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Help with a Music Server.....Which way to go???

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I am glad I found this site! I am looking to put all of my cd's on a server. I am very much into 2-channel stereo, so sound quality is everything to me! What is the best and most economical way of ripping my cd's? Do I save it in FLAC or PCM? I was looking to purchase one of the following servers, but whould I be better off using a laptop? Where do I start? Any help is greatly appreciated.




I am looking to put my entire cd collection (all 325cds) on a Music server. My first priority is the sound quality. Below are the three servers I am thinking about. Does anyone own/heard them play? My alternative is to maybe purchase a laptop and build a server that way. What do you guys think? I need help.


Current system is

Krell with ML SL3 speakers. I only listen to 2-channel.





Escient MX-111$2000


160GB internal hard drive for storing digital music files

• Built-in CD-RW drive for playing, burning and ripping CDs

• CD Burner – create the perfect mix CD to play in your car, office, or portable

CD player

• Fast CD Ripper – copy a CD to the internal hard drive in MP3 or CD Quality

(FLAC) format in less than 5 minutes

• Store, secure, browse and play up to 400 DVDs or CDs stored in a Sony

CD/DVD changer

• Simple and intuitive on-screen user interface for browsing, selecting, and

playing movies, music, Internet radio stations and for all system

configuration and setup functions

• PC File Sharing for transferring music files to and from a PC or Mac

(includes support for iPod and other portable players)

• FireBall-PC support for browsing and playing music stored on PC or Mac

• Web interface for remote control and music streaming via any standard web browser

Play any WMA or Shoutcast Internet radio stations

• Create and edit Internet Radio stations

• Record audio to hard drive from external changers or from any legacy

analog or digital audio device (LPs, Cassettes, DAT, MD, etc.)

• Built-in component video matrix switcher for automatic changer selection

and routing to two zones

• User selectable 16x9 or 4:3 on screen TV user interface


Olive Opus No4 $1500

350G Hard Drive

Supports music playback in 24-bit/96khz, 250 times the resolution of CD music!

CD mechanism Panasonic CD-R/RW

·High fidelity CD audio playback.

·Networking Wired Gigabit Ethernet

·Fast bandwidth for seamless multi-room audio streaming

·Wireless 54 Mbit/s (802.11g) Encryption WEP + WPA, 64- and 128-bit

·Audio Outputs Analog 1x RCA

·Wide variety of high-quality audio outputs to connect to your stereo system.

·Digital 1x digital output S/P DIF optical Toslink, 1x digital output S/P DIF coaxial cinch Audio Formats WAV, FLAC, MP3 (128 to 320 bit/s)

·Other Ports 1x USB 1.1/2.0 Backup your music library to an external hard drive.

·Connect and play music from your Apple® iPod™. Access music on your iPod™ anywhere within your home with the MELODY No2 (optionally available).


Yamaha MusicCast MCX 2000 $1400

Wireless Capability (Built-in 802.11)

160G Hard Drive

Can save in PCM


• Built-in 802.11b/g Netwrok Protocol CD Burner (built-in CDRW drive)

• Ripping Speed (CD to HDD) • (20x Normal Speed) Recording Speed (HDD to CD)

• (4x to CD-R/RW Media) HDD Size 160GB HDD (upgradable)

XM Satellite Radio Ready • (100 presets) Built-In FM Tuner • 100 presets) Internet Radio Compatibility

• (40 URL presets) PC Content Playback • Supported Formats Analog Audio, CDs, CD-R /RW, PCM / MP3 Encoding Compression Rates (mp3 rate)

Variable compression rate 160 - 320 Kbps Storage Capacity (Compressed / Uncompressed) 2000 hrs / 200 hrs Number of Clients Controlled Wirelessly

• RS-232C Interface • Ethernet Connection • (Cat 5 link) Analog Audio (Inputs / Outputs) • (1 / 1) Digital Inputs (Inputs / Outputs) • (1 Optical / 1 Optical) Video Output • (1 Composite, 1 S-Video) PS/2 Connection • Headphone jack • Remote • (System remote) Extended IR Input • Extended IR Codes • System Update Via CD-ROM





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Hi Matt - Welcome to Computer Audiophile. You'll fit in wonderfully with the rest of us two channel listeners who consider sound quality the most important. Canned music servers that contain the hard drive, DAC, and rip CDs etc... are a very niche product. The hard drive space is extremely limited, the sound quality is nowhere near standard audiophile DACs and the price of these units is based on ease of use. If you are familiar with computers I highly recommend using a laptop as the music server and connecting to an external DAC. If ultimate sound quality is your thing then you'll want to consider some other a highly customized desktop solution that is much more expensive than any of the other options listed here.


You can get a laptop and a really nice external FireWire or USB DAC that will blow away the functionality and sound of the canned music servers any day. Plus, upgrading a computer based system is much easier and cheaper as you get more music stored on it.


Let me know if I just added to the confusion or if you want to continue the discussion. I'll be happy to help.


Founder of Audiophile Style | My Audio Systems

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Thanks for your reply.


If I do go with a computer based server, which is the best way to store my music Flac or PCM? I want the sound quality to be perfect. What do you mean by using a desktop app for better sounding music? Can you recommend a a GREAT sound card thats priced reasonable and a GREAT DAC? And, What about an easy to use music manager software? Where do I start? I am not that well versed in computer equipment.




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Get a Macbook, Mac Mini, Imac, or PC. Use Toslink or USB out to the DAC of your choice. Get an external HD, NAS, or any other upgradeable storage device. Try out a few different formats to see which one you like the best. If you want to upgrade there's always better DACS, jitter reduction devices, cables, etc.


I use a Macbook -->PS Audio DLIII-->McIntosh C500,MC252, Sonus Faber Cremona Auditors. I love the user interface of itunes, and controlling with an ipod touch is fantastic.


Its not as sexy as buying a standalone server, but it is damn easy and fun to use.


McIntosh C500T&P, MC501s, Sonus Faber Cremona M, Ayre QB-9, Oppo BDP-83 Mac Mini

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Hey Matt - There is definitely more than one way to accomplish everything related to computer based audio and it's very hard to call one way the Best. I will offer my opinion based on experience and working with some of the most respected people in the high end audio industry.


I recommend getting a Mac and ripping your music to uncompressed AIFF files. There is no format that sounds better than AIFF in my opinion. If you want to setup a state of the art, very expensive, computer based music server you'll need a Mac Pro with a Lynx AES16e audio card and a DAC that accepts AES like the Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC. That said you can still get close to the Mac Pro based system with a great USB DAC and a MacBook or Mac Mini. I recommend looking into the Benchmark DAC1 USB or DAC1 PRE, or one of the USB DACs from Wavelength Audio. Gonzo uses the PS Audio DLIII which is another very nice DAC for less than $1000. I reviewed this DAC and purchased the review sample because I was very impressed.


If you go the Mac route you have iTunes automatically and it is bit perfect straight out of the box. Nothing to mess with or hoops to jump through. iTunes is a great interface and manages your library very well.


Founder of Audiophile Style | My Audio Systems

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I am mostly a pc guy, would I have any problems latter on if I wanted to transfer music AIFF files from a mac to pc? Is AIFF bit for bit like (PCM)? I also heard that there may be some new macs coming out in august, so I think I will wait a little to see if its true. And finally, If I did go with a mac book, with a benchmark DAC would It sound better or the same as a CD?





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Hi Matt - AIFF is supported on both operating systems. It is the same thing as WAV but it supports meta data and cover art very well. You can move these files back and forth between Windows and OS X without issue.


From Wikipedia:

"The audio data in a standard AIFF file are uncompressed big-endian pulse-code modulation (PCM)."


So, AIFF contains the PCM data you mentioned in your question. AIFF contains this PCM data in an uncompressed format and does not change a single bit.



As far as PCs and Macs go you can obtain equal sound from either system, but I think Macs are the best option. If you're much more comfortable with PCs then you can certainly get awesome sound from a correctly configured Windows machine. It's just a little tricky in my opinion and there are some quirks.


A MacBook and the Benchmark will sound better than many CD players. But this statement must be taken in context. A MacBook & Benchmark will certainly not beat a Naim CD555 ($30k) or any other cost no object disc player. But, with another DAC (and MacBook) you can likely equal any physical disc player if you want to spend the money :-)


Founder of Audiophile Style | My Audio Systems

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I can tell you that when I started down this path, I used a Sony Vaio laptop that I use for work and personal. I did recognize that the hard drive based system was a better sounding system than my Primare CD21 cd player into the PS Audio DAC. So when I began researching how exactly to do it my research led me to believe that the easiest way to do it is to use a Macbook. Since the computer would be dedicated, I wasn't concerned about learning a new OS as I already knew Itunes.


I'm sure you're asking what about using a PC is complicated. If you are continually asking yourself how can I make my system sound better, and you frequent the internet audiophile forums to find out how, the subject of how to make a PC sound better can be confusing. It was for me. Bypassing Kmixer was the discussion that made up my mind to get a Mac. I dont know what it is and I don't want to know. All I needed to know was that you don't have to do it if you use a Mac. Do some research on audioasylum and audiogon to find out more. If you're comfortable with the PC server folks lingo, then go for it.


In no way am I trying to suggest that Mac is better. It does get you to the end result faster and eliminates some of the audiophile nervosa that plagues this hobby. If you're just looking to add a server to your system, you may not be interested in any of the tweaks available to PC users. You may also find that the challenge of building your own PC server offers you the reward your looking for. I say go for it! My system no longer has a high performance disk spinner, I'm entirely PC based for digital, so the performance and ease of use factor was important to me.


Anyway, have fun. It's a hobby afterall!!!!!!!




McIntosh C500T&P, MC501s, Sonus Faber Cremona M, Ayre QB-9, Oppo BDP-83 Mac Mini

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Hi Matt


The quirks basically revolve around solving the objective. The objective is generally translated as getting bit perfect reproduction out of the storage device. Mac does it pretty easy. Many folks just use iTunes, AIFF and USB or TOS output.


Windows can do it too. Generally I hear about it being done as an ASIO stream out that bypasses the KMixer. Many times you get into sound card/software changes. It's just a more involved process. Both can get there. Mac is just arguably easier, and if you like iTunes it fits like a glove.


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Hi Matt - Innertube is exactly right. Both platforms can reproduce great sound. Mac and iTunes are bit perfect out of the box and fit like a glove.


On PCs using ASIO can be a different experience for people who don't want to spend any time "tinkering" with their audio application. Plus, on a PC there does seem to be a constant question of, "is my output still bit perfect." If something changes and you don't have a DAC like the Berkeley Audio Design Alpha which illuminates an indicator you won't know if you're still getting bit perfect playback. On a Mac it is automatic.


Founder of Audiophile Style | My Audio Systems

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