This is the first in a series of articles about hi-end music servers. The convenience of music servers is beyond question. Look at the success of the "game-changing" iPod. A portable music server that weighs a few ounces and has the masses purchasing music from the convenience of their home, office, dorm etc... For many iPod users and music listeners in general convenience is all that matters. If the product sounds good it is just a bonus for those who even notice. For decades most audiophiles have resisted convenience in favor of sound quality. For example, walking over to the turntable to move the needle and change the song has been the method of choice for many audiophiles. Enter the music server. A gigantic no-no in the hi-end audio world for many years. Fortunately audiophiles no longer have to make the choice between quality and convenience. Now they can have their cake and eat it too with a hi-end music server.
This series of articles discusses two categories of hi-end music servers, canned and custom. Canned systems, often called turnkey solutions, are really single purpose computers in disguise. They can often be placed in a rack with existing components and blend right in. As long as the user can put discs in the drawer and follow on-screen instructions they are all set. Many of these canned systems use the same interconnects as CD players. Some manufacturers will even load music on to the music server before it is delivered. Canned units are by far the easiest way to integrate a music server into a hi-end system, but they can have limited expansion options. Custom systems require a little bit of computer knowledge to use, but offer almost unlimited flexibility and growth potential at a cheaper price. Most of the custom systems look like standard computers with a connection to a hi-end audio system. Those that want better aesthetics have the option to use a component-like case that blends in with existing audio components or they can use a nice looking Mac Mini. Here is where some of the flexibility comes in to play. A major point of contention for audiophiles is the spouse acceptance factor. With a custom system you can have your music server out of sight in another location. Do you have some room in the basement or a closet? Put your music server there and use a wireless device to transport the music to your main system. The main drawbacks many audiophiles have with a custom system are that they have to understand how their music server works to use it and they have to spend time "administering" the server. As opposed to a canned system where everything has been thought of and preprogrammed into the unit or the option has been disabled by the manufacturer to avoid confusion or user upgrades.
Will you turn your computer into a hi-end music server, or will you purchase, plug, and play one of the canned music servers? This series of articles will discuss these options and may help you decide which audiophile music server is right for you.
Music Servers: Canned or Custom (Part II)
Music Servers: Canned or Custom (Part III)