State of the Source: Server, computer....or what?

There has been a lot of discussion here about the impact of having the best possible DAC for digital playback, from a long-runnning thread on Lampizator to the current thread where member Mattnshilp has been trying out a variety of DAC's in order to select what sounds best to him, but what constitutes the best sounding digital source?

So the questions for this thread are, what digital source sounds best to you and why? What features do you like in the manufactured music servers? And, can the sound quality from a well sorted-out Mac mini or CAPS style computer/server, with linear power supply, SSD, and the associated ability to use a variety of music players, upsampling options, memory play, and EQ, compare favorably with the manufactured server options that use preloaded programs or, are the differences primarily related to the manufactured options being easier to use than a computer, which requires the user to load and maintain the programs used?
Surprising to me not a single poster has yet weighed in on their experience with digital sources. Back 5 or more years ago, when we were mostly spinning silver discs, the discussions on disc players seemed almost endless, yet now when probably about half the folks here are using a digital server type source (or computer) there doesn't seem to be the same level of discussion about sources, only about DACs.

I am genuinely curious about the new class of servers coming to market recently, why they are said by some to sound better than tricked out computer sources, and how they actually differ from a tricked out computer when that is exactly what they seem to be.

I am curious to hear from folks who have directly compared several of the available server options and what distinguishes products like Antipodes (that is getting good press lately) from others such as Music Vault, which seems to offer more bang for the buck since their comparably priced units have features such as SSD, fast processors, ripping capabilities, multi-TBs of of storage, and equal sized multi-TBs of auto back-up.

I do understand some of the server products utilize proprietary software but does that really make that big a difference, since a computer is able to run different player options that the user can download.

I guess I was hoping to see more technical discussion and user comparisons to understand better what design features have the greatest impact on SQ and how that shakes out with the different digital source options available today.
As I continue to research the potential benefit of a dedicated audio server, two reasonably priced options seem to be the Antipodes DXe at about $4,000 and the Aurender X100L at about $3,500.

In comparison, the Aurender X100L would seem a better option because of an internal 120GB SSD cache for "latency-free playback", and two onboard 3TB HHD storage drives while the higher priced Antipodes DXe offers only HDD storage, with 1TB for the base $4,000 price, 4TB for $5,000, and no SSD until you upgrade to their more expensive DX Reference model. On the plus side, the DXe provides "Internal Linear Regulated Power Supplies" and an onboard "Auto CD Ripper." Both offer quiet operation with no fans to be found in either unit.

The Aurender's "fanless Switching Mode Power Supply" that "delivers stable power to non-audio components" is disappointing since, to me, that may be the only poor design choice in the unit. Being internal, it would not be easy to replace with an outboard linear supply. Replacing it would require an operation like on my Mac mini, where the original supply is entirely removed and a jack added or, in the case of my mini, a hard-wired cord. Maybe they believe it is not a problem since although their next model up, the Aurender S10, uses a "low-noise linear power supply to effectively minimize jitter and noise," it also uses a "fanless Switching Mode Power Supply" to deliver "stable power to non-audio components."

If I were to purchase today, of these two, I would probably select the Aurender XL100L because the interface is supposed to be excellent and the combination of 6TB of on-board storage plus the SSD would be hard to beat...if it just didn't have that SMPS.

However, nothing I have read about so far compels me to purchase a server at this time, since either option seems to be a sideways move at best compared to my Mojo Mac mini set up, which already has an outboard 2TB AV HHD that is powered by the same linear supply that powers the mini, and that connects with the mini using a special non-powered firewire cable. Since my DAC has an internally powered USB input, I run the USB from the mini into a filter and galvanically isolated (ifi) power unit and then into the DAC using a non-power USB cable. By using Pure Music as a player, I can upsample to 24/88.2 (or whatever I choose) and playback from the SSD in memory mode, so the HHD is only used for storage. I suspect the reviewers who keep writing about computer sources sounding "thin," in comparison to audiophile servers such as the Antipodes or Aurender, do not have their computers optimally set up with linear power supplies, SSD and outboard storage.

I plan to keep looking but, at least for now, I am not compelled to give up my computer set-up for a dedicated server. Servers, DACs and computer audio have all made huge advancements in the past 5 years and continue to improve with each year's models eclipsing previous versions. That is another reason I am struggling with investing upwards of $5K on a new server at the present time.

I found the following quote from 6moon's Srajan Ebaen interesting, given that he has heard/reviewed several top notch servers and has been into computer audio for quite awhile now. Even more interesting since Srajan's computer is not powered with a linear supply, which I found to improve tonal density and dynamics.
But what I'd concluded after my encounter with Aurender's top €15'000 server became a syndication for the aria to have me quite unshakeably sure now. A properly configured top-drawer iMac—library on 2TB HHD; OSX and PureMusic & Co. on 256GB SSD; 16GB of RAM for memory play to spin down the HHD entirely; bypass of redundant processes; 64-bit software upsampling etc—still makes life for costly audiophile servers most difficult indeed. So far I've not heard a truly compelling sonic reason to join the seemingly credible but quite off-key chorus that computers are bad for audio. If you do it right, it just ain't so!
Once you commit to a specific music server setup it is a non-trivial task to switch to another system. Between the ripping, tagging, playlists and comments someone can have more than a thousand manhours invested in a setup. There is very little incentive to change. One of the few easily changed items are DACs and cables.
How much for Antipodes' DX Reference?
Does "audioengineer" carry these?
Fla, their flagship model Antipodes "the Reference" appears to have a retail price at just below $7K. Perrotta Consulting is the only dealer listed in the USA.
We - Vapor Audio - have had a relationship with Antipodes for a few years now, attending many shows with them, and using their servers ourselves exclusively. We are also dealers for their full line, and will be showing their new products, including the around $1000 DP Network Player. We currently have a few lightly used Antipodes servers available as well.

Their sound quality, reliability, and ease of use are all impressive. Yes, there are a lot of compelling options these days for music servers, but the Antipodes certainly deserve consideration.
"We currently have a few lightly used Antipodes servers available as well".

Wow I didn't think these forums were the place to sell items, especially by a manufacturer. A bit of crossing the line here IMHO.
Aurender X100 is amazing. Heard it together with MSB Analog DAC. This kit is very smooth and musical. Beautiful vocals, sweet heights, deep and powerful bass.
Aurender control app is great too.

If you are using high-quality power conditioner (or power regenerator) there is absolutely no need in any other power supply for Aurender.
By the way, their top model has SMPS as well (although it costs $16.800).

If you are an owner of Aurender X100 the only one important question is the quality of your DAC's USB input.

P.S. One MacMini owner purchased outboard liniar PS for his Mac. But after he tried to connect it to power conditioner he came to conclusion that the difference between stock PS and outboard PS is subtle.
Vapor1, I did not intend to leave anyone out but Perrotta Consulting is the only USA dealer I found listed on the Antipodes website. Thanks for clarifying.
Have you, or any of your clients, compared the mid-level units (the DS Ref or the new DXe) directly with a well set-up Mac mini (e.g., linear PS, outboard HDD, inboard SSD, galvanic isolation of the USB line, and isolated USB power source not from the computer)? If so, what did you (or they) hear in comparison and, if the Antipodes server was preferred, what attributes, in comparison to the mini set-up, do you believe distinguishes the Antipoeds unit?
Another hat to throw into the ring is the Auralic Aries. Not a server per se, but I'm very curious to know how it compares sonically to the dedicated server solutions as it has some advantages in both flexibility and cost.

Yet another is the servers from Baeits Audio of Montana. Theirs, which are customized, purpose-built Windows PCs, output S/PDIF as they believe USB is the wrong way to go and that we've been lead astray by the USB DAC movement.

Interesting times in this corner of audioland.
Igator, the top model Aurender W20 does indeed have a SMPS powering the CPU but also uses a LiFePO4 (LFE) battery power supply for the audio power supply.

Reviewers seem to like the X100 but a couple point to a lessening of the bass impact compared to their disc players, a deficit not mentioned in reviews of the upper two models, the older S10 or the newer and most expensive W20. Reading between the lines, I get the impression of a musical and enjoyable sound quality but not quite equivalent to the upper echelon of servers in the areas of resolution or dynamics.

Drubin, I have seen info on Baetis Audio of Montana and to me their product seems to have a lot going for it such as external file storage, an SSD and an optional linear power supply. Unfortunately, it also has a FAN, which seems to be a backward move.

Sheesh, can't these guys put it all together. It seems each of the current crop of servers below $5K has one drawback;
-Aurender X100 with their SMPS,
-Antipodes with their single drive and no SSD option, and
-Baetis with their fan.
I like the concept of the Baetis but it seems little different than the CAPS servers offered by Small Green, and barely different in function from the Mac mini server I am running now, except for the Windows vs. OSx differences.
Mitch2 said: I have seen info on Baetis Audio of Montana and to me their product seems to have a lot going for it such as external file storage, an SSD and an optional linear power supply. Unfortunately, it also has a FAN, which seems to be a backward move.
The Baetis runs 24/7 at my house and I have not heard anything from the unit whether the music is on or not.
For me, the thing that distinguishes the Baetis is its galvanically isolated, dedicated SPDIF connection taken right from the motherboard. No PCI card.
Drubin, have you had a chance to hear the Baetis Audio server? Having lived with my mini set-up (which has a quiet fan) for awhile now, the fan doesn't bother me much (although I would rather they had passively cooled it) and I put more value in the linear power supply since I have heard the benefits of that with my mini. You may be onto something with their taking the SPDIF from the motherboard since the crappy USB is always mentioned as a drawback when discussing the mini as a server. Does the Baetis use a Linux operating system?
Win7 in mine.
I have heard the Baetis only at the recent California Audio Show and did not pay attention to the fan. Windows, as Kal stated.
If you say something enough times, does that make it true? "Crappy USB", "crappy USB"', "crappy USB"............................ No still not true! Well designed music servers have the USB coming right from the mother board, they use silent power supplies and they don't use fans, except for back up. Silent fans are like clean coal, it don't exist.
Aurender W20 does not use a battery for CPU purposes, so it can not influence the sound anyway. I think the battery only needed to protect HDDs from a power outage and also to separate HDDs (distortion that they create) from CPU.

I am sure that the main reason why S10 and W20 sound better than X100 (and I am sure they do!) is better clock - OCXO (Oven-Controlled Crystal Oscillator) which X100 lacks.

But if you try to connect X100 to an external clock in this case the difference between X100 and W20 (S10) will be much less noticeable.

Here is a good example:
People connected X100 and W20 to Puccini U-Clock and they sounded almost equally, as W20 already has a high-quality internal clock the external clock does a little work in it's case.
I just heard a $600 Nordost USB cable with a Mac as source,
there ARE differences in USB cables, as in night and day.
One reason why I haven't received more responses to my recent music server threads may be that not too many here use purpose built music servers.

Out of over 5,000 virtual systems listed on this site, I found 136 systems (less than 3 percent) using a Mac mini as a music source/server, and only about 60 systems (just over 1 percent) using one of the more common purpose built music servers, from the manufacturers listed below;

- Musica Pristina
- Baetis
- Aurender
- SOtM
- Antipodes
- C.A.P.S. (Small Green Computer)
- Mojo Audio
- Core Audio
- Olive
- Bladelius
- Naim
- Lumin

FWIW, about half of the 60 servers were from Olive.

I obviously did not search for all brands of purpose built music servers, and I am sure many here are using either a variety of streamer choices, a VortexBox, Mac books, or PC computer sources to play music but, based on the brands I did search, the purpose built server just doesn't seem to be that popular yet, at least based on the posted systems.
Moving to a music based server system is very appealing, I have been interested in the Music Vault in particular, and find that this type of system is useful for management of large CD collections.

The issues seem to be a check list of core hardware/software components, since each MFG has there own variation and this can be confusing to a novice user. Also the thought of ripping all of your CD'S is endlessly time consuming . . Unless you have a nine year old nearby.
Maxboy00, I didn't include Music Vault with my initial searches and there were indeed 3 Music Vault servers that showed up in Virtual Systems here, which is still not statistically significant (e.g., results in 1.2 percent using purpose built servers).

All of these servers have their supporters but, without enough folks here using them, there is not enough general feedback to have a clue as to how they might sound relative to each other, or relative to a tricked out Mac mini or C.A.P.S. server.

Most of the reviewers who are comparing the purpose built music servers to computers are not comparing them to the C.A.P.S. servers or Mac minis that are optimized for music with SSDs, outboard HDDs and linear power supplies, plus measures to clean up the USB output such as filters, galvanic isolation, and elimination of the power side of the USB cable. As a result, "buy to try" seems to be the only way to hear how good those music servers sound.
I'm at a crossroad with computer audio
Starting off with a HP Media centre (purpose built HTPC) in 2006 - I've moved along to a set up that includes a Modwright Transporter - with a great tube selection - and a QNAP TS789 32 TB server - with roughly 15,000 Albums. I also have a Logitech Touch and SB radio in other rooms

I'm very happy with the performance & the sound quality of the modified transporter and I love the software interface.

The fact that the transporter is limited to 24/96 -- and I have a number of Hi Res albums that I currently play through my OPPO -- or through another home/purpose built HTPC ( I7 / SS drive / Fanless power supply - networked) -- has me looking for an option that might take it up a notch.

I am considering a Lampizator Big 7 DAC -- that I will use with the transporter (digital out) - bypassing the analog tube stage of the transporter -- and also feed the hi res files from the HTPC into the Lampizator -- giving me a tubed DAC for everything up to 24/96 played through the Transporter (to the outboard DAC) -- and all higher resolution files from the HTPC or OPPO source into the Lampizator.

I really like the Squeeze box software/interface -- & I wish there was a hi calibre player -- without a DAC that would play DSD and hi res files with the Logitech software.

It's a shame to use the transporter -- without using the Modwright analog output stage -- but if the Lampizator matches or betters the sound quality ---- and also allows me to play hi rez files -- I'll be a happy camper for now (but that never lasts long! )