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Dell Digital Audio Receiver

Dell Digital Audio Receiver with remote July 6, 2002 : Updated with 1.03 software link

What Is It

The Dell Digital Audio Receiver (aka DAR) is a device that lets you play the music files (MP3s and WMAs) that are on your PC anywhere in the house. (Well anywhere with a network connection). It has no storage itself, which makes it differ from its close relatives, it reads the files directly from your PC.

Since buying the DAR and writing this review, this has subsequently been replaced in my life by the Turtle Beach Audiotron.

The Device Itself

The box is car-radio sized, in silver and black, and looks very professional. It has a small 10W amp so you can directly connect a pair of speakers to it, as well as RCA outputs and a 3.5mm jack so you can connect PC-type speakers to it. The back panel also sports an Ethernet socket (with two status leds) and two phone sockets for HomePNA networking. The power supply is built-in which is good, I have way too many brick-like PSUs already. The device has a cooling grill on the top, but doesn't seem to generate any heat if you don't use the built-in amp.

On the front there is a power switch, 3.5" headphone socket, a Play/Pause/FF/RW/Stop control, a volume knob which also doubles as a menu selector, and an LCD screen with three buttons below it. The LCD is backlit but not very big - you can reconfigure it somewhat, but Tracks and Artists always seem to be in the smallest font.

Biggest wish: a wireless network connection then I could use it anywhere in the house.

The Device Software

Almost everything is controlled by pressing the large Menu button underneath the LCD, combined with the volume knob, which does cursor up, down and select. It works pretty well, sans the font size problem. You can select by Artist, Album, Genre, Title or Playlist. Selecting items at this menu can take several seconds if you have a lot of them. Unfortunately there is a short timeout on this operation, so if you're not paying attention after it goes into its Busy mode, the menu will automatically cancel. The Tracks menu is unusable on larger collections (it takes more than a minute for about 6,000 tracks which causes the connection to timeout).

You can also select items by name using the remote, but you need to be pretty close anyway to be able to read the LCD.

Tracks are listed alphabetically, instead of by track numbers, which means favorite albums sound different, as the order is messed up. I tried naming my files "01 First","02 Second" and the like, but the software is 'smart' and just ignored the prefix.

The source code to the device firmware is included on the CD, it runs a version of Linux. The compressed files appear to have a virus in them, so my PC refused to open them. Keen Linux programmers could presumably improve on this as the player automatically downloads newer firmware when it first contacts the controlling PC.

The PC Software

Installed in the Startup menu of every user is a program called armgr.exe which runs once you login to your machine. It is a simple application that serves two purposes: the first is that it lets you select which files you want to be made available to the DAR. The second is it's a TCP/IP service that the DAR uses to enumerate and download music files from. It also appears to include a DHCP server that only serves IP addresses to DAR devices, in case you don't have a DHCP service available on your network. When the software is running you will see the ugliest icon ever in the tray on the Task Bar, it is red if the DAR is not on, blue if it is. (This is as much diagnostic information as you can get!).

I have various issues with the PC software, here they are in approximate priority order (biggest first):

  • The software should not run from the Startup folder, it should be an NT Service. The current version needs you to be logged into your machine to run. This isn't a problem for single-user PCs, but for multi-user PCs (e.g. families), or for headless servers it's a huge problem. I have a hack solution for my headless server (see My Setup: Software).
  • If you add a new music file, you need to rescan your entire machine. A 60G drive on my 500MHz server takes about 45 minutes to scan. The software desperately needs an option to add files to a previous scan.
  • When selecting which files to give the DAR access to, you can only select at the Drive level (e.g. C:\, D:\), no subdirectories.
  • Setup refuses to run in a 16-color screen mode. There is no good reason for this, but my server only works in 16 colors (video driver issues, don't ask), so I had to use Terminal Server to run Setup in 256 color mode.

Unfortunately no source code is included for the PC side of the software, which is what I would like to re-write.

Also on the CD are copies of MusicMatch Jukebox 5.1 and some MP3 samples from Riffage.

My Setup : Hardware

I connect to the internet at large via ADSL, plugged into the ADSL modem I have a LinkSys Etherfast Cable / DSL Router. This acts as my firewall and DHCP server. Into that I have everything else, including my PCs, server, wireless network access point and the DAR itself. (I also have a 10/100 LinkSys switch connecting the DAR to my server, but this is due to the limited CAT5 cabling I have through the house). The DAR lives in the kitchen, which has a CAT5 socket on the wall. I have some regular speakers connected to the DAR.

My Setup: Software

The software needs to run on a machine that is always on, and for me that is my Windows 2000 Server machine. This box's job is to run my domain and active directory accounts, and to be the repository of my music collection. Normally no-one is logged into the machine. Out of the box, the software isn't much good for this, so here is what I did to hack around the issues: Firstly I created a DAR account specifically for this purpose, then logged in as DAR via TS. I installed the software as usual, then I moved the Audio Receiver shortcut from

c:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Start Menu\Programs\Startup


c:\Documents and Settings\DAR\Start Menu\Programs\Startup

This makes the software only run when DAR is logged in, not every use. (When using Terminal Server I didn't want the software starting up more instances of itself every time anyone logged into it). Next I configured the software as usual and added a menu shortcut to the tsdiscon.exe program, and clicked it. This disconnects from a TS session but keeps it alive, which means the armgr program still runs. The downside to this is that when I want to edit Playlists or change the configuration I have to login as DAR and re-connect to this old session. Also if the machine reboots (e.g. after a power cut) then I have to re-login as DAR. As I also have to go through hoops after a power failure anyway (thanks to my video driver) so this isn't much of a problem.


Basically Dell have no clue about this. As it works on any PC, it doesn't fit will into the DellTalk forum which is arranged by Dell PC model. I have tended to check and post to the "Portable Peripherals - Other Peripherals". The Dell techs have no idea at all about these boxes. Their only replies are stock paragraphs from the manual. I have found better support on the MP3Talk forum and the MP3 hardware forum

Dell offer no way to register the product, so you need to keep your eyes open for any forthcoming software upgrades. Most peoples Setup problems seem to be IP related (DHCP, subnet masks and the like) as there is no information at all on how that side of it works.


  • Nice professional looking hardware
  • Simple to use interface
  • Good quality sound


  • Not able to adequately handle larger collections
  • Tracks ordered alphabetically instead of by track
  • PC software very 1.0, needs upgrade
  • No useful technical support from Dell

Additional Info

Dell appear to be dumping the DAR - I can't find it on their site any more! It was reduced to $150 but it has gone entirely now.

The last software, version 1.03 has some critical bug fixes, and used to be on the Dell site, but impossible to find. I recommend using Google to search for z59pxc02.exe and it will show up on a few Dell FTP sites. Given this level of support, I find it unlikely I will ever buy anything from Dell again.


ControlAV is a trademark of Andy Pennell.