I guess it depends mostly on how much time you are willing to spend experimenting. A PC gives you so much flexibility, both hardware and software. The music server is convenient and simplicity.
Check out computeraudiophile/music servers or jplay forum/computer audio forums for some ideas.
A real can of worms and opinions abound. You definitely should head over to computer audio nerd central at computeraudiophile dot com as previous poster mentioned.
Thanks for the suggestion. Not familiar w/Computeraudiophile.com but will certainly see what those folks have to say.
The problem with most servers is that they force you into using FLAC, they don't import .wav files etc.. Lack of flexibility. They are mostly compromised for SQ due to either poor ripping software, poor playback software or both.
There are some exceptions however:
The Antipodes server from New Zealand has none of these limitations and is the only server I have found that sounds identical playing FLAC and wav files.
The Bryston server is also excellent and has few limitations.
I have heard both or had them in my room at trade shows.
I personally use a tweaked Oct 2009 Mac Mini powered with a Hynes supply with Amarra playback software. This is world-class.
I am a fan of the Baetis Audio Revelation II (baetisaudio.com) server; just purchased it and love it. It buys its chassis from the same Australian company that Antipodes does but the design and build quality blows the Antipode away. Do not assume they are the same internally because they look the same. Baetis has done much research on the sound of different mother boards and tested several through a Wilson system and could hear the differences. It is the first server to take the sound right from the board via BNC. They started with the mother board and built enough computer around it for software etc. 8 USB ports for external Hard drives and Toslink, BNC out, etc., all galvanically isolated. An internal 128G solid state memory; 16G of RAM. Check it out. Extremely quiet; compact and powerful. You will hear more about this unit after the review forthcoming the beginning of next year! Reviewers and computer audio fans will finally realize just hooking up any computer doesn't produce the best computer audio has to offer.
Hif-- Is the Baetis similar in price to the Antipodes?
I suspect the Baetis is higher priced and should be based on the extra effort and build quality put into the Revelation. Check the web site: www.baetisaudio.com and give the designers a call for a more technical explanation.
I second the comments on the Baetis. I have been using it in my system and against my APL two box digital (which includes an Esoteric transport) it is very impressive and holds its own although I still haven't done extensive comparisons as of yet. Great build quality, dbpoweramp for ripping and JRiver for playback. John at Baetis has also been superb in terms of customer service - some of the best service I've had post purchase.
You are better off to use USB output on the server so the master clock is in the DAC or USB converter, not the server.
This also allows upgrading as the technology improves.
From the Baetis website:
We can show that SPDIF done right beats USB done right...
Note, both the Bryston and the Baetis use spdif out (the bryston uses the Juli@ soundcard, the Baetis takes sound right off the mother board) not USB and are currently two of the best sounding platforms.
switch-mode power supply? no thank you. The Antipodes has a linear supply with special shielding. It also has USB out that can stream audio. This is a great choice.
Here are some other things that make the Antipodes server superior and make it beat most DC transports:
1) The USB output card has a high precision clock with extensive power supply regulation.
2) It uses a minimal Linux build that they control to not interfere randomly with audio
3) It buffers over 1GB of music in RAM before it goes to the output card
4) It uses high quality linear regulated supplies
5) It uses 2.5" disks with custom firmware to control their behaviour
6) It can driveUSB streams out. Async USB provides greater isolation from the noise interference that occurs in digital
transports of any kind.
I have had first-hand experience at shows with this server. One of the best on the market IMO. The ONLY one I have found where .wav and FLAC files sound identical. Even Mac Mini cannot do that.
Wow, and the Antipode has a whopping two USB connections while the Baetis has 8; four of which are 3.0 and the others 2.0. The Baetis has 16G of RAM; plenty for buffering any digital stream. If you want a linear power supply, Baetis has it as an option and adding it, the Revolution II is still cheaper and more flexible than the Antidpode. The Baetis has 128SSD solid state memory internally and no disc drives internally to add additional noise; it is designed to use external hard drives. The Baetis understands a microprocessor needs cooling and adds a very quiet fan for cooling. The Baetis can connect to the internet via Ethernet or via wifi for those wanting the convenience. The USB on the Baetis streams DSD beautifully and while John prefers the BNC out, with my EMM Labs DAC2x the USB sounds equally as good. The Baetis optical drive allows for blue ray DVDs to be ripped as long as you purchase the software to do so. Playback of Blue Ray is superb and you can turn off the video and just listen. I don't remember even seeing an HDMI on the Antipodes. The only thing the two choices have in common is the chassis they are constructed in. Mr. Steve N must be a dealer for the Antipode and feels threatened by the superior construction and flexibility of the Baetis and should be. Beatis has a better warranty and one year of telephone support. Anyone in the market for a music server would be crazy not to look at the Baetis. It is far superior, more flexible, has a better warranty and support included and is less expensive. BTW, it plays all all files superbly; couldn't tell a difference between FLAC, WAV, AIF. DSD to me sound best.
My two cents. I am not a tech person, I put up with it to gain access to music. Dedicated music servers have integrated hardware and software into an all in one box device, that is simple to setup and control. They are filled with proprietary hardware, firmware and software. The more complicated the device, the harder it is to repair. Computer based servers like mac, windows or linux are assembled with off the shelf components. Repairs or upgrades most often can be performed locally without a trip to the OEM.
Need to follow up on Steve Nugent's comments of 11-19. Music Vault seems to have no negatives. Has a 2 TB internal HD for storage and a second 2 TB drive for auto backup. Uses dbpoweramp for ripping and JRiver for play. Can save in any format, to include WAV. Add a DAC of your choice and it seems to be a very user friendly system. I can try to cobble together a bunch of hardware and software, but not sure I can do it for much less cost and achieve any better SQ. Please tell me where I'm wrong.
Your experience may differ but I have a MacMini setup configured per Steve's recommendations. I use an Audiophilleo with Pure Power USB converter and LessLoss DAC 2004 MkII. I have also heard this set up with a Music Vault server. Both using JRiver. For my money I stuck with the MacMini.
If you want to look into other alternatives than Mac check out Small Green Computer and the servers they sell, as well as Sonore Audio and the SOtM servers.