Network Product Comparisons

Network Product Comparisons

The MSB Network Renderer is a small input module for either the Analog DAC or the DAC IV or V line, or the SELECT DAC but it contains some very complex technology. This page demonstrates the features of a number of popular music serving products and shows primarily the architectural differences between them so that the role of the MSB Renderer would be made clear. Naming conventions are all over the place with this class of product and it is really hard to tell what a product is by the marketing material. In simple terms, files are stored on a 'server'. A 'player' asks the 'server' to serve the files to a 'renderer' which converts them into a digital audio stream which can be converted into analog audio by a DAC. Each of these functions can be a separate product, or all may be contained in one product, and everything in between.

The following diagram shows the REQUIRED parts of any music server system. Different systems include one or more required parts.

Server -->

Every system needs some place to store the files. This is not a audio quality question, simply a storage and interface problem. Storage is made up of hard disc drives, located in a PC, in a Music Player or in a NAS (Network Attached Storage). The NAS approach has several advantages:

  1. Infinitely expandable
  2. Not tied to a PC or PC obsolescence
  3. High Reliability
  4. Can be placed in any location
  5. Very cost effective
  6. Independent of audio quality

The job of the storage device is the 'serve' the files to the 'renderer' when asked to by the 'player'. We can call this function the 'Server'. It contains storage and an interface to a computer network. Nothing else. This operation is not sensitive to audio quality issues, but reliability and redundancy is the key to the integrity of your collection.

Player -->

Every system needs a way to find and select the music you want to play. We are calling this the 'player'. But the 'player' does not get involved with the actual playing of the file. The 'player' is the interface to the user. It shows you what music you have and helps you find the music you want to play. When you have made your selection, it tells the 'server' to send the file to the 'renderer'. Now this 'player' can be an app on your phone, or a program on your computer. It has absolutely nothing to do with audio quality. It just sends play instructions.

The least reliable interface is a wireless link to a phone or iPad, but that is the most convenient. The most reliable way is via a web interface or with a player program like JRiver, but that is the least convenient. You must decide what is most important to you.

Renderer -->

Now here is the heart of the system. The renderer receives the file and creates from it a digital music stream to be converted into audio by a DAC. This particular part of the process has everything to do with audio quality. It defines:

  1. Sample rates that can be played (44.1, 192, 384)
  2. File formats that can be decoded (Flac, MP3, etc)
  3. DSD compatibility
  4. BIT PERFECTness - are files played native?
  5. Noise and jitter passed to DAC

The 'renderer' needs a low jitter clock and clean power. It is all that stands between the noisy hostile environment of the computer network and the serenity of the audio system.

DAC

The DAC as we know makes music out of the digital data. It is VERY sensitive to noise and requires a VERY low jitter clock. It is a great advantage if the data is received synchronously from a low noise source through an impregnable isolation barrier. The advantage of plugging the 'renderer' into the DAC is:

  1. Clock synced by low jitter DAC clock
  2. Grounds can be isolated
  3. Clean power can be provided
  4. We can match the conversion specs to the DACs ability
  5. Cost is reduced.

MSB DACs are designed with modular inputs to take full advantage of a Network Rendering Input Module. The results are stellar.

Features MSB DAC Renderer MSB UMT Plus The Beast Aurender M20 Linn Klimax DS
Internal File Storage None None 2T SSD 6T HDD expandable to 12T None
The Player Use any player Use OPPO iPhone or iPad APP or any SMB/CIFS player Use internet interface with any mobile device from anywhere Aurender App for iPad Linn App
CD ripping None None Auto with daily meta data lookup None None
Online Streaming? Yes - depends on player Yes - all included Yes - through squeezebox Not sure Yes - with Proprietary App
Data File Formats FLAC, WAV, MP3, ALAC, AAC, AIFF, DSF and DFF WAV, FLAC, MP3, AAC, Dolby Digital HD, DTS HD, SACD, DSF, DFF and more. MP3, OGG, WAV, FLAC, DFF, DSF FLAC, WAV, M4A, ALAC, AAC, AIFF, APE, DSF and DFF FLAC, WAV, ALAC, MP3, WMA, AIFF, AAC and OGG
DSD up to 4X (DSD256) All inputs up to 2X (DSD128)
Also Plays SACD
Up to 2X (DSD128) SPDIF up to 1X (DSD64)
USB up to 2X (DSD128)
No
Highest Sample Rate 384 kHz 192 kHz 384 kHz 192 kHz 192 kHz
Gapless Playback Yes - depends on player Only with upnp player that does Yes Yes Only with upnp player that does
Front Panel Playback No - must use player Yes - with video monitor Yes - full function with no internet Yes No - must use player
Video No Plays and Streams all formats Plays video with outboard processor No No
Clock Synced to DAC clock Internal Upgradable or Sync to DAC Clock Internal Upgradeable or Sync to DAC Clock Internal or Sync to DAC Clock Internal
MSB DAC Volume Control integrated with Player Yes No Yes No No
Price (basic) $1995 Analog DAC
$2995 DAC V
$3995 SELECT DAC
$5995 $39,950 $16,800 $4200
The Analog DAC and its power supply are available from stock in Matt White (shown) and Matt Black.

Available for The Analog DAC, DAC IV, DAC V and SELECT models.

So what is the best way to integrate the MSB Renderer into an audio system? Well that depends on your vision of what that perfect system looks like. Below we will show a few sample systems. We are not saying that the hardware and software we picked is better than other brands, but this is the brand we had on hand to test, and we know it works.

Computer Based System

The first decision is wether to use a PC or MAC. We have set up with both and as always there are trade-off's but both work well. Both can play DSD native up to quad rate (256x). We are running JRiver on the MAC and PC and it takes a firm control of everything. Here are the Jriver configuration instructions. The Jremote APP on the iPad also seems very solid. It seems you can use many different NAS devices without issue. This is a very powerful program with lots of options. It is a little tricky to set up but pretty simple to use once you get used to it. The thing I love is that I can set up a playlist with everything from a MP3 to a Quad rate DSD file and it just plays through bit-perfect.

NAS Based System

This system does not involve a computer in playback, although a computer is typically used to rip CDs and set up and organize your music. There is a certain simplicity in such a system. In this case our files are stored on a NAS where they are safe. Many network storage devices include various 'server' options. The choice of 'server' may limit what file types can be played. Almost all will work with common audio files but if you want to deal with high-res and DSD then do your homework. Again there are many players that can be used to choose and play your music. They can be used on any mobile device so you are not limited to Apple. We picked a low cost app, PLUGPLAYER running on an iPad. Point it to the NAS and select the MSB Renderer, and that is all there is too it. We were up and playing music in minutes but have not tested all file formats yet.

As customers set up and test systems we will report any systems that have performed well, as examples of attractive approaches. Please be aware, the MSB Renderer is designed to give you better sound quality than you have heard from stored digital files. It is for the computer savvy and some skill is required to setup a clean reliable system. Let us know your experience and please share your successes or failures with different NAS's and Players.