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Hermstedt Hifidelio wireless music centre

Time to scrap that PC music hub?

Ripping is an odd process. The Hifidelio copies a disc's tracks to the hard drive, and only then starts to convert them from native CD format to whatever compressed format you've chosen. The rationale is that this is quicker: you can listen to songs almost immediately, rather than wait for the conversion process to finish. Hifidelio racks up all the uncompressed songs and converts them in the background.

The downside is that you can easily select a song and find it's taking up 30MB instead of 5MB. At the start, there's plenty of room for uncompressed audio, but as the drive fills, that's no longer the case. And the Hifidelio is as susceptible to the difficulty all MP3 players seems to have playing one song immediately after another. When the first track fades out, it doesn't matter, but it's irritating when the two songs flow directly into each other. Here, as usual, there's a clear pause and, occasionally, a click. Another irritation is the time the Hifidelio takes to start up after it's dropped into stand-by mode. It's much too long to be standing around with a CD in your hand.

Hifidelio presents an iPod-like UI, with a round, rotating panel for scrolling. Wrapped around this is a shuttle-style rocker control - push it right to go deeper into the menu structure, left to go back again. It feels more clumsy than the iPod's click-wheel, but it works. To the left of the wheel, between it and the generous monochrome LCD, are four function buttons whose context-sensitive actions are displayed on the screen.

Beneath the CD drive are separate play, stop, track skip, record and eject controls, all of which pulse on and off like a PowerBook's sleep indicator, another sign of Hermstedt's Mac heritage.

Round the back, things get more interesting. In addition to gold-plated RCA input and output jacks, there are digital co-ax and SP/DIF ports. Refreshingly, the machine comes with a pair of nice chunky gold-plated amp leads, plus optical digital cables. Further over are a pair of USB 2.0 connectors, four Ethernet ports and an anchor point for the Wi-Fi antenna. Yes, Hifidelio is equipped with 802.11g wireless connectivity.

Hifidelio Back (in Black)

It's something of a networking powerhouse, in fact. On the wired side, it can operate as a switch, assigning IP addresses to any device connected to it and routing data between them. The integrated wireless access point extends that to as many clients as the 54Mbps maximum bandwidth will support. What it can't do is share a broadband Internet connection, but it will work just as keenly with a home gateway box, wirelessly or connected by Ethernet cable.

The one snag is security. While Hifidelio supports the old WEP security system, it's not happy with the more up to date, stronger WPA system, which prevented me from tying the review box into my home WLAN. So I put it into access point mode and connected my PowerBook that way.

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