A Mac mini is a very cost effective and popular option.
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ps I swear you asked this question a few months back.
Anyway, here's what I recommend.
If you are computer savvy and like to build your own gear, you can try the DIY PC approach. There are some esoteric stuff available like Linear Power Supplies for PCs, small form factor motherboards with lower power CPUs that can remove the need for fans etc.
If you aren't and prefer an easier to buy solution, heres my recommendation: go to the Apple store online and custom order the middle Mac Mini with the following specs: 256GB SSD. If you want, you can opt for the upgraded 2.7GHz Quad Core CPU like I did. If you are comfortable opening up the Mini to upgrade the memory, order the 2x8GB memory for the 2012 Mini from OWC (macsales.com) and DIY. It's quite easy and a lot cheaper. If you don't feel comfortable, then pay Apple about 2.5x more to install it for you from the factory.
Once you get it, update the OS to the latest patches and use iTunes 11.
Buy and install Audirvana Plus beta (revision 11).
Depending on the size of your library, you may need to buy an external HDD. I recommend using a Seagate GoFlex which allows you to change the connection type to USB3 or FW800 or Thunderbolt. These interfaces are all perfectly functional and supported by the Mini and are in increasing order of price. The guideline is NOT to use the same connection interface as the path the audio is going to take. I'll cover them later.
Download XLD and use it to rip your CDs into AIFF. Theres an option in Preferences to add the files automatically to iTunes. iTunes can also rip the CDs for you, but XLD does better error correction and logging so you know if things have gone wrong. I have had a few discs that were not ripped properly (CD rot etc) and iTunes never told me they were dodgy. XLD will.
If you still have the budget, get the Berkeley Alpha USB device which takes USB from the computer and sends it to AES that your XDS1 can read. Remember when I said you shouldn't use the same interface for the audio and disk storage? Here's why. If you use the USB to send audio, you should not use USB HDD. Try to use the FW800 interface or the Thunderbolt option. With the Seagate GoFlex, you just swap the connector module to change that. The HDD data remains intact.
If you don't have the budget, get a mini Toslink to Toslink cable and use that to the XDS1.
ps I heard there's a new USB XDS1 coming end of the year. That could simplify the connection if your dealer has a trade in option
Thanks D'howser for all that.
(I may have asked something similar a long time ago,
but I cannot recall -- the old brain is getting too foggy I guess...).
I actually have an old Mac Mini (but with a conventional pair of hard drives.
Of course, I need a monitor and keyboard in this setup.
I guess the alternative would be one of the Meridian boxes that can store the CDs and let me control playback from my iPad. With the Mac Mini, I don't think I have the ability to control playback (recording and track selection) from a screen-based remote control, which is part of the convenience package of a server based library. Is this correct?
I only need a keyboard, mouse and monitor to set up the Mini.
Once you have set it up, just enable "screen sharing" in the System Preferences/Sharing menus.
You can then use any other Mac to control the Mini, using the Mac's screen, mouse/trackpad and keyboard. I use my MBA to do this but it's not really needed. Just remember to "auto start" AudirvanaPlus (with iTunes integration mode) and it automatically launches iTunes when the Mini boots up. Once that's done, just use the Remote app to control the playlist/sequence
You can see album art, track details like those fancy turnkey media servers.
First, what is your budget, what is your appetite for DIY systems integration, and what quality level do you want to achieve? In my estimation, you can get "state of the art" DIY for around 5K, and 10K prepackaged. You can get "very good" for around 1K DIY and 2K prepackaged.
You can get phenomenal out of the box solutions which will give you AES/EBU outputs, ranging from the Bryston BDP-2 (2K) to something like the Weiss MAN301 (10K).
You can get similar sound quality for less money if you go DIY, but far more hassle piecing together your own system (either MAC or PC based).
I personally own a CAPS 2.0, run River Remote on an IPad and use an Offramp 5 converter. Probably sonically equivalent to the Weiss MAN301 for half the cost, but not for the faint of heart (I am technically savvy - would not recommend this to someone that is not)
The Weiss MAN301 in the server-only version has a built in CD transport and looks like something that could connect right to the AES/EBU DAC inputs of my EMM player. (Not quite ready to spend $9000, but maybe a used one will show up and I'll wait to save up...).
The Bryston BDP2 has no transport so I would first have to copy my CDs to an external drive I guess and then copy the file to the Bryston (just by USB I suppose).
I of course would be looking for the equivalent sound quality that I get from playing CDs directly on my EMM XDS1.
Today I would consider a sonos (.com) connect digital out to your DAC and try a subscription to MOG (16M 320kbs song library) while you rip your own collection. That would give you immediate access to music plus Internet radio. I just replaced my bedroom system with sonos wireless speakers and am really enjoying the ease of set up/use and immediate access to music using my iPhone as a remote.
As an IT professional, I will make the following recommendation for hardware. The Mac Mini is an attractive small form factor computer, but it isn't suitable as a server. For any computer that is functioning as a "Server" for your valuable data, it must have two things: ECC memory, and RAID-1 disk storage. Without these two things, you will suffer corruption and loss of data. Not "if", but "when". ECC memory protects against corruption as you create and manipulate your data (music files) and RAID-1 disk storage protects against hardware failure and silent corruption in the storage of this data. You don't need to spend a lot of money to have these features either. But you skip them at your own risk - records and CD's don't go bad on their own, but without ECC memory and RAID-1 disk storage, computer-based audio will indeed go bad on its own.
No matter what you do, you will have to rip your CD collection. If the server has a drive you can do it on the server. I personally have music server behind my main audio rack, so I cannot use it for ripping.
The Bryston BDP-2 supports NAS storage. So you would rip your CDs on any el cheapo PC on the network (using a good ripper like Exact Audio Copy), and store your data on a NAS. A NAS can be configured for RAID 1 as suggested by lupinthe3rd. You set up the Bryston to look for music files on the NAS and presto. Not sure how well this would work if you have no ethernet connection close to the BDP-2. You can probably get this to work wirelessly. Another option is indeed to use USB storage.
There are many ways to skin the computer audio cat, and it may indeed be a little confusing to the novice...