A number of readers have asked about building their music servers around a laptop; not a bad idea at all and one many choose. And you might think the fact a laptop can run on batteries, thus isolating it from the power grid, would be a good thing, I am here to tell you it is the opposite.
One of the more startling discoveries my friend Arnie Nudell made and demonstrated to me recently was what happens to sound quality when the laptop is running on battery power. To say I was surprised is putting it mildly.
Listening to the San Francisco Symphony’s fabulous recording of the Mahler 3d, released on Blue Coast, as well as a Holly Cole disc, the startling loss of bass when running on battery power was truly unnerving. Unnerving because while I, among all people, should never be surprised when power makes a difference in audio equipment, this audio equipment is supplying only bits. One could make the same claim about any source, such as a CD player or transport and power quality, but for some reason the idea of a laptop running on batteries or power supply making this dramatic a difference was just unsettling to me.
If you have decided on a laptop for your server, make sure you repeat the experiment I just described, listening with AC power and without. Let us know what you find.