Three Dimensions of the SOtM sMS-1000: Hardware, Software, Control
The sMS-1000's aluminum chassis is more compact that it appears in photos. Its 14.2" (W) x 2.7" (H) x 9.5" (D) frame should fit nicely in any audio component rack or tucked in an out of the way location. Weighing three ounces shy of nine pounds this server has a nice heft to it. The sMS-1000's fit & finish is substantially superior to any off the shelf chassis I've seen available to consumers. Some audiophiles are satisfied with circuit boards sitting on a block of wood as long as the sound is good. I fall into the camp that much prefers components to look and sound good and I'm willing to pay extra for this combination. Most CA readers likely fall somewhere in the middle on the continuum between a breadboard and a gold plated server. The SOtM sMS-1000 may be right in that sweet spot.
The sMS-1000 is available with three different high quality audio output options.
- MSRP = $2,499 SOtM tX-USB output
- MSRP = $2,699 SOtM SPDIF Toslink, SPDIF RCA, AES/EBU XLR output
- MSRP = $2,990 SOtM balanced and unbalanced analog output
I specifically requested the USB only option for this review because I've heard excellent results with the tX-USB output card in other servers and the popularity of USB interfaces & DACs can't be denied. The SOtM tX-USB Audiophile PCI to USB Audio Card is the identical card I selected for the C.A.P.S. v2.0 Windows based server. The following description from the C.A.P.S. article holds true for the SOtM sMS-1000 server as well.
"The design of the SOtM tX-USB is an all-out-assault on PCI to USB cards. The tX-USB has its own power line noise filter, individual ultra low noise regulators to power up to two attached USB devices, onboard ultra low jitter clock, onboard PCI host controller, and separate power connector. Many computer audiophiles like to experiment with cutting the power leg from USB cables or special ordering cables without the power leg. The tX-USB has an easily accessed manual switch, next to the USB ports on the card, that enables/disables sending power over the USB cable. Users will have to check their DACs to determine if USB power is required. Some USB DACs require USB power even if the DAC itself is powered by a separate supply. The tX-USB is 100% compliant with USB 2.0 Hi-Speed and all prior USB specifications and speeds."
The sMS-1000 ships with a two Terabyte spinning hard drive and can be custom ordered with a larger drive. This drive contains the operating system and all music files ripped or copied to the server. Like many servers today the sMS-1000 contains a single drive without internal redundancy. This says a lot about improvements to the stability of hard drives over the years. No manufacturer in its right mind would ship a single drive product without confidence the drive would last several years. Failing drives would lead to a service nightmare and easily erase any profits made on such a product. That said drives do fail and require intervention. The sMS-1000 includes a music backup feature, discussed in detail below, and can be user serviceable with the help of an sMS-1000 dealer. Once the server is back up and running after a drive failure Simple Design can connect to the unit remotely and configure it like new. Once configured it's very easy to restore one's backed up music collection through the built-in restore feature. Note: Warranty service can also be completed 100% by the dealer if desired.
SOtM clearly understand how hostile the inside of a computer can be and the importance of filtered power. As such the sMS-1000 also includes what it calls SOtM power noise filter technology. This equates to three individual power outputs from the main supply to the hard drive and optical drive, motherboard, and audio output card. The main supply contains a ripple filter similar to, but better than, the SATA filter. The main PSU filter reduces ripple and blocks noise generated from all three individual internal power connections.
The SOtM sMS-1000 Audiophile Music Server is built to a high standard. A server of this physical quality and design is not available off the shelf of any large electronics retailer. Many of the internal components are available through U.S. Distributor Simple Design, but consumers looking for the elegant external design, complete package, and simple plug n' play capability won't find it by shopping for parts.
The sMS-1000 uses a version of the Linux operating system. That alone is a plus because of its built-in support for Class 2 USB Audio. Unlike Microsoft Windows, newer versions of Linux like that used by SOtM support up through 24 bit / 192 kHz audio without the need for addition device driver installation. Linux based servers are also highly extensible through use of the worldwide knowledge base and huge collection of shared code. This extensibility is one key to the SOtM sMS-1000 Audiophile Music Server. The sMS-1000 uses the Vortexbox software package running on top of Linux to extend the capabilities of the generic operating system and provide simple user interface options.
I used the sMS-1000 as an audiophile music server connected directly to USB DACs or interface converters throughout the review. I simply wanted to connect the unit, get music on it, and press play. Thus, some of the software options weren't of interest to me such as the Logitech Media Server, FLAC file mirroring to MP3, DLNA server, or the installable packages like Bliss and Subsonic. All of these options are excellent under the right circumstances or in the hands of a consumer who can really use them. A nice feature of Vortexbox is the ability to stop a few of the options not in use. I stopped the Logitech, and DLNA servers from the Vortexbox Service Manager screen. A simple click of the mouse and the services are stopped.
The Vortexbox Main Menu displays the hard drive's total size, space used, space available, and percentage of space used. This display comes in handy when placing music on the sMS-1000. The two methods of placing music on the server are ripping a CD or copying files over one's network. I used both methods without a single issue. The Vortexbox auto riper enables users to feed a CD or DVD into the sMS-1000 and let the server do the work of obtaining metadata and album art before ripping and ejecting the completed disc. There is no user interaction or monitoring necessary while the server is ripping a disc. Users who want information about the ripping process can view the auto ripper status page. On this page a verbose log is available detailing each ripped track. One negative about the Vortexbox auto ripper is the lack of an AccurateRip online database cross reference. This isn't a showstopper because the auto ripper is very good. Users who must use an AccurateRip enabled ripper such as dBpoweramp and users with music on an existing hard drive can either rip directly to the sMS-1000 or copy existing files over the network from a Mac, Windows, or Linux computer. Much of my music is already ripped so I copied the vast majority of music on the server over my Ethernet network. Connecting to the sMS-1000 over a network is very easy because it automatically appears in both Windows Network "Neighborhood" and the Mac OS X Finder window. Consumers don't need to find the IP address or have to know anything about networking to start using the sMS-1000.
Once music is copied or ripped to the sMS-1000 it's wise to use the Vortexbox built-in backup feature. Backing up the server is very easy. The user interface only has a few options. When it comes to backup of a plug n' play music server this is exactly what's needed. When I backup the server I connected a USB drive formatted for a Mac OS X computer. This type of formatting can't be used to backup so I clicked the Format Drive button through the web interface and Vortexbox formatted the drive making it readable and writable to the server. The first time a back is done on the server it's a full backup. This full backup copies all music files on the server to the external USB drive as soon as the Backup to USB button is clicked. Full backups can take many hours depending on the amount of music stored on the server. All subsequent backups are incremental, copying only the changed or new music on the server to the external USB drive. When I ran a full backup I started the process and let it run over night. I connected to the backup status web interface to check on the progress every so often, but no intervention was required on my part. Every time I added new music to the server I connected the external USB drive and ran another quick incremental backup.
Users should be aware the USB backup disk can't remain connected to the server during a reboot. The sMS-1000 will not boot with the backup disk connected. I prefer to leave my backup disks connected at all times. This sets me up for success in terms of frequently backing up my music. If I have to physically connected and disconnect a backup drive I tend to procrastinate much longer than I recommend for anyone. My preference of a constantly connected backup drive isn't necessarily the safest practice. This all depends what type of data loss one can expect next. When I lose data it's either from a bad drive or user error. Thus my preference for a connected drive. Other possibilities are fire, flood, or theft. Vortexbox is geared more toward this type of data loss. Users must remove the backup disk from the server for it to successfully restart. As long as the removed USB drive is placed in a safe location and the music collection is backed up frequently the Vortexbox method is safer protecting against loss from fire, flood, or theft. There's no right or wrong method. As long as users understand how Vortexbox operates they can follow the rules and eliminate surprises down the road.
Computer audiophiles looking to use the SOtM sMS-1000 Audiophile Music Server without the bells and whistles, like I did for the review, and connect it directly to a USB DAC or USB interface will have no problems getting the server up and running. The Vortexbox software running on the sMS-1000 provides a clean and simple interface for status information and backing up one's music.
Like 99% of music servers running on Linux the SOtM sMS-1000 requires a third party application to control playback remotely. The best interface I've used for a Linux based server is the Aurender iPad app. However Aurender is in the 1% of Linux based servers with its own dedicated full featured remote control application. Developing such as app is no small feat and can be very expensive. As the saying goes there's no free lunch. If SOtM were to develop its own remote control application I'm willing to bet the price of the server would skyrocket. This is why almost all manufacturers with Linux based servers such as Auraliti, Sonore, Bryston, and SOtM recommend ready made third party apps like MPod and MPaD for iPhone and iPad respectively. There are a handful of apps that run on other mobile devices and operating systems or even work with web browsers like Firefox but it has been my experience that MPoD and MPaD work best with Linux installations.
The MPaD application is good but not great. It isn't in the same league as the Aurender app or the Sooloos iPad application. During the review I used version 1.6.3 of the MPaD app. This version combined with iOS 5.1 on the iPad not only disables the long press and hold function in album view it crashes the entire MPaD application [Link]. Keep in mind this has nothing to do with the SOtM server directly but the server does suffer because of this issue. SOtM can only encourage the developer to release a fix as soon as possible. The long press and hold function is supposed to display a popup menu when the user places a finger on an album cover and holds it there for a couple seconds. This menu is supposed to offer options to play the album now, next, only this album, or add the album to playlist. Without this function the user must tap an album cover briefly and select Play Album. Thus making it very hard to line up a list of albums for continuous playback.
I have other complaints about MPaD but this is not an MPaD review. MPaD's basic features do enable the user to browse and enjoy an entire music collection. Users who frequently play entire albums, need average metadata only, and don't require any advanced playlist manipulation will be just fine using MPaD. There will likely be a fix for MPaD soon restoring the long press function in album view. Until such time the app is a bit disabled. Fortunately the iPhone app MPoD doesn't suffer from the same long press bug brought on by iOS 5.1. The small iPhone screen isn't ideal but it should suffice for the time being.
Relying on others to create remote control applications works very well most of the time. In fact it's the only economical way for most manufacturers to release a music server with a full function remote control application.
SOtM sMS-1000 - Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts
The SOtM sMS-1000 Audiophile Music Server has a lot going for it including great sound quality. I have no doubt the SOtM tX-USB output card is responsible for much of this quality. Comparing the sMS-1000 to the C.A.P.S. v2.0 and Aurender S10 music servers I heard many similarities between all three servers although MPD based Linux servers have the options of supporting DSD soon. All three support nearly all DRM-less file formats, pertinent PCM sample rates, and gapless playback. Only the C.A.P.S. v2.0 server currently supports native DSD playback. Listening to much of my Jazz and Rock music collection I'm not sure I could identify a sonic difference between the C.A.P.S. v2.0 and the sMS-1000 servers if I was put to a test. My favorite Analogue Productions versions of Way Out West, Saxophone Colossus, and Some Day My Prince Will Come sounded spectacular through the MPD RAM buffered playback of the sMS-1000 server. Listening to the newly release 24 bit / 96 kHz download of The Doors self titled album through the sMS-1000 was to die for and gave me goose bumps. There's nothing like listening to The End in complete darkness when Jim Morrison sounds like he is standing five feet away from the listening position. The sMS-1000 was really firing on all cylinders for nearly every album. If I had to find one shortcoming with the sonic signature of the SOtM sMS-1000 it would be vocals that can at times sound a touch flat. This differs from the C.A.P.S. v2.0 server but I'm unsure which one is more accurate. Maybe the C.A.P.S. v2.0 server is adding artifacts that give the false impression of detail or maybe it actually has more detail. I don't think this is an easily answerable question as I haven't been present at any recording sessions of the music I frequently play in my system. What really matters is personal preference. Currently I am very familiar with and prefer what seems like more detail in vocals through the C.A.P.S. v2.0 server. The sMS-1000 and the Aurender S10 have many similarities such as the Linux operation system with Music Player Daemon (MPD) and tricked out hardware both internal and external. Sonically the two are pretty close but the S10 may be a slosh more laid back or softer sounding than the sMS-1000 in my system. Note: The S10 doesn't offer a state of the art USB output and relies on the shared USB ports of the motherboard for users who must use USB as opposed to the refined AES or S/PDIF outputs of the S10.
The SOtM sMS-1000 is an easy server get up and running and to use on a daily basis. After a brief acclimation period I became used to the more simplistic remote control interface and focussed more selecting an album and listening to music than thinking about the technology in use. While the sMS-1000 was idle I noticed a slightly audible whir of the internal hard drive spinning at a distance of roughly twelve feet from my listening position. This noise was never audible during playback of even the softest music.
SOtM's sMS-1000 is a fantastic music server capable of much more than its $2,499 asking price may suggest. The sMS-1000 is a great option for music aficionados seeking easy access to their entire libraries of music, plug n' play simplicity, and great sound quality. Digging deeper into the sMS-1000 hardware aficionados will be delighted by the fit and finish of the chassis and the wonderfully engineered tX-USB PCI to USB output card. Like all servers the sMS-1000 has possible drawbacks. SOtM's reliance on third party software applications for full featured remote control of the server is both good and bad. Depending on one's needs this may be a moot point or reason to look elsewhere. SOtM has created a music server that is much more than the sum of its exceptionally refined parts. The sMS-1000 is C.A.S.H. Listed and highly recommended.
- Product - SOtM sMS-1000 Audiophile Music Server
- Price - $2,499
- Product Page - Link
- Operating Instructions - Link (PDF)
- Where To Buy (U.S.) - Link
- Source: Aurender S10, C.A.P.S. v2.0 Server
- DAC: Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Series 2 with Alpha USB, dCS Debussy
- Preamp: Spectral Audio DMC-30SS Series 2
- Amplifier: Spectral Audio DMA-260
- Loudspeakers: TAD Labs CR1 Compact Reference
- Remote Control Software: MPaD, Aurender iPad App, JRemote, MPoD
- Remote Control Hardware: iPhone 4, iPad (3rd Generation)
- Playback Software Windows 7: J River Media Center 17
- Cables: Spectral Audio MH-770 Ultralinear CVTerminator Series II Loudspeaker Cable, Spectral Audio MI-350 Ultralinear CVTerminator Series II Analog Interconnects (RCA), Mogami W3173 Heavy Duty AES 110 ?, MIT Oracle ZIII Power Cables, AudioQuest NRG-100 Power Cables, Wire World Silver Starlight USB Cable, AudioQuest Diamond USB Cable, Kimber Kable B Bus Ag USB Cable, WireWorld Ultraviolet 5 S/PDIF Coax Cable (BNC), Kimber Select KS2020 S/PSIF Coax Cable
- Network: Cisco SG200-26 Switch, Baaske MI-1005 Ethernet Isolator, Micro Connectors Augmented Cat6A Ethernet Cable, Apple AirPort Extreme, Cisco RVS4000 Router, Cisco DPC3000 Docsis 3.0 cable modem, Comcast Extreme 105 Mbps Internet Service