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Reviewer: Paul Candy
Financial Interests: click here
Digital Source: CEC TL51X transport, SOtM sDP-1000 & sPS-1000 Linear Power Supply [both on loan for review of sMS-1000d], Asus laptop, Win 8, J. River Media Center 18/19, JPlay 5.1, John Kenny JKSPDIF Mk3 USB-SPDIF interface, Audiomat Tempo 2.6 DAC
Analog Source: Well-Tempered Lab Amadeus with DPS power supply, Pro-Ject Tube Box SE phono stage, Ortofon Rondo Blue MC cartridge
Amp: Audiomat Opéra Référence integrated
Speakers: Jean-Marie Reynaud Evolution 3, REL Q108 Mk II subwoofers (2)
Cables: MIT Magnum M1.3, Sablon Audio Panatela, Light Harmonic Lightspeed USB cable, JCAT USB & LAN cables [in for review]
AC cords: MIT, Sablon Audio, Wireworld
Stands: IKEA, Grand Prix Audio APEX footers w/ silicon nitride bearings, Skylan damping boards, homebrew birch plywood boards, Gingko Cloud 10
Powerline conditioning: BPT Pure Power Center with Wattgate, Bybee Quantum Purifier and ERS cloth options, Blue Circle BC86 MK5, Blue Circle 6X & 12X AC Filters
Sundry accessories: Acoustic Revive RR-77, Audio Magic/Quantum Physics Noise Disruptors, Caig Pro Gold, Echo Busters acoustic room treatments, Isoclean fuses, HiFi Tuning Disc Demagnetizer, Nitty Gritty record cleaning machine, Soundcare Superspikes (on speakers), dedicated AC line with CruzeFIRST Audio Maestro outlets
Room size: 11x18x8', long wall setup, suspended hardwood floors with large area sisal rug, walls are standard drywall over Fiberglas insulation
Review component retail: $2.700
I was intrigued by Srajan’s review of SOtM’s—Soul Of the Music—rather affordable sDP-1000 DAC/preamp. Then there was positive on-line chatter regarding their audiophile-grade computer components such as the tX-USB output card, inline SATA and fan filters. All this had me curious to sample the sMS-1000 media server especially since it retails for around $3.000 well below many similar products. Further fuelling my interest was its inclusion of proprietary componentry specifically designed for high-performance audio; and its Linux operating system. That's optimized for audio minus any of the excessive padding of a standard Windows or Mac system. Indeed I have noted significant fidelity increases disabling unnecessary Windows processes and services on my laptop which I currently use as music server. SOtM’s generous offer to send along their matching sDP-1000 DAC so I could sample DSD plus a prototype of their forthcoming sPS-1000 linear power supply were welcome bonuses. At first blush this in fact looked like an absolute dream assignment. But it turned out that my dream would have a few initial nightmares thrown into the mix. More on that anon.

To the uninitiated a media server is essentially a network computer that's been optimized for music/video playback. Most link to your router by Ethernet, some go wireless. They all run headless i.e. without the usual assortment of peripheral devices such as a monitor, keyboard or mouse. How do you access your music? Playback is controlled remotely usually via iPhone, iPad, iTouch, Android or any other computer or device on your home network that's got a web interface. Whilst many claim convenience and ease of use for such servers, the plain truth is that you must have some basic knowledge of computers, how to set up a home network, find IP addresses and such.

Whilst tentatively accepting that a dedicated music server ought to provide more convenient and better sounding file playback than an ordinary PC or Mac shoehorned into that role, I have been reluctant to make that comparison mostly due to what I consider outrageous pricing. $10.000 for what most often appears to be nothing more than a dressed-up computer with some basic playback software borders on rape as far as I’m concerned. Flexibility is another reason. With a PC I can add/remove internal/external components at will. I can also use a wide range of playback software programs and tweak the OS to suit my needs. Unless you built your own, with a server you are for the most part locked into whatever the manufacturer has chosen.