SGR Audio launched the new MusicKube Digital Playback System at the Melbourne AV Show. We caught up with Stuart Ralston there for the nitty gritty on this fascinating piece of genuinely Australian kit.
Edgar Kramer: Can you tell us about the latest product from SGR Audio the MusicKube?
Stuart Ralston: We’ve been developing the MusicKube for four years now from the ground up. It’s a hardware and software solution with a complete software package designed and developed in-house. The operating system is a very streamlined version of Linux. We cut out everything that is not needed as best we could to purely play back high resolution audio files – bit perfect.
The software application was designed by us from scratch as well, and it’s controlled via a Wi-Fi network using a phone, tablet, PC, any smart device. There’s no App or download required, you just need a browser.
The best part of the system is that it accesses our metadata database which we’ve created from scratch. There’s no third party software on board so we’re in complete control of every part of the design.
EK: How compatible is it with all the different variety of formats?
SR: It can play back every format known to man at every resolution including double DSD.
EK: You mentioned developing your own metadata software.
SR: It’s called Audible DNA and it’s our own metadata database that we’ve created. As far as I know, it’s the only database that can accurately map the entire world’s music including the classical genre. We can draw relationships between any entity and how they’re involved in the music. Over time, as we build up the database, we’ll be able to visualise the entire world’s music catalogue.
EK: So how comprehensive is the database right now, at the release of the MusicKube?
SR: It’s growing every day. The best part about it is that we’re in full control of the data. There are a lot of products on the market but sometimes the user goes to rip a CD and it’s identified incorrectly or there’s a spelling mistake or it’s not in the format that it should be. We’re in full control over that. So if we make changes on the server side of things, over the internet, it will automatically update your local copy on your MusicKube and as time goes on we’ll perfect that and you’ll end up with perfect metadata.
EK: I take it the MusicKube is firmware upgradeable via the internet too?
SR: Firmware upgrades are automatically updateable via our servers with free updates for life. So every couple of weeks or once a month when we release firmware updates people will wake up the next morning and they’re now on the next version. And they also get new features. We also provide a back up service. Everyone is worried about losing thousands of files and CD rips if their hard drive dies, well we provide Cloud storage. Again, it’s seamless to the user and it updates on the Cloud. If the hard drive dies or anything happens all they need is their user ID and they can replicate and recover their data base instantly by downloading it.
EK: Is there a storage limit?
SR: No storage limit but there’s a small monthly charge to pay for all the services. It’ll be around $20 per month.
EK: The unit itself is a modular approach…
SR: Yes, the production model is a modular design. The first box is the digital transport and actual server, the second box is the CD-ROM drive, for reading and ripping your music, and lastly the third box is an analogue toroidal power supply which is an upgrade. Out of the box the unit will work with its switch mode power supply but the analogue power supply is an upgrade in performance.
EK: What will be the pricing for the items?
SR: The MusicKube itself will be $3000. When you add the drive and the analogue power supply to make the cube formation you’re looking at an $8000 package.
EK: Does the MusicKube stream music?
SR: No it doesn’t stream it plays from internal storage and it comes with a standard 1TB of solid state storage. In the entire design there are no moving parts, no fans so it’s passively cooled. You can upgrade to 2TB. I believe it’s the most powerful device of its kind in the smallest form factor. It has a Quad-Core processor with 16GB of RAM, that’s more RAM than most desktop PCs so it can play the largest DSD files.
As far as capacity, as I said, you can expand to 2TB but if in the future bigger drives come out in the same physical size, because the design is modular, we can simply pull out the old one and insert the new one. You can of course also expand your storage via a NAS drive.
EK: I see the unit has a HDMI input?
SR: Yes, it has because it can play back surround sound in the DTS and Dolby Digital formats. There is some music out there available in surround sound formats so if you have a multichannel system the MusicKube can play that in up to seven channels.
EK: The chassis is quite unusual and solidly assembled. Where is it made?
SR: We make the chassis in-house as is the entire product. The chassis is machined out of a solid billet of aluminium. It’s an expensive way to do it but it’s very accurate and pretty cool.
EK: What else is SGR Audio working on?
SR: We are working on some new speakers including some passive designs; many will be pleased to know. In fact, passive, semi active and fully active. There should be five new speakers coming out but it’s at least 12 months away.
EK: The passive speakers are obviously catering to strong demand?
SR: Yes, because we’re entering some overseas markets where we’re getting a lot of interest. That’s what seems to be the demand, passives, and we’ve always been able to do it, it’s just that we’ve concentrated on the active designs. I think it’s time to do both now.
EK: So what are the overseas markets?
SR: At the moment we’re sending containers to America which is our biggest market. We’re also attacking Asia as much as we can with Hong Kong just about to come on board. We’re also demonstrating at the Singapore Show and we’ll go from there but there’s certainly plenty of interest… almost hard to keep up.
EK: It’s good to hear of an Australian company making great products and meeting with success overseas.
SR: Australian products have a great reputation overseas. We have a reputation for attention to detail and specifically with our products I think we fly that flag well.
EK: Can I ask who the US distributor is?
SR: Funnily enough he’s a guy from Sydney, an existing customer who loves our product. He happened to move to the United States and set-up a company called Amplified By Audio and he’s kicking goals over there. We’ll be demonstrating at CES in 2015 and partnering with MSB.