Seeking guidance for a very small/easy music server / vs a DAP

Hello all,

Long story short, after previously enjoying years and years of a Cary/Harbeth setup, I now find myself living in a smallish urban apartment in Buenos Aires. I bought and brought down a pair of Peachtree M24 speakers, plugged in my Astell & Kern AKjr, and have been using that until I knew if I was going to be staying here. Looks like I am, and I'll be back in the US shortly, so I'm looking to get some better sound in a fairly compact package to bring back down with me.

I'm looking at getting, most likely, a pair of Dynaudio XEO 20s. This is based upon prior positive experience listening to Dynaudio studio monitors, and the convenience of having a remote volume control and bluetooth in the speakers without any additional boxes.

The AK Jr produces sound quality that I'm ok with, but the interface is maddeningly slow, so I'm tempted by the newer A&K Norma which is reputed to have a much better interface speed and, I'll presume, better sound. But the XEO 20's are fully active and as a result I'd be feeding a DAC into an ADC in the speakers. The Norma doesn't have a digital out or it might just be perfect. Looking further into other DAPs it seems they get further away from a simple audio player and more into a full featured Android device - something I'm really just not looking for / interested in. I favor a simple, functional, low lag interface, quick boot time, and little else.

But the lack of digital out leads me to considering a small footprint music server. However, there are a LOT of product classes and choices out there, the vast majority of which do a lot of things that I don't care about (all the streaming options, multi-room, Roon, ethernet, MQA, Airplay, etc etc etc).

All I'm really looking for is a very compact, simple, reasonable quality device to house about 200gb of mostly FLAC files and play them to, presumably, a pair of Dynaudio active speakers. If I found the right device with a digital out, I think that'd be a good solution and I can just keep the AK Jr for the car and live with it's slow interface. I don't want an iPad to control my music collection if I can avoid it, and I'd rather not be forced to use an app on my iPhone. I don't care to have to learn a lot of new software, have any subscription services, or go down too many rabbit holes. I do not mind at all walking a few feet to my AK Jr every hour or so to choose the next thing to listen too, though I do wish it had a more responsive interface. I don't care for worlds of connectivity and streaming options, Roon, MQA, and so many other new technologies. It would be nice if the device was silent, didn't generate heat, booted quickly, and auto-powered off.

As far as cost goes I'm open minded but probably looking for something under about $1000, largely because anything more expensive than that is probably more than I'm going to take advantage of in this apartment.

All that said am I missing some really cool sector of the music server/player world out there that I should be looking at? Any recommendations? Should I just stick with a DAP and live with the fact that I'm connecting a DAC to an ADC? Are there some great active speakers out there in the $2000 range that will take an analog in to a class A/B amp but also have bluetooth connectivity for when we want to watch something on youtube? For the most part it seems the active speaker world is moving rapidly to DSP crossovers and digital amps just before the driver, which technologically seems to make good sense unless you're going to stay analog from source to speaker.

As well, if someone tells me that Roon will change my life with zero added complexity, that's cool too but I don't understand (yet) why or how... my FLACs (and some old non FLAC stuff) are such a mish-mash of tagged and not tagged, named and not named, messy and whatnot, that I manually cleaned them up into a folder structure that I like and just browse the folder structure to play music as I've never found software for a Mac nor a music player that can recognize more than about 1/2 of it and/or was more effective than browsing by folder.

Cheers in advance and I really do appreciate any and all advice, thoughts, pointers, etc...
I’m in a similar situation as yourself and am so confused about it all.  I’m trying to figure out how to take advantage of all this new (to me) hi-res music and just like you, “I find all the phrasing confusing and the details of implementation hard to find/decipher.”  Sorry...I couldn’t have stated that any better than you.  I just want to be able to connect a DAP to my Hegel H80 integrated amplifier via the optical or coaxial input but have no idea how this all works or if it is even possible.  I recently found, after purchasing all kinds of cable connector kits and different cables, that Hegel doesn’t even support an Apple IPad digital connection into their onboard DAC.  I don’t think Hegel even knows what will work with their amp and the DAP manufacturers probably won’t know if their product will work with my amp.  Catch 22.

Unfortunately, I’m in Thailand and trying to find the information here at the various audio dealers with the language barrier leaves me just wanting to get another SACD player and stick with old school discs.

MacBook Pro is a great choice. I find Linn Kinsky/Minimserver/BubbleUPnP combination to be killer good, much better than Roon. You will need a renderer like Sonos or Interchange to use with it to go from Ethernet to S/PDIF coax. Much more costly than $1K, more like $4K.

I would deter you from buying cheap throw-away toys that deliver mediocre SQ.

I can recommend the following combination for around $2K that will outperform 99% of servers and will play local files on any computer that on your LAN and will stream most services. This is truly a reference level sound for not much money:

AQVOX AQ switch V1 ->

0.5m Ethernet cable ->

EMO EN-70e isolator ->

2.0m Ethernet cable ->

Sonos Connect ->

Markertek Coax cable ->

Synchro-Mesh/OTL reclocker ->

Empirical Audio Standard 4 foot BNC coax cable ->

Your DAC

The total for everything, less the Ethernet cables is: $2198

This setup will upsample the low-res streams to 24/96 to sound best on your DAC. Jitter is 7psec, lower than any server on the market:

Sonos software is really easy to use and is rock solid.

If you want to upgrade to a better renderer than the Sonos Connect in the future, you can re-use everything except the Sonos. The Synchro-Mesh can be used for reducing jitter from a transport, Smart TV or an Apple-TV etc.  The Synchro-Mesh has a second Toslink input you can select from these other devices.  Makes movies much more enjoyable.

Steve N.

Empirical Audio

I would rather have a one item/box solution even if the sound quality is just “mediocre”. I value simplicity over the utmost in SQ. Remember, mediocre here on Audiogon is still better than 99% of what is offered out there.  If I cannot get a simple recommendation for a DAP then I’ll just stick with what I know and pick up a $500 DVD/CD/SACD player and still be happy. 🙂