Systemline S7 Netlink Network Music Player review

Inside CI 5 Rating

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posted on Friday, 27th July 2018 by Steve May

Multi-room  Streaming  High Res Audio 

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Systemline, the custom install arm of Armour Home, has produced a veritable Swiss Army knife of a high-res audio media streamer in the Systemline S7 Netlink (SN6210). It can function both as part of a wider multiroom Systemline audio system - Systemline can support up to 24 fully independent music zones - or as a standalone media streamer. Depending on the system being deployed, it can connect directly to a local stereo audio system or home theatre rig, as well as a wider wireless multiroom system.

Additional multiroom Systemline components include the Systemline NetAmp and NetServer. The Netlink can also be used with a Local Input Module (LIM), which automatically switches on a Systemline system when a TV audio signal is detected.

Systemline S7 Netlink: Build quality
The heavy chassis inspires confidence. There’s nothing particularly fancy about the design. Systemline clearly recognises that the Netlink will spend most of its life hidden away in a rack, rather than on show.

That said, it can be driven from the box if required, thanks to some on-panel controls which include one-touch selection of any stored favourite station, album or playlist.

Model Number

Preouts (1)

Rear connectivity comprises a local stereo phono input, stereo pre-outs, coaxial digital audio output, an optical digital audio out, and optical digital input. There’s a Digilink/keypad RJ45, RS232, 12v trigger, Ethernet and quartet of USBs.

The DAC is unspecified, but component quality is high. We're told the player features a digital upsampler first developed for a high-end Myriad product. This offers appreciable benefits with low bitrate Internet radio streams.

Systemline S7 Netlink: Installation
Typically, installers might integrate the S7 with an AV receiver, which it can control via RS232 or IP. A web page setup offers drop down option for supported brands. This includes Arcam, Denon, Marantz, Onkyo, Yamaha and NAD. The installer simply selects the brand, the input used and the control method from the Netlink’s web page setup. When users play tracks from the S7 app, the AVR will turn on and select the correct input.

The system can also be given a fixed IP address, and tweaked to suit, for example setting the On LED to auto-off.

Our review sample was supplied with beta firmware which allows the S7 Netlink to run NetServer software. It allows the music player to functions as a stand alone unit, in what’s called Master Mode. This is in contrast to a typical multiroom Systemline system install, where it would be used in conjunction with a dedicated Systemline NetServer (at which point it would be in Slave mode).

We hooked the S7 Netlink up via a digital audio output to an AVR, giving us a 24-bit 96kHz output. There are practical reasons to opt for a digital rather than analogue connection. When you integrate Netlink to an AV receiver, the digital output is a fixed bitstream. Go analogue, and you end up with two volume controls, one at the preamp stage and the other on the AVR.

An alternate audiophile setup would be to have the Netlink S7 directly connected to a power amp and stereo speakers, which could garner 24-bit 192Khz.

A Systemline system can be integrated with a variety of third party lighting and control systems, including Crestron, Control 4, RTI, Fibaro and Lutron.

12v

Front Fascia (1)

Systemline S7 Netlink: Features
Versatility is the name of the game. System control is available via RS232 or TCP/IP. As an IP device, the Netlink could, for example, by turned on by using a Rako lighting system. It also supports in-wall keypad control (Systemline offers the KPS11). If you want to go old school, it’ll also respond to IR codes from a universal remote.

It’s envisaged users will typically drive the system using the bespoke Systemline S7 app. This opens with a list of favourites, clock and alarm, but can be customised to present preferred channels.

The S7 Netlink is unique in that it supports MPEG-Dash, which has been adopted by BBC TV and radio. There’s an embedded BBC iPlayer app which uses the standard to offer live radio. Having a dedicated BBC radio player is unusual, most other systems will play BBC stations via TuneIn, but the advantage is you’ll hear the highest possible version of those services, specifically a 339 kbps AAC stream, both for national and local live radio. Listening via this BBC app, users will also get easy access to any pop up stations the BBC might conjure up. BBC catch-up programmes stream at 128kbps.

Systemline S7 Netlink: Performance
The Netlink network music player is fast and responsive, and audio quality is outstanding.

Listening to live BBC radio streams at 339 kbps in AAC is something of a revelation. It’s dramatically better than the 128kbps MP3 that you might reasonably expect from Tunein, which is what you would get if you’re listening on a Sonos or Heos multiroom system.

Other embedded services include Deezer, Qobuz and Spotify (although increasingly multiroom systems favour Spotify Connect). Qobuz is a great high-end streaming option, as it supports 16-bit 44khz streaming FLAC lossless (variable up to 800kbps). Currently the Netlink doesn’t support Deezer Hi-Fi, which also offers 16-bit 44khz streaming FLAC lossless, but we live in hope. If consumers want Tidal, then they need to register via the Logitech Squeezebox portal.

Randomly listening to Radio Paradise, a commercial free US radio station that broadcasts FLAC lossless, is a delight. The content may be esoteric, but it often sounds remarkable.

Playing back 24-bit FLAC files from a USB drive is toe-tappingly entertaining. The stereo imaging, clarity and sheer theatricality of the presentation is joyous. The S7 may look dour, but it has an audiophile sense of timing.

Sampling Rate

USBs (1)

Systemline S7 Netlink: Verdict
Whether you want a standalone streaming solution, or a mutiroom audio option with class leading installation options, the Systemlink S7 Netlink delivers.

A clear benefit for custom installers is that they can offers clients a system that sounds inherently better than the vast majority of off-the-shelf streaming systems when it comes to BBC live radio. As a standalone streamer, the Netlink will play music files up to 24bit, 192kHz. Recognising that not all source material is created equal, it also up-samples lesser material to the same maximum resolution.

Overrall, the S7 Netlink combines a supreme level of functionality, with a genuinely high-end performance. It comes highly recommended.

The Systemlink S7 Netlink Network Music Player is available now.
Retail price £699.

Steve May

Inside CI Editor Steve May is a freelance technology journalist, who also writes for T3, TechRadar, Home Cinema Choice and ERT (amongst others).

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