Audio servers (also called music servers) are designed to store music file libraries within the home network (LAN).
These devices are generally capable of hosting a large capacity internal (and other external) hard disk and support various network protocols for sharing audio files with all other connected devices, such as network players, computers, DLNA Hi Fi amplifiers, Home Theater amplifiers, iOS and Android smartphones and tablets.
It is necessary to distinguish two types of Music Server between those on the market and that respond to very different needs.
Generic Music Server
Most of the media players connected to the home network allow, in addition to the ability to manage movies, music and photos, to make this content accessible to other devices connected to the home network. Media players such as the PopCorn Hour A-400 or A-410, the Dune HD Base 3F or the Zappiti Player incorporate a UPnP/DLNA server.
To listen to the MP3, AAC, WAV or FLAC files, simply use a network audio player (computer, tablet, smartphone, etc.) that is compatible with the UPnP/DLNA protocol.
The music tracks indexed by the audio server are then shown separately by artist, by album, by music genre, by year, etc..
Album covers, when present, are shown on the network audio player or on the application (app) for Smartphone or Tablet iOS or Android.
However, these generic music servers are not compatible with all audio formats and sometimes restrict support to audio streams with CD/DVD quality only (i.e. at most 16Bit/48KHz).
WAV and FLAC music files in Studio Master quality (i.e. recorded at 24Bit/192KHz) are therefore not managed by these generic Music Servers, nor are FLAC and WAV files of the DXD type (24Bit/352.8KHz) nor even DSD files (DSD-64, DSD-128, DSD-256).
Music Servers specialized in digital hd music
On the contrary, a specialized Music Server for audio offers a complete support both for audio formats with CD quality, and for audio formats in Studio Master quality (in high resolution).
But that's not all.
The first quality of a specialized audio Music Server is to integrate a CD player and a hard disk in order to automatically extract, through an operation called CD-Ripping, the inserted Compact Disc Audio, converting all its tracks as a music archive.
The FLAC format is often used, because it allows a copy of the audio tracks without any loss of quality and because it also allows to optimize the space occupied on the hard disk (using a compression like ZIP).
When connected to the home network and the internet, the Music Server can automatically download CD metadata and related graphics covers, interrogating a remote database from which it downloads this information.
Unlike generic audio servers, moreover, the specialized music server for audio does not need to be connected to a TV to manage its graphical interface, because it has its own dedicated screen and its own graphical interface with which the user can easily interact.
Some models also have the possibility of being pilots through a Smartphone or a Tablet, either Apple iOS or Android, or from any computer (Windows, MacOS or Linux).
This allows you to access the most advanced functions of the audio music server and to set up and configure them with maximum simplicity and completeness.
The specialized audio server, in addition, is especially designed for audiophile use, thanks to special measures that cancel out interference and noise.
The most advanced models, such as the CocktailAUDIO, allow you to use solid state hard drives (SSD) that are absolutely silent hard drives, having no mechanical part in motion (as opposed to traditional hard drives with magnetic plates).
The music servers for audio use are compatible with the DLNA and UPnP communication protocols, but not only.
Very often additional network protocols are available such as SAMBA, AirPlay, FTP, which allow a perfect integration with network players, computers and any other audio device that you had within your local LAN network.
Communication can take place either via a wired Ethernet network interface (Gigabit in the best models), or via Wi-Fi (often adding a special USB Dongle, inexpensive but extremely useful).
Moreover, the most advanced Music Servers can be equipped with an integrated high quality analog digital converter (Audio DAC), with the possibility to record external analog sources (such as audio coming from turntables or from reel recorders) or to record digital sources such as MiniDisc, DAT, etc.: this is the case of Music Servers Cocktail Audio.