Mains Cables R US MCRU Music Server - The Mains Thing (Part 2)

5/6/2013 9:14:31 AM

Sound quality

The drive came ready stocked with a selection of albums including Art Blakey and the Jazz Messenger’s Moanin’. This proved a total blast, it would seem that the Messengers had no difficulty displaying their incredible skills while whipping up a groove that could not be ignored. I’ll spare you the details but sitting still and tapping a foot was not an appropriate response!

With more familiar material it became clear that this server is extremely clean and revealing, Nile Lofgren sounded effortless and fluent, his picking crisp and well defined yet with no edginess or glare, the whole performance being presented in an extremely open fashion. Another guitar player who I’ve long enjoyed on vinyl is Michael Hedges, so I was pleased to find a rip of his classic. Aerial Boundaries on the Music Server. This sounded glorious, with scale that pushed the ceiling and a degree of refinement that only the best record player can deliver. Some will crave a bit more bite to leading edges perhaps, but this can easily be added by choosing a DAC, amp or speaker with that character and there are plenty to choose from. I don’t think this server smoothes over leading-edge definition, rather it delivers a richer more complete rendition of the note. There is no shortage of speed which a softening of edges would usually undermine. For example, Cornelius’ Sensuous proved extremely revealing in this respect, the track Fit can get uncomfortable at higher levels, but here it moves like quicksilver and becomes increasingly more powerful and dynamic without ever getting hard edged. It was quite a revelation.

I dug out one of the Reference Records 24/176 recordings of the Hot Club of San Francisco, which doesn’t get much use because despite unusually good sound quality it rarely engages. A state of affairs that this server quickly revealed to be a shortcoming in previous players by bringing out the joy of the music. It became clear what people hear in the playing of the original Hot Club (de Paris) and even why Django Reinhardt is so revered.

This modern take on the same material sounded open, spacious and natural

This modern take on the same material sounded open, spacious and natural

This modern take on the same material sounded open, spacious and natural, while at the same time putting the musical message at the forefront, something that computer audio is not always so good at, truth be told. The nearest thing I could find to put up against the server was a well-specced Mas Mini running Mountain Lion with Audirvana Plus as the music player. This is about half the rice of the server however, and twice as attractive but has no ripping ability. It sounded pretty small and weak by comparison. With the Hot Club track it simply was not in the same league. Indeed it proved to be a bit like a quick, rough hand sketch compared to the high definition photograph that was the MCRU.


I was more than a little sceptical at first, but in the end the MCRU Music Server proved to be something of a sonic stunner. Its shows that USB has the potential to blow S/PDIF into the weeds, and that computer audio is a force to be reckoned with at the very highest of course, and has the stability issues that afflict the breed. It is also far from plug ‘n’ play, despite the primacy that MMCRU gives to the JRiver software. It does however deliver a quality of digital source that has not been available for the price before. If you really know your computer audio onions you might be able to match it, but if you’d rather spend your time rediscovering your music collection then it’s an awful lot of sound quality for the money.

How it compares

The MCRU offers sound quality that competes with the best dedicated audio servers from well-known hi-fi brands at a competitive price. But it doesn’t offer the ease of use that you get with a Naim UnitiServe or Linn DS streaming solution, to give an example.

A more down-market, but popular alternative is the Brennan JB7, but that is not aiming for the stars in the same way as the MCRU. A stronger competitor is Olive, which makes the 4HD for $3,750. This has an onboard DAC (like the standard $2,325 MCRU), as well as a full display and the greater ease of use that this brings – you are, however, paying for some very fancy for some very fancy for some very fancy casework and a regular HDD.

Overall then, the MCRU server has a niche that should make it an attractive proposition for those looking for features and sound quality at a good price. Those after the easy life will either have to pay more or live with less inspiring sound. So this a really nice product that deserves to succeed.




1.    USB input

2.    Ethernet input

3.    USB input

4.    DC power input

5.    USB output

6.    HDMI output

In sight

In sight

In sight

1.    Sony DVD-RW drive

2.    Vertex 42.5” SSD

3.    Case heatsink fin

4.    Aluminum chassis

5.    Gigabyte mainboard

6.    Connection socketry

7.    Cooling system


§  Product: Mains Cable R Us MCRU

§  Origin: UK

§  Type: music server

§  Weight: 5 kg

§  Dimensions: (W x H x D) 440x120x32mm


§  Formats supported: FLAC, APE, ALAC, WMA, AIFF, WAV, MP3

§  SSD: 64GB as standard

§  CPU: 3 GHz Intel, 4 GB RAM as standard

§  JRier Media Center 18 Music Management Software

§  Distributor: MCRU

Our verdict

§  Sound quality: 5/5

§  Value for money: 5/5

§  Build quality: 4.5/5

§  Features: 5/5

§  Like: Extremely revealing and finely detailed

§  Dislike: Not as stable as dedicated audio servers

§  We say: Brilliant. This delivers sound quality that few CD players can dream about and offers considerable upgradeability too…

§  Overall: 5/5


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