ReQuest Audio The Raptor music server

Music servers and computer audio
ReQuest Audio The Raptor

We’ve hardly scratched the surface of this full media server, available either as digital only or with a built-in DAC. Suffice it to say, the Raptor is more than just the ‘lite’ version of the Beast! That being said, the most obvious difference between the Beast and the Raptor is the removal of the huge touch screen in the front of the Beast. That, in and of itself, added quite a burden to the project, as trying to shield the electronics from the display without sacrificing performance proved an almighty feat. By removing the activities of the Beast’s front panel to a tablet effectively means more than just a thinner case. Despite this, ReQuest has still gone to enormous lengths to sort out the Raptor’s power supplies. Power is re‑generated and is completely reconstructed. For the digital board, there are also temperature-stabilised supplies. In other words, even though the power supplies don’t need to be quite as over-the-top as the Beast, the company has applied the skill-set developed in making that cost no object music server and applied those technologies and techniques here.

In case of difficulties, ReQuest offers an online support system called ARQ Link, whereby a technician can sort out a problem remotely. This level of service is incredibly useful, particularly at the early stages of Raptorhood, and is what I’d expect from a product at this price range.

We looked at The Beast back in 2015 (in Issue 122 to be exact) and a lot has changed in the past five years. Music servers have improved considerably, and the understanding in network infrastructure and use of apps has suffused through the audio world to a far greater extent that it had five years ago. So, you’d think the ReQuest products might face a tougher challenge.

Incredibly, what held then still holds today. The Raptor captures that same ‘musical gravitas’ the Beast provided (and still provides). There is a sense of scale and majesty to the sound that is best – but not uniquely – highlighted in the classical domain. On large, sweeping orchestral pieces or powerful operatic arias, the Raptor holds a sense of scale and drama that is a mark of the very best. It’s not one of my ‘go to’ albums today, but Panufnik’s Sinfonia Votiva [Seiji Ozawa, Boston SO, Hyperion] is a perfect example of just how good the Raptor is at parsing orchestral gravitas. Part of the reason this isn’t a ‘go to’ album is it sounds like a bit of a car-crash when streamed. The second movement in particular (written in 1981 to celebrate the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s 100th year) is a dense, angular, and spiky piece of modern classical, that is conveyed here as it should be conveyed.

That’s no easy task; streaming systems tend to either make this sound like demolition set to music, or smooth over the dynamic passages. Instead, the Raptor takes the road less travelled of actually portraying the music as it is supposed to sound, without burnishing or sharpening the edges. It’s still a challenging listen, but this time because the music rather than the noise it makes.

This might make people think the benefits of the Raptor only really apply to the more gnarled and harder end of the musical spectrum, whereas this is simply the most obvious example. Moving to more audiophile fare – the title track from Blue Maqams by Anouar Brahem [ECM] – once again the quality of the performance shines through. You get more of a sense of musical performance, of musicians riffing off one another, and that lithe and natural sound that is usually identified with the best in digital and good analogue audio. This music is all about the nuances, the interplay between musicians, and the result is an almost raga-like hypnotic glide through an East-meets-West jazz riff. Get it wrong – and many servers can get it very wrong – and it’s bland aural wallpaper (when we could go to restaurants, it sounds like the sort of music a Lebanese restaurant might play when trying to relax people because they just ran out of falafel). Here, however, the interplay between Brahem’s oud and Django Bates piano is perfectly rendered.

Some of this perfect rendering is down to its soundstaging abilities. The quartet is well-spaced within a stable and expansive soundstage that gives one the feeling of being in the midst of the music. But more importantly, it’s the timing and phrasing that captivates you. This too is not unique to well-recorded audiophile fare; ‘Pentacostal’ from Mark Lanegan and Duke Garwood’s 2013 CD Black Pudding [Heavenly] has a very lo-fi vibe (the guitar part is very close mic’d while the vocal sounds as if it’s recorded in a bathroom), but even here the Raptor gets past the recording and under the skin of the music. It’s fine blues in its own right, but played well, the diction breaks free of the recording and that lets the darkness of the track out perfectly.

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