Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: 2TB iMac 27" quad-core w. 16GB RAM running OWS 10.8.2, PureMusic 2.02, Audirvana 1.5.10, Metrum Hex, AURALiC Vega, Aqua Hifi La Voce S2, SOtM dX-USB HD w. super-clock upgrade & mBPS-d2s, Apple iPod Classic 160GB (AIFF), Astell& Kern AK100 modified by Red Wine Audio, Cambridge Audio iD100, Pro-Ject Dock Box S Digital, Pure i20; Lindemann Audio musicbook:15 [on review]
Preamplifier: Nagra Jazz, Esoteric C-03, Bent Audio Tap-X
Power & integrated amplifiers: Pass Labs XA30.8, FirstWatt S1, F6; Crayon Audio CFA-1.2; Goldmund Job 225; Gato Audio DIA-250; Aura Note Premier; Wyred4Sound mINT; AURALiC Merak [on loan]
Loudspeakers: Albedo Audio Aptica; soundkaos Wave 40; Boenicke Audio W5se; Zu Audio Submission; German Physiks HRS-120, Gallo Strada II w. TR-3D subwoofer
Cables: Complete loom of Zu Event; KingRex uArt, Zu and LightHarmonic LightSpeed double-header USB cables; Tombo Trøn S/PDIF; van den Hul AES/EBU; AudioQuest Diamond glass-fibre Toslink; Arkana Research XLR/RCA and speaker cables [on loan]; Sablon Audio Petit Corona power cords [on review]
Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all components, GigaWatt PF-2 on amps
Equipment rack: Artesania Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Rajasthani hardwood rack for amps
Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators
Room: Irregularly shaped 9.5 x 10m open floor plan with additional 2nd-floor loft; wood-paneled sloping ceiling; parquet flooring; lots of non-parallel surfaces (pictorial tour here)
Review component retail: €1'450

The emailer was Vital Gbezo
of Lamplitube Audio Marketing in the UK. Vital had been Emillé Labs' former point man in the West but for a few years now had shifted roles to act as QAT Audio Technology's global ambassador instead. "In two weeks, QAT are releasing a new server, the RS3. This is an entry-level product which shares the same app as the MS5 you reviewed in March 2012. Things have changed in terms of user friendliness. Some of the features include play/import/export from NAS and external HDD. The retail price will be €1'450. Core tech specs include: front-loading user-replaceable 2.5" 1T/2TB HDD; AK4396-based 24/192 DAC; RS232 port for home integration systems; remote control apps for IOS and Android devices; CD rip via external drive; PCM and DSD via DoP; support for WAV, APE, FLAC, AIFF, WMA, M4A, MP3, AAC, Ogg Vorbis (future formats supported via software updates); ripping formats WAV or FLAC (selectable); audio CD replay and burn functions; variable analog outputs on RCA and XLR; digital output on coax; data import/export via USB/NAS; network access on RJ45 and WiFi; fully balanced circuit with discrete op-amps; SNR 120dB; universal voltage from 1120-240VAC; power consumption <35w; trim silver or black; 1U rack mountable; 435 x 262 x 45mm dimensions; 4kg weight. I sent one RS3 to our Swiss distributor Willi Plaumann who will forward it to you after customs clearance. I've already ripped some music to it so it is ready to play. You can download the app from here. The stock unit does not ship with an HDD. For domestic use, running the fans is not required."

People just now getting into computer audio have a decision to make. Do they wish to use a stock Mac or Windows machine whilst optimizing its performance with software players like PureMusic, Audirvana, Amarra, JRiver MC or JPlay and staying on top of routine OS updates and their possible influence on sound and features? Or do they prefer a so-called audiophile server instead? The latter are music-optimized machines with onboard computers stripped back to just the functions necessary for playback. They tend to store your music files on internal HHD/SSD memory which you must access via a Wifi-connected tablet or smart phone. The quality of this graphic user interface—your gorgeous and super-sharp personal secretary to your personal music library as it were—plus its various features related to search functions, ripping, back-up, meta data retrieval and customized tagging tends to be as make-or-break important in the purchase decision as the actual audio quality vis-à-vis an ordinary Computer Emporium machine.

Vital's included Samsung CD drive with USB leash; wifi antenna; ejected 1TB Western Digital hard drive.

Some servers have their own DACs. Others assume that you'll pick your own. Those types simply become digital transports like specialized Esoteric or C.E.C. decks of the past. If you already have a starter collection of digital files, a new music server must be compatible with their file formats. If you start with just a pile of CDs, your server must either include a drive to import them; or you must add an external drive. If you want to access your server's library from multiple systems and rooms, it'll have to become part of your LAN to connect to your Internet router via either CAT5/6 cable or wireless. This connection to the router is required also to retrieve cover art and album information from various Internet data bases and assign this meta data to each file; and to purchase, download or stream music from the Internet. If you subscribe to streaming services like Spotify and their new 16/44.1kHz competitors Qobuz and WiMP/Tidal, your server needs to integrate them to duplicate the function which their desktop apps provide on a standard computer. With nearly all servers, the display of your tablet remote becomes your de facto and only access point. Hence you want to pick a device with a sufficiently large clear screen to comfortably serve that purpose. The larger your library becomes, the more vital a large display is to navigate your collection without too much scrolling.

The flip side of the HHD.

All of that was PCfi 101. So is the fact that very often, 'audiophile' music servers become wildly more expensive than their Electric Avenue computer equivalents. If so, they must—ought to— compensate on functionality and sound over something like my quad-core 27" iMac with 2TB HHD, 256GB SSD, 16GB of RAM, slot drive and wireless keyboard and mouse. Against this back drop, QAT's new entry-level deck with its €1'450 sticker positions itself like an upscale laptop. It lacks many of the latter's features—no display, no battery-power portability, no direct Internet access for music purchases and streaming services—but counters with a fixed operating system that's been optimized for the task at hand; and fanless hardware selected for playback quality, not standard multi-task computing. Should you be surprised that so many decks in this category stem from Asia like QAT competitors Aurender and Lumin do too, remember that China ranks amongst the #1 nations for wifi use. Its younger generation is very IT savvy and demanding. Whilst the West might have the heritage advantage on legacy high-end hifi, China arguably holds the trump cards when it comes to anything related to computer audio.