Server reviews are an interesting affair, my BMC PureMedia article is still in a state of limbo meaning the Aria Mini is the only product I have previously reviewed in this category, that’s if you can even bundle this and the Aria into the same category! They are vastly different products. So what is “this”? Well for the last couple of months I have been using totaldac’s d1-server which is the subject of this review. My previous experience with the French brand is limited to demos at the High End Show in Munich (where I have also been fortunate enough to meet the brains of the outfit, Vincent Brient) and reviewing the d1-tube-mk2 last year. During my little experience they have impressed at every turn, hence after having my mind blown when reviewing the valve based DAC I did everything in my power to make it my reference which is where it remains today!
As I journeyed through this hobby and cheaper desktop solutions, I often neglected the digital source of my music concentrating on putting effort into the likes of a better DAC or more transparent amp. It was only with the arrival of Questyle’s CMA800R mono blocks and the d1-tube-mk2 that seemingly neared the pinnacle of their product types along with top grade cables all through the system (nods to Double Helix Cables) and my power being clean thanks to Audioplan’s solutions that I decided it was time to give a little attention to what comes before the DAC. It was not that I was ignorant before, I just put my priorities in different places. I was well aware of how sources I had tried differed sonically to each other, as well as to my iMac, that along with Audirvana had been my go to for so long. It was only on the arrival of BMC’s PureMedia did I realise just how far these devices could go in terms of overall sound quality which of course led me to wanting to see what my favourite DAC company could do in this domain.
It is worth noting that this is not a particularly new totaldac product although they have launched three brand new models this year. One is especially exciting for me being a headphone dedicated model (d1-integral-headphone) obviously featuring their famous R-2R DAC circuitry and a headphone output. They also have a new entry level model (d1-core) that lets you experience a totaldac at just €4,700 as well as more expensive transistor DAC the d1-six! The six relating do the 6 channels of ladders it has.
Back the server I have it is a little more costly than my BMC at 4990euros including VAT in Europe or 4590euros excluding VAT out of EU.
Looking head on at this and I could put money on you not differentiating it to my d1-tube or absolutely any other of Vincent’s products. It uses the same chassis and power supply as the DACs and stacks on top just perfectly. Being the same chassis as the DAC’s it just opts to have different sockets cut out on the back plate for its application as a digital source.
Unlike the uber expensive “The Beast” this has no GUI of its own, It also has no on board storage but depending how it is set up you can access your music collection in different ways. All of these methods require you to hook this up to your network, I am using the very thick and beastly ethernet cable from totaldac themselves that runs for €390 (2m). Once on the network you can set it up as an MPD client using your iPad as a control. In turn you can also access the music you have stored on a NAS drive or even a USB drive connected to one of the two ports on the servers rear. I think that is the simplest method to follow but there are some other methods that may tickle your fancy or allow you to use existing equipment such as a Logitech Squeezebox. Using a Squeezebox (or some IOS apps) you can stream Quobuz or Tidal. I think the BEST way to use it is another way though.
The others are all effective means of using the server but I think the option I chose was the coolest. You see I have taken advantage of this product being “Roon Ready”!
This is a product that is Roon Ready meaning it is built standard to stream from Roon.
The main advantage of Roon is that it takes away my biggest concerns with the totaldac and that is the user interface. Just like the PureMedia, totaldac have not created their own IOS or Android app to accompany this which means you end up with a third party app that was not made for the meta data crunching audiophile. Ever since I used the Aria Mini along with the specially designed iAria app I have see how awesome a servers UI can be and that means other products have a lot to live up too. That is where Roon comes in.
In basic terms, Roon is a programme for your Mac or Windows PC that works as a music player. It is the most intuitive and easy to use one that I have ever used. On set up you create a Roon Core, the fancy name for it sucking in your music collection from all over, iTunes, USB drives, anything stored on your Network and then it throws them all together in one library. It is only once you get into the library that the magic starts to happen. The idea is that it makes your digital music exciting once again, not just a list of files. It really does deliver as well! I love using Roon and I explore so much of my existing music again. You click on an artist and not only does it bring up their albums and tracks but links their social media, upcoming gigs and then artists related to them. On top of that it gives your biographic information on the artist and each individual album. The knowledge base is extraordinary. I must add I am only using 50% of what Roon can offer as well because it is possible to integrate your Tidal account with it. Sadly I don’t subscribe to Tidal but with your own music along with Tidal’s ever expanding collection journeying through music would be so eye opening!
It doesn’t seem to discriminate either, it is perfect for causal listeners and audiophiles alike. It gives you information from song lyrics all the way down to file quality and signal path.
The main disadvantage of Roon is that it is another separate product that you must purchase. It is $119 for a year or you can make a one off purchase for $499. Quite a serious expense on top of the d1-server. Obviously it is optional but I think it is WELL WORTH IT!
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