In order to get the best out of a music server, you really need a DAC, unless you're spending a lot of money on something like a Sooloos.
I was looking for a similar solution to what it sounds like you're referring too. I didn't want my computer constantly running, and didn't want to stream wirelessly - I didn't want drop outs, lag, and interference.
I bought an Apple TV. The model being phased out right now has a 160 gb internal hard drive, optical output, can be controlled by either an iPhone (which I use), iPod Touch, or an iPad. Music takes a while to sync initially, but adding a new CD here and there doesn't take very long.
Downsides to it - you need a DAC, 160gb isn't a ton of memory, and it doesn't play high res. I have my CDs ripped as Apple Lossless. About 350 or so CDs have my hard drive at about 3/8 or so filled. I have no high res music, so no worries for me.
I just sold my Rega Apollo and am waiting for Rega to release their DAC. Word on the UK streets is sometime in October. Hopefully it'll be here in the States shortly afterward. I'm currently isn't an old Theta Cobalt 307 DAC which is surprisingly almost as good as the Apollo. The Apollo grooves a little better, but the Cobalt actually does a few things better than the Apollo.
The Rega DAC is supposed to be better than the Saturn and will retail for $995 if that makes it enticing.
I just got an appleTV too, the one with a 160GB hard drive is on clearance for $150 shipped. Unbeatable! I control my tunes with my iphone, but you can buy ipod touch and have a great user interface (using the remote ap) without the need of computer, or optionally, use the computer and send the tunes to appleTV. I think it sounds good playing my apple lossless files, but I'd like to add a DAC later to take it into "hi-fi" territory.
Since the device is small and controlled over wi-fi, I've just hidden it behind a piece of furniture and run a set of interconnects to the rack, you don't even see it!
I synced it over ethernet the first time and it took only two hours or so. When you add or remove music or art to your main computer they'll get synced over wi-fi automatically, and it's pretty quick.
The downside for me is that it's really tied into the itunes software universe, if you don't like that program then it's not a good choice.
Thanks for the feedback, it sounds like the market is still in the early days and that separates [player + DAC] are still the deployment of choice in the <$2K range.
Has the Mac Mini been an issue for the noise it throws? My Macbook is pretty noisy with its cooling fan, and I was a bit concerned about background noise using a Mini approach would be noticeable at low volume levels.
The Minis are very quiet even up close, I recommend that route. Headless Mini + iPad + external drives. With an Airport Extreme you can have multiple external drives in another room and stream wirelessly. It works great, no noise, no dropouts, no lag, no interference. I can stream from the basement to the second floor with no problems.
Plus you have an iPad to play with. With the mini you can upgrade it as needed and run a variety of programs on it such as iTunes, Pure Music, Amarra etc, You have something that holds value and you can sell or keep for other purposes if you decide to change your plans later. You can use USB, toslink, or firewire DACs with it. Other computers can share the drives if you want to play music on other systems.
With a dedicated server you have a dedicated computer that locks you into their software and will be obsolete and basically worthless at some point.
Thanks everyone! It sounds like the AppleTV + DAC is a good foray into a music server for the near term [1-3 years].
All my best,
The Apple TV makes things very easy IMO. Its the most enjoyable thng I've done to my system in a very long time. I'm sure you'll be very happy with one.
Get a good DAC and an iPod Touch for a remote, even if you're OK with a TV in the room, and you're good to go.
Hopefully Rega's DAC will be out soon!
I have had my Apple TV for a couple of months and love it!
I would recommend getting the 160GB hard drive version that is being phased out. This older version is also capable of streaming, and when I first synced the Apple TV I was initially disappointed with the sound -- it did not sound quite as good as my CD player going to my DAC. However, I realized that what I initially heard was streaming (that is, I began listening before the songs were synced to the Apple TV harddrive). After the songs were synced on the Apple TV hard drive, it sounds every bit as good (and possibily better) as my CD player going to my DAC.
Question on the Apple TV. Is there a way to add more storage? 160 GB is very small. I am currently using a Squeezebox Touch with a 1TB external Hard drive.
You can't add extra memory to the Apple TV. Once out of space, you can stream to it from your main computer.
I have about 300 or so CDs in Apple Lossless stored on it. It's about 3/8 full. If I ever run out of space, what I'd do is keep my everyday CDs on it, and stream the odd stuff.
I have all my music stored on an external 1TB hard drive in addition to the Apple TV.
There are hacks out there that allow an external hard drive to be connected directly to the Apple TV, and there are a few companies that'll put bigger hard drives in them. Not sure how much I trust altering gear personally.
Is the Apple TV better sounding than the Airport Express, and if so, why? I tried streaming AIFF files from my IMAC thru an Airport Express into the DAC of my Audio Aero Capitol cdp and the sound was not close to cd quality. I've since gone back to just playing CD's and sold the airport express.
The software converts the AIFF to Apple lossless before it streams it and the AE coverts it back to 16/44.1. The toslink output of the AE is also much higher in jitter than what your cdp can do. It is not surprising that a $99 multifunction wireless device can't perform as well as the transport in your player but in my experience it performs much better than "not even close to CD quality."
Were all of the signal processors in iTunes turned off and the volume all the way up?
The software converts the AIFF to Apple lossless before it streams it and the AE coverts it back to 16/44.1.
Herman, could you elaborate a little bit on how AE does any conversion, if any at all? AIFF and Apple LossLess are both 44.1kHz/16-bit resolution but their data transfer rates differ, perhaps this was what you were referring to.
Kbigelow, I agree with earlier recommendations, the AppleTV+DAC+contoller (iPod Touch, iPad, or iPhone) is an excellent solution at a very comfortable budget even if you buy a new iPod Touch (lowest model, 8GB) to use as remote control. This solution is perfect for those who may not need a NAS at this time, perhaps because their CD collection is not that large yet (maybe <500). 160GB can get you a long way even at Apple LossLess or AIFF formats.
I use Sonos for a music server system but also have an AppleTV dedicated to a television setup and it's great device as a music server as well.
ALAC is compressed. That file size is about 40% smaller than AIFF and can't be played directly. It must be processed to re-create the 16/44.1 data just like iTunes must decompress ALAC before it can play it.
As I understand it the streaming computer takes the AIFF file and compresses it into ALAC so less data must be transmitted., streams it to the AE, which decompresses it to 16/44.1. There are some who feel this active compressing/decompressing degrades the sound.. otherwise why have AIFF at all? Others say this is nonsense and the sound is identical since the data is identical.. I suppose like most things you would have to try it and see if you can here a difference.
Your post is right on the money. I desperately want to upgrade my digital frontend but don't want a new CD player... hi-rez downloads are what I'm looking for. I find it hard to believe that there are so few choices for an all in one solution in the $1000 - $1500 range. I suppose the new Olive 3hd is an option, but no wifi or digital out... really? I hope that companies that normally play in the $1000 to $2000 range answer the call soon (perhaps Cambridge, Rega, Music Hall, etc).
Bryston is releasing a digital player (not sure what to call it), the BDP-1. I don't think it streams music, I think you connect a hard drive via USB - regular or thumb drive. It's kind of hard to describe. Google search it for info. It'll cost $2100.
You could just get a Logitech / Slim Devices unit modded by someone such as Boulder Cable. I have not tried it, but I bet this would be a great and simple way to go. I have a Wavelength Audio Brick. These can be had used for $750 to $800 and are upgradeable to 24/96 for $250. I found it to be plug and play.
Olive Just released a New 06HD this week. Anybody heard it??
I would not go for anything Apple, because unless you already have another Apple device (iwhatever), you are stuck with them forever. Without starting an Apple vs. PC flamewar (I happen to be a Linux user and outside that fray), I think a simple Olive device (no connection with them) may be better, because it looks better in a living room than two small boxes. I don't know how it would sound but they use passive cooling (no fan). Olive also streams from any computer (I asked them), and is Linux based so you are not tied to proprietary formats.
Apple doesn't support FLAC which is a great lossless format that supports tagging.
The Olive products do seem a bit expensive though. Cambridge Audio has a new product NP30 but I am not sure whether it actually stores music locally, but it can read from an attached (via USB) HDD.