McIntosh MS500 Arrives for Review

Music servers and server/DAC combos are fast becoming the butter to the bagel of digital music for computer audiophiles who like to eat 12 notes for breakfast.

More and more manufacturers are getting into the long game that is catering to cloud-based music services which stream audio to consumers. Consumers who have become accustomed to having millions of songs and albums at their fingertips – whether at their home and listening on a dedicated hi-fi rig or the portable set with headphones and a DAP or smartphone in their pocket.

For those who prefer to surf the cloud from the comfort of their sofas sprawled out between a stereo image, the dedicated music server has become de riguer for pulling in the beats from the likes of TIDAL, Qobuz, Deezer, Spotify, Pandora, Rhapsody or SiriusXM and passing on the binary to their DAC of choice, or as is the case here with the McIntosh MS500 Music Server, a server/DAC combo that eliminates that extra component to help keep the box count low – always a plus for those who share their listening space or have limited square footage.

I’ll say up front that even though I’ve only had the MS500 in the mix here for a few weeks, it performs at a level commensurate with its $6,000 USD price point.

Utilizing a Linux-based operating system should hold the promise of bomb-proof stability and the MS500 can be operated via free McIntosh apps for either Apple or Android devices or the included (very comfortable) remote control once the unit has been properly set up via the web-based configurator. With a 500GB solid-sate hard drive, fanless processor and a heavily-vented chassis, the MS500 runs cool and quiet. Any of the three built-in USB ports can be used for external drives or mass storage options and also doubles as a way to connect an external DAC for an additional audio zone to be created. Certain aspects of technical specifications are a little thin on the ground, so I contacted McIntosh for more details regarding the unit.

  • 1. Which DAC does it use? Answer: The ESS ES916S.
  • 2. Is any upsampling taking place or is it playing 16-bit/44.1kHz natively at 16/44 or 24-bit/192kHz at 24/192 etc.? Answer: The player application resamples based on the user’s desired sample rate selected in the server configuration screen. If 24-bit/192kHz (default) is selected, all music playback will be up-sampled to 24/192k.
  • 3. Does any upsampling occur before being passed along to the digital processor? Answer: As described above. The DAC will also up-sample asynchronously to 200k while rendering to analog.
  • 4. Is the unit outputting a fixed bit/sample rate? Answer: The digital audio outputs (Optical & Coax) will have the same sample rates as those selected in the config.
  • 5.Is the USB asynchronous? Answer: Yes.
  • 6. Does McIntosh have any policy regarding the employment of a higher quality external linear power supply as opposed to the switching one provided? Answer: In cases where a switching power supply will have a direct impact on the audio quality, we would design and employ a linear power supply. This was not the case for the MS500.
  • 7. Are there plans to make it a Roon endpoint? Answer: While we cannot give specifics on future plans, nothing has been ruled in or out at this point.

 Look for a full review in the near future.

COMPANY INFO
McIntosh Laboratory Inc.
2 Chambers Street - Binghamton, NY 13903-2699

COMMENTS
mskaye's picture

"...even though I’ve only had the MS500 in the mix here for a few weeks, it performs at a level commiserate with its $6,000 USD price point." I think you meant to say commensurate. PS - I really like your reviews. I would love to read a little more about how to get the best from a USB DAC - an Ayre Codex for example -with ISO Regens, Micro Rendus etc. I admit to being a little confused about the whole thing and how to allocate one's budget for a good USB DAC based system. Like a hierarchy and power issues regarding all these little add ons. Any light you can shed would be helpful.

Rafe Arnott's picture
Between spellcheck and predictive text on my phone (which I write on time-to-time) a few words slip through.

What exactly is it you'd like to discuss regarding a USB DAC-based digital front end? How to use a MicroRendu, or if you should stick with a headless PC or laptop? External PS swaps? Switching vs linear?

To start get the best sounding DAC you can afford and then go from there. A dedicated audio computer like a Nucleus or Aurender, Innous, etc. are great, as are devices like the Small Green Computer, et al. Totally depends on what software you're running too.

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