I-O Data was established in 1976 in Kanazawa city. It would be quite a task to list everything they do. The short form mentions industrial applications associated with networking and data storage; and OEM products. The fidata brand hit in 2015 not long ago. But work on the HFAS1-S10U started in 2012 and the very first prototype was shown two years later. Whilst the brand is new, the people behind it are anything but. They leverage very extensive technical backgrounds. fidata's core team consists of Akiya Miyamoto for hardware, chief designer Shinichi Morita, Yuiji Minagawa on software and Yasunori Kitamura for product planning and project coordination. It won't surprise you that at present the HFAS1 is their only product in the portfolio. It's available in two versions: S10U and X20U. The chief difference between them is SSD storage—1TB and 2TB respectively—though other refinements factor.

So what is the HFAS1-S10U? Two things. First and foremost, it's a music server, hence responsible for sending music stored on its memory to a playback device. So it's a pure transport, not a "have it all" Lumin T1 type which includes a potent DAC. The fidata platform does not perform D/A conversion but contains its own storage to eliminate the need for an external NAS. Yet such a specialized focus means that it can act as a NAS if one already owns an audiophile streamer. This scenario would attract people who don't find commercial network-attached storage devices of sufficient audiophile pedigree. And that potential double tasking makes the fidata unique.

It's a rather small but very pretty device that measures all of 35 x 36 x 6.4cm WxDxH and weighs 6kg. So it's neither big nor heavy but a feel of serious quality dominates. Though many even affordable hifi decks are made of aluminium, inspecting the fidata closely makes it apparent how it was designed by true enthusiasts and extremists. Cosmetic reduction to the sheer functional basics created instant elegance. Such minimalism is certain not to violate anyone's sixth aesthetic sense but instead to integrate seamlessly into any décor as more a decoration than audio hardware. Hence there's no display. The only break with a monolithic block of aluminium is the single frontal LED. This changes colour based on mode: white when ready after blinking for several seconds, red for error (i.e. if an external HDD suddenly disconnects or the on-board SSD runs out of space), orange when new software is available. Yet this LED may be extinguished. The sides are perfectly plain and the rear sports a small reset button, a USB type A output, a pair of RJ-45 Ethernet ports and one IEC power inlet. That's it. The USB port connects to your DAC of choice. The list of compatible devices is extensive and none of my Amanero or XMOS fitted converters had any issues.

One RJ-45 port turns the fidata into a NAS to serve a separate streamer. The other connects to a router. In pure storage mode, the signal must first see the router before moving on. When the fidata acts as combined storage/streamer, the router feed only creates remote access via tablet or smartphone, making the signal path even shorter. The final visual element is the engraving on the back. The made in Japan mark will surely please the cognoscenti and the machine processes up to 32/768 PCM in .wav, mp2/3, m4a,/b, ogg, aac, aif and flac and DSD as DoP 256, .dsf and .dff. The underbelly sports four aluminium footers with rubber inserts. Their quad layout can quickly convert to a trio if desired. The 4mm aluminium top retracts slightly to add visual depth of the framing and its irregular rice-paper derivative texture can only spell Japan and naught else. It looks fantastic.

Getting insides takes just four screws and instantly communicates meticulous assembly and a minimalist approach as the result of iterative reductionism from one prototype to another. Whilst such declarations can be a smokescreen to hide or justify cost savings, small Japanese boutique firms are famous for fanatical attention to detail, a perfectionist attitude and a slow steady approach to their ambitious goals. My journalistic instinct told me that this was squarely the case for fidata. Hence their proprietary motherboard with very specific case couplers. In fact, the design team went as far as defeating the standard blinking LEDs of the RJ-45 sockets and enabling a transfer speed truncation from 1GB to 100MB in the setup menu all to reduce jitter. My loaner's SSD drives were the very fast and costly Samsung 850 Evo. The internal layout showed clear divisions, with separate power supplies and stabilization for the SSD and remaining circuitry, drives shielded behind an aluminium partition as far removed from the power supplies as possible. Purportedly great attention was placed on the type and exact placement of the capacitors.

For review, I used the active Reflector Audio Bespoke P15 speakers with a LampizatOr Golden Gate DAC (Psvane WE101D-L and KR Audio 5U4G). The comparator transport was my usual Foobar2000-enabled Asus UX305LA laptop. After several days, the Sanders Sound Systems Magtech amp, Trilogy 925 integrated, Boenicke W8 and PureAudioProject Trio10 Timeless speakers made appearances as well. I didn't evaluate the fidata as a purist audiophile NAS because I lacked proper comparators. My MO from the start was to compare the HFAS1-S10U to my daily laptop via direct connection to my reference converter. For content control, the router connection enabled the use of my iPad Air with the Kinsky app as remote control. Configuration was a breeze. Though I had some connection issues at first, after a hard reboot of everything, all was peachy. Whilst there's the option to stream music via mobile HDD or pen drive, my auditions of the fidata were conducted solely with my music library stored on its 850 Evo drives.