Wolf Audio Systems Alpha 3 SX music server

I am a Sharpener. I can acknowledge being a Sharpener—someone who, as explained by Stereophile reviewer/psychology professor Robert Deutsch in our March 2009 issue, tends to look for and exaggerate differences—without feeling a need to enter a 12-step program or confess to a crime. That’s because there’s nothing wrong with being a Sharpener.

Being a Sharpener does affect how I’ve set up my reference system and how I approach components under review. What some may consider a needlessly complicated, overly expensive system, I’ve found essential for distinguishing subtle differences. To help ensure that my conclusions are fair, everything from cabling to equipment supports remains identical from one review to the next, except of course the component under review. Save for the times when I say “eff it all,” turn off my critical mind, and sit back to enjoy, my nature as a Sharpener colors everything I contribute to this magazine. That’s something readers have a right to know.

Why do I say this at the beginning of a review of the Wolf Audio Systems Alpha 3 SX audio server ($9295 base price with 2TB SSD, or $9895 as auditioned, with optional Flux Capacitor USB clock card)? Because as I went back and forth between the Alpha 3 SX and my reference Roon Nucleus +, I was aware of focusing on details that would be of minimal importance to many others, or even inaudible in some systems. As you read, please keep in mind that, once I had more or less figured out how to operate the Alpha 3 SX—a complex component whose Linux-based operating system is quite different than this confirmed Apple user’s reference—I really enjoyed what I was hearing.

What is it?
I’ve developed an aversion to using Swiss army knife analogies, and yet, here I go: The Wolf Alpha 3 SX is similarly versatile, albeit less potentially dangerous. It stores and plays back music, rips the contents of CDs to its internal drive, and includes a TEAC Blu-ray transport that can play DVDs—both video and audio—as well as Blu-ray discs. The Alpha 3 SX handles many formats, including WAV, AIFF, FLAC, ALAC, AAC, M4A, MP3, OGG, DSF, DFF, DXD, SACD ISO, and MQA. It can decode PCM up to 32-bit/1536kHz, DSD up to DSD1024 (either Native or DoP), and it does multichannel DSD up to DSD256.

The Wolf Alpha 3 SX works with your choice of music-playback software, including (but not limited to) JRiver, Roon, Audirvana, or Amarra. Because those applications integrate various streaming services—some or all of Tidal, Qobuz, Google Music HD, Spotify, Deezer, etc.—it can stream music as well. The server’s front panel is home to an on/off button, a Wolf logo, and a thin disc slot that, from a distance, looks like just a black horizontal line. (Apparently I’m not the only human who at first mistook the disc transport for a design element intended to make the server’s plain front appear more interesting.)


On the rear panel sit, amongst other things, one network port (Ethernet), two HDMI ports, four USB-3 ports (two of which pass data through the optional clock card), and lots more. I can’t detail them all because, during the review period, neither a manual nor online photos of the rear panel were available. (Once installed in my system, the back of the Wolf was not accessible.) In their stead, I received a Red Wolf 2 manual, which I promptly abandoned after discovering how different its rear panel looks. Hopefully, by publication time, a manual and photos will be available.

Lacking documentation, I was dependent upon the assistance of Wolf co-founder Joe Parvey, who often used TeamViewer to log into and monitor my server. We communicated a lot by phone, email, and text. I’m told that Wolf, which incorporated in 2015, has five people devoted to technical support, and that timely assistance such as I received should be available to all Wolf owners.

Wolf servers run WolfOS, a Linux-based operating system the company introduced at the 2019 Capital Audiofest. Before that, Wolf used a Windows-based version. I’m barely treading water when it comes to explaining such things, so it’s best to quote Joe, who co-founded Wolf in Florida with fellow “technologist and audiophile” Fred Parvey, Joe’s dad:

“We have designed a custom kernel, the back end or core of the OS, to offer the lowest latency possible, as well as keep the audio processes of the system carefully isolated and separate from the rest of the server. This allows a Wolf server to work as closely and seamlessly with DACs as possible and provides users with the ability to add on applications as they are needed or become available.

“In my opinion, the OS that runs all the apps is as important as the apps themselves, because how it is run and configured is absolutely critical to good sound. Our extremely low latency WolfOS is absolutely tuned for audio and has a big impact on sound quality.”

The Wolf Alpha 3 SX is a one-piece unit, but Joe feels that “its full potential can be unlocked with a monitor and keyboard, which is especially useful for downloading video.” Joe sent, with the server, a remote control receiver that can be used with an Apple Remote or a home automation remote—I didn’t use it—and a keyboard ($225), as well as a 22″ Planar touchscreen monitor ($350 with 25′ cables).


Another Alpha 3 SX option, which I also used, is the Flux Capacitor USB clock card ($600), which reclocks the audio signal prior to sending it to your DAC via USB. Yet another Wolf-provided upgrade is to one of three Audience power cords ($200–$1310). “We were very lucky to meet some great people in the industry who helped answer my questions and explain things that I didn’t quite understand,” Joe said when he visited to set up the Alpha 3 SX. “Those people include John McDonald and Lenny Mayeux of Audience. When Wolf first began, we played with linear power, dismissed the commercially available linear power systems, and decided to make our own. Then, when we switched to using Audience copper internally, we had this huge bump in sound quality. It was a collision of circumstance and really good people that helped us start Wolf Audio Systems.”

I did not explore the power cord option, which would have added another variable to the review. Instead, I stuck to my reference Nordost Odin 2 power cables. The Alpha 3 SX has Wolf’s most powerful processor, largest amount of RAM, and best, fastest, and largest system drive. Case treatment, power supply, and quality of copper wiring also distinguish the 3 SX from the basic 3. Joe Parvey insists that the Alpha 3 SX is a “big upgrade over the standard Alpha 3,” which uses an i5 processor, 8GB RAM, and a 250GB SSD for the operating system and a 2TB SSD for music storage. The SX ups that to an i7 processor, 32GB RAM, a 1TB system drive that runs at 3.5GB per second, and a choice of SSD music storage, currently topping out at 12TB. “Pairing the right RAM with the right motherboard and processor is very important,” Joe said. “We spend a lot of time doing arduous listening and parts matching in every Red Wolf 2 and Alpha 3 SX server.”


The “SX” in Alpha 3 SX stands for “Stillpoint/eXemplar Audio” and refers to grounding, vibration management, and RF/EMI rejection technology designed by those two companies. “The Alpha 3 SX contains roughly $2000 worth of Stillpoints, eXemplar, and Wolf technology that take the Alpha line to the nth degree,” Joe said. Wolf intends to upgrade the company’s flagship server, the two-chassis Red Wolf 2, to both Red Wolf 3 and Red Wolf 3 SX status by the end of 2020 because Joe considers the Stillpoints and eXemplar Audio additions major improvements.


“The 3 SX includes new, patent-pending grounding technology that was jointly developed by Wolf, Stillpoints, and eXemplar,” he said. “It sits directly on the hot, neutral, and ground lines of the incoming power and pulls MHz- and GHz-spectrum noise off the power lines before it reaches critical components. It also contains the same Stillpoints standoffs inside every Stillpoint Ultra Mini filter. That technology, which consists of two pieces of metal separated by a pocket that holds ceramic bearings, is used to hold up the server’s critical internal components. Imagine each internal component supported by four Stillpoints Ultra Mini feet.”

By publication time, Wolf anticipates an additional optional upgrade that will replace the unit’s stock feet with either three or four Stillpoints Ultra Mini or Ultra SS filters. Cost varies from three Ultra Minis ($375) to four Ultra SS filters ($1000). While screw-on Ultras weren’t available during the review period, I tested their efficacy by using three and then four of the Stillpoints Ultra SS filters that I had on hand. The only difference between Ultra SS and the Ultra Mini is the size of the bearings.

Setup, software, setbacks
I placed the Wolf Alpha 3 SX on one of the two top shelves of my double Grand Prix Audio Monza rack; on the other sat the comparison server, Roon’s Nucleus + ($2499), which was powered by an HDPlex 4-unit linear power supply ($485) I use in place of the Nucleus +’s switch-mode power supply (footnote 1). All three units were supported, initially, by Grand Prix Audio Apex feet and connected to Nordost Odin 2 power cables. A Nordost Valhalla 2 USB cable connected the servers to either the dCS Rossini DAC or EMM Labs DV2 DAC; I switched between them. A Wireworld Platinum Starlight Ethernet cable hooked the components up to the network.

Moving back and forth between servers involved a simple switch of three cables and devoting up to five minutes to rebooting servers and apps. When using Roon with the Alpha 3 SX, I sometimes needed to reboot again after I’d take a break for the night. After restarting, everything worked fine, most of the time.

During Joe’s visit, we attached a 22″ Planar touchscreen monitor to the Wolf via HDMI and positioned it next to me. The monitor kept going blank and then returning every time Joe tried to do something. Since he was loading my music onto the server and working with code, this proved frustrating. A replacement monitor worked far better, but its touchscreen needed far more pressure and more repeated poking than my Apple touchscreens require. Touchscreen-typing into “Search” proved frustrating, so I frequently resorted to the wireless keyboard Joe provided.

Footnote 1: See my discussion of the sound in the April issue’s review of the Innuos Statement music server.

NEXT: Page 2 »


Wolf Audio Systems

3110 Beach Blvd.

Jacksonville, FL 32207




Page 1
Page 2
Associated Equipment

Click Here: Espresso Drinks Forever Stamps 2021

Leave a Reply