• The Bentley of Music Servers

    Back in the day the Sooloos Music Server would have been called the Cadillac of music servers. Today however a more appropriate title is the Bentley of music servers. Sooloos has done what many before them have been unwilling or unable to do. They have made a complex technology and system as easy to use as it is going to get without compromising features and quality. The more I read about the Sooloos product the more similarities I see with Apple. Both have great technology and design and both have made their products extremely intuitive.

    Sooloos Music Server
    Image courtesy of Sooloos.com

    I have designed and put together several music servers in the last few years, all based on a Mac or PC. By the time I finished each project I thought to myself there was no way Joe Public is ready for this. The quirky software, the special hardware, and probably the most important and least understood part - backing up the music. Then came the upgrades and the error messages and the constant monitoring of the system etc... It was also frustrating to see how your "easy to use" home-built music server quickly becomes the most complex "CD player" in the world to Joe Public. It is easy to get caught up in the process of building the system and knowing the system inside and out and what to do if this or that happens. But, when it comes time to hand it over or demo it for someone you realize your technical masterpiece needs an engineer to stand next to it and answer questions. Fortunately things are getting easier and easier every day as more companies compete in this space.

    Then the Bentley is driven up by the valet. Or should I say the Sooloos Music Server is delivered. This systems requires no forethought. Sooloos has done everything and made it transparent to the user. You can't even purchase this system in a configuration that would allow your music to go unprotected. Sooloos even took it a step further by mirroring the disk. This is vastly different from your standard backup. With the Sooloos Music Server if you have a drive failure your system continues to play as if nothing happened. You have it fixed and it re-mirrors your music without user intervention. In the world of regular back ups you would have to restore the music, mess with your library, and spend a lot of time fiddling with the system instead of enjoying it. As far as the superior user interface goes, it couldn't be any easier for the user. How tough is it to look at your album covers on a 17" screen and tap one of them to play the music. Isn't this what we have only seen in the movies? It reminds me of conversations in the 1980s where people would talk about flying cars by the year 2000. The Sooloos Music Server would have been in the same conversation if any of us had great imaginations. I can hear it now. "By the year 2000 we will be able to look at our music library on a color screen and just touch the album to play it."

    How about the sound quality and options the audiophile community wants? Well, since I haven't heard this system in person I can't comment on the sound. However, I can comment on the excellent choice by Sooloos to use FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codes). This was one of the smartest things they did. The music from this system is not locked into any certain rules like music from iTunes or Music Giants is. No DRM and a widely supported audio encoding system. At first I was skeptical of anything other than uncompressed WAV or AIFF files. I finally jumped on the FLAC bandwagon after learning that Linn Records uses FLAC studio master files to create their SACD and DVD-Audio albums. The system supports sampling rates up to 192 KHz. This ties in well with their coming capability to browse high resolution downloads online and push-to-purchase convenience. I hope they can incorporate high quality offerings from Linn Records and iTrax. These two sites offer excellent sounding audio.

    I could go on and on about this system, but if you are not interested by now I suggest taking a hard look at yourself. Here are some of the other great features:
    - Option to have Sooloos preload music of your own or music you want to purchase before delivery of the unit.
    - Unrivaled convenience of scrolling through music collections with touch screen access on a 17" monitor.
    - Search capability based on anything you're looking for such as Genre, Mood, Music Label, Artist, Album, Song etc...
    - Ability to connect to external DAC. (my favorite feature!)
    - Near silent operation without the use of fans
    - Virtually unlimited capability to expand the system by adding more storage space
    - iTunes sync features from any computer
    - Multi-room audio with up to 32 individual streams of music

    How much does this system cost?
    The touch screen control unit is about $4,500
    The Source unit is about $4,000
    Storage varies based on how much you want. I would start with two terabytes for $4,000

    The best doesn't come cheap but considering what went into creating this system and what the user can get out of the system the price isn't that bad. Compare this to the price of audiophile stand-alone transports and it becomes a no-brainer. The dCS Verdi transport is $15,000, a good Wadia transport is about $15,000, the Audio Research Reference CD7 is about $9,000. Each of these has very limited capabilities compared to the Sooloos Music Server. In addition the Sooloos system is guaranteed to pass the wife aesthetic and usability test which is priceless.

    More information available at the Sooloos website.
    Comments 3 Comments
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Markr - I love the comments! It is always fascinating to me to hear what other people think and know about the audiophile world. I believe the Sooloos product does exist and yes I have priced one out. Very expensive at first blush, but for the functionality and convenience the price is relatively low when compared to a top of the line audiophile grade CD player and transport. <br />
      <br />
      I agree that the software can be pretty complicated. Hopefully here at ComputerAudiophile.com we can all discuss the software and those who have answers can help everyone out.<br />
      <br />
      I can't wait for the day we have a heavy duty version of iTunes or competing software. A real powerful application would be fabulous.<br />
      <br />
      - Chris<br />
      Computer Audiophile | Turn Down The Silence
    1. rgbyhkr's Avatar
      rgbyhkr -
      As far as I know - and I looked into both the Sooloos and Qsonix servers over the last month - while initially delayed, the Sooloos is currently available. They have some additional components they are working on for release in the first half of next year (the Micro Source and the 7" wireless remote), but the 17" Control, Source:One, Source:Five and Store are available. They also have a product they call the Control:Bridge which lets AMX and Crestron systems control the Sooloos with the same kind of touch functionality that the 17" Control offers, but I'm not sure if that is available yet.<br />
      <br />
      It will be interesting to see how they follow through with some of the things they have in the pipeline. At CES, I expect that they will demo the Rhapsody integration (that's the online service they are going with). The idea is that via the subscription, users will be able to browse and listen to the Rhapsody collection through the Sooloos controller. If you found something you liked enough to get in full resolution, you'd have the option to buy the album and have the CD sent to you (of course, you could just listen to all of that stuff in lossy form right from Rhapsody for as long as you have teh subscription).<br />
      <br />
      It's also possible that they will show an early beta of video storage and playback. This has been rumored but isn't definite. Such capability would require new source hardware (the current ones only have audio outs). No word on format support, etc.<br />
      <br />
      The wireless 7" remote is very attractive. It will supposedly retail for $1500 and be as responsive as the 17" touchscreen. The spped of teh control is their trademark. With a capable processor and 1GB of RAM (I think thats what the tech said), they intended it to handle all the work of browsing and controlling the library in as snappy a manner as possible. From the YouTube video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ev7QqN0GvD4), it does indeed look to be snappy. They want the wireless remote to be just as speedy and not just a UMPC with a laggy browser-based control interface.<br />
      <br />
      The Micro source will be a small, single-zone device with analog and digital outs for placement in different rooms (think Sonos ZP80). This is a natural addition as it accommodates homes without structured speaker wiring. Ethernet is required (I assume that will be the same as teh current source units - done to maintain adequate, clean, uninterrupted bandwidth for FLAC playback).<br />
      <br />
      One thing that I got only a hint about is where they are going with the management options. As it is, they tout the "Focus" feature which lets you drill down into your collection and explore your library using extensive metadata from AMG. I asked about the ability for the unit to do what Qsonix just added - the ability to auto-populate playlists based on similarities. Qsonix uses AMG's Tapestry service builds playlists via things like "create playlist with songs similar to this one" and "mood" or "theme" based playlists (driving music, dinner party, etc). Sooloos says they are working on stuff like that, but they were kind of cloak and dagger about the details.<br />
      <br />
      By the way, there have been a couple of write-ups of the Sooloos. The December TAS issue which had a special on music servers including Sooloos, Qsonix and the Arcam MS250. All TAS issues are available for paid download (deliverable is a pdf) from their site (http://www.avguide.com/the-absolute-sound/back-issues.php). Tone Audio also had a review which you can get from Sooloos' site here:<br />
      <br />
      http://www.sooloos.com/press/Sooloos-ToneAudio.pdf<br />
      <br />
      Ultimately, for me, I don't know if Sooloos is right. If the wireless remote, micro source, Rhapsody integration and auto-playlist features were there now, I'd likely be sold. I'll have to see what they show at CES.<br />
      <br />
      Hope this helps.<br />
      <br />
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Thanks for all the detail and the future capabilities they are "working" on. Based on what I have read, including your post here, I just get the feeling that Sooloos has trouble delivering as a company. Good ideas, but delays and defensively secretive is how I kind of think of Sooloos. I hope I am very wrong and I've just read the wrong stuff. I hope to them at CES.