Difference between USB stick and USB-connected hard drive

I have both a Uniti Nova and a Mu-So, so I am decidedly entry-level on this board. I have looked through various threads about the pros and cons of using a USB stick inserted directly into a Naim product as opposed to using networked storage/Roon/Uniti Core, etc.

I have about 2 TB of music (about 20,000 tracks) loaded onto a portable Seagate hard drive (a moving hard drive, not a flash drive) that I simply plug into the USB socket on the Nova or the Mu-So. All of the music is organized into folders by artist and album (basically an iTunes file structure). All of the ID4 tags are painstakingly edited, and artwork is included.

I manage my library on my MacBook and when I want to add/delete music I just plug the portable drive into my computer, make the changes, and plug it back into the Nova. I am doing this every week or two to replace lower bitrate music with higher bitrate versions as I have time to re-rip or download things, add new albums, etc. The Mu-So is able to play the same music via uPNP streamed from the Nova (but before I had the Nova I just plugged the USB drive into the Mu-So).

The hard drive is fully powered by the USB socket on the Nova. It never takes more than a few seconds to index, and I have had absolutely no technical problems with this set up. The artwork all displays perfectly, and to my ears it sounds great.

Is there anything else I could be doing to improve the sound quality here? I see a lot of posts about USB sticks (which I assume are flash drives). Is that a better solution than a non-flash USB hard drive for some reason? Is a Roon streamer better than this setup? The Naim app seems to work just fine in allowing me to access and play music, both locally to the Nova and streamed to the Mu-So.

I suppose I am wondering a lot about the need for things like a Uniti Core, a Roon server, etc. when you can just plug in a hard drive directly and then access that music through other Naim streamers or streaming products (amps and preamps).

Thank you.


@obsydian should give you some answers. But be prepared to make a big hole in your bank account :joy:

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I look forward to the answers , but how do you back up ?

I lost some seriously good photos when my back up malfunctioned (lions up trees, great whites attacking a cage )

Best wishes

I just took delivery of some Synergistic Research goodies on demo :heart_eyes:

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I recall with my Nova I did try various USB, Samsung seemed better than the SanDisk which always ran very hot, but I would say they are all much the same no real SQ differences, although better than a 160GB WD Portable hard drive.

I did like the Samsung 1TB TB and recall I thought SQ was better.

That said then I quickly move to an Innuos server thinking ripped media was the only way, after 500GB of CD rips and 192 24 bit purchases came to the conclusion streaming Qobuz was as good and overtime has become better.

Sometimes there is an issue with the amount of current output by the usb connection of the device, vs. current needed to drive the usb hdd.

Some devices are designed for use with usb sticks (very low power requirements) and just don’t consistently put out enough current to make a hdd happy.

The Uniti Nova website “specs” mention “external portable SSD - max 1TB” and “usb sticks” I imagine that these limitations are not randomly arrived at. Naim may well tell you that the Nova is not designed to power a spinning hdd. Which doesn’t mean that it wont . . . at least for a while. If there is any long-term harm being done I have no idea.

Good question, Ian2001. I have an exact copy backup on my MacBook, which then gets backed up to the cloud via TimeMachine. The portable hard drive is really just a way to get the tunes on the Nova without using uPNP from Audirvana or something like that.

That’s something I had not thought about before, Bart. Thank you. I could always use an SSD, but the 1TB limitation might be tricky. I may ask Naim about that spec, as it seems odd why it would matter (although I seem to recall that there is something about the max size you can use with FAT32 formatting).

ND5 XS2 owner: From my comparing, a USB stick gives no different SQ to streaming from an external server. I prefer the USB stick of the drive purely for convenience of being less bulky. Plus added bonus of being another backup of my music.

Incidentally, how do you sync up your drive on your Mac? There is a really good built-in command called rsync, which will just copy over the differences.

Naim streamers are designed with reasonably generous USB power and are intended for use with bus powered spinning hard drives as well as SSDs.

I can only speak for the USB stick, never used a USB drive on my Star. So really not an answer to your question, just an observation: the indexing on my 256 GB flash Samsung USB (alumium, which I think helps as it does run quite warm) takes a few minutes to align artwork with titles/artists, not seconds. In which period I am looking at the screen, watching the artwork shifting itself around continuously. So maybe a quality USB drive is just faster on I/O to get this done in just seconds.

I just bought two portable sandisk 1 TB SSD for my NDX2 and Atom HE (took advantage of prime). Previously using USB sticks on the Atom HE and a 500GB HDD on the NDX2 and the sound quality is the same…top notch.

When I first got my ND555 I initially used a USB stick but I soon replaced that - on the advice of my dealer - with a mains-powered WD Elements hard drive. That provided both greater capacity and, as far as I recall, a slight improvement in sound quality. But the biggest improvement came with the purchase of a Melco E100 hard drive. Further improvement came by replacing the Melco-supplied USB cable with an Audioquest Carbon and then finally by replacing the SMPS with a PLIXIR linear power supply. Of course none of this comes cheap but in the context of an ND555 system I consider it worthwhile.

All fine, just keep it that way. :+1:
(And if you have backups, all the better.)

(From my experience, the USB drive is immediately available via the simple but limited „USB“ input, the „local server“ takes a while to index. But if you don’t constantly plug and re-plug, that should be fine.)

A SSD (or stick with flash) might be „totally silent“ compared to occasional hum+click of a HDD; but it this does not disturbed you so far…

Thanks for all of these great responses. Some food for thought, to be sure!

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