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iTunes/Windows/Virtual Audio Cable


JAsnis

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I'm new to computer audio, and have spend the past few weeks reading through the forum. I'm hoping to buy a computer (perhaps CAPS) that will function as the server for my system ... but have run into a roadblock with software. It seems like the clear Computer Audiophile consensus is that iTunes on Windows is a sub-optimal playback system. But for the moment I'm stubbornly sticking with the iTunes/Windows concept. One potential solution I found was using Virtual Audio Cable to route sound from iTunes to the USB DAC -- thus bypassing the kmixer as a source of sound degredation. While the machine still might not be up to Mac/iTunes/Amarra/etc standards, it seems like at least a major issue would be solved (kmixer)

 

I just wanted to run this idea by the CA forum though, because most of the posts I found were from 2-3 years ago. And a few people even suggested that Virtual Audio Cable doesn't truly bypass the kmixer. Is there a definitive answer on this? Is iTunes -> VAC -> USB DAC indeed bit perfect? There were also a few comments referring to the stability/instability of the program -- does anyone know if the program would be reliable enough for a dedicated 24/7 music server.

 

Looking forward to getting started with computer audio, thank you for any help!

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Following up ... after doing more reading ... my impression is that when iTunes/Quicktime is set to Windows Audio Session (i.e. Wasapi), as long as no other sounds are playing via Windows, the kmixer doesn't alter/resample the feed from iTunes? Thus what reaches the USB DAC would indeed be bit perfect?

 

If I were using a dedicated server, Windows sounds would be kept to a minimum/non-existent. Granted, the setup would still lack audiophile features such as memory playback, etc etc -- but at least iTunes/Windows wouldn't be degrading the sound before it reached the rest of my system. Would any of the experts here be able to weigh in on either post?? Thanks!

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I think what you are really looking for here is for iTunes to grab an audio device in exclusive mode. That just isn't going to happen, though to be honest, it doesn't happen with iTunes under MacOS either.

 

The difference of course, being that under MacOS, you turn the iTunes and System volume up to full, point your system sound makers to another audio device, turn off the equalizer setting in iTunes, and voila! If the file you are playing matches the output settings (sample rate, depth, etc.) you are bit perfect, which is, I think, a wonderful place to start.

 

Under Windows, it just ain't that simple.

 

If you are really determined to use Windows, something like J. River Media Center will allow you to all this, and complement or replace iTunes for you. It will add things like automatic sample and depth switching to your playback, and when you start mixing in hi-res music files, that is definitely a blessing.

 

What will run you into trouble is that iTunes does not usually embed the audio information about a file into the file itself, so any change away from iTunes may lead you down the path of having to "fix" the metadata in your library, embedding cover images as well as track# and titles.

 

The other alternative is to simple switch to a Mac. Your Windows iTunes library will transfer without any issues,and as an aside, your Windows iTunes library will transfer right over with little or no muss and fuss.

 

Hope that helps a bit!

 

-Paul

Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat DAC.

Robert A. Heinlein

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Hi Paul-

 

Thanks so much for your reply ... those are basically the issues I'm facing ....

 

One follow up though ....

The difference of course, being that under MacOS, you turn the iTunes and System volume up to full, point your system sound makers to another audio device, turn off the equalizer setting in iTunes, and voila! If the file you are playing matches the output settings (sample rate, depth, etc.) you are bit perfect, which is, I think, a wonderful place to start.

 

Under Windows, it just ain't that simple.

 

... not so simple ... but is it possible? either with one of the workarounds I mentioned, or another solution that I haven't come across? Or is it so convoluted/prohibitive that it isn't even worth pursuing, in spite of a strong Windows/iTunes preference?

 

If the answer is to abandon the iTunes/Windows concept, I think I'd be more willing to try running a Mac music server, than trying JRMC on a Windows server. I wouldn't be switching over my primary computer to a Mac though, so I'd need to investigate how easily I'd be able to control the Mac server and attached drive from my Windows desktop. Does anyone have experience with controlling a Mac server/attached drive/file management from a Windows machine?

 

thanks again!

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I am making one assumption - that is you plan to dedicate a machine to be your music server. I personally always recommend that, and there are good reasons. However, if you cannot do so, it isn't a disaster, it just means some things may be less convenient than they otherwise would be.

 

Going with that assumption though:

 

I do not believe it is possible to guarantee bit perfect playback under Windows with iTunes. So you are faced with a bit of a choice.

 

First, you can keep iTunes on Windows and just accept the sound will never be quite as a good as it could be.

 

Or, you could install JRMC under Windows and it will pretty much do everything you want. The cost of course, would be in cleaning up your library to tag it correctly and so forth. The upside of doing that is that your library would then still work, flawlessly, with iTunes. Even on the same machine. Sweet.

 

Secondly, you could move to something like a Mac Mini server. This has the immediate advantage that it can run MacOS and Windows both, and avoids locking you into a choice you don't like. Apple also gives you 30 days or so to return it, no questions asked, if you decide you don't like it.

 

So lets say you decide to move to MacOS. First, you can simply copy your entire iTunes library, folders and all, from an NTFS disk to a Mac formatted disk. Connect the disk to the Mini, start iTunes and tell it to use *that* library. You are up and playing at this point, perhaps with a few tweaks here and there to get the best practice settings.

 

You can control your music playback the same as on Windows, by using the Apple Remote.app. No problem there. You can also access the Mac desktop via any standard VNC client. Or you can even use a bluetooth keyboard and mouse and connect the Mac up via HDMI to your television set. That all works very well for most people.

 

But now, boy howdy! You now have a lot more options!

 

 

  • You can run BitPerfect ($5) on your Mac and it will control playback from iTunes, automatically setting sample rates and bit depths and memory buffers and so forth and so on.
  • You could run Audirvana+ the same way, and gain access to controls that will let you fine tune the sound just exactly the way you want it.
  • You could run Pure Music, which does the same things in a different way, and offers other pleasures too.
  • How about Fidelia, which arguably sounds better than most, and is simpler too? No iTunes required.
  • How about Amarra, which is one of my personal favorites? Professional level equalization that can make your system sound amazing.
  • Or how about running J. Rivers JRMC on the Mac? It too sounds amazing, and can run on the same machine as iTunes without disturbance.

 

Oh yeah, you really open up your choices. :)

 

And you still have the capability to run Windows as well, with the windows players. XXHighEnd from PeterSt here on CA is arguably the most tunable and best sounding player out there. HQPayer from Ca member Miska isn't taking any prisoners either. Both of these tools have very non-iTunes like interfaces and appeal to some folks more than others.

 

My preference? JRMC under MacOS. That is because it sounds great and is easy to manage, doesn't interfere with my iTunes library, and best of all, is controllable by JRemote on an iPhone, iPad, or iPod. JRemote is good enough to switch for all by itself in my not so humble opinion.

 

Hope that helps a bit. It is kind of fun to have a wide number of choices!

 

Yours,

-Paul

 

 

 

Hi Paul-

 

Thanks so much for your reply ... those are basically the issues I'm facing ....

 

One follow up though ....

 

 

... not so simple ... but is it possible? either with one of the workarounds I mentioned, or another solution that I haven't come across? Or is it so convoluted/prohibitive that it isn't even worth pursuing, in spite of a strong Windows/iTunes preference?

 

If the answer is to abandon the iTunes/Windows concept, I think I'd be more willing to try running a Mac music server, than trying JRMC on a Windows server. I wouldn't be switching over my primary computer to a Mac though, so I'd need to investigate how easily I'd be able to control the Mac server and attached drive from my Windows desktop. Does anyone have experience with controlling a Mac server/attached drive/file management from a Windows machine?

 

thanks again!

Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat DAC.

Robert A. Heinlein

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Paul, thanks so much for your detailed reply .. I think you've really nailed what I'm looking for, and the questions I have! Let me just reply to a few of your points, and ask a few more questions if you don't mind ..

 

I am making one assumption - that is you plan to dedicate a machine to be your music server.

Indeed what I have in mind!

 

I do not believe it is possible to guarantee bit perfect playback under Windows with iTunes. So you are faced with a bit of a choice. First, you can keep iTunes on Windows and just accept the sound will never be quite as a good as it could be.

That really does seem to be the case (sadly). If I'm aiming for a dedicated server though, I'd rather get it "right" the first time, so to speak. So I'm slowly accepting that Windows + iTunes ain't going for happen to me ...

 

Secondly, you could move to something like a Mac Mini server ... So lets say you decide to move to MacOS. First, you can simply copy your entire iTunes library, folders and all, from an NTFS disk to a Mac formatted disk. Connect the disk to the Mini, start iTunes and tell it to use *that* library. You are up and playing at this point, perhaps with a few tweaks here and there to get the best practice settings.

 

You can control your music playback the same as on Windows, by using the Apple Remote.app. No problem there. You can also access the Mac desktop via any standard VNC client. Or you can even use a bluetooth keyboard and mouse and connect the Mac up via HDMI to your television set. That all works very well for most people.

I think this is the route I'm going to end up taking. But as I have never used a Mac, I want to make sure that the idea I have in my head will actually work. Ideally I would keep my current PC/Windows, located in an office, as my "main use" computer. I would purchase a Mac Mini, which would likely be attached to a NAS, as a dedicated server in another room. A bunch of questions about logistics and compatibility:

 

-When I listen in the office, would I be listening via iTunes Home Sharing on the PC iTunes, or directly from the server Mac iTunes via a VNC client? If I wanted to edit metadata, make playlists, etc., I assume I would have to listen through the server/Mac iTunes via a VNC client, correct? I don't believe Home Sharing would permit me to "manage" the library from the office PC. Would the VNC client operate with sufficiently little lag/stuttering between the 2 computers, to allow me to play ALAC files without skipping? I wouls assume so since the connection would be within my own intranet? Also, once the audio reaches the office PC (either home sharing or VNC client), I think it's back to the same issue of Windows/iTunes audio imperfection? -- but I could live with that in an office setting, as long as the main listening room/music server was running the more ideal Mac/iTunes configuration ..

 

-Assuming I transfer my iTunes library "as is" from my current computer to the Mini ... now whenever I need to sync an iPhone, iPad, or perform other iTunes functions, I have to use the Mini? I can't plug in my iPhone into my office computer and sync it via a VNC client to the server? It would have to be connected directly to the server?

 

-The NAS drive would have to have a Mac formatted disk for my iTunes library, right? If I rip new CD's, download new music, etc. on my NTFS formatted office computer, can I simply "drag and drop" these files (ALAC, mp3) into the server's Mac iTunes interface? Or will I run into compatibility issues?

 

-I currently backup my drives via Windows methods (I use SyncToy) ... assuming I directed the program at the NAS, would it be able to handle backing up a Mac formatted drive onto another (presumably) Mac formatted drive? Or would I have to try Time Machine, or whatever the Apple backup system is?

 

I'm sorry for all the questions, I just want to get it "right" before I embark on a potentially costly and time-consuming project! Thanks again for all of your help ...

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Wow - I got kind of involved in answering this, so I think I will answer each part in a separate post, if you don't mind. That way I can address just a part of the question at each time. :)

 

That really does seem to be the case (sadly). If I'm aiming for a dedicated server though, I'd rather get it "right" the first time, so to speak. So I'm slowly accepting that Windows + iTunes ain't going for happen to me ...

[/Quote]

Sadly, I do think this is the case. Windows + JRMC is a good option to use if you want to stay with Windows though. So don't worry about being forced to choose one platform or the other, either platform, and Linux too, makes a great platform for Computer Audio. Just some combinations are better than others, and Windows + iTunes is unfortunately, not one of those, except in some special situations.

 

 

I think this is the route I'm going to end up taking. But as I have never used a Mac, I want to make sure that the idea I have in my head will actually work. Ideally I would keep my current PC/Windows, located in an office, as my "main use" computer. I would purchase a Mac Mini, which would likely be attached to a NAS, as a dedicated server in another room. A bunch of questions about logistics and compatibility:[/Quote]

 

This is basically a very good plan, for many reasons. I might suggest, if you are buying the NAS just for music, a set of USB or Firewire hard drives might be simpler to use, and I do not think it will limit you in any way. However, don't let me discourage you. A lot of that depends upon how big your music library is.

 

-When I listen in the office, would I be listening via iTunes Home Sharing on the PC iTunes, or directly from the server Mac iTunes via a VNC client?

[/Quote]

 

You could, though I think there are other ways to do this you might like better. I don't know the setup you are using to listen to the music though. Is your computer plugged directly into a pair of powered speakers, or do you have other equipment between them?

 

If, for example, you have a small but high quality office stereo, you may wish to purchase an Airport Express for $99 and just use the audio output from that, which is bit perfect for CD quality files. No muss, no fuss, just plug in a set of powered speakers, a receiver, or preamp, and away you go.

 

If I wanted to edit metadata, make playlists, etc., I assume I would have to listen through the server/Mac iTunes via a VNC client, correct? [/Quote]

You would have to create playlists and such via a VNC client, but to listen to them? No, you can play them to the office using just a remote control device. I am not sure that answered what you asked though...

 

 

I don't believe Home Sharing would permit me to "manage" the library from the office PC. [\Quote]

I am confused. The VNC connection would be used only to manage the Mac or if you need to, to select and start songs playing. You can do the same thing from the PC with home sharing. If I understand what you are asking. I may have missed the boat there somewhere.

 

Before we continue, can you tell me if you ripped most of your music library from CDs, and if so what format you chose to RIP them to? And a rough idea of how large your library is? Also, let me know if you are planning on using the computers for actual playback, or if you are feeding the audio signal to a stereo, DAC, or other equipment.

 

Thanks -Paul

Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat DAC.

Robert A. Heinlein

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Paul again thanks for taking the time to reply to me ..

 

I might suggest, if you are buying the NAS just for music, a set of USB or Firewire hard drives might be simpler to use, and I do not think it will limit you in any way. However, don't let me discourage you. A lot of that depends upon how big your music library is.

I thought about standard HDD(s) attached to the server, since at the moment it would only be handling music. I just thought the NAS would give me more flexibility going forwards, in case I wanted to expand the scope of things. For the sake of this discussion though, either option would be perfectly viable I think? It's a decent size library though, > 50k songs ..

 

You could, though I think there are other ways to do this you might like better. I don't know the setup you are using to listen to the music though. Is your computer plugged directly into a pair of powered speakers, or do you have other equipment between them? If, for example, you have a small but high quality office stereo, you may wish to purchase an Airport Express for $99 and just use the audio output from that, which is bit perfect for CD quality files. No muss, no fuss, just plug in a set of powered speakers, a receiver, or preamp, and away you go.

Right now I have the office PC running Windows 7/iTunes --> Nuforce Icon 2 USB DAC --> PSB Alpha B1 speakers. The Airport Express is a great idea for achieving quality audio output from the PC/iTunes setting in the office. Forgive my Apple ignorance ... how would I control what comes out of the Express? In the office, I like to be able to manage iTunes as I listen (i.e. make playlists, edit metadata, etc.) -- that's why I mentioned the idea of listening in the office/PC via the Mac server iTunes/VNC portal. So would I be able to manage the library while using the Airport Express?

 

You would have to create playlists and such via a VNC client, but to listen to them? No, you can play them to the office using just a remote control device. I am not sure that answered what you asked though...

 

Basically what I was alluding to above ... how would I control the Airport Express, and would that control method also allow me to "manage" my library at the same time? If not, that's why I was thinking that playback through the VNC client could accomplish both goals?

 

Before we continue, can you tell me if you ripped most of your music library from CDs, and if so what format you chose to RIP them to? And a rough idea of how large your library is? Also, let me know if you are planning on using the computers for actual playback, or if you are feeding the audio signal to a stereo, DAC, or other equipment.

Nearly all my library is from CD's (or CD quality/lossless downloads). I've ripped it into ALAC for my current home listening, a mp3 copy for mobile devices, and a FLAC archive copy ... so I think it should be compatible with most setups (including the MAC Mini server-based system we've been talking about). Planned playback would be a 50/50 split between the PC/office (with the audio setup I mentioned above) and a living room where the server would reside (Mini -> need to purchase USB DAC -> existing home stereo). Other stations in the house might be added later. But for me the idea in migrating to a iTunes based server was to have one overall solution for the whole house that was integrated.

 

Thanks again Paul for your help! Let me know if the thinking above makes sense. Would also love your input on those other few questions regard Mac drive format compatibility, backup, and iTunes syncing if you have the time ...

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I just did some reading about the Airport Express suggestion for the office/PC setting ... great idea, it makes complete sense! I also understand how I would use a VNC client to control the Airport + manage iTunes. So please disregard any of those questions above, no need to answer ...

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Sorry, I had misplaced the link to this conversation, and I could not, for the life of me, remember the threat title. :)

 

Great to see you are making progress on this! Feel free to go keep asking questions. If I can't answer them, chances are someone else here will. A few comments below.

 

 

I just did some reading about the Airport Express suggestion for the office/PC setting ... great idea, it makes complete sense! I also understand how I would use a VNC client to control the Airport + manage iTunes. So please disregard any of those questions above, no need to answer ...

 

The best part of this is still something you might not have seen yet - that would be the free Remote.app from Apple. It's pretty darn good, and will let you control the music playing, and on which remote locations it is playing on. You can play to the computer and multiple remote Airport Express devices all at the same time, and all in perfect synchronization.

 

Runs on iPhones, iPods, and iPads. Well worth the cost.

 

And if you decide you want something different, there is always JRMC available, and it has an even better remote control application, called JRemote.

 

-Paul

Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat DAC.

Robert A. Heinlein

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I just wanted to take a minute to thank you again, Paul. I was able to figure out the rest on my own. But you really got me started in the right direction, and made it easy to find the answers to my remaining questions .... thanks for taking the time!

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Your welcome, but I did not do much - you did it pretty much on your own mate! :)

 

Let us know how your adventure precedes. It is really a lot of fun!

 

-Paul

 

I just wanted to take a minute to thank you again, Paul. I was able to figure out the rest on my own. But you really got me started in the right direction, and made it easy to find the answers to my remaining questions .... thanks for taking the time!

Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat DAC.

Robert A. Heinlein

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