Generally speaking, a music server is an electronic device that plays digital music files. They may or may not have local internal storage for those files but a peripheral hard drive, USB stick or networked audio storage device is required. However, they usually don’t have optical disc drives or amplifiers and speakers. Of course, there are going to be exceptions to this definition but I think it covers the concept of music servers pretty well.
Music servers are basically central storage for your music collection, which can be easily accessed by pressing buttons on turning dials on the server or by remote control. The current trend is to use a tablet or smart phone app as the user interface. There are a lot of options when it comes to music servers…and the technology goes back further than you might think.
We could look back at music boxes or player pianos from the late 19th century for inspiration but a bona fide music server first appears in the early part of the 20th century with the invention of the jukebox. It took many years for the first machines to develop into the coin operated, vinyl disc-based, elaborate machines you may be familiar with at the local drive in eatery, but the concept is the same. You select a piece of music you want to hear by hitting a button or two and the machine cues up your selection or appends it to the end of a “playlist”. The vast majority of commercial jukeboxes were self-contained. The vinyl discs were all located in the device. These days Seeburg and other manufacturers of Jukeboxes have moved to digital files and networked delivery.
Portable Music Players
The arrival of the first handheld MP3-capable digital music player in 1997, was instrumental in launching the concept of music servers to music fans and inspired Steve Jobs to come up with and launch the iPod in the fall of 2001. But whereas previous attempts focused exclusively on the hardware (Diamond Rio, Creative Labs NOMAD and the Archos Jukebox), Apple was able to negotiate deals with the major record labels and setup a content delivery system as well. The world moved from trading and downloading illegal files via Napster to paying $.99 per tune…legally. Steve Jobs did it again.
But the sound quality left a lot to be desired.
An iPod, iPad, iPhone or any “i” device can be a music server. But they are not capable of playing high-resolution music files in any format. And iTunes, despite all of the fuss about “Mastered for iTunes” is not ready to launch a high-resolution digital music download site.
Enter Astell & Kern, Pono, Samsung, FiiO, ColorFly, Sony NWZ-F886 and a few others. These devices represent the next generation of PMP (portable music players)…ones that a ready for high-resolution files of various formats. They range in price from a few hundred dollars to almost $2500 and sport storage capacities from a 25 gigs to over 500 gigs. The huge popularity of the Pono Kickstarter campaigner demonstrates that there is tremendous interest in higher quality portable players.
Tomorrow, I’ll talk about dedicated home music servers from specialty manufacturers like Olive and mainstream companies like Sony.