There are reviews that are hard to write because the product being written about is incredibly complicated, and there’s really no way to convey all of the things it does and how well it does them, in a couple of pages of text.
Mirage is more like a service than a SKU; it can’t really be contained within a shiny metal case.
Then there are the reviews that are hard to write because you plug the product it, it does what it’s supposed to do incredibly well, it’s ridiculously simple to operate, and you somehow have to find a way to stretch the sentiment, “This thing works great and you should buy it,” into another the 700 words or so after the fluffy meta intro.
Spoiler warning: any review of Autonomic Controls’ Mirage Media Server by S1Digital is bound to fall into the latter category.
Despite being based on Windows architecture... Hey, get back here! I wasn’t finished yet.
Despite being based on Windows architecture (Windows Embedded, to be precise), the Mirage Media Server is a remarkably slick and simple solution for music distribution, and once it is up and running you will never have to look at a single Microsoft-generated screen again. Not that getting it up and running takes long at all. Setting up the hardware that houses the system (a sleek, rack-mountable server manufactured by S1Digital) involves little more than connecting a network cable and hooking up however many of the audio zones you need (one main-zone optical digital output and four stereo analog outputs are available); a video out isn’t necessary, although one is available if you’d like to look at Now Playing information and photo slideshows while you are listening to your tunes.
From there it’s a matter of connecting to the server via another networked computer, tinkering with a few settings, installing a media-synching program, and inputting passwords for iTunes, Pandora, Sirius, RadioTime, Spotify, MP3Tunes, and the like.
Truth be told, though, it’s not entirely accurate to say that Autonomic’s system is really housed in a box. The incredibly robust server itself contains the audio outputs, sure. And its terabyte hard drive imports all of your iTunes and Media Player libraries from throughout the home for centralized storage. But Mirage is more like a service than a SKU; it can’t really be contained within a shiny metal case. The Mirage iPhone app, for example, is hardly a bonus feature– it’s an integral part of the experience, assuming you have an iPhone or iPod touch. Likewise, the two-way control module for URC’s MX-6000 touchscreen remote could just as well be considered the main product, with the hardware as a necessary component. (Control modules are also available for Crestron, AMX, and RTI control systems, and Autonomic should have a module for URC’s MX-5000 two-way wand-style remote available soon.)
The Mirage on-screen display in action
No matter which method of control you opt for, though, (in addition to the iPhone app and touchscreen control modules, there’s also standalone control program you can run from any desktop or laptop on the network), Mirage makes multiroom audio distribution a breeze. Perhaps the coolest thing about the system is that after using it for a few weeks, you stop thinking about music in terms of iTunes or Windows Media libraries and Pandora channels and Sirius stations and start thinking of it simply in terms of music. The interface is so streamlined and well designed that hopping from your Sarah Jarosz channel on Pandora to your White Hinterland catalog in iTunes is no more difficult than, and just as intuitive as, hopping between playlists on your iPod. Not only that, but creating new Pandora stations based on artist or song searches via the iPhone app or MX-6000 control module is quite frankly easier than doing the same on Pandora’s website. You can even create a Pandora station based on a track you’re playing from your iTunes library and immediate being playing said station with a single button-press.
Sound quality is great, especially from the mainzone digital optical output, which is the source you will want to use, especially if you’re using the iPhone app. Otherwise you’ll have the extra step of selecting a zone every time you fire up the app. The MX-6000 control module, on the other hand, requires that you set up a different activity for each zone, which adds a weensy bit of work on the front end, but makes day-to-day use a little easier.
The system also is backed up by an amazing support department. The few problems I encountered in my weeks with the Mirage server (very nearly all of them entirely my fault) were resolved quickly by Autonomic reps. Those minor hiccups aside, the Mirage Server is rock solid, versatile, and (dare I say it?) fun to use. Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay Autonomic, though, is that I find myself listening to music even more than I did before installing the system.
Which is all really just a roundabout way of saying, “This thing works great and you should sell it to your clients.”
It’s a remarkably slick and simple solution for music distribution.
The product is based on Windows architecture (Windows Embedded, to be precise).
Stores its content on a private, secure digital locker on the Internet
Maintains a local copy of media for reliable, local playback
Supports iTunes, Windows Media, FLA C, WAV, and other audio formats
Features prebuilt two-way control modules for Crestron, AM X, URC, and RTI