• WANTED: Happy members who like to discuss audio and other topics related to our interest. Desire to learn and share knowledge of science required as is 20 years of participation in forums (not all true). There are daily reviews of audio hardware and expert members to help answer your questions. Click here to have your audio equipment measured for free!

Easiest way to play from hard drive without PC


Feb 8, 2021

I'm a long term lurker on ASR thanks to the wealth of knowledge on here. It's a great site! Now I'd like to get some direct input.

With the perpetual Covid lockdowns and winter, I figured this is the perfect opportunity to finally rip my collection of about 500 CDs to an external hard drive. CDs were so far my only digital source (I'm mostly a vinyl guy), aside from very rarely connecting a laptop to my Grace m920, which I use as DAC and preamp.
Now I'm looking for the easiest way to play back those FLAC files in the future, without having to use a PC.

Here's my requirements:
- Need only playback of locally stored files. Don't care for streaming services (of course no problem if the device offers it anyway)
- Playback is on my main listening system, no multi room stuff.
- No monthly fee for software, unless lifetime subscription for reasonable price.
- Easy to set up, low maintenance, high stability! I'm coming from CDs, they just work 99.99% of the time. This point is giving me the most doubts so far.
- Should be able to display the covers embedded in FLAC (standard feature I guess?)
- Digital output: coax or AES, possibly USB.
- Shouldn't cost crazy money like e.g. the higher end Auralic stuff. After all this thing should just play files and deliver the signal bit-perfect to the digital out.

Originally I was drawn to something like the Sony HAP-Z1, a unit with built-in hard drive and a display, that lets me scroll through the collection without using my phone if I feel like it. You might know the video from Techmoan about a similar model :) This particular niche seems to have died out though. Can't find anything like it.

An alternative would be a small device that I can hide in the rack and control via phone / iPad. Here's what I found. Glad to hear any feedback on these options or even some extra ones I overlooked:

- Auralic Aries Mini: Has the digital out, is small, and you can even put in a hard drive. Out of production, but you can get mildly used 2nd hand units. Conflicting reports about usability of the app and stability. Gotta admit I just like the thought of that internal hard drive.
- Bluesound Node 2i: Obviously very popular. Connecting a hard drive via USB seems to come with several caveats and some even report the drive gets very hot etc? I understand that NAS is the preferred way to go here but seems like bit of a hassle for what I'm trying to achieve here (playing back music files).
- Cambridge CXN V2: Seems to fare even worse than the Node with external drives via USB? Bit overkill in size and features, though if I could efficiently select music via the front controls that would add appeal for me.

... and that's it. I realize my requirements are a bit old-fashioned, but happy to hear thoughts / recommendations.



Major Contributor
Sep 26, 2017
I would..try to use a tablet... Android or iPad, USB hard drive ok, but I don't know about connections to USB HD and audio output at the same time. Get a nice stand for it so you can see the display.

[PS:] I eventually thought I'd rather use a small laptop/netbook, like Huawei MatePro. Display is easier, no need to get a suitable stand thing, will be easily able to connect audio out and USB HD at the same time.
Last edited:
Top Bottom