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Computer Based Music Server


leighnjo
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I recently came across this board and am very impressed with all the expertise. I am not technically advanced. I have a system that is mainly oriented to TV and DVD but would like to improve the music section by going to a computer based system to get rid of some 300 CD's now housed on a Sony CDP-CX350, On the audio side, I have a Denon AVR-4306 bi-amped to Paradigm Studio 20's and a OM-100 sub. The question is between a Mac system or one of the Vista based systems. I have read here about the Mac-mini and have done some research on Windows based systems the Windows based systems being sold all seem to be more AV oriented than music. I don't need all the video capabilities that are included in the Windows based systems (they're already in place) and I am very confortable with Mac having used them in the past. My questions are as follows:

1. Is an external DAC really needed to create a decent system? Will it improve the sound significantly over simply going direct from the computer to the Denon.

 

2. The AppleTV seems to be an alternative to use streaming the music wirelessly from a base computer or a NAS. I really like the interface from AppeTV as being able to visually see the collection, cover art, etc is important.

 

3. What other alternatives should I consider?

 

You can tell by the questions that I am a beginner as far a good quality audio is concerned. Any help would be appreciated.

 

 

Leighnjo

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Hey Leighnjo welcome to Computer Audiophile!

 

Thanks for posting your questions. There are many people in your same situation. This thread should be very helpful for a lot of people. Don't worry about being a beginner. It will benefit everyone if you keep asking questions until you are satisfied with the answers you get.

 

1. Is an external DAC really needed to create a decent system? Will it improve the sound significantly over simply going direct from the computer to the Denon.

 

I suppose you could go from a Mac mini-Toslink out to a Toslink in on your Denon unit because it appears to have a good DAC inside. But toslink is not a very good way to transfer music. I think to get good sound you must have a different external DAC. I would get a USB DAC to go between a Mac Mini and your Denon receiver. Maybe you want to try it without an external DAC to see if the sound is good enough for you. A true high end sounding system needs the external DAC with a USB connection from the Mac Mini. In my opinion.

 

2. The AppleTV seems to be an alternative to use streaming the music wirelessly from a base computer or a NAS. I really like the interface from AppeTV as being able to visually see the collection, cover art, etc is important.

 

Right now I don't consider the Apple TV an audio device. This is a multimedia many purpose device. I agree the interface is one of the best around. I don't know of anyone using this device as an audio only device like you are looking for. Again, you could try it and if it sounds good then you are set!

 

3. What other alternatives should I consider?

 

I really think the Mac Mini with an external USB DAC is the best for your situation. You can use an iPod Touch as a remote or if you have a remote with a web browser you'll be able to control iTunes with a good interface.

 

Have you considered a canned music server like the Olive Opus?

 

 

 

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I have done some research on the Opus. The only thing I do not like is the visual interface. I really like being able to view the collection on the TV with either the Vista, Mac Frontend or AppleTv interface. The Opus doesn't appear to have any TV imputs only viewing on the Opus built in screen. I don't understand your comment on a remote with a web browser. I have a RF programmable remote, an RTI2+ which can be programmed to control the Mac Mini Front End program which is almost the same interface as the AppleTV. That should give me all the control I need over the Front End program running i-tunes. Alternatively, can't the Mac Mini run a wireless internet using Internet Explorer which could then be controlled througn the univeral remote or the apple remote?

 

Leighnjo

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Hi Leighnjo - Can you give us some info on the Mac Mini front end program you can control with your remote? I am very interested in this and I'm not sure I am familiar with it.

 

My comment about the remote with a web browser is about controlling iTunes through the web browser. Using an app like Signal or Remote Buddy and connecting to your Man with the web browser on your remote like the iPod Touch does. Remotes that can browser the internet through Safar or Internet Explorer can connect to the specific port of the application and have a great controlling interface.

 

Have you considered the McIntosh units? They have a decent on screen interface. It sounds like you are leaning towards the Apple TV interface, true?

 

Thanks for the input!

 

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An outboard Dac is likely to improve the quality of your sound. There are lots of people on this forum who can give you good advice about how to set things up. I know more about the audio part. You have two issues to consider; the interface, SPDIF vs USB, and the comparative quality of the DACS. You would not have to spend a fortune to improve on what is in the Denon, which is not bad but also not great. The good news is you can get everything set up and running using your Denon's DAC, and then experiment with an upgrade. One caveat, and it is an important one. I can't recall if your Denon surround receiver will allow an analog input, which is what the output of an outboard DAC would be, to pass through the receiver unmolested. If it digitizes the analog signal, and it absolutely does if you are using bass management or surround processing on the two channel input, your money on an outboard DAC will be wasted. That beautiful signal from your new DAC will be converted to digital, processed, and then go through the DA conversion process again. Check your manual to see if it is possible to achieve a "purist" throughput and ask yourself if you are willing to not have your sub or surrounds on two channel playback, at least not from the sub output of the receiver. Hope that wasn't too confusing and good luck.

 

 

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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The Apple mac mini can be controlled by a Harmony remote. If you go to the Harmony website I think you can still do a test ride. Under media center pc's you can go to apple and specify a mac mini. Also, a google search will reveal other programs that can be loaded to control the mini. Yes, I like the Front end interface which is pretty much the same as the AppleTv. In fact, the AppleTv remote (very simple) may work with the mini. I have ruled out the McIntosh units based on price.

 

Leighnjo

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A review of the manual shows a PURE DIRECT mode which is described as "...all circuits and processes not required for the selected input source...as well as digital circuitry and other unnecessary circuits for analog audio inputs are automatically turned off so the music signals can be reproduced with high sound quality." I intend to go to the 4306 board and inquire as to whether this mode will do the trick. My univeral remote should be able to be programmed to go to PURE DIRECT when music from the mac mini is played. The 4306 has an analog imput for "CD player" as well as a digital optical and coaxial imput.

 

Leighnjo

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Pure direct will pass it through unscathed. In some models this also shut down the video section for lower noise as well but regardless this will not digitize your analog input signal. Do remember that this will not allow bass management for your sub when this is selected. The sub (assuming there is one) will still be there for other inputs, just not this one.

 

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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Chris ask to info on the Harmony remote control of the front end program on a mac mini, A discussion of the use of the Harmony on a Mac is discussed here: http://www.tuaw.com/2008/02/11/tuaw-review-remote-and-the-mac/

Although the discussion is regarding programming the Harmony remote from a mac computer, it does discuss controlling a mac computer including Front End. Please note the follow up remarks, some think the Harmony is "quicky" regarding front end and others praise its ability to fully control the computer doing away with the need for a keyboard and mouse!

 

Leighnjo

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Hey Leighnjo - I think I may have figured out what talking about now. Do you mean Front Row instead of front End?

 

I looked at the Logitech Harmony and it does appear to control a Mac, but in a much different way than an iPod Touch does. If you like the Front Row interface, this may be for you. I prefer the iTunes interface on the iPod Touch. It also requires no setup.

 

There are a few ways to control the whole computer like the Harmony remote. The remote Buddy application can pretty much do this. Anyway, it may come down to preference. Are you leaning one way or the other for your preference?

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

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Front Row is the interface I was referring to. Sorry about the mistatement. I am leaning toward the Front Row which I can control using my RTI RF remote. I am pretty well settled on the Mac Mini using I-tunes. My only open area is the external DAC. They aren't cheap and I wonder if we will be able to appreciate the difference between an external DAC and the DAC in the Denon. All my equipment is in a rack and I am also concerned about positioning the Mac Mini so we can add CD's after the initial load. If the ripped CD's are on an separate USB or firewire HDD could I simply detach the data drive and update it by ripping the CD on the main computer, which would be an I-Mac located in another room? Also, what type of connection would be used to connect the audio from the Mac Mini to the Denon and/or an external DAC?

 

Leighnjo

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"I am also concerned about positioning the Mac Mini so we can add CD's after the initial load."

 

You can set iTunes to automatically rip a CD when it is placed in the Mini's drive and you can set it to eject upon completion of the rip. I would try that now to make sure you're familiar with how it works. The only possibly downside is the meta data such as album title, album art and song titles. If these aren't right you'll have to correct them another way (not impossible though). You can also use an application like VNC to control you Mini for all of this. If you are using OS X Tiger you can use the highly recommended application NetTunes to control iTunes on the Mini from another Mac using the standard iTunes interface.

 

To connect your Mini to you Denon you'll probably be stuck with Toslink The Mini has a mini-toslink output from the headphone jack. There are products that will take USB output and convert t into coax spdif if needed. If you get a dedicated external DAC I would go the USB route.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

Announcing The Audiophile Style Podcast

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