Options for full-featured music servers/streamers?


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:
> Must-haves:
- *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!

Best,
Monte
monte_15
You might want to reach out to Neil at Sound Science - 

720 308 4000 
www.soundsciencecat.com

I don't own one of his Music Vaults or any of the other "streamers" he sells, but I've read many times that he is very knowledgeable about the subject of digital music streamers. I'm thinking of going that route in the future and I will be giving Neil a call.



+1 reubent.  I own one; his customer service is the best and all units are upgradeable (software and hardware). 
Thank you for the comments. I have read nothing but glowing, positive reviews of not only Neil’s gear, but the customer experience as well.

I had researched his products as part of my review, but hadn’t included them above due to the lack of visual display--the Music Vaults require access via a keyboard, mouse, and monitor--and so while technically it can run independently of a PC, you still need either a PC/tablet/mobile device in order to control it, otherwise need to attach a keyboard, mouse, and monitor directly to the unit. I’m looking for a truly independent experience where I can sit in my listening room and navigate / control the listening experience solely with what’s in the rack, using nothing other than maybe a remote the way I do with my Olive. Same with using satellite options in other rooms. It seemed as if only the four options I listed above could provide some semblance of that. I also use a Windows Phone, so chances of any mobile app support are most certainly nil. haha

However, I may very well reach out to Neil to chat, get his insights, and inquire more in detail about the Personal Cloud storage he has on his M7SS model. I do also love his hardware specs, software selections, and that all of his units are upgradeable, which is a huge issue when using music servers. It’s why I’ve always done a ton of research when selecting one.
Um, how about a Linux PC with Logitech Media Server and Squeezelite? There are iPhone and Android apps available, integrates with existing Logitech players, or turn an old android phone into one. :)

See my blog here:

http://inatinear.blogspot.com/2016/08/ubuntu-mytek-brooklyn-dsd-setup-guide.html

It’s geared for a Mytek, but instructions are the same for any USB 2.0 compatible DAC. Supports DSD streaming, you can rip and organize with a variety of music software. I like to use Rhythmbox for ripping, but Amarok or a number of others including JRiver for LInux will work (shiver)

By the way, if you don't want to update it, just don't.  Once it's all working  you can leave it all fixed in place.  What may change this is if you start using it as a home theater PC or something.

You could go even cheaper with a Raspberi Pi 3 setup.

Best,

Erik
monte,

Just get an iPod to use for the controller. The iPhone remote apps also work on a comparable iPod. Not much different than having another remote.
@monte_15 Sorry I missed the part where you wanted a built-in DAC.  While a Linux PC would come with that, it's not what I would recommend.  Still, you can build the PC for $500-$600 well equipped, leaving you room to find your favorite USB DAC.



Best,


Erik
@reubent Good point. I've got options for "remotes" ...I used to work in mobile, so I've got stacks of old Android, iOS, Windows Phone, and Symbian devices (I think an old iPod as well) lying around that I can convert into a dedicated remote as needed, so that bit would certainly work, and I wouldn't need to have a keyboard and monitor set up with my rack. I wouldn't be able to play directly from the unit, but a mobile remote isn't that big a deal; especially if I can get cloud access as a benefit. Worth exploring for sure.
@erik_squires Interesting stuff. I quickly scanned your blog, and looks like an option like that could be possible. Yes, I would mostly leave it fixed in place once set up, only upgraded for performance tweaks. This would be for my dedicated 2-channel audio system, so I don't plan to ever introduce home theater options into this setup. Music enjoyment only for this rig.

The DAC in this setup I suppose doesn't necessarily have to be built-in physically...what I was intending was that the music server as an entity had a DAC associated with it, solely for use by the music server. It could be a USB DAC, or a standalone if I were going the PC route. If it were an all-in-one unit complete with display and controls, I'd probably prefer the DAC built-in physically.

Couple of curiosities... Does Rhythmbox tag the ripped content with the album metadata? What are you using for music management? Do the mobile apps allow for playlist creation, or is that done via logging into the box from another PC? I assume this would stream to any UPnP devices as well? Can it be set up to support cloud streaming (i.e., streaming via log in from outside the home network)?
> Does Rhythmbox tag the ripped content with the album metadata?

Yes, as does Amarok.

> Usually Rhythmbox but there are also dedicated tagging tools, as well as sometimes if I get really desperate I'll write a Perl script.

> What are you using for music management?

I rip, drag and drop files. :)

> Do the mobile apps allow for playlist creation, or is that done via logging into the box from another PC?

Haven't tried it. Yes, you can do it through the browser very easily.

> I assume this would stream to any UPnP devices as well?

More or less.

>> Can it be set up to support cloud
>> streaming (i.e., streaming via log in from outside the home network)?

Yes, but you are better off installing Subsonic along side LMS.  VERY nice remote streamer and app. Not free, but super cheap.

You can use LMS apps however to turn old Android phones into remote playing devices, but it's not really friendly with the outside world.

Best,


Erik

Couple of notes.

You can always share your music library, manage with Windoze or OSX software, then re-index. Pretty damn fast.

Also, I believe there IS software to rip from a playlist. There are a ton of plugins.

You can always create a virtual machine on your Windows or OSX and try installing Ubuntu and LMS. Then check out the plugins/features/whatnot.

Don't like it, just delete the VM.

Best,


Erik
Almost forgot, haven't tried it yet, but there's even a new plugin that supports Chromecast. It lets you use any chromecast in the house as a music player controlled by your LMS server, and therefore your iphone/android app. :)

Erik
Bluesound.
if you liked Olive, you will love Bluesound.
customer service has been good, the company is a joint venture of NAD and PSB, both of whom have been around for decades, and the stuff is reasonably priced.
They also support MQA, if that matters
Haha, @erik_squires I promised myself with religious fervor sometime around 2003 that I would never, ever, ever write or debug another Perl script in my lifetime. I’ve kept my word for the past dozen years, and even changed careers to ensure it! But otherwise, thank you for all of the commentary. Very useful food for thought, and will research further. Subsonic sounds interesting to me.

Thanks @mahler123 ...I came across Bluesound as well. At first I discounted it because I did really want an integrated visual display without requiring a PC/tablet/mobile device, but, I got to play with Bluesound very briefly the other day, and it does seem to tick all the other boxes. What I really liked is the ecosystem components that map well to replacing the Olive components I already use (so no need to buy preamps, amps, or new speakers for remote listening. The Vault2 would replace the 04HD server, the Powernode2 seems to mimic what the Olive ONE does (with even more power), and I *think* the Node2 could be used to replace the 02. From the website, it seems as if the Node2 does in fact have an onboard DAC as well as analog outputs, but no amp, so in theory it could be used as a remote standalone to connect directly to, say, outdoor self-powered DJ speakers, with no other components needed?

Only differences I see, apart from the lack of a visual display, is that the Vault2 requires a hardwired ethernet connection (Olive you can choose ethernet or wi-fi, and I use wi-fi because the router is 10 feet away in a closet so performance not an issue). Not a huge deal to me though, so long as the Node2 and Powernode2 support wi-fi, which they do.

Other options, like the well-regarded Sony HAP-Z1ES, have a wonderful integrated little visual display, but is missing an integrated CD ripper, which is probably more important for me as I still have ~5,000 CDs left I want to digitize and prefer to do it directly within the unit, not on a PC and then transfer over the network--again, looking to minimize PC dependence. Also, the Sony doesn’t have as good peripheral support as the Bluesound seems to.
Finally, there are new startup companies out there, such as Nativ, that seem to be creating some really cool, fully-featured options. Native provides literally everything I’m looking for (ripping, storage, visual display, DAC, peripheral support, etc.) however, they are all in separate components. I would need 4 separate components (player/storage, ripper, DAC, and power component) to cover what the Olive 04HD does by itself. Also, the design, while beautiful, is a "tall", non-stackable design which would take up a hell of a lot of rack space.
The Naim, Musical Fidelity, and Novafidelity options I mentioned earlier all have the main unit functionality I’m looking for, but the multi-room peripherals support looks to be potentially messy. Also, the latter two are British companies and may not even be available to me in the US. If I can get over my lack of visual display issues (my own problem, I know!) Bluesound does sound like a very fine option.
@monte_15

My Perl scripts are clean and easy to read. :-)  I'm like the Perl developer none of the "real" perl developers like.

But I get it.  Sometimes it's a lot less frustrating to write a script than fight a "wizard" though, or the naming formats used by different music data
services or music vendors.

The thing that keeps me in the Linux server world is just flexibility. Don't like a music tagger? Get another one. Need to add remote music streaming? Download it. Don't like the UI? Change it.

It's not like buying a vendor's solution, paying them thousands of dollars and then being locked in with half the features I want.

Best,


Erik


I highly recommend the Salk Streamer.

Jim Salk is awesome to deal with.

Check it: http://salksound.com/streamplayer.php?model=StreamPlayer+Gen+III


Regards,

Luis D. Paret
Keller, TX

The Bluesound Node 2 does indeed have it 's own DAC.
i control my system with an I pad but have a friend who uses a $50.00 Amazon Kindle to control his.
Using a tablet helps view your library and make playlists