When a music lover of the audiophile persuasion decides to take the plunge into computer audio and organize a large collection of recordings, he chooses one of two basic approaches. The first is the “roll-your-own” method: Dedicate a computer (or part of one) to storing music files and get ripping/tagging/playback software such as JRiver, Media Monkey, MusiCHI, Foobar, MusicBee, or a host of others. This is clearly the economical course, even if the music lover decides to get a brand-new music-only computer. But there are hidden expenses and potential complications. Assuming that he’ll be employing lossless formats and that there are a sizable number of high-resolution downloads in his collection, he’ll probably need to purchase supplemental storage.
And he won’t want to use the stock sound card in his new computer for D-to-A conversion. An audiophile-grade sound card or, more likely, a USB DAC or some other conduit to his processor’s converters will give superior sonic results.
The other tack is to buy a music server, a traditional audio component that packages hardware and software in one box. Theoretically, this method will be less trouble for the poor soul who just wants to listen to music rather than hone his IT skills. Olive, Meridian, Sonore—you know the names.
The 3beez Wax Music Management System represents the second approach, and it’s worthy of close consideration by anyone at all anxious about the leap into the breach. 3beez (as in the three B’s—Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms) is the current project of electronics industry veteran Jeffrey Barish. Barish is an MIT-trained electrical engineer who also had success as an architectural acoustician. His first job was at Fairchild Semiconductor designing integrated-circuit preamps and power amps; he also worked at Sound Technology, famous for a widely used distortion analyzer. Before 3beez, he founded and led another start-up, EuPhonics, that specialized in applications of computer technology to audio and electronic music. Barish comes by his audio design skills honestly: His father started NAD.
Jeffrey Barish is a record collector with broad interests who had been considering a music organization system even before the introduction of Apple’s epochal platform. “To the best of my knowledge, iTunes didn’t exist when I began thinking about this,” Barish told me. “Because of my computer background, I started planning a ‘home project’ that would realize the vision I had for a system that I, myself, wanted. It took some time before I was able to start working on it and by that time, iTunes did exist, though I made a conscious decision to ignore it. I wanted to come up with something that was ideal for my needs and I didn’t want to be prejudiced by what others had done. As the system developed, I began to show it to friends, all of whom reacted along the lines of ‘I want one for my own system!’ So I started thinking about the possibly of commercial application.”
A distinction should be made between Wax, which is Barish’s proprietary music-organizing software and the Wax Box, which is the commercial product in which that software is available. Together, they comprise the Wax Music Management System. You cannot purchase the Wax software “engine” separately. “It’s conceivable that someday I’ll have a software-only product, but I don’t have it today largely because of issues of support. 3beez is not a large enough company to support a software-only product. Another reason is that my thinking in developing this product was that I wanted to offer something that was as close to turnkey as possible. That is, a user should be able to take the product out of the box, connect it easily to an audio system, and use it. There is no software to install or additional components to connect. There aren’t any more purchase decisions to make.”
The Wax Box is a compact component, built into a standard computer enclosure measuring 13.4" x 12.6" x 2.7". The case is so loaded to the gills there isn’t room for a pair of standard RCA outputs, and you’ll need a 3.5mm mini-plug-to-RCA cable if you want analog output from the Wax Box. The device’s CPU does generate heat and to avoid the need for a cooling fan and the noise issues that would entail, Barish employs passive cooling. His product has the expected fins on its enclosure but also a series of six copper pipes that transfer heat from the CPU’s environment to the outside world. The DACs installed in the Wax Box are Realtek ALC892s. While they do support sample rates up to 192kHz, Barish freely admits that they don’t provide “audiophile-level performance”—and wonders if that goal is actually realistic in a server. “Putting a DAC inside a box that is essentially a computer makes it difficult to provide good sound quality because there is a lot of electrical noise. You really want to have the DACs in a separate box. It’s an argument that I don’t want to have, so I’ve provided options. If you’re happy with the sound, great. Just use the analog output. If not, connect a USB DAC.” Which is what I did, more or less. I connected the Wax Box from one of its six USB outputs via a Halide Bridge to my Anthem Statement D2v processor to employ the better DACs in that excellent component.