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Macbook Music Server


Innertuber
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First, let me say I didn’t want to hijack Henry’s thread, so while both are of similar vein, I started anew. I took the plunge last Friday and bought a new Macblackbook to create a music and likely DVD storage repository. Why the Macbook?

 

I really like the silent operation aspect of the Mini and kept trying to convince myself I needed one, but given our circumstances, I hope the laptop solution proves best. Here’s what I considered:

 

I work near one home weekdays and spend weekends away. The mini could be transported, but the laptop wins on portability factor. I’ll hopefully disconnect external storage and move the laptop with partial playlists or groupings of CDs on the internal drive.

 

Florida’s power blips during summer rains. If there is lightning we might unplug a few things, but for short interruptions advantage goes to the laptop with battery backup. Plus I can flop in bed and tweak.

 

Output to TV was seemingly equal. We use an analog set with bunny ears one place and digital HDTV the other (FIOS on the digital). I don’t plan to record the tv at this point, just output as a monitor or play DVDs.

 

I know there are other ways to get there, subjective yes, but having a small screen just seemed to make good sense to me. After all, it is a laptop. Advantage Macbook.

 

Mini has a couple more USB ports, but a hub could solve that giving a slight advantage to the mini on ports.

 

Power advantage to the Macbook. It’s “mo biggar”.

 

WAF goes to the Macbook. If her iMac is dead, and her Dell is dead, she can surf for that special recipe without having to know how to set everything. WAF is important to me since I think I am already pushing my luck (Khorns in living room).

 

Quiet goes to the Mini, but the Macbook isn’t very loud if I’m not using the drive.

 

Both can use wireless mouse and keyboard, so that’s an equal.

 

So, my system as of now looks like this!

Macbook > Headphone out jack split into two RCA jacks > Receiver

 

Well before you ahem me, I wanted to hear some music since the bunny ears would not get the playoff games given our torrential rains. Okay, nothing special, but it’s a starting point. To digress a bit, it’s a bit more of a challenge to do this on a Mac. I think windows can handle ASIO and FLAC with a decent media manager and it's straight forward. I am just tired of rebooting and waiting so long to start and shutdown. I guess I wanted to make this all work on the Mac platform, thus the aforementioned plunge.

 

So, what did I do all weekend? Other than the honey-do-list stuff, I loaded a few CD’s into iTunes and a lot of updating. I’m going to try to move forward with iTunes and see how that works for me. My ultimate objectives are improved fidelity, the ability to convert vinyl, write to iPod, a good interface and the ability to backup music and dvds.

 

Next, I am going to fiddle with an M-Audio Firewire 410. It should, near as I can tell function as both a DAC and convert ye ole records. Good for testing and something to compare to if I upgrade the DAC. No Leopard driver yet it appears, still some folks have experienced success. I can always do vinyl with windows and write CDs for a while as a backup plan pending new drivers (hopefully).

 

I have a lot to do on understanding how to control iTunes given our mish mash of computers. I like the idea of the iTouch, but doubt a 5 hour battery is useful to me as a remote. It sure looks fun though and maybe a cradle would solve the issue. I tend to make short playlists depending on who is around and just start it up and forget about it, until I need to adjust the volume. Oddly, the more we drink the deafer we become.

 

I envision the system (will hopefully soon be) along the lines of:

Drobo Macbook Firewire 410> L/R amplifiers

 

The western digital caviar drives look pretty quiet? Any thoughts on those or others? That’s not super critical as I can hide the thing in a cabinet I suppose. Might start out with two 750 Gb drives, looks like the sweet spot for price to me.

 

I would love opinions, comments, criticisms, wisecracks or suggestions on how I can avoid screwing this up or even better, improve the results.

 

Thanks

 

 

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Great post. These are the kind of details and decision support information that everybody is looking for.

 

I think the MacBook (Black) was a very good decision for you. My wife has the same one and it will certainly work for your system. It's not very loud either. I think you made the smart decision to use OS X rather than a version of Windows. Windows definitely has its place though. For DVDs have you tried HandBrake? Works great for ripping them into all kinds of formats, even iPod. Plus with the MacBook you always have a monitor at the ready if you really need one.

 

I won't say anything about the current arrangement with RCAs from the headphone jack. I already said a big "WHAT!" after I read that sentence, but once I read your ahem line I was back to normal. Good call. The iPod Touch battery life would only be an issue if you are constantly adjusting things for 5 hours. I think playing music or watching videos on the Touch would be much worse and that is probably what the battery rating is from.

 

Your envisioned system will sound very good. That M-Audio unit is one that I'm not too familiar with. It looks very good though. It would be nice to go straight from the DAC to your amp. Please let us know if you end up getting it. Not sure how much you want to spend, but the new Benchmark DAC1 PRE is coming out soon and has analog inputs. As a DAC it is very good for the price.

 

Great Close-up of he M-Audio piece

 

In my experience Seagate drives can be extremely quiet and reliable. I agree about 750 GB being the price / size sweet spot right now. If you get the Drobo you can even add 1 TB drives later and the Drobo will use all the space unlike standard RAID units.

 

Did I miss anything?

 

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I'll check out handbrake. I've been using DVD decrypter I think it is. Old, but works.

 

I think that M-Audio thing is a mixer DA and AD with pre-amp (adjustable gain). I bought 2 of them for 84 bucks each on amazon. I think it was supposed to be $284. No clue really, a one day price for some reason that was gone the next. Should rip vinyl if nothing else. If it doesn't work right I'll sell the other one new in box and poke a guitar or something into the 410.

 

That new benchmark pre is interesting, but I don't think I need the pre-amp. I'll need to poder, but think the Benchmark USB DAC could go into my preamp or direct to a receiver.

 

Let me explain more. Given I like a Pro-Ject turntable > pre-amp > tube monos I wanted something simpler for my wife. Plus, I won't play any old record.

 

So, there is also a parallel system mixed in there. Some would have their home theater in there, but not I. Technics turntable > Outlaw 2150 w USB stereo rcvr for those old scratchy Bee Gees, Elton, FM or whatever she comes up with.

 

After I get the digital music feeds squared away I think I will use a Niles a/b box so the speakers can be fed from one system or the other. Could trigger off the Outlaw, dunno if I like that. I might a/b the DAC out to both systems as well. More to ponder, the Benchmark pre bypassing my preamp direct to the monoblocks.

 

Point here being, I like it when she can mash one button and get radio or play CDs. Stay tuned ...

 

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Okay, I bit the bullet and ordered a Drobo and two 750 GB WD Caviars. Almost everything seems positive about the Drobo, other than if the unit breaks you need another Drobo to read the drives.

 

I think I could hook this up two ways:

First, attach Drobo to our iMac and use Airport to communicate with Macbook > DAC > Amp

Second attach direct to Macbook > DAC > Amp

 

While it shouldn't be super loud, the first option would put it in a utility room, rather than the living room.

 

Here's some info on drive noise -

http://techreport.com/articles.x/12673/13

 

Any thoughts on pro's or cons as to the best approach?

 

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I'm glad to see you went with a Drobo. I think it is the most underrated storage device around. As far as your two options go, there is nothing better than directly attaching the Drobo to the MacBook if all else is equal. If you don't want a little noise or "clutter" then go with the Airport Extreme. You are talking about the Extreme NOT the Express right?

 

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Drobo is just great, pricey, but I like what I've read about it.

 

Could do Extreme Base with Drobo on USB, but I think initally I will just wire direct.

 

Can a Mac attach to two wireless networks at once? Say an Extreme inhouse network and free outdoor internet. Right now we're using bluetooth indoors.

 

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...but I had a good night at work so:

 

When I open 'Airport Utility' on my MBP, it shows that is looking for "basestationS" -not- "basestation". I do not have two wireless stations here, but maybe there is hope.

 

markr

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Well lessee where I am so far -

 

Got a Niles A/B passive switch installed so we can now toggle between SS and tubes feeding the horns.

The laptop disk is full of music which I will have to move to other disks.

Technics turntable is feeding SS amp now.

Pro-Ject is feeding preamp to tube amps.

Just using Apple remote for PC control at this point.

Drobo arrived last night!

Installed 2 WD Caviar Sata2 750GB drives - nothing working so far - grrrrrrr.

Rerouted and rearranged wires for the umteenth time.

New audio furniture (cheap, but better).

 

Next steps I'm thinking of:

Grab new benchmark when it's out.

Airport Express base station to solve some printer issues and provide wireless tunes/DVDs hopefully.

Eyeballing the Mitsubishi WD-73833 pretty closely (can't use projection, price is an issue).

 

Issues of the day

I think to run the wireless base station I would have to choose between internet access (free external connection) and internal (inside house) wireless music.

 

Drobo didn't fire right up as I wished it would have.

 

TV - wish that big ole Sony was still around, wife wants thin screen.

 

Last weekend we drug out Blizzard of Oz and I tried to blow out the windows with Crazy Train as a test. The windows survived. Dang hurricane code windows. It sounded ... well, Craaaaaaaaaaaaazy.

 

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Innertuber - You may have an issue by choosing between the Internet and your internal intranet. If you use the base station via wireless and disconnect from the Internet you won't get any cover art, album & song titles, meta-data etc...

 

Please fill us in on the Drobo issues! This is the first I've heard of any problems with this device.

 

Also, I really like the system you have going. Many CA readers will be jealous.

 

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Sounds like my Drobo, which I had already named iTuneAFish, refuses to become house broken and is going back to the pond. Appears it is constant overheat mode from start-up. Tech was helpful and said he'd never seen this before. Red warning light is on from bootup, drives aren't spooling at all, which scares me since I got them from NewEgg (30 day limited return) and NewEgg seems to have a DOA rate at least high enough to catch my eye. Since I ordered two, I'm pretty sure they both would not be goners. Stay tuner'd!

 

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'We' don't seem to be having much luck building our own media servers, at least not on first times out. I am curious Innertuber, what is Data Robotics offering to do to resolve the issue at this point? And do you have anything else around the house(s) to try out the WD Caviars with - just for testing purposes?

 

markr

 

 

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They are Pacific time so they called too late yesterday. I was gone. I'll catch them today. Only other thing that I could use is a work PC and I'd have to close my door so the IT folks don't see me. Not wanting to really format with Win either. Hopefully they will get a unit out ASAP. I think one of their engineers might call and dbl check the trouble shooting. More to follow ...

 

Update - contacted cust service and they put me thru the same troubleshooting routines as yesterday. Problem was the same, seems stuck in overheat mode on start-up. I am hoping to use my Drobo to grill burgers tonight if I can get the turbo fan to flame up good. They say sending a new one out today with return shipper.

 

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Sorry. I really should learn to 'track' my posts and get to the responses in a more timely fashion. I'm just a social butterfly, flitting around here looking for something else I can get in trouble with all the time.

 

Yeah Innertuber, I seems like DR is going to be alright. IS IT HERE YET?

 

markr

 

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Replacement arrived today, iTuneAFish 2, I'll try to give it a whirl tonight after I spray weed killer. Drobo Tech folks seemed mystified that it wasn't functioning correctly.

 

Tomorrow Queensryche visits Tampa. Be there or Be Square. Hey, be sure to catch Robert Plant and Allison Krauss tonight on CMT.

 

Keep you posted on Drobo. Also, have an airport extreme base coming.

 

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Well, the replacement Drobo arrived. The good news is that when I connected it, it started right up. Green light for go. The bed news is they sent me either a reconditioned or demo unit. Now I'm getting mad. No clue how much use or abuse this thing has had.

 

I thought it was odd the unit was in a box appearing new, but it had no cords or anything inside. Upon closer inspection its got general wear scratches on the ends, scratches in multiple drive bays from insertion of drives. The back has scratches from somebody jabbing a paperclip or something into the tiny reset holes. I am getting frustrated with these people. They are really holding up my progress. Back on hold w/customer service for who knows how long ...

 

 

 

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Mine is set too Mark - I can't wait.

 

The customer service rep said he could do nothing. Said nobody in authority was there and he would send a work ticket to somebody who cares. I told him I have two of your units and if I don't hear something pretty damn fast I'm calling AMEX and stopping payment.

 

I am really sad about this unit so far as it sounded so wonderful and easy to use. This customer service rep was a borderline lemon as well. JMHO

 

Okay, I'm done raising hell, let's Raise Some Sand!

 

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Carl the friendly fellow at Drobo got a little tense today. He suggested I use the beat up replacement while they repair my new one. I said, uh, nope. I don't want a repaired new one, just send a new replacement. No comment or explanation as to why they sent a used unit, but I'm getting wary. I learned they have no inventory when he said we would have to get a unit in. They must ship from elsewhere, kind of odd for a mfg support center to me, but it explains the slow ship times. He needed to talk with somebody in authority and I said look, if you don't want to do this fine. Credit my card and I'll send all your stuff back. He indicated he will call in an hour.

 

Stay tuned!

 

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Good suggestion. I actually ordered it direct from Data Robotics, as I was a bit nervous about getting the most current version. I'd read about a few issues with the early ones. But, your point is a good one, a dealer would probably just send a new one and deduct from their invoice. At this point I'm going to see it thru the day, then toss in the towel if I don't have decent resolution. There are other ways to skin the cat.

 

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I often have the same concern about the most current version.

 

I received a comment back from Data Robotics and it was pretty apparent they did not want to discuss this matter or any other quality or customer service issue/perception in public. That was somewhat disappointing. I asked them to address the topic in general and offered to provide the space in this post to promote their product quality and service. When your products are good it is not hard to turn a negative into a positive and a win-win situation. Hmm, I am concerned.

 

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