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Looking for advice on new music server


epsilonjon

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Hi there,

 

i'm new to the site (and to audiophilia in general) and am looking for advice on building my first 'real' music server :-)

 

At the moment I'm running an Acer Revo 3100 connected via the headphone port to the AUX input of an old Technics SU-Z1 amplifier which then goes to some Acoustic Energy Aegis One speakers. After making do exclusively with my laptop speakers whilst at uni this sounds great, but really I bought the Revo to use just as a movie server for watching blu-ray rips on my TV, and would like to build a separate music server.

 

First off I have about £1000-£1500 to spend. I read the article here on the site about the C.A.P.S. server and was considering something similar. I know a bit about computers and would be confident enough to build my own, but unfortunately I know very little about audio equipment. These are my main questions (although any other advice would be very much appreciated):

 

1. I notice the C.A.P.S. has a Lynx sound card. Would I be better off with this, or buying a DAC? If so, which would you recommend within my budget?

 

2. Would you recommend using an amplifier and speakers, or using active speakers? What is the difference? Also, are my existing amplifier/speakers up to the job? I sort of came upon them by accident, so I don't really know how good they are. I've been used to laptop speakers for over 2 years so anything sounds good to me right now! :P

 

Some other info which might be important: My music collection is stored in FLAC format. I mainly listen to electronic music (Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin, Autechre, etc etc) but I do listen to other things too. The music server would be in my bedroom (roughly 4m x 3m) with the speakers in two corners.

 

Thanks in advance!!

 

Jon.

 

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If you'll allow me I'm going to concentrate on the first part of question 2 by way of an answer to all of your questions. Yes. :)

 

Something like the AVI9.1's would, IMO, be ideal for both your circumstances and your budget. This isn't really a recommendation for the AVI's, you understand, more a recommendation for going the active route.

 

There will be nothing wrong with using your laptop for music as well as movies - I trust you won't be doing the two things at the same time?!! So you could chuck £1k to £1.2k on the actives, £100 or less on something like the Hi-Face or M-Audio transit, £50 on a 1tb external drive and the rest on cables and stands. I think you could assemble a high quality, easily moved, easy to maintain system by doing something along those lines.

 

I'm not hugely up on the choices available to you in the active speaker market but that is where I would start looking. Once you've decided on the speakers you will know what sort of output device you'll need for the laptop, whether or not you will need speaker stands etc, etc.

 

So, I'll go with the AVI's and hopefully some folks will be along shortly with a few more ideas. Good luck. :)

 

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As a first step, I would look at adding a Arcam rDAC (or an alternative) to your existing system (including Acer Revo). This will connect to your computer via USB and then connect to your Technics amp in place of the mini-Jack to RCA cable you're using already. If you do want to use a separate music server: look at the pre-built nettops as a great value device - often priced less than buing a copy of Windows 7 retail.

 

Second stage, look at upgrading your amp/speakers. Personally I would look at separate amp and speakers but as you identified the alternative is to go for a part of active speakers. There are many great amps and speakers you can choose from - you're best bet is to visit a local HiFi dealer and get to listen to some combinations to suit your listening tastes. For your budget I would look at combining a Rotel amp with B&W 68x series speakers, but other amps such as Cambridge Audio, Marantz and NAD; and speakers such as Monitor Audio, Castle and Acoustic Energy also would work well. For amps and speakers you could also look at eBay (and elsewhere) for second hand bargains.

 

Or, as BobH suggested, the AVi ADM9.1 is an all-in-one active speaker system with DAC which would work well - add a M2Tech HiFace (or ESI PCI card if building C.A.P.S. type computer) to give a good SPDIF output into the ADM9.1 speakers.

 

Eloise

 

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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Hiya Jon,

 

This is a third recommendation for the AVI AMD9.1s. I use the M-Audio interface Bob mentions simply to pass 16bit 44khz material straight to the DAC of the ADM's - pass a bit perfect signal and let the DAC in the ADM's do all the work.. After a year and a half or so of ownership, I couldn't be happier.

 

That or another active route such as the Mackie HR624's owned by my brother. These are cheaper speakers but you'll need a separate dac or decent audio card too such as the PreSonus Firebox.

 

I'm not saying you definately must take the active route, it's just in my experience you get a lot for your money.

 

And all the advice you receive around here will be top notch..

 

Matt.

 

 

HTPC: AMD Athlon 4850e, 4GB, Vista, BD/HD-DVD into -> ADM9.1

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Thanks for the responses :-)

 

Seems like a pretty unanimous vote for the ADM9.1s. I don't think I've ever spent more than £60 on speakers before lol. I trust they're gonna blow me away? ;-)

 

Does the actual computer itself not matter too much? Things like RAM and such?

 

Cheers,

Jon.

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

I am intrigued by this question too, I have been considering building a dedicated fanless, minimalist, clean PC purely to use as a music server, but I notice than many people with high end systems seem to just use an off the peg mac or pc and spend big money on the DAC. In particular I have been looking at async type USB DACs. Is the output from a general motherboard USB of high enough quality provided the software is set up correctly. Thus enabling more funds to be spent on the DAC rather than costly soundcards etc ?

 

 

 

Thanks all[br]Mark

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Link to AVI:

http://www.avihifi.co.uk/adm9.html

 

I like this active speaker with DAC idea very much also, and I might use them in the office and bedrooms of the new house, with a Sonos multiroom system. Keep in mind these are compact speakers and might benefit from the extra Subwoofer if you like bass-rich electronic music. Do you like The XX? They have a track called "Fantasy" on their album. It's no beat, but there's an earth shattering bass in it that you don't want to miss. I hear that people's stomachs turned when they played it life...

 

Fully Balanced Differential Stereo: Jamo R909 < Emotiva XPA-1 < XLR < Emotiva XSP-1 < Weiss DAC2 < Oyaide d+ FW400/800 < iMac < Synology DS1815+ NAS

Software: Amarra Symphony iRC, XLD, iTunes.

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The big issue with Off the shelf computers from the likes of Dell is that they tend to be quite noisy. Now once bought, you can do things to quieten them down but usually it's easier / cheeper to start scratch to build a "quiet" PC.

 

Beyond the possible use of a higher rated PSU, I've not seen any evidence that a "custom built" PC is going to be any better than anything else - most will use very similar motherboards, etc.

 

USB (or FireWire) to a DAC does eliminate the need for costly soundcard interfaces such as Lynx or RME. However that doesn't mean they are (necessarily) better - just in comparisons you need to figure in the cost of the souncard - e.g. a Naim DAC (£2000) would be compared with £2500 USB DACs if you figure in the cost of a RME HDSPe AIO or Halide Bridge.

 

Eloise

 

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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Thanks Eloise

 

I've been considering Wavelength or RWA or maybe Altman NOS DACs since I think their warmer more vinyl sound is likely to suit me best. The Wavelength in particular seems ideally suited to USB being async. High res playback is not so important to me at this stage since so little music outside classical and jazz seems to be available for download anyway. Do you think I am going to notice much difference with that kind of set-up between an off the shelf Mac or PC and a specifically designed quiet server ?

 

 

Thanks all[br]Mark

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Reasons to buy custom designed "music" server...

 

1) configured with RME or Lynx card - not valid if using USB connection.

2) SSD for (possible) sound quality improvement - can easily be added / swapped into any off the shelf computer.

3) Noise - Dell, etc. "office" PCs tend to be noisy; big companies often have some HTPC computers where they have paid attention to noise.

 

Having said that, something like the Apple MacMini is virtually silent out of the box.

 

Eloise

 

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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I will do a bit of research on HTCP PC, maybe I can save myself a lot of work by not having to build my own, are they likely to be heavily loaded towards video playback however ?

 

I guess I have been thinking of the Dell type machine as the same as a Mac, but of course they are completely different price scale.

 

Thanks all[br]Mark

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  • 2 weeks later...

It's a real puzzle whether or not a soundcard brings much to the party: it depends on the DAC you're building a transport for.

 

If you don't need more than 24/96, or are using a DAC with proprietary 24/192 drivers, you can make a good case for USB or Firewire as the ideal protocol. It's stable, low energy and (with the right cable and async operation) sounds excellent.

 

USB also allows for a wide choice of SPDIF conversion options that frequently sound better than coax direct from the motherboard or soundcard (if you have that option). By the same token, optical outputs work well with reclocking devices for SPDIF output, too.

 

Where soundcards excel is AES/EBU breakout and interfacing with a word clock. It can be handy to have D/A onboard, too. The Lynx is very good, but expensive. In some systems, the RME and Digigram alternatives are just as good.

 

Just to sound a bum note amid the celebration, I recently had an audition of the AVIs in ideal circumstances and was underwhelmed. Although the advertising sounds like the product is REVOLUTIONARY, any half-decent pair of active studio monitors and a proportionally-priced DAC will equal or better their performance. I felt the same way about the Usher D520 and Be718s I heard recently. Wanted to stock and resell them, too.

 

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2) SSD for (possible) sound quality improvement - can easily be added / swapped into any off the shelf computer.

 

I have a HP DV5000 laptop which uses a ATA, not SATA hard drive. Is it possible to use a SSD with my laptop?

 

Bill

 

Bill[br]Old HP Laptop. Benchmark HDR DAC1, McIntosh MC-275 (Treasure KT88Z tubes), McIntosh MR-71 tuner, Rogers Studio Monitor II speakers. Denon AH-D7000 headphones.

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