Music Servers, Do They Matter?

The Occasional Podcast host Brian Hunter is joined by digital designer and Innous Director Nuno Vitorin. 

In more analog mindset, does it make as much sense to evaluate a separate music server in the same terms as one might consider a cartridge to a turntable? In addition to thinking about the why, Nuno discusses much of the how – including where to get started and what to look for. 

The discussion starts at the very beginning of source material. Listen, learn and hopefully adapt your way to a better listening experience.
Yes, of course music servers matter. 

Every component in your system has the potential to degrade performance or keep it stable. 

Quality of parts - power transformers and motherboard quality are of the utmost importance. There is also storage/RAM latency/networking options etc. Go for one that is priced mid-tier. Not too cheap and not too costly.

No it makes no sense whatsoever to evaluate a music server like one would a cartridge or turntable.   It's totally different.
My "music server" is an inexpensive USB hard drive on my network.  Maybe I should have put more thought and money into it.  Or maybe not.
I went from a laptop to a Bluesound Vault and clearly heard the difference. Plan to go up to up to an Aurrender. The sever absolutely makes a difference. Although DAC differences are easier to hear by far. I would not compare a server it to a cartridge, but perhaps turntables, or the difference between CD transports. Only my experience of course. 
deadhead 1000 I haven't demo any of the Aurenders with the built  in  DACs are you planning to use it direct 

Finally...someone who agrees with me.
I find that most folks on forums (in general) tend to go off topic, into tangent mode, or don't answer questions directly. 


it's up to you. It's your money. Your music server is especially important when you have large files (like DSD). And any tracks that were remastered or edited will sound better on a quality music server.

I think the premise behind a lot of naysayers in this topic and many others is...they want to sound smart. Kind of like an electronics engineer disputing claims.
For me, a dedicated music streamer or server offers much higher sound quality over a laptop. In a highly resolve audio system, a dedicated streamer with an external DAC provides a very enjoyable experience. I’m not all surprised to see folks replacing their CD players and turntables with streamer / DAC combo. Having a access to vast library of music for a low monthly fee is hell of a incentive to not pursue streaming.

If you’re happy with spinning CD or LP’s, please enjoy! At the end of the day, what matters is MUSIC not the format.
I sure like my music server , it’s my third in four years coming from a dedicated transport and separate dac I’d never go back too.

Today I’m experiencing the best playback quality I’ve ever experienced so far in my home , 432 Evo Aeon server and Holo May KTE dac both purchased completely on spec late last year ,the playback performance turned out spectacularly well.For me it’s what’s up stream of the dac .

seriously dude, "finally someone that agrees with me". lol

"OP, it's up to you. Don’t spend too much, don’t spend too little." lol

I am about to find out.  I ordered a Lucas Audio LMDS 8tb Music server to go with my Lampizator Pacific.  I sure hope it does.
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" In more analog mindset, does it make as much sense to evaluate a separate music server in the same terms as one might consider a cartridge to a turntable?"

Music server hardware, no, not much if at all anymore really in practice. Music server software that runs on the hardware, yes.

A music server is a computer program that streams data from files. It only has to work reliably as designed like any other computer server for any other app must. It need have nothing specific to do with the making of sound other than supplying the data which any properly operating computer device can do just like always. What is in the files themselves will have a lot to do with sound....that is where the source quality is determined, much like the source quality of a record or tape.

In some cases, some music server programs may provide features that change the data it gets from the file before sending it and hence the sound may be changed in some pre-determined way, like a loudness leveling feature for example, to help make all files achieve similar loudness levels despite differences in how they were originally mastered. . But that is part of the server can run on any supported hardware and do its thing just fine. Anything is possible there but as a result of the specific server software running not the hardware. Same true with the streamer software. Both server or streamer software programs may have features that allow it to change the sound in some predetermined way.

Music making starts once the streamer starts sending the data it received from the server or any other streaming source to the DAC. Now the digital data must be converted to analog accurately in real time. Here is where the music making starts, similar to a cart on a turntable and where ones traditional concern for good sound reproduction from the source is better served.

Bottom line: pay attention to specs and features of music server software. Choose the ones you like that provide the features you need or want. With some you may have the option of running it on different supported hardware platforms. With others, the vendor will decide for you what hardware to run their server software on and both come bundled together as is the case with many music servers marketed to traditional home audio users. Expect to pay a premium for plug and play music server devices especially if marketed to audiophiles and pay attention to the specs  (like resolutions and formats supported) and any features that might help distinguish one server from another.  

The Music Server or PC Transport matters as much as everything else counts in a quality audio system. The best DAC will convert what it gets. If it gets garbage it will convert (at its best) garbage. In twenty years of digital audio I have tried everything. The best result, I got with a computer optimized and dedicated for the purpose.
Linear power supplie;
High Quality Hardware as industrial grade Motherboard and  Xeon Processor.
My sistem is based on:
DAC Merging +HAPI
Master Clock Apogee Big Ben
Preamp Audio Research LS25mk2
Loudspeakers Thiel CS2.4  :-)

I generally really appreciate your posts (for years actually) and honestly never make it a habit to disagree with folks on the forums. But you just could not be more wrong here.

Having built custom PC based servers for my system over the last 10 years, I must have gone through more than 100 permutations of hardware and software. In my current build every component change and software change effects the sound quality. There is simply no way anyone can openly and honestly experiment with this and not find the same. For those looking for genuine answers to this question, it is very confusing and misleading to suggest otherwise. If you have tried various server solutions of different quality and have a resolving system and cannot tell the difference then something else is wrong. It’s just unequivocal.

Just one small example that I have repeated literally dozens of times: I love the Roon interface. I have a subscription. I REALLY want Roon to work in my system. But in every recent iteration of my server, Euphony sounds significantly better. The difference is not subtle. And that is a shame because Euphony’s interface is vastly inferior to that of Roon. (I am aware that in many systems this may be the reverse. But this is consistently what happens in MY specific system.) I bring this up only to illustrate just how important each component of the server seems to be for playback quality. This is one example I could give of dozens. I have no dog in this fight. None at all. I just want newcomers to have an accurate picture of the enterprise. Believe me, I really wish it were otherwise. But every component of a server, down to the OS and playback software, will tend to affect the sound.

My experience aligns with yours; servers matter and Roon is not the best sounding software. 

I have an Innuos Zenith Mk. 3, I tried Squeezlite/Ipeng in place of Roon. The Squeezelite/Ipeng sound was a significant improvement but the Ipeng UI is incredibly poor--especially compared to Roon. 

I'm looking forward to the release of Innuos 2.0, hopefully Roon will be relegated to my Bluesound devices around the house. 
I received my Lucas Audio LDMS Music Server.  Does it make a difference?  I would not have believed it until I heard it.  I have a $30k Lampi Pacific Dac and I thought my sound was great.  That is until I started up the LDMS.  

The sound quality, the detail, the instrumentation separation was more apparent, clarity of sound was enhanced.  My overall experience has taken my system to a totally different level.  I will even say that if I would have known this I might have purchased a less expensive DAC.  

I highly recommend, if you are looking for a music server, check out Lucas Audio.  Lucas D is a computer genius.  

Thanks for posting your feedback. I say this from my experience, DAC is just as important as your music streamer/server. I am in the process of upgrading my existing digital setup and the jump in SQ on DAC alone was quite a revelation. The realism I’m experiencing, gives you this profound sense of how close we can get to reality.

Some may say that the gap between DAC performances have narrowed and while I somewhat agree with that sentiment, at the end of the day you can easily tell apart products that are engineered with passion for high fidelity vs. products built to satisfy the masses.
When I got my Pacific it was replacing a Lumin X-1 which I loved.  IMO, there was not much of a difference in performance between the X-1 and the Pacific.  That is why I made the comment that I probably didn't need to buy the most expensive Lampi.  I wanted to try an all tube system and so I sold the X-1.  

The bottom line....the DAC is important but I can now say the Music Server is every bit as important and I am super glad I went that route.

What are you doing to upgrade your digital?
My understanding of why the quality of the streaming source or server matters is because of the EMI that these components can generate. General purpose computing devices such as PCs and Mac aren't focused on minimizing the amount of electrical noise that they generate. That has been my experience from going from a laptop to a dedicated streamer as well from hands-on experimentation. A reason to get a separate streamer & DAC is that you might like the sound of one company's DACs but they might not make the best streamers. Some things I've read about digital sound quality from people that should know:

Bob Stuart, Meridian Audio"Of course digital bits-are-bits and with due care, each of the three interfaces (USB, Toslink, coaxial) can deliver the same data at approximately the same time. But the audio we hear is analog and real-world devices are subject to a variety of interferences including data-induced jitter, other process-induced jitter, (and) common- and differential-mode electromagnetic noise. In the ideal world, the data are clocked in by and buffered in the DAC (asynchronous mode) and then de-jittered before conversion. In my experience this can never be perfect, just made closer and closer to irrelevance."

Gordon Rankin (introduced the digital audio world to asynchronous USB transfer)
When I transfer a file over USB to an external hard drive it doesn’t make transfer errors – the file at the destination is the same as the source – so why should sending digital audio over USB be any different?

A simple model of EMI-induced timing jitter in digital circuits, its statistical distribution and its effect on circuit performance, IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON ELECTROMAGNETIC COMPATIBILITY, VOL. 45, NO. 3, AUGUST 2003:
@lalitk Hi Lalitk, how are you my friend? Time has fly-by pretty fast. I have the flagship T+A SD3100HV for more than a year and now I want to take my streaming to another level. Do you have any suggestion for me?
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I do not think so if Fibre streaming is used. There are some comments by Lumin X1 users on this thread that seem to contradict what I am saying, but I want more feedback before I am convinced.

I have not tested this with an expensive Music Server. I did ask this same question as the OP's on the site. The guy running the site said that he will do an article on this issue. I trust the guys over there when it comes to computer audio. A Music Server is also a computer.
No easy outs for optimized streaming experience, every single little thing matters! If your system has the resolving capacity, you'll eventually experience this for yourself.
@I use FMC post server, just prior to Roon endpoint. Optical conversion substantial improvement to ethernet cable only setup.
@sns So the next question to you would be if  have you used a crappy  noisy computer as a music server and compared it to your (I am assuming) expensive music server. This would be after you had installed the Fibre Optic conversion in the last leg of streaming just before your DAC.
@yyzsantabarbara Yes, I'd say server is right up there with dac in importance. I'd rather have decent dac with quality server vs. general purpose computer with better dac. But really both need to be on general par to one another for best performance. Optical conversion is far better served to upgrade after dac and server optimized.
As a Roon endpoint which is better, an Oppo 205 or ultraRendu with LPS 1.2 and Ayre QB-9 DSD DAC, or does it matter? Unfortunately, I don’t see a way of using the Ayre DAC with the Oppo.

I’m using the Oppo 205 with a NAD M22 amp to drive KEF LS50s, but I preferred the sound of the ultraRendu complex with an Ayre A7Xe integrated. Is it server or amp? One channel of A7Xe is out and it has no provision for subs, so I plan to replace it with the Parasound JC2 preamp and JC 1 monoblocks I have.
@dbphd I'd be shocked if the Rendu/Ayre wasn't best of these options. A bit of a stretch but when I owned an Oppo 105, a microRendu crushed it and I'm sure the QB9 will do the same vs the Oppo's DAC. YMMV. 

Side note, the JC1s will be a mighty beefy combo driving the small KEFs. Shouldn't be a problem, but certainly more power than you need...Cheers,
JC 1s are what I have, except for a few Proceed Amp 2s.  My preference would be to use an Ayre KX-5xeMP preamp I have with an Ayre V-3 amp, but I haven't found a V-3 for sale.  I think I'll use the ultraRendu, LPS 1.2, and Ayre QB-9 DSD as the Roon endpoint.