We all know CDs are going the same way as dodos, dinosaurs and 100% mortgages, but switching over to digital music presents its own set of problems. With all those files holed up on hard-drives, what’s the best way to play them out loud? Burn CDs? Defeats the object. Copy to USB stick? Time consuming. Listen through your computer’s speakers? Dubious sound quality.
The solution is to get yourself a network music player like the Cambridge Audio NP30. These increasingly popular machines allow you to play digital music files from devices on your home network through their Ethernet or Wi-Fi connections.
It’s the sort of functionality you’ll find in the latest generation of AV receivers and Blu-ray players, but the advantage of Cambridge Audio’s NP30 is that it’s a dedicated music player and therefore geared up to deliver the best-possible sound quality.
But the NP30 does much more than stream your music library. It can also stream internet radio, putting tens of thousands of stations at your disposal, and access music streaming services. There are even two USB ports that let you play songs from USB pen drives and FAT32-formatted external hard drives.
The unit itself looks a bit plain and functional in its dark-grey incarnation, but the silver finish is much more glitzy. Either way it’s beautifully built, from the robust casing and thick, brushed metal fascia down to the solid buttons and bright blue display panel on the front. This provides a wealth of text, including radio stations, server names, track titles and albums, and it scrolls when required to show all the information in full. The buttons include playback and menu controls, plus there’s a large dial for scrolling through lists.
You’ll need to partner the NP30 with a separate amplifier, and for that purpose there’s a healthy selection of sockets on the rear panel. Want to transfer music in the digital domain? No problem. There are two digital audio outputs – one coaxial, one optical – backed up by an analogue stereo output. It's worth noting, though, that if you are thinking of using only the digital outputs, other much more budget units will give you the same basic functions - it's the high quality analogue circuitry, as well as the fit and finish, that you're paying for here.
You can make a wired connection to your network using the Ethernet port (you’ll need to if you want to stream 24-bit files) or use the built-in 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi connection, for which you’ll need to screw on the supplied antenna. Completing the line-up is a trigger input and a USB port.