Hana Lab Audio Server & Class D amplifier

[Hana Lab Server & class D amplifier]

Simplified Computer Audio & efficient amplification

[Italian version here]

Product name: Audio Server & Class D Amplifier
Manufacturer: Hana-Lab
Cost: 490 + VAT for the Audio Server with the 24/192 DAC, display and remote.
260 + VAT for the amplifier or 720 + VAT for the pair if ordered together.
(Currency conversion)
(YMMV)

Reviewer: Mike Cox - TNT UK
Reviewed: February, 2017

There are many options for storing and replaying your digital audio library, some very expensive, but the common theme is the need for some computer and network knowledge.
Many of the solutions involve downloading operating systems like Audiophile Linux and then installing and configuring, this requires more that a basic knowledge of the Linux operating system.

What we have here from Hana-Lab is an audio server that is setup and partially configured. Also with the server is an ES9023 Sabre DAC that uses the I2S interface, no USB here. I am already a convert to using I2S for the data transfer following an earlier review of the Pink Faun I2S interface for a PC running Windows.

To get the audio server running it does need a wired ethernet network connection to start with, once configured for the WiFi it works reliably without the ethernet connection.

The WiFi gives the server access to any music files stored on a network drive and also to an extensive list of internet radio stations.
If you prefer you can attach a USB drive or memory stick with your music collection which will make the configuration slightly easier. I won't go into the specific details of the configuration as it all depends on your local environment, all I will say is this was the simplest configuration I have experienced so far.
The computer built into the lovely round case is a Raspberry Pi and it is running the RUNEAudio server software.

[Hana Lab server close up]

The class D power amplifier produces 2x50W and is fitted in the same sized circular case as the server. It has a volume control, this makes a very neat and tiny music system. Both the server and power amplifier come with the standard switch mode power supplies you find with most computers these days. For me the only feature missing is a second input on the power amplifier for the output from my vinyl replay system. I am sure if I spoke nicely to Denis, the proprietor of Hana-Lab, this could be added as each order is made to the customer's specific needs. Another change I would ask for is to the speaker cable connectors, those fitted to the review unit only accept side entry connections.
My 4mm plugs fit just fine but this does not allow the tidiest cable routing. This is just a cosmetic issue and has no impact on the sound or operation of the system.

[Hana Lab server & amplifier rear view]

The server is also supplied with a remote control that allows you to adjust the volume and mute the sound. You can also jump forward and backward tracks on your current play list as well as stop and start playing. The remote will power down the server which is good to do before switching off the supply.

As the combined server and power amplifier are so efficient you could leave them switched on all the time as they consume about 4W when idle.

[Rune UI for Playback]

Even with the remote you do need some form of computer with a web browser to access the server to create and select play lists. Almost anything will do, I use an Apple MacBook Pro, IPad and Iphone and they all work well although I do find the FireFox web browser works much better than Safari, the native MAC browser.

I also tried a Raspberry Pi 2 running the Raspbian OS and the Chrome browser and this worked flawlessly, providing an ultra low power system!

[Rune UI for Queue]

For several years I have been using Audiophile Linux (ap-linux.com) running on standard PC hardware with a range of DACs, most recently the Chord Hugo TT, all connected via USB or occasionally via coaxial SPDIF.
The Hana-Lab combines all this in one tiny and neat looking case, it may sound crazy but I think I prefer the functionality of the system from Hana-Lab.

The only functionality missing is the ability to play DSD/DXD files, but as the majority of my music library is either Apple lossless or FLAC this is not really a problem.
The 24bit 192khz FLAC files stream perfectly over the WiFi and internet radio rarely pauses, when it does it is probably a something up with my internet connection and not the WiFi.

Listening to the Music

After switching on for the first time the server immediately started playing Paradise Radio, the first item in the queue from when last used. This was a very pleasant surprise as I had not heard this internet radio station before. The music was to my taste and the quality remarkably good. Whilst the Hana-Lab server has been in residence I have listened to this station for many hours and enjoyed all the music and the sound quality has been excellent.
I also listened to the BBC radio stations and all came through clean and clear with a good balance. Like all streamed radio stations they are compromised by the data rate so don't expect the same as a good FM tuner, but for me it was always a pleasure to listen to.

Moving on to my digital library the musical enjoyment just gets better. The music library is accessed via a web browser allowing the user to search their library by album, artist, genre or simply browse file structure of the music library.

The user can then select the track, album or artist to add to the play list, either to play now or add to the current play list. Once the music has been selected and added to the playlist the user can then view the queue of tracks then click on the one to play. Alternatively the user can just let the server play the current playlist from the beginning and when finished it will start again. Once you have created a playlist you can save it for future recall, it is easy and a pleasure to use.
The resulting music is a delight, the sound stage is wide and deep with very a good level of detail. The high frequencies are sweet, no hard splashy treble, using my loudspeakers in my environment.

With Gregory Porter selected and the album "Liquid Spirit" Gregory's voice has a lovely rich texture and smoothness, just what you expect from him. The title track has some fantastic plucked acoustic bass that is fast with great rhythm and it takes a good amplifier to keep up.

The Hana Lab class D amp does a very good job, especially when you consider the price, the rendition is a bit softer and lacking the precision I have heard with other amplifiers, but then they cost many time more.

Switching to another of my favourite test tracks, the Allegri Miserere sung by The Tallis Scholars, the Hana-Lab system was a joy to listen to. The level of clarity and detail really lets the acoustic ambience of the recording shine through, even at low volume. Unlike most valve amplifiers the class D amplifier is very low in colouration, some might say dry and unemotional, for me you hear what the artist intended.
If you are after a more rose tinted sound then you could have a valve pre-amplifier like the one shown below, all part of the custom build service offered by Hana-Lab.

[Valve pre-amp option]

Next in my music queue is the "Arrival of the Queen of Sheba" by George Frederick Handel, this piece drives along with great pace and timing, the oboes beautifully positioned in the large sound stage.

I can ramble on about the music for a long time as I have a good collection acquired over many years, the common theme with the Hana-Labs server and class D amplifier is musical enjoyment.

I found everything I listened to was a pleasure, even albums I previously did not enjoy because they sounded too digital with a gritty edge you can get with digital recordings.

As a final check on the amplifier alone I connected it up to my Revox A77 and spooled up the Analogy Records tape of "Something Amazing" by Andrea Celeste. These recordings are first generation, taken directly from the multi-track master and are truly superb.

With the spools turning I was not disappointed, the quality was detailed and smooth, the Hana Lab class D amplifier was able to deliver a fabulous performance from Andrea with expansive sound stage and beautiful vocals, punching well above it's price point.

Conclusions

If you are put off by the complexities of music servers you should give the Hana-Lab server a look as it is the easiest I have come across to setup. If you are looking at servers and DACs then you should consider this one as the DAC solution built in is very good indeed, bettering others costing many times more. If you are in the market for a class D amplifier then the Hana-Lab offering is as good as it gets, better than some amplifiers costing a lot more in my experience.
If 50W per channel is not enough for you then Denis at Hana-Lab offers 100W monoblocks that pair nicely with the valve pre-amplifier.

[Valve pre-amp with 100W monoblocks]

I really enjoyed my time with the Hana-Lab music server and class D amplifier, they look very good, are tiny compared to many of the competition and let the music flow. The support from Denis at Hana-Lab was always fast and informative with a very quick delivery from Croatia.

It was pleasing to see that the server and amplifier are packed in a lovely wooden case inside linen drawstring bags resting on a bed of straw. Denis avoids using those annoying polystyrene chips and any plastic packaging if possible, it is nice to see a manufacturer thinking of the environmant. Even so the kit was well packed and arrived safely from Croatia.

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© Copyright 2017 Mike Cox - mike@tnt-audio.com - www.tnt-audio.com