I'm struggling to understand how a music server would differ from my 2019 Mac Pro (Mac Pro - not MacBook Pro - using Audirvana or Roon software) or a Marantz SACD 30n with attached usb storage. As far as the SACD 30n goes, I understand that you would lose a User Interface, but would sound quality suffer?
I can think of one area where your computer would have advantage over most dedicated server, in that you have powerful processor, great if one is using dsp such as HQPlayer. In just about every other way, GS computer inferior. Noise is the culprit, noise generated by multiple processes running on motherboards. Dedicated servers limit this noise by running minimal processes, this requires major optimization of operating systems, which means eliminating most GS computer capability, also many hardware changes, especially in the best of these servers.
On the other hand, unless one is willing to to deep dive with streaming, meaning high sound quality, don't bother. Deep dive means optimizing entire network and chosen source connections, such as usb, i2s, aes/ebu, clean power supplies, ie, linear power supplies on virtually everything. Streaming only for convenience, GS computer fine. Be prepared for complexity and continual upgrading if serious about sound quality.
@sns is correct with the issues he has raised. There is great white paper by the guy who built the EtherRegen and the OpticalRendu that gives a road map to great streaming sound using his products. This approach does not care about what is used to serve the music. A massively powerful computer or a dedicated audiophile server. Though nothing is connected directly to the DAC via USB or Ethernet. There is an intermediary that serves as a moat between source of the music and the DAC.
If interested I can find a link to the paper or forum post.
I'm going to look at the Uptone Audio gear. I read the Roon white paper. I didn't read anything about USB noise. My system (Levinson 585, Contour 20i, SACD 30n, etc.) seems deserving of the best signal I can't send to it. The Levinson and SACD 30n each seem to have solid dacs, so would they address that issue?
I'm still wondering whether using a USB drive via a Marantz SACD 30n (which I already have) would provide the same SQ benefits as a server. Streaming isn't really my thing. I just want to be able to play my downloaded files as best as is possible.
“I just want to be able to play my downloaded files as best as is possible.”
If that’s your goal then your Marantz 30n is upto the task. How well your Marantz can curate your library will depend on the size of your library. Go ahead and try it and report back your experience.
For best possible user experience and optimal sound quality of your downloads, consider a streamer like used Aurender N100H and iPad. It’s a modest investment, comes with 2TB of internal storage for your files and you will enjoy the app that’s easy to use.
Roon was designed as the best music library organizer in the world ,nothing is even close ,as far as it’s organization ,and information per artist ,include QObuz, or Tidal you have millions of songs at your disposal ,together nothing is better.
your computer is a different topic ,it’s a server - computer ,a computer has so many sub directories and programs in the background and not the quietest place for music ,and power supplies are noisy , that’s why people use dedicated music servers ,that use regulated linear powersupplies and a lot of other programs even Roon has a dedicated Linux program you can use .
I recommend you borrow a good quality streamer… like an Aurender, Aries, Linn or some other audiophile streamer. That will make the difference clear. They sound significantly better… assuming you buy one at the appropriate level for your system.
I used a Mac… which I unplugged to get power supply out of the equation… as well as PCs, with different software. There is just no comparison. Streamers built from the ground up as streamers are different animals. Forget white papers or theories…take a good one home for a test drive. If you have a good DAC and system, all your questions will be answered. They sound better.
I resisted for years because it didn’t sound right that this real expensive box should make a difference. I now own a $22K streamer and consider it to be one of the best values I have ever purchased in audio.
Dave and Troy- I’m guessing those 2 servers that you found to be the best, you probably sell those too, correct?
“Roon has a dedicated Linux program you can use”. Roon provides software for many different OS’s. 99% of computer users don’t know linux, so it would be difficult for these people to build a Linux server. I prefer linux myself for enterprise servers, but I will not use any server with a tainted linux OS, which most music servers use. For example, who is going to support the linux OS of say an Aurender or Aries server if the company goes out of business?
Apple, Ubuntu, Red Hat, and many other OS companies have a better chance to be around for the long run.
What I normally see are people concerned with SQ but they use USB. Most 3rd party servers claim they have better sq using usb. Better than terrible, sure, it’s still bad.
You can configure a server using linux/apple to minimize processes that aren’t needed for a music server. Audirvana for example for a dozen years has documented how to shut down processes that are not needed.
I’ve been streaming (local and remote) for the past 16 years. I did go to 1 of those dedicated music servers described above around 4 or 5 years ago and went back to running on a Mac using Roon and have better sq. But at the same time, my server is in a different room than my dedicated audio room and I use Ethernet to the dac.
From the peanut gallery - I’m using Mac/Roon, with Tidal as a streaming service, and find it a delightful complement to the vinyl chain on the same rig. 15 minutes to download and set-up, maybe, and one is off to the races - it’s so simple to implement there is really no reason not to, because you can be enjoying the music in about as much time as it take to read this thread, with nothing invested but the cost of the Roon software (a bargain)
I am about to get a taste of Mac Pro laptop vs. Cambridge Audio 851N music server. I run the MacBook Pro streaming Tidal Master to the SMSL SU8 DAC via USB > XLR balanced to Sub> XLR out to AudioPulse A200 and another set of JBL 305 stacked... it sounds very good into these powered monitors. No hiss, very enjoyable rocking sound with nice soundstage in my small listening area. The JBL 305 is the weakest component but the sound has more authority with these blended in a bit. I decided to change it up and see if there is an improvement as my 2012 MB Pro is on it’s last leg and I also multi-task on this computer while streaming Tidal Master quality. The USB sends a low voltage charge to the aluminum MB Pro, which is annoying. I am going to side-grade to a Windows laptop due to finances and get the MB Pro out of the equation... so I shall see.... the Windows system also plays DSD natively and I get to sample that as well.
Your Mac Pro and the Marantz 30n are both examples of music servers. You don't need dedicated hardware to make a music server - just a computer with the right software (or the right options enabled). You can make a music server with a Windows PC, a Mac, a Raspberry Pi, etc.
The only thing that matters with respect to music servers is that it gives you the features you need with the type of convenience you're seeking, e.g. DIY or plug and play, integration with streaming services, etc.
FYI, the Marantz 30n has an interface - the HEOS app.
Also, don't worry much about cables or boxes that regenerate signals (unless you have to run USB cable longer than 5 meters). If the data isn't reaching your DAC intact, you'll hear pops, ticks, and dropouts during playback. Otherwise, you're fine.
@steaksterI agree... I forgot to mention that I have a RegEn reclocker hanging off the back of my SU-8 DAC. I got it on a lark and only recently checked the SQ without the reclocker in place. #1 my MacBook Pro USB does not have enough nut to pump it’s low voltage signal thru 12 feet of Amazon USB cable. There are brownout-coutouts. #2 the SQ is significantly inferior... I waas surprised that it was so after reading the snakeoil comments about reclockers... and they may also be correct but in my system.. I need that powered re-clocker.
This chain has been really helpful, so I wanted to follow-up with more detail and findings.
Let me be clear, the SACD 30n is an excellent sounding piece of equipment, but I ended up returning it. I eventually determined that it probably doesn't work with USB 3.0 (I think that was the problem - I didn't have enough time to run a lot of tests). Let me be clear, the SACD 30n is an excellent sounding piece of equipment. My computer is a 2019 Mac Pro (desktop) with 96 GB Ram and a 3.2 GHz 16-Core Intel Xeon W. I have 4TB PCIE SSD storage and 16TB HD storage; and I use Audirvana so I have this part covered:
Second, music servers often have more powerful processors and more RAM than a standard computer, which helps to ensure smooth, uninterrupted playback. Third, music servers usually have multiple storage options, which allows for a larger music collection. Finally, music servers often come with specialized software that makes it easy to manage and organize a music library.
I've heard that a more powerful computer is worse for sound quality, so maybe my desktop Mac Pro puts me at a huge disadvantage. I don't really care about streaming and I'm not convinced a wireless signal would be more accurate. I'm using the internal DAC from the Mark Levinson 585, so I hope the DAC is up to standard. I've also used a Chord Mojo into the 585. They both sound good. When I put my ear against the speaker (Dynaudio Contour 20i) I don't hear any noise until I turn it up all the way. I couldn't listen at that volume even if I wanted to. When I tried bypassing the computer and using music stored on a hard drive or USB stick via the SACD 30n, I could not hear a significant improvement. I did hear a noticeable improvement when playing SACDs.
I assumed that if a computer could create issues, bypassing a computer altogether (from what I can tell, even a music server is simply an underpowered computer) would provide the best sound quality. Again, I did not hear a significant difference.
I still don't get the music server thing, but maybe I just need to try a better one. I understand I looked at the Aurender stuff, but the least expensive model I could find was an N150 for $2,500.00. The N150 does not include a DAC. A good DAC (like the Chord Qutest) is another $1,200.00 - $1,500.00. I'm ready to believe, but I'm not willing to suspend disbelief. Given my experience with the SACD 30n, I just struggle to believe an Aurender would outperform something like a dedicated current MacBook Pro (or even a MacBook Air) with a custom Linux or Hackintosh operating system stripped down to eliminate all but the necessary processes. Aurender refers to a "Audio Class 2.0 USB output", but since the actual USB chipset is not identified, I have no way to know WTH that means or whether there are any tests or measurements to support any claim of sonic superiority. I may try an Esoteric N-05 since I can find one on clearance and it seems to have superior DACs (it also has "dual mono" docs). I think that will be my last try. I can't find any credible reviews for it and the few opinions I've seen here on Audiogon don't give me confidence that it's bad or good. I may also try a PCIe USB Card like this one from Sonnet.
Insofar as USB cables are concerned, I would appreciate any and all recommendations. The Synergistic Atmosphere X Reference USB was recommended by a certain very well known online seller, but Synergistic's marketing reference to "quantum tunneling" is a complete turn-off. I'm not a physicist, but as I understand it, dealing with anything at the quantum level requires equipment that would not economically feasible for any but the largest corporations. Again, I'm willing to believe if any one has any experience with them.
Maybe I failed to ask about your other equipment. Your preamp, amp and speakers need to be of a certain resolution and low noise floor before discussions of the difference between PCs and streamers become relevant.
This is a gross generalization, and there are exceptions… you probably want your average component cost to be say, $2K each ( speakers, amp, preamp, DAC, streamer) for the discussion to get deep into the streamer vs PC. This is somewhat arbitrary. But a $2.5K DAC and a $2.5K streamer is a great combination, although at the lower end of the high end. So, a Schiit Yggdrasil ($2.2K) and a Aurender N150… is a great budget combo.
With fairly high performance equipment the Bluesound sounds better than a PC. But ancillary equipment is critical.
Take a look at the Bricasti M5 Network Streamer. The M5 and your Mac only need to be connected by ethernet cable to your network. Mac can be anywhere and not near your system. M5 works very well with Audirvana but you need it to connect to a DAC. Several cable formats are offered. On my set up, my Dac is built for USB so I have been very happy using it with an Audioquest Coffee USB cable. The M5 took my SQ to a new level.
HI ghdprentice. My associated gear is the Levinson 585 integrated (about $12k) and my speakers are Dynaudio Contour 20is (about $6k). My speaker cables are AQ Gibraltars and I use an AQ Carbon USB. I think it's a pretty resolving set up, but who knows.
Hi tksteingraber. Thanks for the suggestion. I'll take a look at that.
Great. sounds like you have some really good equipment. Then as a rule of thumb… subject to your own tastes… I would recommend looking at DACs and streamers in the $6K each range. The real trick is to get stuff that is of the same caliber… you have some good stuff… your source is really important. It is like a turntable and Phonostage… if you don’t start with it… it isn’t going to get better in the signal chain. I recommend looking at high end solutions.
I would see if you could find a used Aurender N10, and a good DAC… off hand I nothing comes to mind in that price range. But I am sure a lot of folks know of some.
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