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Pinnacle Audio Folio review



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There's no doubt that digital music storage and playback is a mainstream technology. You won't meet too many people who haven't ripped at least some of their CD collection to their computer and copied it to their iPod or similar portable media player. But there's one group out there who are far harder to please, the audiophiles. For this select group, compressed music is heresy, and many remain unconvinced by lossless codecs like FLAC.

Part of the problem with convincing the audiophile community of the benefits of digital music libraries is the need to include a computer in the equation. Although ripping my CDs to my NAS box via my Mac doesn't seem like much of a chore to me, I know that some people simply don't want that added complication and much prefer to just drop their favourite CD into their favourite transport, and pump it through their carefully chosen amplifier, no doubt connected using an equally carefully chosen interconnect - iTunes is not, and never will be an option.

This is where Pinnacle Audio thinks it has the answer, with its Folio music server. This particular box of tricks is aimed at music lovers who like the idea of a large digital music library, but don't want to compromise on sound quality and definitely don't want to muck about with NAS appliances, computers and media streamers.

It's somewhat ironic that the Folio is aimed at audiophiles who don't want to use a computer, since in essence, that's exactly what it is. But don't go thinking that the Folio is just like your average media PC, because it's not. The Folio has been designed, first and foremost, to offer the best quality audio, so if you were to crack open that minimalist casing, you wouldn't find any superfluous electronics that could interfere with its primary brief. That's why Pinnacle Audio decided on an external power supply.

The Folio itself is pretty nondescript, with a single power button, a slot for loading CDs and a small LCD display. Getting your music onto the Folio couldn't be easier. You simply insert your CD and it will instantly be ripped using FLAC, ensuring the best possible sound quality. Once the ripping is finished, the Folio with spit the CD back out and you're ready to rip another disc.

Your music is stored on internal hard drives, of which there are two. The drives are configured using a RAID 1 array - this means that both hard disks hold exactly the same information, so if one disk fails, you don't lose all your music. In the event of a disk failure, the faulty drive can simply be replaced, and the array rebuilt, leaving your music completely safe once more. The downside is that you can't replace a failed disk yourself, and the Folio will have to be returned to Pinnacle Audio.

The Folio can be configured to employ RAID 0, which stripes your data across both disks and gives you double the capacity, but neither Pinnacle Audio or I would recommend such a course of action. Although you'd end up with more disk space, you'd be creating two potential points of failure, and if either disk failed, you'd lose your entire music library and have to start ripping your CDs all over again.

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November 2, 2009, 3:32 pm

Thanks for the review Riyad,

I'm a bit unsure whether the speaker set-up you chose would be used by someone who would actually buy this component - but I do think it provides a good comparison of the product vs. a good computer based system.

I'll probably give this a listen when I audition the Naim hard-disk based systems sometime. Can't see me getting away with this in the living room though because it's hideous! Also - a naff control system does put me off these days.


November 2, 2009, 3:34 pm

I can't see why anybody (audiophile or otherwise) would buy this, especially at that price.

Are you able to copy your existing digital music library (assuming it's in a suitable WAV or FLAC format) to this unit? One of the biggest issues I see with all these systems is that they usually expect you to rip your CD collection all over again. That's just not going to happen when like me, you've already spent over 18 months ripping all your CDs to your computer and then gone through the laborious (but mildly interesting) process of encoding to a suitable format, tagging the file correctly (as many online DB services are full of errors) and rating the tracks over the next 18 months.

With a digital output from my computer and wireless control via my iPhone I feed this into any amplifier I choose and it sounds great!


November 2, 2009, 5:22 pm

@purephase – you’re right, the Ferguson Hills are not really what the Folio is made for, but Pinnacle Audio did demo the unit to me with their own kit as well. That said, at no point am I complaining about the sound produced by the internal DAC in the Folio.

However, as I point out in the review, if someone is really that bothered about sound quality, they’ll probably invest in their own external DAC, so the quality of the unit used in the Folio will be moot.

Assuming you do have, or intend to purchase an external DAC, then there are many cheaper options available that will give you comparable sound quality – Sonos for one.

Pinnacle Audio will argue that the problem with a Sonos system is that you still need to use a computer and have a NAS appliance, and that the Folio is far easier to implement and use, and to a degree I accept that argument. But if ease of use is paramount, then I feel a better wireless controller is necessary, and considering the price of the system, it really should be a bespoke unit.

@Orinj – I’m with you on this one, but Pinnacle Audio doesn’t see people like us as the target market for the Folio.


November 2, 2009, 6:27 pm

While a foray into the exciting life of 2000+ quid audio equipment is exciting and all, I'd prefer to see (even more) reviews of devices for, you know, people like us.


November 2, 2009, 7:43 pm

Not only would you need to be a rich audiophile to buy this, but also a raging technophobe. I can't see the rationale for cutting a PC out of the equation when better, cheaper (and arguably more user friendly) solutions which do involve a PC can be bought for so much less.

I imagine that some audiophiles would argue that any system involving a PC is automatically compromising its sound quality, but those are probably the same people who claim they can tell the difference between CD and FLAC audio.

You can't. It's the same bitstream. Welcome to digital technology, circa 1982...


November 2, 2009, 9:38 pm

If they made one of these that accepts 12" vinyl records, removes any crackles and pops, and identifies the record and its tag information automatically then I'd may reconsider it.

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