Hi there. Looking for some advice on the best / latest options for a somewhat "all-inclusive" (described below) music server/streamer for my system. I’ve been having a really tough time finding what I’m looking for--or even to replace the same level of what I’ve got now. Sorry in advance for the long note, but I want to provide as much background and detail as possible to help inform the most useful answers to my question, for those of you who may have some insights to share. If you’re short on time though, I mention some options from my research at the tail end if you just want to weigh in on any of them. Thanks.
A Dedicated Server:
I know that using a laptop + software can do the trick, but for many years I’ve been in the camp of a dedicated music server--both for reasons of convenience, and because my laptops are never static...constant updates, OS system upgrades, software installs, etc. they are always in flux, often crap out, and my feeling is that if I’m going to buy a dedicated laptop, redundant external storage, and keep up with the latest music server software and tweaks anyway, I’d just prefer to put that in the hands of a hardware manufacturer that built something for the specific purpose of high quality audio, and whose audio engineers provide firmware and software updates that are better than what I could figure out on my own.
What I’m looking to replace, and what I’ve been using:
My primary goal now, as it’s been for years in my system, is to have a component in my system that *can* operate completely independently of any need to connect to a PC or mobile app. Yes, having PC network/web access to the server is still desired in order to more comfortably do things like build playlists or edit metadata, but the goal is that I can do everything from ripping to storage to catalog management to streaming, all onboard without the need for a PC to be connected. It’s what I’ve been using for years, and it’s served my needs well.
I started out with a Cambridge Audio Azur 640H and used that for a while. It was decent (hardware great, software a little buggy), but that was in the pretty early days of digital music servers. When I replaced it, I finally settled on the Olive Media Olive 04HD Music Server, along with the Olive 02 satellite streamer, and eventually an Olive ONE as well. I have to say, I was very, very happy with that setup when I purchased it (around 2008). I had the ability to store and use high-quality HD audio in a standalone system tied to my audio rig, and had the ability to stream to the 02, which has a built-in preamp and allowed me to just connect to powered speakers outdoors, and the ability to stream to the ONE, which has an onboard pre and 30W amp, allowing me to just connect standalone bookshelf speakers on another floor. Exactly what I wanted. Fast forward to today: The 04HD is working fine, but the Olive 02 is no longer working, and the Olive ONE is very buggy. What used to be stellar Olive Media customer service has really gone downhill in the last few years, to the point of completely ignoring requests and going dark. I noticed that at some point in the past few weeks, the original website has disappeared, and even on the ONE site that’s still there, all the support links are dead. There was a post as recently as two weeks ago indicating that they were not shutting down, and that solutions for "loyal customers" of their legacy products would have some support (whether that meant technical, or just discounts on newer gear, who knows), but now even that is gone. I’m assuming that they’ve gone out of business at this point, which I guess shouldn’t be a surprise. Onward and upward I guess.
Here’s what I want a new unit/system to do for me:
- *Built-in CDP that will rip CDs into a variety of formats, including lossless (most interested in FLAC, WAV, MP3)
- *Internet connected (preferably with a choice of wi-fi, but can live with required hard-wired ethernet option if need be)
- *Automatic retrieval of CD metadata when ripping, with at least the basics (artist, album, track listing, album art)
- *Minimum of 2TB onboard storage (expandable or larger size drives preferred)
- *Some level of visual display. At the very least, one that allows for navigation through the music catalog / playlists, display of now playing, etc. Critical for the "no PC needed" experience.
- Headphone jack
- *Onboard DAC with analog out connections (digital out would be nice as well) supporting at least 24-bit, 192 kHz
- *NOT looking for a preamp or amp in this main server unit, as it’s being used as a source unit only, and will feed into my preamp. If it does have one, as long as I can bypass it it’s fine, but I hate to pay for something I’m not using.
- Streaming music services support (ideally Spotify Connect capable, perhaps Tidal as well)
- *Ability to create / store playlists (ok if this is required to do on PC)
- *Music catalog management via software / web (for more detailed updates to metadata, genres, album art, etc.)
- *Ability to stream via wi-fi network from other devices (*preferably, if the company also makes "satellites" to build out a multi-room experience. I’m not looking for connected speakers, but units that will allow connection to the main server for basic operations, like selecting an album or a playlist. *They should have an onboard pre-amp that allows connection to powered speakers, and/or a low powered amp that can connect to standard speakers--bookshelf size. The units do not need to have any onboard storage, CDP, etc. as they are just being used as a conduit).
>Nice to haves, but can live without:
- *Ability to burn playlists from the server to CD, converting on the fly to either CDA or MP3 CD format
- *Automatic or over the air firmware / software updates (vs. having to download to a USB stick and manually installing)
- *Ability to do diagnostics and minor edits to metadata onboard, using menu selections and visual display
- *HDMI out to add a larger external screen, if desired
- *Internet radio options
- Local cloud storage, with the ability to access it from outside the home network. (does anyone even offer this yet?)
- Mobile control via app or mobile web
The dream would be to find one that will also allow me to upload my Olive external drive backup of 1,000+ FLAC albums as well...but that’s another story for another post I suppose.
All of the options above marked with a ’*’ I can already do today with the Olive system, so as you can see most of what I want I already have. If it weren’t for the inability to get customer service or replacements, I’d probably stick with what I have. The Olive specs, hardware-wise, included one of the most silent disc mechanisms I’ve ever (not) heard, analog outs (RCA), digital out (optical & coax), HDMI (audio/video; I use solely for an additional screen), digital input (in case you want to use it as an outboard DAC), 2TB internal drive (ability to use network drives as well), onboard DAC (Burr-Brown PCM1792A), gigabit ethernet port, two wi-fi antenna ports, USB port (for backups).
I’d love to find something that can at least replicate what I have now, and you’d think that 8 years later, with all the technology advancements it’d be an easy task, but not so. Very few have the onboard CDP, and even fewer have visual displays. The couple that I’ve seen in my research that seem to potentially match are:
- Naim’s HDX
- Novafidelity’s X40
- Aria’s Aria 2
- Musical Fidelity’s M6 Encore Connect.
Not all of them seem to offer satellite options, but at least seem to have the primary music server basics. Any of you guys have any experience or commentary on those options, or others I’ve missed that I might want to look into? Any guidance is appreciated.
As for price range, I’d love to not spend more than $2-$3K, but if I can actually get what I’m looking for, I’m probably willing to go as high as doubling that. For perspective, here is the main system it will be playing through, if it has any bearing on your recommendations.https://systems.audiogon.com/systems/1451
Thanks for any of you that actually read this far, I appreciate your patience!