Z-Man

Digital Music Server

58 posts in this topic

By far the weak link in my system right now is the CD player. This coupled with the fact that my music collection is claiming more and more space in my small Manhattan apartment has caused me to think very seriously about this idea:

Buy one of these: Slim Devices Squeezebox, which will accept streamed WAV or FLAC files from a PC or Mac, and connect it via optical cable to a Benchmark DAC-1 (or other high quality D-A converter) which outputs to the preamp.

With this setup it looks like for around a $1000 investment I'd have a CD playback system rivaling the sound of players that cost $3-5K, and the CD's can be stored away in boxes

Other than the reliability of the hard drive storing the music files (which I would backup), does anybody see a downside to this?

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The price. Eventually I hope this kind of setup will become a standard solution with lots of choices and a more affordable price.

What would be even better would be a simple hard disk that would store music rather than having to stream it. Connect it to your computer, transfer or record music files, be able to play them on your stereo. A TIVO for music. That's seems like such an obvious solution that I'm surprised no one has come up with it yet.

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The downside of these machines is that they quickly get outdated, or that they have software flaws or usability limitations that never get fixed. For example the processor might not be able to decode a new type of file, or the player might not be able to read files from a DVD-R (only CD-R).

That's why PC-based solutions (Home Theatre PC) are popular, because software can be updated, and individual components, like sound or network card, can easily be upgraded, and new functions can be added.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HTPC

This is probably much less relevant for music-only systems though, where there is less technical evolution.

Edited by Claude

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The downside of these machines is that they quickly get outdated, or that they have software flaws or usability limitations that never get fixed. For example the processor might not be able to decode a new type of file, or the player might not be able to read files from a DVD-R (only CD-R).

That is why I like the modular aspect of this approach to CD playback. The Squeezebox decoding device is only $250. When hi-res files or other new file types become a reality, the decoder portion of the system can be replaced (if it can't be upgraded).

As for the expense, most of the $$ are in the outboard DAC. I would choose Benchmark as I have heard it and like it, and it seems to offer great bang for the buck (IMO) in an outboard DAC. If you wanted to keep it low-cost, the Squeezebox itself has a built-in 24-bit Burr-Brown DAC, and claims a jitter spec of 50ps. Pretty damn good for a $250 device. I would bet that by itself it outperforms CD players costing MUCH more.

The concerns I have are on the PC side. Reliability of the massive hard drive that would store the music has to be considered. Accurate ripping of the CD's, etc.

Tom - there are units out there with integrated storage that connect right up to your stereo (check out the Olive and Cambridge Audio websites). They are expensive, and seem to struggle with additional storage, which would be critical as your collection grows.

I plan to pick up the pieces to try it tomorrow. I'll report back after a little experimentation....

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I've been thinking of going this route, too, albeit without the expensive DAC. But I have so many CDs and usually can't find the one I want when I want it.

It would be nice to have everything available.

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I'm not familiar with FLAC files - are they compressed, or do they store the same amount of information as a CD? MP3s and Apple files sound really, really bad to me - in my book they are really only acceptable for portable applications.

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I'm not familiar with FLAC files - are they compressed, or do they store the same amount of information as a CD? MP3s and Apple files sound really, really bad to me - in my book they are really only acceptable for portable applications.

FLAC files are not compressed. When decoded properly, they should produce the same sound as the wave files from which they were encoded.

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The use of the squeezebox is a nice possibility, but many that have gone this route have done upgrades to the squeezebox in the power supply (inexpensive) and to the digital or analog outputs (expensive). While I considred this, what I ended up doing was to wirelessly beam my music from my Mac laptop, and associated HDs, to an airport express and use an optical cable out of the airport express to my DAC ( I am using the Lavry although I considred the Benchmark). The information stream from the laptop to the DAC can be done bit perfect. This produces a very high quality source and is quite convenient. I have been happy with this rig and, because I already had the DAC and laptop, I only had to purchase the airport express and the optical cable. Works for me.

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FLAC files are not compressed. When decoded properly, they should produce the same sound as the wave files from which they were encoded.

Actually, FLAC files are compressed--a WAV file converted to FLAC is up to 50% smaller. But as you say, when decompressed (decoded), the resulting file is identical to what it was before compression.--there's no loss of quality. Hence the name of the format, which stands for "Free Lossless Audio Codec."

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I see one downside to this kind of setup.

If you have thousands of CDs (and in this case streaming the music would be advantageous), you need to rip thousands of CDs and you need to have a secure backup of your files.

One or two external hard disks won't cut it, especially because you need to have at least a double backup. So, you're going to have to stack external hard drives somewhere.

I wonder how long my CD drive would last if I started ripping 5000 CDs.

If you add it all up, it gets to be expensive quite fast for larger collections.

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Here's my setup which I'm very happy with:

- Maxtor One Touch External HD (300GB, 16mb, 7200rpm)

- Mac mini using itunes

- Outlaw Audio Stereo Receiver RR2150 w/usb input

- B&W DM602 S3 Speakers

- Display 52" Mitsubishi HD TV (1900x1200)

I just go right out of my Mac via usb into my receiver which has a better than average D/A convertor built right into it.

I'm using the Apple lossless encoder although I have some material at lesser quality. I like the fact that I could very easily upgrade to a high quality D/A convertor at some point. Excluding the display (which I already had) this cost about $1900. A real nice user friendly solution.

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I know I am probably in the ultra minority, but if you're willing to accept (in my opinion) a marginal loss of quality, a digital music server can be a great and cheap solution.

I've ripped my 1,000 CDs to *gasp* mp3s encoded at a variable bit-rate between 192 and 224 kbps using a free program called freerip. Ripping takes about 5-6 minutes for a 60 minute CD. Using this method, you can easily fit about 1,000 albums per 100 GBs, which is quite budget-friendly and simple to backup.

I am using an old P4 computer as my server with a cheap (but well-reviewed) soundcard with an Envy audio chip and SPDIF output as my music server. The SPDIF goes to a Harman Kardon AVR520 (all audio output processing is done here), powering both Athena floorstanding speakers and subwoofer in one room and Aperion bookshelf speakers in another room.

I use Winamp as the interface. Ever since I did I have been enjoying my music collection MUCH better, especially the box sets, which are much more accessible in this format. With my system, I cannot detect a loss in sound quality, and even if I could, the convenience (for me) more than makes up for it.

The cost -- $150 for two 300GB Seagate HDs (one for daily usage, one for backup)

$30 for soundcard.

Of course, it is always a cost-benefit tradeoff, but my point is even at the low end of the cost spectrum, I think there are fairly high benefits, and for the me the marginal increase in benefits from this point would not be commensurate with the added cost.

Edited by David

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Here's my setup which I'm very happy with:

- Maxtor One Touch External HD (300GB, 16mb, 7200rpm)

- Mac mini using itunes

- Outlaw Audio Stereo Receiver RR2150 w/usb input

- B&W DM602 S3 Speakers

- Display 52" Mitsubishi HD TV (1900x1200)

I just go right out of my Mac via usb into my receiver which has a better than average D/A convertor built right into it.

I'm using the Apple lossless encoder although I have some material at lesser quality. I like the fact that I could very easily upgrade to a high quality D/A convertor at some point. Excluding the display (which I already had) this cost about $1900. A real nice user friendly solution.

I've been eyeing that Outlaw unit......for that same use among others......so you're happy with it? I'm VERY happy with my Model 950 processor for my video setup.... great flexibility (bass management options of pieces costing twice that of the Outlaw) and wonderful sonics!

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Here's my setup which I'm very happy with:

- Maxtor One Touch External HD (300GB, 16mb, 7200rpm)

- Mac mini using itunes

- Outlaw Audio Stereo Receiver RR2150 w/usb input

- B&W DM602 S3 Speakers

- Display 52" Mitsubishi HD TV (1900x1200)

I just go right out of my Mac via usb into my receiver which has a better than average D/A convertor built right into it.

I'm using the Apple lossless encoder although I have some material at lesser quality. I like the fact that I could very easily upgrade to a high quality D/A convertor at some point. Excluding the display (which I already had) this cost about $1900. A real nice user friendly solution.

I've been eyeing that Outlaw unit......for that same use among others......so you're happy with it? I'm VERY happy with my Model 950 processor for my video setup.... great flexibility (bass management options of pieces costing twice that of the Outlaw) and wonderful sonics!

For my money the "best value" receiver on the market. Sonics are much better than you would expect for $600. Throw in the digital interfaces, the bass management, and a number of other thoughtful design features, and it's pretty much a no brainer.

I've had mine for just about a year and continue the be amazed by it's performance. I have not used the phono section, however I've read, its more than serviceable. Only two slightly negative comments (1) Programming FM presets is awkward (I actually had to read the users manual). Not a big deal. (2) Increments on the volume control could be a bit finer (at least for my tastes). Once again, not a show stopper. I quickly got use to the difference between the Outlaw and my other units.

I auditioned NAD receivers with my speakers during the buying process but ultimately decided to buy the Outlaw because of the digital interfaces and bass management features. It was a leap of faith since I was not able to audition the Outlaw. Given their reputation, and the glowing advanced reviews, I bought sight unseen and have never regretted my decision for one minute.

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I see one downside to this kind of setup.

If you have thousands of CDs (and in this case streaming the music would be advantageous), you need to rip thousands of CDs and you need to have a secure backup of your files.

One or two external hard disks won't cut it, especially because you need to have at least a double backup. So, you're going to have to stack external hard drives somewhere.

I wonder how long my CD drive would last if I started ripping 5000 CDs.

If you add it all up, it gets to be expensive quite fast for larger collections.

It depends on how you rip them obviously. You can get terabyte RAID arrays for under $400 nowadays. That would hold plenty of losless stereo music.

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I see one downside to this kind of setup.

If you have thousands of CDs (and in this case streaming the music would be advantageous), you need to rip thousands of CDs and you need to have a secure backup of your files.

One or two external hard disks won't cut it, especially because you need to have at least a double backup. So, you're going to have to stack external hard drives somewhere.

I wonder how long my CD drive would last if I started ripping 5000 CDs.

If you add it all up, it gets to be expensive quite fast for larger collections.

It depends on how you rip them obviously. You can get terabyte RAID arrays for under $400 nowadays. That would hold plenty of losless stereo music.

That would have been 200 cheap OJCs etc. from "Zweitausendeins" not so long ago, which also have that haptic quality digital files don't have. ;)

Edited by neveronfriday

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I've also been looking at a music server lately -- the attractively priced Olive 03HD ($999) that holds 1500 discs vs. the Olive 04HD that lists for $2,500, holds 6000 discs and has all sorts of digital outputs that I'm not all that interested in anyway. I was curious though about this bit from the spec sheet.

Olive 03HD says: High-quality DAC with 24-bit/192kHz support

Olive 04HD: Premium Burr-Brown PCM1792A DAC (24-bit/192 kHz)

What exactly does "support" mean here? :shrug[1]:

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I have a Mac Mini with over a year's worth of music on an external Drobo. Inexpensive, backed up, sounds great.

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I've been playing around with this for several years, though I still haven't loaded my entire collection (need to invest in more storage).

My setup is fairly simple:

Mac Mini (2010)

2 - 1TB Seagate HD's (one for storage, the other a backup)

iTunes and/or VLC

I rip to .ALAC (Apple's version of FLAC) because it has support in iTunes on both Mac and PC. I don't have a problem with mp3's when ripped correctly, I would say about half my digital collection is in that format.

The mini outputs a 24bit/192khz audio signal via HDMI (or optional optical connection)

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I've also been looking at a music server lately -- the attractively priced Olive 03HD ($999) that holds 1500 discs vs. the Olive 04HD that lists for $2,500, holds 6000 discs and has all sorts of digital outputs that I'm not all that interested in anyway. I was curious though about this bit from the spec sheet.

Olive 03HD says: High-quality DAC with 24-bit/192kHz support

Olive 04HD: Premium Burr-Brown PCM1792A DAC (24-bit/192 kHz)

What exactly does "support" mean here? :shrug[1]:

I have the Olive 4HD. Bought it last summer before the 3HD came out.

I like the 4HD. Setting aside the musical qualities, which are very nice, there are two essentials to getting maximum use/enjoyment out of it.

First, despite the fact that it has a touchscreen and remote, the best way to control the unit is through the iphone/ipod/ipad app. My weapon of choice is the ipad and it truly makes the Olive fun to use.

The second is the manner in which you import music. Until very recently I used the internal drive. This works fine except for the fact that Olive's source for meta-data - and specifically album artwork - blows. So I started ripping CDs on my PC (as FLAC files) using the dBpoweramp software and then I move them to the Olive via Ethernet.

The whole digital server market seems to be moving pretty quickly, which is a great thing for the consumer. Nine months in, I am not sure if the Olive is the best solution but it works well for me. Were I to do it again today I might go for the 3HD simply because of the lower price point in the event a needle-moving solution comes out in the next twelve months.

Like many people comment about these things - be they Olive products or otherwise - you do find yourself listening to a lot more music this way - which is a very good thing.

Edited by Eric

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I run Squeezecenter software on a NAS, which also stores my music. I have a Squeezebox classic plugged into it, which is plugged into my Decware Zen. Everything is controlled remotely by using iPeng app on iphone.

My next purchase will be the Vortex Box. Rip, store, and serve all in one "appliance".

I'm not sure how this compares with the Olive brand, but wow, what a price difference.

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I have a Sonos system as part of my network and I love it. Attach it to a good DAC (I have a Benchmark DAC1, for example) and you are in business. It truly is idiot proof and contains a very robust network mesh. Only drawback is that it does not currently support hi-rez playback and has a 64K track limit. I imagine that will no longer be a problem in time (not really an issue for me ... yet).

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I run Squeezecenter software on a NAS, which also stores my music. I have a Squeezebox classic plugged into it, which is plugged into my Decware Zen. Everything is controlled remotely by using iPeng app on iphone.

My next purchase will be the Vortex Box. Rip, store, and serve all in one "appliance".

I'm not sure how this compares with the Olive brand, but wow, what a price difference.

No doubt!

So what does the Vortex set-up look like end to end? For the Olive, it connects directly to my pre-amp. I either rip directly from the Olive or through my PC as described above. I also have three Olive satellite units (separate rooms) and they along with the 4HD are connected to my home network via ethernet (could also do wireless). I use the Olive ipad app to control the system. Olive also has a web app ("Maestro") to edit meta-data within your library.

Edited by Eric

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Everything is run by the open-source squeezecenter software.

I've been using this set-up for many years. Sans vortexbox. Been ripping everything by laptop to NAS.

I think you would go direct in to your pre. Unfortunately, because you have multiple Olive devices, I'm not sure this is an option.

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