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I am relatively new to the idea of a music server. I have been researching heavily for the last couple of weeks and really need some advice. For the last couple of years I have been using J River, one pc upstairs streaming wirelessly to another computer downstairs. I had set up J River with the appropriate plug-ins and was ripping music with Exact Audio and thought "well, this is great". As all the codes were digital, I thought equipment and or cables could not temper the codes. Then behold, I am being told that there is a difference in the type of equipment and much less difference in the way certain components sound, HUH? My audiodiction started in the 70's, I have had turn tables, tubed equipment, cables and everything else and still do. The theory that source first and quality equipment were necessary in a linear progression to have the best sound, all made sense, it was analog!!

 

Manual turntables, preamps with no remotes, triode tube amps heating the room to uncomfortable levels, getting up changing records every few moments made computer audio very inviting. Now, I have a quandary, "it seems possible that I can get better sound from my digital selections, whaaat?

 

I have been to audio stores and seen a few of commercially available music servers, most seem to have their own dacs built in and their own proprietary software. As someone wrote, the moving development of design renders most of these objects obsolete in short order considering the high prices. Then, I discover Computer Audiophile with great realms of knowledge. A lot of stuff to digest!!

 

This is where I need help:

 

  1. Music Server

 

  • How do I determine what is the best source for playing my music?
    • It is going to be difficult to audition many servers, just not that many in my area, how do I choose?
    • I have seen the C.A.P.S units on this site, I am intrigued by the fact that they do give some maneuverability in selection of components, software, etc.
      • How do the C.A.P.S. compare with commercially available units, compared on sonic quality and cost comparisons? If the C.A.P.S. is the best option, which model is going to be the best?

       

     

2. Storage

  • What is the best way and best manufacture for storage?
    • What is the best format?

     

 

3. Network

  • What is the best way to network the system?
    • What is the best components, switches, cables, etc.

     

 

4. What am I missing, is my ignorance just too great to overcome

  • Please feel free to try to point me in a direction that will help me not to suffer too much!!

 

I appreciate any and all replies to my post; I have a very nice audio system and would like to fully enhance my listening experience. I realize that many of you have been in my position and have figured a lot of this out. If you would be willing to share your knowledge and your trials, it would be great. Just not a lot of opportunities in my area to try to sort all of this out. Thanks in advance

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I can tell you from personal experience that ignorance can be overcome. Moving your music listening/equipment from consumer grade to audiophile grade involves a myriad of decisions about all the aspects that you have correctly identified. For me, I decided that I would begin by understanding the important aspects of the source, my amplifier. I bough what I believed would give me the most bang for the buck that I wanted to spend. Then, studied the best way to get data to it. After that I looked at speakers, then tweaked the interconnects. It all takes time and patience but the trip is worth it. CA is a great place to start - but be prepared to swim through a sea of differing opinions. Audiophile systems are unique, and the sound comprises the environment, the components, and the taste of the individual.

That I ask questions? I am more concerned about being stupid than looking like I might be.

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When building a system, I prefer to start at the speakers. They will determine the sound that is heard more than any other component. The one place the recorded music stops being a signal and starts being music is the speaker. And they all have different specs. If you have Maggies, you will need a very different kind of amp (something that will drive a very low ohm amp well, say down to 2 ohms would be nice) than if you have 100 dB speakers like I have (a 2-3 watt SET or Pass Labs style class a/single ended SS drives them great).

 

Then select the amplifier that performs best with your speakers and you will be 70% of the way there. For me, I then like to address room treatment but not everyone is of like mind. Perhaps a more common next step is the source. Which is what you are asking.

 

There is no "one best" source. Perhaps it is better to say there are sets of "best" source systems and "best" means optimizing the system you choose. This means education, preference, and, if you have the desire, trying a few different ones. I'm very happy with my CAPS/NAS/JRiver/JRemote system that is highly optimized (but not ultimately optimized). I also have enjoyed a modified Squeezebox Touch system that was a lot more simple and produced a great sound quality. They both have their strengths and weaknesses.

 

The choice of DAC is very important once you have the server and storage issue considered. The good news, in my opinion, is there are several sub-$500 DACs that sound amazing, the $500 to $1,500 range is better than you could have imagined three years ago at nearly any price, and the $3,000+ DAC selection is sublime. It is more a matter of personal preference and budget than sound quality these days.

 

If I were to start from scratch today, I would determine my general budget and if I wanted to set things up once and not tweak or if I wanted to enjoy the tweaking. So for the DAC plus server, am I spending $500 to $1,000, $1,000 to $2,500, or $3,000+ on the source? There is no "right" answer and you can get amazing sound at the low and high ends. You don't need to break the bank nor are you wasting money if you have the resources. Giving an idea here of the budget will help folks narrow their recommended areas for you to explore.

 

The next thing I would do is decide on the "one time purchase" or "tweak/upgrade" issue. I like to tweak…others like to set up and forget. The music streamers/stand alone systems vs. build it yourself/select parts question is there. If you answer this question, folks can make some recommendations on products for your consideration and research.

 

I hope that helps with the thought process a little…as ever, each of us has our own way of thinking on such matters. There isn't a single best/right way.

 

Best,

John

Positive emotions enhance our musical experiences.

 

Synology DS213+ NAS -> Auralic Vega w/Linear Power Supply -> Auralic Vega DAC (Symposium Jr rollerball isolation) -> XLR -> Auralic Taurus Pre -> XLR -> Pass Labs XA-30.5 power amplifier (on 4" maple and 4 Stillpoints) -> Hawthorne Audio Reference K2 Speakers in MTM configuration (Symposium Jr HD rollerball isolation) and Hawthorne Audio Bass Augmentation Baffles (Symposium Jr rollerball isolation) -> Bi-amped w/ two Rythmic OB plate amps) -> Extensive Room Treatments (x2 SRL Acoustics Prime 37 diffusion plus key absorption and extensive bass trapping) and Pi Audio Uberbuss' for the front end and amplification

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Thanks PopPop. My stereo equipment has been selected and refined over the last several decades. Evolvement of the equipment was based on being able to see, hear and feel the equipment. There are few stores and even fewer individuals in my area that have any idea of how any of higher end digital sources work. Where do I start and how do I evolve in understanding what is available, how to acquire the proper hardware and software and how do I configure everything?

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John, my system consists of the following equipment, VPI TNT turntable with Lyra cartridge, Audio Research SP 11 MK2, preamp, McCormack DNA 500 amp, Ayre QB-9 dac and Aerial 20T speakers. This system is intertwined with Arcam theatre processors, dvd, etc. I may eventually update the pre, however I am quite fond of the SP 11. The weakest link is my digital sources or so I think. My budget for server, storage, network would be in the 3k range. Thanks John. How do you decide on your CAPS? Is the Zuma better?

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You have a very nice system, I bet it sounds amazing already.

 

First, I would recommend you consider other recommendations from those with more experience than me…I hope there are few more responses. That said, I think a small green computer zuma would be great for you, along with JRiver and JRemote.

 

This will give you a lot of processing power which may be useful to you over time. It may even allow some integration of your HT system (I don't know, just speculating). I find a simple NAS setup is a great advantage to file storage as it allows access for data management via a laptop elsewhere, letting you effectively run headless.

 

This is but one idea shaped on my experience with a CAPS. And how did I select the CAPS Carbon? Cost, ability to build myself, and the chance to try different parts/power supplies all while running JRiver. It replaced a Mac Mini that was very easy to run but didn't sound as good (and would be more expensive to upgrade further). I have been wanting to build a Zuma and have some parts but have not managed it yet…

 

Best,

John

Positive emotions enhance our musical experiences.

 

Synology DS213+ NAS -> Auralic Vega w/Linear Power Supply -> Auralic Vega DAC (Symposium Jr rollerball isolation) -> XLR -> Auralic Taurus Pre -> XLR -> Pass Labs XA-30.5 power amplifier (on 4" maple and 4 Stillpoints) -> Hawthorne Audio Reference K2 Speakers in MTM configuration (Symposium Jr HD rollerball isolation) and Hawthorne Audio Bass Augmentation Baffles (Symposium Jr rollerball isolation) -> Bi-amped w/ two Rythmic OB plate amps) -> Extensive Room Treatments (x2 SRL Acoustics Prime 37 diffusion plus key absorption and extensive bass trapping) and Pi Audio Uberbuss' for the front end and amplification

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Thanks PopPop. My stereo equipment has been selected and refined over the last several decades. Evolvement of the equipment was based on being able to see, hear and feel the equipment. There are few stores and even fewer individuals in my area that have any idea of how any of higher end digital sources work. Where do I start and how do I evolve in understanding what is available, how to acquire the proper hardware and software and how do I configure everything?

 

John, my system consists of the following equipment, VPI TNT turntable with Lyra cartridge, Audio Research SP 11 MK2, preamp, McCormack DNA 500 amp, Ayre QB-9 dac and Aerial 20T speakers. This system is intertwined with Arcam theatre processors, dvd, etc. I may eventually update the pre, however I am quite fond of the SP 11. The weakest link is my digital sources or so I think. My budget for server, storage, network would be in the 3k range. Thanks John. How do you decide on your CAPS? Is the Zuma better?

 

It sounds like you are on the right track. My experience, using a run of the mill lap top (and J Rivers MC) was that the sound improved when I bypassed the sound card and swapped out the toslink cable for USB. I started with a Bel Canto 24/96 link into my Electrocompniet DAC- that brought a lot of clarity to the music but was overly detailed. I listened to it for a couple of years before upgrading to the Bel Canto uLink which proved to have a more "analog" sound. I'm tickled pink. At least until the next great product comes along. It sounds like you have top notch DAC.

That I ask questions? I am more concerned about being stupid than looking like I might be.

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Whew- you have what is probably a dynamite sounding system already! I would move very carefully, and be are that each change you make is an improvement. Especially so changing just one thing at a time.

 

This is what I would do, so take it with a grain of salt. Before anything else, allocate three or four months of experiment time. :)

 

1. Ensure that JRMC is setup the best it can be for your equipment. That includes ensuring that you are using WASPI Event or ASIO to drive the QB9, and that you have ripped your music to AIFF, ALAC, or FLAC format. Also be sure you are running the latest version of JRMC. That may be enough changes for a week. :)

 

2. Upgrade the QB9 to the newest version. I heard the upgraded version last week and it literally blew my socks off. It's that good. Also, it opens up the world of DSD sound to you, since JRMC can transcode on the fly. In my limited experience, DSD makes a very positive improvement on playback. That may or may not be true for you, but the only way to find out is to test.

 

3. After that is as good as possible, start playing with the idea of changing the server out for a quieter more powerful computer. I would only do this if there is something about the sound I do not like. This is not all that likely to be honest. (Try a Mac for instance, which gives you access not only to JRMC, but a half dozen other top players. One of them might be just your cup of tea. :))

 

4. Alternatively, play with various USB cables to the DAC. This may or may not make any difference, so try to borrow cables instead of buying them. The Cable Co. has a neat loaner program. This is again, not all that likely to make a huge difference for you, but it might. (I suspect you already have pretty good cables and so on.)

 

5. If none of this improves your sound sufficiently, then your alternatives start costing money. I would suggest to get a very noticeable improvement over the Ayre QB9 DAC, you are looking at a $10K+ investment in a DAC.

 

Just my $0.02. YMMV, etc.

 

 

John, my system consists of the following equipment, VPI TNT turntable with Lyra cartridge, Audio Research SP 11 MK2, preamp, McCormack DNA 500 amp, Ayre QB-9 dac and Aerial 20T speakers. This system is intertwined with Arcam theatre processors, dvd, etc. I may eventually update the pre, however I am quite fond of the SP 11. The weakest link is my digital sources or so I think. My budget for server, storage, network would be in the 3k range. Thanks John. How do you decide on your CAPS? Is the Zuma better?

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

Robert A. Heinlein

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Thanks Paul,

 

I tried a few things last night, updated to the latest JR and tweaked the settings. Some I did not like and some I did. Your advice is sound, take some time to let things settle in, maybe some of things I did not like......

 

However, is an dedicated audiophile server going to sound better than the computers?

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Thanks Paul,

 

I tried a few things last night, updated to the latest JR and tweaked the settings. Some I did not like and some I did. Your advice is sound, take some time to let things settle in, maybe some of things I did not like......

 

However, is an dedicated audiophile server going to sound better than the computers?

 

Again- in my opinion only - I do not think so. In point of fact, every audiophile server out there is just a computer dressed up nicely. Perhaps with more care than usual to the power supply, etc. A CAPS server is exactly that, a computer with carefully chosen components.

 

While the source computer certainly does make a difference, the OS and player software you use makes at least an order of magnitude more difference. You could, for example, use Linux on your current computer and you will get a very different sound out if it.

 

The same is true if you run MacOS.

 

The dedicated players can be fantastic, but you are probably trading off cost for time and work, and may find you like the sound of JRMC better than say, Linux and MPD on a Bryston. Or Audirvana+ on MacOs, etc. it will take longer to work though the possibilities, but I think the effort may be worth it. :)

 

Only you can judge that, and YMMV.

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

Robert A. Heinlein

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  • How do I determine what is the best source for playing my music?
  • What is the best way and best manufacture for storage?
  • What is the best way to network the system?What is the best components, switches, cables, etc.

Not only do I agree with John that there's no "one best" source, but I'll go one step further and say that there's no such thing as the "best" anything. There are many, many things that each of us prefers more than their alternatives and substitutes, but there's virtually nothing that's universally preferred by everybody. Your system is stellar and certainly more than up to the task of reproducing the subtleties of the equipment and sources in which you're interested. But keep in mind that there are many who prefer alternatives to your wonderful and well chosen equipment, e.g. Magico or Focal to your Aerials (which doesn't detract at all from how great they are). There is no "best", but there's a lot of "great" and "wonderful" waiting for you. You'll simply have to put the same time and effort into finding out what stuff makes you go "wow!" now that you did to find your current system.

 

You're trying to gain in days and weeks the knowledge and experience in digital that took you many years to develop in analog, and that simply won't happen. Paul's advice is right on - optimize and tweak what you have, and learn how each change sounds to you. If you don't do it one step at a time, it'll be even harder to figure out why an entirely new setup doesn't sound quite right to you.

 

...is an dedicated audiophile server going to sound better than the computers?

 

It might to you - you'll just have to try it and see. You might enjoy starting at the bare bones by building a BeagleBone Black music player to front a simple NAS archive of FLACs, just to see how it sounds and if / how you like it. Now you have a fun quest again - enjoy it!

 

David

 

PS: I recall from a Stereophile review about a decade ago of a smaller McCormack DNA (225?) that the reviewer was told by Steve McCormack to substitute a huge power cable and found a large improvement in SQ. So if you're not using one, you might find it a worthwhile investment. I've never heard one, but I'm told that McCormack amps sound really great.

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Welcome Stephen. I'd first point out that you clearly already own a very capable, top of the line interface for digital in the Ayre QB-9. Given the rest of your system, IMO you've already won the battle of major sound quality decisions and are probobly satisfied with the systems sonic signature.

 

That being said, my opinion is that from the Computer side of things, we're talking small signal improvements as the Ayre has what it takes to produce a clean analog signal from all but the worst digital sources. BUT, in this hobby, EVERYTHING matters so let's look at the entire signal chain link by link.

 

I'll start with the USB cable interface. Pretty much USB has become the audiophile standard for digital transmission to a DAC. While there's arguements over the validity of USB cables having an audible difference, Ayre's Charles Hanson quoted from a forum states that although he doesn't understand how or why a USB cable can impart a sonic difference, he and others have experienced the difference first hand. He also outlines the circuitry within the DAC to explain why the Ayre should be immune to the common USB flaws of EMI and other noise getting into the signal chain. I don't believe that performance of USB cables is cost driven as many members here have reported varying accounts that seem to have little to do with cost. When selecting a cable, you should explore this topic seperately and I think your own personal experiences will guide you the rest of the way.

 

The computer/server itself. For me, I've found the user interface to be the primary driving factor in making the digital end of audio the most useful and fun experience. There's tons of options on this front so my only suggestion would be to CHOOSE your interface first and work backwards from there, assuring that the server will work together with the interface to the best of your needs and the interfaces ability. To that end, I can only say that I personally choose the Apple iPad in all of its variants as my interface of choice. I'm speaking from an ergonomic, functionality and reliability standpoint here as well as support and app development. I don't think there's a device out there that comes close to the iPad when considering development and support. You mentioned embedded home theater gear as well so the iPad also offers some amazing remote control possibilities for those devices as well with the inclusion of some simple Ethernet integration hardware and the availability of some amazing remote apps. ( more on these later if you like, I've tested the two primary apps in my HT and both are simply amazing). Again, a tablet interface might not be your thing....some prefer good ol buttons or a larger display. Questions on either can and should again be answered later, and I suggest a seperate topic when you're ready.

 

So we've whittled down to the actual server.....the core of the system so to speak. Certainly there's many components to consider and their relative contribution to sound quality. When exploring the finer details of each, you'll find hotly debated topics with many resulting in objective/subjective arguements that result in little gain on the topic. From a technical standpoint, it would take you literally MONTHS to sort through it all and develop enough technical background to sort through the discussions. For us here on CA, this IS what CA is all about....improving our listening experience one step at a time. You can choose to accept the subjective listening experiences of members here or try many of the options for yourself. My suggestion would be to get up and running with some tried and true basic components, and then work towards improvements individually, over time enjoying the quest as you go. I'll highlight some basics.....

 

Form factor. Obviously the chassis of your server needs to meet your needs. If you'll be building or modifying a unit yourself, I'd consider your current skill level before making a choice. Larger form factor chassis ( server rack, mid/full tower, audio grade HTPC chassis) offer an easier time at assembly and more flexibility in components. There's also the benefit of more efficient cooling which can impact both sound quality and longevity. My suggestion would be to consider the largest chassis possible along with the ergonomics and form factor you desire as well as construction quality. Again, this individual topic should also be addressed seperately.

 

Power supply. The form factor of the chassi you decide on may dictate or limit your options here. There's MUCH to consider in regards to energy usage, ambient fan noises, sound quality ( another highly debated topic) and power capability depending on what other system components you choose. Processors, audio and video cards, disk drives, etc. All will have power requirements and will dictate the capacity of your power supply. Some basic rules here will be the more power, the more heat and larger size as well as cost and ambient fan noises. Some here choose the high end road of external, configurable linear power supplies. Another highly debated topic best researched individually. I can say that my own approach is to keep a server as simple and primarily audio/video based as possible. The less components, the less required from the power supply which can go a long way towards mitigating ambient noise, system noise and possible sound quality degredation. I would add that on the commercial side of systems in both audio and video production, there are monstrous, complex desktop platforms that perform both reliably and productively within a commercial environment where the stakes are MUCH higher than home listening and enjoyment. Again....for some, 'everything matters' is very literal.

 

Storage. I'm going to end this reply here as it's getting a bit long in the tooth. I will only add that again, personally i would follow the road of commercial success with an external, remote network storage solution for just about every reason imaginable.....except convenience and cost, which with today's NAS options really aren't that much of a major concern these days. These devices are stand alone, and don't impact your local machines resources. Network transmission of data has also been shown to be extremely forgiving in regards to the introduction of EMI and other system noise. Capacities are near limitless and expandable with proprietary data protection and backup usually more advanced than what's available for on board storage. If you have a wired network or the desire to create one, i highly suggest this option.

 

So that's it for now. Feel free to follow up with more direct queries as your project is obviously just beginning and IMO deserves that level of attention. Enjoy!

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David, thanks for the reply. I completely understand that there is no best. Honestly, I have realized that perhaps what I am reaching out for is a "shortcut". My nature is compulsive, and at times I want to get there now! As for the McCormack DNA, I do like it very much. I have gone through the 7 Aerials, the 9's and the 20's with it. My thought process was to get to the 20s in small steps rather than just jump in. Much in the same way that you guys are mentoring in the approach to my current situation. Thanks

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To put all the above advice in perspective you should perhaps investigate a NAS (e.g. Synology) running a server application (e.g. MinimServer) connected by ethernet to a renderer (e.g. Sonore Rendu) providing SPDIF to your DAC of choice, and controlled by an app on your Android / iDevice. No need for a general purpose computer (or even a custom-built computer) in the playback chain. You'd still need one for curating the music library. Arguably the sound quality from this server architecture can be at least as good as that from a highly tuned computer with software player providing a USB stream to your DAC (or USB-to-SPDIF) converter.

 

I've not done the sums but this server system might allow you to buy a more expensive DAC, depending on how much NAS storage you need. It is also a very 'clean' system: the only significant area you might need to work at is the renderer (jitter, power supply artefacts etc etc).

 

Just a thought before you start spending …………………….

ALAC iTunes library on Synology DS412+ running MinimServer with Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 tablet running BubbleUPnP for control >

Hi-Fi 1: Airport Extreme bridge > Netgear switch > TP-Link optical isolation > dCS Network Bridge AND PS Audio PerfectWave Transport > PS Audio DirectStream DAC with Bridge Mk.II > Primare A60 > Harbeth SHL5plus Anniversary Edition .

Hi-Fi 2: Sonore Rendu > Chord Hugo DAC/preamp > LFD integrated > Harbeth P3ESRs and > Sennheiser HD800

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