Any high quality music servers out there?

Came across McIntosh's new music server (MS300 / 300GB) and was wondering if others are using music servers. Please tell me what brands you're using. And, how's the quality of the sound?
From what I have seen the dedicated music servers are very expensive (too
expensive at this point). I strongly recommend a laptop (running iTunes), an
external hardrive, and a USB converter of some sort (check out the threads on
the PC audio forum for many discussions and recommendations on this. It is
cheaper, does the same thing, and I think, sounds as good (if not better) than
many of the expensive dedicated servers.

There are some very good USB DAC's being made as well (many threads on
this also--one USB DAC was reviewed in Stereophile a couple months ago).

If you must have a one box server, made by an audio company, Yamaha
makes a nice one (HD 1500?, I think) and I would not spend more than that at
this point on such a unit.

I speak from some limited experience as I experimented with a few different
USB DAC's and currently have a G4 laptop, 2 hardrives and a Wavetermial U24
as my digtial front end. Bested my Sony XA777 (redbook playbac) and MAC

My opinion of course.
A very cost effective way with alleged excelent sonics, is going with the Slim Devices Squeeze Box II modified by either Red Wine Audio or Bolder Cable. This gadget would render your PC as the music server with the added beneffit of having the computer located in a different room since the Sqeeze box is a wireless receiver controlled by remote. The guys in the link below claim that this little device repalaced highly regarded transports and DACs.

I know I 'll be giving it a shot soon. At this price, even by including the mods the risk is minimal
I'm building my own music server. There are a couple of devices that will help make it easy. The problem with going to a black box solution is the technology bite you could potentially take and lack of upgradeability. My Denon and Rotel DVD players are about to be worth nothing ... why? HD-DVD and/or Blu-ray will render them virtual 8-tracks within a year or two. Music server boxes are even more likely to be outdated.

I'm building a stand alone PC to do the work:


4 disc SATA array with a 3ware controller - with 320 gig drives that will yield about a Terabyte with one drive for RAID 5. The PC will be nothing fancy but I will get an audio component looking case that will support multiple drives. I'm going to run Linux but Windows XP Media edition is a possibility as well. This will be my storage...

If it's too techie for your taste, look at the Buffalo Technologies 1 Terabyte server. It's about the size of a small shoe box and plugs right into a 10/100/1000 base home network. In a RAID 5 configuration it will yield 750 gigs. You load some app. software on your PC to set it up and will run stand alone once configured. It just looks like a big fat file share sitting out on the network (NAS box).

The next device is a component to tie in my DAC and component video input to the network, again I picked Buffalo Technologies as they seem to have the most advanced media box as far as file formats and the cost is reasonable:

If you have a network already setup looks to be a snap, just plug it in and it works ... right? Don’t bet on it ... looks like it will want to run some kind of front end. Those can be kind of cheesy but that is the price you pay.

If you don’t have a network setup you better plan on going wired Ethernet and I would suggest 10base1000 for speed. Forget wireless ... the reviews say it's too slow. This thing will share audio (in multiple formats) and video at up to 1080i in multiple formats.

Here is the listed file formats it supports:

Video Files:
dat, mpg, mpe, mpeg, m2v, m1v, vob, avi, asf, divx, xvid, rmp4, mp4, vro, m4v, m2p, hnl, wmv, wmv hd, divx hd

Audio Files:
mp3, mp2, ogg, wav, aac, wma, pls, m4a, ac3, mp1, mpa, asf, m3u

Picture Files:
jpg, gif, bmp, tif, png

The media box could run alone and just use you current PC to store files. If you add the Teraserver (Buffalo) you get the safety of using RAID - which can prevent loosing you precious data. If it's just audio I think 300 gigs would be a good start. I would try to run as high a resolution as possible ... wav might be to big. It's too bad these boxes dont suport more lossless formats. Lossless compression like flac or WavPack yields 2:1 compression with little or no audible loss. I thought the Buffalo box did FLAC but I dont see it in the list. Thats not to say they wont update the firmware OR come out with a new box.

The cool thing with the media box solution is that you can mix and match file formats. It will play anything it recognises. It feeds digital out to your DAC or component video to your TV. It even displays your picture files ...

The NAS box runs about $900

The media box runs about $300

Anyone out there found a better media box? Maybe one that supports lossless file formats and works with OS X? Please post !!! I'm not totally familiar with all the formats the Buffalo media box supports but I dont see anything lossless.

My PC solution will cost a fair bit more but I'm looking at running Myth TV and doing some high def recording as well as running a home security system with a WEB accesible front end and of couse surfing the web on my big screen.

I know ... I'm a geek, there is no cure.


Media box:

NAS Box :

PC Solution

Drive Contoller :


Harddrives :
I'm experimenting with an Apple Airport express. I'm trying out my buddy's airport express and connected it directly to my pre-amp, streamed the music via Itunes from my PC upstairs and I was very impressed with how it sounded as compared to some other units I've owned before such as the Turtle Beach Audiotron. My next step is try using a digital out into an external DAC. The deal breaker, at least right now is I would get significant drops in the audio over the wireless network. This type of solution is what will get me to seriously consider a hard drive based music store. I don't want a PC, no matter how you wrap it, sitting in the rack with all of my audio gear. I'm going to upgrade my network from 10Mb/s to 54Mb/s and see if that clears up the audio hiccups. I agree with Pardales that spending multiple thousands on a audio branded music server is not worth it at this point. My biggest concern about any of those type of machines is one of growth. Is there room for additional drives, etc. What happens when you burn through the 300 GB?
Horseface... you are my idol!

I am still loading all my music in AIFF onto internal HD in my Power MAC, but do not currently need to run 1080i tthrougout my house... but will likely soon.

I opted for the Airport
Express route, and FWIW with an 802.11G network, I do not lose the signal, even with two or three other computers on line.

Snipes, DO start using the optical digital out. It is a huge step up from the DAC in that little box! There are some people modding the AE's, but I am not sure what the status of that is so far, for now, I am pretty happy to have anything in my collection available easily. Their is one problem withiTunes and the AE's though and it is that you can only stream to one at a time unless you use two systems...
Kennyt: Thanks for the airport info. How certain are you that the airport is not doing something like digital -> analogue -> back out digitally, which seems like that would defeat the purpose of using a digital out. The reason I ask is it appears to me that the AE only has one output jack and you buy a cable with whatever type of connection you want on the other end ( RCA or optical). Like I said I happen to have my buddy's that I'm trying out so I haven't researched it much. It's a very slick solution though and really want it to meet my needs.

Yes, it does only have one jack, but that jack is a mini tos-link and 1/9" analog out. You can buy the Monster kit they sell, or I am sure someone is making a minitoslink to regular cable. When you use it this way, it is a digital out. I do not beleive that it goes D->A->D in this case, since the music comes from the HD in digital, is fed over a digital network, and then comes out, I beleive it stays in the digital domain.
Thanks everyone for the very informative responses. Manga, when will you get your SB2 back and who is doing the mods? I recently tried the SB2 and was unimpressed. It's sitting in my trunk awaiting a drop at FedEx, although now I'm considering shipping it off to get modded after reading the audiocircle posts. Thanks!

When I was using the SQ2, I only used it to listen to MP3's (I know they sound worse than CD) and internet radio (thoroughly unimpressed). I don't really want to burden my 60GB hard drive on my laptop with CD's, so I didn't consider downloading any of my CD's to the computer. I see now some, like Horseface (you are my idol too!), are purchasing additional storage drives.

But, this all seems to be very complicated!

After posting this thread, I see that VRS Audio makes a server that possibly is available now or in January. It wasn't clear to me whether some people are using it or not? Nobody mentioned cost of the VRS, but based on what folks are writihng here, it could be considerable.

However, to do the SQ2 right or to build your own computer (way out of my league), you need to get a mod done ($700 at RWA), buy a computer with a very big HD/s or buy additional drives, buy a drive control card (?), appropriate software (?), and buy a decent burning drive (I know they mentioned a good drive in the Audiocircle post, but I can't remember the name). So, this isn't cheap either and appears to be very technical. Not that I'm against technical, but a cool looking shiny one box solution sitting under my preamp sounds better, well if I can afford it that is. Anybody know how much the servers, such as the VRS Revelation, do or will cost?

I havn't desided yet which of the two companies I 'll have perform the mods. Both are reputable vendors and have been around long enough. These guys know what they are doing and if you go over the listed mods point by point they seem to be almost identical and quite extensive. Main defference is that Red Wine uses a battery power supply whereas Bolder uses a custom AC one. The battery probably has a theoritical advantage but I figure I 'm a bit lazy to have to remember to charge it and wouldn't want to be unable to play tunes in case I forget to recharge.

Remember, both modifications (for fully modified SB2) will allow the unit to be connected directly to the amp. In that configuration the signal runs straight from the DAC bypassing any op amps or active circuits, going through only a high quality capacitor and interconnect to the amp and the volume is controled in the digital domain. Thus you can avoid the preamp.

I agree that there is additional cost besides the moded SB2 but these days you can get a 300GB drive for under $150 to replace your existing without having to go to RAID configuration with multiple drives and the such. At least for the near future, you 'll be able to store close to 1000 albums or slightly less using FLAC. I commend what Horsehead is doing but that is a bit extreme and he is admittedly a techie. To me, the biggest hustle is ripping your collection. It should take you quite some time to rip those 1000 albums. Just use EAC for ripping and the FLAC losless codec which is supported by SB2. This alone will have a big impact in sound quality over the lossy mp3's you previously used.

The VRS server I believe costs around $2K if I 'm not mistaken and you 'll still need to rip your CD collection. I personally don't see much advantage to it.

Here are the direct links for the modifications to the SB2:


Spoke with Vincent (owner) at VRS. They presently offer one server with a 600GB drive. It offers several cool features as it provides an internet interface to download from various sites. Vincent said they are working with Music Giants to offer downloads without lossless compression so that sound integrity is maintained. Unit will operate wireless or via ethernet. I was very excited of course until Vincent told me the price: $8500. Vincent will actually travel with the device and stay as long as you need him in order to get the system integrated well and help the owner learn how to use it, which is also very cool!

Unfortunately, I'd rather spend that money on flying and the modded SQB2 is looking much more attractive.
Hoseface - why go though the hassle? I did. Last year, I built a music server based on Windows using FLAC, Exact Audio Copy and WinAMP. I had SATA drives, Silverstone case and fan-less PS, controllable CPU fans, etc.

Read though your post and think you're building on a PC platform. While FLAC is great for its flexibility, it's a huge pain in one simple but important area - tag management. It sucks. WinAMP is no better with the FLAC plugin.

Also, I had to use an old beta plugin that I found on a Russian site because the released plugin didn't display tags correctly. Apparently, this was/is a problem that other users experienced. It's nice to have an open source format but it certainly has its share of problems and sometimes, like this plugin tag issue, it never got solved. Some systems it worked and some didn't. When emailing Josh at FLAC, he simply didn't know how to solve the problem. What I realized was that these problems happened all the time with the Winamp/FLAC combo and when you're hosting a party and your system starts screwing up, it's embarrassing. Josh gets rid of the old versions (the installer versions) and you are left with a version that may or may not work for you and your system.

This is why I changed to iTunes and a Mac Mini with external MacAlly cases - works great, RAID, etc. And the iTunes front end is the best period. My collection is managed and very organized. Anyone of my friends can choose music and have fun with it...

I used to rip to FLAC with EAC and I believe that it creates outstanding rips. I think better then iTunes but I really can't tell. iTunes may have slightly worse audio quality then FLAC statistically but it does take 45 minutes to rip a CD (with EAC on high quality) and I really can't tell the difference with my tube equipment.

The bottom line is a little Mac Mini with iTunes and external Firewire disks works great and is easy to setup and low in cost. I liked the idea of building my own music server and felt proud when George from deHavilland was blown away by how good it sounded with his amps but it was just too much to manage - kinda took the fun out of the music...

My experience and opinion only... maybe it will help people decide - please feel free to email me...

P.S. – USB DACs are the way to go. Second in line is coaxial (the mechanical connection is more organic) and if you have to, optical.
I'll second or third (or whatever) the roll-it-yerself recs. I've got a mac mini (very quiet) in my main rig hooked up to a dCS stack via a Waveterminal U24--seriously can't tell the difference between that and my DV50s as a transport. I've got a terastation full of Apple Lossless files on my network playable through that, or the Win XP box in my study. Pretty remarkable. I'm waiting on delivery of a couple squeezebox 3s to replace some audiotrons in my house (the SQB3s will do Apple Lossless, the A'trons won't). Convenience/space savings is fantastic. If you want to stay in the Windows family, you can also pick up a super small form factor PC for about $600 that is fanless and use that the same way as a mini.
I have a Squeezbox 2 and just bought a 3. Just add a linear power supply and a good dac.
Sammie there is also another one called Zero One...server plus upsampling for what its worth...personally I think this just the beginning and its better to wait as more mfrs start producing music servers and as result of competition quality and pricing improves
Mthomas makes a good point about the importance of the software interface. How the music is organized and its accessibility greatly effects your ultimate enjoyment of this storage format.
I had an interesting conversation with Mark Levinson today. We chatted about his Burwen Bobcat USB DAC and why it's a Windows only device - pretty obvious. Now, I'm a converted Windows to OSX fan but I'll point out the downside to iTunes.

Apple is fast becoming the more "evil" than the dreaded "evil Bill Gates". The word proprietary or closed comes to mind - at least Windows is open. This presents a pain for us who simply want a good system for playing back music. The Windows side of things gives you ALOT of flexibility.

What to do? Well, after talking with Mark since the Burwen Bobcat is one really nice piece of code, I started looking back to dbPowerAmp. This cool program converted my FLAC to WMA lossless and then iTunes imported so I thought could it go backwards from Apple Lossless to Windows Media Lossless? I don't know yet since I don't have a PC at home anymore so if anyone can confirm, would be great to know...

This is also why I'm down on FLAC. WMA lossless and Apple Lossless are just about par with FLAC but with the main advantage of application support. That's really what drove me nuts about FLAC and Winamp - they both were such a pain in the ass to configure and customize.

The MOST important thing isn't how good the server is or even the software mentioned but ending up with a music file with CORRECT tags! Once you start to amass thousands of high-quality files, you'll be sorry that you didn't pay enough attention to file management. The tag is EVERYTHING! Wait until your system crashes and you have to re-scan your entire collection - if that tag isn't what you want, you'll be editing files for months... I know, I did it!

If you're into Linux, FLAC is for you but if you just want a Windows based server, go with WMA lossless since it can convert to other formats where FLAC won't. iTunes for Windows would be a second choice.

Again, if anybody can confirm converting Apple Lossless to Windows Media Lossless, would be great to know your results and opinion...
Henry -- Yep, I agree. best to wait as companies are rolling them out fast. Here's Sony's offering:
Keeping it simple here.
MAC Mini with two LaCie 250GB, Wavelength Brick, iTunes with WAV files (7000+ tunes so far, room to spare, but will need third FW disc soon).
This set up replaced full dCS stack with CEC 1X transport.
This was on the recommendation from a fellow "file" who had replace his dCS firewire....I was skeptical but now am a true believer.
Computer audio is the WAV of the future.
Apple Lossless to Windows Media Lossless

Mthomas - I'm not into iTunes AT ALL but from what I understand there is no direct conversion method. However, there is a program called JHymn that looks like it will get you from Apple Lossless to *.wav and then your dbPowerAmp should be able to do the rest. *pre-iTunes 6.0 only*
Is there a good online source (Canada/US) for the Waveterminal U24? I am looking to getting started on a hard drive based system using an Apple powerbook.