Blue Smoke's "The Black Box" Music Server Revealed

The touchscreen music server market has picked up a new face with the official release of Blue Smoke's "The Black Box". Demonstrated in prototype form at last year's CES, the final version is a sleek, um, black box with a single disc slot on the front and an array of connectors on the back. Retail is $6995 and should be hitting dealer shelves Q1 2009.

Inside the DC powered box is a custom tailored PC running Vista, which according to designer Peter Sills, is the best operating system for processing digital audio. Due to an array of heat sinks on either side of the box, there are no fans inside, which makes for dead quiet operation in the listening room. The Black Box also comes with a dedicated wireless keyboard.

Users need to purchase a touchscreen (the company was using a $500 15" Elo display in their demo), a DAC of their choice, and some NAS media drives for storge. Sills describes The Black Box as an open system which accomodates a wide variety of audio formats and sample rates. He personally recommends WMA Lossless and WavPack for best sound quality.

Sills says that the internal drive can rip any audio format from CD or DVD with sample rates up to 192kHz and 24 bits. I was able to use the touchscreen briefly and it appeared fairly responsive as I navigated through hundreds of albums sorted by artist, genre or title.

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Comments
Stephen Scharf's picture

What is the value propostion of this $7000 piece of kit, *without* a DAC, *without* a monitor, over using a a Mac Mini and iTunes as a music server streaming to a Transporter, which serves as wireless hub interface AND as a superb DAC, all of which you control graphically via your iPhone using iPeng?Uhh....I'm not gettin' it. $7000?? For...what, exactly? Really, the prices for this kind of stuff is getting ridiculous.

Martin van der Linden's picture

$7000 for a PC running vista? Not in 7000 years, inflation included! I wonder if this thing will ever hit the dealer' shelves...

Jon Iverson's picture

"What is the value proposition of this $7000 piece of kit?" The company is stressing the sound quality of the product - their aim is to optimize the components for audio use and remain an open system. I get your point - yes, we can all assemble a decent music server system for less than $2,000 - with a touch screen even. But in the audiophile world, once the function is covered, chasing sound quality isn't always cheap.

rgibran's picture

Damn, I just spit coffee all over the desktop! That Iverson is quite the comedian. Jon, will you be doing 12 pages on this one?

blu's picture

A further indication that the high end audio industry just doesn't get it. Fortunately the high tech industry will find lots of opportunity in this space and develop products that will come to market with a value proposition more acceptable to consumers. What could this thing cost to build, maybe $700? no DAC, no monitor, no hard drives, no thanks. Really, what were they thinking?

Jerry's picture

Martin and Stephen, IHMO most of the products that have been posted by Stereophile are DOA anyway in the present world wide depression. The companies can last a year or 2 if they are lucky.Jon, your reading audience is in full retreat on what they have to spend, the credit market has dried up and with housing values shrunken by 12-25% in many areas so that 2nd or 3rd mortgages that were often used to pay for chasing intrinsic value have dried up. Audiophile is only a intrinsic (perceived value) and not a necessity of survival. The only product that I have seen Stereophile post on are the Music Streamer and Music Streamer Plus, made in America and in a price range that might fit our household budget. Get ready for a heavy dose of reality. Most of these companies most likely will not be in their present for form next year. Intrinsic value is meaningless when you are worried about survival. See if you can get a copy of Brian Williams NBC Nightly News for last night on the show.

Frank's picture

I completely agree with the statements made by Stephen, as well as the other posters. It took the conventional high-end audio world about 40 years to perfect their insane pricing structure. These folks (Blue Smoke et al.) are determined to do it all at once. I take it that the "Black Box" contains a power supply, mother board, and processor (probably Intel, don't know which one.)That ain't worth 7 large.

mike's picture

Nasty and silly comments. Since one is welcome to LISTEN to it and see if it's worth the $, why the bitching? If it sounds great and is better than it's competition at $7000 (and most at the show report that it is), then it's worth it.

Ron's picture

Nasty and silly comments? More like head in the sand (Mike, that's yours, not the other people who have made comments). All they are asking is where the value is. I can't see where it is either (although I can see value in other similarly priced servers) and their website does not illuminate things. And BTW, that price, is for purchase DIRECT from Blue Smoke. Ouch!

Peter's picture

Let me see if I can jump in and clarify things a bit regarding The Black Box.First, The Black Box is a highly-specialized PC running Vista OS and designed for the high-end audiophile marketplace. In doing so we evaluated several OSes and determined that Vista was indeed the best choice for a true audiophile PC. For a good article on Vista and Audio Processing (http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=713073&highlight=).Second, in our specifications was to design a computer system with as low a Thermal Noise footprint and RF noise footprint as possible. The case is 100% silent and manufactured out of heavy duty aluminium with extreme heat dissipation.Third, the audio sub-system is our own design and is a DSP-based solution with hardware up-sampling and down-sampling on-board with SPDIF, TosLink, AES/EBU and now MSB-Link I/O. MSB-Link provides an extremely high-quality digital I/O interface without any of the problems inherent in SPDIF, using simple Ethernet for the connection.

Peter's picture

Continued - The Black Box was designed with the philosophy that if you think it might affect the sound, it probably does. A high-priority is given to the quality of the audio stream. It has been designed with our own audio sub-system, clean power (DC), low processor overhead, simplified I/O, streaming data (via ethernet), high-quality clocking/processing, etc.Also, The Black Box is sold direct and made in very, very small quantities compared to other music servers so that we can thoroughly test and configure them for our customers as well as provide the best support and installation possible. In the end we probably reject more than 25% of the components we receive as they do not live up to our requirements.The Black Box is not for everyone. Unless you have a system upon which you can hear the difference, then it is not for you. However, for those that have heard it, they are impressed.Since this is an audio product, I invite you to hear it, before passing judgement.Peter SillsBlue Smoke

Peter's picture

I would also be happy to answer any questions anyone might have.

Dave Page's picture

You can almost hear the business leaking away. Bottom line, an Ipod Touch and a Wadia dock will do as well for 1/10th the price with a more stable OS and no extra peripherals.It's not just Blue Smoke -- everyone is at it in the media server game: overpriced black boxes. I've been an audiophile for 25 years, but this just reeks of snake oil.When flash-based PMPs get up to 256GB and the likes of the Ipod Touch provide digital out on a cable rather than an Apple-handshaking dock (i.e., about 12-18 months off), then I think we'll see all these servers swept away...

BluOz's picture

This is a typical product made for the "Audiophile" at 5 to 10 what they should be asking for. If Henry Ford had the greedy attitude these people have we wouldn't have had an automotive industry. Hopefully this is the end time for these parasites, they will have to go out and get a real job and see how long it takes to get the money together to live in the real world. We all don't earn chief executive salaries you know.

tonyE's picture

ROTFLOL....What we need is a well priced DAC/ADC with an USB/Firewire link. Forget selling the computer since that's a commodity item.I've been building my own media servers ( both audio and HT ) for years and I can recommend M-Audio and stuff like that.7000 bucks for this... ROTFLOL... good luck selling that. Even with the nice case this ain't worth more than 1200. Forget Vista and go to Linux or even XP and then you can possibly sell it for 1400.

Dave Page's picture

Ah, the editing of these comments tells you all you need to know. My previous comment here has been 'moderated' because it questioned the wisdom of an optimistically-priced desktop computer posing as a piece of audiophile kit (with the price to match).Justify it all you like Peter, the sooner this sort of speculative and predatory practise is pushed out by market forces, the better...

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