Features and the Personal Nature of Server Ergonomics
I would strongly advise prospective buyers to spend some significant time with a dealer before purchasing this or any other complex server or network system. The ergonomics of such systems are complex, and because ease of operation is a relatively personal matter, it’s important to consider and work through every feature you intend to use. This is only possible through a hands-on effort before you buy (although I hope Burmester will put its manuals on-line by the time you read this).
There are also three other general things you need to know about features of the MC151 (and servers in general).
First, sorting and storing your existing music collection can be time-consuming, and if you can get help, do so. Also, the MC151 is a fast downloader when it comes to storing digital downloads, but it’s a slow copier of CDs. (If you are patient by nature, this doesn’t matter.) However, the Burmester does a superb job with transferring slightly damaged CDs in its slower-loading mode—much better in this regard than my Sooloos and other servers I’ve used—although it had more trouble getting the album-cover data for CD-R copies.
Second, most popular and jazz digital recordings have useful metadata you don’t need to edit, although getting the cover art can be a problem. You also expect your music to be sorted by the artist or group, with his or its name establishing the alphabetical order first, and the album title being the second way to find them.
The metadata on any large classical library, however, can be a nightmare to catalog. They are sometimes filled with extraneous or erroneous material, or just missing. Composers are often listed by first name, and with a wide range of spellings. (Listened to much John Bach as a contemporary music artist recently?) Album titles cover only part of the music, don’t put the composer’s name first, sometimes don’t indicate the musical content at all, and use strings of metadata so long that key information does not show up in the limited display space on the server or on the readout of remote controls.
These problems in loading and cataloging classical music are at their worst with older recordings, but even many current ones don’t properly edit the title or composer, don’t indicate what music is actually on the recording, don’t bother to include the original recording data or to take advantage of the ability to store all of the album-cover and review information in the backup metadata.
And, incidentally, I have never found anyone who bothers on any album to show how it was originally recorded, with details about what equipment was used, how it was remastered or produced, and whether the claim that it is PC-hi-res or all-SACD is justified.
The Burmester MC151 relies largely on computer editing of a classical collection. It isn’t complex, and you can edit track names (not just titles and performer), which can be helpful when the metadata don’t properly name a given track. You may still need a dealer’s help, however. To get started you need to see what is involved and how well the system suits you.
Finally, virtually everyone ends up making playlists. The Burmester has its own approach, and you should see it demonstrated. I found it to be fine for jazz and popular, but a bit more difficult than the Sooloos for classical. Once again, ergonomics and user preferences are personal, so you may find just the opposite to be true.
I did mildly prefer the overall operating features on my Sooloos, but largely because I was far more familiar with them (and I have a version where you can do on-screen edits while loading a CD). I suspect any user new to both servers would find them identical, and a PC computer user even might find the Burmester to be better. I must say, the Burmester was far better than any separate computer-storage system, such as JRiver, that I’ve yet encountered.
I’ve tried a number of systems, and I also should note that the problems in using your computer as a server run deep. I do use JRiver—its sound quality is excellent, and I used it for some of the comparisons of the Burmester and other servers and players later in this review. It is a way to create a much cheaper and more effective server system.
By contrast, JRiver is typical of the systems I’ve tried to date in that it needs a massive overhaul to improve its ergonomics. It is reasonably functional as a playback system, but its queuing and playlist features are royal pains in the ass. Its setup is one of the least-intuitive and worst-written software packages I’ve encountered, compounded by the fact that the separately vended remote apps have equally obscure and over-complex set-up features. Once you know the way through the set-up jungle, JRiver is fine for basic playback. But damn, it’s like going back 20 years in ergonomics.
Some Other Notes on Features
The Burmester’s Internet radio feature works fine, but finding the right station for the first time can take a while as you sort by country, and find the station name.
The Burmester did a good job of finding the Oppo, PS Audio Bridge, JRiver, and the other server options I use, but ease of operation with large collections was mixed. I do wish you could easily sort by level of digital resolution.
The fact that the Burmester MC151 has a remote volume control does, as noted, allow it to be used directly with a power amp, and eliminating the preamp can slightly improve detail and transparency. I find, however, that many digital recordings require a slight tweaking of the balance control to present the soundstage at its best. Try this before you bypass a preamp. Dave Wilson once remarked that the balance control should be called a soundstage control, and he was right.
However, the crowning aspect of the Burmester MC151 is not its technology or features, but its sound quality. I recently had a competing server in that costs some $50,000. It has not yet made it to market, but sonically it fell distinctly short of the Burmester MC151, in spite of the fact that it costs twice as much.
Moreover, the Burmester was consistently able to get the best musical sound quality out of all of my CDs, downloads, and hi-res titles. It never favored any particular aspect of the sound over another—as in the kind of reproduction that produces unique “insights” into the music by emphasizing one aspect of the sound.