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Noob trying to figure this out.... (kinda long)


Geo
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Hey y'all...

 

First of all, let me say upfront that I'm not what I would describe as a audiophile. I'd love to be, but the reality is I'm not quite that committed. That said, I love music and want better sound than the average consumer junk.

 

Here is where I'm at...

 

I have a Denon AV receiver (10 years old, but sounds great for my budget), Paradigm speakers and previously had 3 Yamaha CDM-900 110 disc megachangers. Well, two of them don't read the CDs anymore and rather than replace them or repair them, I've decided the best route to go is a dedicated music server.

 

This will be music only and directly wired to my receiver. I will not be using it to serve music wirelessly around the house. I simply want a better solution to several megachangers and if I can improve the sound some, that is a plus.

 

I've researched this a fair amount and what I've found is: this is the only place I trust to get the info I need. I may not be a true audiophile, but the other info I've found is either really dated or what I would generally consider low level, cheap applications. FWIW, this site may find more like me joining for the same reasons. There is surprisingly little quality info to be found with a reasonable level of searching.

 

So, down to the guts of it. First of all, I understand that just about any old computer will do. I've tried to locate a really cheap or free solution without finding something I would trust. I'm currently getting very serious about picking up a Dell Studio Hybrid. It appears to be sufficient to the task and has great form factor as well that will fit in well with everything else I have. If anyone has any strong feelings on this solution, I'd love to hear it.

 

The techie side of this that I feel really unsure about is what other hardware I need. From what I've read, the only other thing I really need is a USB DAC. Is this correct or no? Long term I'd like to get a really good DAC, but for now, to get the equivalent sound to the megachangers I'm replacing, from what I've read I think most any external DAC should fill the bill. Thoughts on this?

 

If I'm missing anything from a hardware perspective, I'm all "ears." I'm not concerned about the software side as there is plenty of info on-line about this. I'm not expecting to be "spoon fed" so if anyone has links to info that would answer my questions, I'd be as grateful as direct answers and even a little hand holding on this.

 

Again, thanks for humoring me. And to continue something I mentioned earlier, this seems to be the best site readily found for this information. As such, an FAQ on this subject might help cut down on such noob questions as mine.

 

Thanks all. I'm looking forward to doing this. Assuming I'm not riffed next week at work (next week is the big cut day) I'll probably get very serious about ordering the server soon thereafter.

 

George Roffe

Kingwood, TX (Houston)

 

PS: Sorry about the length.

 

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George,

 

Welcome, you have certainly come to the right place.

 

You have a number of options infront of you. BUT, if you are in the market for a Dell Studio Hyrbid then, as a PC owner, I can tell you that a Mac Mini would be the most simple solution. I've owned both, and, to avoid fiddling, the Mac's simplicity takes some beating.

 

Consider: A Mac Mini - with a large external hard drive (or maybe the internal at 320GB has enough space) - connected to a USB/firewire DAC - connected to into your amp.

 

You can control your WHOLE music library via an iPod Touch if you so wish. The convenience, audio quality, ease of use and the COOL FACTOR will no doubt keep you happy for many years to come.

 

Matt.

 

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

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Not sure I'd even rush into the external DAC. I don't know the Mini, but the innards of a Mac laptop are remarkably quiet, and the analog that comes out is surprisingly good. It may exceed the quality of those CD jukeboxes and be all you'll ever need. One other thing I'd do, though. Get an internet connection to the back of that server, wirelessly or otherwise. For discovering new music, internet radio is the greatest thing since toilet paper on a roll.

 

Tim

 

I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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Both Matt and Tim have offered great advice.

 

From my experiments I've found the Mac with iTunes is the simplest way to get bit perfect CD resolution. Controlled by iTouch / iPhone it's also a really great user interface.

 

I wouldn't rush into getting a DAC - get a mini-optical to optical cable and start with the DAC in your Denon AV reciever. Also try analogue via mini-jack to phono cable compare the results though I would expect digital to the amp to be best.

 

300 odd CDs should fit onto a MacMini's internal 320GB hard disc ripped into Apple lossless format (or use FLAC if you decide to go PC route). Longer term an external disk allows more disks to be stored or us a NAS (Network Attatched Storage) allows noisy discs to be kept away from the listening room. A solid state disk (SSD) makes a MacMini virtually silent. With lossless compression (see comment below), you should average about 3 CDs per GB of storage.

 

ITunes is great on Mac but on PC maybe better to use Media Monkey.

 

The most important thing web starting out is to rip either to uncompressed (WAV or AIFF) format or using lossless compression (FLAC or Apple Lossless) it's possible to change format later but if you rip to AAC or MP3 then you've lost information you can never get back without re-ripping (a time consuming task).

 

Hope these pointers help and don't sound patronizing.

 

Eloise

 

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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All of the replies so far are right on.... yet, now you maybe a bit confused about whether to go Apple or PC. For sure, the Mac Mini provides a packaged music server right out of the box complete with bit perfect audio software, USB, digital optical out, and now Firewire 800. I have a new Mini and it is great.

 

A PC by comparison opens the door to the tinkerer.. There's tons of different options that include a bunch of good, free audio software (rippers, playback, conversion, etc.), as well as hardware upgrades, such as new audio cards, provided you get an actual desktop, like Dell Studio, that offers expansion capabilities. Chris has a good article here somewhere about the perfect PC music server. TPPCMS begins as a $300 Dell desktop that is completely optimized for playback for $1200, or thereabouts. If at all interested in PC, I recommend you read this article to get an idea of the cheap stuff to do to optimize a PC. Whether you want to spring for the $700 card is another matter. There's certainly much cheaper ones out there.

 

I do sometimes wish I went the PC route to be able to tinker.

 

A USB or Firewire DAC will work great. Or, if the computer offers a digital out, or you decide put a card in the PC that has a digital out, than you could go right into your Denon via toslink, I think.

 

Good luck..

 

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I 2nd, 3rd, 4th and now 5th the recommendation to go with the Mac Mini if you want a simple solution with great sound quality. I run my Mac Mini to my audio processor via the Mini's built in optical digital output. I highly doubt you will find the immediate need for a USB DAC. For what it is worth, I replaced a high-end CD player for the Mac Mini about 6 months ago and have never looked back. No compromise in sound quality and a huge improvement in the accessibility to my music.

 

So get a Mac Mini, connect it to your AVR with the digital output, boot up iTunes, and rip your CDs using the Apple Lossless codec and sit back and enjoy!

 

Cheers,[br] - Tim

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What is your budget? That is such a large factor that it's hard to recommend anything without knowing it. If you have less than $500 for a server then obviously the Mac mini is too expensive where a PC will do the job just fine. As for the sound, I don't know how good mega changers sound, but I don't imagine that sound quality is their top priority. The outputs on any computer are probably equivalent. From there, you can get DACs from hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on your budget and your level of OCD (jk). The one thing that I would make sure whatever server has is a digital output so that you don't have to rely on a usb dac. This will save you money if you decide to go for either the benchmark or lavry dacs as the non-usb versions are substantially less expensive. You can also use older dacs meant for use with cd transports rather than being limited to "computer audiophile" dacs.

 

x3 on the connnecting your server to the denon receiver to start things off. I did this a while ago and was impressed with the quality.

 

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Thanks all for the wonderful replies.

 

I'll try to fill in blanks and I have a few remaining questions.

 

First of all, I've looked at the Mac Mini. With the great endorsements by y'all, I'll look at it again. I'm not a big tinkerer, so that is not my attraction to a Windows-based system. I do think there is much more activity in the Windows world, but I also hate Microshaft, so it's a toss-up. The big reasons for thinking about the Dell is it's about the same size, has pretty much the same specs (including optical out) and I can pick one up for about half the price of the Mac Mini. One thing it has going for it that the Mac does not have is HDMI out. I plan on using this only for music, but the HDMI out will allow me to use my 52" LCD TV as the monitor for this unit. Here's a link to the Dell:

 

http://www.dell.com/content/products/productdetails.aspx/desktop-studio-hybrid?c=us&cs=19&l=en&ref=dthp&s=dhs

 

While I do have a budget, it's flexible. If I go with the Mac, I will most likely delay my purchase. I'd be ready to order the Dell anytime after Friday (assuming I don't get riffed - Friday is the big day). That said, I will take another hard look at the Mac on your suggestions.

 

Interesting thoughts about connecting directly to the Denon AVR. I will probably try this first with a plan to add a DAC later. While I don't consider myself a true audiophile, I do love music and if I can really improve the sound for $100-300, it will be in my plan somewhere.

 

As for hooking up to Internet radio, that is the only real reason I will hook this machine to the net. I LOVE Pandora and really look forward to playing it through my system rather than my computer's horrid speakers.

 

One question that remains is proximity to my center channel speaker. I would like to place the Dell or Mac about 3-4" from my center channel. I'm concern about the speaker magnets that close to my HD. I would assume the CC is shielded well enough that it shouldn't be a problem, but have zero experience with this.

 

As for software and formats, I have a good idea where I want to go with this (either direct copies or some lossless format) but I'll post another thread about that if I have any specific questions.

 

Again, thanks everyone for your input. Clearly I need to take another look at the Mac. It's nice to know either way I may not have to spring for a DAC right away. I'm really looking forward to doing this. Since the CD jukeboxes have died on me I haven't played music as much as I typically do. Having my entire collection instantly available is a dream for me. I appreciate your helping me out as not only a noob, but truly not an audiophile either.

 

George Roffe

Houston, TX

 

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.. Mark from Austin here -

 

I don't know for sure, but 3-4" from the subwoofer doesn't sound like enough distance to me, unless it is a model that is shielded to protect CRT-type video components. Even then, I wouldn't be very comfortable with that amount of separation. I'd go to about a foot of separation. Could be someone else here knows more about that.

 

I mainly butted-in here to try to get you to look a bit closer at your price comparison techniques between the Mac mini and the Dell Studio.

The Studio is about $150 cheaper using the base configs of both systems, not " about half the price". - $349 vs. $499. Now (using those numbers) the Studio has equal specs to the mini for most of the other important features except for memory (Studio = 2Gb, mini = 1Gb). Granted. What you aren't accounting for here is this: one runs Vista HOME (basic) and the other runs OS X (there aren't any other versions except the server version) at this price. Why is that important you ask?Vista Home is stripped of some of the best features (I'm speaking relatively here - I don't like winbloze either) of Vista.

Look here: http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-vista/compare-editions/default.aspx . You have to spend about $150 dollars more at Dell.com to upgrade to the Vista that is reasonably comparable to OS X. At this point, the price is equal, but the Studio has 2X the memory. .... Now, I went to a pre "Vista introduction" seminar at Dell a few years back ( I do live in Austin ) and their engineers were of the opinion that Vista needed at the minimum, 2X the hardware resources to run properly than XP did. (We will ignore all the drivers, programs and hardware that were going to break at the change of OS's...) Take that for what it is worth, but Dell sells hardware. They weren't exactly unhappy about this. It was suggested that to do anything serious, one needed a minimum of 4Gb of ram to run Vista. Facts that have emerged since Vista has become available have not proven that opinion incorrect. Witness the ongoing class action lawsuit that MS is fighting over the "Vista Compatible Hardware" tags that appeared on computer hardware just before the time of the Vista release. These boxes weren't really 'compatible' because they were designed with XP in mind and were not capable of doing the same (really serious) work in Vista that they were capable of in XP because they couldn't have their hardware upgraded to a high enough level for Vista. .....This is (it HAS to be, legally) my opinion, but I am far from alone in it.

 

OS X doesn't have these problems. It runs great in 1Gb of memory, it is supreme in 2Gb. If you 'aftermarket upgrade' the mini memory, it will be much cheaper than having the factory do it. It seems to me that the costs have now equalized, speaking from a dollar for dollar cost to performance point of view. .... and if you buy a Mac you will have the ability to run Windows via Bootcamp, Parallels, or VM (AS WELL as OS X) on the same machine. IF you decide that you want to. Don't think that you will though once you try OS X. The Studio won't run OS X reliably - it CAN be hacked though....

 

Your HDMI issue isn't solved however, except for the fact that you can use a DVI to HDMI converter to pipe vid to your monitor from the mini. I did see some posts about this very subject today on CA, with reference to copy protected (DRM) material. There is also the question of output to multichannel audio receivers as well. I don't know anything at all about this particular subject (and don't care about it either), so more research will be needed on your part to answer questions that you might have about this.

 

I truly hope this helps you - markr

EDIT: Great game by the Rockets today. I'm a Spurs fan (I'm from SA), but root for all the teams in our division!

 

 

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Thanks for the input Mark.

 

The 3-4" is from the center channel, not the sub.

 

As for price, I am able to pick up a Studio Hybrid with a 320GB HD and Vista Premium for about $360. It's a refurb, but that doesn't bother me much. I appreciate the comments about Vista. I know it's not well loved and it was a point of concern.

 

 

 

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That's a good price for the equipment, and I too wouldn't be worried about getting a refurb. They will do their best to stand behind it. I kind of wondered if something like that wasn't in the works.

 

I believe that most center channel speakers ARE shielded for CRT's, so MAYBE that won't be an issue.

 

I still think you'd like a Mac better though.......

 

markr

 

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Sammie,

 

I've only just read your post here, playing catchup after concentrating on something else the past few days.

 

Your comment re being able to tweak is spot on. I'd always recommend a Mac for it's ease of use and simplicity but the Mini at the time didn't offer me the tweakability I desired. I too love to play around, configure, test and the big sell for me was Blu Ray support on the PC too. I'm still not completely happy mind, I wish my TV supported 24p so I didn't have to speed up 24p BluRay to 25fps to prevent judder, but hey, it looks good.

 

So I'd agree ... Mac for simplicity, PC for the tweakers. (Unless you can afford the bigger Macs, do a Chris and install 4,000 operating systems on one computer).

 

 

 

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

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  • 3 months later...

Just thought I'd post an update...

 

I ordered a Dell Studio Hybrid last night for my dedicated music server. Got a 320 GB HD and decent processor and ram for $359 including wireless keyboard and mouse and Windows 7 upgrade.

 

I should have it a week from today according to Dell.

 

Now on to picking out software for this thing. I'm going to strip all the non-essential softward off it that comes packaged on it. This will be strictly a music server. In fact, the only reason I will conntect to the web with it is to play Pandora.

 

More as it develops. Thanks for all the help and advice. I know I'm going a little different direction by not gong Mac Mini, but the price and configuration is right for me. This should be fun.

 

George

 

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