Mains Cables R US MCRU Music Server - The Mains Thing (Part 1)

5/6/2013 9:14:28 AM

With its new MCRU, Mains Cables R Us has launched a full blown music server, but can we interface with it successfully?

I blame the magazine. When I joined Hi-Fi Choice all those hundreds of year ago, there was one computer in the office. It was an Apple Macintosh II and as there was nothing else around that was what I learned to use. As a result I have stuck with Cupertino’s biggest brand ever since and have had only brief dalliances with rival Windows operating systems…

So when the MCRU Music Server came along, with the now ubiquitous Windows 8 onboard, the learning curve was steeper for me than most. Although judging from what long term PC users have been saying, this latest variation on the Windows theme has not been absolutely universally acclaimed…

According to the company which has shortened the product-specific name Mains Cables R Us to MCRU, presumably with products like this new Music Server in mind, Windows 8 is a better sounding OS than its predecessor. And in truth it didn’t take long to get it up and running once the initial ‘why won’t it work with the DAC?’ barrier was surmounted.

Mains Cables R US MCRU Music Server

Mains Cables R US MCRU Music Server

In essence, the MCRU Music Server is a PC that has been built with the specific intention of getting the best sound that a computer can deliver. It came about when MCRU’s David Brook heard about a dedicated audio computer that had been built by Gary Jamieson, and discovered the sonic potential of the approach. Gary is a computer engineer who had cherry picked components for best sound quality to create his own server, albeit within a budget that Brook decided could be increased if the results were worthwhile. Gary describes the MCR Music Server as the “best bang for buck” builds that he could come up with.

It features a very nice bit of aluminum casework that contains a 64GB solid-state drive. This is a relatively small thing by the standards of 2013 of course, but many will still find it ample and you can choose a larger alternative if required, or keep more music on an external NAS drive which is something a great many computer audiophiles do. The SSD, like many aspects of this device can be specced according to requirements, and as with any high end PC there is very little that cannot be customized in a way that suits the user. Without wishing to stray into computer platform politics, that’s the beauty of Windows…

Anyway, what Gary has done is to select a motherboard and CPU specifically. The main power supply is an external brick, not unlike that found on a Naim UnitiServe, and while a switching type is supplied as standard there are two upgrade options, with the most expensive being a linear type ($900). This is both a customizable and upgradeable digital source, it is also a disc ripper, hence the slot.

The unit that I received had MCRU’s USB output which has a power line noise filter, ultra-low clock jitter and switchable USB power – the better DACs do not need the five volts in a USB connection. To my knowledge it’s the first dedicated digital source to offer a USB only output. The standard server ($2,325) has a 24-bit/192kHz onboard DAC with a coaxial S/PDIF digital out, but MCRU doesn’t seem all that keen on that digital audio standard.

The other thing that this company can do, with which only the hardcore computer audiophile will be familiar is to optimize the set0up of both the operating system and the playback software. MCRU has chosen to use JRiver software, this is a highly customizable player that will only give of its best when it has been set up with the minimum of compromise for the given operating system.

MCRU has chosen to use JRiver software, this is a highly customizable player that will only give of its best

MCRU has chosen to use JRiver software, this is a highly customizable player that will only give of its best

Booting up

In functional terms the server has all the connections you would expect of a PC, including RJ45 for Ethernet connection and NAS drives plus USB ports for external hard drives. There are also connections for a screen, keyboard and mouse, which while not essential for everyday use are necessary for making playlists, adding/deleting material etc. there are apps for iOS and Android which can be used to drive the player in normal use and even a remote handset in the box.

One thing that MCRU recommends however is that you run Fidelizer every time you switch the server on and this has to be done with mouse, I guess you could let the system sleep when not in use to avoid this. As my initial comments indicate, my first attempts at running it were hampered by an unfamiliarity with Windows, but once I had established that the Metrum Hex DAC does not yet have a 64-bit Win 8 compatible driver, I was able to move on and hook up both my Resolution Audio Cantata and a CAD 1543 DAC for the listening.

The MCRU Music Server proves computer audio is a force to be reckoned with at the very highest level

The MCRU Music Server proves computer audio is a force to be reckoned with at the very highest level

I used both keyboard, mouse and monitor and the Gixmo app on an Android phone to drive the player and found JRiver to be reasonably intuitive if occasionally frustrating, and not always totally stable, Still, there’s always the faint possibility that operator error may have been a factor here.

The MCRU Music Server proves computer audio is a force to be reckoned with at the very highest level…

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