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Need Your Advice and Expertise On Whether A Computer Should Be My Next Music Source


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I was told this was the place to come for this type of advice, so here I am. My older, but high end cd player just died, and it's not affordably repairable, if at all. So, I have, in the interim, purchased a used Marantz SA8004 for playback of my 3000+ cd's, and a fair collection of SACD's. Initially, I was then considering looking for a high level used cd player in the $1500-2000.00 range to use as my new primary source. This is to be used in my otherwise recently completed, reference system.

 

However, I now find myself pondering what my best option, in terms of flexibility and especially sound quality, might really be. Would I be better off going to a Mac Mini system, tied to good DAC also capable of DSD, or is that too unreliable and difficult, overall? Should I consider something like the Auraliti, or the new Sony HAP-Z1 all in one DSD unit?

In a perfect world, being able to store all of my ripped cd's on external drives and using a good quality interfacing device, with a solid DAC would be optimum, IF that will produce truly high end sound. I'm just not sure that is affordable. My max budget is $2,500.00-3000.00 for a solution like that. The DAC alone will cost me $2k, so I would need the chosen pc solution to come in at about $1k. Is this possible? The Mac Mini seems an oft chosen solution, and its certainly affordable, until you hear about power supplies needing to be replaced, etc. etc, and the cost is suddenly $2k or more.

 

I'm also very close to leaving making the decision to leave the Windows world that I have been in since the beginning, so a Windows pc doesn't seem applicable here. I am simply sick and tired of viruses, malware, hardware failures, (no matter how high the quality of the component, and Windows issues in general. I've also been repeatedly told at audio shows that Mac's are the only option for serious quality sound, as evidenced by all of the people using their Mac laptops in their rooms. Lastly, to my knowledge, every major music player is Mac only (Almarra, Audirvana,Pure Music, etc.).

 

Any advice, expertise, or assistance would be immensely appreciated, as this is a big step for me to make. Thank you in advance.

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A mac mini with a stock internal power supply will be fine. You are far better off spending the money to pimp it out with extra memory (8 gig minimum) and possibly an internal SSD (or two). If you have two partitions or two internal drives, you can clone your PC onto one of the in Bootcamp, and then you can decide later if you want to favor one OS over the other.

 

Likewise, you don't need to spend $2K on a DAC alone. But if you want to, you can get a very nice one for $2K.

 

There are plenty of "major" music players that are windows-only. I'm a mac fanboi, so I won't be able to go into detail, but foobar, jriver, xxxhighend, etc, are all windows options.

 

I have yet to see any evidence that someone could identify an expensive power-supply-modified mac mini using only their ears. It might be possible, but at the very least it is a subtle, incremental improvement.

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I'm also very close to leaving making the decision to leave the Windows world that I have been in since the beginning, so a Windows pc doesn't seem applicable here. I am simply sick and tired of viruses, malware, hardware failures, (no matter how high the quality of the component, and Windows issues in general. I've also been repeatedly told at audio shows that Mac's are the only option for serious quality sound, as evidenced by all of the people using their Mac laptops in their rooms. Lastly, to my knowledge, every major music player is Mac only (Almarra, Audirvana,Pure Music, etc.).

 

Welcome to CA.

 

While I am not recommending against using a Mac based music system, what you were told about Macs being the only option for serious quality sound is simply incorrect. Many members of this forum, including myself, use Windows based systems with excellent results. The C.A.P.S. computer music server designs created by Chris Connaker, the owner of this website, are all Windows based. J River Media Center is the generally preferred music player for Windows systems, although the free Foobar player is popular as well. J River was initially created for Windows but now is available for Macs as well. JRemote, an app for the iPad or iPhone provides an excellent interface to remotely control a Windows based music server running J River Media Center.

 

There are many threads on Windows based music systems and J River Media Center on this Forum in the Music Servers section. Hope this is of some assistance.

"Relax, it's only hi-fi. There's never been a hi-fi emergency." - Roy Hall

"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." - William Bruce Cameron

 

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If I was in your position I'd give the Sony HAP-Z1ES consideration. Acc'd to user reports and reviews, it is sonically the equivalent of a good DAC and a Mac Mini. Certainly it will make things simple for you, as other than file transfer to its HD, it works much like an audio component, and not like a "server". It's also within your budget, more or less.

Main listening (small home office):

Main setup: Surge protector +_iFi  AC iPurifiers >Isol-8 Mini sub Axis Power Conditioning+Isolation>QuietPC Low Noise Server>Roon (Audiolense DRC)>Stack Audio Link II>Kii Control>Kii Three >GIK Room Treatments.

Secondary Listening: Server with Audiolense RC>RPi4 or analog>Matrix Element i Streamer/DAC (XLR)+Schiit Freya>Kii Three .

Bedroom: SBTouch to Cambridge Soundworks Desktop Setup.
Living Room/Kitchen: Ropieee (RPi3b+ with touchscreen) + Schiit Modi3E to a pair of Morel Hogtalare. 

All absolute statements about audio are false :)

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If I was in your position I'd give the Sony HAP-Z1ES consideration. Acc'd to user reports and reviews, it is sonically the equivalent of a good DAC and a Mac Mini. Certainly it will make things simple for you, as other than file transfer to its HD, it works much like an audio component, and not like a "server". It's also within your budget, more or less.

 

I like this option too..there is a lot of capability for the price.

It get's more interesting thinking of what it is capable of after a trip to Modwright or RWA for upgrades. At the least, a later date option if it's working out well and more funds are available later. I have a Modwright-Sony CDP which in some areas beats still beats computer playback...it would be interesting to see how much of that goodness he is capable of getting into the new Sony player. It's not hard to imagine a best of both worlds sound.

Appreciation of audio is a completely subjective human experience. Measurements can provide a measure of insight, but are no substitute for human judgment. Why are we looking to reduce a subjective experience to objective criteria anyway? The subtleties of music and audio reproduction are for those who appreciate it. Differentiation by numbers is for those who do not." — Nelson Pass

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The CDs can be managed by the computer. I have a mac mini for audio and run Windows on it, without other windows programs just for music. If and when an OSX application comes along that sounds better, the facility is there to do so.

 

The problem I see and am in the same dilemma, what to do with the SACD. Your choices are:

 

- Purchase a new SACD player

- Rip SACD

- Find DSD equivalent downloads & purchase

- Download torrent DSD of the SACDs you own

 

Yamaha, Denon, Accuphase, and Luxman manufacture SACD players with USB ports that connect to your computer. This gives you some flexibility to still play SACD as well as ripped CDs from your PC. Prices start at $1500 -$17000. No separate DAC is required, you need to buy a USB A to USB cable of the right length, but no more than 2m. For example the Luxman D-06u has the same DAC DA-06 that is reviewed on these pages. So you are getting a very good DAC built into the players these days.

 

Ripping SACDs requires a special model of Sony PS3 Playstation. Some posters offer a service where they will rip the SACD for you. Otherwise it's a bit of a struggle to find the right model, and they are not the most reliable and are also aging. With enough pressure, it's possible but nigh on not likely, that Sony create a device to rip SACD.

 

There are now DSD downloads for a wide range of SACD, notably from Channel Classics, Super Hirez, 2L, Highresaudio. The releases are often slow to come forward, and the labels seem to cherry pick and bundle odd titles as well as gems. The downside is you pay for the same music...however, there's no timing errors on the SACD mechanism with a file, so the DSD downloads in general will sound better.

 

You can download SACD ISO from the internet, they are GB in size per album, attract zero cost, but are totally illegal.

 

Would also recommend the Sony HAP-Z1ES, however it will play everything, except SACD. Ideally the best machine would be the Sony with an SACD/CD ripping facility and larger hard drive! I would like one of those too!!

AS Profile Equipment List        Say NO to MQA

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Would also recommend the Sony HAP-Z1ES, however it will play everything, except SACD. Ideally the best machine would be the Sony with an SACD/CD ripping facility and larger hard drive! I would like one of those too!!

 

I also would recommend the Sony option with the caveat that Sony will need to address the ripping of SACD to a computer in the future. The Sony will however play the ripped DSD files beautifully along with every other format there is. The thing with the Sony is that you will need a computer anyway for both ripping and archiving. This could easily be an inexpensive Windows machine with external storage which would work fine for that.

 

If however you are looking to have your music spread in more rooms of the house then you would be looking at a different option altogether.

David

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As far as your SACD's, I'd make 2 comments:

 

a) if you actually own the SACD, downloading a copy of the ripped DSD file may technically be illegal, but morally I think it is fine, and you certainly aren't in any real world legal danger as long as you don't leave the file on your PC available for others to upload it from you.

 

b) on this forum and the audiocircle forum there are a few gracious individuals who have offered to rip SACD's for others. They simply ask you to send a HD and your SACDs, and they will use their PS3 to rip them to your HD and then send everything back to you.

Main listening (small home office):

Main setup: Surge protector +_iFi  AC iPurifiers >Isol-8 Mini sub Axis Power Conditioning+Isolation>QuietPC Low Noise Server>Roon (Audiolense DRC)>Stack Audio Link II>Kii Control>Kii Three >GIK Room Treatments.

Secondary Listening: Server with Audiolense RC>RPi4 or analog>Matrix Element i Streamer/DAC (XLR)+Schiit Freya>Kii Three .

Bedroom: SBTouch to Cambridge Soundworks Desktop Setup.
Living Room/Kitchen: Ropieee (RPi3b+ with touchscreen) + Schiit Modi3E to a pair of Morel Hogtalare. 

All absolute statements about audio are false :)

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If I was in your position I'd give the Sony HAP-Z1ES consideration. Acc'd to user reports and reviews, it is sonically the equivalent of a good DAC and a Mac Mini. Certainly it will make things simple for you, as other than file transfer to its HD, it works much like an audio component, and not like a "server". It's also within your budget, more or less.

 

+1 from what I have read the HAP-Z1ES is a lot for the dollar.

The Truth Is Out There

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In a perfect world, being able to store all of my ripped cd's on external drives and using a good quality interfacing device, with a solid DAC would be optimum, IF that will produce truly high end sound. I'm just not sure that is affordable.

Here's an alternative approach that worked for me - and I found great joy at far lower cost than I expected. Although simple and inexpensive mean entry level quality in traditional analog audio, the 21st century is a new world! Simple digital is not nearly as compromising, so you can get your feet wet for pennies and end up with a source from which you may not feel the need to "buy up". I'm assuming your reference system is excellent, so all you need to concern yourself with is your source material and a way to get it into your analog output stages.

 

I'm also very close to leaving making the decision to leave the Windows world that I have been in since the beginning, so a Windows pc doesn't seem applicable here. I am simply sick and tired of viruses, malware, hardware failures, (no matter how high the quality of the component, and Windows issues in general.

No matter what you choose to do, you'll need to rip your CDs to lossless files. But it took me over 6 months to do the first 1000, and I did want to be able to listen to more than those I'd already ripped. So I used a solid external drive (an LG on sale for $25 at MicroCenter) and listened through the same computer I used to rip them. If you don't use your PC for anything but music, you really don't have a lot to fear from viruses etc because you only need to connect it to the internet to download what you want. Hardware failure isn't unique to Windows machines (although they do seem to have invented some nasty new ways to mess up your day!), and you should be able to keep a PC humming long enough to rip your CDs and learn about your alternatives (Mac and Linux). Foobar2000 is great PC freeware that'll rip, play, whip, chop and puree your files with great fidelity and reliability, so you don't even need to buy software to get started.

 

Set up a large NAS box (I use a pair of 2 TB drives in RAID 1) and back it up off site, frequently or in real time. Buy a good basic DAC, which will set you back well under $500 (e.g. Dac Magic or 20+ others), and you're ready to get digital. Once you've ripped a little and listened a lot, you can start deciding what you want to buy (or build, if you're adventurous). You can assemble a great little music player for peanuts from a basic barebones or microATX PC running Linux, or you could build one yourself, e.g. a $75 BeagleBone Black. A MacMini is another fine choice, and I don't hear appreciable differences among most of these alternatives. I currently run a BBB (using MPD as the player software), a simple dedicated PC running Ubuntu Studio with Amarok as the player, and a Windows PC with Foobar. I've made direct, level matched comparisons playing the same source file and had others (my son, my wife, and friends) try to tell which was which. None could do so, including my golden-eared analog snob musician son. I also ran real-time A-B switching among these digital sources and the source CD with the same result. This is all through a PrimaLuna power amp and either the latest Focal 726s or my LS3/5as (not a six-figure systen, but not too shabby either).

 

Get the music down first while you listen to different sources and setups. Get experience before you spend $ - the more you know, the more likely you are to be thrilled with everything a year from now. There are Foobar plugins for hi-res (DSD and its multiples), but I don't have any Linux software yet to do that. I'm sure it'll be along if it's not out there already. The Sony box is apparently great, and I'm looking forward to hearing it - but for my money, the above is the approach to take. Then you can experiment with DACs to your heart's content.

 

As in everything else, patience is a virtue in audio too. A lack of it accounts for all those slightly used high end pieces for sale - "act in haste, repent at a loss".

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Re the Sony mentioned by several people. Read a couple of the negative reviews on Amazon if you're thinking of getting it. Especially the one about the glitchy software and extremely slow file transfer. I'm not saying that it's no good, but it's always a little risky to go with a new product from a company that hasn't produced that type of product in the past.

 

Also, that type of product often seems more convenient on paper than it turns out to be--at least in my experience. I think I'd be more tempted by it, if it was just a front end (no amp, dac) and had a video out instead of lcd, basically a specialty computer, that was much cheaper.

 

Chris

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TubeLover - welcome to CA

 

How do you like the sound of the Marantz SA8004?

Could you live with it for a little bit?

 

It seems that the Marantz SA8004 can be used as a DAC, so why not start ripping CD's and using the Marantz as your interim DAC?

That will buy you time to:

 

1) Get familiar with playback software

2) Audition DAC's and CD/SACD/DAC's

3) Choose whether to rip SACD's or just have a player

4) Not loose money on buying the wrong thing

5) Hang with the cool people here at CA and learn

6) Choose if you want to upgrade your rig to active through multichannel DAC

7) Start your ripping without loosing access to any of your music

 

Just start slow and ease your way into CA.

 

Good luck and welcome to a fantastic new aspect to sound reproduction

Promise Pegasus2 R6 12TB -> Thunderbolt2 ->
MacBook Pro M1 Pro -> Motu 8D -> AES/EBU ->
Genelec 5 x 8260A + 7271A sub
Genelec 8010 + 5040 sub

iPhone SE 2 ->  Sennheiser PXC 550 II
Blog: “Confessions of a DigiPhile” at http://www.computeraudiophile.com/blogs/digipete

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Re the Sony mentioned by several people. Read a couple of the negative reviews on Amazon if you're thinking of getting it. Especially the one about the glitchy software and extremely slow file transfer. I'm not saying that it's no good, but it's always a little risky to go with a new product from a company that hasn't produced that type of product in the past.

 

Also, that type of product often seems more convenient on paper than it turns out to be--at least in my experience. I think I'd be more tempted by it, if it was just a front end (no amp, dac) and had a video out instead of lcd, basically a specialty computer, that was much cheaper.

 

Chris

 

Anyone know what it's using to transfer files..USB2, USB3, serial port :P

Even a modest collection can take much longer than anyone would like under any of the above..."It's taking longer than 5 minutes to transfer a 500 gigs..phew, junk". It makes me wonder if it is actually slow or just "seems" slow.

Appreciation of audio is a completely subjective human experience. Measurements can provide a measure of insight, but are no substitute for human judgment. Why are we looking to reduce a subjective experience to objective criteria anyway? The subtleties of music and audio reproduction are for those who appreciate it. Differentiation by numbers is for those who do not." — Nelson Pass

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Anyone know what it's using to transfer files..USB2, USB3, serial port :P

Even a modest collection can take much longer than anyone would like under any of the above..."It's taking longer than 5 minutes to transfer a 500 gigs..phew, junk". It makes me wonder if it is actually slow or just "seems" slow.

 

Here are some quotes from a review on Amazon

 

"...Whereas the Logitech Squeezebox server takes about an hour to scan through my large 2TB library, the Sony takes 4-5 DAYS! Yes, DAYS. It is incredibly slow, no doubt because Sony lacks the software experience to do this task right..."

 

"...My advice: stay away from this product till Sony fixes the obvious software and hardware bugs. In this day of Thunderbolt and USB 3 interfaces, the Sony features a ridiculously slow 5-8 MB/sec transfer rate to move your music files using its Transfer app, itself a bug ridden product that does not work most of the time. If you have a small library of a few hundred albums, I suppose the Sony will crawl along fine, and play these back. If you have large libraries, be prepared for much grief and agony in dealing with its repeated crashes,requiring repeated reboots..."

 

He likes the hardware by the way. Here's a link to the page with the review, there's much more to it.

 

Chris

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Here are some quotes from a review on Amazon

 

"...Whereas the Logitech Squeezebox server takes about an hour to scan through my large 2TB library, the Sony takes 4-5 DAYS! Yes, DAYS. It is incredibly slow, no doubt because Sony lacks the software experience to do this task right..."

 

"...My advice: stay away from this product till Sony fixes the obvious software and hardware bugs. In this day of Thunderbolt and USB 3 interfaces, the Sony features a ridiculously slow 5-8 MB/sec transfer rate to move your music files using its Transfer app, itself a bug ridden product that does not work most of the time. If you have a small library of a few hundred albums, I suppose the Sony will crawl along fine, and play these back. If you have large libraries, be prepared for much grief and agony in dealing with its repeated crashes,requiring repeated reboots..."

 

He likes the hardware by the way. Here's a link to the page with the review, there's much more to it.

 

Chris

 

Thanks Chris..helpful in getting perfpective

Appreciation of audio is a completely subjective human experience. Measurements can provide a measure of insight, but are no substitute for human judgment. Why are we looking to reduce a subjective experience to objective criteria anyway? The subtleties of music and audio reproduction are for those who appreciate it. Differentiation by numbers is for those who do not." — Nelson Pass

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Here are some quotes from a review on Amazon

 

"...Whereas the Logitech Squeezebox server takes about an hour to scan through my large 2TB library, the Sony takes 4-5 DAYS! Yes, DAYS. It is incredibly slow, no doubt because Sony lacks the software experience to do this task right..."

 

And following that particular review are a number of comments suggesting that the individual's failure to do it properly according to the instructions caused it to take that long. File transfers are, apparently, very slow, but they are nowhere near THAT slow.

"Relax, it's only hi-fi. There's never been a hi-fi emergency." - Roy Hall

"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." - William Bruce Cameron

 

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Just re-read the Absolute Sound review of the 105, as something in the back of my mind was concerning me. They said "Pleasing though the Oppo can be, some might find it a bit lean-sounding compared to the deliberately warmer-sounding offerings on the market. If you prefer components that give a voluptuous musical presentation then the Oppo might not be your cup of tea".

 

Based on that, I think that I need to look into solutions other than a 105. Lean is definitely not my cup of tea, especially in the system I would be using it in.

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I'm curious what benefit the $2000 Sony or the $1200 Oppo have over the $600 Mac Mini? (Serious question. I'm not being snarky. Maybe I don't understand what functions the different units perform.)

 

More than anything I would hope SQ with a dedicated, fanless player, hopefully with decent bus and PS

Less fussing - No chasing down players, cables, software add-ons, and settings in a multitude of OS areas..or having a mini to control you other mini that actually plays music (some of us like this fussing, but not hard to imagine a segement that wants no part of this)

Aesthetics - WAF goes up with a piece that looks like audio gear, fits in with other audio gear and doesn't have cables running everywhere and enough LEDs to signal the mothership

Appreciation of audio is a completely subjective human experience. Measurements can provide a measure of insight, but are no substitute for human judgment. Why are we looking to reduce a subjective experience to objective criteria anyway? The subtleties of music and audio reproduction are for those who appreciate it. Differentiation by numbers is for those who do not." — Nelson Pass

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