s start with the elephant in the room right away: the artificial restriction of 15,000 tracks might be of
no consequence to the average music listener. But it is questionable whether he will spend € 1,100
on a streamer/server. He more likely will buy one, or if he is truly motivated two, plastic bluetooth
or wifi speakers and leave it with that. It is the audiophile and the music lover that will
spend over a grand on a network streamer/server. Even if he -it will mostly be he’s – doesn’t have more
than 15.000 tracks, will he commit himself to a device that is limited to those 15,000 tracks as where the 12 year old Sonos Connect already does 40.000 tracks and the Bluesound players even double that. Regardless whether he will ever need more than 15.000! For that are somewhere between 1200 and 1500
albums. But if he is willing to live with this restriction, the Discovery, or DS-S101-G as its official name is,
has a lot to offer. Things that others don’t offer, to start with Roon Essentials server and user interface.
It is a light version but the only really limiting factor for an audiophile, apart from the number of
tracks, might be the lack of DSD support. Although dealers tell me that’s hardly an issue with
their customers. The other things I mentioned are all nice features but not really necessary.
The lacking support for Roon Ready endpoints must be fixed in an update, since it is mentioned
in the manual and was also told to me by an American official of Elac on the
High End Munich show earlier this year. Having said that, the sound the Discovery
streamer/server produces is well voiced. Having two analogue and one digital output is
yet another plus for those who need it. The server works very quick, especially if you realize
it handles loads of metadata, the unique feature of the Roon software. I have mentioned what was
left out of the Roon software but I must stress here that the unique qualities of Roon are
kept and thus offered at a very low price. The lifetime subscription to the full Roon version
is € 500, the Discovery owner gets the Roon Essentials subscription for the lifetime
of the Discovery streamer/server for free. Whether the Discovery ecosystem will pick up depends
fully on how soon Elac – and probably also RoonLabs – will fix the Roon Endpoint flaw and how
they will proceed with the limited tracks. The concept is very fine and if those two points
don’t bother you: do yourself a favor and buy the Discovery streamer/server. Others
might want to follow developments here, like I will. Expect a part 2 of this review as soon as there are
more developments. A good reason to subscribe to this channel or follow me on
Facebook, Twitter or Google+. You find all info in the notes below this video in
Youtube. You can also post questions there but please view my Questions video first. See the
link in the top right corner. If you liked this video, please give it a thumbs up and tell your friends
on the web about it. I am Hans Beekhuyzen, thank you for watching and see you in
the next show or on theHBproject.com. And whatever you do, enjoy the music.

10 Comments

  • Ed Incleve

    Thanks Hans, another great review.

    I saw this at the Munich High End show (via youtube.com) and I thought it looked interesting, but it’s not for me. That was before I knew that it came with Roon Essentials, though. Now, it intrigues me, although I don't understand what is meant by "Titles". Is each song on a CD a title, and each classical music work, or movement a title?
    Also, I have a couple more questions – that probably doesn’t surprise you.  🙂

     I am using the Raspberry Pi 3/HiFiBerry Digi+, transformer version/iPower power supply/2.5” hard drive with  RuneAudio, as my music player and it sounds pretty good. The main drawback of this system is RuneAudio, because it is not very easy to find my music on it, and especially for my wife.
     I liked your reviews of the Bluesound Node 2, and in particular, the Auralic Aries Mini which I have seen locally. Whatever I use, I will be using my own DAC, so I’m only interested in the digital output of any music player.

    1. Using the digital output, how would you rank the sound of these 4 units you reviewed:

    A. Elac Discovery
    B. Auralic Aries Mini
    C.Bluesound Node2
    D. Raspberry Pi/HiFiBerry Digi+/transformer/iPower power supply

    2. How much difference is there between Roon software and the Auralic Aries Mini software? Is Roon that much better?

    I know these questions are somewhat specific, but you did review all these units.

  • RidingBean72

    Thank you again Hans. I hope that you continue to gain subscribers, I find your review videos to be some of the best on youtube. You really deserve more support 🙂 Please continue to make your great videos.

  • AudioFeel

    Hans, welk apparaat is audiofieler. De Elac Discovery, Mac mini of Sonore MicroRendu? Dit aangesloten op een TAD DAC. Ik hoor graag van je

  • Christian Dorn

    Hi Hans. Thanks for your great review. I am very interested in this streamer. My current streamer is project streambox ds net, i am not satisfied with there interface or the laidback sound. Do you discovery will be better? And which way do you think is better to connect the discovery to my hegel h160? rca and use dac from discovery or coax/optical and use dac in hegel? Thank you Again. Christian

  • Jill Gibson

    Hello HansHave you tried or do you think the SQ of the Discovery would be improved with a better power supply such as the 12v Sbooster PS?Thanks

  • Bullwinkle Eats Vegemite

    Just spoke with Metrum Acoustics about their Adagio DAC product interfaced with the Elac Ds-s101-g and they said the coaxial digital output of the Elac is not at all a limitation with the Elac product.
    So I don't know if you did not adequately test the coaxial connection or maybe the electronics in the Adagio removes the jitter from the Elac.

  • CSAF Media

    Hans thanks for a very thorough review. I'm an audiophile who is looking for a music server not based on a PC solution. This was very helpful!

  • wintertrader

    Hi Hans , I purchased the Discovery. I had some initial issues setting it up due to Mac address not being properly assigned to the device ( therefore I had Roon essential licencing problems), but very helpful people at Elac contacted Roon and solved this for me in less then 24 hours. I have a question as I try to understand all this and I am new to the field: What would be the main difference or the main advantage between simply running all your music through a full Roon subscription to Roon endpoints and using the Elac Discovery as an intermediary and running the music through Roon essentials? I have also purchased some compatible roon endpoinds ( bluesound speakers 2i, the sound is very nice) and eventually, I will hook up the Elac Discovery through one of the audio outs to my sound system. Also, do you know if one can subscribe to a full Roon subscription to bypass the limitations you mentioned ( number of files and DSD ) or if Elac /roon consider the possibility of implementing a full Roon option for an extra fee ? Thanks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *