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Newbie needs help on assembling a high performance server


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Hi everyone. First of all I would like to say that I was pleasantly surprised to find a forum that deals with both how to go about putting together a music server and about how to do it in a way that is competitive in performance with what some of the finest CD playback has to offer in a very serious system. My interest is twofold and I will first talk about my desires for the first application. I presently use a superb CD player in my two channel system. Home theater is not an issue here. My equipment is as follows:


Audio Research CD7 CD player

Audio Research Ref 3 preamplifier

Classe Audio CAM-400 solid state monoblocks

Vandersteen 5a loudspeakers

Audoquest reference level cables throughout


For those of you not familiar with the gear, and on this site I suspect many are, it is a serious system. For what it is worth it totals in the neighborhood of 70K. The CD7 is a superb CD player, as is the Classe CDP-202 I sometimes use. My purpose is not to try to improve the quality of my digital source material. It is to preserve the quality and add the convenience and accessibility to my fairly large music collection. The ability to download uncompressed and even high rez audio is also attractive. I plan to do this with a dedicated computer, MAC or PC, and was thinking along the lines of 250 to 500 GB with an additional drive, either internal or external, for backup. The piece will be located with the rest of my gear. I am open to suggestions on interface software as well as a means to control it from the listening position. I have been poking around and looking at some things but I think it would be safe to characterize my expertise level at this time as barely knowing enough to be dangerous.


I have many questions about this and the second reason for my interest makes it more interesting. I own a high end audio store, yes I got a good deal on the aforementioned system, and I would like to be of assistance to our customers who are interested in the same sort of application that I am looking for. We could provide it as a turnkey system, hand them a "here's how to do it" package or something in between. I want to see our customers able to enjoy their music fully. From a selfish perspective, if someone tackles this project on their own and is not very successful in terms of sound quality, it makes it much more difficult to sell them really good electronics, speakers, etc. Unfortunately there seems to be a bit of a gulf between the high end community and people who know what they are doing on the computer end. I have seen numerous systems that do a brilliant job of producing bad sounding music and many in the high end community either don't seem to understand the possibilities or look down their noses at the concept.


DAC's are really not an issue. I have recently played with a Benchmark which seems to be a decent performer. We have not put much time on it yet so all I can say with assurance is that it is at least competent and probably better than that. We did connect the digital output of an Escient Fireball to it and the sound was certainly improved. Next we took the digital out of an Audio Research CD7 into the Benchmark. The improvement over the feed from the Escient was dramatic. The real issue for me is how viable it is to be able to provide a feed that is on a level with that of the CD7 as a transport.


I have access to DAC's which range from running into digital inputs on a surround receiver to state of the art standalone units, so I don't need much help there, other than the issue of best connection between server and DAC. Once we hit the DAC, we are in my world. I would like for the system designed to be appropriate for inclusion from the lowest to the highest performing systems we sell.


I guess that's not asking for too much, huh? Seriously, any help would be appreciated. We are looking forward to finding a solution that is presentable to our customers and provides them with a cost effective means of getting what they want at the performance level they want. Thanks to all.


Audio Research DAC8, Mac mini w/8g ram, SSD, Amarra full version, Audio Research REF 5SE Preamp, Sutherland Phd, Ayre V-5, Vandersteen 5A\'s, Audioquest Wild and Redwood cabling, VPI Classic 3 w/Dynavector XX2MkII

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Hey rom661 - I have some great ideas in mind that accomplish pretty much everything you're looking to do. Give me a little time and I'll post my suggestions. In the mean time I encourage everyone to jump in and help out. rom661 is looking to further high end audio & computer convergence which is a great thing for all audiophiles.


Post away!


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OK here we go. I suggest reading my music server series, my music storage series and my remote control series for additional options. If you're starting from scratch here is what I suggest. This suggested system can be tweaked to accommodate upgrades or downgrades and still be very functional with awesome sound. We can work on the details as we go. I think you'll be surprised at how little it takes to create a great sounding music server.


I highly recommend Mac OS X as the operating system and a Mac Mini ($599) as the computer / music server hardware. A MacBook laptop ($1099) can also be used and may be easier for some people because it has a monitor attached. Both of these will be unobtrusive in your rack.


There are many music playback and library applications to chose from. I highly recommend iTunes. There are a few settings to adjust, but it is by far the easiest application with great functionality. The sound output is bit perfect. There is no need to worry about sound degradation just because the app is easy. Some people on PCs use Foobar and Exact Audio Copy because they can tweak every last thing until they are blue in the face. These apps are not user friendly and the average audiophile will never own a music server with these applications. Most people how drop $70k on a two channel system don't want to screw around with bits and bytes when they could be listening to music and they don't want to learn how, or have time, to use complicated programs. Again, the sound from iTunes on a Mac OS X machine is bit perfect.


Your thoughts on a hard drive setup are OK and would work, but for a real audiophile system I think you'll want a little better setup. An internal 500 GB drive is pretty small for a big and expanding music library. The new 24/96 downloads from Linn Records are 1 to 2 GB per album. An external hard drive for backup is a good thought. This method is usually prone to human shortcomings however. I suggest you get a Mac with a hard drive 120 GB or larger. Then get an external disk enclosure called the Drobo from Data Robotics. The Drobo holds from 1 to 4 drives and automatically creates redundant copies of your data. You don't need to do anything manually. Plus, if you start with a couple 750 GB drives you can add any size drives at a later time and the Drobo will use all the disk possible. A regular RAID 5 setup cannot do this. So, when 1 TB drives get cheaper you can add one or two. There is nothing to configure with the Drobo either. Plug it in and your good.


As far as ripping CDs goes, there is currently no agreement on whether lossless compression is equal to uncompressed music. Personally I rip all my music in uncompressed AIFF format. I figure why rip anything less than what comes on the CD. Many people chose to rip in Apple Lossless format because it saves a lot of hard drive space and they say it sounds exactly the same as uncompressed music. This is something you'll have to decide yourself. I suggest uncompressed AIFF files because there is no doubt that the music is an exact copy of the CD and sounds the same or better.


To control your library from the listening position is also very easy and cooler than a standard remote. I use an Apple iPod Touch and the application named Signal from Alloysoft. You can browse your whole iTunes library including cover art all from the advanced touch screen of the iPod ouch. This is a huge part of getting audiophiles to adopt computer based music servers. Once they try the iPod Touch with Signal they'll be hooked. Seriously.


To connect to your DAC of choice the Macs both have USB and Toslink ports. Use whatever you like best. Right now I like USB. You can also get very high quality converters from USB to other S/PDIF connections.


This is the general configuration. It can be upgraded for even better sound by pushing the point of diminishing returns, but it can be done. This system can also be scaled down to meet a smaller budget. However, the price for all of this is very reasonable. There are also changes we could make to the system like putting your hard drive enclosure out of your listening room or even putting your computer outside your listening room, but I don't recommend the second option.


Let me know what your thinking and what you want to discuss further. Each of these options can be discussed in much more granularity, but I went easy on the first post for you. Also, let me know if I missed something.




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Thanks for the input, Chris. I purchased a MacBook yesterday. I am using iTunes to get started but the learning curve thus far seems kind of steep. I hope that, for the purposes of our recommending this to a less software savvy type, such as myself, I can find an interface that is a little more intuitive. Will the iTunes support high rez downloads? I am getting a little confused after having tried to assimilate so much info in such a short time, but it seems like I read somewhere that it was a weak point of iTunes. Any input would be appreciated. Our potential customers tend to be people that were big on SACD so being able to add high rez to the mix would be attractive.


The ripping I have done has been in AIFF thus far. In fairness, I haven't done critical comparisons, but it "feels" better for what that is worth, which is probably very little. I picked up an external drive that doesn't quite conform to what you recommended but is probably OK to start with. It is a 1TB external firewire unit that actually is two 500GB drives. You can set it up to use both or for one to shadow the other, which is what I had in mind. I didn't realize the high rez stuff took up that much space.


One of the interesting things so far is the improvement in quality of CD's I am burning. I do this sometimes for the store and everything I have done with a PC, if you will pardon a technical term, sucks. I have an old Denon CD burner that, when coupled with a Theta Data (a ten year old high quality transport), sounds much better than my best efforts with a PC, even when using the EAC software. I burned something this morning with iTunes using the new Mac laptop set to AIFF and the slowest burn speed and it was surprisingly close to the original. It was hard to tell the difference until you went into our two better rooms. I know that is not the goal here, but it is a nice side effect. By the way, the CD I burned was by Jimmy Bruno and is titled "Like That". Jimmy is an amazing jazz guitarist, in my estimation one of the top two or three in the world. He is joined on this CD by Joey DeFrancesco who plays Hammond B3 organ as well as anyone I have ever heard. The recording is good, not great but who cares when the music is this good?


The iPod Touch and Signal software sound intriguing and key to what I am trying to accomplish in terms of ease of use. I know nothing about them but will try to rectify that.


By the way, we just became a dealer for Wavelength. I am a wannabe guitarist who has better taste than talent but his guitar amps intrigue as well as his DAC offerings. We are going to start with the first two as they come out with his new USB interface.


Once again, thanks for the assistance. I think this is a win/win for everyone involved. I do want to point out one thing which I constantly emphasize in my stores. The various ways to improve sound are wonderful and we are always looking for a better way and better result. Sometimes we, and some of our customers, can get caught up in the audiophile syndrome where we are paying more attention to the gear than what it is there for. I constantly tell people that this whole process is somewhat Zen-like. You spend a lot of time and energy figuring out what to buy and who to trust, at some point you write a big check, and at the end of the day, the ultimate goal is to be completely unaware of everything you just purchased. The best systems get out of the way of the music rather than calling attention to themselves. Or to paraphrase the first Clinton campaign, "It's the music, stupid."



rom661 aka Rick Milam




Audio Research DAC8, Mac mini w/8g ram, SSD, Amarra full version, Audio Research REF 5SE Preamp, Sutherland Phd, Ayre V-5, Vandersteen 5A\'s, Audioquest Wild and Redwood cabling, VPI Classic 3 w/Dynavector XX2MkII

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Let me say from the outset that I've put my full trust in several of the early members to this forum — especially markr and Lord Chaos who contribute much in the way of pragmatic suggestion. Of course, you couldn't ask for a more competent leader in Chris, so, in effect, you've come to the right place to get the right answers.


After a career in educational publishing, I became Operations Manager for an Apple VAR that concentrated on school network systems. As such, I became network trouble shooter and software repair mystic just to keep those clients happy. Thus, I can appreciate your comment about the intuitive learning curve in iTunes (and, I have, in fact stumbled upon a unique situation with the software that has me temporarily stumped). Trust me on this, though, it is unlikely that you will find anything out there even remotely as facile to use, nor as ultimately competent to complete your task.


As far as I can tell, the only truly significant question has to do with the connection of your music server to your audio system. Given that well-heeled audiophiles are generally conducive to certain small differences between A & B, this question, for me, boils down to a USB connection versus something else. Once I have my music archived completely, I will turn my attention to the variety of alternatives that are available here.


As a retailer, it seems to me that you will want to offer some choice in this area, just as you do for the more conventional/traditional products that you sell to your clients. We all know that an ARC amplifier might appeal to one customer while another wants a Quicksilver. For the other aspects of it, I suppose the best thing that a retailer can do is educate his clients in the alternatives. There is, after all, more than one way to get something done.


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Hey Rick - You made a good choice with a MacBook. iTunes is far and away the easiest interface you'll ever find. Apple is the best company around at designing user friendly hardware and software. There is nothing out there that even compares to the usability of iTunes. Plus that fact that it has bit perfect output makes it the only way to go in my book.


iTunes does support high resolution music. I have many 24 bit / 96 KHz albums from places like Linn Records, iTrax, and just recently MusicGiants. Right now USB DACs won't support anything higher than 24/96.


Good choice of hard drives to start with. As I suggested, my recommendation can be up or downscaled to match anything you want to accomplish. High resolution does take up a lot of space, but I bet that 1TB drive wasn't too expensive.


You can certainly ask all the questions you want about the iPod Touch. I have the signal app and I also am working with another application call Remote Buddy. I'll have a full review sometime soon. I do think the iPod Touch is key to people adopting computer audio. Nobody wants their library at their fingertips, but only if they get up and walk to their rack.


I think becoming a dealer for Wavelength was a smart move. You're ahead of the curve.


I agree 100% with your statement:

"You spend a lot of time and energy figuring out what to buy and who to trust, at some point you write a big check, and at the end of the day, the ultimate goal is to be completely unaware of everything you just purchased."


Everyone I have talked to who has integrated a music server into their high end system has said they listen to so much more music it is incredible. This is a win/win and it will only get better. Computer based audio has the ability to take high end audio much further than the traditional methods. Don't get me wrong though, I'm still a huge fan of vinyl and everything that gets us closer to the artist's intended sound.



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Along this topic, here's my absorptions to date -


Mac versus Windows – functionally today media center is arguably better. I just tired of updates, crashes, pop-ups and reboots. Yup, we surf via the music server system. Startup, shutdown and sleep times favor the Mac so greatly one is hard pressed to love windows. I have both. Visually the Mac wins in the audio room hands down. Good WAF. I'm betting Front Row will get better down the road, but it’s pretty cool now.


If I was a dealer, I would offer both op systems, but the Mac solution for listeners is out of the box. Windows, for me, meant building a pc. Not a huge issue, but it cost more and media handling wise, maybe, did a little more. Of course I have a laptop now I can drag around versus a silent box that has little mobility. Some folks are just going to always use Windows, so you likely want a potential solution. Just the comparison, I think, would steer lots of folks to the Mac solution.


Not sure how you set iTunes, but error correction is good, equalization is bad, I keep volume at 100% heading to DAC.


Chris mentioned cover art. While iTunes is pretty good, to me the biggest bother is missing cover art. There is a solution. Missing cover art isn’t an issue for listening, but the 2 biggest weaknesses from iTunes doing exactly what I want (so far) are -


1) Missing cover art. It just requires intervention in an otherwise simple process.


2) CD's that feature a lot of guests and a few other idiosyncrasies can confuse iTunes into thinking there are 12 albums rather than tracks. Again, requires intervention.


I only bring those issues up as a user. If you are marketing to customers it’s not an entirely automatic process to get it right. The goof rate I experience is well below 1%. I wouldn't expect it to get weird compilations or obscure stuff anyway.


I do wish my Drobo would arrive! I was pretty hooked on this device when I found the CA site and was glad to hear positive comments for use in music. I'm sure I will love it once I get it. As a retailer you could stock these things. I bet people give them names like pets. Honey, please turn the Elvidriod on. What a nice item, but crappy delivery (do I sound impatient here)?


Chris mentioned remote control. Now, while I haven't gone the iTouch or iPhone yet, don't forget you have a remote with the MacBook. Check it out, fun stuff. I just listen stereo, but I do slave video out. I'm loading DVD's (concerts), music CDs and soon LP's to disk. Point being, if you use a monitor at a party you can output the cover and song info to the tube for grins. Fiends (and friends) seem fascinated with both the iTunes cover art carousel and Front Row covers/menus. You can hand the remote to somebody and fully train them on operations in about 5 seconds. Maybe 15, after excessive applications of beer, wine or scotch. People seem to love browsing music collections and iTunes does make that simple.


I fiddled with quite a few media managers and came back to iTunes. The WAF is incredibly high and it works. Plus, even tho iPods are not the best way to listen to music, you can always use a portable DAC, load up the ole iPod and travel with songs. So, while the home server issue is very important to me, iPod compatibility remains something of a desire. Heck, I drag a wire and go iPod mini jack to split RCA. Is it as good - no ... does it beats a crummy or imaginary radio station in the middle of nowhere - good enough.


So my objective is the best semi-portable sound for a given environment (boat, car, plane, home) using reasonably priced, high quality equipment with simple interfaces.


I’ll be curious about your conclusions on DACs when you get there - good luck.



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Innertuber - you mention the functionality of media center being arguably better. Are you including the fact that media center also has a big focus on video? I'm just kind of wondering you line of thought on that one.


I have both and use Windows extensively when I built a media center PC. After all the Windows hassles I'll never consider anything but a Mac. I do agree with you that offering a choice to customers is a great idea and comparing them in front customers will push them toward Mac.


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You are absolutely right about the issues of choices. Trying to devise a logical chain of investment and return is more difficult than it sounds. Then there is the matter of flavor. All you can really do is try to offer some alternatives that you feel are good value. I personally really like ARC but by no means does that mean that they are the only viable option. It was interesting for me when I moved from being an enthusiast to a store owner about ten years ago. All of the above mentioned things are true but suddenly you are also concerned with good business partners, manufacturers who stand behind their products, stability, repair history, etc. I have seen a number of interesting products that I might be willing to take a chance on personally but no way would I want to be responsible for it to my customers.


DAC's used to be a significant part of the high end. The store had about five levels from a couple of different manufacturers. I owned a Mark Levinson 30.6. Then DVD Audio and SACD came along and destroyed the product category. I anticipate the same approach. The front end will be similar but the level of performance and pricing of the DAC's will vary greatly.


I am slowly learning my way around iTunes. As my grandmother used to say, "You have to hold your mouth just right..."


Thanks for your thoughts.


Audio Research DAC8, Mac mini w/8g ram, SSD, Amarra full version, Audio Research REF 5SE Preamp, Sutherland Phd, Ayre V-5, Vandersteen 5A\'s, Audioquest Wild and Redwood cabling, VPI Classic 3 w/Dynavector XX2MkII

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  • 1 month later...

Wow, what a great resource!

I was just Googling the same question when I found this forum.

Here are my thoughts/experience on the topic:


I have a 2-channel system that I am happy with consisting of a rack of McIntosh gear feeding Revel Ultima Salon's via Nordost cables.


I have been trying to integrate my 350GB of Apple lossless music files into my system with varying amounts of success.


I started with the McIntosh MS300 music server fed into a Benchmark DAC1 via it's digital out and then via balanced connections into my tube pre-amp. The MS300 does not play Apple lossless so I had to re-rip my favorite CD's onto it in FLAC. The sound is very good but, like mentioned in a previous post, you have to go to the rack to change tunes. What is cool is that you can also rip your vinyl and even record FM radio broadcasts to the HD in the MS300 and add your own album art.


Just for fun I tried the Slim Devices SqueezeBox also fed into the DAC1 via digital out and found it to be a cool toy to access the music stored on my 1TB NAS drive that is connected to my router so that no computer was necessary. It didn't sound as good as the MS300, which is wired, but the quality was still good. The problem is that it also requires going to the rack to change tunes.


Then I found the Sonos system and fell in love with the controller. No more going to the rack to change tunes or adjust the volume and you can pass it around at the party and have folks pick their favorite songs. I now have a number of their ZP80 and ZP100 units around the house, in the garage and, when it's nice, out on the patio. The problem is the sound quality. Of the 3 solutions I've tried, it sounded the worst while being the most convenient. It's good for background music and playing internet radio stations, like Pandora, but there is a lot of lost detail compared with the MS300, even when I plug my NAS directly into the ZP80's ethernet jack to eliminate the wireless journey. The problem is probably a result of the Sonos being limited to just 48Khz/16-bit. I agree with the other previous post about once you make your CD collection accessible by ripping the tracks to your network, you listen to a lot more music. It's as easy as turning on your radio without the commercials and reception issues.


The problem I now have is that I want the sound quality of a wired solution with the ease of use of the Sonos controller.


This is what has led me to your forum and I am excited about the solution you propose of a Mac Mini fed into a DAC and controlled by an iPod Touch with Signal (which would be very similar to the Sonos controller). This sounds like it will give me the 96/24 quality I'm looking for and the ease of use.


Being a Gadget Guy I'm always happy to try a new solution and learn along the way. Things that don't workout end up given to friends/family or sold on Audiogon/Craigslist/eBay (like the SqueezeBox that is boxed up on my desk as I write this).


I guess I don't have a question at this point but I wanted to thank Chris and the rest of the team for making this information available on the web and to let you know that there are other folks out there who are also grappling with the same issues and are happy to share what they have found to work.






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Hi Steve - Thanks a lot for the post and the kind words. I agree there are a lot of people looking to get into the music server game. Thanks a ton for posting what you have found. I'm sure a lot of folks will read your post and be able to get something useful out of it.


Thanks again for taking the time to share all the details!


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I think you would be happy with what you are proposiing. By the way, we handle the Sonos stuff and they definitely have their place in terms of a wireless solution for whole house but their DAC's are pretty lame. It is best to consider them a way to move a digital signal around rather than an analog source in each room.


I think you will be much happier with the sound quality using a Mac mini. The McIntosh unit is basically an Escient whole house music server with a gorgeous face plate and slightly improved DAC. McIntosh and Escient are owned by the same company and they really don't dispute it. We sell Escient and they have a nice interface and are an excellent choice for a whole house system but we directly compared the digital out with the Mac mini and the Mac was clearly better. In fairness we were using the USB input on a Benchmark versus the toslink on the Escient. I'm not saying that means anything, mind you, I don't have the energy for that argument, but it was a variable.


Have fun.


Audio Research DAC8, Mac mini w/8g ram, SSD, Amarra full version, Audio Research REF 5SE Preamp, Sutherland Phd, Ayre V-5, Vandersteen 5A\'s, Audioquest Wild and Redwood cabling, VPI Classic 3 w/Dynavector XX2MkII

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You bring up an interesting question.

I have an older DAC1, without the USB interface, and was going to connect to the Mac via its mini optical port. A few questions on that:

1. I hear that the mini optical plugs are fragile. What is your experience with them, if any?

2. Is there a debate about the sound quality differences between feeding the DAC via USB or Toslink / RCA Digital?

3. I'm looking at the Mac Mini on the Apple web site and once you get done with the monitor/keyboard/mouse... it's more expensive than the Mac Book Black or an iMac and it has a slower chip.

I guess it all depends on how much space you have to work with.

After looking at the stats, I wonder if the Mac Book is a better solution over the Mini? Thoughts?


Mini Stats

Chip: 2.0 GHz


HD: 160GB

Super Drive

Display: 20"

Keyboard/Mouse: Wireless

Cost: $1,675


Mac Book Stats

Chip: 2.4 GHz


HD: 250GB

Super Drive

Display: 13"

Keyboard/Mouse: Integrated

Cost: $1,500


iMac Stats

Chip: 2.4 GHz


HD: 320GB

Super Drive

Display: 20"

Keyboard/Mouse: Wireless

Cost: $1,650


For the purposes of the comparison I basically maxxed-out the Mini and then configured the Mac Book and the iMac to get close to its specs without spending more. You could save money by buying a smaller non-Apple monitor since the 20", which is their smallest, is much bigger than you need just to manage your music.


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I felt the need to jump in even though the questions were posed to Rick.


There is often much debate about TOSlink v. USB. See this other thread from a few days ago about this very topic and some very good technical details about it (scroll down to audioengr's post) http://www.computeraudiophile.com/node/358?page=2


Also, I only recommend a Mini in two situations. 1. If you want a headless (no monitor) system, or if you want to use a monitor placed somewhere other than the equipment rack. If I were you I would get the MacBook for this specific situation.





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Chris has been enormously helpful to to me in my learning curve. I generally defer to him in these matters, and I do so here as well. I have a pretty good background as far as high performance audio, but in respect to servers and the issues involved, Chris is light years ahead of me.


We do have a little different perspective in that I have to consider what my customers may already own as opposed to what the best direction is starting from scratch.


I have played around with both and I am going to use the MacBook with a 750Gb external drive for my own system. I know there are a lot of opinions and I am hesitant to open up a can of worms, but we have considered Toslink to be inferior to other means of connections since long before the concept of a server existed. Toslink is cheap. That is why manufacturers like it. I find USB to be preferable. In the non-server world, AES/EBU is my first choice. Jitter is a far more important issue than was understood in the early days of digital. I know that Benchmark, whose products we now sell, feels there is no difference. I respectfully disagree.


My reasons for suggesting the MacBook over the mini has little or nothing to do with sound quality. If there is a difference, I am unable to detect it. The notebook is simply neater, more elegant, and can be used as a notebook in about thirty seconds.


Nice to you have here. I hope you find this rewarding. In the old days of hi-fi, it was considered to be a hands on, active experience. I think this brings back some of that.


Best Wishes






Audio Research DAC8, Mac mini w/8g ram, SSD, Amarra full version, Audio Research REF 5SE Preamp, Sutherland Phd, Ayre V-5, Vandersteen 5A\'s, Audioquest Wild and Redwood cabling, VPI Classic 3 w/Dynavector XX2MkII

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We're in a suburb of Kansas City. It would be a bit of a drive.




Audio Research DAC8, Mac mini w/8g ram, SSD, Amarra full version, Audio Research REF 5SE Preamp, Sutherland Phd, Ayre V-5, Vandersteen 5A\'s, Audioquest Wild and Redwood cabling, VPI Classic 3 w/Dynavector XX2MkII

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Hi Rom,


Just thought I'd add my own comments.


I recently replaced my CD player with a Mac Mini, 500GB hard drive and external DAC. I'm not sure what everybody else thinks here but, once you've ripped your collection to hard disk I am finding Apples Front Row software to be straight forward to use; it allows you to easily browse through your music on what I think is quite a slick user interface.


I guess the downside is that it needs to be connected to a monitor or TV. In my case it's connected to my plasma tv and does look great.


I had a limited budget and am not talking as high end as yourself. But, ripping as uncompressed AIFF and running through what is really a very cheap DAC, the KingRex UD-01 - it's beating my Rotel CD player (£380) for sound quality - a far more relaxed and enjoyable listen.


If your retail store contains home cinema products then I can't see how anyone would fail to be impressed with Front Row running things upfront on a decent screen. And what I like best is that, whilst my cheap DAC runs great through my £650 amp and Mission 782SE speakers, I know that upgrading is sooo easy with a huge number of options out there. I'm already putting money aside for a better DAC. Not that I am unhappy with the current one.




HTPC: AMD Athlon 4850e, 4GB, Vista, BD/HD-DVD into -> ADM9.1

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Thanks for your comments.

I was in the Apple store yesterday looking at the various options based on my previous post on specs vs cost and ended up with the Mac Book and a mini Toslink cable because for my needs it meant not having to buy mouse/keyboard and monitor.


I'm new to Mac gear but not to iTunes where I have ripped all of my music onto a NAS in Apple Lossless. I'm now reading that AIFF is better and perhaps need to re-rip at least my favorite discs to do an A/B comparison to see if I can hear a difference.


My question is when you Rip to AIFF in iTunes do you leave the settings on Auto or do you change them to the maximum settings of 48KHz, 16-Bit and Stereo?





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OK, So I went out and bought the new Mac Book and then I went to the Linn Records website to download some hi-rez files.


I downloaded: "Barb Jungr - Walking In The Sun" in Studio Master FLAC 24bit 44.1kHz.


I also downloaded the two 24/44 test files.


I then followed the instructions on the Linn Records web site for adding the files to iTunes using a freeware program called Max.


How to play Studio Master FLAC files in iTunes


Step 1: Download and unzip the following shareware program called "Max" for OSX 10

website http://sbooth.org/max


Step 2: Open "max for mac"


Step 3: Set following preferences - desired output format to AIFF (Linear PCM). This is the apple equivalent of uncompressed raw wav files. Also set the encoder settings to "Linear PCM" 24 Bit. You can also ellect to export a copy of the encoded files straight into iTunes under max's iTunes preferences. (If you convert to wave files they will also play but album art is not supported)


Step 4: Download FLAC studio master files from Linn records in 24bit 88-96Hz format. Also download album art png file. Leave all files on desktop.


Step 5: Drag all the downloaded files straight into "files to be converted" panel in Max


Step 6: Hit the "Convert" button!


Step 7: Open iTunes...all your files will be seen in your music library! You can check their 24bit hi-res status by selecting "info"


Step 8: Play files! Whilst you are doing this drag the album png art file straight into the album art box of iTunes.


I dragged all the files into the converter, hit convert and all the files showed-up in iTunes as expected. The problem I'm having is that the test files play fine, but the music files don't play. There is an initial click like sound and then a very low level hissing.


I'm feeding my DAC1 via toslink (I’m replacing my old DAC1 with a new Benchmark PRE that has USB input this week) from the Mac Book and the Blue PCM light is on but still nothing. I also tried listening via the headphone jacks on the DAC1 to take the stereo system out of the equation.


Is sound to me like there is a format compatibility issue with playing these files with iTunes. I'm guessing there are some settings that need to be changed in preferences that I did not find on my first glance or perhaps I need to use a different player. Could the problem be that the file is a SACD file? “The SACD layer is both 5.1 channel and 2-channel / The Studio Master files are 44.1kHz / 24 bit.”


Anyone have some thoughts on how I can play these files?

So close and yet so far...










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Thanks for the quick response.

The only setting I had different was on the "Output" window I had Output Files "Music" which I changed to "Same as Source File" to match what you have. I deleted the songs from iTunes and re-converted the files and now I get hissing and static, which is more that I had before.

I'm closer, but there is still something wrong with my set-up.


This is also my first time using a Mac, so I am felling my way around. I have somehow managed to change my desktop so that I can no longer see all the application icons and widgets across the bottom and I have no idea how to put it back. I work around the block from the Apple store on 5th avenue, so I may bring it in there tomorrow to have them show me the errors of my ways. The only problem is that the store is so crowed anymore with Europeans buying everything that is not nailed down because it's half price in the US compared to European prices.


Maybe I'll try a download from iTrax or Music Giants and see if that works.





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