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After 2 minutes max to get set up, you are ready to surf thousands of internet radios by location, genre, returning to favorites or those you have just listened to. You can even search them by name. Awesome!  I’ve been living in the US for eight years now. Being able to listen to stations I used to enjoy when growing up in Paris was a blast. France Inter, Europe 1, Radio Classique all broadcast 24/7 in quality that surpasses FM reception in Paris. Yes it is compressed (and the Info button on the Receiver allows you to scroll through useful information including streaming data quality and signal reliability) but the deliberately forgiving voicing of the TEAC made it perfectly enjoyable.

Actually I was typing this review to a late-night broadcast of Holst's Planets. Sure 128kbps was compressed and mushy peas—slightly more so than if I tried to play the same piece from CD at high levels through the 2wpcYamamoto A08s—but not unbearably so. In all fairness, you could hardly do worse than this composition to test the resilience of MP3 streaming. With that in mind, I found Internet radio through the TEAC addictive and fun especially on less complex music where compression is not as devastating. Where else can you jump from Classical to Bluegrass to Celtic programming with the push of a few buttons on a remote, with sound quality that often surpasses FM radio at least for us country dwellers?

There was one real issue though that arose around this feature. My wife wanted to put the CR-H500NT in the living room to listen to NPR, the French news and the kids' songs on her iPod. I wanted to keep it in my office to stream Internet radio and listen to my iPod while working. Guess who won?

MP3 recording: Another unusual function of the TEAC receiver is the ability to record music to USB drive (except from the iPod direct input). You can record music from the phono and auxiliary inputs as well as digitally streamed music. The less appealing part is that such music is recorded as 128kbps MP3.

If you want to capture a radio cut for later reference, it will do fine in a pinch but I don't think anyone would archive LPs, CDs or tapes that way - not if you want to preserve musical quality. I tried the feature, it worked as advertised but I would not turn it into a unique selling proposition on the sales floor.

Music server:
I have to finish with the most disappointing feature. The good news is that the CR-H500NT is a success regardless. Without going into unnecessary convolutions, if TEAC’s primitive interface makes entering a network password somewhat painful, imagine what navigating through the pathways of your network to find your music files feels like. It’s one long arduous process that will take you through multiple dead ends until you find the right folder on the right virtual machine (I run two on my iMac in addition to Snow Leopard). What makes things more confusing if you use iTunes to manage your music library is that its folders do not necessarily match how you have your collection organized. iTunes does keep track of all those pathways and stacks but when looking at the hard disk architecture, you must remember who the artist listed in the album's tag may be (usually obvious for Rock but far less so for classical where it could be the composer, the conductor, the orchestra or the key soloist).

If persistent, you will eventually understand the serpentine structure that is your network (much fun for anybody trying to stream music from two computers on the same network) and be able to stream files directly from your PC. Here starts step two of your frustration (or at least mine did). Whether cabled or wireless, all I was able to stream were MP3 files. I appreciate that 24/92 ALAC files may be larger than the unit can handle when streaming wirelessly but even Apple Lossless 16/44 did not flow through a cabled or wireless connection. Limited to streaming MP3s, the function proved absolutely useless to me when my whole collection is in Apple Lossless. One might find the shadow of an explanation in a statement in the receiver's manual "…audio encoded at 128 kbps should sound close to regular audio CD quality." Cough. I know full well that the CR-H500NT is not targeted at audiophiles. Still, promoting this type of nonsense helps nobody, not the manufacturers and certainly not the trusting buyers who want to listen to music and learn that they are enjoying it less and less without understanding why. This statement from Esoteric's parent company was a little disheartening.

The reason why MP3-only streaming in the end proved no big deal for this user was the fact that the same lossless collection resides on my iPod. As stated earlier, iPod direct was of very high quality. Why bother with networking? This is a very personal conclusion of course. The plain truth is, unless your music collection is encoded as MP3, the music server function already limited by its challenging interface will be a nonstarter. With the CR-H500NT, your iPod will be your best friend. I do believe a few electronic engineers at TEAC HQ need to open up a Squeezebox Touch and figure out how to graft a touch screen to the CR-H500NT while replicating the robustness of Logitech's data transfers. This would turn the li’l TEAC receiver also into one seriously credible music server. For now it ain’t.

To conclude: I think TEAC was right to call their CR-H500NT a CD receiver. I was actually impressed by the performance of its CD player and even more so by its amplifier section. It’s cleverly voiced to hide the weaknesses of MP3 compression and cheap speakers but can actually show real mettle with more ambitious ancillaries and uncompressed files. The TEAC receiver is a true music lover’s component in the best sense of the term as used by Jeff Day when he wrote for us. The CR-H500NT focuses primarily on erasing recorded flaws to make music enjoyable whilst doing a very good job on tone, timbre and dynamics, just leaving ambience retrieval, imaging and finest details somewhat behind. That’s exactly what you want when music plays while you are working, reading or simply relaxing.

That said, the added features make the TEAC receiver into a real winner. The CD player is more than honorable as is the phonostage if care is taken to limit the partnering table and cartridge to some of the entry-level packages available from many analogue manufacturers. The true stars in this package are without doubt the iPod direct function which takes digital playback to the level of an excellent kilobuck player; and Internet radio which throws music from around the world into the deal. No question, the music server function is dysfunctional compared to what a Squeezebox Touch does for less than $300. I simply don't think that it will take the folks at TEAC long to close that gap. In the meantime, the CR-H500NT earns a Realsization award for everything it does so right; and for combining in one box plain more musical enjoyment and fun than I had in a long while. At $799, it’s also one heckuva steal.
Quality of packing: Good.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: Easy, the CR-H500NT although hefty is easily manageable.
Condition of component received: Flawless.
Quality of owner's manual: Very good, detailed instructions available.
Website comments: Professionally designed but little useful information.
Human interactions: Helpful and prompt.
Suggestions: The CR-H500NT's only weakness is its network player function. That’s impractical and nowhere near the standard of a Squeeze Box Touch for example. Yet overall it takes nothing away from the qualities of this receiver which remains an overachiever by all accounts.
Remark: The CR-H500NT will do great with entry-level speakers but actually deserves better ancillaries – either a Zu Soul or some Harbeth monitors would certainly reveal a lot more of its true potential.

TEAC website