First, don’t even think about buying one of the major brands of “ordinary” computers for your audiophile and videophile needs. We differ from these machines in the following ways:
1) No factory-produced computer, no matter the size or expense, is built with fans that are large enough to handle the heat of ripping a blu-ray disc, yet quiet enough to NOT be heard at the listening position. Our noise measurements are made at 1 meter from the machine. When you are listening to a small ensemble play music with silent pauses throughout the piece (such as by a jazz pianist), the noise of a regular computer, even fairly silent laptops, will drive you crazy. No factory-produced computer maker is willing to put in the long hours and architectural complexity associated with milling special fans to fit into small computer cases. Meanwhile, even the largest cases have factory fans that are VERY noisy.
2) No factory-produced computer of any brand offers perfect bit-streaming via a spring-loaded coaxial Sony-Phillips Digital Interface (“S/PDIF”) in BNC configuration. This connection is standard on DACs costing under $1000 but cannot be found on computers -- Windows or Apple machines -- at any price. A good DAC is so sensitive that a standard coaxial RCA output will cause the music to “jump” if you step on the floor near the equipment rack. And many audiophiles believe that a BNC coaxial output is better sounding than a fiber-optic output. Also unlike major-brand computers, our S/PDIF BNC coaxial output has its own dedicated header on the motherboard. Other computers have the S/PDIF coaxial output and the opitical (Toslink) output sharing a header. Either way, build quality matters.
3) Very few factory-produced computers have Solid-State Hard Drives. A 128G SSD on such a computer drives up the price by about $300 or more, while most models do not even offer such an option when you go to the Dell or HP website. As a practical matter, you can’t buy a Windows or Apple machine with such a hard drive for less than about $1600 list price. So, our audiophile/videophile machines are not expensive when measured this way.
But why do you need a large SSD? Because ripping a blu-ray concert is a complex process, requiring special but inexpensive software. The process of copying the blu-ray disc can result in errors if the copy is made to an ordinary spinning hard drive. Only copying to an SSD will ensure highest audio/video quality. After copying, you transfer the file (which can be 30G or more in size!) to an external USB drive. The external drive is as fast as most internal drives, but can be changed out if they fail, for a smaller price and more quickly. All drives can fail, by the way, so be sure to have individual USB drives backing up your precious audio and video content, or use a large network server as backup to the faster individual USB drives.
4) No Apple computer can even be configured to be audiophile quality, without paying for Amarra software that plugs into the iTunes audio and video file management system. This price itself is not the problem. Apple machines are NOT designed to work with 3rd party equipment. Therefore, the only way to get music out of an Apple into a DAC sitting next to it, is via the USB or Firewire port on the Apple. Before the music even gets to the DAC, the USB signal is converted to SPDIF before the DAC converts the signal to analogue form. USB to SPDIF converters cost about $600 or more, or are part of the DAC, driving up its price, or lowering its quality for a given price. More importantly, any additional step in the process of going from the FLAC or ALAC file residing on the computer, on its way to the digital-to-analogue conversion process, can downgrade audio quality. Simpler is better. Windows machines allow us to utilize a perfectly bit-streamed S/PDIF output without the USB to SPDIF conversion.
There are two types of such machines (not counting Apple-based machines with Amarra software and USB or Firewire outputs):
A. Completely passive machines with no fans or moving hard drives.
1. These machines are made generally for 2-channel applications for stereophiles. Since cooling fans are not included, the machines, in our view, should not be used to rip and play blu-ray discs and are not intended for that purpose. Also, these computers typically do not handle multi-channel music.
2. None of these machines, so far as we know, come with full telephone support for both the operating system and the crucial JRiver media software.
3. Some of these machines have separate sound cards that are very high quality but are, nonetheless, attached to PCI slots on the motherboard. The separate sound card uses additional electronics that a) generates more heat and b) can degrade sound quality, in our view.
4. However, If you are a 2-channel audiophile with no desire for blu-ray (converted to 2-channel via DSP), and if you desire to have an AES/BSU output from the computer, you should consider one of these computers. We think by-passing the extra sound card and using a BNC-S/PDIF output sounds better, but you might try to demo both types of computer before buying. In our tests, the SPDIF connection directly off the motherboard, with its own isolation transformer, beats the AES output off of a separate sound card. Finally, someday you might incorporate your 2-channel system within a Home Theater. Then you will become addicted to blu-ray concerts of the very highest audio quality, while watching the orchestra play in 1080p video. Unfortunately, the sound quality is so good that you can still hear those people who insist on coughing between movements (as if you are sitting next to them).
B. Other makers of Windows-based, non-passive media computers that have full HTPC capabilities?
1. There are only a few such companies, but NONE that have all of our features and capabilities. These companies are focused on Home Theater in the “mid-fi” end of things. Their clients are mainly HTPC owners, not 2-channel audiophiles or highest-end HTPC owners with $8000+ pre/pros. There are a few important differences between HTPC machines, even those designated as audiophile, and the Baetis machine:
a) Our units have coax SPDIF BNC connectors in addition to the HDMI, optical, and coax RCA SPDIF connectors. The BNC connection has benefits to the audiophile even if the audiophile has only a coaxial RCA connection on his/her expensive DAC:
i. The BNC connection is spring-loaded, thereby eliminating the possibility that stomping a foot near the computer will cause the music to jump. Today’s high-end DACs are VERY sensitive.
ii. The BNC connection has its own dedicated header on the motherboard, while the RCA connection often shares a header with the optical output. Optical SPDIF outputs have been proven to be less accurate than RCA SPDIF outputs, but the RCA SPDIF output on the motherboard must share its header with the (not to be used) optical output.
iii. Our BNC-SPDIF output has its own galvanic isolation transformer as well as treatment with EMI-reduction material.
b) Our units don’t have internal spinning hard drives for quietest operation and easier change-out if a drive fails. We no longer will even build an internal-drive machine due to the cost of changing out a drive when it fails. The USB 3.0 ports will run very fast drives built especially for USB3.0, and the internal Solid State Drive is very fast and very accurate. We are also insistent that the right kind of external drives be used on our machines. Some drives commonly in use will sometimes “disappear” from Windows Explorer – the operating system simply can’t recognize the drive the next time you boot the computer. Other external drives work well but do not meet our standards of "silent".
c) Our units come with a year’s worth of telephone software support, 2 years of hardware warranty, and with pre-loaded and configured JRiver MC17 software.
d) We update and upgrade our operating manuals with frequency – these manuals often make the difference between buying and keeping up to date the JRiver software yourself, or going through the high-end dealer and having him do the updating and the education process. Moreover, only Baetis customers can obtain these continuously improved manuals. We also e-mail our clients when something changes with regard to the optimal performance of the JRiver media software.
e) Our audiophile units are smaller for fitting into today’s compact 2-channel set-ups, or fitting into HTPC setups with both a multi-channel pre/pro AND a 2-channel DAC for the right-left speakers.
f) We now employ a proprietary process to connect the heat-sink to the motherboard. This process eliminates the Dead-on-Arrival (DOA) occurrences that plague some HTPC computers.
g) Our audiophile units have special digital noise filters connected to the internal SSD. This feature is found ONLY in the highest-end MUSIC servers that don't have our blu-ray capabilities.
Please read our PDF review of these major brands – “Why buy a Windows-based Media Computer.” There is simply no comparison, before you even take price into consideration.