n-Serve; image retrieval & tagging

As I rather like my DAC-V1 and NAP100, I decided to add a secondhand Unitiserve, which has been in place for about a week now. I like it - I know it has largely been superseded by streaming, but I have about 2000 CDs, and a similar number of radio broadcasts - having the CDs ripped to the Unitiserve hard drive, and an SSD connected with my other recordings, it offers a pretty good one-box solution. The internet radio functionality is also useful.

As the n-Serve software is the means of accessing the database of music, its usability depends on the tagging and metadata associated with each recording. So far, I am finding that;

  • no image is obtained to link to CDs as they are being ripped - and I don’t really want to have to add images manually to hundreds of CD rips.
  • the tagging functionality is very limited, particularly for classical recordings, where no separate fields for both (i) composer, (ii) artist / ensemble / orchestra and (iii) conductor are offered. Most of my library is of classical recordings, and I would like to be able to search on any one of these fields. (Interestingly, some of the old recordings that were on the unit do show additional tagging fields, but these do not appear when I am ripping my CDs - has the software been changed?).
  • some of my CDs are fairly obscure (contemporary classical, or free jazz), and not all are recognised by Gracenote (or whatever reference the unit is accessing. I’d like to be able to get these ripped cleanly, with sufficient tags to be able to find them easily.

Are there easy answers or solutions to the above? I’ve had a look at the settings, but nothing obvious is apparent. I’m using Version 1.4 (10413), by the way.

Does your Unitiserve have the current firmware? The latest version is 1.7c and it’s very important because earlier versions of firmware won’t work with the current metadata sites.

Hello David,

Good question. From ‘System Functions’ / ‘Version Info’, I find;
System Version=1.7c RC1
Is this the current Unitiserve firmware?


Yes that’s the latest. RC1 was actually the beta, but it is exactly the same as the actual production release and some of the upgrade discs that Naim sent out after release were 1.7c RC1.

You can edit the metadata using nserve and add images as you go, which is probably the best thing to do. I don’t know of any solution to your tagging problem unfortunately. Naim have never properly catered for classical music, even in the UnitiCore which is much more recent. For example there you can search on conductor but you can’t edit the conductor field, so the search function is effectively worthless.

Presumably you have tested the radio function (i.e the serve can get to wan?)

It’s obviously on his network with an ip address as he can use n-serve and so unlikely to not be able to see the internet. Also he says “the internet radio functionality is also useful”, which suggests that it does work!

Gary - yes, the unit is connected to the internet via a wired ethernet cable. The radio sounds pretty good, and it’s good to be able to access numerous European radio stations - this was not possible with the Bluesound Node.

David - thanks again - I was hoping that there would be a solution, to avoid the need to manually adjust the tags and metadata for my CDs. Hey ho.

Indeed I was trying to establish if there was perhaps a dns issue.

I had back in the day an ns02 which successfully obtained an IP but failed to pick up dns when it was pointed to the router, that is to say I had to put google dns manually

However the radio works so it’s not that. Presumably the OP’s cds are somewhat esoteric or this is just one more thing failing with this generation

Some of the CDs are, but most are not. For example, the Miles Davis Quintet 1965-68 boxset is recognised, and will rip, but no artwork is retrieved, and no genre is assigned. On almost all classical CDs, it looks like I’m going to have to edit almost all of the metadata, add artwork, and also alter the description for each piece / movement - that’s a bit painful! Just done this for an 8-CD boxset of the Vegh’s Beethoven quartets, and I don’t relish having to do this across most of the others.
However, the Unitiserve won’t recognise Cecil Taylor / Conquistador on Blue Note - I don’t know why. Some of the more obscure labels are hit and miss, but all the three examples I have mentioned are fairly mainstream. I can’t quite understand why the music that was already on the Unitiserve has much more extensive tagging - perhaps the software has been adjusted / downgraded since it was first issued?

I really doubt that it has been downgraded. I think much more likely is that the earlier rips you mention used a different metadata lookup. The main Unitiserve lookup was AMG (I think that is right), but that closed shop and MusicBrainz was added in anticipation of that. Then subsequently Rovi was added (in 1.7c if I remember correctly).

So I suspect some of the metadata you are used to seeing is just not there on the current lookup sites.

That makes sense David - I did look at the settings to see if it possible to adjust the sites that the unit is contacting for metadata, but that doesn’t seem to be possible either. Most of the Montaigne / Naive CDs don’t seem to be recognised at all, unfortunately.

Unfortunately it isn’t possible to change the lookup sites yourself. It could be worth reporting the issue you are seeing to Naim support. Possibly the Rovi API has been changed and Unitiserve needs another update.

That’s a good idea, David - I’ve just dropped Naim support an email.

Hi, It’s a bit strange that you are getting so many rips with no artwork showing, although the occasional one is not unusual. Usually obscure albums tend to get the wrong artwork rather than none at all as long as the internet connection is working properly. A few issues to be aware of:

There can be a short delay before a ripped CD becomes fully visible with all metadata and artwork displayed. If you rip one CD after the next, a queue can build up as they are processed one at a time. If you save the rips as FLAC, which I would strongly recommend, this delay is longer. Wait until the process is complete before you start checking and editing any metadata.

Editing metadata is very quick and easy, and I find that using the N-Serve app on my iPhone is as easy ans any of the desktop alternatives. Obviously it’s good practice to look over each ripped album, and it only takes a few seconds to correct any editable fields, which include album, artist, track, genre and artwork.
There are other visible metadata fields if this info is provided by the online lookup, including composer, conductor, performer (which are searchable, but strangely, not editable) and any other field that might be found such as vocalist, performer, producer, bass player, etc. etc. Unfortunately this can be a long, and not always meaningful list.

If you can’t arrange things to your satisfaction an alternative is to use a third party metadata editor. To do this you MUST make a copy of the album, edit it, and put it in the Unitiserve Downloads folder, and you will then want to delete the original from the Music folder.

When an online lookup is performed you cannot choose which service the Unitiserve uses, but if it gets no results from one, it automatically goes to the next provider. You can’t alter the provider yourself but this shouldn’t matter as it will try all providers itself automatically.

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Hello Chris - thanks for your reply. It does indeed take a few minutes for a rip to be encoded to Flac, and I’ve discovered that this can be tracked using the Maintenance / Encoding Monitor utility.

The CD and metadata recognition is a bit odd;

  • Montaigne, Leo and ezz-thetics CDs are not recognised at all, and are ejected. (This is a bit annoying, as I have about 150 Montaigne CDs, including the complete Arditti Quartet series - I’ll have to rip these separately and put these in the ‘Downloads’ section, as you have indicated).
  • Braxton House CDs will be ripped, but linked to entirely the wrong metadata - so all data needs to be overwritten after rip & encoding
  • BIS CDs are partially recognised, with inconsistent metadata between discs in the same box-set (e.g. Carl Axel Dominique’s recordings of Messiaen’s piano music), and some discs not recognised at all
  • Impulse CDs are generally recognised correctly, but not Coltrane’s ‘One Down, One Up’, which is rejected. However, A Love Supreme did come with artwork - the only one so far!
  • Only the most basic metadata fields are available. I’ll see if this changes when I get into the core classical material.

I guess this is one way of rediscovering your CD collection! The good thing is that the Naim Unitiserve / DAC V-1 / NAP100 stack is very good to listen to, and that the idea of having one source for most of my music collection remains viable, even if the tagging will be more laborious than I’d anticipated. I guess that streaming subscriptions have largely overtaken the idea of having your own collection digitised.

Given the large number of rogue CDs you have, I wonder if a different ripper would give you better results. I used to find that iTunes was as good as any when my US struggled, or you could try DBpoweramp.

I do wonder if the quality of these online databases will decline as both CD and local music storage decline in favour of streaming subscriptions. You may just have to accept that checking and editing tags yourself is going to be a little more time consuming than you had hoped. Ultimately there’s no escaping the fact that this curation of your collection will, in the long term, make browsing your collection easier, so perhaps it is time well spent, albeit rather boring.

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That’s probably a good future overview living with the U-Serve, Chris.

Those of us still living with the U-Serve will surely soon need to assess our options for replacing it, but it’s also nice to hear that DJH is enjoying it with his two other boxes. Despite its technological age, it still delivers on the music front.

My Unitiserve still works well, although I don’t often rip CDs these days.
My backup NAS has a UPnP server running on it, so I already have an alternative running in case the US dies. With a 2nd gen streamer there’s also the option to connect a USB drive and use the built in server, so I think I have it covered. Whether I would spend cash on an Audiophile grade server to replace the US, I’m not sure. I would certainly need to be thorough convinced by a demo before parting with any cash.
Slightly different for the OP as he uses the US as an SPDIF transport.

@DJH you might want to look at this and keep an eye on what transpires.

Another issue is the failure of n-serve to handle compilations correctly.

These are sometimes ripped with each track as a separate album, in which case I create a playlist.

However n-serve does not allow for an album to have tracks by different artists. For example ‘Azure Ellington Blue Note Plays Duke’ rips as a single cd, and the 15 different artists cannot be entered separately (you have to use something like ‘various’) and are thus lost, short of checking online each time you play the disc.