“Music has Charms to soothe a savage Breast” William Congreve
‘The Beast’. An extraordinary name! It rolls off the tongue with a plosiveness, it summons images of Beowulf and other epic poems, and conjures up an image of substantial might. Shakespeare refers to a beast with two backs. But does the bite live up to the bark?
The Beast was conceived when Gerhardt Schneider, the Swiss manufacturer of Acustic Lab speakers, approached US company ReQuest (which builds Linux-based music servers) with the idea to build the ultimate high‑end server. Following the financial input of a private investor, ReQuest Switzerland AG was founded, which then bought its US partner. MSB joined the party and the Beast was born. It was designed in Bellach, near Bern with the express purpose of producing a best-of-breed animal, where money is no object.
The Belly of the Beast
The Beast is beautifully constructed. The case is aluminium, hewn from solid, there is a high-quality seven-inch touch-screen window that displays images of the ripped CD covers in miniature, and allows a useful amount of the server’s functionality to be accessed without using an iPad or PC as an interface. It is really convenient to have a touchscreen as a usable option even in our iPadded world, as this is not always the case with servers I have known. There is a slot at the front for easy CD ripping. Ripping takes around four minutes, and utilises the Gracenote database via a wired network connection at the back. While Gracenote is not entirely comprehensive for album artwork, its other metadata parameters seem to be nearly always correct. To activate the player from an iPad requires the server to be connected to a network. The iPad uses a web browser to access the player and not, as with most servers, an App. So after typing in an IP address, which can found through the touchscreen settings, you simply make an icon on the iPad of the web address to access the Beast remotely. The iPad interface gives the user most of the important functionality required to use the player for everyday use.
You can search by using the usual suspects, including ‘recently added’ and in fact the data have been organised to meet the hardest of asks, that is classical: search by artists, conductors, orchestra. A greater slice of functionality comes by using a PC to log on to the same IP address, whereupon you have the ability to do things like change artwork, and load files stored on a non‑NAS drive. This is in effect transferring files over your network, and is a great deal slower than uploading via USB. It took a couple of overnight sessions to upload some of my own high-resolution material to the player.
The Beast uses solid‑state hard drives; it comes with 0.96 TB or 1.92TB of on‑board storage and can cope with additional NAS drives. However, there is a claimed sonic advantage to using the internal drives, and ReQuest recommends these drives be used for high quality files, and the NAS additions for the lower quality material. The machine is virtually totally silent in operation as there are no moving parts contained within, save a small but silent fan. The Linux operating system has been written in‑house and works with quite a rapid boot‑up, and never once crashed on my watch.
The rear panel, as expected, has digital outputs in the form RCA, AES/EBU, BNC, Pro i2s, (a standard used by MSB), balanced and single-ended analogue outputs, and – perhaps surprisingly – analogue inputs, which may be useful to connect a turntable and a CD player. Equally surprisingly, the server doesn’t have any digital inputs, on the grounds of sound degradation rather than oversight. This makes life a bit more complicated if you don’t possess a high quality DAC, and you wish to play a digital source without transferring files.
There is scope for the addition of a high-quality clock, although as there are different versions of the Beast, the need for aftermarket reclocking becomes a touch academic. The ‘entry-level’ Beast requires the use of an external DAC, while the full package includes an MSB DAC and Galaxy Clock which has noise performance with a guaranteed jitter measurement (at the worse case) of less than 77 femtoseconds (0.077 picoseconds). Anyone who has played around with clocks and CD players, will know about the dramatic difference a good clock can make to the bass performance, soundstage and overall timing of the sound and this is no exception.
ReQuest has gone to enormous lengths to sort out the Beast’s power supplies. Power is re‑generated and is completely reconstructed. For the digital board, there are also temperature-stabilised supplies.
The Beast will play WAV or FLAC files up to 384KHz, and up to 32 bit, and all the current four formats of DSD. It will even stream video with the addition of an optional module, having the ability to rip and store DVD and Blu‑ray formats. It can be integrated into a home automation system, such as Crestron, AMX, Control4 etc, and has the ability to synchronise multiple iTunes accounts, as well as the ability to exchange information with other like-minded Beasts around the world over the Internet. Put simply, if it’s digital entertainment, The Beast takes it in its stride.