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What Direction To Take for Music Server?


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My apologies, I had no idea this would end up so long when I started writing it...

 

As I noted in another thread, I'm becoming more uncertain of what direction I want to go with a music server. The end result needs to provide the best possible quality audio at a reasonable cost, but also be as user-friendly as possible so my wife (who is not that computer-saavy) won't be too intimidated to use it on her own. Right now my current hardware to deliver music consists of the following:

 

Home-built HTPC in Silverstone LC-18 case with typical hardware inside running Win XP SP2 Media Center, still experimenting with playback software. MiaMidi PCI sound card (currently unused because USB is connected instead). Valab DAC (USB / Toslink / Coax). This is all running into a mix of vintage and modern tube gear, and Martin Logan CLS panels with Descent subwoofer.

 

I've decided that I don't like the little touch screen on the Silverstone case because it's too low-res to be useful and you have to get up every time you want to make changes. I also don't like being forced to turn on the TV to view the computer desktop, so I think I'm going to sell this HTPC and start over. My ideas for a new setup are...

 

1. Handheld PC meets the wireless wonder

Pick up a Samsung NP-Q1U and install Foobar / ASIO. Connect the DAC and a USB hard drive to either wireless USB or USB over WiFi, and use the handheld PC as a wireless interface between the two. Unfortunately I learned in my previous thread that this will introduce a lot of jitter, so a reclocking solution may be necessary (Pace Car?)

 

2. A more traditional route

Build a smaller, cooler, less noisy server and control it with a remote desktop device of some sort. Viewsonic's Airpanel comes to mind although these things are getting pretty dated and the screen is fairly low-res for its size. The Samsung device above could still be used here by enabling remote desktop sharing, but it seems like a waste of hardware (and cash) for such a simple task. No, I don't own an iPhone.

 

3. Still stuck on the Samsung

Use the Samsung thingamabobber to do everything - handheld device, store and serve the music files, etc. Connect it to the DAC wirelessly by one of the two wireless USB solutions above. Basically it's a wireless music server with a touch screen that you hold in your hands. Sounds good on paper anyway...

 

As for more popular means of music streaming, I'd rather avoid using things like the Airport Express because it's not only wifi but also compresses the music by design.

 

If you've made it this far I commend your patience but must question your sanity. That said, any input would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

 

Ah, nuts! sys64738

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This may not be the level of quality you are looking for but I have no complaints with my Mac Mini music server using an iPod Touch for remote control. I have an upgraded hard-drive in my Mini (the original died) but also have access to my NAS drive if I needed to expand beyond or could attached a USB drive. Of course this solution means I'm using iTunes for music management but there are other options like Songbird using another Touch app. My mini is dead silent so it can easily sit with my other equipment and I have the choice of a USB dac solution or can use the optical out. And I find the Touch to be a great remote control for it. If I need to do more than music selection I can either use VNC from another computer or turn on the TV which I have it connected to (seldom do this since I got the Touch).

 

I picked the Mini mostly for the form factor as its small size worked perfectly for me (guess what I'm saying is I don't have strong feelings on whether Macs or Windows machines are better - I have both and enjoy both and don't really feel one is better than the other).

 

While this set-up is not the most elaborate (using an M-Audio Transit in to my Integra pre-amp) I've been very happy with it and with the sound quality. I have the music in AppleLossless (for those things ripped from CD, made sense to me for the file size and support in iTunes though would prefer to use FLAC) and some MP3 purchased online.

 

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Thanks for the info. I did consider a Mac mini for a short time, but a few things prevented me from pursuing the idea further. Mainly, I have an all-PC network comprised of four computers here in the house. While Macs are good machines, PCs are what I know best and I've never had good luck in the past networking the two formats. I'm a bit of a computer geek (in hopeful recovery) so I also prefer the DIY aspect of a custom PC as well as the top-level control Windows gives you over your computing environment. I will readily admit however that the idea of pulling a music server out of the box, plugging it in and being done with things sound enticing. :)

 

I do have a micro PC in the house that I could move over to the audio rack, but I'm leaning towards something more purposeful, maybe mounted in an audio-style case like the mCubed HFX that Chris reviewed a while back. That is, if I don't house the whole thing in a handheld device of some sort.

 

Ah, nuts! sys64738

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This is true, but that's like putting an automatic transmission in a 4x4. ;) I can build a computer equal in spec to the Mac mini for less money than buying one off the shelf, so the only appeal a Mini would have for me would be OSX and everything being pre-built and installed.

 

Ah, nuts! sys64738

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Steve_S,

 

Just trying to point out the other options! The Mac Mini, even its current rather overpriced incarnation, is a very good-looking, small, fairlyquiet computer with everything needed for a music server. Sure you could buy (most of) the bits for less, but then you have to put them together yourself. How much is your time worth?

 

Max

 

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Yeah, that is actually a fun part. Plus the satisfaction of making something beautiful from a pile of parts. Kind of like restoring a rusted out old classic, only without all the grease and bloody knuckles. :) I do appreciate the input Max, please don't think I'm merely dismissing it. I've got it all in a little corner of my undersized brain.

 

Ah, nuts! sys64738

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People designed their own circuits, soldered them up in the basement, and tried them out. Some people built kits for components or speakers (there may still be a little of that, out there, somewhere). DIY was a significant part of Hi-Fi.

 

Today, not so much, not the least of which is because laying out and producing a PCB is beyond what most hobbyists are up for. Maybe building a good power supply. Not much more than that. The Xonar Essence STX PCI card has sockets for three op-amps that let you swap parts, which is pretty cool. The people that can do it well end up as micro-businesses, and they can actually afford to produce a run of boards since they sell them, or products based on them.

 

On the computer end, however, you can select and assemble components, write software, select or mod a cool case, fiddle with the networking and remotes. Lots of good DIY stuff. Whereas the audiophile end is more a matter of "which expensive shiny boxes do I upgrade to and plug together"? Boorr-ing.

 

16/44.1 source material, ripped via EAC to WAV. Linux (Fedora 10) machine -> USB -> Headroom Desktop Headphone Amp (Max DAC, Max module) -> Sennheiser HD650

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I've just 'finished' my set up, (for now :) ), and had similar reservations to your own. To cut a very long story short, I ended up choosing the Promitheus Dac and initially connected it via usb to my Samsung NC10 netbook using MediaMonkey/WaveOut to serve up the tunes. Not bad, but 'something' not quite right.

 

Following a de-camp to home of 'number one son' and a good burn-in session the 'something' turned out to be the usb connection. The Promitheus sounded much better via coax. So, how to get spdif? The answer has turned out to be the Squeezebox Duet. Once set up the connection is rock-solid over 802.11g, the controller handset admirably performs all the required remote needs and the sound quality via spdif is more than up to the demands of the Promitheus.

 

The downside is a limit of 24/48, but if your 'comment' is anything to go by, anyone who remembers how to reboot a Commodore 64 is going to be 'of an age' where high res starts to matter less! (I was a Dragon 32 man, myself!!)

 

I had reservations about wireless, still do, but it does work and works really well providing you stay within the usual networking protocols. I will venture to suggest that anything with 'wireless' and 'usb' in the title is not going to be up to the job, at the moment. Think early wireless networking and you'll be in the right ball-park. We have two such devices at work and, for connecting peripherals, they are fine - streaming files is a different matter, they are utterly hopeless!

 

I also considered building a small something, around one of the Intel Atom boards, to provide storage duties and a pci slot for a suitable soundcard, but in the end I plumped for the Duet as my first option because it would have a resale value if I was disappointed!

 

Happily, all is much better than I could have hoped for. Over spdif it has no obvious vices in my system, and is remarkably musical and easy to listen to - much more so than anything I've heard to date over usb.

 

If you can, try and get to hear one. If you can't, then they regularly turn up on certain auction sites at a very reasonable price that won't leave you much out of pocket if you decide it is not for you!

 

Have fun.

 

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Steve,

 

Why not control the lot with an Ipod Touch ? It'll work with MediaMonkey or if you're happy with iTunes perfect. Differences between the Media Players often only exist when you begin fiddling around whth volume or if you have an ancient audio card with rubbish drivers.

 

I'm counting down the days to my iPod Touch (birthday pressie) having seen my brother using his with Media Monkey and iTunes. MediaMonkey operation revolves around playlists, but it has some pretty fancy screen graphics in use.

 

Matt.

 

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

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ps: - Bob, where have you been lately ? ... Noticed a lack of posts from you.

 

Please fill out a holiday form in future and hand to Chris for sign off.

 

;-)

 

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

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Thanks for all the great replies. This is a lot to think about. Mr. C, you are correct except for the device that Steve N. listed in another thread. Apparently it does work but at a higher cost.

 

BEEMB, I've considered it, reluctantly. The screen is pretty small and you're paying for a lot of technology that would go unused. But, I haven't entirely ruled it out. When you use an iTouch as a remote for an audio server, does it still use the same GUI as if you were playing music on the iTouch itself? In other words, does it will use coverflow, etc and operate in the same way, except that instead of playing from the iTouch it tells the audio server to play the selection instead?

 

Ah, nuts! sys64738

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LOL :) Guilty as charged! Been a bit 'otherwise occupied' recently - still been around but not had much time for posting and getting too involved. Lots of new faces around though and lots of interesting stuff going on. :)

 

This thread bumped me a bit because I've struggled with the 'what to do' question myself, between 'doing it properly' and waiting for things to settle. I decided to go with the Duet and wait for Windows 7 to sort itself out before going for the final build and XXHE and/or Wavelab as a long term server. The Duet can always fill in with internet streaming duties. Vista has been such a non-event and XP such a PITA that it made more sense to me to wait for Win7/exclusive mode players to be the norm before going the whole hog. Mind you, I've been wrong before!

 

Anyway, thanks for the hand-shake, and sorry for the hijack, Steve - not completely off-topic though. ;)

 

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