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mike_mcf 27th January 2007 02:50 AM

Helios X5000 Media Server
I recently purchased a Helios X5000 on eBay for $375. I had been looking for an audio streamer for some time and couldn't decide. The Helios was on the short list, so at that price, why not take the plunge?

As I said, I was primarily looking for an audio streamer -- the video capability is just a bonus. No matter which device I chose, I was expecting to upgrade the internals to turn it into a true audiophile digital source. The reason for choosing the X5000:

1) FLAC support (mandatory)
2) "Audiofile" parts and construction
3) Ability to connect to a network server
4) Lots of room to accommodate mods

The unit arrived in a plain box (bearing a Helios X5000 label) that was smacked up a bit. The box was that soft, cheap cardboard, typical of Chinese products. It was double boxed though and the internal styrofoam protected it well. All the internal pieces were well wrapped in plastic. The chassis was heavy and impressively constructed. So far so good.

I popped the hood to inspect the internals. Tons of room. Well constructed. Name brand parts. OK I'm impressed.

The DAC is a Wolfson WM8728. Wolfson has a good reputation in the audiophile community, but this unit is mid-range. Too bad Neodigits didn't select the WM8740, which has a SNR of 120dB vs. the 106dB of the 8728. Further, the 8740 has a 2.0V output vs. 1.1V, which could eliminate an opamp output stage. I suspect that Neodigits chose the 8728 because it has an integrated digital volume control (which I would rather not be there) and the 8740 does not. Neodigits obviously wanted the volume control function and sacrificed fidelity to get it. The cost difference is negligible. In any event, the 8728 is a 20 pin chip while the 8740 is 28 pin, so it won't be possible to swap it.

The mysterious Burr-Brown opamp is an OPA2134UA. Once again, mid-line, but still well regarded in some circles. I'll have to look at upgrades to the opamp or perhaps replacing the output stage.

The power transformer is an impressive looking R-Core type. The input/output jacks are indeed gold plated as advertised, but they are the cheap plastic-backed units attached directly to the PCB. Not impressed -- they will go. The caps and power supply parts are nothing special.

The "audiophile" label that Neodigits is putting on this unit is based on a premium transformer, a mid range DAC and opamp, and crappy gold plated jacks. Hmmmm. I think this unit is in need of some mods before it's in audiophile territory. I would be interested in your ideas.

So, what's next? Right now it's burning in and I'll give it a look and listen soon. More to follow.

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