Pinnacle SoundBridge M1000

Pinnacle are most well known for their range of video importing hardware and editing software for the PC platform. But we’re not testing any of that. Nope. We’re skipping straight to their SoundBridge M1000 Wi-Fi streaming audio system.

What’s a Wi-Fi streaming audio system you ask?

There’s a whole market dedicated to these devices, which hook up to your home audio systems via phono or optical jacks. The purpose of the system is to take digital audio from either the internet or your computer and source it to a powered speaker system such as your Hi-Fi system.

Inside the M1000 is an 802.11g wireless chip and a 100Mb ethernet connection, which allows you to stream audio content either directly from your machine or directly from the internet and listen to online radio stations.

How does it work and what’s it compatible with?

The M1000 works with both Mac and PC platforms as well as a variety of audio formats with the common names such as WMA and MP3 making the cut.

In terms of software, the M1000 doesn’t actually come with any. Instead you can download one of the free music players, some of which you may have already. Music players such as iTunes, Winamp, Slimserver, MusicMatch, Windows Media Connect, Real Player all work with the M1000.

The connections
The front and sides of this unit are completely free from any jacks. The messy cabling starts at the back with the ports for audio line-out via RCA to Phono, SPDIF, power jack and the Ethernet jack. Included in the box is the 3.5mm to phono cable (red/white) for connecting to either a surround sound system or a stereo Hi-Fi. You can of course just connect 3.5mm to another device with a 3.5mm input if you have the cable already, or even better just connect a set of headphones to it.

The design
One of the noticeable features of the M1000 is the cool shape they’ve chosen for it. The display can’t go un-noticed as well. Using a vacuum-fluorescent display technology, this two line text display stretches across the length of the M1000 and displays menu information, time/date information, track information, playlists and equaliser animations.

The green text can be animated to scroll across the display as well as the moving equaliser bars jumping to the beat, the display is perhaps one of the coolest design features of the M1000, next to the cold, solid aluminium material that encompasses the internal circuitry.

A nice weight to the unit instils appreciation for the quality of the design and materials used. To be honest, I wouldn’t expect anything less since most people who are going to buy this kit are going to use it with their expensive home theatre kits or their hi-fi systems, so it’s got to look the part, otherwise it becomes a tacky add-on that you want to hide away. Not so with the M1000, you’re going to want to put this system out in view for everyone to see. It would be a crime to hide away this stylish add-on.

The two sides are covered in black for one reason only and it’s not a design choice. I’m sure if they could, they would make this all aluminium. However, since they’re putting WiFi in to this they have to make a compromise somewhere and the black plastic ends contain the two wireless antennas for picking up your WiFi connection.

The lightweight remote is finished in black with a faux stainless steel finish to the top. All the keys you need to operate the M1000 are contained on this remote since there are no buttons at all on the unit itself. So just make sure you don’t lose the remote!

The verdict
I had high hopes for this uber-chic WiFi audio streamer, however there are parts in which it fails on. For starters it took a few goes to recognise my WiFi connection and connect to it. When it did connect, it wasn’t able to connect to iTunes on my Mac or Windows machine, despite saying that this would be possible. This was a bit confusing because the unit actually state on-screen that it found a media server but isn’t able to connect to it if it’s iTunes, completely contradicting what it says on the manual. There is a work around for Mac users though. It’s called Firefly and is available for both the Windows and Mac platform. All it essentially does is make iTunes work with this system. It allows you to turn your machine in to a media server and share the audio content in directories. Once set up properly, you can then browse the catalogue of music you have on your computer using the remote.

Internet audio streaming with the preset radio stations worked flawlessly, providing I had a steady internet connection and a decent wireless reception, I was able to pick up un-interrupted radio as well as add my own stations to the the SoundBridge. It took just a few seconds to buffer the station I wanted to tune in to and then I was away listening to Virgin radio before you knew it.

It’s a shame that streaming audio from the computer wasn’t as simple as streaming internet radio to the unit. After I had installed Firefly on my Mac to share my tunes with the SoundBridge, it picked it up straight away after I unplugged and plugged it back in. That was also found to be a common annoyance. The unplugging and plugging back in, if only they had either put a switch on the back of the unit to power it on and off or allow you to power it down completely using the remote by holding the power button for a few seconds. Using the standby button on the remote merely stops playback and displays the time on screen.

Quality of the audio streaming was very good and even when using this as a WiFi mp3 player and connecting a set of headphones to it you can get exceptional sound quality.

The only thing that lets this system down is the fact that the audio streaming from the computer is not nearly as seamless and straightforward as it should be. It will require some work around or configuration of either your wireless firewall/software settings or the download of seperate software.

A gorgeous design coupled with an effective display makes this one of the nicest gadgets to have around in any room of the house and will certainly feel welcome with its surround system brothers and Hi-Fi stereo sisters.

The Pinnacle SoundBridge M1000 is a good solution for getting audio from your computer upstairs or in the office to the place where you listen to your music most and does it in style. Most importantly of all is that the quality of the ouput is a near mirror image of the original file with minimal loss in quality. Support for high bit-rate transfers and digital optical out means you can expect all of your favourite tunes to be pumped straight through your beat box.

2007-04-02 Onwah Tsang

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