REVIEW: Autonomic Mirage MMS-2A media server
Streaming digital audio and system integration combine in Autonomic’s Mirage audio system, a digital source device.
What it is
The Autonomic Mirage MMS-2A is actually up to three sources in one, so let’s work through this carefully.
It can play back digital audio from the build in solid state drive – there’s 128GB of that. Or from up to four additional drives attached via USB. Or from several Internet sources. As I write, supported are Deezer, Pandora, SiriusXM, Spotify, TIDAL and TuneIn. Or from specified folders throughout your home network. Or from any devices supporting Apple’s Airplay (iPhones, iPads, iPod Touches, and Mac or Windows computers running iTunes).
It can play your selection of three of these to three different outputs at the same time independently.
You may be surprised that a unit with these capabilities has but one control: a power switch on the front. But of course all control is via the network. There are apps for both iOS and Android devices to set all three outputs to playing your preferred items, and there is a Web interface built into the unit. This also controls playback, but also offers a deeper set of setup options.
The MMS-2A is a component width unit. It comes with both feet and ears, not attached. If you’re going to desk mount it you screw on the feet. The ears are for rack mounting.
At the back are two obvious outputs: coaxial digital audio is the ‘Main’ output, while the analogue audio outputs are labelled ‘Player A’. There are also four USB 2.0 sockets. You can use these for a great deal more storage, or turn one into a third Source device by plugging in a USB audio device. More on that in a little while. There are HDMI and D-SUB15 outputs. The HDMI is video only. There’s also an Ethernet connection. This must be connected or the unit is going to be useless.
If you’re doing some extensive audio installation, then you can consider the matching network controllable multichannel installation amps from Autonomic. If you want to stream more than three different tunes to different parts of your home, then you can go to the MMS-5A which offers up to six individual streams (including a USB one).
While not particularly relevant, I did discover something of interest. Apparently I closed it down at some point in an inelegant way, because the next time it booted up a Windows ‘unexpected shutdown’ screen appeared, wondering if I wanted a Safe boot up or some other option. Fortunately after about ten seconds it went straight into a normal bootup. Intrigued, I plugged a keyboard and mouse in to see if I could get control over the system, but failed to do so. Still, clearly there’s a heavily skinned Windows at the core of this system.
Setting up is pretty straight forward initially. It’s just a matter of plugging in the outputs of the unit into the two (initially) different amp/speaker systems and turning on your TV to see what the unit is saying to you. The video output shows tracks that are playing for one of the outputs, and a slideshow of artworks and various photos (you can add your own). Most importantly, it shows the IP address that the unit has been allocated by your network router.
For deeper settings, you need to enter this IP address or the Web identifier (‘http://mms-2a’) of the unit followed by ‘/config’ to bring up a configuration page. There is no apparent link from the main control page, presumably to stop casual users from messing things up. One of the first things to do there is to change the network address to a static one. You will be controlling this unit via a web interface or an app, so a stable network address is important.
The various setup things are neatly organised into several subject tabs. You can check for firmware upgrades and install them from here, install the Mac or Windows music sync software (no download needed, it’s sitting on the Mirage’s flash drive). You can enter your various logons for the Internet services to which you’re subscribed, and specify the network addresses (and logon details) for any network folders containing music you wish to make available to the unit.
You will need to switch on AirPlay for those outputs you wish to make it available for. A nice feature of this is the ability to add a password which has to be entered by an Airplay device before it takes over the output. It can stop the impish from interrupting your enjoyment of other material.
Loading music into the unit was pretty straightforward. The unit appears on the network as network attached storage (NAS) under the name ‘MMS-2’. Click on it, navigate to the ‘Music’ folder and start dragging in music from your network resources. The transfers went fairly quickly. I mostly dragged in a subset of my FLAC music (subset because 128GB is way too small for the whole lot). On my network this averaged in the mid 40MB/s, but the more I loaded in the faster it seemed to go. Often there were sustained chunks of transfer at close to 70MB/s. The theoretical maximum of a gigabit network is around 125MB/s.
Once dumped onto the unit’s storage, it whips into action scanning the files and finding relevant track information to build its indexes. These include the usual artist, album and genre, plus tracklist. But there’s also composer, a rare inclusion which will be welcomed by classical music enthusiasts.
I plugged in a USB hard disk with a few tens of gigabytes of MP3 and M4A content and after a while the music from this also became available. The indexing was fairly fast. I didn’t time it, but certainly everything was available within at most a couple of hours.
At first I couldn’t see the drive on my network, but it turned out that it was ‘mounted’ under the ‘Music’ folder of ‘HHS-2A’. Accordingly it was easy to drag and drop more music to it from my computer. Network folders were also easily made available to the unit. It just treats them as though they are attached storage.
The apps were highly usable for choosing music to play, along with the output from which to play it. That included USB Audio. I used a DragonFly USB dongle which worked perfectly. Any bog-standard USB interface should work. Anything requiring proprietary drivers probably won’t.
Even though the specifications say that the unit can deliver only two streams at once, with the DragonFly inserted three streams were readily available.
The unit has a facility called Tunebridge, which basically integrates all the sources (except Airplay, which takes over when used). So you can set up playlists with songs from the built in storage, attached USB storage, network folders and Internet sources such as Spotify.
All that’s very convenient and highly practical, but of little use unless the system performs decently on the audio quality side of things. The nice thing is that you can ensure high quality output by using the USB connection.
But it turned out that both the coaxial digital audio and analogue audio outputs produced very high quality signals. The coaxial (and USB) output has a control in the config panels for the audio standard to be output. With the coax it was 16 or 24 bits at 44.1, 48 or 96kHz. With the DragonFly plugged into a USB, that output was 44.1, 48 or 96kHz at 24 bits.
The unit supports a wide range of digital audio formats, although not DSD. I tried it out with WMA, FLAC, MP3, M4A and WAV with excellent results. Even FLAC at 192kHz, which the unit is not rated for, worked, although downsampled to 96kHz. It’s up to you to choose which output standard you want. For sheer convenience, you’re likely to go for 96kHz, and have the unit upsample the bulk of your music to that output.
The measured frequency response from the analogue audio outputs using a difficult 96kHz signal was -1dB at 30 and 30,000 hertz. The noise level using a 24 bit signal was -98.2dB A-weighted, which is so-so. It’s doubtful that any of these variations from measured perfection are audible, but if they worry you, you can always simply add a high quality DAC.
The unit is far from cheap, but it is a very powerful way of providing three streams of easily controllable, quality music around your home.