Let me begin with one central and perhaps overriding observation: One can debate the features and cost of the Burmester MC151, but not its sound quality. It is a truly outstanding digital player, one of the most musically exciting I’ve auditioned. It is superbly built, offers a wide range of features, and its iPad remote control option is well designed and highly functional.
Quite frankly, I don’t see how you could wrong with a properly set-up Burmester MC151 as a CD player, as a way to store any music collection under 2TB, as a portal to a streaming service or Internet radio, or as a means to play music off a USB stick or hard drive. Even in a world of ever-more-competitive digital players and servers, this one is truly outstanding. That said, I have a few caveats.
One major catch is the price: The Burmester MC151 costs $25,000, and not surprisingly there are cheaper competitive options. Another is its mix of features. This issue affects all digital music players and servers in a world of rapidly changing technology, where the evolving software for streaming services—and for storing and playing music, along with acquiring digital metadata—presents inevitable problems. The Burmester MC151, for instance, does not currently store SACD digital, and is limited to replaying 24-bit/192kHz files—this, in a world where raising bits and sampling rates beyond any conceivable technical rationale has become the equivalent of the horsepower race in cars.
As with any unit of its type, the Burmester MC151 does require careful setup, if you are going to take advantage of all of its features. Loading, cataloging, and sorting out the playback of a really large music library—particularly a classical library—present the same difficulties that come with any mix of downloads and CDs.
While I believe the MC151 is an outstanding product offering outstanding sound—and much more—for the purposes of this review, these initial challenges aren’t easily rationalized away, even in light of the superiority of its technology and features. Moreover, when I say it is an outstanding product, it is with full recognition that this is a luxury item at a luxury price.
First, let’s examine Burmester’s good and unusually objective summary of the technology in its MC151 Music Center:
“The MC151 Music Center has a fully DC-coupled signal path without capacitors, resulting in precise bass reproduction due to the nonexistence of phase shift in the audible range. The sophisticated analog output stages receive their signal from a reference-class converter section…Sampling rate for D/A conversion can be selected from either 24-bit/96kHz or 24-bit/192kHz, according to personal preference. An integrated slot drive is available to allow users to rip their CD collection in optimum quality. To ensure the safety of their valuable music files, the unit contains two mirrored hard drives (HDD), each with a capacity of at least 2TB. The first drive is used for storing a music library while the second stores the same information in parallel, to ensure that the files are secure, in the event that a hard drive becomes defective. The system drive is a Solid State Disc (SSD).
“The optionally selectable level control allows direct connection to a power amp and therefore enables users to use the unit without an extra preamp. The MC151 Music Center can be operated by front panel controls on the device itself, via a Web browser, and also by means of the custom-designed Burmester app via an iPad. Key functions are also controllable via the Burmester remote control. The music data on the server are also available to other UPnP players within the local network.
“Any album covers and title information not entered is automatically obtained by matching with the database. Since audio CD drives only have a forward error correction (FEC) of a few seconds, the data streams outputted by old or scratched CDs can suffer from dropouts during playback. If no appropriate countermeasures are applied, this can seriously impair enjoyment of the music. However, when a CD is ripped (and not simply played back in real time) it is possible to read the audio data several times over if necessary, until the data is completely recovered. In this way, the Burmester Music Center is able to process audio data in maximum resolution and quality, and to reconstruct a datastream free of the deficiencies described.”
You will notice there are no claims about some unique DAC circuitry, chip, or storage device, and for me, this is just as well. There are, however, several additional things you need to know about the Burmester’s technology before you invest in any unit this expensive and that, I feel, should be part of any modern music server’s arsenal.
Burmester provided the following answers in response to my written questions:
What are the limits to sampling rate and frequency for high-resolution storage and playback? Quite frankly, going above 96/24 seems problematic to me, but higher rates are being sold.
The maximum sampling rate for the MC151 (111) is 192kHz and 24 bits.
Can the unit store and play SACD downloads?
Currently the MC151 does not support SACD, but we have already started an internal discussion as to whether this is a requirement for one of the next firmware updates. If we decide to change any feature set of the MC151 (e.g. SACD), we can do it very easily.
Is it possible to back up the stored collection on a separate hard drive? The question applies to future equipment upgrades and to having a unit with a large music collection that is damaged or stolen.
Yes, of course. Just connect an external USB hard drive to the Music Center, and you can back up or completely restore your music data.
Can hard drives larger than 3TB be fitted? A really extensive music collection can require big drives, especially with high-resolution downloads.
Currently, the MC151 uses two 2TB hard drives to store the music data on a RAID 1 system. (With this configuration you have one 2TB HD for your music storage and one 2TB HD for your automatic backup.) The size is limited by the maximum available sizes of 2.5-inch HDs on the market. (It is also possible to include two 1TB SSDs—the maximum available size of SSDs on the market is currently 1TB.)
Is there any way to use a system like JRiver to play back the digital music I store on my Mac, or to play directly from an external hard drive, as well as from a USB stick?
You can use JRiver to play back the stored music on your Music Center; just search for the Burmester DLNA/UPnP server in your network. Currently you cannot push any music directly to your Music Center; this function is more intended for our network player. But we are also thinking about offering this feature in one of the next firmware updates for the Music Center. We do not distinguish between a USB stick or an external USB hard drive; you can play back your audio files from either one.
How do I delete the CDs I loaded to test that aspect of the unit’s operation?
If you want to delete or edit particular tracks or albums, you can do it directly from the WebUI of the Music Center. This function is not available within the Burmester MC app.