PC based system, questions and clarifications...

This is long, I apologize….Currently I own a SBv3 which is in my main listening room upstairs which is connected via Ethernet to my three computers in the basement. While I like the SB I do not like it’s interface and the sound quality is not as good as what I heard at the recent RMAF here in Denver (particularly JA’s demonstration of high res 24/88.2 verses 16/44.1 vs 128K mp3, a real eye opener as to the bad sound quality of mp3 material). So I want to set up a PC server based system for quality reasons and for ready access to my music. I have 800+ CD’s and it is to hard to access and find them. I have spent the better part of the last 4 days doing online research but still a few questions remain. Please bear with me as this thread may help others doing the same thing.

First the PC. Initially I read that an Apple based systems were far superior to an XP based system do to the kmixer problems, difficulty in setup, etc. The pluses were that one had much more software to choose from (I have used EAC for several years, properly configured). The Apple iBook G4 was a good choice according to some (thank you Wavelength) as it has no fan (very quiet) and all it takes it about 5 system changes to get it working properly to output to a USB DAC. The iBooks’s downside is limited software (I dislike iTunes as I have to use it with my iPod and I do not want this to be my primary interface). Now I see that a Vista (Home Premium version??) equipped notebook is now perhaps a better solution. Specifically why? And what system changes to Vista should be made to output a file to a USB DAC (eg., Benchmark DAC1 USB or Bel Canto e.One Dac 3)?

Ripping software: Which software for the Vista based PC or the Apple based PC is best for ripping CD’s? As I indicated above I have used EAC in the past. It’s downside is poor metadata. How is dbpoweramp for quality ripping (absolutely no errors will be tolerated period!)? dbpoweramp’s metadata is better (Gracenote, is the reason I presume). For the Apple based PC what is best? I am an Apple dumb as I have always used Intel, Microsoft based PC’s, even building them in the past, so any help from an Apple standpoint is appreciated. Also

DACs: I only want a DAC that employs a USB interface. That much I know for sure (to many jitter problems to overcome with other interfaces). I read that not all DAC’s do USB correctly. Which do and which do not and why? So far the ones under consideration are the Benchmark DAC1 USB, Bel Canto e.One Dac3 and the Wavelength Brick. The Bel Canto is on the high end of the price spectrum for me and I prefer not to go there if possible. Although JA at the RMAF was running his iBook G4 to a Metric Halo Mobile I/O ULN-2 (firewire converter, he said) then into a Bel Canto e.One Dac3 (review upcoming). It sounded fantastic!

Storage for ripped files: I want a 1TB unit. While RAID 5 would be nice it’s more expensive, so I may forgo that option. The unit must be absolutely silent as possible as it may reside in my listening room. I would like it to have an Ethernet, USB, and firewire. To much to ask?? For example the LaCie Ethernet Big Disk is only Ethernet and USB 2.0, however the LaCie Big Disk Extreme+ has Firewire and USB 2.0 but no Ethernet. I may just have the disk sit on the wired Ethernet network. I may decided to rip from my XP based PC’s in the office to the external HD in my listening room but use an iBook G4 as the interface in the listening room. Are LaCie disks quiet? Do they have fans? Are there better/other ones to consider?

That is all for now. Thanks in advance for your input.
"DACs: I only want a DAC that employs a USB interface. That much I know for sure (to many jitter problems to overcome with other interfaces)."

The jitter "problems" are actually easier to overcome with networked devices. And you dont have wires to trip over. You should stay with your SB3 and just add a Pace-Car IMO. I use all of them, USB, Sonos and SB3.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Get a Nolia N770 or N800 webpad to control your SB3. Set slimserver to use the N770 interface and you can easily browse/search through your collection. I have over 2000 CD's ripped in lossless on my machine and the N770 makes browsing a joy. I agree that once you get about 100-200 CD's ripped using the SB to browse is a real chore. Also, consider Bolder Cables mods to your SB. I have the analog/digital mod with the Deluxe power supply. I liked it so much, I sold my refence tube CD/SACD player.
Steve N.: Thanks for your reply. Another reason for the USB DAC is I would like to experiment running the digital out on my CD player into the DAC and run some comparisons. Part of the fun!
Prpixel: Thanks for your reply and suggestion (Nokia?)N800. Are there any screenshots anywhere showing what it looks like on the SB? Yes, I looked at Bolder mods for the SB, but spending $1000 for a mod on a $300 item seems a bit much to me. I am sure the sound improved! Besides if I go with the PC based server system in my main system, I can move the SB into another room and the lesser sound quality will not be noticed on that system as it will be mainly a background music system. However more info on the Nokia N800 would be appreciated.
This was very helpful for many of us.
Well, let’s do a cost analysis of SB verses a computer rig.

SB3 $300 (goes on sale every few weeks for $250)
Bolder Cables enthusiast analog mod $550 (includes shipping)
Elpac power supply (new) $123
Bolder Cables Elpac mod $125
Nokia N770 webpad $130
Signal cable 3' analog2 with bullet plugs $87
500GB eternal USB/eSATA backup drive $120
Total Cost - $1435 (all prices include shipping)

I put my friend into the same rig minus the Nokia and a 250GB HD about two weeks ago. His total cost was about $1250. His system consists of Anthem AVM2/Anthem 5 channel amp and VSA 4jr's. He was blown away by the sound even before the break in. He got so excited; he stayed up all night ripping CD's.

Computer Rig:
Mac mini to put in audio rack w/wireless keyboard $750
Buffalo 1TB Terrastation with raid $600
USB dac Benchmark $1275 Bel Canto DAC3 $2500 Wavelength Brick $1750
Signal cable 3' analog2 with bullet plugs $87
Misc cable - USB, Ethernet $50
Total Cost $2762 - $3987

I configured the computer rig to use the TV as a monitor. I'm assuming that this is going into a HT rig. If not, you will need to add a monitor. I know that some people use a laptop with a long USB cable running to the USB DAC in the audio rack. If you go this way, then drop the Apple mini and substitute a laptop. The mini has a neat little remote that will allow you to control playback from your listening chair.

I don't understand why you want a NAS with a usb port. You cannot plug a USB DAC into a NAS. It can only be plugged into a computer. Why do you want the NAS in the listening room? Hang it off of a wireless router in another room so you don't have to hear it.

I'm not saying one is better than the other. It just depends on what you’re trying to accomplish and how involved you want to get. If you don't want to get involved in mods, then just buy the Transporter, plug it in and away you go. The most important thing to remember is to backup all your music. I've had to re-rip my entire collection 3 times. Now I have two backup drives and I backup once a month.

I can't take a picture of my nokia right know because I just sent my SB2 back for an upgrade. Yes, I know I'm spending more on mods, but I like the convenience of having all of my collection on a HD; I will never go back to a standalone cd player.

BTW, my office system, which also runs the slim server software, consists of a PS Audio Digital Link III DAC driving a pair of Red Dragon Monos. Speakers consist of ERA Design4's and a custom sub based on the Pinnacle subcompact six. I don't use the USB connection on the DAC; I prefer using the coax digital out from my PC. Playback software is WMP 11.
While I like the SB I do not like it’s interface... small>

I am glad I am not alone - I was considering using the Squeezebox as well,
but could not stand the interface (either the web-based one or the little
display). One of the main reasons I would not consider it.

I like the Mac Mini as the center of the entertainment system and prefer the
Front Row interface (maybe just personal taste). The ultimate goal was to
replace my CDP (which it did) as well as the DVD player and a second
Windows PC that is used for watching Cricket.

I have both the Benchmark USB DAC 1 and the Wavelength Brick - which one
works better depends very much on the rest of the system. The Brick's
strengths lie in the midrange and resolution of fine details, but the bass is
very much on the soft side. The Benchmark has much tighter, fuller, tuneful
bass and more apparent top end resolution, althought it doesn't quite recover
the texture and resonances of instruments as well as the Brick. The
Benchmark has a more lively and direct presentation, the Brick more laid back
and flowing.
Thanks Prpixel for your comments. I already own a SB3. While I like the convenience of being able to select music from my hard drive (I have only ripped about 15 CD’s) I am not that impressed with the sound quality (playing FLAC files, ethernet connection not wireless) of playback. It certainly is not better than my CD player. My SB has not been modified except I added a high quality linear PS. I would certainly like to compare a modified SB with a stock unit before I sent mine in. Even so most people have stated that a computer based sound system using a high end USB DAC beats a SB. At the RMAF show last weekend I heard an awesome computer based system JA of Stereophile had a seminar comparing mp3, 16/44.1 and 24/88.2. He was playing his files thru a Bel Canto Dac3. The rest of the electronics were Conrad Johnson but the speakers were only a $2,000 pr Avalon’s.

I will probably be using a laptop (either a iBook G4 or a MS Vista based notebook). There is a neat little software program ($23) that I can put on my bluetooth wireless PDA that will allow me to remotely control my laptop if needed. I will investigate the mini. All of this equipment will be in my dedicated 2 channel system. The HT is in another room.

I was only looking for a USB/firewire/ethernet interface incase I decided to go the MS Vista route instead of the iBook G4. No big deal as I will most likely get the Ethernet version, that way it is a standalone unit that can be in another room.

Wow, ripped your CD’s 3 times! What happened? I have used PC’s (before hard drives) and I have only had one drive fail on me. Initially I was only thinking of getting a single 1TM drive (about $300) and save some money, maybe not now….

I see that you have a PS Audio Digital Link III DAC. What do you think of it? Did you compare it to any other DAC’s? To the SB?

Thanks again for your input.
Restock: I am sorry but I am Apple dumb. I have been an intel/MS user since the days of DOS. What is “Front Row” interface? Thank you for your input/comparison of the DAC’s. The Wavelength Brick was one of my considerations as well. I have to see if they have a 30 trial like Benchmark does. What file format did you use?


The stock SB3 is not that great. It's good enough for casual listening or background music. Most people think that you can just replace the switching power supply with a linear power supply. The problem is that the power section inside the SB3 needs to be modified in order to get the full benefit. I've heard an SB3 with a standard Elpac linear power supply. It is a slight improvement over the stock unit. The modded Elpac is much better.

Apple front row is a simple interface and remote that lets you control your Mac from your listening chair. It's very similar to MS Windows Media center.

The reason I had to rip three times is that my first HD died. So, I re-ripped, but forgot to turn off copy protection, and could not access my collection from slimserver. So, deleted everything and started over for the third time. It takes me about a month to rip everything. My collection now resides on three 750GB drives: one in the machine and two backups. If you’re using lossless, then figure on about 4 CD per GB. So, 1TB will give you enough room for about 4000 CD's.

I have a few USB DACs around the house: MHTD Labs Paradisea Tube DAC, MHTD Constantine and a PS audio Digilink III. In addition, I've owned the Firestone FUBARII w/Supplier power supply and Perreaux SXD2 DAC. I've also auditioned the Bel Canto Dac3 in my office system. The Fubar was my first USB DAC and I liked it a lot. I picked up the Perreaux to replace it, but liked the Fuber better, so I sold it hear. The Paradisea gives up a little detail for smoothness over the Constantine; I prefer the Constantine. I use the Paradisea in my wife’s computer system which consists of a custom Sub with a three channel plate amp driving a small pair of Canton CD10's. Here source is a Gateway Vista laptop and playback is through Softsqueeze, which gives her access to my entire library. The Bel Canto was good, but I could not justify the price so I did not purchase one (borrowed from friend).

I vacillate between the Constantine and the PS audio DACS. Some days I like the PS audio, some days I prefer the Constantine. I guess it just depends on the mood I'm in. One final note, I use the coax digital in on both DACS. I prefer the sound of the coax digital over the USB input. This might be a function of the USB input or it could be my computer. I find that the USB input lacks a little PRAT. Gordon at Wavelength has developed a USB input receiver for his DACs that are suppose to eliminate this problem, but I've never heard any of this DACs.

While I've never tried any of these DACS in the big rig I have tried the SB in the office system. The modded SB is better than all the USB DACs. The problem I have with using the SB in the Office rig is that I occasionally play a game and you can't get Windows audio/game audio over the SB.

I'm not going to beat the SB drum anymore. It's your ears, your money and your decision. Ultimately, it's up to you to decide. Most modded equipment is a poor investment because of lower resale values.

I just wanted to give you a little background on myself. I've been involved in audio and the industry for over 25 years. I'm a frustrated musician: piano, acoustic guitar and flute. The flute was a requirement for 4th grade music class and I've stuck with it and taken professional lessons. Hey, it's easy to carry around. Every once in a while I take it out and do my Ian Anderson impression. I'm a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra and go to concerts about once or twice a month. I also attend any of the pre-concert lectures and I really enjoy the learning concerts. I have taken many courses on music and music appreciation. I have very acute hearing. I was legally blind for many years. Now here's that part that's going to get me in trouble. My hearing is so sensitive, that I can hear incandescent light bulbs oscillating. Fluorescents sound like a bees nest. My hearing is so sensitive that my wife says that I can hear her thinking. She's given up on trying to talk under her breath.
The SB3 display is a point of contention for many folks, including me. I have one because I use them with my products, but I much prefer the Sonos interface. The problem is that the Sonos has a much worse digital output. I solve this problem by reclocking both the SB3 and Sonos. Then they are identical sounding, and beat 99% of transports hands-down. I generaly prefer 24/96 upsampled and played using a USB interface, but with the Pace-Car, even 44.1 sounds incredible through the Sonos or SB3. Run the "demo" on sonos.com. Very cool product.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio

Have you looked into using the Nokia N770 or N800 with the SB? The Nokia is a lot smaller and thinner than the Sonos. Yes, I agree that once you start building up a collection, the diplay on the SB becomes a big drawback.
Prpixel - I'm aware that some are doing using the Nokia products. If I already have a Sonos, this is even better, and when I play music overnight, it is still playing in the morning, unlike the SB3.....

Steve N.


I don't have any problems with my SB. Recently I had it playing for 6 weeks straight while burning in a new pair of Martin Logan Vantages. It never skipped a beat, though my electric bill was about $100 more than usual.