Sony's new Giga Juke NAS-50HDE comes equipped with an 80GB hard disk, a pair of high-performance 85W speakers and some astoundingly useful features, such as the ability to rip your entire CD collection to the internal storage.
At £500, this is not an impulse purchase. Can this devilishly expensive audio behemoth pass our ruthless testing procedures?
There's a pop song that claims having curves is a curse. The Giga Juke's distinct lack of curves suggests Sony was busy listening to melodic teen rock when designing this system. The sharp-edged silver and black styling of this HDD demon was our first hint that this is a hi-fi that has all of unholy hell to unleash -- it looks slick and we had every faith it'd produce sound to match.
A 112mm (4.2-inch) colour screen pokes oddly from the front of the main unit but its sharpness and level of detail compensates for its unusual positioning. All kinds of information and icons are displayed as you power through the various functions of the Juke, and the screen does a good job at making these easy to browse.
Various inputs and outputs are built into the back of the system, along with antenna connections and a couple of USB ports (one is on the front), all of which are clearly labelled. Setup is completely painless. Absolutely devout technophobes will cruise through the process.
Enough about looks -- the Giga Juke is tapped into the power and ready to rock. The main feature here is the hard disk, so we took that for a test drive first. In went the nearest CD (Story Of The Year's debut, Page Avenue). The CD rips after one touch of the 'Transfer' button, into the default 128kbps MP3 format. This can be changed to a number of formats and bit rates, including Linear PCM (lossless) but the system can't be used for anything else when ripping.
The average CD takes four minutes to rip and the Gracenote music database that comes built into the system tags your music with the correct artist, album and song information. This worked perfectly for every CD we ripped.
If you've got music on vinyl, cassette or any other analogue format (MiniDisc perhaps?), the line-in recording will be useful. One-touch recording let us rip tracks from any source easily.
What's even better is that the Giga Juke detects the song that is being recorded and adds the correct artist and track information without any input from the user. It really is a fantastic feature and it worked for four out of the five analogue songs we tested (ironically, the one song that wasn't recognised came from Sony's own HD-5 MP3 player, as opposed to the four from Apple's iPod!). For CDs not in the internal database, the system looks it up on the Gracenote Web site if connected to the Web via Ethernet.
The Juke has a DAB radio built in. A quick autoseek finds and lists all available digital radio signals. One-touch recording works here, too, so your favourite presenter's shows can be recorded and enjoyed at a time convenient to you. Over 1,000 hours can be recorded to the hard disk.
Sound quality is excellent on the whole. Bass was particularly strong, though tremendous and unusually deep bass response was a little disappointing -- this will not concern most listeners, though.
The opening three minutes of Glósóli from Sigur Rós blends a mix of truly gargantuan bass with a plethora of subtle high frequency sounds, percussive elements and choral vocals. It was a pleasure to hear this beautiful piece of music reproduced so well. Less bass-laden tracks, such as the acoustic pop-folk favourite Black Horse And The Cherry Tree from KT Tunstall sound alive, bright and passionate.
The x-DJ feature is quite interesting. This automated playlist creation system allows you to pick a 'mood' and the system creates and plays a dynamically created set of songs that fit that criteria. For example, 'Up Beat' gave us some hard-hitting rock with a swift tempo. Conversely, 'Morning' gave us a free-flowing and calm jazzy number with relaxing female vocals. The more music you store on the HDD, the more custom tuned your playlists will be.
Should you have a huge collection of MP3s on your home PC, the Giga Juke can be wired into your home network with a standard Ethernet cable. This allows you to browse and stream your entire library via the Juke's interface. We set up a connection between the hi-fi and a PC on our corporate network. It took about 20 minutes to set up but the results were worth the effort. We used media serving software from Allegro, which makes your iTunes or similar library available to networked media players.
The Giga Juke NAS-50HDE is an expensive choice if you've already got a good hi-fi connected to a high-capacity iPod. If not, the convenience of having 40,000 tracks stored internally, along with a great CD player, DAB tuner and fantastic sound quality, makes £500 a large but justifiable sum. Whether or not you think it's worth half a grand depends on how much you'd appreciate having your entire CD collection in one simple system.
The main competitor here is Denon's D-F103, but at £900 it's almost twice the cost of Sony's Giga Juke. With this in mind, £500 seems very reasonable indeed.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Kate Macefield