Music Servers VS Excellent Transports?

Well here you go people? A question for my upgrade.
Should I go with an Excellent transport or a good Music server with a digital out. Sophisticated transport VS NO MOVING PARTS?

Considering the Opus Music Server or any of similar calibre.
My ripping and transfer skills are good so its going to be Lossless files with pretty much no compression of data right into my favourite DAC. All are welcome for this topic.
Please do stay withing the realm of the question, appreciate it :) Merry Christmas and happy holidays
There was a great article in The Absolute Sound that said that disk drive based music servers sounded better, go ahead and read it. For me the music server has opened up my music collection. Now I hear a lot more of my collection than I ever did with a transport. I would not even use a music server but a MAC/computer based server because as formats change and grow you will be able to grow with it.

Good Luck and enjoy the music !!
I use both and will continue to do so. Like Mark02131 stated, the biggest benefit for me of having a music server is the ability to easily enjoy my vast cd collection. Because of the size of collection, I do not encode in a lossles format but rather VBR 256 using the latest LAME codec. Even at these compressed rates, the sound compared to my cdp is very close. So what is my reason for having a separate transport? Sometimes I do not want to wait and rip a cd before listening to it. Perhaps I am old school, but I also still like the idea of holding the cd and reading the liner notes.

Remember that there are moving parts that you need to consider. The main one is the hard drive which you will use to store all your music. I use a 1 Terabyte NAS with a RAID backup system and enterprise level hard drives. If you are going to spend the time to rip and manage your music, you should seriously think about the mechanism in which you are going to store and backup your music.
The simplest and least expensive way to get superb audio quality as well as great user interface - use your own computer, but add external boxes to get WiFi or networked interface and then reclock to get excellent sound quality.

First, decide on the interface you like. Most like iTunes best. Apple is the leader in this industry afterall. The problem is there is only S/PDIF wired or AirPort Express WiFi. Both have poor digital audio quality - lots of jitter. To solve this, add a Pace-Car reclocker.

Then you need a really good DAC. The lowest jitter solutions have I2S interface, such as the Northstar 192 DAC.

If you decide to go the USB route, then the bargain of the century is the DAC-1 USB. Sound quality is good, and can be improved with some mods. USB has the wire of course, but will allow you to use virtually any player software. I woudl avoid iTunes unless you use a MAC.

Forget about sound-cards and silent PC's. This is old technology. Now we have Sonos, Squeezebox, AirPort Express, Off-Ramp and DAC-1 USB.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
I own the Olive Musica and think it is as good or better than any transport I have owned but I have not owned the upper echelon of players/transports. I run mine thru a Benchmark DAC and love it because I actually listen to music way more often due to it's convenience.
I had an Squeezebox2 and a highly modded SB2, my Musichall CD player beat it as a transport by a small margin, my Forsell transport is in a whole other league, dont fall for the hype I did and I lost money a listening time, dont get me wrong I think the Squeezebox is a great product. Accessibility of music is wonderful, it is such a good commercial product that it competes with the lower tier of high end...I laugh when someone says it beats any transport out there and the only transport they have listened to is a DVD player!
The DAC seccion is unlistenable...

I do believe the future of digital is with servers, I am not sure we are there yet. When a computer server clearly beats my Forsell I will buy it.
Interesting enough, but many have gone this way for convenience more than anything, its a little sad since thats why we actually lost LP's (well not quite yet). Glad to know that actually do sound great and not degredation on performance, I am never going to use my PC as a source, just the whole idea, looking for a well made Music Server hopefuly from someone reputabale from the High End boys...Olive is on the list, but Chord / Mac and a couple of the other big boys are doing it so I will wait a little while and get one for sure....I am pleased with the Olive I have for now, actually very pleased, thanks and keep them coming.
In a number of cases a computer based system may be preferred, however a top notch transport or all in one player can beat it hands down.
Can you please name a few integrated pieces that comes to your mind, thanks. I am very curious because there as some pretty nice one box units right now so....
Essentialaudio - If you will be at CES or THE Show next month, I'll challenge you to a shootout. Bring your best Transport and then we will see...

St. Tropez suite 1203

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Audioengr, I'll be attending but won't have equipment to provide, so a shootout won't be possible. It's tough enough getting stuff warmed up and sounding slightly acceptable by the second or third day anyway. Good luck - I'll try to stop by. We've met before.
Essentialaudio - definitely stop in. We are fortunate every year that our sound improves and this year is no exception. A "must-hear".

Steve N.
If you are looking at high end stuff, I would recommend the Slim devices Transporter slaved to a EMM dcc2 se dac. The Transporter is a great piece standalone. To get the last bit of jitter reduction and audio quality use it as a transport with the emm supplying the clock. This combo offers great convenience and great sound.

Walt Shields
Wshields - This is the type of solution that audiophiles should be looking for. Strategies like this (similar to my Pace-Car) are the best way to reduce jitter to inaudible levels.

Unfortunately, the Transporter is a bit expensive and overkill just to get a digital output from WiFi. The same can be done with the Squeezebox3 by adding a clock input to it. Unfortunately, the SB3 will not do 24/96. I'm hoping for a Squeezebox4 soon that has 24/96 capability. Hopefully Logitech didn't throw a monkey wrench in this.

Steve N.

I have read really good things about your products. I actually had the transporter before I got the EMM (dac and transport) used on audiogon. I loved the convenience of the Transporter and I got the EMM transport for the few SACDs I have.

I have a SB3 and am currently looking into ways of improving its output for use in my office system. I will be looking into your products for that.



I also have the EMM SE stack and previously tried the transporter, but not with the DCC. How do the EMM transport and the transporter compare, using AES?

Thanks for any input,
Walt - that sounds great. Digital is better than most people's experience, actually capable of surpassing the best in vinyl. Did you have vinyl before, or still?
In a number of cases a computer based system may be preferred, however a top notch transport or all in one player can beat it hands down.

Essentialaudio - Have you directly compared a top notch transport/all-in-one player to a top notch computer-based system? If so, would you describe the computer-based system?
I'm in the process of evaluating systems. One of the adfvantages of a digital rather than USB output will be the marriage of the server with digital room correction software. Not to take away the necessity for at least some passive room treatment, but it can only do so much. I'm speaking of correction in the digital chain prior to the DAC. I used a Rives Parc, and I wasn't happy with the effects on my system's dynamics.


I compared the EMM transport vs the Transporter and can't really say I heard any difference. I think when a transport is slaved to the Dac clock there should be little difference in digital front ends. The only time I listen to cds from the EMM transport is before I have ripped them to my system. The only reason I keep the EMM transport is for SACDs.

In response to Steve, I don't listen to vinyl and have never really had a top notch vinyl system to compare my digital setup to. I love the way my system sounds and really have no desire to go in the direction of vinyl. I am old enough to have had vinyl systems before digital was even available, but at the time I was too young and broke to really have a good analog system.


Ditto Walt. I too have an EMM transport and just use it for SACDs. Empirical Audio Turbo-2 feeding into the EMM DAC sounds the same as EMM transport into the DAC. CDs are ripped and then go straight into storage.
Walt - same here. I'm an old fart now, but I had inexpensive vinyl system when I was young. Sold all my records at garage sales. I've heard some really spectacular vinyl though I dont own one. I believe they have their own type of distortions, aside from the Wow and flutter. I much prefer 7.5 IPS reel-to-reel.

Steve N.
ditto Walt and Bigamp. I buy cds, listen to them, then rip them. Most of them go to storage but I do keep a stash of around 50 cds handy. Because I do not encode in lossless, I do believe my transport sounds marginally better than my Sonos. Like others, I keep my transport for sacds but I really only keep it so I can listen to cds I just bought. Sometimes I am too lazy to rip them right away.
Thanks for the responses Walt & Bigamp.

I have slaved my RME souncard to both the DAC clock and a very expensive rubidium clock, but the EMM transport sounds so much better, it's not even close. I am running AES to the DCC2. Not sure what the issue may be. I have used both foobar and a better program for sound, not ease of use, samplitude to make the comparison. The soundstage and detail are all gone with the computer transport. I so much want it to sound the same due to the ease of use, so i'm not biased here. It may be some OS/hardware problem, i guess. I think I'll demo the transporter again.
Askat1988 - If you slave the Transporter from the DAC word-clock, then it should be as good as the transport slaved from the DAC, although it's a lot of money just to get a digital output from WiFi. It does evidently do 24/96, which is a plus. If the result is not identical, then there is something wrong with DAC clocking/slaving.

Steve N.
Would love to hear a shootout at a show. Any chnace this kind of demo would happen?
Hi David,
Did you ever get the chance to put the AMR CD77 you were expecting up against your Wavelength Crimson?


Thanks. Yes, it is a lot of money, but not nearly as much as the EMM transport if you look at it that way. And the ease of use is much better. I just wonder if there are other issues at play. I am not an engineer. I think people like Alex at Alpshifi disagree that a music server, like the transporter, can equal a high-end transport, like the EMM. I don't want to put words in his mouth, jusy my opinion from his posts. And I do respect his opinion. It is definitely worth a shoot-out.
Askat1988 - a Digital source, whether it is a transport or WiFi source is the same exact data. The only thing left is the jitter. Both can be reduced to inaudible levels with reclocking. A shootout is unneccessary IMO.

The differences come with implementation and levels of jitter. If the same reclocker were used with both, they would be identical. The EMM labs evidently does a level of reclocking, so this should make it identical.

I cannot imagine that Alex would argue this.

Steve N.
Pubul57 - Ive invited Alex to bring his CD source to my room at THE Show in the past. He didn't show.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Is there an issue with how much work a reclocker has to do? That is, is one feed of digital data cleaner, easier to "clock" and then feed to the DAC. I fear this stuff is too technical for me to get right.
12-20-07: Audioengr said:
"... Digital is better than most people's experience, actually capable of surpassing the best in vinyl. Did you have vinyl before, or still?"

Steve, I just wanted chime and say I think you're right. I think we're on the cusp of some really great consumer digital reproduction and distribution systems.

I'm heavy into vinyl, new and old, and I've started archiving my D2D and rarer records to 1-bit 5.6MHz on my Korg MR1000. That little thing is incredible. A couple of problems with the Korg are it''s relatively small 40GB HD (can't believe I said that). That's a fine size for live recording, but really limited as an archive at these huge file sizes. Of course, that could be resolved if the Korg were able to "see" an external HD and be used as a player.

Having heard the digital potential, I'm reluctant to archive at lower levels. I do make lossless files to take to the office and put on my iPhone. (The 8G seemed like a lot a few days ago, but at least I have relatively good listening no matter where I am).

Do you think we'll start seeing servers that'll handle SACD/DVD-A levels of rez within the next year or two? Alternatively, will there be high quality universal players that'll be able to "see" HDs?

I also am using The Slimdevices Transporter with my Audio Aero Capitole doing the processing via AES. I store the CDs on my Apple G5 using lossless

I am very happy with this system.

There is a slight difference between the Transporter DAC and the Audio Aero. The Transporter is perhaps more analytic while the Audio Aero is a bit warmer which I do prefer.

Another advantage is that I can serve one room with my Audio Aero and another using the Transporter's DAC with its internal volumn control.

CDs do sound better when played on the Audio Aero compared to this system as I think the Audio Aero was designed first to use its own transport. The difference, however is only apparent when I switch back-and-forth to the same recording.
Pubul57 - depends on the reclocker. The Pace-Car or the Genesis Digital Lens for instance do not care how much jitter is present in the incoming data stream because the data is stored in a memory. The output clock is independent. Jitter on the input is not seen at the output.

Others that use ASRC (asynchronous sample-rate conversion) will be somewhat sensitive to the incoming data stream jitter since the output clock is dependent on the input clock. Some jitter on the input may be seen at the output.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Unclejeff - IME, its' the D/A chip used in the Transporter that gives you this analytical sound. Not my favorite.

Steve N.
Dave - In the next 2 years, the typical WiFi servers and USB interfaces will support 24/96. There are only handful now. I listen to 24/96 every day. 24/192 will be the next big step.

I believe you are talking about 88.2, which is 5.6448MHz, or twice the native CD rate. This is an odd-ball standard. I expect 24/96 to be the next standard because this is what the recording studio masters are.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
As Steve has said, the slim devices transporter supports streaming of 24/96. In addition the designer has just said on their website that a firmware update is being worked on that will support 24/88.2. There are a few sites where you can download content in 24 bit format.

Walt Shields

Wshields, I found a discussion forum thread from earlier this year where you mentioned some random popping problems with the transporter clocked by the EMM. How did you resolve the issue? Thanks.

If you have the server convert flac to wav then stream the wav file, there is no popping issue. I only got the issue when i had the files streamed as flac and then converted on the player.

I don't know if this still is the case, as there have been software and firmware updates since but I have just left the streaming format as wav. The only advantage of streaming as flac is you can fast forward or backward on individual tracks this way. I never do this so I never really looked much more into it once I fixed my issue by streaming as wav.
Der - It would not surprise me at all if it were a compatibility problem between the voltage levels, termination and/or coax impedance of the EMM labs versus the Transporter. There is really no standard for word-clocks in the consumer world. Mixing and matching is risky.

Steve N.
Steve(Audioengr) Yes, the Transporter is more analytic and Yes, I do prefer the DAC in my Audio Aero.

Still, either way, it is a great ride.
I am new to this area and was wondering if someone can provide a brief explanation as to the differences between using:

Slim Devices Transporter
Modright's version of Slim Devices Transporter
Wavelength Audio USB DAC
Empirical Audio's products (PaveCar, Turbo, etc.)

My digital front end is an ARC CD2. I thought that upgrading to another stand alone CDP or Transport/DAC combo was the only way to go for audiophile quality sound until I stumbled onto this forum.

I have been reading this forum incessantly for the last couple of days trying to come up to speed on this alternative. From what I surmize, these three company's seem to be offering different implementations of the same basic solution, which is having a Hard Drive based PC front end. What I am trying to understand is how they differ from one another and what the pro's/con's might be.

I will also be attending CES/THE Show in January and would welcome any information on "shoot outs" or A-B demo's that are being scheduled in this arena.
Let me try to give you a hand. Here is a high level overview

Transporter: The key thing that distinguishes the Slim products is that they are designed to be network devices that live on Ethernet and/or WiFi networks. This means that they have the ability to "talk" back to the computer - more specifically they offer remote access to the hard drive so you can select songs from whatever room you happen to be in without going back to the room in which the computer is located. (You can also pause the music, skip, repeat, initiate shuffle etc through the remote.)

The Transporter is a massively upgraded "audiophile" version of the Squeezebox. Sean Adams, the CEO/Founder of SLIM is the designer of both units. SLIM was recently purchased by Logitech. SLIM maintains a very active user forum on their site.

Modwright Transporter: The analog output stage is heavily modified by Dan Modwright, one of the premiere modders in the country. Functionally it is the same as a stock Transporter. Theoretically (I haven't heard it) this should elevate the Trsnsporter to the same level of refinement as the best USB DACs while maintaining all the (unique) benefits of a network device - at a lower price.

You should also be aware of Wayne Waananen at Bolder Cables who did a lot of the pioneering work on Squeezebox modification, elevating those units to an "audiophile" level though they are not constructed to the standards and functionality of the Transporter.

Wavelength USB DACs: In contrast to the SLIM devices, the Wavelength units are connected to the computer via USB. This means that you must be at the computer to control the song selection and transport functions. Theoretically USB cables are limited to 15' in length after which a repeater is needed. This is because USB carries 5v to power the device it connects to. This limitation can be worked around by using a Opticis Fibre Optic USB cable which requires a power supply at the receiving end since fibre will not carry a 5v signal.

What distinguishes the Wavelength products is that they go directly from USB to I2S, skipping the SPDIF stage. I2S is an electrical serial bus interface standard used for connecting digital audio devices together. It is a much more robust format then SPDIF that does not induce jitter. Wavelengths are designed and built by Gordon Rankin who is one of America's premiere analog audio designers (pres and amps) Gordon is a frequent poster on Audio Asylum's PC Forum and also has a basic but very helpful site addressing this technology.

You will see more and more USB DACs in the market (Scott Nixon was the first, Paradisea, Benchmark and Apogee are others).

Empirical Audio: Steve Nugent is an ex-Intel engineer who became known for his efforts on eliminating the jitter inherent in the SPDIF circuitry. He also mods some gear to go USB to I2S, and this year introduced his own USB DAC.

At least on the Mac side, USB and Ethernet/WiFi DACs can share one database - meaning that they can both access the same library - simultaneously.

Steve is a frequent poster on both the Gon and Asylum, he goes by the handle audioengr

Hope this helps - keep reading.
Sydsrig - no formal shootouts scheduled that I'm aware of. Most manufacturers will not do this, although I'm game.

Empirical Audio gear can be heard at THE Show St. Tropez #1203. Our converter technology will also be exhibited in the DEQX room at Alexis Park #1512 and the Hovland room at Venetian 29-333.

Wavelength will be at Venetian 30-325.

Logitech (slim devices) has a booth in the convention center.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio

I have the Wavelength Crimson and get great impact and dynamics out of the bass with my unit. Perhaps its the Levinson 33H amps driving Wilson 8s with a Watchdog II sub.
Like David, I would sell the DAC if it had flacid heavy bass.

David has great equipment so its hard for me to explain why he was not getting the bass he expected at the price of this unit.
Linn has just come out with two interesting pieces, the Klimax DS and Akurate DS, both of which are D/A converters that have nothing but an Ethernet input. Your music is streamed to the DS from your computer or NAS. Sound quality is said to be better than Linn's Sondek CD12. I haven't heard one yet, so we'll see if they are really that good.

A couple of disagreements:

1. No CD playback can equal the sound of the best vinyl.

2. It is very difficult to equal the sound of the best CD transports/players with a computer/hard drive/server as the source- harder than some make it sound in this thread.
Ckorody, thank you for your in depth and informative answer to my question. I think I get it now.

Audioengr, thanks for the schedule and layout for these setups at CES/THE Show. I will be seeing you in your room as well as the others.

Splaskin, thanks for your additional insight on the wavlength Crimson.

Davemitchell, thanks for the heads up on Linn. I will make it a point to see them as well. Do you know where there will be shoing this technology?
Davemitchell said:

"A couple of disagreements:

1. No CD playback can equal the sound of the best vinyl."

Agreed, but digital can be get extremely close, particularly DVD-A and SACD. Olive has a higer rez Music Server, but, unfortunately the onboard input device is limited to CD-quality. You can use wireless to load hi rez files off you computer. I'm thinking of buying their Opus No. 5, but a little bummed by the limitation to a CD reader/writer rather than CD/DVD RW.

Oh well, you can't have evrerything.

Assuming you have SOTA transport and DAC, what reason would there be to go to a computer-based storage device other than a better (?) approach to archiving, selecting, and finding music within your collection? That, by the way might be reason enough, but maybe not if you have great T/D and a very large collection of CDs. I imagine that is where many Audiogoners are at.

Unfortunately, Linn is only doing private demos off site. I don't think you can tell much at a show demo anyway. I'm scheduled to get a unit to play with when I get back. Check with me a couple of weeks after CES and I will fill you in.

We have a few Olive's a Ultrafi and they are convenient pieces. With a good digital cable into a good DAC, the sound is nice but not fantastic. Much better sound can be had by many high end CD players or transports.

As for the sound quality of higher res formats like SACD and DVD-A, I have never heard either come close to the best vinyl playback. Unlike many others, I find SACD particularly disappointing in the high frequencies- enough to where I often prefer red book CDs played on the best CD players. I guess it doesn't really matter anyway given that SACD is barely a viable format these days.