Digital media server/players for a Skeptic?


I have all my music on a windows pc running itunes.  I mainly use airplay to listen on my apple TV connected to my receiver.  I then often use an ipad to change tunes and such.  My receiver also has airplay and sometimes I use that but can't really tell any difference between it and itunes. 

I do hate itunes though.  Slow, crashes a lot, hard to really manage a lot of files (~35,000 songs).  My music is mostly coded using whatever the highest rates of MP3 are. VBR 320 or something.  And I've given up on the various tools that try to fill in missing tags.

My current system is Ascend Sierra 2 mains, orb sides, Marantz 5009 receiver, Rega TT, nad preamp, nad cd player.  I will probably upgrade the marantz next year.  Don't even ask me about my interconnects.  I am not a belieber in the audio hoodoo. I use good cheap wire and cables.

So how much sound quality difference and usability/convenience do some of these music servers, decoders, whatever the heck they are really offer over using apple TV? 

Thx!



wolfernyc
With all due respect, honestly it sounds like this isn't the hobby for you. You sound like nothing is worth the trouble. With audio the devil is in the details. If you don't believe in "all the audio hoodoo", don't even bother to understand what format your digital music is in, then what point would it make for anyone to try to give you advice about the differences between various server solutions? What good would a nice server do for you if you won't even be able to sort through your untagged library? I am sure you won't be happy to hear what most here think of mp3 sound quality.
If you want to learn how to tag your files, there's plenty of assistance here. Same with understanding file formats for iOS, windows, etc. Hell, we could spend all day debating the definition of "good, cheap wire", but it probably isn't worth your time.
Sorry to be so callous, but I am being honest.  Cheers,
Spencer
Oh come now. I can’t be the only one here that thinks spending more than $20 on a USB cable is a waste of money and has some actual technical background to understand why. A lot of the stuff sold in the hi end audio world is comically ridiculous.

I’m a EE by training and have been a musician most of my life. I know what a piano sounds like and having a bass player in my ear pretty intimately, or what a cymbal’s shimmer sounds like because I’ve played nice ones often. I also know what it sounds like to hear music in a studio setting and then listen to it at home. Probably a lot of you do too.

I took my time researching and picking out the system I have and enjoy quality on a budget that makes sense for me. And I'm not immune to picking through details to improve it within reason.  I might not own the yacht others here have but I can still enjoy my time on the water!

I welcome opinions of those who might know more than me. I’m not opposed to rescanning the music I own on CD. I use mp3 because it fit on the portable players I’ve owned. I like to run so I’ve probably owned 20 iPods of every era.  If you think I’m beneath you because I won’t buy a Pono then sure, don’t waste your time. When a Pono can pass a double blind comparison to an iPhone, I’ll take a listen...

I really don’t know a lot about digital media devices. Some seem excessively designed and very expensive for someone with a < $5K system . Maybe some are not and would be a good fit for me.

. I don't think it should be necessary to be an IT expert to have to enjoy listening to music.  I have the Bluesound system, which is a Server and a whole home system.  It isn't entirely hassle free but is a lot easier that computer audio, which I've given up on after few years of Mac & DAC .  Bluesound has a reasonable sounding built in DAC but I use it's Opticl output into my Mytek Manhatten.
  Merging your prsent files into Bluesound is more work than just ripping CDs but if you buy from a dealer who knows how to do this and will be available to answer your questions it makes it a lot easier
Thank you.  So bluesound is basically storage and management of the music files, but the mytek does all of the decoding?   

Can one skip the dedicated DAC and just go direct into a receiver's optical in from bluesound? The mytek's pretty far out of my budget.

What do you need to do instead of reripping? 

I probably should re-rip all my CDs to flac anyway and create compressed files as needed for my ipod.   The tags are a mess and I've yet to find a tagging tool that isn't totally junk.  I've tried picard, tuneup, and a few others.  I have a ton of compilations and loads of really old MP3's.  The apps crash at anything over a 1000 files, which makes for a lot of manual work to feed them in.  Although I might look for a service to do them in bulk.  I have a lot of cds!

THx again

Personally I find most of them overpriced when you can build your own 2TB Linux based music server for about $600 and get iPhone/Android app support..

If you are using the digital outs of your airplay I do think you'd benefit from a Wyred4Sound Remedy reclocker, as would Google Cast.

I rip everything to FLAC, but download some DSD as well, and use USB 2.0 to play to my DAC.

I'm not sure if it works with iTunes, but PS Audio's LAN rover is also a good solution, but again, $600 seems so pricey to me.
I could definitely get behind creating a dedicated linux or windows music server.  I have a spare micro sized lenovo that I could use.  It would just need more storage.  

What music software do you use to manage music on linux that replaces itunes?  What distro do you use?

What do you use as a DAC?  

Thx!


I use Logitech Media Server, it's taken a life of it's own after Lotitech shut the division down. It has a very active open source development, that has added things like DSD and Chrome cast support, among others.  Take a look at my setup page, which was written for a Mytek Brooklyn, but would work for any USB 2.0 driverless DAC:

http://inatinear.blogspot.com/2016/08/ubuntu-mytek-brooklyn-dsd-setup-guide.html


Since you sound enthusiastic about Linux servers, etc. check out Raspberry Pi 3 an incredible non-profit project that has evolved into a whole community etc. Computer audiophile has many discussions on it in the context you would want. NAS/storage, Pi as server and some options with dad built-in. $35- 75, no I'm not kidding! Cheers,
Spencer

Wolf

  The Bluesound has a dac included in each one if it's units so you don't need an external dac.  It is pretty good but since the Bluesound also has digital outs I prefer to use the far superior dac in the Mytek Manhatten.

  However...Bluesound dacs are MQA compliant (or whatever the term would be).  If that is important to you, or becomes important if in fact Tidal or another Streaming Service ever actually releases MQA material, then you can just use the native DAC of the Bluesound

Hmm, RE a Pi -  I could do that. How does the scanning part work - hook up a USB type CD reader?

What do you use as a DAC?

Thx!
Re Bluesound - so I'd still need a computer to rip CD's and NAS or something to store the music?  


FWIW,

I use older Squeezebox and newer Plex systems to stream wirelessly from my laptop music server.

dbpoweramp to rip and tag. Picard to autotag files after when needed

This is very cost effective and works and sounds great. Once you get used to it and learn how to use the tools. Not for the computer illiterate though.

I also use Seagate Dashboard (included with most Seagate disk drives) for backups. I use one live and two backup external USB drives.

Can’t express enough the importance of proper backups with this stuff though. Worst thing is to spend time ripping and tagging and losing files when the drive eventually goes.

I had my live drive go about a year back and another just this past weekend. I recovered first time but had lost a lot of album art not stored directly in (.wav) music files at the time. That was a setback that took a while to fully recover from.

This last time restore from backup went 100% smoothly as it should. Seagate was able to restore almost 1TB of tagged flac files including album art. I was back up and running as before in just a few hours.

So while I do use Linux to play my music, and movies, and Hulu, etc. in my living room, I often rip with MediaMonkey because it's just more convenient.  It has better / easier autotagging than I have found on Linux so far.

If I'm ripping 1 CD at a time, I'll go ahead and have MM write straight to the Linux server.  This is accomplished by sharing the Music directory out to my PC.

However since my PC is using Wifi, for ripping large quantities of files I use a thumb drive. I just got a 60 CD classical music set, and ripped 20 CD's at a time to a thumb drive.  Walked the drive over, dragged and dropped, then had LMS re-scan.  Easy.

Best,


Erik
Whether it's Pi, microRendu(my fav, but $650 + power supply cost) or other server, in most cases you will want to rip the music files to a NAS and send the digital output of the server/streamer to a separate dac. Yes, you can get a cheap built-in sac on Pi or many other low cost servers but as many have suggested, a separate dac is going to give you much better sonics and ability to upgrade/change later without having to  change the server.
Some servers have internal hard disc that can store a fair amount, but many have argued(including me) that putting the files on a NAS in another room and connecting ideally via ethernet is generally the way to go. Top $ Aurenders being an exception. Cheers,
Spencer 
Agree that the DAC used will largely determine how things sound.
I've very interested in this discussion regarding digital servers,  but no one has mentioned Cocktail Audio; specifically their X40 music server.  I would be interested to know if anyone has this unit or knows anything about the company or their products?


cocktailaudio.com

Thx all! - I think I need to start with NAS and move all of my stuff off my PCs and Mac.  A good one that has backup options.  

Then I can start to rip more of my collection to lossless and see how I like it.   

Media monkey looks like a nice improvement over iTunes.  Does it support synching with iPods? 
MM does a very nice job with iPods. :)

It also lets' you select what music to synch and which not to.  I try to avoid synching classical to my car iPod for instance. :)

Best,

Erik
Here's my review on the LampizatOr DSD Komputer music server:

http://ayllonmedia.com/news/the-lampizator-dsd-komputer-an-audio-expo-in-your-living-room-or-not

Enjoy,


Juan C. Ayllon
AKA EscritorJuan
Check out Bluesound, , Sony & Marantz for easy to use media players
Personal experience...

The first streamer/player I purchased was an Olive One 500gb (I think) then shortly afterward the 1TB model. It was easy to rip, easy to playback, sounded decent enough. Almost. It's appreciably small physically, the interface is very easy to figure out, but I grew tired of swiping my finger on its face. 

I then tried a Bluesound Vault2, a very good product with impeccable sonics and ease of use. Triple the price or more of the Olive. I had a lot of difficulty getting the Node to respond to the Vault without adjustments, so I gave up. 

Now before I mention the product I found the best for my needs/wants allow me to preface it by relating that while I'm no stranger to computing, I find adding computers to my stereo setup requires a learning curve inherent to computing in general. And let it be said that players/streamers ARE computers, not analogue components. If one thinks it's just buying another piece and tapping it into your two channel setup, one would be woefully incorrectimundo. 

I wanted good sonics, simplicity of use, an easy interface. The winner IMHO? The Sony HAPZ-1ES with the 1tb hard drive. It's the largest of the products I mentioned, a typically sized component that mates well with the look of your average separates setup. (If you've gone separates)  This is the first anything Sony that I've allowed into my two channel setup over the years, in fact I've not had a Sony other than the original Walkman way back...when. 

Also, you can find this selling for considerably less than its $1995 msrp currently.  Mine was a demo for $1200. Money well spent. 
I built my own music server out of a mini PC with Xubuntu and Logitech Media Server. It’s great for Internet radio and my ripped music. For Tidal I like to use my Oppo 103 though, it has a nicer interface.

Total cost for a 2TB server was around $650 with optical output.

Your next receiver probably have optical and/or USB inputs, but if not, make sure you build your PC with optical digital outputs.

LMS has iPhone and Android apps as well as a browser interface.

I’d start with that first for convenience and value.

But for sound quality.... I think you should go listen. If dealers near you can’t excite you about a different approach, like an all tube system for instance, or really good speakers, you are done.  Another thing for you to listen to are really good headphones and headphone amps. Compact, not fussy at all and very high value.