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PaulF

Help me pick a music server

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I've been doing computer audio for 12 years but have never owned a dedicated server.  As of now, I use a Mac Mini into a microRendu into an Auralic Vega.  There are two reasons I want to try a dedicated music server:

 

- The Mini/mRendu combo can't make use of the Vega'a Exact clock mode.  No matter what I do, there are drop outs.  I MUST have a solution that allows Exact mode to work with 0 dropouts.

 

- I suspect that even better sound quality may be available via a dedicated server.  If I can improve my digital playback just a bit more it will be on par with my vinyl setup with analog jazz recordings and I would love that.

 

I would somewhat prefer keeping & using my existing hard drives but am Ok using nothing but internal drives in a new server as well.

 

I'm looking at Aurender for now.  What else should I consider?

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I should also ask a question: Will I actually get sound quality than with a Mini/mRendu combo?

 

(Adding the microRendu to the mix caused a giant leap in performance above the tweaked, SSD, 16 Gb Mini alone...)

 

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For $4k, any reason why you can't go this route?

 

https://www.computeraudiophile.com/forums/topic/30376-a-novel-way-to-massively-improve-the-sq-of-the-sms-200-and-microrendu/

  • sms-200ultra
  • tx-USBultra
  • NUC for Roon/ROCK server
  • Clock optimized network switch
  • Option for external clock like Mutec

You're going to need a very good LPS though and most LPS out there won't cut it.

 

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Update: After a reset of everything I've had 0 dropouts with Exact mode in a few hours of background music.  So maybe that really is not an issue.

 

If I go the server route, I don't want a DIY solution, and I want either a one-box solution OR one box + a NAS

 

Anybody around here happen to go from a Rendu to an Aurender or the like and experience a jump in sound quality?  Without the dropouts, I may actually scrap the plan. :)

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Oh, another FYI: My Rendu PS is the UltraCap LPS1.  This power supply again gave me a substantial jump in performance over the Pardu unit I was using before it (which was physically far larger).

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Have you looked at the Auralic Altair?  It's is functionally equivalent to Aries + Vega, and the DAC section plays up to 32/384K PCM and DSD256.

 

My reference system for some time has been an Aries Femto driving a Vega DAC over USB.  This combo has better SQ than a microRendu (powered by UpTone LPS-1) driving the Vega.  I've spent a fair amount of time tweaking the microRendu on its Ethernet and USB ends but it was ultimately unable to match the Aries / Vega combo.  My NAS is an Intel NUC in a fanless chassis running Windows Server 2012 R2 OS and MinimServer.

 

With Altair, you can run Lightning Server in the box, so a NAS is not required.  One 2.5" HDD or SSD can be installed into the unit to make Altair an all-in-one server/streamer/DAC.  You can still add a NAS if your music collection continues to expand.  I believe an Altair (or Aurender, etc.) can free you from the USB interface and any associated tweaks for SQ improvement.

 

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Thanks very much for this info!  This is great.

 

I was going to update my thread, actually, to report that I've done a good deal of research and I find that the microRendu with the LPS-1 is preferred to Aurenders by most who have tried both - even the top-end Aurender (which costs a bundle, of course).

 

I will look into the Auralic servers.

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It seems it's universally acknowledged that the Altair is inferior to the Vega in sound quality (not surprising given that it's cheaper than a Vega alone).

 

However, I'll want to pick up an Aries to try based on your feedback.  I did want to avoid going to a NAS, but what the heck.

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I picked up an sMS-200 as a replacement for my SB Touch and sold it 2 weeks later. After the initial perceived improvement I found it sounded too sterile. However I didn't get the dedicated PSU as they weren't available at the time.

I'm still looking for an affordable, user-friendly one-box solution as I'm just too lazy to try and figure out which combination of gadgets will provide me with the best sound. I used to like fiddling around with computers and such but I've grown tired (and broke) of the whole trial/error experimentation trip and can't (don't want to) keep up anymore with all the contradictory information that's out there. It's enough of a challenge getting amp and speakers right.

So...One box, good software options, excellent sound, reasonable price. No external PSUs, no expensive cables to buy, no external clocks/converters/decrapifiers etc. Getting a turntable, tonearm, cartridge right was never this complicated.

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5 minutes ago, Emcee said:

So...One box, good software options, excellent sound, reasonable price.

If you find such a unicorn, please tell me about it.  I really get your sentiment about experimentation and keeping up.


NUC7PJYH/AL --> Berkeley Alpha USB --> Jeff Rowland Aeris --> Jeff Rowland 625 S2 --> Focal Utopia 3 Diablos with 2 x Focal Electra SW 1000 BE subs

 

i7-6700K/Windows 10 Version 1903/HDPLEX 200W/HDPLEX 400W DC-ATX --> EVGA Nu Audio Card --> Focal CMS50's 

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I hear ya.  That's kind of what's motivating me.  I look at the rack and see:

 

- Mac Mini

- Hard drive with wall wart

- Router with wall wart

- LPS-1

- Rendu

- Cables all over

 

And then we have the vinyl stuff and then preamp and the amp!

 

Heck, at least I'm not running monoblocks.  (But my amp does weigh 132 lb...)

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I have been watching servers since day one and so far nothing cuts it under 4k (for my system at least).  Melco makes the best sounding for me (the new ones), but no Roon unless you set up a separate computer to run it on the net I was told.  

 

Personally, I'd wait another year before getting a server as there are so many new ones about to hit the market.  The point was brought up about the LPS being so important.  That's can't be questioned as so many things in audio can be.  I am running a dedicated 2008 Mac Mini that was built and owned by Steve Nugent of Empirical Audio.  He rebuilt the whole unit and eliminated all the programs that have nothing to do with audio.  I do not have it on the network and bluetooth/wifi are also off.  What makes it special is the hard drive he used internally (not sure which one, but he went through many to find the best sounding one) as well as the LPS.  It's a Paul Hynes (don't think you can get one anymore) which many of us consider the best made.  I've tried a Wyred 4 Sound that I have and I lose everything.  I use the W4S LPS's (I have three in the box) for an optical conversion run that I"m setting up for my network as I do want Roon.

 

I have brought my server/LPS into a few stores and over some houses to compare it to the Aurender W20 and the N10, Melco N1ZH, Antipodes TOL version 1, Basis and Music Vault (love this unit and the service.  He will customize to what you want and build lifetime Roon into it also).  None of them touch the Mac Mini so far.  I think the new models coming out now and for the next year will catch up and probably surpass it though.  Right now I just don't see the 5k and under market as being where it needs to be and where I feel it will be in a year from now as the new entrants emerge.

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Thanks for the info on the Melco as that's another data point.

 

Every compare one to either the Aurender N100 or mRendu?

 

I find people that prefer any of the following set as best: Aries, Aurender, mRendu (with LPS-1 usually).

 

But there might well be synergy between the Aries and Vega.  I've tried a zillion DACs now up to $5K and keep coming back to the Vega.

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I like the Melco better than the Aurender.  They sound very different though.  The new Melco is a tad warmer than the old one and it's highly detailed.  The server that intrigues me is the new to the US Innous Zenith.  They have three models that are all in one units with rippers built in.  They are all Roon Core and neither the Melco nor the Aurender use Roon. 

 

I spoke with the US distributor today and hopefully can get their top one in the house to listen and see how it performs vs the other servers I've had in as well as vs my mac mini with Paul Hynes LPS.  It doesn't sound like any Mac I've ever heard.  I will be selling it soon if I can find one that I like better and is Roon core and all in one.

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I can't find a date on the new models, nor anybody selling them (online) in the U.S.  Where do you buy?

 

Also, can you tell me how the Melco & Aurender differ in sound to you?

 

Can you control a Melco with an iPhone or laptop app?  (The Aurender's app being iPad-only is a big negative for me.)

 

Thanks.

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The Innuos are getting good reviews. A local dealer carries the brand and I plan on demoing them during my vacation. What bothers me is that the entry level models are USB only and the TOTL models are out of my budget.

 

At the same time I plan on demoing Naim's new Uniti line of servers/streamers/all-in-ones that's creating quite a buzz on the Naim forum. Unfortunately no Roon and their proprietary software reportedly sucks. They also appear to be way behind on delivering due to certain bugs that have yet to be ironed out.

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Why is USB a problem?  Most newer DAC's use USB.  Folks get so wrapped up in connections.  It's about sound first.  If USB is done properly, it can sound awesome. If you aren't looking at their TOTL unit, then the system you have probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference between a server that outputs AES/EBU or ethernet (Melco uses ethernet also).  That's not a knock either.  I see so many folks spending gobs of money to use all these different devices, clocks, isolators etc... when you can just get a great all in one device and be done with it. Let futzing around with the sound IMHO.  

 

Melco can use Room, if you want to dedicate a computer on your net to do so.  It uses a few different software programs for it's remote control.  Pads or phone or laptop and you should be set.  I'm not an expert in the field of computer audio so others I'm sure will pipe in and correct anything I have said that is wrong.  I'm learning as I go also, but have some great teachers from this board and others who design many of these products or sell them.

 

The differences between Melco and Aurender are up to your ears.  I can say that the Melco units are much more resolving and very extended at both ends of the spectrum. The top unit is one of the best servers I've heard.  If I didn't care about wanting Roon, I'd just get one. I know of a few companies who use the Melco's direct ethernet connection to voice their new DAC's.  That to me says a lot about them.  The new units are supposed to be even more musical.  If so, I may not sell my mac mini/paul hynes LPS server and use it to put Roon on the network and do a work around.  I'd rather NOT do that as I am hoping to get an all in one to do it all.  The Melco has a usb connection just for their (or any) drive unit so you can rip directly onto it's HD.  They use a ripping software for bit perfect rips and it's EASY.  Just put the drive unit away and out of site when not using.  Also, if you are ripping over 1k CD's, then this may be a great way to go as you will be able to get a new one if the other one wears out. I would personally just buy their own unit (a blueray) as it's Buffalo and built like a tank and matches the looks of the units.  

 

Music Valut is also a GREAT product and one that I'm still interested in.  Neil, who makes them in CO, is a great guy and loves to help out.  I have friends with 150k + systems who swear by his units.  I've heard the lower priced ones a few times and always been very impressed. He will built to spec too, so that's cool.  You can sacrifice a bit of speed to get a great unit that won't break the bank. He sometimes has used units that he refreshens, so they are nearly like new.  

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22 minutes ago, ctsooner said:

The new units are supposed to be even more musical.

Thanks!  I totally missed the announcement of the N1A/2 and N1ZH/2.    


NUC7PJYH/AL --> Berkeley Alpha USB --> Jeff Rowland Aeris --> Jeff Rowland 625 S2 --> Focal Utopia 3 Diablos with 2 x Focal Electra SW 1000 BE subs

 

i7-6700K/Windows 10 Version 1903/HDPLEX 200W/HDPLEX 400W DC-ATX --> EVGA Nu Audio Card --> Focal CMS50's 

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19 hours ago, PaulF said:

Thanks for the info on the Melco as that's another data point.

 

Every compare one to either the Aurender N100 or mRendu?

 

I find people that prefer any of the following set as best: Aries, Aurender, mRendu (with LPS-1 usually).

 

But there might well be synergy between the Aries and Vega.  I've tried a zillion DACs now up to $5K and keep coming back to the Vega.

IMHO, there is definitely synergy between Aries Femto and Vega.  My retired colleague and I both have this combo as our reference system.  I have evaluated several alternatives to Aries Femto, including microRendu (as NAA) and Windows-based NAA with HQPlayer, along with tweaks such as ISO REGEN and LPS-1 power supply, but so far nothing has been able to match, much less exceed the SQ of the Aries Femto driving my Vega.

 

Some tweaks that have resulted in small SQ improvements for Aries Femto / Vega are an SBooster VBus2 isolator (installed between Aries and USB cable) and an Ethernet isolator (EMO Systems EN-70HD).  Vega is of course in EXACT clock mode.  I configure MinimServer/MinimStreamer running on my NUC-based NAS to do FLAC-to-WAV transcoding to offload this task from the Aries processor.  Aries is configured in wired Ethernet mode at 100Mbps (via Netgear FS105 switch or special "100Mbps only" Cat5e Ethernet cable) for best SQ.

 

YMMV.  An AES/EBU connection between Aries Femto and Vega is also worth exploring, especially if you don't have > 24/192K PCM or DSD128 content to play.

 

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Just want to point out. Lumin A/S also a really good stand alone unit. And of course LPS is most important part of the puzzle.


DigitalDac: Chord DAVE, Amp: MC275 Mono, Preamp: FirstSound, Source: Esoteric K01X, Cable: TaraLab GME interconnect,
CASSOtM Trifecta Mod 75ohm MCI, TheLinearSolution TCXO Router

Analog: SME 20/2, SME V, Skala, Esoteric C03 Phono

 

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I had used an Aurender N100h with a Vega for over a year with excellent results. No mess, no fuss, and the SQ was good enough that I never fired up my older SOTA TT anymore. Certainly better than any CD player I had previously too. At their price points on the used market you can't go wrong. I already had an ipad so no issue. If you don't have one get one as they are terribly convenient for most everything else. Eventually I purchased a Luxman DA-06 to replace the Vega, but was really more of a flavor change (more midrange and romantic sounding).

BTW running off of my NAS wasn't as convenient as off the internal drive to SSD, for a couple hundred bucks the "h" is definitely worth it.

(2 channel system Belles LA-01 pre, Pass XA30.8, Usher Dancer 2)

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