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Ideal music system on a budget


Christopher
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My goal is a simple and flexible near-audiophile quality music system. Here are the parts I have so far:

 

Benchmarck DAC1 PRE (just ordered and on the way)

Rotel RB 1080 power amplifier

B&W CM7 speakers

 

My plan is to use the Benchmarck DAC1 PRE as both a preamp and DAC. This will connect to the Rotel amp directly with balanced cables.

 

I was originally planning to buy an iMac 2.4GHz as a media source that would connect directly to the Benchmark via USB. This was the plan until I learned of two other options in this forum (below).

 

A. iMac, 20 inch, 2.4 GHz w/touchscreen from Troll Touch.

 

B. Mac Mini connected directly to the DAC using an iPod Touch to control it remotely.

 

Here are my goals:

 

1. Use iTunes for all stored digital media

2. Have a CD/DVD player that connects to the Mac via USB or directly to the Benchmarck so I can make use of its superior DAC.

3. A monitor to view iTunes, videos (DVD and other) and photos, etc.

 

If my budget is about $4,000, what is the best approach? Does iMac have advantages over Mac Mini? I don’t know if there are there affordable external CD players that will connect to the Mac via USB, or perhaps directly to the Benchmark? Could I just use the SuperDrive for CD and DVD playback?

 

Your thoughts, wisdom and guidance will be very much appreciated. Thanks in advance!

 

Chris

 

Amarra 3.0.3/iTunes-->AQVOX USB PS-->Acromag USB Isolator-->Ayre QB-9-->Ayre K-5xeMP-->W4S SX-500-->Tyler Acoustics Linbrook Super Towers-->SVS SB12-Plus (L&R). Cables: Nordost, Transparent, LessLoss, Analysis Plus & Pangea. Dedicated line with isolated power conditioning per component: PS Audio & Furman. Late 2012 Mac Mini 2.6GHz Quad-Core i7 (16 GB, 1TB Fusion, 6TB ext via Tbolt). External drives enclosure http://www.computeraudiophile.com/f7-disk-storage-music-library-storage/silent-enclosure-external-hard-drives-7178/

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Welcome to Computer Audiophile Christopher. Good questions that many readers are interested in.

 

You are off to a very good start. Once you have the music server in place you'll never want to leave your listening position and likely won't have to with the iPod Touch.

 

Your physical server will of course be a personal choice. I would like to add one more option to the Mini and iMac you've suggested. I would take a serious look at a MacBook. You would also want an external monitor for you DVDs, so the price may be creeping up there. I think a 20 Apple cinema display is around $599 new from Apple. Together with the MacBook this would set you back about $1700. Second in line I suggest the iMac for your specific purposes mentioned. The built-in monitor make somethings very easy compared to the Mini. Some will argue the built-in monitor are adding "noise" to the audio signal, but I have yet to see anything definitive and haven't heard anything myself. Third, I suggest the Mini. For people that have Mac skills and can get creative when it comes to remote controling the actual screen on the Mini, this is a wonderful option. When it comes time to run software updates etc... it is always nice to have a monitor. But, if you do have a monitor or need one to watch DVDs, like you want to do, the Mini could be your best choice because it is so cheap. You'll want to make sure the video performance is up to your standards. A Mini and 20" display would only run you about $1200.

 

I recommend the iPod Touch to everyone. Rumor has it that the price will drop next week on the Touch.

I would use the Mac as your DVD player for now. Unless you aren't satisfied with the video performance. If not, just connect the DVD player to the Benchmark. I haven't seen a USB DVD player yet, but I haven't been looking.

 

Let me know if I just muddied up the waters or cleared some stuff up. I'm sure this will raise more questions, so fire away when you have time.

 

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edit - Ha - Chris, you have a quick trigger finger!

 

Sounds pretty good to me. Right along the lines of what's going on around here. Some of this just becomes choice. Here's points to ponder -

 

Either Mac can handle CD DVD playback, so you don't really "need" more. Some people want more, to be kinder to the internal drive or want a CD player for other reasons. To me, that's preference.

 

For me, I didn't do the mini because as you say you want a monitor. Either the iMac or MacBook solve this in different ways. I find my MacBook offers portability and a screen. That said, our iMac has a screamin, honkin, great display for DVD with an unclutterred look. Both are great. Now, if you run into a TV of sorts the mini is lower cost.

 

The other thing is that if you go uncompressed, you will likely run out of storage. As you think through that, you will probably contemplate additional drives of some sort. Those have some issues and some people want them remote. That leads you into wireless. But to me, your plan sounds good and you can deal with that down the road.

 

Subjectively - Our iMac, when the drive really spools up is quite a bit louder than the Macbook, even when it spools up in disgust. Drobo is quiet, but that's drive choice (WD 750 GB caviars). I doubt it would bother me even in the listening area, but I do use it wireless and will eventually have music in other rooms, so I don't really want the router and server visible. Wait a while and you can probably go SS on storage.

 

Lastly, when I add a lot of music, I plop down the laptop and USB direct into server. It's faster. That would seem a little more cumbersome with a Mini. I've done it with our iMac and it works fine, but dragging the iMac around is harder. Not that much tho. Ditto for burning wireless, for me it's pretty slow, so I plop the laptop down and unplug the router and pop direct into the laptop.

 

I drag things between two locations so I am not the typical "set it up and leave it" user. Plus, well you do get a laptop out of the deal. Be sure to let us all know how it sounds when you get it going. Nice components for sure.

 

Good luck!

 

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Price drop ... nice. Any more detail to that rumour? Is there any significant reason to go after larger storage on the iTouch if it's just controlling as a remote? Maybe to drag a DVD on a plane or something like that? Have an iPod so don't really value the music storage, at least I don't think I do.

 

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The Dutch Apple store is showing about a $100 decrease for their iPod Touch. This is similar to what happened with the Airport Express. The Swiss Apple store leaked the new product over the weekend.

 

So, my guess is we'll see a $100 decrease soon, but this may also mean the elimination of the 8GB model. Which brings me to your question. I have the 8GB as my remote and it is all I need for storage. I have a few movies on it because they aren't much more than 1GB each. I use my other iPod for everything else.

 

 

 

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Chris C. and contributing members,

 

Thank you for sharing your valuable thoughts and advice. Your feedback has raised a few more questions on my side, but you have also given me clarity regarding my approach.

 

Clarity...

 

I will likely pursue the Mac Mini with a 23” touch screen Cinema Display from Troll Touch. The customized touch screen display increases my cost basis, but appears to be worth the investment (do you agree?). I prefer this approach because (a) I can easily upgrade the Mac Mini in the future, (b) the Mac Mini has a small footprint with a frontloading SuperDrive, and © touch screen navigation seems awesome. I’ll also add the iPod Touch for remote navigation (especially now that I see your price reduction update).

 

As you have suggested, I will use the Mac SuperDrive for the time being and will continue to research external CD/DVD equipment to be added at a later date.

 

Questions...

 

I understand that storage size for uncompressed files will become an issue quickly. I also have to wrestle with data management. I have multiple Mac products and will need to synch iTunes with 2 computers and 3 iPods. The iPods are simple; multiple computers are more challenging.

 

While I like the wireless server approach that has been discussed in other forum postings here, I’m interested in preserving the highest quality playback. Therefore, I would prefer for iTunes files to reside on the local hard drive of each computer (is this correct?). If I download or burn files from one computer, I’m not sure of the best way to have the second Mac synch with the former.

 

The primary Mac (in my study) is connected to the Internet with a direct DSL connection. Downloading is fast, reliable and simple. I was planning to add an AirPort Extreme Base Station with Gigabit Ethernet so that the music system Mac would also have Internet connectivity. After reading and learning, I’m now considering a Time Capsule 1 TB.

 

Please let me know if you think the following approach to data management and synching makes sense. I’m open to any data management approach as long as it makes sharing/synching files easy and it preserves the integrity of source material.

 

*Use the Time Capsule for wireless connectivity

*Create a centralized iTunes library on the Time Capsule hard drive

*Update the iTunes library on the Time Capsule hard drive from either Mac

*Copy the updated files to the Mac hard drive that requires updated iTunes files

 

After reading your feedback here, I also took a look at Drobo. I would be happy to substitute the Time Capsule for Drobo if the latter has advantages. Your thoughts on this would be very helpful.

 

Thank you all very much again for your help and guidance.

 

Chris L.

 

 

Amarra 3.0.3/iTunes-->AQVOX USB PS-->Acromag USB Isolator-->Ayre QB-9-->Ayre K-5xeMP-->W4S SX-500-->Tyler Acoustics Linbrook Super Towers-->SVS SB12-Plus (L&R). Cables: Nordost, Transparent, LessLoss, Analysis Plus & Pangea. Dedicated line with isolated power conditioning per component: PS Audio & Furman. Late 2012 Mac Mini 2.6GHz Quad-Core i7 (16 GB, 1TB Fusion, 6TB ext via Tbolt). External drives enclosure http://www.computeraudiophile.com/f7-disk-storage-music-library-storage/silent-enclosure-external-hard-drives-7178/

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Hey Christopher - Here is my opinion. Let me know what I missed or what you want to discuss further. Based on the hits to this thread I think many readers are getting a lot out of it.

 

I will likely pursue the Mac Mini with a 23” touch screen Cinema Display from Troll Touch. The customized touch screen display increases my cost basis, but appears to be worth the investment (do you agree?).

 

I certainly like the idea of the 23" touchscreen. It is so easy. Anything that facilitates listening to music is a great thing. As I said in my article on the touch screens, I wish they had the interface capability like an iPhone ot iPod Touch. Other than that these units look great. I am still considering one for myself. I just can't decide which route to take, iMac or just the screen with a Mini or sending in my current 30" to be modified etc...

 

 

 

While I like the wireless server approach that has been discussed in other forum postings here, I’m interested in preserving the highest quality playback. Therefore, I would prefer for iTunes files to reside on the local hard drive of each computer (is this correct?).

 

Not totally. A network attached disk is no different to iTunes. The music is pulled from a mounted drive whether it is connected via SATA or TCP/IP doesn't matter as far as sound quality goes. The music will likely be written to your local disk as a temp file anyway. Sound quality is my number one thing as well and I wouldn't recommend the option for you if it was negatively effected. This can be a different story if you are talking wireless music streaming through an Airport Express or Squeezebox. These two devices are presented the music from iTunes, whereas wireless disk presents music files to iTunes. I think one of the big issues here is jitter.

 

 

 

If I download or burn files from one computer, I’m not sure of the best way to have the second Mac synch with the former.

The primary Mac (in my study) is connected to the Internet with a direct DSL connection. Downloading is fast, reliable and simple. I was planning to add an AirPort Extreme Base Station with Gigabit Ethernet so that the music system Mac would also have Internet connectivity. After reading and learning, I’m now considering a Time Capsule 1 TB.

Please let me know if you think the following approach to data management and synching makes sense. I’m open to any data management approach as long as it makes sharing/synching files easy and it preserves the integrity of source material.

 

*Use the Time Capsule for wireless connectivity

*Create a centralized iTunes library on the Time Capsule hard drive

*Update the iTunes library on the Time Capsule hard drive from either Mac

*Copy the updated files to the Mac hard drive that requires updated iTunes files

 

 

There are numerous ways to accomplish this. You'll have to try a couple to find what best works for you. Some people are doing it the same way you suggest. Another way is to open the library file on the time Capsule and not copy it locally. I believe this limits you to one Mac in the library at a time. One other possibility is to use the built-in library sharing functions of iTunes. Have one Mac be your ripping station and share out the library so it is visible from your other Mac. I haven't tried it, but I don't think the iPod Touch remote will work well in this configuration.

 

If I was in your situation I would store the music on a network drive such as the Drobo which has built-in data redundancy. I would access the music from each Mac and have the library files reside on each Mac. Whenever I added music I would rip it from one of the Macs, then manually add the new album to the other library. For me this wouldn't be a hassel because at most I purchase three or four albums per week. Starting from scratch and ripping hundreds of albums is a complete different story and requires a little temporary configuration.

 

 

 

After reading your feedback here, I also took a look at Drobo. I would be happy to substitute the Time Capsule for Drobo if the latter has advantages. Your thoughts on this would be very helpful.

 

Time Capsule has no built-in backup. The Drobo has this feature and can be expanded very easily as your library grows. The TC can be backed up and expanded somewhat, but if you want ease and simplicity the Drobo is the way to go 100%.

 

 

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

Announcing The Audiophile Style Podcast

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I like the thought of touchscreen, but might be missing the ultimate utility, especially if you plan to have a second monitor. Wouldn't you do something like have cover flow or be searching iTunes to find what you want? If you have an iTouch with a monitor it seems like redundancy. Maybe I just like to type. Cool tho, for sure yes.

 

While I got off to a rocky start with Drobo, it is simple at this point. It does it's thing with no interaction. When it get's grumpy (full) just pop in a bigger drive and keep going, so far at least up to 2TB mirrored. I think you can chain them too for a fleet of Drobos.

 

I'll probably get in over my head here, but I think my library files reside on Drobo and both Macs just point at that library. I can play laptop>DAC>amplifier, wife can play iMac in the kitchen and I can rip/write from either. At least I think that's how it works. I'm much better at cooking and making cocktails than technical details of networking!

 

Can I get an amen for CA.

 

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I'll probably get in over my head here, but I think my library files reside on Drobo and both Macs just point at that library. I can play laptop>DAC>amplifier, wife can play iMac in the kitchen and I can rip/write from either. At least I think that's how it works. I'm much better at cooking and making cocktails than technical details of networking!

 

If your library file is on the Drobo you can do this. If your library file is in the default location (local), you'll have to add the music manually to the Mac that didn't rip the album. An easy way to tell is to rip a CD from one Mac, then open iTunes on the other. If the new album shows up you are sharing the library file on the Drobo.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

Announcing The Audiophile Style Podcast

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