Best Server/Digital Hub Under $500

Audionut

Next Round Is On Me
So I am looking to get my digital set up in order to go away from physical media (mainly cd and possibly vinyl). As such I’m not sure if this is a good budget price, but thinking it’s a good starting point. Subscription (tidal,..), third-party program (j-river,...) and DAC (DSD capable) would be in addition to this price. My two immediate options are the musical paradise MP-Berry V2 (turn key more or less) , or two HP towers with quad core processors (2012’ish technology?) more detail can be provided on towers, I imagine I’d hav3 to change over to SS hard drives at minimum. (Currently 500hdd each).
 

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
This decision is based as much on personality type as desired sound quality. I wouldn’t dream of going back to a computer setup after going to BlueSound. But that’s not customizable enough for some. That it is what it is ...is a bonus to me. A detriment to others.
 

S0und Dragon

Junior Member
I only run a computer as a Roon Core. Otherwise it’s Bluesound for me also. Though I need to replace my aging NAS array also. I run a 2TB external hard drive to back up the Bluesound vault 2. But I have my iTunes library for the rest of the family on the NAS array. I really like a Mac Mini as a streaming computer. Can be obtained used well within your budget and they tend to be pretty bullet proof once configured. My last Mac mini server has been operating continually for over a year without a hiccup.
 

MikeyFresh

Moderator
Staff member
So I am looking to get my digital set up in order to go away from physical media
Had you thought about or decided on whether this new arrangement needs to be networked or not?

These days one of the main lures of networked (aka distributed) audio is that the software is so darn good, it is easy to have one server providing library access in multiple different rooms. And with hardware such as the humble $35 Raspberry Pi, it does not need to be expensive either, quite the opposite actually.

Now some people don't want or need music instantly available in multiple rooms, or sometimes they just haven't really considered those possibilities. In their mind "computer audio" means you have a computer right there in the room with their main audio system, typically connected directly to it by either USB, or sometimes Toslink. In those instances they will call it a "Server" but really it's just a player, because it isn't actually serving files to any other rooms or "Endpoints" (aka Renderers). Yes it houses their library, no it isn't really a Server.

So a basic upfront question on the architecture is whether or not you envision multi-room connectivity. I do that via separate Raspberry Pi units running as both Server, and as well the Endpoints, except in my main HiFi room where I use a more high-end capable Endpoint, the Sonore microRendu.

While I have both 2006 and 2012 Mac minis that are perfectly capable of being a server, I like offloading that task from my daily driver computers both in the interest of "always on" power savings (the RPi is an absolute miser drawing under 10 watts), and to better free up those computers for other tasks as well as periodic shut downs while leaving the Raspberry Pi Server and Endpoints powered up and ready to play music 24/7.

My solution there works perfectly well with JRiver Media Center as the software running on the Server side, they sell it as a product called Id Pi, you are buying a microSD card from them with JRMC for RPi preloaded. That card goes. in a Raspberry Pi. Alternatively, they also offer it for the Intel NUC where you are buying the entire computer from them.

But my solution does not work for everyone, the hardware is very low powered in terms of the CPU/RAM specs, it simply doesn't come close to working for any kind of advanced intentions like software upsampling. This is where Roon and HQ Player come in, but at a much higher cost and complexity. I like Roon and will probably someday migrate my server to it, but I absolutely can't stand their current pricing model and so for the time being I stubbornly refuse it, and in doing so don't have their state-of-the-art GUI, nor other advanced integration capabilities such as HQ Player for upsampling.

So a basic question for narrowing the array of hardware and software choices available is how many rooms do you plan or wish to eventually access this "Server" library?
 

Audionut

Next Round Is On Me
Had you thought about or decided on whether this new arrangement needs to be networked or not?

These days one of the main lures of networked (aka distributed) audio is that the software is so darn good, it is easy to have one server providing library access in multiple different rooms. And with hardware such as the humble $35 Raspberry Pi, it does not need to be expensive either, quite the opposite actually.

Now some people don't want or need music instantly available in multiple rooms, or sometimes they just haven't really considered those possibilities. In their mind "computer audio" means you have a computer right there in the room with their main audio system, typically connected directly to it by either USB, or sometimes Toslink. In those instances they will call it a "Server" but really it's just a player, because it isn't actually serving files to any other rooms or "Endpoints" (aka Renderers). Yes it houses their library, no it isn't really a Server.

So a basic upfront question on the architecture is whether or not you envision multi-room connectivity. I do that via separate Raspberry Pi units running as both Server, and as well the Endpoints, except in my main HiFi room where I use a more high-end capable Endpoint, the Sonore microRendu.

While I have both 2006 and 2012 Mac minis that are perfectly capable of being a server, I like offloading that task from my daily driver computers both in the interest of "always on" power savings (the RPi is an absolute miser drawing under 10 watts), and to better free up those computers for other tasks as well as periodic shut downs while leaving the Raspberry Pi Server and Endpoints powered up and ready to play music 24/7.

My solution there works perfectly well with JRiver Media Center as the software running on the Server side, they sell it as a product called Id Pi, you are buying a microSD card from them with JRMC for RPi preloaded. That card goes. in a Raspberry Pi. Alternatively, they also offer it for the Intel NUC where you are buying the entire computer from them.

But my solution does not work for everyone, the hardware is very low powered in terms of the CPU/RAM specs, it simply doesn't come close to working for any kind of advanced intentions like software upsampling. This is where Roon and HQ Player come in, but at a much higher cost and complexity. I like Roon and will probably someday migrate my server to it, but I absolutely can't stand their current pricing model and so for the time being I stubbornly refuse it, and in doing so don't have their state-of-the-art GUI, nor other advanced integration capabilities such as HQ Player for upsampling.

So a basic question for narrowing the array of hardware and software choices available is how many rooms do you plan or wish to eventually access this "Server" library?
The raspberry road seems very interesting. Would you opt against the MP noted above altogether? The primary function of the system would be a Center point for my main system but would not mind having access to it from different rooms (3-4) physically or wirelessly for that matter. J-river was not necessarily preferred as I understand Roon to be better? I know this is a road less traveled by you but would like to help fund/get us there in a financially amicable way (keeping cost down). I can up the budget if need be too.
On upsampling, is this something I can look to get out of the DAC and avoid the high cost of Roon?
 

Audionut

Next Round Is On Me
I only run a computer as a Roon Core. Otherwise it’s Bluesound for me also. Though I need to replace my aging NAS array also. I run a 2TB external hard drive to back up the Bluesound vault 2. But I have my iTunes library for the rest of the family on the NAS array. I really like a Mac Mini as a streaming computer. Can be obtained used well within your budget and they tend to be pretty bullet proof once configured. My last Mac mini server has been operating continually for over a year without a hiccup.
Thanks @JohnVF and @S0und Dragon , I’ll have to look into the bluesound shortly.
 

MikeyFresh

Moderator
Staff member
Would you opt against the MP noted above altogether?
I don't know what you mean here but I presume the Musical Paradise MP-Berry v2?

I wouldn't opt against it but you are paying hundreds of $ for a nice chassis and faceplate. There's nothing wrong with that per se, but the main board looks like a fairly standard mini computer. Nice linear power supply, and that certainly counts for something, but my main divergence from this type of product is the idea that the Server needs to be a Player (Endpoint/Renderer/DAC) all at the same time.

Conventional wisdom says dividing that task is the way to go, though certainly others will argue against that in favor of a one-box turnkey solution. I also assume you don't need to employ this unit's analog outputs, I'm sure it can be connected to an external USB DAC and that's a good thing as the analog output on those mini computing boards is typically mediocre at best.

But I don't know enough about that unit to comment on it too much, I know nothing about their software, is it proprietary, or is it a licensed commercial version of Volumio or Moode for instance? What I do know is I don't like all those hard angle bent USB cables that connect the logic board to the chassis jacks, and I definitely don't like the use of the logic board's analog output though again, I'm thinking it's offered as a convenience and the expectation is people will use an external DAC instead.

EDIT: I see now it runs Windows 10 and Foobar2000 as the software. I'd skip it for that reason alone although if they have customized and optimized Foobar to "just work" well right out of the box, then I bet it's fine. But my own use of Foobar starting from scratch as a download, as well the experience of a couple of friends in doing the same left much to be desired.
 

Audionut

Next Round Is On Me
I don't know what you mean here but I presume the Musical Paradise MP-Berry v2?

I wouldn't opt against it but you are paying hundreds of $ for a nice chassis and faceplate. There's nothing wrong with that per se, but the main board looks like a fairly standard mini computer. Nice linear power supply, and that certainly counts for something, but my main divergence from this type of product is the idea that the Server needs to be a Player (Endpoint/Renderer/DAC) all at the same time.

Conventional wisdom says dividing that task is the way to go, though certainly others will argue against that in favor of a one-box turnkey solution. I also assume you don't need to employ this unit's analog outputs, I'm sure it can be connected to an external USB DAC and that's a good thing as the analog output on those mini computing boards is typically mediocre at best.

But I don't know enough about that unit to comment on it too much, I know nothing about their software, is it proprietary, or is it a licensed commercial version of Volumio or Moode for instance? What I do know is I don't like all those hard angle bent USB cables that connect the logic board to the chassis jacks, and I definitely don't like the use of the logic board's analog output though again, I'm thinking it's offered as a convenience and the expectation is people will use an external DAC instead.

EDIT: I see now it runs Windows 10 and Foobar as the software. I'd skip it for that reason alone although if they have customized and optimized it to "just work" well right out of the box, then I bet it's fine. But my own use of Foobar starting from scratch as a download, as well the experience of a couple of friends in doing the same left much to be desired.
Ok Musical paradise server is out. So would you recommend a scratch build and can we accomplish it for this price point? I’d like to upload my cd media as well.
 

MikeyFresh

Moderator
Staff member
Ok Musical paradise server is out. So would you recommend a scratch build and can we accomplish it for this price point? I’d like to upload my cd media as well.
No I really didn't mean it that way, but you'd need a bunch more information from MP about that unit and specifically it's software implementation. Is it off the shelf Foobar2000 that you are expected to configure and optimize, or is it a customized commercial solution that comes already configured and optimized and more or less ready to go/plug and play?

What does that Foobar software offer in terms of then being a hub that can "serve" files to other rooms over the network? Is it just generic DLNA/UPnP, or something else?

How about the Foobar Control Point app? Does it only control that one unit or Zone/room, or does it allow for you to control various other Endpoint zone/rooms too?

Things like that are important and 9 times out of 10 units like this fall short on the software side of things. The power supply and box/faceplate are actually really nice, $550 for something like that isn't crazy at all. But if the software isn't great you quickly won't care how nice that box and faceplate are.

It's got other nice things going for it too including a fan-less design which is huge (fans are noisy and only get noisier with age), and apparently low power consumption although I think 4-6 watts is overly optimistic.

Lastly, for a somewhat higher initial spend than for instance a Raspberry Pi based solution, you are then locked into Windows 10 and Foobar as best I can tell, I'm not sure this unit could ever be repurposed as a Roon Server (Core) though it's not inconceivable that it could. If you think at all that Roon could be in your future (as I do), then maybe a lower cost interim solution that works well now and buys some time is a consideration.

Thats where Raspberry Pi is unbeatable, the boards are $35, you pick an enclosure, and a power supply, and the software, and you are all-in for significantly less than $550, buying some time and multi-room music enjoyment while you ponder the higher-end solutions like Roon.

For the actual Server side of things, I did a thread a while back called Id Pi: JRiver For Linux on Raspberry Pi.

I made a few changes to that set-up over time and ended up with this Bill of Materials:

RPi 3B+ board: $35 (at the time of that thread on sale for $25)
Proto Armour case: $46 (or $40 with no anodizing)
Id Pi on microSD: $39
Total = $120 (bring your own 5v power supply and USB storage hard drive)

This unit is a server, but it can also be a "local zone" player via the connection of a USB DAC. I use it exclusively as a server, it sends files over my LAN to various other Endpoint players. Cheap and rock-solid server performance, leaving more money for the Endpoint Renderer playback side of things, and flexibility there too. Only my HiFi room has what I would call an expensive Endpoint, the Sonore microRendu.

Two other rooms employ the humble RPi3 as an Endpoint/renderer, at even lower cost than the above Id Pi because the playback (Renderer) software they run is free (Moode or Volumio). Of course this assumes you have USB DAC(s) available for each Endpoint/zone/room you wish to have.
 
Top