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Srajan Ebaen
Financial Interests: click here
27" iMac with 3.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i7, 16GB 1.333MHz RAM, 2TB hard disc, 256GB SSD drive, ADM Radeon HD 6970M with 2GB of GDDR5 memory, PureMusic 1.85 in hybrid memory play with pre-allocated RAM and AIFF files up to 24/192; Amarra 2.3; April Music Eximus DP1, Antelope Audio Zodiac Gold & Voltikus, Weiss DAC2, Burson Audio DA160, Meitner MA-1 [on review]
Preamp/Integrated: ModWright LS-100 with Synergy Hifi tubes, Esoteric C-03, Bent Audio Tap-X
: First Watt SIT2, ModWright KWA 100SE

  Aries Cerat Gladius
Cables: Complete loom of Zu Audio Event, Entreq USB cables
Stands: 2 x ASI HeartSong 3-tier, 2 x ASI HeartSong amp stand
Powerline conditioning: 1 x GigaWatt PF2, 1 x Furutech RTP-6
Sundry accessories: Extensive use of Acoustic System Resonators, noise filters and phase inverters
Room size: 5m x 11.5m W x D, 2.6m ceiling with exposed wooden cross beams every 60cm, plaster over brick walls, suspended wood floor with Tatami-type throw rugs. The listening space opens into the second storey via a staircase and the kitchen/dining room are behind the main listening chair. The latter is thus positioned in the middle of this open floor plan without the usual nearby back wall.
Review Component Retail: 1TB/2TB with RP5 remote pad - $5.990/$6.090; 1TB/2TB without RP5 $5.500/$5.600

I'd personally not write out a blank cheque to so-called audiophile music servers; nor their rationale as a species. I view them as generally overpriced, more or less kludgy and suffering compromised graphic user interfaces. For every big-screen Sooloos done right there's an Olive with a squinty window. For me an iMac, MacMini + iPad remote or equivalent Windows/Linux system generally offer better functionality for significantly less coin. Where audiophile companies ought to intercept computer-based users is at their USB, Firewire, Thunderbolt or other digital output terminals. Enter the current USB DAC craze.


End of story then? Not for those with a vehement 'No!' against computers for audio purposes. So let's see. To play back music from hard disk or solid-state memory really does not require a complex operating system like OSX Lion or Windows 7. What are the basic requirements?


Getting music: Importing/ripping music to hard disk or memory means a physical drive and perhaps optimized ripper software like AccurateRip or EAC. Downloading music from websites means an Internet connection.
Cataloguing music: This requires meta data/album art and an iTunes-type interface. The sorting/display data could arrive on a preinstalled data base. That simply takes up redundant memory. Only a tiny fraction of it would ever apply to your own library. And it would have to be constantly updated via USB sticks. An Internet connection (Ethernet or Wifi) seems more practical.
Playing music: This again requires a player interface like iTunes and either a digital output for external D/A conversion or an internal converter. It also requires a suitably large display, mouse/keyboard or remote control to access the music.
Backing up music: This requires additional memory, either external or as hot-swappable stacked drives on the device. Backup would ideally run as automated process on special software each time the hard disk/SSD contents were altered.

To recapitulate, we thus need a hard disk or sufficient solid-state memory; a CD/DVD drive; a display of sufficient size and resolution; mouse/keyboard and/or remote/touch pad for navigation and manual data entry when automatic meta data aren't available; a graphic user interface and music player like iTunes; internal or external D/A conversion; and some means of backup.

Doesn't all that sound more or less like a computer, laptop or tablet though admittedly stripped of all non-essential programs and processes? Fully mature reliable computer solutions are available from corporate giants. Their infrastructure scale dwarves all of high-end audio combined. This results in fiercely competitive pricing. And a 160GB iPod loaded with full-resolution ALAC files sitting in a $99 Pure i20 digital-direct dock can do most of it for less than $500. Champions of audiophile servers would have us spend a lot more for often a lot less particularly with regard to displays and GUIs. Their rationale? Purpose-built linear or properly shielded switching power supplies. Superior onboard D/A conversion. Better socketry. Elimination of fans and their noise. Superior performance from streamlined audio-only software. In short, upgrade what's sub-par in normal computers for performance audio purposes. Which essentially implies that everything about standard computers is sub par for serious audio. Yet—gasp—a dedicated music server is nothing but a hifi computer. Tough sell? Reinventing the wheel tends to be.

Available in black only as demonstrated at the CES 2012 with Finnish Amphion loudspeakers, the 2x12AU7/bipolar Crystal Series 820 amp with 100wpc sells for $5.500, the matching 520 CD player for $5.990. The new 850 integrated for $4.300 meanwhile mirrors the size and styling of the MS5 music server under review. It is available in the same five anodized colors, comes with an IR remote, offers 100wpc, an S/N ratio of 95dB, THD of 0.008% and weighs 15kg.


No matter, it's where Beijing company QAT enters the picture. Their MS5 is a handsome and compact audiophile-targeted music server with all the basic necessities except for integral backup (that would be the MS1 with its stacked drives higher up this page). There's a Teac DV-w28ss R93 slot drive with EAC ripper engine; a 1TB or 2TB Western Digital hard disk; 1GB of RAM (512MB pre-assigned to buffering streaming data); quality built-in D/A conversion; RCA/XLR analog outputs; coaxial and USB digital outputs; USB and RJ45 digital inputs; an RJ45 network port; and a Wifi 7-inch full-color tablet remote with proprietary GUI and Android OS for convenient control code transmission from the seat (iPad app optional). There's 32-bit/192kHz file support for PCM, WAV, APE, FLAC, AIFF, WMA, M4A, MP3, AAC, Ogg Vorbis and future formats via software upgrades. There's an AD1896 ASRC for 16/44 upsampling to 24/192 and fully balanced converter circuitry with 2 x AD1955 chips. Those feed a dual-differential fully discrete op-amp output stage comprised of FET and bipolar devices "for very high slew rate and drive". All of this is 425 x 370 x 265mm, 12.7kg and packaged in a classy fan-less aluminum chassis in black, silver, champagne, green or red.