Sound Galleries SGM 2015 Music Server
Input: Ethernet, USB (storage), 2x DIN (Mouse and Keyboard)
Output: USB (DAC), 3x Video
Dimensions (W x D x H): 16 1/2 x 19 x 7"
Availability: through Authorized dealers
You Know Who You Are
To my mind, there will be three main types of response to this review:
- $16k for a computer? Are you nuts?
- I wonder if I can get a large % of this performance for a lot less $
- I'd like to listen to the SGM in my system
The Back Story
Munich High End 2015 introduced me to Sound Galleries and their room which featured gear from Lampizator, Audiopax, and Avante Garde, cables from Tellurium Q, and "...a custom Windows 10-based PC with SSD's running off battery power using HQ Player to convert everything to DSD." My report on this room was a rave, "The fact that I found this room, sponsored by Monaco's Sound Galleries, to be a few steps beyond most every other in terms of natural musicality speaks to all the parts that make up the whole. Rarely have I experience a similar sense of immediacy, flow, and effortlessness. You know like real music."
One of the outcomes of that experience is the full loom of Tellurium Q cables sitting in my system. Another outcome, from the Sound Galleries perspective, was an interest in refining their music server and turning it into a commercial product.
This commercial product, the Sound Galleries SGM 2015 Music Server, is sitting on my equipment rack and is the subject of this review.
The SGM 2015 Server
I'm going to leave the heavy list of attribute lifting to Sound Galleries:
- Processor: Intel Skylake i7 6700K
- Memory: 16 GB DDR4
- SSD: 1TB
- Custom designed hardware for low RF noise and CPU timing precision, with fanless CPU cooling
- Custom optimised operating system to deliver low RF noise during computer operation and computational timing precision
- Roon, best in class software for library management, Tidal streaming and user interface
- HQP Player, best in class software for upsampling and format conversion to DSD 512
- Steel potted transformer with copper foil isolation between primary and secondaries
- Cree Schottky rectifiers
- Two 3.6 kg choke filters delivering microvolt ripple
- 660,000 microfarads of Audiophile Grade capacitors from Mundorf
- Fanless CPU cooling, motherboard’s RF noisy PWM fan control is disabled
- Independent power supply for SSD
- Optimized RAM with vibration control
- Custom 4 heat pipe diamond polished copper CPU cooler block with individual pipe clamps
- Custom finned heat sinks CNC machined from solid copper billet
- Ample cooling capacity for the overclocked CPU
- Standard CPU and mobo chipset timing is derived from a crystal clock that costs about 1 Euro, and has a frequency stability of 50 pp million, which is replaced by:
- OCXO - oven controlled crystal oscillator
- Custom cut and manufactured for Sound Galleries in the USA, with 5 pp billion frequency stability and low phase noise at low frequencies
- Custom designed OCXO signal electronics and dedicated power supply from suppliers in Holland and Sweden
- OCXO Sound quality difference - a pristine clarity with no glare or edginess
- All Microsoft phone home and logging removed
- Functional IE 11 for downloading content and USB drivers
- Headless control and remote access for worldwide online support
- Whole Windows OS occupies less than 5GB
- Look ahead elimination of artifacts which were created during the original analog to digital conversion
- A variety of intelligent interpolation methods to create new image samples
- Different choices for pre and post ringing, phase distortion, and computational intensity
- Sigma Delta Modulation—creating the 1-bit stream at up to DSD512
- Choice of 5th order and 7th order modulators
- Adaptive modulators available
- Direct rate conversion with high frequency noise removal
- Re-modulating the signal at 24 MHz using HQ Player’s 5th or 7th order modulators
- Choice of Integrator
- Note - SACD’s are only DSD 64 and using 3rd or 5th order modulators
- Combining Roon interface convenience with delivery bit perfect data over USB
- Optical fibre isolated AES interface available as an option for up to 24 bit / 176 and 192 KHz
Comments on The List
The list is not complete. Speaking to Edward Hsu of Sound Galleries, I think it's safe to say that every single solitary aspect of the SGM server was examined, tested, and refined, in some cases over and over again, before being signed off on—cost no object. It is also fascinating to hear Edward talk about the process and understanding what changes had real impact on sound quality since a number of items on that list don't seem to belong there on first blush.
While some people, you know who you are, would certainly be interested in this longer conversation, that is the subject for another day (and perhaps best captured in video). Today, we are here to talk about what the Sound Galleries Music Server makes us hear.
I find the SGM's build quality tickles my fancy with its rugged simplicity. It looks the part. While there is 1TB of SSD on board, I played all music from my Synology 412+ NAS and streaming from Tidal HiFi. Owners can also opt to directly connect USB storage. I used the VNC Viewer app on my Mac to load up DAC drivers and change HQPlayer settings. The SGM starts up and shuts down in seconds (how un-Windows-like).
Since the SGM comes with Roon, a very wise move imo, that's what I used to control playback. My system remains the totaldac D1-six DAC, Ayre AX-5 Twenty integrated amplifier, and the DeVore Fidelity gibbon X all wired with Tellurium Q Black cable.
In my system and barn, the addition of the SGM 2015 Music Server moved my music playback into the realm of impeccable. I do not take that word lightly and use it with some trepidation because I have not heard everything. With that being said, what I can say is that my system has never sounded better and the results I'm getting in-barn make listening to other systems somewhat of a let down.
The main areas of improvement over my every day system, which employs the sonicTransporter i5 (sT) and microRendu (mR), revolve around—to borrow a favorite phrase from Heidegger’s essay "The Origin of the Work of Art"—"the thingness of the thing".
Music fills my space with a you-are-thereness that heretofore has more or less been hinted at. While the sT/mR combo give me a large percentage of what the SGM offers, this added percentage brings music playback into the realm of the real.
I recently had a few friends over for a listening and barn orchestra party. John DeVore and Stephen Mejias arrived just before noon and we spent the better part of the day into the early night listening to, and at times playing along with1, music from the system. We took turns selecting the music, letting each others selections inform our own (this is a boat load of fun). John queued up The Ensemble Of Irreproducible Outcomes' "Intonazione/The Foggy Dew" while he was sitting in the red chair and after a few minutes he suggested, strongly, that Stephen take the hot seat. After some time, Stephen suggested, strongly, that I take his place.
Let me put it this way—if you come over to hang out in the barn and I want to blow your music-loving mind, I will play The Ensemble Of Irreproducible Outcomes' "Intonazione/The Foggy Dew". This is very well recorded acoustic music and the space of the recording becomes the space of the barn: In every way, shape, and form. Every aspect of reproduction including tone, texture, dimensionality, attack, decay, and space in every dimension is seemingly 100% there. I say seemingly because ya never know but in my experience my system with the SGM is 100% as in, I have not experienced better.
You know who you are. The sT/mR combo, even with the Uptone power supply adds up to a rounded up $1700, making this comparison rather...silly? I typically try to have like-components in for review so I can offer a price-wise comparison but this wasn't possible here for a number of reasons, the least of which being I'm not aware of other servers in this price class. I have reviewed a number of other well-regarded servers including the Antipodes Reference Series DX, Aurender N100H, a number of the SOtM products, and various and sundry others. While a direct comparison is not possible seeing as none of these other servers are here and I did not review every one of them with my current system setup, I can say I've never heard my system, or many others, sound like this.
I mostly listened through my totaldac D1-six but I also spent some real time pairing the SGM with the mighty T+A DAC 8 DSD (see review). That combination allowed me to have HQPlayer upconvert all incoming data to DSD512 before the DAC 8, something that turned a fine DAC into a mighty fine DAC. If I owned the T+A DAC 8 DSD, I would not rest until I heard HQPlayer do its thing. Speaking to Jussi Lasko, the man behind HQPlayer, this process, the upconvert to DSD512, requires lots of processing horsepower, "For upsampling to DSD512 for the T+A DAC8 DSD, the Core i7 6700K used also in SGM 2015 is a good CPU baseline without much restrictions for possible HQPlayer settings."
With my totaldac, I mainly stuck with the HQPlayer settings recommended by Edward Hsu (as pictured). I did not spend a great deal of time changing these settings because they sounded the best after some experimentation and I was more interested in just listening to as much music as I possibly could before sending the SGM on its way. I will say this—HQPlayer is an outstanding product and for its current asking price of $138.82 it is also a crazy-assed bargain. I know of no other way to improve the performance of a DAC that comes close. Of course you need to account for the cost of the machine to run it on...
I listened to my system with the Sound Galleries SGM server for months, which adds up to hundreds of hours of listening time and lots and lots of music. Switching back to my sT/mR combo, which took all of a minute or so, was not a huge letdown. Changes included flabbier bass, less tonal variation, less precise sound location, less precise sound image, less depth, less height, less width, and generally music sounds a bit homogenized from track to track. There was sameness to the sound of music and things were a bit wilder and a bit woollier, which reduced the heights of emotional connection, and the sheer joy, of listening to lots and lots of music.
I have two more things to say; 1) up until the SGM, I was of the opinion that expensive music servers were a thing of the past because they did not offer much of an improvement, if any, over less expensive options, and 2) I was wrong.
You Know Who You Are
If you were a #3 (I'd like to listen to the SGM in my system), I'd agree—you want to hear the Sound Galleries SGM 2015 Music Server in your system. Sound Galleries offers "qualified buyers" in Europe, North America and Hong Kong a home demo.
If you were a #2 (I wonder if I can get a large % of this performance for a lot less $), I'd recommend starting with HQPlayer. If you were a #1 ($16k for a computer? Are you nuts?), I'd suggest you may have just wasted your time ;-).
1. the barn orchestra instruments include 4 guitars (2 acoustic 2 electric), a blackface Princeton Reverb amp, various effects pedals, a baritone ukulele, a toy accordion, a Farfisa (Pianorgan I), a cowbell, a slide whistle, sticks, brushes, a trumpet, a talking drum, and a Cojon.
Also in-use during the SGM review: totaldac d1-six, T+A DAC 8 DSD