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Mac based music server with airport express


Ant

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HI all

 

read the great articles, but none seem to advocate the use of airport express (AE) for wireless and I would love to know why?

 

I want to set up a music server from scratch and will probably buy macs of one or other type to achieve this. The system is for listening to in my main living room where I also have my TV.

 

I love the macbook based system but without AE then using a laptop seems daft, after all, why not a mac mini via a TV as a menu?

 

My question then is would it be possible to link a macbook, a time capsule for extending disk space and/or backing up files, AE connecting to my amp via a decent DAC?

 

Would this affect the sound as the macbook should send the track to AE wirelessly in it's original digital code format and the AE should then pass this wired to the DAC and thence to the amp?

 

Am I missing something?

 

Thanks in advance for your advice, Ant.

 

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Hi Ant - You have a pretty good setup planned and it should work very well. The Airport Express is not generally considered an audiophile grade component even though you'd be passing the digital signal to an external DAC. One option is to get a Pacecar from Empirical Aidio. It is designed for situations such as this. Here is a link to some info about it http://www.computeraudiophile.com/node/64

 

Since the AE is so cheap I recommend picking one up and trying it yourself. You may like it and save yourself a bunch of money.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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Ant,

 

I have a tread started about AE and have been updating it when I make changes to it. Here is the link:

 

http://www.computeraudiophile.com/node/369

 

I actually have been having problems with my AE and it's going back this Th and I'll grab a new one. Right now I'm using it on my whole house audio setup until I decide if I like the setup or not. If I move it over to my main system it will be used for going to a Marantz receiver for the DAC and then I'll invest in a separate DAC and move up from there.

 

Jim

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Chris,

 

I can't find an answer to this question. i think i confused myself tonight. i'm going to move my AE over to my marantz tomorrow. i have a question, can this thing transfer anything higher that 16/44? I was reading in stereophile tonight that it can't. it was saying that itunes can't carry anything higher than that. i thought it could and that the ae can output up to 24/96. and then an external dac can do what it needs to? i am correct in this or am i loosing it?

jim

 

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ah yes i see. oh well. no big deal at this time but for the future who knows. i'm going to hook that up today. ok one last question cause i'm not the most knowing re: DAC's. I'm learning as I'm going. When I send regular cd quality to my marantz's DAC's from either the AE or my mac out the minijack via TOS for now what is exactly going on when it gets to the marantz b/c it has 24/192 DAC's does it convert it to that rate the source to that or does it just convert it to analog and output it at the same rate?

 

jim

 

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There seems to be some confusion about the capabilities of Apple's Airport Express. Apple themselves do not specify its DAC. I am not convinced it is limited to 16bits/44.1kHz. Paul McGowan of PS Audio states in PS Audio's March 2008 Newsletter (http://www.psaudio.com/newsletters/3-08.asp) that Airport Express is capable of passing through a 24bit/192kHz signal and that Airport Express (and Apple TV) can be part of an audiophile-grade music server.

 

MacBookPro/8GB/ApogeeDuet/ProTools9/CalDigitAVDrive/AudioquestDiamondUSB

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Hi Leigh - I too read that newsletter and remember readeing that exact statement I don't think the statement says the Airport Express outputs 24/192. Here is the exact statement you are referring to.

 

"True, it's got medium/high jitter (about 250ps) and it's optical (which is the worst of the digital transmission methods) but run through a PS Digital Lens, it sounds better than the output of a CD player and because of the Lens, outputs 24 bit 192kHz which our DAC loves."

 

Paul is saying their Digital Lens is capable of 24/192, thus it must upsample the 16/44.1 from the AE. I have talked to some of the best know and respected experts in the industry about the AE and they all say the Express is limited to 16/44.1.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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One more note - I do agree the Airport Express can be part of a high performance audio system. What Paul is suggesting is that a product like his PS Digital Lens is required to remove the high jitter. Steve Nugent from Empirical Audio has been doing this for a while with his Pace Car. I've heard his equipment and it sounds fabulous.

 

In my opinion to have an AE you need something to reclock the data before sending it to the DAC, just like the aforementioned products. Once this is in place the AE is a wonderful solution.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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If Airport is limited to 16/44.1 then this is very interesting because I am getting very good results playing back 24bit/48kHz files through it while it is only connected to my hi-fi via a cheap analogue cable. Better results than playback through my USB-connected Digidesign MBox.

 

MacBookPro/8GB/ApogeeDuet/ProTools9/CalDigitAVDrive/AudioquestDiamondUSB

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The AE with iTunes will pass formats other than 44.1, such as 96kHz, but they will be converted to 48kHz. I dont believe it has the bandwidth to do 192kHz. All AE transmissions are converted also to Apple lossless. I have not tried 96kHz, but I have heard reports on other forums that the resampled 48kHz output is not great.

 

The stock AE with a good glass Toslink cable is not as good as a decent CD player. Strictly mid-fi. The timing jitter is just too high, which results in frequency modulation of the analog signal. If you have a really cheap CD or DVD player, it might be better, but not audiophile quality IMO.

 

One way to make the jitter of the AE inaudible is to add a Pace-Car reclocker from Empirical Audio. This is a true reclocker, not an upsampler or PLL. With this reclocker, the data is not changed in any way, but the output jitter is lower than even the very best CD players and transports. It was recently compared in a shootout to two new Meridian CD players, one priced at $7K and one at 14K and the listeners all agreed that the AE with Pace-Car crushed the Meridians. I was not present at the shootout. It was done by a customer of mine. More info on the Pace-Car products:

http://www.empiricalaudio.com/frPace-Car.html

 

Steve N.

Empirical Audio

 

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So, AE will manage 48kHz.

In playing iTunes via Airport I am using Soundflower ( http://www.cycling74.com/products/soundflower ) as both input and output in Audio MIDI Setup on my PowerBook G4. Soundflower is a system extension which allows any application to send audio to and from any other application with no other support needed. I obtained Soundflower as part of the application Airfoil ( http://rogueamoeba.com/ ) which transmits non-iTunes audio to Airport. Soundflower is available independently. In Audio MIDI Setup Soundflower can be configured to 32bits/96kHz, 32bits/48kHz or 32bits/44.1kHz. I configure it to the sample rate of the audio files I wish to play. 24bit/48kHz files sound good played back using 32bits/48kHz. Soundflower set to 32bits/96kHz increases the sound stage width and depth but bass becomes boomy and there is less detail in mid range and treble. I am careful to quit and re-open iTunes after each setting change in Audio MIDI Setup.

Also with Soundflower in this configuration in Audio MIDI Setup keyboard volume controls and mute keys are bypassed.

Has anyone heard of Soundflower? It would seem to have given me the best sound yet.

 

MacBookPro/8GB/ApogeeDuet/ProTools9/CalDigitAVDrive/AudioquestDiamondUSB

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I won't pretend to understand where the jitter is coming from in the AE (I thought the primary source of jitter was in A/D and D/A conversion, isn't the AE just passing digital through? I do know this, though, and please pardon a healthy dose of skepticism: A little black box designed to re-clock the output of a $79 device, that costs as much as some very well-regarded studio clocks, is begging for some serious data, explanation and salesmanship.

 

Tim

 

I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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Jitter only becomes audible during the D/A conversion. However, it is a strictly digital problem, and occurs in all digital paths, including cables.

 

The beauty of the Pace-Car is that even the cheapest digital sources, like the AE can be made world-class digital sources. This is because it only requires the data to be cleanly transferred into memory. It does not care about incoming jitter. Then the output has even lower jitter than the Rubidium clock and other similar expensive solutions.

 

You have every right to be skeptical. I have 15-18 weeks of order backlog for the Pace-Car and my USB converters. I dont need to advertise. They are that good. I sell entirely by word-of-mouth and 50% of my customers are return customers.

 

I have a demo unit with a Squezebox that I can let out for auditions with a 50% deposit (one week only).

 

Steve N.

Empirical Audio

 

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I kind of view it like a real physical car. You start out with a perfectly clean car without any dents or scratches. When it gets dirty a good carwash can make it look clean like it originally was. A bad carwas may just clean parts or spread some dirt around. A cheap carwash will skip the undercarriage wash. If you bring in a car with dents it can't be fixed by a carwash and can only be taken care of with replacement parts "like" the originals.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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Ant wrote:

"I love the macbook based system but without AE then using a laptop seems daft, after all, why not a mac mini via a TV as a menu?"

 

Most of my customers dont want this because they wear-out their TV monitors just to listen to music. They prefer a remote at the listening position to navigate thier music, with an LCD screen, such as the Duet or the Sonos.

 

"My question then is would it be possible to link a macbook, a time capsule for extending disk space and/or backing up files, AE connecting to my amp via a decent DAC?"

 

Sure, but without a reclocker, the AE wil not be as good as a CD player. If you are using a macbook or a mac mini and locate it near your rack, why not use USB? It's cheaper and allows 24/96, which the AE will not do. Control iTunes from a Touch or iPhone.

 

"Would this affect the sound as the macbook should send the track to AE wirelessly in it's original digital code format and the AE should then pass this wired to the DAC and thence to the amp?"

 

The AE sounds the same no matter what kind of computer you stream wireless from. It's bit-perfect, 16/44.1 with a lot of jitter.

 

Most of my customers like the interface on the Squeezebox or Sonos better than the AE, so that is what they use with their Pace-Cars. It does not matter though. Everything sounds identical coming out the other side of the Pace-Car as long as it's bit-perfect going in.

 

Steve N.

 

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  • 1 year later...

If I could afford a pace car, I don't think I'd be using a Airport Express.

 

Intel iMac C2D, iTunes>ALAC>Airport Express, Audiolab 8000CD player, Audiolab 8000S amp, Dynaudio Audience 42 speakers, Chord Rumour speaker cable, Mark Grant Interconnects, Grado SR80\'s, Sennheiser PX100\'s, 5G iPod

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