Media Server Reviews

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Michael Lavorgna  |  Nov 19, 2015
"A Digital Signal Is Not Just Bits"
So says Antipodes (and many others including me). They go on, "A digital signal sent from a digital source to a DAC is an electrical or optical wave. The DAC's receiver reads the wave to identify the bits. When the wave has electronic noise interference and/or timing errors, the bits can still be read but the bits are not recognised with perfect timing and this results in poor sound regardless of the DAC used." Oh heck, let's just light the fuse, "Faith in theory, without empirical testing in the intended application, is dangerous because all theories are gross simplifications of what really happens, so don't fall for the 'bits is bits' or reclocking rhetoric." Run!
Michael Lavorgna  |  Apr 02, 2015
the Antipodes
Unlike computers, music servers have but a few simple jobs to do—store, stream, and serve music. This seemingly simple task, easily accomplished by the even the doggiest of computers, is actually fraught with issues. Noise, noise, and noise being just three of them.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Apr 28, 2015
If you read Mark Jenkins', Founder & CEO, Antipodes Audio Limited, response to my review of the Antipodes DX server, you'll have read this:
"Regarding your observation of a decrease in sound quality when playing back music from the NAS using DLNA: in general, this is true. But if you'll allow us to assist you in setup mounting the QNAP, you'll find that the difference in sound quality between the internal storage and the mounted NAS is very small -indeed, tiny. We'd be happy to help you in the setup process, just as we would with any customer; the improvement in sound quality compared to playback through DLNA is well worth the minor effort involved."
So that's exactly what we did. Using TeamViewer, I invited Mark into my iMac, what an odd feeling that is, and he went about mounting the QNAP NAS after which I went about listening. Antipodes will perform this same service for any customer.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Dec 04, 2014
Aria
The Aria Music Server from Digibit is a purpose-built computer running Windows Home Server 11 stored on a 30GB SSD card (next year, the Aria will switch over to Linux) and its sole purpose is to rip, store, access and play music. Under the hood, we have Intel Atom N2600 (1M Cache, 1.6 GHz) dual core processor and 30GB of Kingston RAM. The standard version, under review, comes with 2TB of HDD storage in a RAID 0 array, a commercial grade Teac DVD/R ripper, and linear power supply. You can also opt for 4TB of storage or 2TB of SSD storage. There's also an optional internal DAC (Burr Brown 1795). The 6mm thick precision machined aluminum chassis was designed by Ochoa & Diaz-Llanos, a Spanish industrial design studio, and the Aria certainly looks the part of high end music server.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Mar 10, 2016
2TB + NAS
The Aurender N100H houses 2TBs of internal storage while also offering the ability to play music from network attached storage (NAS) and USB storage. In addition to developing their own iOS Condutor app for remote control, Aurender also offers their free AMM (Aurender Media Manager) software for Mac and PC which essentially reads the contents of attached storage making it available in the Aurender app as if it was stored internally, metadata and all. This is a huge improvement over older versions where external storage was only available via Folder view. Since the N100H caches both locally-stored and NAS-based music in its 120GB solid-state drive (SSD) prior to playback, you can outgrow those 2TBs without performance concerns.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Mar 03, 2014
Music Served
What is a music server? A music server is a computer. These days what isn't? Our automobiles have computers in them but we don't call them computers, our phones are computers in this same sense but we don't call them computers, either. A music server is a purpose built computer whose purpose is storing and playing file-based music and the Aurender S10 is such a beast and without giving too much away, it serves its purpose splendidly.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Aug 28, 2014
Served
The Aurender X100L is the relatively new baby brother of the previously reviewed S10 (see review). Like its brethren, the X100L is a purpose built music server while upping the ante on the S10s 2TB of storage to a whopping 6TB of total storage (2x 3TB). That's enough for most largish libraries but if you require even more storage Aurender has informed me that they're coming out with an 8TB ($3699) and 12TB version ($3899)! If you need less, there's also the X100S ($2,999) with 1TB of storage.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Jun 09, 2016
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.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Jan 21, 2014
A Musical Vault
The Bluesound Vault is in a category all by itself, at least for the time being. The Vault combines 1TB of Network Attached Storage (NAS) with a DAC and digital volume control so you can connect it directly to your hi-fi with a pair of regular old RCA interconnects. Using the very slick Bluesound app on your smart gadget or tablet of choice you can be playing scads of music in no time flat. No computer or external storage need apply. But that's not all.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Apr 21, 2016
NAS/Music Server/Streamer/CD Ripper/DAC/Headphone Amp
I'm sure some will want more, but that's a lot of functionality fit inside one relatively small box. The Bluesound Vault 2 makes computer audio easy—a one box solution for all of your computer audio needs. No need to fret about which NAS to buy, what streamer, which DAC and headphone amp, and there's no need for a computer. You will need a tablet for remote control and a love of music to make it all work as intended.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Sep 25, 2014
Cocktail Audio
Cocktail Audio is, to the best of my knowledge, a division of Novatron a Korean company specializing in the manufacture of "Multimedia Devices". I first came across the Cocktail Audio X30 at CES 2014 and I was intrigued by its all in oneness. The X30 incorporates a 50W digital amp, DAC, server, UPnP network player, and CD ripper all in one package. Just add speakers.
Michael Lavorgna  |  May 18, 2015
I was very favorably impressed with Digibit's Aria Server (see review) so I was happy to see them in Munich showing off the Aria's little brother the DLNA and AirPlay-enabled Aria Mini ($3200). The Mini can accommodate up to 2TB of HDD storage or 1TB of SSD storage into its fanless and fun form factor. You can attach to your network-attached storage via Ethernet/Wi-Fi or USB storage via its USB input. The Mini also houses a 32/384 and DSD128 capable DAC or you can opt to exit through its USB output (ASIO, WASAPI and Kernel streaming) to your DAC of choice.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Dec 01, 2016
All-In-One With A Twist
The ELAC Discovery is a one-box solution for people looking to turn their digital music collection, streamed and stored, into analog while using Roon to control playback. The Discovery handles gapless playback and PCM resolutions up to 24-bit/192kHz (WAV, AIFF, FLAC, ALAC, OGG, MP3, AAC) while offering two analog outputs + WiFi for multiroom(s) audio. Here's the twist: Discovery runs on Roon Essentials, which negates the need for a separate device running Roon Server/Core, and Roon Essentials is included in the Discovery's price.
Steven Plaskin  |  Dec 08, 2016
The Nimitra Computer Audio Server is the design of Keetakawee Punpeng, the creator of Fidelizer. I have previously written about Fidelizer Pro, software that optimizes the Windows operating system for use with music software. Keetakawee, who hails from Thailand, decided to combine his software talents and computer hardware knowledge to create a reference audiophile music server. He also wanted a server that would not only be better sounding than an off-the-shelf computer, but a device that would be effortless in terms of setup and use. The Nimitra was conceived as a plug and play device that would take the frustration out of the use of a computer for audio and let users concentrate on their enjoyment of music.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Jul 14, 2016
Guess Who's Back?
If you've been following Roon's development, you know that you need to run Roon Core on either a computer or a NAS. Since I already own a NAS, which is underpowered for running Roon Core, I thought I'd explore the world of mini computers by reviewing two; an Intel NUC and a sonicTransporter i5 (sT). Why two? To see if there's any difference.

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