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Audiophile-grade music server?

 

New member
Username: Stuermer

Post Number: 8
Registered: Oct-04
Im sure many of you have the same problem as I do: tons of great music (over 1000 CDs) and managing all the media is becoming a real hassle. With such cheap disk storage these days and such ridiculous cost in buying off-the-shelf music servers, I can't help but wonder "can't I just build one of these myself?"

The problem I have is: how can I get the same sound quality I currently enjoy with CDs? It seems to me that the simplest answer is to get those lossless data streams straight into my pre/pro and take advantage of the money I have invested in its DACs (and amps/kimber/speakers/etc). That way I dont have to worry about interference, noise, losses, etc. in a computer optimized for word processing rather than sound reproduction. If I store a lossless format, theoretically I can achieve the same quality as running the digital output of my CD player into my pre/pro - right?

My hope is to build a music server using lossless formats from CDs (e.g. FLAC or WAV), catalog all the content, and "surf" my collection. Then put all the CDs in my basement and earn HUGE points with my wife (points I frankly already spent hanging large surrounds in the new family room).

How can I do this? The only tool I have seen is the c300 player from 3DCO (http://cd3o.com), which has a S/PDIF output (for $199!!!). Anyone have experience with this kind of stuff? Does the theory of digital reproduction actually work in real life? Almost as importantly, is there a tool with a simple user interface to easily sort thru the terabytes of data I will be stuffing onto hard drives?
 

Mignon
Unregistered guest
The UI could be better (a new 1.6 version is reportedly in the works), but Roku's HD-1000 combined with a NAS drive offers a very simple solution. My home is networked 100 base T, so I keep a Buffalo LinkStation 300 GB drive in another room, store my CDs on that as WAV files, and read them from the silent Roku in my living room, output SPDIF to a McIntosh pre/pro. The sound quality is fantastic, and my wife surfs around our music collection on our TV screen all day. Highly recommended.
 

Bronze Member
Username: Stuermer

Post Number: 15
Registered: Oct-04
Hmm, ill have to try that. Thanks Mignon.

An update: I picked up a DLink DSM-320 Wireless Media Player two days ago (200 bones at BestBuy) as an experiment, and it doesnt seem to want to play my lossless files (but it works on most others). I'm using a 802.11G wireless network (with 64bit WEP encryption) to feed it music from a Dell laptop with 80GB HD, maybe I should try running CAT-5 to see if it works better.

The UI is not so great on this thing either. It is clearly going to get cumbersome when I get over about 15-20 CDs into the library (I plan to put 100 times that into the library).

I also have trouble getting it to start up; sometimes I have to unplug it and plug it back in to get it to boot properly.

It has coax and optical outputs but appears to up/downsample whatever I play to 44kHz PCM (thats what my Outlaw 950 says the signal is). I ripped some Mapleshade Jazz CDs (GREAT stuff!) at different bitrates to test it. The highest quality variable bitrate WMA (abt 270kbs) sounded pretty good (using optical output), but the lossless WMA format would not play (abt 450kbs). MP3's work (I tried up to abt 200kbs). I havent tried it yet on lossless WAV files.

I will update once I have more time to play with it this weekend.
 

New member
Username: Sungamer

New York, NY USA

Post Number: 3
Registered: Nov-04
The best method I can think of for something like this with the maximum amount of flexibility and customizible features - Hopefully money is not that big of an issue (won't be that expensive, but will be more than a coupla hundred)

Build a seperate music server, a new computer. Get a cheap integrated MOBO with video and audio, as long as it has digital out. Now here's a choice you have to make - do you want to use the onboard DSP of your favorite sound card? If yes, then you'll need to get the sound card as well, and use ANALOG outputs from that to your receiver. Otherwise connect the digital out to your home receiver.

For UI, and this is the best part, since it's a computer, and video out, hook the S-video out up to your TV somehow (through receiver, any way you like.) Run the screenres at 800x600 or lower, and you don't even need a monitor - get a remote control for the computer or better yet, if you have a pocket PC then use VNC on that and you get to control the computer through the network anywhere you have wireless.

Regarding quality, with this set up you can easily put in multiply 200 or 250GB drives cheaply, and it's scaleable so you can add later on if you need more. Also it'll have USB 2.0 capability so the number of harddrives will not be limited easily. you can use WinXP on it, or windows media edition, or even Linux (if you can find the right drivers), but if you use windows I highly recommend rebooting the comp every week.

Good luck!
 

Bronze Member
Username: Stuermer

Post Number: 20
Registered: Oct-04
Mei-Ting:

Thanks for your thoughts. I have a PC input on my projection TV that could be used for this purpose (GUI for media server), maybe I should just get a cheap CPU and build a RAID array as you suggest.

However, I was not aware that you could buy a card for your computer to output digital audio to a pre/pro or receiver. Do you have any recommendations? If I had this I could use commodity hardware for everything else, and buy a wireless keyboard and/or mouse to drive the GUI using my TV as the monitor.

Also, has anyone used the Microsoft MediaCenter 2005? I read about it this morning in the Chicago Tribune and it sounds like an interesting software platform for the hardware config you describe above.
 

New member
Username: Sungamer

New York, NY USA

Post Number: 10
Registered: Nov-04
Regarding input on TV - Most graphics cards out there actually include an output in S-video nowadays, but the PC input on your projection TV would be the best bet as it'll probably have the clearest picture.

A card that gives digital audio out is almost as easy to find - Almost all of the Creative Labs consumer cards have a digital out, and I think many integrated solutions also do (but check before you buy - I haven't ran up against that many of them). Wireless keyboard and/or mouse run into the problem of range - there's no way to know how far it'll work, through walls etc, so it might be confined to just within the room.

One interesting bit regarding sound cards - once you find a card with digital out, turn OFF any decoding capabilities the card has. In general, just get the cheapest card with digital out in my opinion, because you won't be using any of the bells and whistles that come with it. Once a digital signal has been decoded (AC3 or otherwise) and had extra info added such as reverb etc., it won't be reencoded back into a format that your receiver can decode again. So turn that off, output the digital stream directly from the soundcard to the receiver's digital in and you should get any audio stream in its original format and ready for processing by the receiver.

I'm writing this with 9 hours of sleep over 3 nights, so if it's incoherent I apologize - leave me a message and i'll try to clear up any problems.

I haven't used mediacenter 2005 yet, and I have no idea when I might run into one.
 

Unregistered guest
I have experimenting with the idea of an audiophile music server for the past several months. I am currently running a setup where I have dedicated my old PC (700mhz) as the server with a 150GB second hard drive. My files are stored in either .WAV or FLAC. I am using a Stereo-Link (USB->D/A converter->RCA outs) into the analog inputs of my receiver. The stereo-link costs $150. I would recommend getting an external sound card because of the noise caused internally. I am using iTunes and a small flat-panel LCD screen as my UI.

Now I just splurged for a very nice audio system (B&W 804 speakers, B&K components, Denon DVD/CD,etc...) - with this great system I would love to have the convenience and organizational benefits of my music server and maintain audiophile sound quality. Does it make sense to buy the Xitel Hi-Fi link and run a USB->coax->into an external DAC converter or directly into the digital input of my preamp? Does anyone know to what degree transport jitter occurs for audio data leaving the computer (assuming no decoding is taking place)? Is there interference caused by the iTunes software interface, i.e. through computer controlled volume amplification?

Any recommendations would be helpful. Thanks! John
 

Bronze Member
Username: Stuermer

IL

Post Number: 23
Registered: Oct-04
John:

From the experimenting I have done and the threads I have read on this topic, for a given bit depth and sampling rate, there seems to be little/no impact on audio quality if the digital bitstream is coming from a $6000 transport or a $60 used PC. As long as you have a clean digital link and error-free digital source, you will get whatever quality your DAC or pre/pro can process.

I have started to notice however that several "digital-out" devices (digital media servers, digital audio output cards, etc) are limited in their bitstream formats. For example, it appears that several of them down-sample higher-res streams down to a constant sample rate/bit depth and push that across the wire to your DAC or pre-pro. This will impact audio quality.

However, chances are that any of those digital output devices fed into a quality pre-pro (B&K qualifies!) will sound far better than analog audio out of a commodity computer.
 

Silver Member
Username: Edison

Glendale, CA US

Post Number: 588
Registered: Dec-03
EAC program rips the CDs the best.
Foobar is the best in playing.

Both programs are free on the web.
Google search for them.

More info can be found in theis audio forum:

http://forum.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/fr.pl?icomp&1&ctg&0&50&
 

Silver Member
Username: Smitty

Canada

Post Number: 168
Registered: Dec-03
You might want to have a look at the NAD NetCap receiver:
NAD NetCap
 

Bronze Member
Username: Stuermer

IL USA

Post Number: 35
Registered: Oct-04
Smitty:

Thanks for the heads-up. I had not realized NAD made a product in this space. Have you seen/used it? The user interface and maturity of the software are two things that concern me based on what I have experienced in the marketplace. I will certainly take a look.

Thanks!
 

Bronze Member
Username: Stuermer

IL USA

Post Number: 37
Registered: Oct-04
Smitty:

I did find some info on the NAD, posted it here

Thanks again!
 

Silver Member
Username: Smitty

Canada

Post Number: 169
Registered: Dec-03
Tom,

I haven't seen it and don't even know if it's available yet. I think I read somewhere the retail price would be US$500. I'm leaning more towards buying a cheaper one with similar features such as this one:
ADS Media Link

There was a review of this one in S&V but the specs seem to differ from on-line pictures I've seen from various etailers (i.e. no DVI & digital optical output). I guess if I didn't like the DACs in my receiver (NAD T742) I'd lean towards getting the NetCap but otherwise I just can't see spending more than twice the price especially for such a new technology, as you mentioned.
 

Bronze Member
Username: Stuermer

IL USA

Post Number: 38
Registered: Oct-04
Smitty:

Based on what the ADS website shows, I would recommend looking at the D-Link as an alternative to the ADS. At least the D-Link has S-Video output. The D-Link is $250 (no DAC), although its not clear how much the ADS costs.

Frankly it seems that the quality of the GUI is the biggest differentiator at this point in the market evolution, particularly if you intend to rip a lot of content to your computer and need to navigate all that content. The D-Link is somwehat disappointing in this regard but it seems they are all just fair.
 

Silver Member
Username: Smitty

Canada

Post Number: 170
Registered: Dec-03
Tom,

I've seen conflicting specs on the ADS Media Link, if you search for MXL-581 you'll see one set of specs and the MLX-581 will show another.

I have a copy of a recent S&V magazine and it shows the video outputs as DVI, component, composite and S-Video. The audio outputs are digital coax, digital optical and RCA. The article was generally positive if you were a "tech-savvy" user. It's also 802.11g. The only feature I wish it had would be USB 2.0 ports.

I've seen the ADS for sale in the US$200-250 range using froogle.
 

Silver Member
Username: Smitty

Canada

Post Number: 171
Registered: Dec-03
Tom,

If you're still following this thread, the S&V review is here:
ADS Media Link review
 

Bronze Member
Username: Stuermer

IL USA

Post Number: 40
Registered: Oct-04
Smitty:

Yes, I have email notification set up so I almost MUST follow threads I participate in. (a problem when you buy a samsung DLP and everybody chooses to whine incessantly about it on that thread!)

Thank you for the S&V link. This ADS machine looks far more capable than the ADS website showed. And it has DVI output! I assume this means that it outputs in high-res(?) which is a very nice step up from the D-Link server I bought a couple months ago (S-Video only). Too bad the software appears to be marginal, this seems to be a problem in general with these servers.

I must admit that the MS MediaPlayer interface is the best one out there (more intuitive than the Real UI). I just wish I could use it with a remote control rather than buying a whole remote keyboard...

BTW, a DLink firmware update fixed the ability to watch pictures while the audio keeps playing - a nice feature I used a lot over the holidays to show family pictures on the TV.
 

Nadia
Unregistered guest
I wonder if anyone could help me with this:

What is the easiest way to listen to Internet radio on my Hifi (Bose Lifestyle System)? Computer is NOT networked (Ethernet or WLAN), and connected to Internet via cable modem. I have read up about streaming media servers (eg, Netgear and Roku) but they seem a bit overdimensioned and fiddly with regard to internet radio.

Any advice would be much appreciated.

Thanks,
Nadia
 

Unregistered guest
Tom, wondering if you found anything else that suits your needs. Like you, i would love to find an easy to use system to move all my CD's out of the living room. Would love an update on your experiment.
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