Audiophile Music Servers - Fact or Foo?

edited December 2011 in Digital
Over the last few weeks I've been reading up (beats working) on so called audiophile music servers.  These are typically, but not always, stripped down Linux-based PC's which have nothing but the essential parts required to feed a DAC.  They are made by a growing number of manufacturers and range in price from around £400 to upwards of £3,000.  

Here is a link to Auraliti who make a couple of different servers:

These seem sensibly priced when compared against some of the prices of seen quoted for a pimped Mac Mini.  

At the higher end there's devices like this:

Bryston have had their own take on the music server available for at least a year now:

So what do the 'chews massive think about these sort of devices?  Has anyone tried one?  

I'm really interested to hear one of the Auraliti units.  I personally don't buy the whole incremental improvements argument that is often cited about maximising Mac performance, by doing things like switching off spotlight, or running only on battery power - I've tried all these things in my system and they made no difference whatsoever.  In the near future, I can see myself buying a dedicated music server though.  Potential performance improvements aside, it will free up my MBP from transport duties.


  • I haven't tried any of these, but either not being able to change the playback software, or only having the choice available for Linux (not very impressive the last time I looked) kills it for me.

    Would you buy a TT that wouldn't allow you to change the cartridge?

    I'd only consider one these servers if it sounded streets ahead of my Mac.
  • I haven't heard anything yet ,better sounding than my MBP running Amarra, a few years ago I commissioned an 'Audio PC' pipe cooling Lynx AES card, Wavlab software etc, the Mac through FireWire with Weiss DAC was better, a friend of mine is building something now, perhaps using the SOTM USB card, and hopefully soon the MAN server should arrive .
  • I look forward to your findings re the MAN server Keith.

    There's a few different streaming options in Naim's lineup, most of which look overpriced, apart from perhaps the Unitiserve SSD. This is relatively unchartered water for audiophiles, and there's precious little in terms of reviews to confirm if these devices sound better than a Mac as a transport, or if indeed they are just stripped out Macs/PC's in expensive cases. I'm keeping an open mind.
  • James Hi, they are all based on standard motherboards, perhaps Linux or Windows software, as you say the question is will they sound any better than your standard PC/mac.
    If the Weiss doesn't. sound better it will at least be as easy as a cd player to use, which might appeal to a small sector , I hope it sounds better I wouldn't. mind waving adios to ITunes.
    KR Keith.
  • edited February 2012
    Ouch for the competition-bashing, Keith! The Aurender is an entirely bespoke piece, and sounds and measures like nothing else available, according to HiFi News. It was recently put at the heart of The World's Best Audio System 2012. The motherboard, power supplies and the SPDIF clocks are completely proprietary.

    We're seeing three distinct methodologies emerge:
    1. At the top end, the Naim/Linn/Bryston/Yamaha/Meridian/Weiss/Aurender way of doing this - entirely bespoke - is definitely the best - but you end up with extremely overpriced, monolithic, non-upgradeable products
    2. At the bottom end, mass-produced proprietary streamers like the Logitech, Sonos, et al have similar limitations, sound a bit dismal, but at least are cheap and handy.
    3. In the middle, Item, NVA, Auraliti, Sonore and the whole 'open source' movement seeks the quality of the high-end machines without the price tag by bootstrapping existing boards, and fixing as many of their problems as possible. This at least is relatively cheap, and is completely upgradeable, which is a bonus in a world where DAC fashions seem to changing annually.

    In answer to the original question - yes: starting with a standard mobo and improving the power supply, operating system, and everything germane to audio, makes them sound much better. I know no-one who has heard one claim otherwise.
  • With regard to reviews, I know that several are in the pipeline . . . HiFi World reviewed the DAT1 in December, but it's all a bit uncharted territory for the UK press. Even in the States (in particular on the West Coast where they are about 2 years ahead of us in the UK in this area), it's all happening on the forums rather than in print.
  • I was struck by an interesting analogy today when configuring a cinema PC for someone . . . if you take a stock PC and unplug the fan, is it less noisy - acoustically?

    Yes, and no. Yes, you have removed a noisy component. On the other hand, the noise of the case fans and power supply cooling has already blended into chaos at a given dB. Chaos + chaos = chaos. So, no: the net effect of removing the cooler fan was practically irrelevant: the machine appeared to be just as noisy with the cooler fan disconnected.

    So we swapped out for a silent supply and adjusted the case for passive cooling. Now, the fan was the only noise palpable - yes: it became very easy to hear the effect of removing the fan. It's similar with electrical noise and jitter, which is what we're looking to minimise.
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