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The most important question to ask during the test of such a device is: "What is it?" The simple answer: "It is a file player streaming files from solid state memory or hard disk (the latter is a kind of solid state memory albeit with moving parts)." This seems simple enough but alters the way recordings are approached. With physical carriers some of the work which we must now do ourselves was performed by the publisher. The publishing company placed the cuts in a particular order, those on a disc and the only thing left for us was pressing 'play'. With network players, the role of the listener commences earlier. We need to rip our CDs to a HDD, group the recordings in folders and assign them names. Only material thus prepped can be transferred to the portable hard disk or USB stick which then connects to the player via USB. The DSS30 is equipped with four such ports as an 'open platform' design which supports many interfaces. Besides the classic A type USB ports, we get rectangular B type ports to interface with a computer, a digital S/PDIF input accepting signals up to 24/96 and an Ethernet port option to link up NAS (Network Access Storage) external storage drives.

Inside there is an SD card slot for above 4GB capacities. One selects between available inputs with small front panel buttons or the wireless remote. I did not use the SD card as it supports only MP3 files uploaded via B-type USB. I consider that a waste of time and space unless there was a provision to install many paralleled 64GB cards for sufficient memory. But those cards would have to be compatible with all files types, not mere MP3 since the DSS itself plays FLAC (up to 24/192), WAV (up to 24/96), Apple Lossless (ALAC), ACC and MP3. The manual and web page mention WMA support but this is not presently the case so I queried Maurizio about it: "Our DSS plays all manner of audio files except for Windows Media Audio because we await formal authorization from Microsoft who has patented WMA to be used only with Microsoft operating systems. DSS as you probably know is Linux-based which is much better because it is open source and easily upgraded. We can write our own code without Microsoft's approval. But in the case of WMA, we do need their authorization. I am not sure this is a good idea."

A very important bit of information regards the unit's firmware updates which the Blacknote page publishes routinely (I used version 3.5). Updates are downloaded and transferred via USB stick. Very simple and future proof. Music files for listening are available from two sources. We can either rip personal discs with available extraction software like Exact Audio Copy to hard disk, then transfer it to a mobile carrier; or download Internet files. In my case, I went fishing in the Linn Records pond and caught a full net to clog my hard disk with 24/96 and even 24/192 FLAC files. So the DSS 30 is a file player. It is also a DAC accepting 24/96 signals. It is also a transport that outputs a S/PDIF signal up to 24/192(!). With more and more DACs available that lock to such signals via their S/PDIF inputs on coaxial cable, this is important.

Handling the player is simple. My biggest complaint is that after selecting a source like a USB stick, the display shows the name of its first file. We access others by pressing 'skip'. This works perhaps with a few loaded files on our drive but on a 1TB hard disk with endless files, navigation becomes impossible. I cannot imagine 100 clicks to get to the desired destination file. Theoretically we could use the remote's numeric keypad but we must know the numbers of files in each folder. That's impossible. Rather, the display should be enlarged significantly to display many file names at once. Now it is like going to a library where we can read anything we want - under the condition that we search books sequentially only and without looking at their backs. Further, Naim's HDX allows one to display albums covers. This could be trite but is an important part of the user interface which I missed in the Blacknote.

A selection of discs used for testing: Bill Evans, You Must Believe In Spring, Warner Bros./Warner Music Japan, WPCR-13176, CD | Christian Willisohn, Hold On, Stockfisch SFR 357.4038.2, SACD/CD | Danielsson/Dell/Landgren, Salzau Music On The Water, ACT 9445-2, CD | Derek And The Dominos, The Layla Sessions. 20
th Anniversary Edition, Polydor/Universal Music Japan, UICY-93958/60, 3 x SHM-CD | G. F. Händel, Acis & Galatea, Dunedin Consort&Players, Linn Records, CKD 319, 2 x SACD/CD | G.F. Händel, Oratorios. Saul & Messiah, Harmonia Mundi, HMX 2908280.83, 4 x CD | Kenny Burrell, Soul Call, Prestige/JVC, JVCXR-0210-2, XRCD2 | Händel, Messiah, Dunedin Consort & Players, Linn Records, CKH 312, 3 x 180g LP; FLAC 24/88,2 | Geminiani, Sonatas for Violoncello & Basso Continuo, Alison McGillivray, Linn Records, CKD 251, FLAC 24/96 | Händel Operatic Arias, Emma Bell, Linn Records, CKD 252, FLAC 24/96 | Pink Floyd, London 1966/1967 EP, Highnote, PUC66, FLAC 16/44,1. | Ben Heit Quartet, Magnetism, Acousence Records, ACO80108, FLAC 24/192 | Lars Danielsson, Mélange Bleu, ACT 9604-2, CD | Patricia Barber, Companion, Premonition/Mobile Fidelity, UDSACD 2023, SACD/CD | Frank Sinatra, My Cole Porter, Capitol. Pickwick Series, SPC-3463, LP | Madeleine Peyroux, Careless Love, Rounder/Mobile Fidelity, MSFL 1-284, 180 g LP | Mel Tormé, Oh, You Beautiful Doll, Past Perfect/The Trumpets of Jericho, 904333-980, 180 g LP | Paul Desmond, Summertime, CTI/A&M Records//Speakers Corner, A&M SP 3015, 180g LP.