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Need Advice on my Planned Setup


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Still very new to this but am becoming obsessed. After months of consideration and reading up on various computer audio and storage configurations, I am about to take the plunge on a number of different pieces of equipment and need some advice. I have a 20" IMAC and use Azureus as my BT client. I convert flacs/shns to .AIFF using xAct and import into Itunes. I currently have 850 GBs of lossless audio stored on a 1 TB external OWC dual array RAID ) harddrive. Based on my budget, I am planning to purchase the following components:

 

Storage Solution = Thecus 5200B Pro with 5 Seagate ST31000340NS - 1TB Enterprise Drives.

 

DAC = Benchmark DAC1 USB.

 

Speakers = Audioengine 5 speakers.

 

Questions:

 

1. I have read Chris's recent review of the Thecus and it seems like the way to go but I have a concern about having to login using the AFP configuration each time I want to access the server through ITunes. In his review, Chris mentions that he runs a script to do this automatically but doesn't say what the script that he uses is. Can Chris or anyone else speak to this or provide guidance on how to do this?

 

2. Do I need an amplifier with the Benchmark DAC1 USB? The Audioengines have a built in power supply. Will the Benchmark work without an amplifier? Is there an advantage to having an amplifier even with powered speakers? Any guidance on this topic would be appreciated.

 

3. I have read a lot about usb cables and connections. Why is this important and how much of difference can one really hear? Does it relate to signal loss or interference? Are there preferred USB cables or other connection issues that I should be aware of? Any recommendations?

 

4. The Audioengine 5's have an AUX AC connect and can stream wirelessly with Airport Express. Is it possible to configure Itunes to simultaneously play one set of monitors through Airport Express and a second set of speakers through the DAC?

 

I apologize for so many questions but there is about $4000 on the line with this set up and of all the audiophile sites on the internet, Computer Audiophile seems the perfect place to get clear answers to these basic questions.

 

Dan

 

 

 

 

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Hi Dan,

 

I'm not familiar with the AudioEngine speakers, but I looked them up and, indeed, they have a built-in amplifier. So no additional amp needed with this setup.

 

Will you be using these on your desktop or mounting them on speaker stands out in the room? A strong plus here is that the company offers a 30 day trial period so you should be good shape if it turns out that your room is too big, etc.

 

The DAC1 USB does have a volume knob... but I wonder if this isn't just for the headphone out. So I'm not totally sure that this is going to serve as preamp or not. So that's worthy of some additional research. Of course you can always use the volume adjustment within your computer's music player software and that may well be fine.

 

Hope this helps. Good luck!!

 

Steve

 

2013 MacBook Pro Retina -> {Pure Music | Audirvana} -> {Dragonfly Red v.1} -> AKG K-702 or Sennheiser HD650 headphones.

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Hey Dan - You have the makings of a very good system here.

 

 

 

Questions:

 

1. I have read Chris's recent review of the Thecus and it seems like the way to go but I have a concern about having to login using the AFP configuration each time I want to access the server through ITunes. In his review, Chris mentions that he runs a script to do this automatically but doesn't say what the script that he uses is. Can Chris or anyone else speak to this or provide guidance on how to do this?

 

I can assure you the Thecus is still my first choice for NAS and I recommend it to everyone who is willing to spend the money. All of your concerns can be dealt with easily. That's what this site is all about. If you need help with something just let us know. As far as connecting to the NAS drives goes I wrote this little article on how to do it in a script http://www.computeraudiophile.com/node/289 . But, with my MacBook Air I don't even need to mount the drive for iTunes to see it and use it as the music folder. As long as you can see the drive in finder it should work. This is something I can work with you on when the time comes. It is nothing to be stressed about. I have the unit so there won't be any surprises when the time comes.

 

2. Do I need an amplifier with the Benchmark DAC1 USB? The Audioengines have a built in power supply. Will the Benchmark work without an amplifier? Is there an advantage to having an amplifier even with powered speakers? Any guidance on this topic would be appreciated.

 

I reviewed the Audioengine A2 speakers in TONE Audio Magazine and used a Benchmark DAC1 as the DAC/preamp. I turned the volume up on the A2s a little over half way and used the DAC1 volume control for everything because it is far more convenient. I don't recommend using the iTunes volume control because the audio stream will no longer be bit perfect if the volume is not at 100%.

 

 

3. I have read a lot about usb cables and connections. Why is this important and how much of difference can one really hear? Does it relate to signal loss or interference? Are there preferred USB cables or other connection issues that I should be aware of? Any recommendations?

 

I recommend the Kimber USB cable over any standard computer USB cable. I know there are others out there that cost into the thousands of dollars, but I've not tested them yet. The Kimber is a fairly cheap cable for audiophile standards. Here is an interesting thread abut USB cables and why they make a difference http://www.computeraudiophile.com/node/601 .

 

 

4. The Audioengine 5's have an AUX AC connect and can stream wirelessly with Airport Express. Is it possible to configure Itunes to simultaneously play one set of monitors through Airport Express and a second set of speakers through the DAC?

 

I don't believe this is possible. I hope I am wrong though :-)

 

Let me know if this raises more questions or concerns or is you want to keep the discussion going. That's what the site is for.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

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

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The DAC1 USB does have a volume knob... but I wonder if this isn't just for the headphone out. So I'm not totally sure that this is going to serve as preamp or not. So that's worthy of some additional research.

 

The DAC1 volume controls is for all the outputs. One of the headphone jacks mutes the other outputs and the other allows all the outputs to be controlled with the volume knob. If no headphones are present then it's just a preamp.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

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

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Chris: I knew I would get thoughtful and clear answers here. One question about the Benchmark DAC1 USB. I read the review of this DAC on Stereophile and then saw the follow-up Benchmark manufacturer comments submitted by Elias Gwinn http://www.stereophile.com/digitalprocessors/108bench/index5.html in response to the review (I know Mr. Gwinn has submitted helpful comments on Computer Audiophile in the past). There seemed to be a big dustup over ITunes 7.5 and its compatibility with the DAC1 USB. I thought Benchmark addressed the issue very well but there was a lot of engineering language used and it was not clear to me the significance of the discussion on how well iTunes will work with the Benchmark DAC1 USB. Can you explain the issue in layman's terms? Has the issue been resolved to your knowledge with subsequent releases of iTunes or Benchmark firmware and does it affect me if I run iTunes 7.6.2? I understand that with the Benchmark DAC1 USB, I will need to turn off all iTunes sound enhancements and turn my Itunes volume to 100% to ensure bit perfect playback.

 

I will post again to report back on my thoughts and impressions when I am all set up.

 

Thanks for everything.

 

Dan

 

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Dan - After all of the back and forth between Benchmark and Stereophile I think it all comes down to this. There is nothing wrong with the DAC1 USB and there was nothing wrong with iTunes 7.x. I think it was just a large misunderstanding of how iTunes and Core Audio function. If you read the second comment I think it pretty much says this as well.

 

The bottom line is you must change the Audio Midi settings to match the resolution of the music you are playing. Then open iTunes once this is set. That's it in simple layman's terms :-)

 

Although Benchmark says you can use the iTunes volume control, I disagree with them. The iTunes volume control causes the output to be less than bit perfect. I've proven it in my system and can duplicate this 100% of the time.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

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

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The DAC1 USB is very flexible. The DAC1 volume can control all the outputs or it can be used just for the headphone jacks. Most fine DACs offer fixed or variable outputs though with some you may need to open up the case to change internal jumper settings. The DAC1 has a convenient toggle switch on the rear panel to enable fixed or variable outputs. Benchmark recommends that you at least try to use the DAC1 as a preamp since a good volume control and the elimination of a set of interconnects can often provide superior sonics. However if you have an excellent preamp and interconnects you should use the fixed output settings. You generally never want to use more than one volume control in your signal path.

 

 

 

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I thought I would quickly update my purchase. It is Friday morning. Late on Wednesday evening, I ordered online the Benchmark DAC1 USB and the Audioengine 5s -- both directly from each company's own website. I designated regular ground shipping (least expensive). By yesterday morning, both Benchmark and Audioengine had shipped -- less than 12 hours after placing my orders. Based on tracking information, I expect to receive both shipments in a day or two. The turnaround time of my online orders by both companies is impressive and inspires confidence in their quality and attention to customer service. I also ordered the Thecus 5200B Pro NAS on Wednesday evening from Aegis.com. They make clear upfront that they need 4 to 5 business for burn-in and testing, so I do not expect them to ship until sometime next week. Because satisfaction with a product is in part derived from the confidence you have in the entity that sold it to you, I would say so far have a high degree of confidence -- satisfaction to follow. I will update further as my set up evolves.

 

P.S. CA is really taking off.....It seems like lots of new and throughtful posts and the site is hitting its demographic.....

 

Dan

 

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Hi Dan - Thanks for the update. You must be someone who's glass is always half full (as opposed to half empty). Most people would only post about this stuff if their experience was really bad. Kudos to you for sharing this more important experience and one that's likely indicative of both companies standard performance. I know the guys at Benchmark and they really are great people. My contact at Thecus is also a joy to work with, even though you didn't order straight from them (don't think it's an option anyway).

 

You are absolutely correct about the site taking off! Readership is way up and the quality of the posts continues to please everyone I talk to. Thanks to readers like yourself who have helped greatly.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

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

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In regards to the speakers, the Audioengines are ok. I think that instead of a Benchmark AND the Audioengines it may be better value to buy an active monitor with a DAC inside.

 

AVI ADM9, for example, are a 350watt/channel active monitor in domestically-acceptable finishes, that incorporate a remote control pre amp and a high end DAC.

 

www.avihifi.com

 

I've looked at other monitors and with the exception of Meridian have yet to see others with a DAC, remote control, and nice finishes.

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi Chris. I received my Benchmark DAC1 USB, AudioEngine 5s and Thecus 5200B Pro and am in the middle of getting everything set up for use with my 20" IMAC. Before I give a complete report on my impressions on the various components, I have a quick question about migrating my substantial Itunes library to the Thecus. I have roughly 342 GBs of music in ITunes -- roughly 6400 tracks -- on an existing external 1 TB external harddrive. I want to migrate my Itunes from the external harddrive to the Thecus. My question concerns which protocol to use on the Thecus to achieve the fastest migration. To test the speed of a direct copy, I tried manually copying a couple hundred megabytes directly to a Thecus folder mounted on my desktop and, while it worked perfectly, it took like 10 minutes. The USBCopy seems convenient but all my files would be in the USBCopy folder on the NAS and would then need to be copied a second time over to the "Music" folder that I set up on the Thecus. Granted, that would be a transfer within the NAS itself but would be two steps. I also worry that if use USBCopy Itunes would get screwed up trying to find the library on the NAS. With respect to FTP, I am not sure I understand the FTP transfer approach but it seems like it might be fastest. What is your suggestion for the fastest and most reliable means of copying such a large amount of data to the Thecus from my external harddrive?

 

Once I am set up, I will report on my impressions of each component.

 

As always, thanks for your tireless advice.

 

Dan

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hi Dan - You really are all setup for a great audio system with the DAC1 and the Thecus etc... You are also asking the right questions and at a perfect time. Over the weekend I just reconfigured my Thecus 5200B Pro so I had to copy 1 TB of music off the NAS on to an external FW800 drive, reconfigure the NAS, then copy it back on to the NAS. Here are my suggestions for this process.

 

1. If you won't be sharing the Thecus disk with other computers I highly recommend using iSCSI. This is the config I just switched to permanently. I'll never go back even though the other config really is great as well. Anyway, use iSCSI with a Gigabit connection either directly to your music server or through a Gigabit switch/hub/router. Run a CAT5e or 6 cable for the music transfer at least. I moved about 1 TB in under five hours. Plus the iSCSI method allows you to format the drive through disk utility and it will automount on your desktop every time you restart. Nice feature.

 

2. If you don't want to use iSCSI just make sure to connect to your Thecus with a Ethernet cable for the transfer and use a full Gigabit connection if possible. Your iMac and the Thecus both have Gigabit Ethernet connections so you'll be good there.

 

You can use the USBCopy folder or FTP, but in my opinion you aren't going to gain much in this situation. You may even set yourself back a bit. If you have tons of time you could always change your music folder location to the NAS box and use the consolidate library function. iTunes has to be the slowest thing around using this function. What I did after the data move was change the music folder location and use the built-in iTunes function to rescan and rearrange the music folder so the library file was updated. No problems at all.

 

Let me know what else I can add as you move down whatever path you chose. Just ask the questions that's what the site is for :-)

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

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

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I should have mentioned that I have my Thecus hooked up to my router in another room (to avoid noise in my listening area) and that I connect to it from my IMAC wirelessly using the network connection. I think Option #2 is probably what I am going to use because my expectation is that I will have other machines in the house through which I will want to connect to the NAS (my NAS was preformatted as a RAID 5 and no space was allocated to iSCSI) . But I understand that copying data via a wireless network is the slowest and that a direct Gigabit ethernet connection is fastest. With that said, I have a follow-up question regarding how to migrate my Itunes library:

 

Recall that all my music is stored on my 1TB OWC Mercury Elilte Pro external hard drive which is connected to my IMAC via USB. So my migration will be from my existing external harddrive to my new NAS. Do I understand correctly that I should connect my Thecus directly to the ethernet port on my MAC, create a music folder on the NAS and then use ITUNES to copy my library to the NAS using the consolidate library function or is it a drag and drop situation where I drag the music folder from my external and drop it into the NAS and then recsan and rearrange like you said above. After the data is on the NAS, would I then reconnect it to my router or would Itunes lose track of it because it is now a network device and not a direct connect to the back of my MAC? I apologize for sounding like such an ignorant noob but the transfer is the most important and delicate part of the operation and I want to get it right. I have many hundreds of hours invested in collecting the music (it is also backed up on individual DVD-R disks) I also want the transfer to be fast and I don't want to confuse ITunes having to search for the music (the dreaded exclamation points). Any further advice you can give would be appreciated. Thanks Chris.

 

Dan

 

 

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Hey Dan - If you use iTunes to copy your library through the consolidate library function everything will be perfect and you won't have to really do much. But I strongly recommend against this method. It will take forever and you won't have any status update while the process is running. A good balance of speed and ease is to just connect the Thecus and your computer to your router via Ethernet, manually copy your external drive data to the NAS, change the location of your music in iTunes, and have iTunes rescan to update the track locations. Right after you change the music folder in iTunes it will update all the track locations and then ask you if you want iTunes to move your music around automatically. The whole process is really easy and pretty fast. You could connect your computer directly the Thecus etc... but then you ave to configure IP manually. It's not that hard but it involves another step that is not necessary.

 

I've moved my library around to different NAS units that I test and as long as the data doesn't lose integrity the iTunes piece is pretty easy.

 

Let me know where you're at with this project and I'll help wherever you need it.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

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

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  • 3 weeks later...

Ok, so I wanted to report back that I am finally all set up and wanted to thank Chris and others who patiently offered their assistance and suggestions. To recap, I hooked my IMAC 20" to a Benchmark DAC1 USB, Audioengine 5s and a 5 TB Thecus 5200B Pro NAS. I have a large and growing collection of lossless audio (mostly live performances from trade friendly artists) that I convert from Flac & Shn to .AIFF. I needed a storage solution that would accommodate 1 TB + of music and allow room for expansion. First things first. I ordered everything online. Benchmark and AE delivered almost immediately and there were no problems with delivery at all. Both components popped out of their boxes and hooked up with no problem. I ordered the Thecus from Eaegis.Com. They require a week for configuration, pre-ship burn-in and testing. When I hooked up the Thecus before putting any data on it, I got a warning on the Fifth 1 TB Seagate ST31000340NS drive indicating a Reallocated Sector error. This is a sign that the drive is failing and needs to be replaced (so much for pre-ship burn-in). I contacted Eaegis US in Florida and they were immediately responsive and a delight to deal with -- they took my credit card as a deposit on the return of the defective disk and promptly shipped a new disk (no charge if they get the defective drive back within ten days). One complaint with Thecus is that the owner's manual is severely lacking and does not, for example, indicate whether the NAS should be turned on or off when you swap the disks. A Hot Swap will rebuild automatically. I did a cold swap and turned off the NAS to pop the faulty drive out. I put the new drive in and turned the power on. The machine emitted a loud, piercing and constant chirp when I turned it back on (which, according to Thecus, is normal) Using the Thecus startup wizard, when you perform cold swap you have to manually designate the drive as a "spare" and it will rebuild the array, incorporating and redesignating the "spare" disk as "used" when the rebuild is complete. Thecus says that the User's Manual is intended only to provide basic information. I would think an instruction as to whether the NAS needs to be on or off would fit within the definition of "basic" and I was disappointed in their somewhat cavalier response to me. But I digress.

 

Once connected, I then faced the challenge of moving roughly a 350 GB of audio files from my external HD to my NAS. Although I connect to my Thecus (which is in another room outside my listening area) through my wireless router, I bought a 50' ethernet cable and connected my router directly to my IMAC. I then moved the Itunes folder from my external HD to the Thecus. I had Itunes rescan the folder on the Thecus and Itunes recognized the new folder location immediately (I did have to turn off the external HD before rescanning because Itunes kept going back to the old location on the external HD). It took 11 hours to do the transfer at 1 MBS. There has to be a faster way and I must be doing something wrong.

 

One mention on automounting (which Chris has discussed extensively). Using the AutomountMaker application suggested by Chris last week, I could not get the IMAC and the Thecus to synchronize on the same username and password. I kept getting an error message that login failed and that my username and password were not recognized. So I went into User Accounts under System Preferences and selected the Thecus as a "Login Item" that will open automatically when I login to my IMAC. As long as the Thecus is powered on when I login to my user account and open Itunes, Itunes will recognize the volume. I am guessing Chris will tell me I am missing something :-) because this solution seemed too easy but so far I have had no difficulty.

 

As for the DAC and the speakers, they are fantastic and well worth the $$$. I configured my Audio Midi Setup for use with the DAC according to Benchmark's suggested settings. Speakers took about 48 hours of play time to loosen up. Sound is warm and full, a bit deep in the base, but the mids and highs are crisp and bright. They are very happy speakers and the overall setup is solid and impressive. My biggest issue at the moment is the read and write rate on the Thecus, particularly when I am synching my IPod 160 GB Classic while I am listening to Itunes. Even with the built in Celeron processor, the Thecus does seem to have some difficulty with reading and writing at the same time -- i get periodic stops in my music while synching. Because I use Azureus for my BT client, I also get stops in my Itunes when Azureus is writing to the Thecus.

 

Overall, I am thrilled with both the Benchmark and AE 5s. The Thecus got off to a rough start (though the drive problem was a Seagate issue) but it is gaining my confidence with each day of problem-free use. I especially like the power management feature on the Thecus which allows me to turn it off at night.

 

Next up for me are headphones......

 

So thanks everyone for your help and I look forward to learning more from you as I continue to delve into this hobby.....

 

Dan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I like them very much. It took a couple weeks for them to break in. They have warmed up and sound rich and full. The bass is a bit deep but the mids and highs are crisp and bright but warm. I play mostly large .aiff files of live performances from trade friendly artists where the mixes can vary. The AE 5s are extremely high quality for speakers that cost $350......I am happy with my purchase. Do you like yours?

 

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My AE 5's are ok but not great. I am not using anything special with them right now, which could account for my lack of enthusiasm. The AE 5's are connect to my computer using whatever sound card came with my PC. I was thinking about putting something together and got side tracked with remodeling my house and buying new furniture. I was wondering if you could tell me what the AE 5's sounded like before you had the benchmark and what they sound like with the Benchmark. In other words, a comparison of the sound with and without the benchmark.

 

Thanks and enjoy your new system

Rich

 

 

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Hi Dan - Thanks very much for letting everyone know how your system is coming along.

 

I am a little surprised that you didn't receive a very warm response from Thecus, but I guess everyone has off days. When I've talked to them everyone has been very nice. I too wish the manual was a little bit more thorough and I do agree that a little paragraph about swapping drives would be appropriate. Have you checked out the Thecus forums and even better the Thecus Wiki? Since the 5200B Pro runs Linux you can really expand the capabilities of the unit by installing modules.

 

Is your router Gigabit Ethernet? Mine is and the speed to and from the Thecus is wonderful via CAT6 cable. Wireless has it's drawbacks, but can be handy. Something is up with your config because a wired 5200B Pro is pretty fast. The read/write speed issues you are experiencing shouldn't have much to do with the power of the 5200B Pro. My unit is definitely not the bottleneck. i also have the 160GB iPod Classic and it took forever to Sync. There are a lot of variables involved and I suspect iTunes is not the speediest file copier. Try doing a straight copy of a few GB of data to test performance. The network wil be your bottleneck, even though Gigabit Ethernet is really fast.

 

As a side note, what firmware are you using on the 5200? I just upgraded to the newest from the Thecus site and the web interface is much faster and has a few more options.

 

AutomountMaker is as easy as I suggested and I'm sure we'll figure out what's going on with your situation. The absolute easiest way to get this to work is to enable AFP on the Thecus. Create a browseable folder and check the box for Public. The set AutomountMaker to connect via AFP to the 5200 and the folder without a password. it will work like a charm. If you really want a password I can help you implement that as well. Let me know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let me know what else I can help with or if you want to work through some of these issues that may not be cleared up yet.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

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

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