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Help configuring networked audio on a budget


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Hi everyone,

 

I've appreciate a little advice about setting up a system to stream audio. I'd like to start with a system that will cost (ideally) less than $500. I expect to upgrade the system over time, though, so being able to re-purpose pieces in a better system is a plus for me.

 

I have a computer in a second-floor office that currently has a large music library (mainly ripped from CDs). My stereo is on the first floor. I'd like to play my music files (and also stream via Spotify, etc.) on this first floor system. Traditionally I just used a first-generation Airport Express to do this. But for a variety of reasons, I'd like to try something different, such as get a $200 or so DAC, use JRiver, etc. I have a powerline adapter and so I have a wired ethernet connection throughout the house.

 

So here are some options I'm considering:

 

1. Connect a mini-PC to a DAC attached to the first floor stereo. Connect this PC to the network and have it access the music files stored on the upstairs PC. Use JRiver on the mini-PC, controlled by JRemote. The main disadvantage of this is that I'd have to have the upstairs PC on anytime I want to play music downstairs. I presume I can figure out how to set up a wake-on-LAN do to this. :)

 

2. Set up a NAS in the living room that contains all of the music and use the software on the NAS as a renderer. Connect the NAS to a DAC. This by-passes the upstairs computer completely. I liked the look of the QNAP HS-210.

 

3. I suppose a third option is to have both a mini-computer and a NAS in the living room, but since I'm trying to minimize my upfront cost, I'm not sure this is the way to go.

 

Any thoughts or additional models are appreciated. I guess one last thought is that I use pandora, spotify, etc. a lot too and really value being able to use my iphone to stream these to my stereo. Any thoughts on the best way to add this to the system (i.e. Apple TV, etc.)

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With an Apple Airport Extreme (not Express) you can connect via USB an external HDD with your music files. Then you can share the HDD across the network (wired or wireless).

Eric


Ubuntu Linux box (i7-12700K, 12 cores, 32GB RAM, Intel X520-DA1 NIC, HQP Desktop) > fiber > MikroTik CRS305-1G-4S+ > fiber > fitlet2 (HQP Embedded OS - NAA) > T+A DAC8 DSD > Rogue Audio DragoN > Klipsch La Scala — digital volume control with HQP, DSP with HQP convolution 

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With an Apple Airport Extreme (not Express) you can connect via USB an external HDD with your music files. Then you can share the HDD across the network (wired or wireless).

 

Yeah, my ASUS RT-AC66U router is supposed to be able to do this also, in theory. I attached an external hard drive to it via USB and the router seemed to acknowledge that it was plugged in, but it didn't mount the drive. Hence it was inaccessible. I wasn't able to solve this problem.

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Get an Oppo 103, it's got a decent DAC section and is an excellent streamer for the price. You will be able to stream music from the PC up stairs to the Oppo downstairs connected to your stereo and control it from your phone. You may have to use the Oppo connected to an HDMI screen if you want to stream Pandora, or the other music apps bundled in the Oppo ( or maybe not, I just haven't tried with Android or IOS). Oppo supports both wired and wireless connection to a router.

Regards,

Dave

 

Audio system

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I think your best bet is to simply get a Sonos Connect for $400 and hook it straight into your stereo and when you have the funds get a nice little DAC to lash it to. Easy integration into your system, all the streaming services built right in, can find either a NAS or your computer to play your files and has a great interface for iPad or phone. Oh, and it will play things from your phone also.

 

Is it perfect? No but what is and it has so much of what you are searching for that it makes it a perfect stepping stone from an Apple AirPort Express.

David

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What are the 'various' reasons for moving from the Airport express other than the JRiver front end?

 

JRiver now has their own NUC based client player available. Check out their forums for more details.

 

On another note, I've put my 3rd gen Airport express against my Benchmark DAC a few times and can't find a reason to love one over the other.

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Thanks for the replies. Regarding the Sonos, instead I was also considering the Bluesound Vault. It does hi-res audio and has a few streaming services and a DAC built-in (and a digital out to bypass the DAC).

 

What are the 'various' reasons for moving from the Airport express other than the JRiver front end?

 

The main reason is that, apparently, to use the iTunes remote app, my phone needs to be on the wifi network broadcast from my router. But this signal doesn't cover my whole house and so I run a secondary wifi from my powerline adapter in the living room. When I'm on this network, the iTunes remote app won't connect to the PC in my office.

 

Apple's troubleshooting page has this line: "In addition, make sure that all your devices are connected to the same router, if you have multiple routers. Using multiple routers may prevent discovery between these devices." See Remote app for iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch can't connect to iTunes or Apple TV

 

JRiver now has their own NUC based client player available. Check out their forums for more details.

 

On another note, I've put my 3rd gen Airport express against my Benchmark DAC a few times and can't find a reason to love one over the other.

 

Thanks again for these and the other suggestions! I'm learning a lot - though not necessarily converging on a solution yet. :)

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A lot of the decisions depend on how DIY you are inclined with this project. Some great solutions with Linux type computers for example will require a lot of hands on where as something like the Oppo will be pretty much plug and play.

 

Bottom line is that you need somewhere to store you music, something to control your music and something to render the music. There three pieces can be separate or combined in a variety of ways. Also the connections between these can be handled in a variety or ways - wired/wireless.

 

With your budget of $500 there are a lot of different options. Some suggestions...

 

1) Get a USB drive for the storage and revisit using your router. You will not only have to plug it in as a USB drive but configure/turn on the DLNA/music server options in the router.

2) Best if you can connect in a wired connection but wireless is okay too.

3) Sonos will work well as a renderer and is plug and play. If you have a decent stereo the smaller connect is all you need.

4) Your iphone or iPad (assuming you have one) is a good controller for these pieces using the Sonos software.

 

This setup will give you flexibility in the future to upgrade and add to it.

 

Another route is some small low powered computer (Intel NUC is an option) in place of the Sonos along with a DAC (Audioquest Dragonfly is a good option).

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I like the DIY approach. But I also have a wife who just wants stuff to work. :) So I'm a little torn. So I have a few follow-up questions:

 

1. What kind of hardware would I use for a Linux set up? Is that where the Intel NUC comes in?

 

2. I'm leaning towards the four-step approach you outlined. But I'm curious why you and another poster above recommended Sonos, as opposed to the Bluesound Node. Sonos doesn't support hi-res music.

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With the Linux setup you have a lot of options including things like the Raspberry Pi or BeagleBone, some inexpensive NUC like computers or the Intel NUC kits. The NUC or NUC-like computers will push your budget though. I have an Intel NUC i5 in a fanless case running Windows 8.1 but that will be outside your stated budget.

 

Reason for leaning towards Sonos was to keep you in budget. I believe the Bluesound will end up being outside your budget of $500 (including a USB drive here) whereas the Sonos will be in that budget. I have had Sonos for years now and love it but you are right that it won't do anything hi-res. Certainly though the wife acceptance factor is huge here as the Sonos works well - easily controlled from an iPhone or iPad. I haven't tried a BlueSound but based on the specs it looks quite good.

 

By buying things piece by piece it makes it easier to upgrade and you will learn more as you will have a better understanding of what each piece contributes to the whole. Future upgrades include...

 

-moving from a USB drive on your router to a NAS.

-adding a dedicated computer to the mix to render and move the Sonos to a second room (by the way JRiver will be able to see and stream to the Sonos). You can satisfy the DIY aspect here. A Raspberry Pi can be had for $30 and you can tinker with it while keeping the Sonos for the wife.

-adding a USB DAC to the mix. Pretty much need this if you go the dedicated computer route.

-and then the sky is the limit with upgrading these bits again and again as you discover new aspects to improve and/or play around with.

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DaQi - thanks again. This step-by-step upgrade approach is exactly what I had in mind. I'm leaning towards getting the Bluesound just to have something workable right away, but also buy a Raspberry Pi or something inexpensive as a hobby/learning experience.

 

You said that JRiver can stream to the Sonos. Does this mean that you can "push" music from a PC/NAS running JRiver to the Sonos, or use the Sonos to "pull" the same music from the PC/NAS? If so, that's really cool. I assume you have to do something on the PC that has JRiver installed to tell it that it can send music there. Can you tell me how you set this up?

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Oh, that is easily fixed of course. Connect both Airport routers to your main switch via ethernet cable.

 

If the signal is as weak as you think, then have both routers create and publish the same network ID, with the same password. Do not turn on DHCP on the routers, just let it pass through to whatever switch you use for this purpose normally. The Airports will bridge the DHCP and DNS lookups from a Wireless network to the wired network just fine.

 

This is the opposite of how must Airport's are used, but it works just great. No muss, no fuss, no trouble.

 

The other option is to place the second Airport Express about halfway between the main one and your living room, and allow it to extend the wireless network. This is even easier if such an arrangement would work for you.

 

-Paul

 

 

 

 

Thanks for the replies. Regarding the Sonos, instead I was also considering the Bluesound Vault. It does hi-res audio and has a few streaming services and a DAC built-in (and a digital out to bypass the DAC).

 

 

 

The main reason is that, apparently, to use the iTunes remote app, my phone needs to be on the wifi network broadcast from my router. But this signal doesn't cover my whole house and so I run a secondary wifi from my powerline adapter in the living room. When I'm on this network, the iTunes remote app won't connect to the PC in my office.

 

Apple's troubleshooting page has this line: "In addition, make sure that all your devices are connected to the same router, if you have multiple routers. Using multiple routers may prevent discovery between these devices." See Remote app for iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch can't connect to iTunes or Apple TV

 

 

 

Thanks again for these and the other suggestions! I'm learning a lot - though not necessarily converging on a solution yet. :)

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

Robert A. Heinlein

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DaQi - thanks again. This step-by-step upgrade approach is exactly what I had in mind. I'm leaning towards getting the Bluesound just to have something workable right away, but also buy a Raspberry Pi or something inexpensive as a hobby/learning experience.

 

You said that JRiver can stream to the Sonos. Does this mean that you can "push" music from a PC/NAS running JRiver to the Sonos, or use the Sonos to "pull" the same music from the PC/NAS? If so, that's really cool. I assume you have to do something on the PC that has JRiver installed to tell it that it can send music there. Can you tell me how you set this up?

 

If you can stretch to the Bluesound go for it as it looks like the SOnos but with Hi-res capability. Not sure on the details though.

 

Regarding the Sonos, yes to both scenarios. I have all my music on a NAS on my network. The Sonos sees it all and can play any of it (if I select any hi-res it just gives an error though). Alternatively JRiver sees the Sonos boxes as a renderer and sets them up a a zone and I can push music to them. The good thing about using JRiver to push to them is that JRiver will automatically transcode hi-res music to something the Sonos can play. Of course, the SQ is what it is but then I am using the Sonos for non-critical listening around the house and have my critical listening set up with the computer and good sound system.

 

I forget exactly how I set it up as I think it was just turning on DNLA services in JRiver and suddenly all the Sonos boxes appeared as zones in JRiver. My scenario was that I originally had the Sonos set up and running music from the NAS for years and then brought in the dedicated computer with JRiver on it as a move away from iTunes. I had my main work computer using iTunes and managing the music directory on the NAS. The Sonos is setup to re-catalog things every night from the NAS directory. So the Sonos goes and rebuilds its catalog everynight from the NAS as does JRiver. I manage the music directory exclusively through JRiver now and couldn't be happier.

 

If Bluesound had been around back then I probably would have chosen it as it looks to be the same as Sonos but with hi-res capability. Sonos will likely never be upgraded despite all the forum chatter requesting it. As I understand it they use the extra bits for their controlling signals so cannot expand the bit-width from 16 bits without basically redesigning the whole thing from scratch.

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Hi everyone,

 

I've appreciate a little advice about setting up a system to stream audio. I'd like to start with a system that will cost (ideally) less than $500. I expect to upgrade the system over time, though, so being able to re-purpose pieces in a better system is a plus for me.

 

How technically inclined are you?

How much work do you want to do yourself?

How much do you care about sound quality?

 

I have a computer in a second-floor office that currently has a large music library (mainly ripped from CDs). My stereo is on the first floor. I'd like to play my music files (and also stream via Spotify, etc.) on this first floor system.

 

Do you have an old PC you can repurpose as a server?

Care to use your desktop as a server?

 

 

Traditionally I just used a first-generation Airport Express to do this. But for a variety of reasons, I'd like to try something different, such as get a $200 or so DAC, use JRiver, etc. I have a powerline adapter and so I have a wired ethernet connection throughout the house.

 

 

Have you considered dropping an Ethernet cable from the second to the first floor?

 

So here are some options I'm considering:

 

1. Connect a mini-PC to a DAC attached to the first floor stereo. Connect this PC to the network and have it access the music files stored on the upstairs PC. Use JRiver on the mini-PC, controlled by JRemote. The main disadvantage of this is that I'd have to have the upstairs PC on anytime I want to play music downstairs. I presume I can figure out how to set up a wake-on-LAN do to this. :)

 

A NAS is nothing more than a cheap computer (often Atom based) that acts as a file server. Your desktop can do just as good a job. Given your cost constraint you really need to use what you have.

 

2. Set up a NAS in the living room that contains all of the music and use the software on the NAS as a renderer. Connect the NAS to a DAC. This by-passes the upstairs computer completely. I liked the look of the QNAP HS-210.

 

Yeah but you've blown a bunch of your budget. See above.

 

3. I suppose a third option is to have both a mini-computer and a NAS in the living room, but since I'm trying to minimize my upfront cost, I'm not sure this is the way to go.

 

Any thoughts or additional models are appreciated.

 

Yeah, use RaspberryPi or derivative running Volumio (*great* price point) and connect to your DAC.

 

So, final rec:

 

Use your desktop as a NAS and a raspberryPi or Volumio device to drive your DAC. Spend your $ on a good DAC.

Custom room treatments for headphone users.

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jabbr - thanks for the help.

 

Is faster speed the only benefit of replacing the Powerline adapter with an ethernet cable? I have a 125 Mbps internet connection coming to the house. The Powerline connection is at about 40 Mbps, which seems plenty fast.

 

 

I should have said that my $500 price point is a goal, not a hard constraint. I enjoy this stuff and am happy to add on as I go. So, as a few of you have said, it makes sense start by using my existing computer (or hard drive attached to the router) as a server. I love the idea of building my own small, PC-based server. I'll probably do this, even if I also buy a turnkey product like the Node.

 

But what's the best way to use services like Pandora from a PC-based server? An app like Remoteless? I suppose I could also use a USB version of Roku or Chrome, and control it from an app on my phone.

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jabbr - thanks for the help.

 

Is faster speed the only benefit of replacing the Powerline adapter with an ethernet cable? I have a 125 Mbps internet connection coming to the house. The Powerline connection is at about 40 Mbps, which seems plenty fast.

 

As skeptical as I am about so-called "audiophile" Ethernet cable (as opposed to good old fashioned well contracted and shielded cables) I am squeamish about mixing my Ethernet and power source.

 

 

I should have said that my $500 price point is a goal, not a hard constraint. I enjoy this stuff and am happy to add on as I go. So, as a few of you have said, it makes sense start by using my existing computer (or hard drive attached to the router) as a server. I love the idea of building my own small, PC-based server. I'll probably do this, even if I also buy a turnkey product like the Node.

 

I use my own home server to store audio, video, and photos (all mirrored). If you take much 1080p footage, as well as edit, you'll see the need for lots and lots of storage. My own goal is to get direct attached disc access speeds over the network i.e. home SAN.

Custom room treatments for headphone users.

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So, as a few of you have said, it makes sense start by using my existing computer (or hard drive attached to the router) as a server. I love the idea of building my own small, PC-based server. I'll probably do this, even if I also buy a turnkey product like the Node.

 

I want to also mention that if you were to delve into building your own OpenIndiana based ZFS NAS, you can effectively supercharge disc access using hybrid SSD and HD -- all software based. Point is that you can often use parts that are laying around to build a custom home server loaded with open source software that can give industrial performance. And if you were to ever decide to upgrade your server hardware you can literally unplug your data drives from one machine and plop them into the new machine and hit the ground running. I always worry that a 10 year old commercial NAS will die, and I'll be stuck with some type of proprietary disc format -- and the old model won't be supported etc. -> SOL

Custom room treatments for headphone users.

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Oh, that is easily fixed of course. Connect both Airport routers to your main switch via ethernet cable.

 

If the signal is as weak as you think, then have both routers create and publish the same network ID, with the same password. Do not turn on DHCP on the routers, just let it pass through to whatever switch you use for this purpose normally. The Airports will bridge the DHCP and DNS lookups from a Wireless network to the wired network just fine.

 

This is the opposite of how must Airport's are used, but it works just great. No muss, no fuss, no trouble.

 

The other option is to place the second Airport Express about halfway between the main one and your living room, and allow it to extend the wireless network. This is even easier if such an arrangement would work for you.

 

-Paul

 

Agree with Paul here, as I've experienced ZERO problems configured this way AND my Wifi is dual network and even across networks, my ipads and phones find my airports, ATVs and server no problem.

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