Help -- need Idiot's Guide to music server system

Squeezebox, FLAC, Mac Mini, lossy, lossless -- help, what does all this mean? I'm trying to find out more about taking a CD collection onto hard drive music server. Can anyone recommend a Beginner's Guide, whether online or in print? I'm not completely computer illiterate but I can't figure out the basic hardware needed. My main interest is not to broadcast music wirelessly to different rooms but to get a thousand-plus CDs into some more convenient and secure data storage system without loss of CD audio quality -- can it be done, and with what? If you can point me to an Idiot's Guide, I'd appreciate it.

If it matters, my current system (set up in a small listening room) is a Naim Nait 5i amp and Naim CD5i-2 player driving a pair of Spendor S3/5s. The rest of the room is filled with CDs. Thanks.
If you are not interested in doing any of this wirelessly, it is really pretty easy. You may want an external hard drive. 500 GB = $120 with firewire/USB/Esota connection options. 1 Terabyte $225, same as above. Go to Best Buy or Circuit City or anynumber of on-line computer places for the external hard drive.

My recommendation is a Slim Devices Duet, which can be done either wirelessly or wired from your computer. It includes a remote control that has an interface similar to an iPod, so you can see album art.

Short of this, all you need is a digital output on your computer to take to a DAC. Your computer may already have a digital output, or you can upgrade the audio card, cheap and easy. You would then control the music from your computer, wired to the DAC (or you could even bypass the DAC if you get a good audio card with analog outputs if you can find one with acceptable quality). You would then play and control your music from your computer, from any number of available programs, but even from Windows Media Player.

As for the file formats - I would suggest going to the Slim Devices (made by logitec) and get onto their forums (you will need to register). These forums are addressed specifically at what you are discussing - but also covers their products. Their forums are pretty easy to work and search within. I use WAV files, but others prefer FLAC which is a lossless format and is easier to work with for tagging your music. This will all be explained in the forums by people with more knowledge than I.

FYI: Slim Devices Forums:

Hope this helps. For $500 you can have a Duet and a 500 GB hard drive up and running. Also, the external hard drives are nice to have. You can get a group of friends together and use a traveling hard drive to exchange and share large quantities of music! Short of burning in all of your CDs, you could be up and running in about 2 hours with limited computer expertise (like me).
You may want to look into the Escient servers. They utilize internet access to load cover art and artist information for each CD. They now have larger harddrives and can load CDs in FLAC which is identical to CD quality. I have over 400 CDs on my unit and find I am listening to more CDs because of the ease in locating and playing. Their website is very informative.
For your purposes, there are really 5 main concerns:

1) What type of compression? You want a lossless system (like FLAC or Windows Media Lossless "WMA lossless") which preserves all the data on your CDs - any of the lossy compression schemes (MP3, etc) drop some data to save disc space. There is probably more music "out there on line" in FLAC than any other lossless format, but WMA lossless seems to be closing the gap, a bit. There is no perfect call here. Some server software will read both FLAC and WMA lossless (like the latest QSonix) and this obviously allows more flexibility.

2) The user interface. i-tunes is the defacto standard. It is a text-based interface which allows you to access music alphabetically by track, artist, or album name. Some systems, including the very expensive stand alone servers from QSonix or Soolooos use a graphic interface. You can choose music by browsing through album covers, for example. Find one you like.

3) Storage capacity. Calculate the maximum # of CDs you expect to put on the system in the future as best you can. Once you know which compression scheme you've chose, you can calculate the hard drive space you will need. Your dealer will help if you need him to. Remember that you need 2 drives, each with this storage capacity - a main drive and a back-up.

4) Price. A computer with server software will offer a lot of capability for a moderate outlay. Dedicated servers can be less expensive (Squeezebox) or more expensive (QSonix) or much more expensive (Sooloos) depending mostly on the user interface. Graphic touch screen systems are great - but pricey.

5) Choice of DAC. IMHO, this will have the biggest impact on playback quality.

Good Luck


PS - Some systems are noisier than others. Although not a major issue like those above - just bear in mind that a noisy drive system must be isolated or covered during use.
To clarify #5, above - the DAC. All servers that I know of -even PCs or Macs -include an internal DAC. The most expensive servers like QSonix and Sooloos use pretty good internal DACs. However, if your new server is going to replace a cd player as a source component in a high end system, I'd get an appropriate external DAC, even for the QSonix or Sooloos.

The first thing you need to do is to calculate your storage requirements/capacity. If you compress the CDs' WAVs to FLAC format, you'll need approx. 300-400 MB per CD. If you have 1,000 CDs, this means you need approx. 300-400 GB of hard disc space. As another poster mentioned, you will need 2 drives like this - Primary and Backup. I would recommend you not skimp and simply buy 2 1 TB (TeraByte = 1,000 GigaBytes). This will provide you with a backup as well as room to grow.

I just bought a Maxtor 1 TB drive for $225. It's well-built, fast, has USB and FireWire connections, and has a 5 year warranty. Get 2 of these.

Then, you need a device that will take the music files stored on the hard discs, decode them, and pipe them out to your hi-fi system. Lots of folks use big, fancy music servers. These are very nice, but some are QUITE expensive.

I'm a bit of a skin-flint, here's my setup: $500 Acer laptop running several different pieces of software for playback: Windows Media Player, WinAmp, and FooBar. They all do about the same thing, they play back music files. They can play back WAVs, FLACs, SHNs, MP3s and several other file formats. I use FLAC because it's free, it's "lossless", and it works quite well. It compresses a WAV to about 60% of its original size with NO loss of audio quality.

Attached to this laptop is a LinkSys Wireless MusicBridge, approx. $90. This device takes the music generated by the software on the laptop and sends it to my hi-fi system. I can "stream" the music to the LinkSys wirelessly, or I can use an Ethernet cable to hard-wire the connection. I use the Ethernet cable, it's more reliable and supports higher speeds.

So, I attach the MusicBridge to my laptop using an Ethernet cable and then I attach the MusicBridge to my hi-fi by using a coax digital cable into one of my Digital Inputs on my pre-processor. This allows me to use the DACs in my pre-processor (very good ones) instead of the ones that the MusicBridge has. They're "okay", but not as good as my pre-pro's.

That's about it. I use my laptop running one of the aforementioned software programs to play back the FLAC files stored on the hard discs and the MusicBridge takes care of getting the signal to my hi-fi. BTW, it sounds pretty darn good [smile].

Total "investment" is about $1,000. That buys you a laptop PC, 2 external hard discs, and the LinkSys Wireless MusicBridge.

Feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions...

I just set mine up. Like the posts mention above, your first decision is to go wireless or hardwired. I decided to hardwire because I can (crawl space and open basement below), more stable and I suspect it's better sonically (but I don't know for sure).

Here's my hardware: Apple G3, one buffalo 500 gig nas, one buffalo 500 gig drivestation turbousb external harddrive, wavelength cosecant usb dac, Iphone as a remote control.

I hardwired the apple to a modem/router which is also hardwired into the Buffalo nas. I have a nas (an external hardrive that can be networked for multiple computers) so that I can access the music database from other computers. Go to Audio Asylum and search "nas" in the digital pc audio forum. The drivestation turbousb is strictly used for back up.

I won't go into all the details of the software but basically you point the apple at the nas so that when you rip cd's it is stored on the nas. And of course you will want to set up Itunes correctly so that you rip the cd's in lossless, etc..

This isn't the only way to do it but, personally, for me, I don't think I can do it any better. It's simple, sounds great and a whole lot of fun. Although a Mac mini would be cool.

A couple of good reads is the pc section of audio assylum (this can be a little overwhelming unless your a geak). Also go to the wavelegth usb dac site.
Thanks to all who have posted such helpful responses!
go to PS Audio website and read article in monthly magazine which tells you what to buy and how to set it're rolling for about $2K plus your own hi fi.
Jhold - I have new MacMini with OSX on it and 500GB Firewire drive "Neptun" from OWC (pretty quiet) for computer backup. I'm planning (in future) to create music server using another Firewire drive. With the current capacity of CD you could probably store 1500 CDs in Apple lossless format and it's only about $100. When you need to expand you can daisy chain another Firewire Neptun. Backup of the music server comes to mind since you spend a lot of time to rip and compress disks and don't want to loose it. When it comes to that point "Neptun" will be even cheaper and you can daisychain many. Keep backup in different house (Theft, Fire etc).

Connect MacMini's optical out using Tosslink (possibly glass one) to the DAC. I use jitter rejecting Benchmark DAC1 that cost around $1k. Get newer USB version ($300 more) just in-case. Benchmark has volume control - I use only digital (CD, DVD, TV) and connect XLR outputs of the Dac to Power amp directly.
I,m also a computer idiot. I've been looking into Olive Opus 4. My question is I have an Audio Aero cd player, how much $$ to get the same quality of play back. I ask about the olive because it looks the simplest soulition.Another question is cost of cables.
I might be a retard, but it seems to me that none of this stuff could possibly sound any good. Get me back to my vinyl, quick.
I put together a computer with some old parts laying around, got it up and running and ripped a couple cd's in wav lessloss, run it out of the coax to a pre/pro. God what a horrid sound. My $.02 if your thinking about this route.
Although I have seen audiophile motherboards, even one that was tube based.
Slikric - Wav is not lossless (much less lessloss) . It is not compressed format. Try to run coax to DAC instead of pre and sound might be a little better.

Jhold - music server doesn't do anything different from CD player. Music is stored on hard disk instead of CD and the DAC is outside and not inside of CD Player. Don't listen to people who express negative opinion but never heard it.

Chasmal - I agree 100%
I dunno, I just tried it for fun not that thats what I want to do. I primarily did this to play podcasts with in mp3 format. I have getting close to 1200 music podcasts and putting them on cd and listening to them is getting to be a problem spacewise. Actually the mp3 sounded much better. I'm not really looking for an elaborate setup, just something that will do.
How long does it take to copy and categorize 1000 CD's to a hard drive? Many years ago I tried to scan 35mm photo slides into the computer and gave up because it was so tedious. Are there any tips for doing this efficiently?
Imacs appear to be the easiest to set up. When compared to the prepackaged servers, they are still very competitive. Go to the benchmark site and check their wiki on computer audio set up. I started out with a $50 stand alone mac G3 with an added hard drive and extra ram. Occasionally it would hang up due to the 1000+ cd's and the bloated library and os (come on, it is a 9 year old box). It sounded great though, and I'll never go back to a stand alone player for the sonics. My guess is that Slikric may have had his settings incorrect as windows can have complex settings- macs are much easier. It is not vinyl, but it does have some advantages over vinyl sonicly.
Chasmal and Kijanki,

You might be surprised. I'm a vinyl first guy -Oracle,Graham 2.2, Graham Nightingale - but I also use a QSonix/Benchmark digital system. Now, my hearing isn't what it was 10 (or more) years ago, but IMHO this is a very good sounding souce. In direct comparison, the vinyl still sounds a bit rounder, but the best cds sound awfully close to their LP counterparts. You might find the gap more significant than I do, I'd be surprised if you liked the sound of a good LP on my system and disliked the digital presentation of the same recording. Of course, I've been surprised before!

Kleech, the way to make it easier is to do a specific number/day say 10, 20 or whatever.
Great question, love the post! I want to know too.
What I would like is a component type box, that has a USB port in and RCA outs, and a screen to pick album/songs
So, I can just take the dig music player to my computer load the songs like my Sony mp3 player. Then put it back on my audio rack,play music.

If it had its own CD ripper on board that would be best and I could skip the transfer from the computer.

I do this some now with my great sounding Sony mp3 player but it's awkward with the little buttons and small menu. I would like a bigger box.

Is there any thing like this? thats not a million dollars.
Martykl - I ended up with Benchmark as well. A little unforgiving with class D amp and inexpensive speakers (that I intend to replace). New releases are often better and some of them have surprisingly rounded sound. Sadly many recording engineers don't care and I have quite a few CDs to prove it. We will switch to music servers, I believe, just for the practicallity of it. For the same reason I avoid LPs - too much hassle and not enough new releases. Server might even make me less dependant on format (new CODE 24/96 etc). There is nothing wrong, for instance, if you play old and poorly recorded music you cherish on MP3/4.
There are paid services where you send your CDs and they do the ripping for you at the cost of roughly $1 per CD.

The disks are susceptible to failures. It's just a matter of when. You really want all the data backed up, otherwise when the disks fail the data will be lost. I would buy external disks with RAID 1 or RAID 5 feature. Those RAID disk arrays can withstand single disk failure.
I am dealer and sell many of these systems I let you try them out
by the way Hi have the same spendors The biggest thing music servers have is conveniance. Just make sure the server supports a lossless format and has the ability to buy music from the internet