i read the reviews in TAS on music servers and the $6k and $12k music servers reviewed don't offer any more than my mac setup (except the touch screen), and my mac setup does much more and it is thousands cheaper. IMO, i haven't heard a music server that sounds decent, they all need an external dac to improve the sound. Even in the TAS review, they indicated that these needed an external dac. a mac with itunes 7 using cover flow, hooked up directly to an external dac using the toslink cable, with a raid 5 disk setup with terabytes of data, multiple airport express units for whole house audio capabilities, an ipod touch or iphone to remotely control itunes from another part of the house, and you have a system that offers more than the reviewed servers and is still thousands less than the $6k model that was reviewed. if you want to spend a little more money, you can buy used mac mini's to substitute for the airport express and you can share the itunes library from 1 central source and have multi-source, multi zone music, plus you get web access from each location the mini is setup.
I just got a Macbook on Friday for all of the reasons you list above. It will be replacing a Primare CD21 as the transport with my PS Audio DL III which does have USB input.
As far as equaling your current digital setup? That's for you to decide. The convenience and excellent software easily makes it worthwhile. While i got a bit more separation between instruments, I seemed to have lost some bass.
I'm using twin 500G Western Digital hard drives for storage and backup. If I still need to have circular discs for digital I will use my Oppo 980 through the DL III, or even upgrade to a better Universal player. And I will always have a turntable for analog.
This is definitely the future of digital playback. Let the audio manufacturers start branding computers with design and components for audiophiles.
Chris, IMO a music server provides a segway into PC-based audio for those who don't have the time, knowledge, or just plain don't want to deal with setting up a PC-based system. So, you obviously pay a premium for the convenience, but IMO lose flexibility. You're stuck with their software and sometimes limited to their disk size. But that may be OK. Also, you would need to check to see if the music server changes the bits in any way during rip or playback.
You already have a great DAC. Adding a PC instead of a music server will give you the flexibility to add any kind of new storage, change software, play from RAM if you want, etc.; but if you're not interested in any of that then a music server could work out. It's a judgement call.
Make the wife and kids happy, use a Mac as your music server and take look at the Slim Devices Transporter. It will give you a high quality digital output for your existing DAC and allow you to stream Internet radio into your listening room.
The first thing to determine is what interface you like and want to use, as well as your family. I would run the demo at:
The mass-produced music servers like the Sonos, Squeezebox and certainly the AirPort Express all have high level of jitter IMO. However, these can all be transformed into perfect sources with a device called a Pace-Car. It is a low-jitter reclocker. This way you get the great user experience as well as a world-class digital source. Then you will need a good DAC to feed the digital source into. There is a PAce-Car and AirPort Exress combo being given away on enjoythemusic.com. All you have to do is subscribe to their mailing list to be entered into the giveaway.
How refreshing, another self serving post from Steve N. advertising his products.
Good one Kana - and now for something completely different...
So here is the deal Chris. You are dealing with two issues here - hardware and software. A "music server" bundles (combines) hardware and software to make a theoretically easy to use application. Naturally there are all sorts of costs associated with same, and while they are handy, most people on these boards choose to roll their own.
The easiest way to make your own server is to get a Mac and use iTunes, which is Apple software that comes free with the Mac. iTunes enables you to rip (take the contents of a CD and put them on disk), add metadata (additional information such as album art), and create playlists. It also lets you do a lot of other things that you might like including video, audible.com, and radio.
The beauty piece of this is that the same library that works for your reference system can also be used for your iPods. (Though Apple Lossless will fill up your iPod faster then AAC)
There are a variety of ways to get the data from the Mac to the DAC. You need to consider what I call the lifestyle parameters - how many places in the house do you want access etc.
Again one iTunes library can support several different approaches - for example a USB DAC or USB to SPDIF converter for your reference room, and a bunch of ethernet or wireless devices (eg Squeezebox and Airport Express) in other rooms.
As far as the USB options, there are several. The most basic are devices like the HagUSB from Hagerman Technology.
This is a box that you plug the USB cable coming from your Mac into, it converts the USB to SPDIF and then on to your DAC.
The best stuff bypasses SPDIF entirely and uses a protocol called I2S. The Wavelength products use this approach and they are excellent though not inexpensive.
Do some searches in this Forum, as well as the PC Forum on Audio Asylum - everything you need to know is easily found. This is no longer hard, and the results are spectacular - both acoustically and from a convenience perspective.
Okay, thanks to all! Every post so far taught me a little sometin sometin. Unless I am a lazy, slothful b@stard, I don't get a server, I get a computer. I always wanted a Mac, just to compare, so I get a very good quality Mac,it probably has an easy interface for the iPOD. The more I think about it, I am not sure I want or need to stream audio or xm if all my stuff is on a harddrive. I get two extra harddrives, and a couple of minis if I want internet streaming. So the only question left seems to be how best to get the output of the computer in hi-rez to the dac. I do have 101e's after all, they are discerning of things like jitter and high infedelity. Anything not right I get to hear. One thing about the mac solution I like, the kids are a bit scared of the stereo, but if it is iTunes and a computer, I may never get to listen again:) When I work, I always have a computer by me anyways. Now then, if the mac sucks, I know I need to do something about the interface. Then I go try a re-clocker, or dare I say it.. have all the units run off of one rubidium clock that has multiple inphase outputs. Have to go in and modify the Mac, but I would imagine just a matter of finding the clock and bypassing it with an external clock signal. Seems like if the transport (of whatever type, and the dac are slaved off of one clock that has multi inphase outputs, the jitter problem should be very minimalized. All of this is still a hell of a lot cheaper than say, an MBL transport.
Cheers to all so far, and thank you much for taking the time to help educate me.
Chris, get a Mac (my preference), or a PC. The beauty is that once you've ripped all of your CD's, your music can be easily manipulated in any number of ways depending on what system you use, or will use in the future. Your music is suddenly future proof!
Want to use a PC as a music server? No problem. Prefer a Mac? Again no problem. Your music collection can be easily changed to Apple formats, or vice-versa. Need a remote? --any number of devices can be used as a family friendly remote.
The learning curve for PC's is a bit steep, at least it was for me. But if you go PC, there's a ton of free software: rippers, players, upsampling software, etc. available. The Mac is easier and more intuitve of course, but less customizable, although that's changing rapidly.
I started with a PC using EAC to rip and Foobar as my player. Now, I use a Macbook with Apple's Front Row media software and the Apple remote (both included with the Macbook). I have every CD in my coolection available to me in a few clicks of the remote, and the major bonus is that it sounds fantastic!
I couldn't be happier. Good Luck!
Sammie, may I ask what the rest of your setup is like? i.e. (1) are you saving the music on a separate external hard drive? (2) how is the digital signal from your MacBook transferred to a DAC (assuming you're using one) (3) are there any delays and/or interruptions in reading music from an external hard drive to the MacBook, then to the DAC, then to your amp?
see the current post on USB conversion to understand the options for transferring from Mac to DAC
you will in all likelihood want to use an external (perhaps dedicated) drive for reasons of space and convenience. this is one place an open system trumps the packaged server
there is no delay, certainly no more then you experience with a cd
Macbook to Wavelength DAC (also configured as a preamp) to active speakers
1. Not yet. Entire CD collection in Apple Lossless format fits on 200GB HD in Macbook for now. I use a 3.5" WD 320 GB HD connected via firewire to do periodic back ups, which will become primary music drive when we outgrow the Macbook drive.
2. Kimber USB cable
3. No delays, interruptions, skips, squeaks, hesitations, pauses, gasps, etc. I mean nothing! Entire process is seamless. Changing albums, songs,playlists, etc. takes milliseconds.
I personally think the idea of having a PC or laptop is overkill. I use a Sonos system with a 1TB NAS attached to my wireless router. This setup allows me to access my music library, internet radio, Sirius, and other music sources without the need to have a PC on. The Sonos wireless music server is wired to my Esoteric DAC. The results are great.
By the by, a special thanks to "bigamp" who got me started on this path. This just looks like a lot of fun:) I will get to hear Tommy's system hopefully sooon.
Chris, my new gear will be arriving by mid of next week. Any time after that you are more than welcomed to cruise over. Looking forward to it! Just promise me no talk about vinyl...I cant afford to go down that path!!! My wife would kill me!
it is easy to hook up a toslink cable from a mac or an airport express device to an external dac. it is also very easy to build a whole house distributed music system or a dedicated audio setup using a mac computer. you first have to determine what you want: single room setup or whole house distributed system, how much money do you want to spend, and what kind of sound quality do you want to have.
personally, i wouldn't use a macbook or any mac laptop as a music server. IMO, they are not built to be left on 24x7x365 days a year like a powermac or a newer mac pro. i have been looking on the internet for a used g5 powermac that can be used as my music server. i use a macbook to remotely control my mini from another room/floor to play itunes to other locations using either cat 5e cable or wireless.
if you use an apple tv device or a mac mini in each room where you want music, you can use front row with its remote to control itunes.
as for disk, a NAS device with RAID options is the way to go but costs more $$$$,
Chris, no problem. This is fun stuff.
An alternative view: I have the Zero One Mercury music server, and for $2600 I dare anyone to best its sound with a PC. It uses a 24-bit internal DAC (or any DAC you care to plug into it) and my version has a 750GB hard drive that can store about 1200 CDs as bit-for-bit copies, copied at 4X speed (i.e. 10 minutes for a 40 minute CD). The sound is outstanding (see the recent 6 Moons review) and operation is as easy as plugging it in, loading some CDs and off you go. You can choose upsampling/oversampling rates, filters (brickwall to gentle slope to none), and dither types (not needed with the 24-bit internal DAC). I love it. Just my humble opinion, though.
What a great thread for me. I really want to thank ALL of you for your input. It seems everybody has found an ideal solution for what is important to them, and everybody is more than helpful. I have met so many great people on the 'gon, and looking over some of my old threads, what fantastic help. I was pretty apprehensive about posting this thread, as I am, after all an acoustic, vibration and microwave measurement specialist and should probably know more about this than I do, but you all have been beyond gracious and helpful. Keep those cards and letters coming!
just wondering if anyone has heard the new Linn Klimax DS ? Supposedly this is going to revolutionise hifi... and initial reviews of it seem to have it sounding extremely good, some of the best digital sound the reviewers have heard. given the negativity toards servers here, I'm wodering how this new pice of kit sits with people.
The Linn Klimax DS is first of all an extremely high quality dac, and secondly benefits from having a very low jitter asynchronous clock, i.e. the data is sent from the pc, hard drive, or NAS via ethernet and does not carry along the jitter or noise associated with the pc clock. These are exactly the characteristics needed to make a server shine.
I just read a review on sixmoons that complained about "pops, ticks, and random outs" on computer based transports, specifically the Empirical units that were under review. It was apparently blamed on the laptop. So my next question is... anybody have a pop/tick problem with their computer based transports?
Chris- with my upgraded SB3 running via a wireless connection, no "pops, ticks, and random outs," with WAV files or Internet radio. Also, no "pops, ticks, and random outs," on my wife's new MacBook using iTunes with Apple lossless, WAV or AIFF.
As I told you, I think the SD Transporter with it's clock input linked to your DAC, I think you'll get outstanding
No "pops, ticks and random outs" with the Zero One in the 5 months I have owned it.
No pops and ticks with my USB Wavefront Cosecant or Squeezeboxes running on Ethernet
Chris, I run wireless to my Sonos and no issues. FYI Sonos runs on a proprietary wireless network that seems to be more robust than my wifi (Linksys). I have not had any issues with drop outs or any other strange sounds. One thing to keep in mind when thinking about what approach you want to use when setting up a music server is the user interface. How easy will it be for you to access your library? The Sonos comes with a nice handheld wireless controller with a large color screen and Ipod like scroll wheel that makes accessing the library very easy.
Chrisla - the review you mention is an old one, using a USB driver from M-Audio, ASIO and SRC upsampling. This really taxes any computer. I think there might have been a bit of user error here also.
With newer Windows drivers and the USB firmware I implemented (very costly) this does not happen anymore.
If you have a really old laptop with a slow processor and .5Gbytes of memory, it may still happen with any USB converter or DAC. All USB interfaces have this potential. This is why I recommend fast CPU and 1-2GBytes of memory.
Tboooe - I also have a Sonos and controller. Great user interface, but the jitter from the stock ZP80 is quite bad, much worse than a typical transport. IMO, if you want something decent stock, the SB3 is it.
want a nice interface, use your iphone or ipod touch and get an itunes interface to control your music remotely. Sonos is a nice setup if you don't want to get your hands a little dirty in building a more complete setup. i use airport express unit for my remote systems and it is quite a bit cheaper than going an alternate route like the sonos. take the extra $$$ and buy an external dac for each airport express and get much better sound than any out of the box music server (of coarse it depends on the quality of the dac).
Gotta share this with you guys.
I went to the apple store today, showed up right when they opened. So first, I asked the guy if he understood home distributed audio. He said he was one of the most knowledgeable guys there. I tell him, "I want to have a computer hooked up to my DAC on my stereo, and then have a remote of some sort, either a macbook or anything with a screen at my listening chair. He tells me that it can't be done without spending a lot of money, but home audio guys can do it with something called a music server that would be simpler and cheaper!
I open up this thread in the store, and show him what was said. He then comes back and says that he can sell me the boxes, but there is a guy, and he gives me the guy's name and website who sets this up, he does exactly this same type of thing, it is very difficult, but this guy used to work there, and he's the T&A. SO we look up the website that he was given, there is none that we can find. One of the other salespeople call this guru, and after a half hour, they say his cell phone isn't on, but that they will leave a message. The salesman reiterates that there are lots of things that have to change in the computer, the hard drive turns off, and then you have to re-awaken it, and that is tough to do remotely, ad nauseum.
Now here I am with only really one question unanswered, does it require a separate computer at the listener chair, or can I have a wireless keyboard and display, ready to drop an estimated 5 grand if needed....and I am told it's way to complicated and difficult for me to do.
And I leave with nothing other than the ipod gift certificates I purchased for my daughters.........
Seems to me my absolute worse case would have been a macpro next to the rack, an airport express, and then a small notebook at the listening chair....Am I missing something?
Yep, it seems very few know about the computer/stereo connection, least of all the Apple store dregs who act like they're enlightened, but are really no more enlightened, and possibly less so, than the guys working in the local Walmart electronics section. I had the same experience...they looked at me like I was crazy! LOL
Anyway, you've decided on Apple...I think that's wise. Based on the opinion of most folks it seems the Mini or Imac will offer superior sound to the laptops. Mini = cheaper, but you'll have to spring for a display (temporarily), keyboard, and mouse, and external HD. With the Imac, you'll get all of that + a much bigger HD and a beautiful display if you opt for the 24" version. You'll have to decide what you want the thing on or near your rack. Both Mini and Imac come with a small IR remote, which works really very well in controlling the also included Front Row multimedia software application, which allows the user to access all of their music, movies, or photos from a distance. When you go back to Apple, have them demonstrate Front Row for you with the Apple remote.
Don't worry about whole house audio (Apple Express, etc.) at this point, just be sure you have internet access for the main computer. I'd suggest buying the Apple base station as your router if you don't have a wired internet access solution at your stereo rack. The router works flawlessly with Apple computers.
Let's say you don't want a computer display on or hovering near your rack, then you'll have chosen the Mini. Once you're done ripping and ready to listen, you'll need to buy a laptop running Nettunes (probably overkill) or an Itouch running remote buddy software that's available on the web. Or, there's one other remote option but I don't remember the name of the company.
And, for even more info relevant to what you're about to undertake don't be afraid to scroll down past your own post a bit, and see that there's at least 6 previous discussions that are relevant to Apple systems on the first page alone.
"it seems the Mini or Imac will offer superior sound to the laptops."
"Both Mini and Imac come with a small IR remote"
The Macbook and Macbook Pro also come with the same remote and Front Row.
Yes, you're missing something, you need something to get the digital signal from a Mac into your DAC.
You can use a Toslink cable or a USB or Firewire to SPDIF converter to connect any Mac to your DAC, but the SD Transporter will give you wireless access from any Mac, and it's clock input can be linked to your DAC.
If you have high speed Internet, the SD Transporter will also give you access to Internet radio.
Kana--I haven't tried a mini or Imac. I am using a Macbook for now. But, in every post I've read, folks who have tried both always prefer the desktop to the laptop. I'm not sure why...one guy speculated it was power supply differences. Who knows?
For me the Macbook running on battery -or with PC connected- sounds excellent!
I'd love to get my hand on a mini or an Imac and give it a try...will you lend one to me?
Like you, all I have is a Macbook. I agree it sounds excellent.
I don't see how a mini or an Imac running off an SMPS is going to sound better than a Macbook running on batteries.
Here's my Rube Goldberg version that I've put together and that my wife uses daily for hours on end. She wanted something simple to use since she works at home, so that's what I've got. I was looking for a relatively low cost way to put this together. Here's what I've done. I have a Dell PC(2.4 Pent 4 with 1 GB mem) with a 320GB internal drive and one 320GB WD Caviar external drive for backup. This holds my 1000+ CD collection. I use ITunes and cut my tracks using Apple Lossless. My network is wireless using a DLink DI-624M router. On the audio end I have a Squeezebox 3 running into a DAC then to my Preamp. The SB3 has a nice remote, which makes it easy for my wife to find any albums or songs by name or genre, etc, and/or playlists. We also can load our IPOD for car, vacation, etc from ITunes on the Dell PC. The SB3 allows internet music and radio as well.
Total cost for a used Dell PC, 2 large disk drives, SB3, & Benchmark DAC 1 ran under $2K. How does it sound? Very, very good indeed. We use it every day pretty much without fail, no pops, clicks or errors(no pun intended). Once in a while the microwave makes the router blip, but that's minor. I have to say I could spend lots more, but who knows what % better it would sound. I'm sure an SB Transporter and/or better DAC would do more. This was just my way of doing things. I got started trying to build my own music server and this is what I now have 2 years later!!! Good luck and enjoy...
Since we have similar systems, let me share my experiences. I sold my Esoteric X-01 Limited to switch to a Wavelength Audio crimson DAC. I used i-tunes off of a Mac-mini. Everything pretty much set up itself. The results are mixed, actually very similar to one of the above posters. Great separation and imaging, but very bass shy. Not boomy bass, but bass dynamics, such as drums. I switched out preamps to an MBL 6010 from an ARC REF3, as you know, and the dynamics improved. I then auditioned an AMR CD player with a USB DAC, and while imaging and soundstaging were not as good, the bass reappeared. i then auditioned a purpose -built PC with all the nno-essential software stripped and with only one moving part, a very quiet fan. This uses solid state memory running S/PDIF to a mid-level MSB DAC. This was far superior in my system, and the crimson is now sold. The other bonus to this approach, besides the sound, is that since the bass is back, I am going to check out digital room correction to see if that can help.
just my $.02
Check out the Apple TV. I rip all my Cd's into Itunes apple lossless, then Itunes Syncs with the apple Tv which has an Internal 160 GB Hard Drive, then use the optical out on the Apple tv into my DAC. Then from the apple tv into television (home theater setup as well) and then you can scroll through your cd collection with all the artwork etc.. on your tv with the remote. Also of mention the Apple TV has no Volume control, so it's just a digital feed. This Setup has worked EXTREMELY well for me. Compared to my Arcam FMJ cd-23T with the famed Ring Dac it of course is not quite as good, but that is probably due to the dac i'm using in my pre/pro vs. the quality coming off the Apple Tv. Anyways, it's much easier to me than setting up an actual computer as a music server. Also of mention, it's completely Silent, which was of great concern for me. I can't even describe how great it has been not to have to dig through hundreds of Cd's!!
Folks thank you all for your time and efforts. One thing that has come through, once you go mac, you never go back..(sorry too good to pass up) but it strikes me that not a single person on this post said "screw it, I;m going back to a transport". Once set up, you all seem to like the harddrive option much better, or are willing to deal with potentially slight sonic losses for ease of music.
If I have the notebook as a controller at my seat, then I can work while I listen, and write it off! So I think for me, that is the way to go. I am going to hear Tommy's system soon, with the Sonos, and his new Ayre amps, that should be fun. Wondering at this point whether I should wait for CES and go see what's there before I make a final decision. Seems like the SD transporter gets very very good reviews, though.
Thanks to all, will post to my system when I finally get off my a$$ and do something.
Chris - dont be surprised if the Sonos does not blow you away. It has a great user interface, but the jitter fromt he digital out is atrocious. It needs to be reclocked. The Squeezebox is a lot better stock, but not as much fun as the Sonos to use. I have all of them.
thanks steve, I have browsed your website at length... great out of box thinking. The cool thing is, seeing as I rent both Agilent and Anritsu BER testers, as well as having oscilloscopes in inventory with jitter analysis, I intend to look at that at length. All the the different gazuntas and gazoutas. I have already done that with the two Meitner pieces, and even compared the graphs with and without clock synching, and even compared different optical cables for both loss and jitter. I saved all that on a disk somewhere. So once I set something up, I will measure it and see what is to be seen, and then see what kind of audible difference there is. How boring is my life?
Chrisla - What type of jitter resolution does your equipment have?
Are you an engineer or tech?
I might be interested in paying you to do some measurements or otherwise horse-trading something for them. email me.
Chris, I dove into the computer/internet-based music world recently and beliieve my experience can possibly provide some more insight for you. I basically had the same criteria as you did, including multi-room access, one-spot storage of music, high-quality sound, etc. I elected to stay away from the USB route as it is my understanding that: (1) the DAC has to be hard-wired to the computer in this configuration and (2) it also requires a computer to be on to play music.
I decided to go wireless and purchased: (1) a Slim Devices Transporter and (2) a NetGear ReadyNAS (Network Array Server) configured for SlimServer and with 3 TB of raw storage. Since I have configured the NAS with x-RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks) for automatic data back-ups, my effective storage capacity is ~1.85 TB, or some 5,000 CDs +/- when ripped in FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec). I chose FLAC since: (1) I have a PC and not a Mac, (2) FLAC saves disk space and transmission bandwidth, (3) is "bit-perfect" lossless, (4) the Slim Devices have FLAC firmware for data decompression, and, probably most importantly, (5) FLAC incorporates tags with meta-data (e.g., album, artist, track, etc.) for each file/song whereas this information is lacking with WAV files (note: tags are important for sorting an album's songs correctly instead of alphabetically and for managing large databases of albums/songs).
Of course, FLAC is not iPOD friendly - I don't think iPODs support FLAC, but you can easily substitute Apple Lossless for FLAC, or you could easily convert FLAC to any number of other codecs using readily available software.
The NAS installs as an IP address on the computer network. The Transporter gets digital data from the NAS wirelessly over the network without the computer being on; you can also connect the Transporter to the network using ethernet if you can/want to run cables. The Transporter also has the ability to turn the NAS on and off and can access internet radio via the network (again, without the PC on).
I also put a Slim Devices SqueezeBox 3 in another room and both the SB3 and Transporter can play eiher internet radio and/or any of the ripped files on the NAS at the same time. My understanding is that just about any number of SB3's or Transporters can all access the one NAS and/or internet simultaniously since they all install on the network using different IP addresses.
Both the SB3 and Transporter sound incredible, although the Transporter does sound more detailed and less grainy than the SB3. FWIW, I'm playing the Transporter through a PS Audio GCC amp and Duevel Bella Luna speakers. I also did some back-to-back comparisons between the music off the Transporter versus playing the original CD on my well-used Underwood HiFi Level 2 modded Jolida JD100A CDP. It really was a toss-up with both having great detail and soundstage, but the Jolida had the edge with "warmth" IMHO, which I attributed to the vacuum stage output.
The total cost for this leap into the computer/internet-based music world was about $3,600, with $1,700 for the Transporter and another $1,900 for the NAS. You can save money on the NAS by specifying lower capacity hard drives, but I am also looking to use some of my extra storage for video.
Finally, as I am a fan of vacuum stage outputs, I will be shortly sending my Transporter into ModWright for their Class A "truth" mods. BTW - if you already have a high end DAC that you like, you can use the relatively cheap SB3 (only $300) to pass digital data to your high-end DAC.
Obviously, my opinion regarding the Transporter and Slim Devices technology is somewhat biased. Nevertheless, I am VERY pleased and suggest you give the SD technology a good look (or listen if you can). Good luck.
Bronto - very elegant solution! And incredibly cost effective.
For those that are still struggling a bit with all this, might I add that nothing prevents him from also using a computer with a USB DAC on the same network - of course the computer does need to be on.
Chris, what brontotx is what I did but with a Sonos. One piece of advice, do not skimp on the NAS storage. Get something that is designed for business use with a good RAID backup scheme and recovery software. I had my first NAS (a consumer grade unit) stop working and I lost all my data. Luckily at the time I only had a few hundred cds stored on it. I recommend Infrant ReadyNas NV+.
Thanks for the kind comments, CK. I agree that it is a very cost-effective route, even when adding $2k for the pending ModWright tube output stage upgrade.
You are correct about still being able to use USB on a running computer. One of the advantages of my setup (IMHO), is that the computer does not need to be on (the network, yes, but not the computer)! It should also be noted that, while the computer is not needed to find and play music, I can use the computer to control/configure SlimServer on the NAS (e.g., make playlists, find obscure internet radio stations, etc.).
In regard to cost-effectiveness, I must confess to quickly backing out on an offer I made on David Shapiro's Crimson last month just prior to going the Transporter/NAS route (once again, David, my sincere apologies for my change-of-direction/heart). For slightly more than the $5.5k I was going to pay for the lightly-used Crimson, I was able to buy a new Transporter, will be able to get it modded by ModWright, AND paid for a new NAS with a huge amount of automatically backed-up storage. BTW - the best prices I found on the NAS were at aegis.com (great service too).
I'm not sure how the ModWright-modded Transporter stacks up against the Crimson sound-wise, but my guess is that any differences will not be perceptible to my ears. IMHO, the un-modded Transporter sounds very very good and I can't wait to see how it sounds with the ModWright mods. Unfortunately, I am not made of money and will not be purchasing another Transporter to compare to the ModWright-modded unit (I'll try to get one of my buddies to buy a Transporter, but all of them already shake their heads on what I spend on stereo equipment).
BTW, one thing I forgot to mention to the OP is that the Slim Devices also have firmware support for Apple Lossless as well as a couple other codecs. FWIW, a fellow audio enthusiast and computer-head buddy of mine and I are going to try and set up a VPN (Virtual Private Network) on my network so that he can stream FLAC files off my NAS over the internet to his SB3 and external high-end DAC. Talk about sharing the music!
So, I was at Tommie's yesterday and listened to his Sonos system on his main system. It has the advantage of being hidden, and I like the remote on it. The sound going into his dac was very very good, certainly good enough for background music. I really like my dac, and like Tommy will connect whatever I have directly to it. Also, from the listening chair, one cannot see any of the squeezebox devices although I know I can program a remote to work with it.
I still think I will wait to see what awaits at CES. Although I am almost done with the hardware part of my system, I still have to decide how much I want to invest in turntable ancilliaries, what tonearm cord to use, and start on room treatments and re-designing the fireplace... maybe a display that I can see from my listening chair? Maybe a dropdown heavy curtain that covers the fireplace for serious listening... how about designing the fireplace as a resonator in the first place? Ad nauseum.
This has been very very enjoyable reading all your posts, and I thank all of you, keep 'em coming. I feel quite confident that others have gained insite as well. I contacted MBL, and apparently there are no plans to have a USB input on their DAC. Shortsighted if you ask me, but there it is.
Also I have issues with my wireless already in my house, it is 4 levels, and the knucklehead made the connects in the basement, in the corner. I lose connection way too much as it is in other rooms.....grrrr.
Tboooe is correct and his recommendation on the Infrant (now NetGear) ReadyNAS NV+ is what I bought. Speaking of "business use", I also configured my NV+ with the more robust "enterprise" hard drives versus "consumer" models since the enterprise units have some ~1,200,000 hours MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures) versus ~800,000 hours for the consumer models. For the $100 or so it costs to upgrade to enterprise drives, it is/was a no-brainer IMO.
Again, aegis.com has the best prices for the NV+ that I found and great service (ordered on a Monday and delivered Friday the same week!). They also have a lot of experience with NAS and are one of the only sellers to perform a 48 hour test burn-in. I also paid the extra $100 to bump the NV+'s memory to 1GB, which SlimServer reportedly needs/likes.
brontox, I also upgraded to the Seagate enterprise hard drives . I also recommend Aegis.com, which is where I purchased my NAS.
Chris, remember what I said about the Sonos, it acts as a repeater so as long as you have multiple zones throughout your house, you should have no problem with a weak signal. My router is upstairs in our office which is the front right edge of my home but i have issues with signal strength for my Sonos in my backyard or in the family room downstairs and towards the back of my home.
You are right, the ability to access your music library is important and I think this is where the Squeezebox has issues. The Sonos controller is just so useful and is in itself a wireless device so you can control any number of Sonos boxes from anywhere in your house.
Chrisla - If you want to hear an amazing Sonos system, go to the St. Tropez (THE Show) suite 1203 when you are at CES.