It's 2008. Why aren't there better options ?

Apple TV: Great interface, lousy DAC, requires TV to be on.

Transporter: Tiny interface, decent DAC, no TV option.

Airport Express: No interface, requires computer to be on/in same room.

Squeezebox Duet: Nice remote, requires computer.

Sonos: Again with the always-on computer? Nice remote though.

Olive: I can get my own music off my CDs, thanks. Hey I Just saved $3000!

PC/Mac/NAS rigged with wires/routers/DACs/Pace Cars. Seriously?

So where is it? The all in one 2008 wonder machine? In the era of tech convergence, why is it still so tricky to get high quality digital music piped through your speakers?

I don't want to leave my computer and router on. I don't want to turn my TV on every time I want to hear a song...sometimes maybe, but not always. Shouldn't I be able to choose? I don't need a CD player built in. I don't want a big ugly NAS with 6 drive bays.

What I do want is a quality built in DAC with reclocking, a swappable hard drive bay or 2, an on-board monochrome display AND a nice color LCD remote AND the option to navigate via TV. I also want wifi, for PC streaming if needed, internet radio/podcasts, and the ability to buy lossless music some day. Video would be nice too.

All in all, the ulitmate machine will have the iTunes integration and hard drive of Apple TV, the build quality (or better) and wifi of the Transporter, the remote of the Sonos or Duet, in a unit that looks and sounds good, and doesn't rely solely on a TV, a router, or a computer, but can interface with all of them at will.

It can be done, and it can be done for $1000 or less. Whoever does it first will own the market.


The last line of your post is why. Would you expect any other "dream component" for a high-quality, enthusiast audio system to cost $1000?

Actually, the Kaleidescape system does most of what you're asking, and they're adding more and more features all the time, which they automatically add to your system when they're available. And oh yeah, it does DVDs and full HD video content as well, with Blu-Ray support on the way. No compression on anything, amazing sound and video quality. Everything it does, it does damn near perfectly.

It's just expensive, that's all. Still too rich for my blood, but I'm looking at the price in the context of a high-end turntable or digital rig . . . other things that typically take years for us to save up the money for.
You're wrong about Sonos. Computer doesn't always have to be on.

Same with new Squeezebox w/ remote.
3 more options, though I'm not going to say they are any better/worse thant he above mentioned:
Niveus - I understand it's one of the best for hi-res to those find this important.
Nevo - I'm using this and really love it, but I will admit it has it's share of quirks. I do use a cheap computer, an expensive DAC, and router and leave it on all the time--though I don't have to. It's in a separate room and is accessible via the remote.

I like your basic premise, it's essentially what Solos has, though the current Solos is expensive, stay tuned for falling prices with them. They do have the best user interface. The only area I'm not crazy about is the limitation to do FLAC files only. FLAC is great if you want the whole album, but what if you only want 3 songs off the album--can't do it with FLAC.
Not true about partial albums and FLAC. I do it all the time. I set up EAC to do it. I just pick and choose what I want to rip.

The thing that blows me away about most servers is their ridiculous price and tiny HDDs. How can anyone sell a $10K server with 200 GB of storage and a tiny display. There is a serious lack of imagination here.

Personally I have a laptop, a SqueezeBox, an external DAC and external HDD. It works great. I am planning on getting the remote control from the Duet so I can control it from anywhere I want. The best thing about the laptop is that I have it setup next to my listening position. I can control my music without turning on a TV, or squinting at a tiny screen across the room. While I listen to music I can set up any sort of playlist to listen to next. With a 15" display I have to do very little scrolling. I can see the next 15 or so songs in the playlist at a glance. I can see all the information at once. I couldn't imagine why anyone would settle for less.
I think the reason you aren't seeing that piece of high-end audio you want because it's too specialized. Not to you, but to the next guy and the next guy. What is high-end audio? It's a bunch of separates put together to form a system. High-end audio isn't going to trash that concept and give you one box that does it all.

Homes are going to have networks, period. They are going to have modems, routers and storage (more than likely). Put the big ugly NAS box in a ventilated closet. Mine is on a third floor where we rarely go. I have most of what you crave. I walk in the room, queue up music on the Sonos controller and hit play. No power buttons no two, three or universal remote. It's heaven.

It's a new world out there. Grab the piece you want, don't go asking for the whole pie (just yet)!
Just a clarification--I was speaking of the Solos and it's ability to ONLY do full albums, not necessarily FLAC in general.
Mostly bad spelling on my part:
Now I've spellled it right--sorry for the confusion.
Having followed this subject here and elsewhere, I feel a little bit the same – a lot of options that are close, but no real ‘killer’ or ‘complete’ solution at a reasonable price. Let’s break this down and look at the four basic components of a file based solution individually;

File Storage
File Access
Human Interface
File Transport

The first two are pretty much taking care of themselves on price point and simplicity I suspect. Since all the file storage and access has to do is give the transport device access to the file, a home network seems to be the most cost-efficient and flexible solution to me. A simple router is $100 and a NAS can be put together for anywhere from $300 to $3,000 depending on features and space (I have 500 GB for about $320). This approach means you can customize it to your specific needs (i.e. redundant RAID array, wired vs. WiFi, expansion architecture, etc) and do it within your budget. A localized media server (i.e. Nevo, Xbox, Mac Mini) will be popular with some people because it’s a simple all-in-one solution, but it limits your flexibility a little and puts a noisy, power hungry device in your listening area. Most of these options allow you to add external storage as necessary (usually USB drives).

Human interface is mostly about preference. I personally love the Sonos interface because I don't have to turn on a computer or TV to listen to music (everything comes across from the NAS or Internet via my home network). Some people like the idea of using iTunes on a computer to build playlists, while others like using a remote with their TV. It’s a relatively simple task that can be accomplished in a variety of ways – it’s up to the user to decide what method they like best. In the near future, I suspect we will get options that are more ‘flexible’ (i.e. iTunes control AND/OR hand held device AND/OR a TV interface). As an analogy, think of how many different phones can access a wireless phone network. One person just needs a basic phone, but the next person wants a BlackBerry, while still another can’t live without the coolness of an iPhone. Multiple devices/approaches managing the same task.

This leaves us with the transport, which is the area we are falling short right now. I think this is in no small part because it is by far the most expensive component to make improvements on ($1,000 mods to a Sonos or squeezebox device - yikes). It also presents these vendors with the least profit margin and hence little motivation to improve it. For every audiophile who wants uncompressed FLAC, there are 20 casual users who are fine with 192k mp3.

So what is the answer? I doubt we’ll get acceptable solutions from vendors like Squeezebox or Sonos themselves since we are not the focus of their market. Rather, I think it will/should come from those vendors who are focused on us. What’s stopping Benchmark or Wavelength or PS Audio from developing a DAC that instead of just having USB or other digital input is actually a network device as well? Turn on your DAC unit and your Sonos network recognizes it as a zone player device and you are off.

If it’s true that the primary noise/jitter/coloration problems with file based audio mostly occur during the transport process of converting the file and moving it to the DAC unit, why not eliminate that problem spot? I think the Wavelength asynchronous USB DAC goes a good portion of the way to eliminate some of those problems (the DAC controls the data flow instead of the computer), but you still need a computer. What if the software to create playlists and decode the file resided on the DAC and you interfaced with it through a wireless device or remote computer?

If you look at a solution like Sooloos (not to be confused with Sonos), they make an attempt at this. But their solution doesn’t allow me my own storage, doesn’t let me choose my own interface preferences, and locks me into their architecture. I could live with an all-in-one if it were either exactly what I wanted and/or cost effective, but at $12,000+, it is a complete non-starter in my eyes.

In my opinion, $1,500 to $2,500 for a Sonos or Squeezebox means I’m happy with file storage, file access, and user interface. Transport remains the only hurdle I’m not satisfied with. Who will step up to the plate and give us an audiophile worthy solution that doesn’t break the bank? I’m willing to spend the cost of a good DAC plus $500.

Interesting thread.
Shazam- great post. One of the best distillations of the state of PC Audio I've seen.

Network storage and file access are easy and flexible, as you said.

For me, I much prefer Apples interface to Sonos for a variety of reasons.

If the transport had the network capability of Sonos, could use itunes as the interface, and could have a simple, jitterless digital connection to whatever Dac was best for your system, that would be all I would need.

A souped up Airport Express /Sonos ZP80 really. Or did I just describe a Mac Mini?
Even if theese manufacturers developed a networked DAC, the DAC design would still be the issue. Good DAC design does not come easy. There are literally no stock DAC's on the market that I would have in my system, at any price.

Also, the jitter problem still has to be solved, even with Async USB or networked solutions. There is no silver bullet, just good design.

If you want a souped-up Sonos, Squeezebox, Olive or AirPort Express, it already exists. It's called a Pace-Car.
it will be interesting to see if the PS Audio Perfect Wave has any impact in this arena. I haven't been able to get on the discussion boards to learn the details about it, but some of the press sounds promising
Don't count on the PS Audio device anytime soon and don't count on many of the options they've been "advertising."
Computer audiophile. Can you provide any details regarding your opinion of the Perfect wave. Ive been waiting for it as an option over a SB because it supposedly will play audio off a HD. However, if it cant, and or if it requires an hdmi dac as opposed to a coax then ill pass.

More importantly, if it will not read data "ala a memory player" as advertised then all the other features are meaningless
Rob, regarding your comment:

PC/Mac/NAS rigged with wires/routers/DACs/Pace Cars. Seriously?

I've got a Pace-Car/Squeezebox feeding my DAC. It took me about 15 minutes out of the box until I had music playing. I'm not kidding.

Start-up time is going to be longer if you aren't familiar with the Squeezebox and Slimserver, but it isn't hard at all to set up.

I've got the Media Server PC in another room of the house -- it is my office computer. The system works great and sounds fantastic. The Pace-Car exceeded my high expectations.
William, I think Rob's comment was aimed more at the number of components and the associated clutter and cost it creates versus whether it works well or not. While I've sometimes been a "more options and cool toys is good" kind of person, the more 'stuff' I have to deal with the more I lean towards the simplicity principle.

And, if you take true the axiom; "all things being equal, the shortest signal path is best" then limiting components is not just visually appealing, but sonically as well. This is where I was (am?) hoping the PS Audio Perfect Wave would deliver.
Exactly Shazam. I have no doubt that 8 separate boxes doing their respective thing can sound good together, but a guy can only have so many outlets!

I should probably come clean and admit that since I wrote the original post I have taken the bait and picked up an Apple TV. I sold my previous attempt at simplified digital music (Arcam Solo with Rdock). The ATV with my amp/preamp sounds pretty darn good, with high bitrate files from good recordings.

Now I'm DAC shopping. I'm actually not convinced I need one, but I figure I'll give a cheap one the benefit of the doubt and see what all the buzz is about.

I posted on MacRumors asking about using the ATV with a DAC and one fellow adamantly rose up to flatly denounce the need (the ATV's DAC is "good enough"), and warned me not to listen to you guys! ;)
Rkny, your experience with the "good enough" comment is a familiar one to me. Many people gasp when they learn the cost of my system and say things like "you can't hear the difference between CD and 192K mp3." Um, if you are subjecting your ears to crummy computer speakers, probably not - but I care about my hearing and the music. To each their own I guess, but those of us here know that what we do is money well spent.