From Hi-Fi World - November 2015 issue
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Vinyl replay and recording, high-resolution digital, streaming and amplification all converge in Entotem’s new Plato. Jon Myles explains.
There have never been more ways to listen to and store music at home. Once we had vinyl or the radio. While both are still going strong they’ve now been joined by CD, Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices, iPods, high-resolution digital music players, internet radio, home computers, streaming services and...well, the list seems to grow longer each passing year.
And while that gives consumers a welcome degree of choice, it also means our music collections are becoming increasingly fractured between various different formats. Rare, nowadays, is the listener whose entire library is stored on just one physical format such as LP or CD.
The obvious downside to this is the increasing number of hi-fi components needed to play all these different formats. My own system, for example, comprises a turntable, DAC, CD player, two NAS drives, streamer, amplifier and a couple of high-resolution portable digital music players. And, of course, all the associated cables to tie everything together.
The front panel touch-screen TFT display shows full album artwork and titles to
make sorting through your music collection quick and easy...
So how convenient would it be if you could slim this down to a single box which not only looks good but sounds good as well? That’s the thinking behind the new Plato from UK-based company Entotem.
In short, it’s a music server that incorporates 2TB of hard disk storage alongside networking capability, an MM/MC phono stage, recording function, 24bit/192kHz DAC and a 45 Watts per channel amplifier – all in a box measuring just 370mm x 130mm x 300mm (W/H/D) and costing £3600 (there’s also an alternative version which omits the amplifier section available for £2700).
Added to this is a 5” TFT LCD touch-panel front screen and an Android-based app for phone/tablet devices (iOS to follow shortly, I’m told) which makes control of the unit relatively simple and allows regular software upgrades.
All these features, of course, would be pointless if the Plato wasn’t, at its heart, a decent hi-fi component – which, I’m glad to say, it is.
...and can also display track information including artist, title, sample rate and
file type (above) while (below) are the Plato's modular-style electronics,
power supply and hard disk components.
Entotem is a relatively new company – formed just two years ago by four music-loving entrepreneurs to design and develop a multimedia home entertainment system which integrates both high-resolution audio playback and high-definition video (see box-out for more on the latter).
The company’s vision was a system that combined the ability to convert, play and record vinyl alongside network streaming capability, digital inputs and amplification to make a one-stop solution for music lovers.
If that makes the Plato sound a complex beast, well, it is – boasting a range of capabilities I’ve never come across in a single unit before. However, Entotem has obviously put significant work into the user interface as it is remarkably easy to operate, with an intuitive control structure that anyone familiar with an Android tablet will get to grips with within minutes.
From this you can access the various connections – optical and coaxial in/outs, line level and MM/MC phono, HDMI, ethernet network and pre-outs – as well as control the volume. As it’s DLNA-equipped the Plato will also look up other uPnP devices on your network so it can play their content – although it does need a wired connection.
The speaker sockets are of the plug-and-twist Neutrik variety which, while rare, do provide a secure fit. The pre-production unit we had for review came in a mustard colour but Entotem say the final version will ship in black with custom finishes a possibility in the future.
With the Plato connected to the network, the first task is to experiment with its stand-out feature – recording vinyl in high-resolution 24bit/192kHz resolution to the internal 2TB hard disk.
And this is where things get very clever. Plugging in Hi-Fi World’s reference Timestep Evo turntable with SME309 arm and Ortofon A95 cartridge the Plato’s control app let us select input impedance as well as gain and – if desired – bring in a rumble filter. Once the needle hits the groove, initiating recording is simply a matter of pressing a red dot on the tablet’s touchscreen.
The free Android app makes control of the Plato via a tablet a breeze.
An iOS version is set to follow shortly.
As this happens the Plato automatically sends a sample of the track to the on-line Gracenote music database and – hey presto! – album details and artwork appear on the unit’s front panel screen and the tablet. It really is that simple. What’s more Gracenote is remarkably accurate – only failing on some of my most obscure selections.
The same process works for importing music from cassette or CD players, while files can also be saved to the disk from the front USB socket.
After that, all albums appear under a Media Library section of the control application which is fully searchable by artist, genre, track name etc.
With the facilities on offer you’d be forgiven for thinking that sound quality might have taken a back seat. Fortunately, it hasn’t.
Its amplifier section is conservatively rated (see Measured Performance for full details) yet has a big, clean and exuberant quality to it.
Playing back a 24bit/192kHz rip of Mark Knopfler’s ‘Kill To Get Crimson’ the quality of the production on this album was more than evident. Here, the leading edges of guitar notes rang true while the subtle rhythm section was projected tightly between the loudspeakers.
Moving onto something with more low-end power the Plato brought out decent bass from a pair of XTZ Master Series M2 standmounts (see review elsewhere this issue). If anything it tends a little towards the dry side – but that meant it gave a taut, tuneful presentation to King Tubby’s powerful ‘Dub Fever’ collection.
A full complement of digital and analogue inputs on the rear panel are joined,
unusually, by a pair of Neutrik-style loudspeaker connections.
There’s also drive and a fine sense of tempo on offer. Fed Led Zeppelin’s ‘Black Dog’ through the digital out of an Oppo CD player the Plato grabbed hold of the track and pushed it along with verve, without sounding congested or forced. Indeed, the DAC section is extremely composed and free from any digital harshness, meaning various instruments are easy to follow, even in the densest of mixes.
If there’s any criticism to be made it’s that the software could be slightly glitchy at times – with an occasional lag between inputting instructions on the tablet and the player responding. Entotem do say, however, that this is a pre-production issue that will have been sorted by the time the first units reach the stores.
Apart from that, though, there’s nothing not to like about the Plato. It’ll record your vinyl in high-resolution, play records, act as a music server and connect to your home network all in one package that is user-friendly and extremely easy to operate.
This could well be something of a landmark product in terms of flexibility and the combination of digital technology with legacy analogue capability. Add in an intuitive interface and the promise of regular software updates and Plato could just be one of the most exciting products of the year.
ENTOTEM PLATO £3600 (with amplifier section, £2700 without)
OUTSTANDING - amongst the best
A groundbreaking product from a new company that is ideal for those looking to combine digital and analogue replay.
- vinyl playback/recording
- digital inputs
- minor software issues
+44 (0)1332 291972
Rohde&Schwarz UPV audio analyser – used for all measurements.
The Plato’s power amplifier produced 66 Watts into an 8 Ohm load and 110 Watts into 4 Ohms, enough to drive most loudspeakers to very high volume in the average sized room. Distortion levels were very low in the midband and at high frequencies; there is little sign of crossover products in our distortion analysis, the sound will be clean and lacking any sign of harshness. The amplifier’s output impedance was low too, resulting in a high damping factor figure of 40, so the amplifier will have relatively tight bass. Frequency response was very wide, stretching from below 2Hz up to 71kHz (-1dB).
Phono stage equalisation was accurate, resulting in flat frequency response, the warp filter acting sharply below 20Hz (see analysis below). Input sensitivity was 5mV and 0.7mV max for MM/MC respectively – low values – and overload levels fairly limited at 2.6mV and 20mV respectively too; an Ortofon 2M red produces up to 35mV. The change from MM to MC sometimes didn’t happen immediately either, so there are niggles here. Noise was very low.
The S/PDIF digital inputs were inconsistent, with the electrical connection via phono socket working to 96kHz sample rate maximum, whilst the optical input managed 176.4kHz maximum, neither working with a 192kHz sample rate signal. With 24/96 PCM digital, distortion measured a low 0.03% and EIAJ Dynamic Range (see analysis below) was commensurately high at 117dB – a good value up with market norms, if not the 120+dB nowadays possible from the best chips (ESS 9018, Texas Instruments PCM1795). With CD (16/44.1) however, EIAJ Dynamic Range was a high 103dB, so the Plato matches the best here.
Frequency response at 176.4kHz sample rate extended to 42kHz before rolling away slowly, about as expected using slow, but well damped filtering.
The Plato is a complex and ambitious product that worked well all round. Its phono stage in particular, with Gracenote ability to identify music and bring up artwork etc was especially comprehensive, if in need of a little buffing up of sensitivity and overload levels. NK
Frequency response 2Hz-71kHz
Frequency response 5Hz-20kHz
Noise (e.i.n.) 0.08/0.22µV
Sensitivity (MM/MC) 5/0.7mV
Overload (MM/MC) 2.6/20mV
FREQUENCY RESPONSE – LP
DYNAMIC RANGE (56.730dB+60dB=117dB)
24 bit digital