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REVIEW – Do you still own CDs—like, a lot of CDs? I do. I own between 300-400 compact discs. And even though I now stream most of my music—I’m stubborn and not willing to give up music I physically own. I’m not parting with my CDs.
So, if you own a bunch of CDs and are so over playing them one at a time, you might want to look into a CD ripper/player. What is a CD ripper/player? It’s a device/gadget that rips and stores CDs on a hard drive for playback. The Brennan B2 CD Ripper and Hard disk Jukebox I’m reviewing is not just a CD ripper/player. It’s much more.
What is it?
Brennan is a small British company that makes interesting audio gear that fits a certain genre. They see a need and fill it with a specific product, such as the BB1 I reviewed last year. The Brennan B2 CD Ripper and Hard disk Jukebox is a compact storage device that can store up to 5,000 CDs in high-resolution/lossless format (or 10,000 in MP3 format depending on the file and hard drive size). The B2 will also play those stored CDs over wired speakers, Bluetooth, Wifi, or even the SONOS home sound system. Plus, it will play audio from its built-in CD player, YouTube, any source connected via the AUX port, any available internet radio station, and Bluetooth (with optional Bluetooth 5 dongle).
- Stores 4400 CDs on in FLAC
- Stores 9000 CDs on in MP3
- 15W+15W power amplifier
- Credit card remote
- Works with Sonos
- Android/iOS app
- Bluetooth 5.0 (Requires optional Bluetooth dongle)
- AUX port
- HDMI Out
- 256 x 64 OLED display
- Aluminum construction
- CD player
- Two USB 2.0 Hi-Speed ports
- SPDIF optical output
- Can convert vinyl to MP3 format
- Built-in Raspberry Pi processor
- 1.9 x 6.7 x 6 in.
Design and features
When I first saw the Brennan B2, a wondered why someone would release a CD player in this age of music streaming? Streaming is just too convenient and music sounds “good enough” for most people. And to add insult to injury, LPs now outsell CDs!
However, if you have a large CD collection gathering dust, you can back them up to a hard drive and have your whole collection ready to play whenever you want. Plus, you can store the CDs in a safe place and never have to drag them out again.
I know what you may be thinking. “There’s Apple Music on my Mac computer (or Windows equivalent) and I can rip CDs and play them on my PC. You can absolutely do that, but do you really want to muck up your computer hard drive with thousands of lossless or MP3 music files? Why not use a dedicated player/storage device instead? The Brennan B2 can store up to 2 terabytes of music—with cover art, titles and other info garnered from the internet.
Let me state up front that this review is going to be involved because the Brennan B2 CD Ripper and Hard disk Jukebox does a lot. My review may be a bit simplistic and I will skip some of what the B2 can do. The Gadgeteer is not an audiophile site, so I’ll try not to get lost in the weeds and only cover what I think is the important stuff. The Brennan website has an excellent user base with loads of useful information and people are only happy to help with any questions.
So, if you have a bunch of CDs and if you want a convenient way to store and play them without constantly dragging them out, the B2 may be what you need—or not, depending on a few factors.
The B2’s design is a basic unit with few frills. The top vent holes that spell “B2” are the most interesting design element. The back of the unit is all business with a lot of connection choices—if a bit cramped.
There’s an on/off switch (I wish it was on the front). Next to that is an HDMI port for connecting audio from the B2 to TV or newer audio gear. Keep in mind that HDMI is digital, so the audio signal will be as good as it gets. I don’t use it because I prefer some of the other connections.
Sitting below the On/off is a Micro USB port that won’t do anything for the user. I suspect it’s for repair or other “backdoor” uses.
Along the bottom of the rear panel (left to right) is a DC input for power next to a USB A port used for the Wifi dongle/antenna. This lets the B2 connect wirelessly to a network. That way, it can be accessed either by PC or smart device via the Brennan app (more on that later in the review).
Next are the speaker ports, which use banana connections. Brennan makes a set of speakers that work well with the B2, but they are only worth buying if you don’t already have speakers. Otherwise, you are better off using your own—but you may need to purchase speaker wire with proper banana plug connectors.
Next up is a USB A (Brennan calls it USB C—not sure why) port for connecting Brennan’s Bluetooth 5 dongle (included with B2). I’m disappointed that Brennan didn’t just build Bluetooth (and Wifi) into the unit itself rather than relying on dongles. Maybe this allows for easy future upgrades.
The right side of the rear panel contains the digital outputs. A 3.5 mm stereo (headphone) jack doubles as a SPDIF optical/digital out—much like the older Apple iMac headphone jacks, but I digress. Lastly, there’s a 3.5 mm analog input for recording external musical sources. I probably won’t ever use this port. I know I won’t be using the two ethernet cable holes.
As I said, the layout is tight—with everything plugged in. The Wifi dongle/antenna can only be set straight. Its design won’t let the antenna be turned upwards—like so many other Wifi antennas—for a stronger signal. However, as long as your Wifi is close, you shouldn’t have any issue connecting.
What I did have an issue with was Bluetooth. For whatever reason, Bluetooth messed up the playback of any music stored on the drive. At least, we think it was Bluetooth. The issue cropped up when using Bluetooth and then affected the player completely. I don’t know exactly what happened, but I could only play one song. If I tried to skip, pause or repeat the song, nothing would happen. The (really) good news is that Brennan stayed on top of this until they figured it out. Turns out the Micro SD card needed to be replaced and that did the trick! I was up and running. Kudos to Brennan’s group of crack tech people.
It’s always good to play around with the interface once a few CDs are ripped to the B2. This way, you can become comfortable with how the unit works before spending hours ripping the rest of your collection—and you will spend hours if your collection is a few hundred CDs.
Ripping CDs was as easy as inserting, waiting for the CD to show up in the window (web or smart device UI), and clicking the RIP button. Cover art, song titles, times, and other info you need are automatically placed with the ripped CD for browsing or cataloging later.
There are five ways to operate the Brennan B2 CD Ripper and Hard disk Jukebox: The unit’s scroll knob/window; smartphone app, PC (Mac or Windows), smart device via IP address, and included remote. Let’s begin with the unit itself.
The B2’s window is a scroll and click design. You have to scroll through a lot of menu items, click on the one you want and then (depending on what you clicked) scroll through more items to perform whatever function you need, such as play, settings, mode, whatever. It’s frustrating, but understandable due to its scroll and click design.
A better way to navigate the B2 is either by PC or smart device. Access is gained by using its unique IP address through any browser. On my mac, I opened Safari and entered the address. Instantly, the B2 was accessible. (The IP address is shown on the B2’s window)
Once many CDs are loaded, this method of B2 navigation is more preferable to the window method, although it has its quirks. Some of the buttons are confusing or placed in unexpected places. It takes a bit of time to become comfortable accessing various functions. For instance, the Now Playing button houses a menu of choices, such as Playlists, Search, Presets, and Settings just to name a few. As I said, it takes a while to figure it out. I suspect that audiophiles with knowledge of setting up music on PCs will have a few issues, but I’m a CD and Apple Music guy, so I’m still trying to figure it all out.
Using a smart device (iPhone for me) is similar to a PC. It’s handled via browser and the same IP address. The buttons look the same but are rearranged to fit the vertical screen. Once you figure out how this works, you’ll be able to effortlessly switch between PC and smart device. Hint: save the web UI to the desktop so you won’t have to re-type the IP number for access.
The smartphone app is basic and won’t do everything the web UI will do. And I love it. After struggling through the Web UI and its quirks, I discovered the Brennan app in the app store. Why didn’t I check here first—I can be stupid sometimes. The app mimics a typical music play app with its simply laid-out buttons. Finding what you want to play is sooooo much easier. Not only that, it has a (really) tiny Web UI button that takes you to the IP address should you want to change settings not available in the app itself. You can easily return to the app at any time. Unfortunately, no such app exists for the PC/Mac.
Finally, there’s the remote which handles many functions. Because of labeling abbreviations, some of the buttons take a few tries to figure out. It’s great if you like remotes, but I find myself using the smartphone app instead. It has a layout I understand vs. the remote’s myriad buttons.
Let’s talk Sonos. After a firmware update, the Brennan B2 CD Ripper and Hard disk Jukebox works seamlessly with the Sonos speaker system. Just hit the Scan button and the B2 will find it. They sent me a Sonos One SL to test this out and it worked great. Not only that, the Sonos One has killer audio. (Don’t tell Brennan, but the Sonos One SL speaker sounds much richer than Brennan’s own speakers).
It took a few minutes to help the B2 see the Sonos One, but once done, the app remembers the connection. The good news for Sonos owners is that you can have your complete CD collection playing in every room that houses a Sonos speaker—all controlled by the Brennan (or Sonos) app. One glitch I noticed is that switching between the Sonos speaker and the Brennan speakers using the Brennan app sometimes played both at the same time. Weird.
Using the Brennan B2 daily was fairly easy once the CDs are ripped and stored. I say fairly because the Brennan setup isn’t a no-brainer. You have to learn how to navigate the web UI. But once it’s all properly set up, you should be able to just use the smartphone app or PC web UI to play audio.
The B2 has a 15 + 15-watt amplifier for wired use with passive speakers. However, wireless connections require powered speakers.
Songs can be ripped using different quality settings: None (uncompressed), MP3 (128K or 256K), and FLAC (lossless compression). Uncompressed is just that, the file size of the song matches the source. CD song files are large. MP3 music files are compressed quite a bit, plus they are lossy—meaning bits of musical data are thrown out. Unfortunately, the B2 will not rip 320K MP3 files (the best available MP3 quality available). Note that many people cannot tell the difference between a compressed MP3 and an uncompressed music file. Many people can, however. FLAC is the best choice available for music ripping on the B2. FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) is lossless—meaning it retains all the musical data—and it’s about half the file size of uncompressed. The downside with FLAC is that it does not work with Apple Music. Apple—being Apple—uses its own version of FLAC—ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec).
Bottom line: If you want to load as many tracks onto the Brennan B2 CD Ripper and Hard disk Jukebox as possible yet retain the music as it’s heard on CD, use the FLAC setting and leave it. However, if you want to stream your collection over Bluetooth, the 256K MP3 choice will work fine since Bluetooth compresses files anyway. Just stay away from 128K—period.
The Brennan B2 can play (and store) CDs, pick up radio via the internet, and drive passive speakers. Technically, it can be a single music system. When you consider that, its price seems quite justifiable. If you are an audiophile who wants—needs—to have a single source for your digital music collection, the B2 could be indispensable.
What I like
- Works seamlessly with Sonos speakers
- Can backup complete CD collection
- Smartphone app
- Web UI for detailed settings
- Ripping choices
- Many inputs and outputs
- Internet radio
- Compact size
What I’d change
- Complicated UI
Whenever I finish an audio review, that’s when I get to use and enjoy the product without thinking about what I’ll say. However, with the Brennan B2 CD Ripper and Hard disk Jukebox review now written, the work is only just beginning. I have a lot of CDs left to rip. And I’m going to enjoy the result.
The Brennan B2 is like a time machine. It’s causing me to actually listen to my music—like I used to.