The HAL MS-6 mini Music Server that is ready to play out-of-the-box!!!
Music servers are all the rage now. Convenience is what it is all about. I listen to digital music while I am working. I can select a playlist and let the music flow uninterrupted for hours. When I want to seriously listen, I sit down to my LPs and turntable.
How you serve up your files depends on personal tastes and the size of your library. Or you may only be interested in streaming from Tidal, Qobuz, Amazon Music, etc. It can be as simple as a laptop connected to the network for your music files on a USB drive or a NAS (Network Attached Storage), USB out to your DAC and your system. And depending on your sound system this might be all you need. Your Laptop has become a music server. That is all there is to it. A music server is a computer attached to the network and has software to serve up your music files to either an internal DAC or an external DAC via USB. If you ever hooked up your system to the headphone outputs of a laptop you will quickly hear the problem. It will sound horrible. This is what separated the men from the boys. The quality/price of the server is due to a couple of areas. Computers by their very nature are inherently noisy. How the manufacturer lessens and isolates the noisy environment from the data signal is where the quality of the final sound comes from. A quick look on the net and a complete package that works with minimal setup out of the box is priced around $2k and I feel you hit the area of diminishing returns around $6k with the uber bunch going out to $30k and beyond.
If you are curious and want to take the plunge without dropping a few mortgage payments there are some alternatives. If you are computer savvy and do not mind challenges that will send you screaming into the wild, one of the best bets is the Raspberry Pi. If you Google “Raspberry Pi as a music server” you will get pages and pages of online videos and white papers at least as high as halfway up Mt. Everest. This is the route I took a couple of years ago when I wanted to get off a computer running JRiver. The learning curve was steep and fraught with one disaster after another. I persevered and got a server up and running. When I purchased my Innous Zenith last year, which took more time to unpack than it took to get the music flowing, I moved my little Pi server to the living room with a couple of Vanatoo active speakers for background music. I revisited the Pi as a server and found what I think is a better software package and discovered things have changed quite a bit. The software for the Pi has matured and is simpler to configure but still, there is no concise “how-to”, and it still is a challenge for the timid. I settled on PiCore because getting Qobuz access was not difficult and did not require additional software or a fee other than the Qobuz subscription. The HAL MS-6 music server is “open the box, plug it up, and your playing music in a few miniutes”.
The HAL MS-6 music server:
I have known Richard Hollis through a local audio club for quite some time now. He has built some interesting speaker projects and demonstrated one of his designs at Capital AudioFest in 2019. He uses the Danville dspNexus DSP audio crossover products as active crossovers in his speaker designs. He has used and sold their DSP audio crossover products for over 10 years to replace passive crossovers with the original dspMusik 2×8. He has measured customer speakers and designed the dspMusik crossover replacements for multiple customers as a service and demonstrated it for a few companies as well.
Audio Express Article
The Danville dspNexus system will be at AXPONA 2022 with a second pair of The Monoliths speakers that were at CAF 2019. That setup was with the original dspMusik 2×8 system as the dspNexus 2×8 had not been designed at that point. Should be a similar setup to AXPONA2019 but with a production-ready dspNexus2x8.
The latest speaker is a 6 planar driver line array 2-way system using the Danville dspNexus 2×8 as the full DSP front end and crossover and Rythmik Audio 3×12 open baffle servo subs. Those are in testing and listening now.
The plan is for speaker production and sales, but the chip shortage has hit the servo amp manufacturer, and still waiting on when new servo amps will be available. No way to tell when at this point it will the speakers to go into production and sales.
AudioCircle Thread on MS-6 MusicServer
From his thread at AudioCircle Introducing the HAL MS-6 Music Server/Streamer (audiocircle.com)
“The latest HAL Music Server the MS-6 design is complete and running Windows 10 Home 64bit OS. This system is for folks that do not need a built-in DVD drive for ripping CD collections. An external USB DVD is always possible as provided by the customer for use with programs like Exact Audio Copy.
The system is an Intel Atom quad-core processor with 4GB of ram and 64GB of SSD.
The system has been tested with both Foobar2000 and JRiver Media Center 27 for music replay via USB2 Audio with Windows 10 drivers for an external DAC. This also lets the user run room correction programs like Math Audio Room EQ.
It has also been tested with Room EQ Wizard for room measurements as needed with a user-supplied USB calibrated mic. It will also work with a user supplied Dayton Audio IMM-6 calibrated mic via the internal sound card for REW measurements. Calibration data is via the Dayton Audio website with the serial number. A standard Apple 4 pin TRRS style extension cable can be used the mic remotely on a stand.
The capabilities are as follows:
For I/O there are 3xUSB2 ports, 1xUSB3 port, Gigabit Ethernet, Bluetooth, WiFi, and a simple sound card. A possible expansion to add an I2S Bus interface is in work. There is a full-size HDMI port for video use and the user-supplied keyboard and mouse or trackpad. I use a Bluetooth keyboard with a trackpad as an example. It will also come with a 45-watt USBC style GaN-based SMPS for power.
The system can be run headless, but for setup, the user’s display, keyboard, and mouse are needed.
The system will come with Foobar2000 as a player and Room EQ Wizard for measurements installed. Math Audio Room EQ will be set up in Foobar2000 for use. Any streaming service that has a Windows 10 style program will run on the system, so that is up to the user’s choice to install.”
So this is a Windows 10 computer a little larger than a deck of cards that preloaded with Foobar 2000 and is ready to go as a music server. Plus it is a room acoustics real time analyser with the calibrated mic and REW software installed.
Foobar is not the most user-friendly music player but it is one of the best. I have a license for JRiver MC29 and installed it on the MS-6 with no problem. Richard told me most of the users he has sold the MS-6 set to use either JRiver, AudioNirvana, or Roon Endpoint. He will be glad it install any of these for you and you then have to activate them with your license. He includes the free Foobar so one can get music playing right out of the box. There is an HDMI port for a monitor and plenty of USB ports for the keyboard, mouse, and external solid-state hard drive for your music. It connected easily to my NAS(Network Attached Storage) where my library and I connected to Qobuz through Windows Explorer. It is a slick, easy to set up music server for anyone used to the Windows 10 environment. Once you get it up and running there are remote packages for both Foobar and JRiver that work with your smartphone or tablet. Richard provides a much better than average power supply for the MS-6. It is a SlimQ 45 watt GAN USBC which is substantially more power than is need for lots of headroom. Because of the GaN chip technology this is smaller cooler running and very stable power supply and it comes with a high quality and long USBC cable.
The sound quality of music servers is a subject that is up to debate. This is entirely in the digital domain and some will argue that bits are bits and like USB cables, network switches, et al, there is no way that these devices change the sound of a music file. What I will say the MS-6 will get you into the world of music servers easily and with not much money and sounds better than a Raspberry Pi with my USB DAC without the hassels of opening a bucket of worms. The Room EQ wizard is preinstalled. You can purchase the Dayton Audio IMM-6 Calibrated mic ($25 Amazon) and a TRRS cable and this system can aid you in setting up your speaker locations and testing is a nice touch. Plus it is fun to play with. You cannot go wrong with this package here. Richard is always available with guidance if needed. He responds quickly to any request or problem. He understands what customer service is. He is on your side with any help necessary to get you up and running and enjoying the pleasures and conveniences of serving up music files to your system.