Baetis Audio Revolution III Media Server

Device Type: Media Server
Input: 4x USB3.0 ports, 2x USB2.0 ports, Ethernet
Output: BNC S/PDIF, AES/EBU (optional), Toslink, 2x HDMI outputs for Multi-channel audio and video up to 4k (4096 x 2160 at 24hz, or 2560 x 1600 at 60hz), DVI output for video, VGA output for video
Dimensions (W x D x H): 9.5” W x 10” L x 4.25” H
Weight: approximately 10 lbs.
Availability: through authorized dealers
Price: $4,895.00 + $895 w/AES option
Includes: External PSU and External UPS
Website: www.baetisaudio.com

Baetis
Think fly fishing: Baetis is a genus of mayflies that happens to be on every trout's mind and menu. Baetis, the company, is located on the banks of the Yellowstone River in Montana so my guess is trout is on their mind and menu.

In Montana, the fly that hatches in the spring is known, by its color, as the Blue-winged Olive. When the second brood appears in August, it is known as the Sulphur or Pale Evening Dun. And in October, its body color once more demands the name of Olive. Few fly fishermen have read enough of the entomology literature to know of this multi-brooded-ness. To most fly-fishermen, the flies are, because of their colors, different insects, not related members of the same family, genus, and species.

This is what a Baetis computer is all about. It is a machine that will perform very different functions for different owners. Or very different functions for the same owner at differing times of the day or in different places. Each function might go by a different name – a music server, an HTPC, a network streaming device, a ripping device, a multi-room movie server, etc. But the functions are merely differing stages or broods, all united by a common bond – the ability to put forth perfect streams of audio and video of the highest possible quality, without any artificial Digital Signal Processing, unless such processing is absolutely necessary. For this incredible flexibility and highest possible level of quality, there seems to us no other proper name.

The Baetis Revolution III Media Server sits in between the company's entry model, the Prodigy ($1,995), and the flagship Reference Media Server ($8,890). The Revolution is a Windows 10 machine running JRiver Media Center as music manager. Stock units come with an internal 120G Solid-State Drive (SSD) to house OS and software and Baetis ships every Revolution with a "Starter" 1TB external hard drive for storing your music, "We do NOT advocate storage of media inside the computer because of EMI (electromagnetic interference)." According to my parlance, that makes the Revolution a Media Streamer since "Server" typically refers to a device with internal storage for music.

The company will install dbPoweramp for ripping ($60 charge) CDs and assist in the purchase and installation of the MakeMKV software for ripping DVDs and Blu-Ray discs ($50) since the unit includes a front-mounted slot drive for this purpose. Also up front live two USB 2.0 ports and the unit's power button.

All of the other inputs and outputs live around back. While the Revolution also sports an analog-in port, analog-out port, and a microphone-in port, the company stresses these are "are NOT for high quality audio". So I ignored them. The Revolution's aluminum chassis comes in silver or black and has a no-nonsense, sturdy look and feel.

But what's inside? From the company:

  • Intel Core-i3 2-core processor
  • H97 chipset and motherboard
  • 16G of highest rated RAM
  • Same HD audio codec on motherboard as the Baetis Reference
  • Baetis' award-winning proprietary daughterboard for SPDIF or AES/EBU audio signal for astonishing 2-channel sound
  • Special external DC power supply, with Neutrik® DC connector to motherboard; lowest ripple/noise except for our PSU for the Reference2 models
  • Audiophile quality Blu-ray capable optical drive
  • Special highest rated SSD digital noise filter for DC power line to SSD. Does not affect SATA cable
  • Baetis hybrid cooling system employing heat-sink and exhaust fans made by Noctua™ and milled by us. Keeps MB temps 20° C. cooler than fanless systems. No measured noise above that of audio system on standby, at a distance of 3 feet, using a digital sound pressure meter!
  • External pure-sine-wave uninterruptible power supply (UPS). The UPS acts as a decent power conditioner (improves audio), plus protects the motherboard from voltage drops or surges. We drop-ship the UPS to you prior to shipment of your Baetis server.
  • Neutrik DC connector for use of the new Baetis twin-toroidal PSU (with Revelation pure silver wire DC cable).
Every Baetis server also comes with up to 7 hours of free phone-based training and support. Additional tech support is available for $45/hour. When the various pieces of the Baetis puzzle arrived, which included the Revolution server, a wireless keyboard and mouse (and USB WiFi dongle), the external PSU and UPS, and the Western Digital Elements 1TB external hard drive, I put everything together, connected a TV as monitor, and within a few minutes I was up and running. I did spend some time on the phone with Joe, he's the head of customer support, and using TeamViewer, Joe made sure I didn't screw anything up. He also mounted my NAS so I could access its contents from JRiver. Simple, painless, and done.

I should stress that this service can be indispensable for people who are less familiar with how all of this stuff works, turning a potentially daunting task into a pleasant phone call and talking user guide. Nice.

During my initial emails with Baetis' John Mingo, John suggested I try some different DACs with the Revolution, besides the Auralic Vega I use as a reference. John recommended either the Berkeley DAC or the Schiit Yggdrasil. While I have a Yggdrasil review in the works, it has not yet arrived, and Berkeley will not send me a review unit for unknown reasons (my guess is they don't need another review, especially if that review is not as positive as the ones they already received). So I made due with the Auralic Vega, dCS Rossini, and the PS Audio DirectStream Junior.

For ripping, I tried a few discs including John Cage's Music For Five and everything went smoothly (a 59:24 long disc took approximately 23 minutes to rip). This is not an automated process, so you'll have to have your monitor and keyboard/mouse ready to roll to rip. I've used dbPpoweramp to rip many a CD and it is my favorite and recommended Windows-based ripper.

The system in use includes a diversion from my usual MacBook Pro as server setup; I'm in the process of reviewing an Intel i5 NUC running Roon Server (and HQPlayer) combined with the Sonore microRendu Roon Ready streamer. After that, skipping the DACs which I'll talk about shortly, is my reference Ayre AX-5 Twenty driving the DeVore Fidelity gibbon X. Baetis Audio provided a Shunyata ZiTron Anaconda Digital AES/EBU XLR cable ($1250) which I used for all AES output listening. If you've gotten the idea that Baetis are particular and detail oriented, I'd agree.

While you can run the Revolution III 'headless' since you can use the JRemote app for iOS and Androide devices for playback, you'll need to have a monitor, keyboard, and mouse on hand for ripping and system-related tasks like updating JRiver and trouble shooting. I had JRiver unexpectedly quit twice during the months I used the Revolution III so I had to manually start it up again. For the duration of this review, I used JRemote on my iPad for playback.

The Sound of Baetis
Ideally, you don't want your music server to sound like anything. Unfortunately, my experience says that's not always the case. Slapping any old computer into a hi-fi and expecting to get the same results as you would from a purpose-built machine is like expecting McDonald's to serve you a great Jambalaya. What? Where's the andouille? And no, I don't want any cheese!. The thing is, computers are noisy and this noise can be harmful to music. If you're skeptical, try sticking a chicken in your PC.

The Baetis Revolution III doesn't have much of a sound of its own, if any. While it has fans I only heard them when ripping, and it pretty much sat there on my rack silently, going about its music streaming business. The provided WD drive came with a bunch of music for review purposes but I preferred to mostly listen to mine, served from my NAS. Here's what I found: the Revolution's performance varied some depending on the DAC.

The dCS Rossini doesn't seem to care all that much how it gets its music; NAS-based through its own Ethernet input, USB, or AES. It was a snap to switch back and forth between the Rossini's inputs using the dCS app, and I did not hear a notable improvement in sound quality one way or another. Everything sounded great. My personal preference was USB since I got to use Roon to control playback and if you didn't know, Roon is one of the things you'd have a very hard time trying to remove from my daily listening. And Tidal HiFi. I keep a weapon hidden in the barn for just such an event.

The PS Audio DirectStream Junior was a tad more telling in that I did hear a very slight difference between feeding it via USB from the Intel NUC/microRendu versus AES from the Revolution III; the latter sounding ever so slightly more refined, more solid and stable in terms of the space of the recording. These were subtle differences, as in I had to listen hard to hear them. On a scale of 1 to 100, I'd peg them at a solid 5.

The Auralic Vega preferred USB and I suspect this had more to do with the Vega's AES input than the Revolution III (I can hear Baetis' John Mingo saying 'I told you so'). Here, USB sounds richer and fuller and simply more fun. AES sounding thinner and less engaging.

Reviewing a music server is fairly straight-forward. I've found that most every server and streamer I've had here for review offered similar sonic benefits—to varying degrees. These benefits include a lower perceived noise floor which reveals more of music's micro-detail, nuance, and color, while also improving the sense of the space in the recording and image/player stability. The Baetis Revolution III certainly delivered on all these counts to varying degrees depending on the DAC.

I did not deal with the true media server capabilities of the Revolution III, movie aficionados and collectors should note that the Revolution III/JRiver combo can also serve your flicks. If you're just interested in music, and you'd to prefer to have internal storage in your server, I recommend checking out the Melco N1A.

Baetis' Lure
If you are in the market for a media server, streamer?, the Baetis Revolution III is certainly worth a look. My recommendation for those so inclined is to talk to Baetis about your system and your DAC to see if they are a good fit for the Revolution's strengths.


Also in-use during the Revolution III review: Auralic Vega, dCS Rossini, PS Audio DirectStream Junior

Associated Equipment

COMMENTS
Doak's picture

"I'm in the process of reviewing an Intel i5 NUC running Roon Server (and HQPlayer) combined with the Sonore microRendu Roon Ready streamer."
VERY interested in this. Can/will you divulge the source of said "NUC"??

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...is the source of the NUC.
Doak's picture

Thanks?
Was hoping for plug/play like SMG Sonic Transporter, barring that I may need to get BZ myself.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...or, if have questions, feel free to send me an email.
Doak's picture

NT

Patster11's picture

Michael – I’ve enjoyed your columns for some time and learned a great deal. I’m a newbie and I’m putting together my own system, keeping in mind many of your revelations. I’m interested to hear how your review comes out regarding the Intel NUC and Roon. In a way, this type of set-up is philosophically counter to pricey, dedicated server boxes. The Baetis server looks great, but the 5 large+ cost is a bit much. I want to know from someone who’s heard many products, if, in fact, a very simple home-made Intel NUC set-up can provide quality output, or…can you really tell a big difference.

Brown Sound's picture

I agree, 5K is a bit steep for a PC, a dedicated media PC, but still? Now if I had a five or six figure system for this device to go in, sure. So I take the wonderful information for budget hi-fi from folks like Michael, Michael Fremer, Sam Tellig and Robert Reina to heart and have a great time with great sounding budget gear.

Hardware:
ECS LIVA X mini PC
Logitech K400 wireless USB keyboard w/touchpad
Western Digital 1TB USB 3.0 portable HDD
iFi Nano iDSD DAC/Headphone Amp
Audioquest Forest USB-A to USB-B cable
Audioquest Evergreen RCA to RCA cable

Software:
OS: A clean install of Win8.1 (now Win10)
Music player SW: foobar2000

Main Rig:
Adcom GTP-500 preamp/tuner
Adcom GFA-535 power amp
Polk RTi A1 bookshelf speakers on stands

I have other gear, but this is the stuff related to this topic. Just keep listening!

2_channel_ears's picture

"The Auralic Vega preferred USB and I suspect this had more to do with the Vega's AES input" - funny, I experienced the opposite with Aries/Vega combo so it pays to try different connections.

romaz's picture

Ideally, you don't want your DAC, cables, amp or transducers to sound like anything either if transparency is the goal...

Baetis seems focused on the idea that the connection interface is the most important aspect of a music server and that AES/EBU is somehow superior to everything else despite its bandwidth limitations. Those who have had a conversation with John Baetis know how emotional he can get at the mere mention of USB and indeed, this interface has been derided by many audiophiles for years. I think it's time that John and others have a listen to what a good USB source like the microRendu can sound like. As you also have the microRendu in your possession for review, it will be interesting to read your take on it against something like the Baetis, any Aurender or Antipodes server. It is my predicition that the server/streamer landscape will be drastically altered by this pocket-sized $640 digital front end. Unlike the Baetis, which is finicky and requires an AES/EBU-centric DAC like the Berkeley Reference and an exotic AES/EBU cable to sound good, the $640 microRendu will likely rival even the much more expensive Baetis Reference III using a generic $10 USB cable and ethernet cable (and I don't make this claim lightly). Even when you factor in the cost of a good linear power supply to pair with the microRendu, an inexpensive NUC, a liftime subscription to Roon and an HQ Player license, compared to the asking price of the Baetis Revolution III, you would still have thousands of dollars left over to spend on more important things like music.

bobflood's picture

off the shelf hardware coupled with either Windows or Apple operating systems and programs like those used on this device is coming to an end. There is just too much overhead to overcome. Windows can sound very good but only if one applies one or several of the many optimization tools or makes all the optimizations manually ( a herculean task). And, you are subject to disaster with every cumulative update (trust me, been there done that). Also, Windows and OSX are becoming bloated and more restrictive and so less conducive to use as a high quality audio platform.

The future lies with dedicated devices running custom software like the latest crop of server and renderer products to hit the market.

The approach taken by this manufacturer will remain the province of the DIY crowd. I can't imagine many people will be willing to pay a high price for what is really a standard Windows computer running standard software.

I don't intend to demean the efforts of this manufacturer or the significant improvements that they have made made to a Windows platform computer. I just don't think that this is the direction the market for high end computer audio equipment will be taking going forward.

rexp's picture

Thanks for such a comprehensive review! Just one question: You've mentioned in the past that the best digital sources such as the Rossini don't sound 'digital', is it only expensive DAC's that can match analog or do these new gen transports mean cheaper DAC's can also match an analog source? Cheers

Michael Lavorgna's picture
My feeling is we are in the process of experiencing a sea change in digital audio reproduction that extends beyond any single component, or software, or file format. This change, at least for my interests, will greatly improve our listening experience and, to answer your question, improve the quality of digital replay across the board.

But, don't you hate "but", the quality of the DAC remains a key ingredient in the overall sound picture. The good news is, as time goes by, the cost for non-digital-sounding DACs will inevitably come down.