Check out Wavelength Audio's site:
I own "The Brick", and it makes a good case for computer based systems. Flash memory is a great concept, but I have 800 gigs of music digitized losslessly and the flash drives simply don't have the capacity at the moment.
there are quite a few music servers out in the market right now. they can come from macs/pcs, mcintosh, and other audio manufacturers. there has been more talk recently on how manufactures are providing this. for the past couple of years, i have had my mac with itunes setup with an external dac hooked up to my tube jolida amp in my den. I like the sound and convenience of listening to my ripped cds, internet radio, and purchased songs. Would i use this as a source for my dedicated audio room? not yet, but it is getting better all the time. my immediate plans call for: using the new mac airport extreme router that doubles as a NAS device (which allows me to setup a very large disk farm for my audio library), use the airport express to link this music server to some of my other systems in the house to stream music for casual/background listening, and possibly using the apple tv device to stream audio and video to certain rooms. with the appropriate equipment (external dacs for example) and the newer 802.11 'N' network, it is getting better all the time.
There's just a whole lot I don't know about this topic. So I'm going to try breaking it into baby steps. I'm going to ask some questions that at some future point I'll probably cringe at for their stupidity.
When you play a CD or DVD, does the information go straight to the DAC in real time, or is there a buffer? If there's a buffer, then why does anyone care about the quality of the transport mechanism?
Check out my virtual system, i have added my MAC media center into my main listening room and i could not be happier! It is a total stand alone remote controlled component. I love it.
Let me tell you a little something...People like to think HDD is not as good as Flash for some reason, and that the whole 'moving parts' theory is the reason why. This is somewhat true, but solid state storage (Flash) is not much better, and when it fails, which is statistically as often as HDD, whatever you had on there is gonzo. Good luck getting it back.
At least with a magnetic platter design you have the ability to recover the the bits.
I work for a premier IT market intelligence company, and I do lots of research on these. Flash has promise, but a long way to go before it becomes better than HDD. I wouldn't recommend sitting around for too long waiting for one to pan out over the other.
I did some checking and found that I purchased my first digital camera four years and two months ago. At that time, you got a 16MB (notice the "M") flash card with the camera. The largest available at the computer store was a massive 128MB card that cost $125. I'd suspect that if I had checked on the Internet at the time, I could've found a 512MB card for a lot of dough.
So, in four years we've seen flash memory do a 32-fold increase. I see no reason to think we won't get at least the same multiple in the next four years, which would mean cheap 128GB cards in 2011 and expensive 512GB cards.
At the very least, that's a lot of room to back up your data, wouldn't you say?
High quality computer music servers are hear now, no need to wait. Having your music organized on a server is a patently superior method of accessing one's music collection, assuming one has more than 50 CD's. There are the stand alone units (McIntosh, Yamaha, Sonos, Cambridge, SlimDevices, etc.) or you can construct your own music server with a PC of some sort.
IMHO the keys to audiophile grade sound in these implementations are: 1) lossless encoding of music files, and 2) careful attention to USB - S/PDIF conversion (and this is only an issue for those who are NOT using WIFI).
Once you have those elements sorted out though, the rest of the issues are those you would face when assembling any hifi system: amplification, D/A conversion, speakers, room acoustics, etc..
Computer music servers are the future of the digital front end (IMHO).
Thanks for your response. After I posted this, I saw your excellent posting, "Today's Transport War: Significant Differences?" At some point I'll probably post there with more questions. I was really impressed by your knowledge.
Thanks, Pluck. I am an amatuer, at best. Good luck in your journey. The threads here are a good place to get started. You can also learn a lot about computer audio from two websites: Empirical Audio and Wavelength Audio. Each has dedicated content on the subject. True experts behind these sites.
There is no hold up, they're here now. Problem isn't necessarily the ability to manufacture audiophile-grade USB equipment. Technology is out there.
The problem as I see it is very simple, and two-fold...The mass market is slow to adopt new technology, especially audiophile types. Second, alot of people have no idea how to use a computer well enough to set up a PC-based system. For example, most know little about digital compression, what it means, why it is important. Just those market conditions alone are enough to slow demand and ultimately r&d production. So at this point, there is little reason for the larger manufacturers to invest-but they undoubtedly will eventually. Although audiophile types may be the last to benefit of course.
Some of the stuff out there at the moment qualifies as just good, aforementioned McIntosh etc..All the Mac music server is is an Escient with a Mac faceplace-since Marantz owns both Mac and Escient. Sound was also very much sub-par out of this when I listened. Wireless is another approach, but you have to have big buffers for music that is streamed uncompressed, and there is just something about no wires that screams non-audiophile. Thats just me...
As far as formats etc...Don't waste your time worrying-Apple Lossles. And as far as storage, don't wait for SSD to advance to the point you can put all your 100's of gigs of music on it. HDD is excellent, and much more reliable these days than it once was. SSD is good, and I look forward to it, but I am not waiting around for advances out of it. It is very expensive to produce, when it fails there is NO recovering anything; so HDD will stick around for a while at reasonable prices per Gigabyte compared to SSD per gigabyte.
Like Paradales said, the time is now, and the two choices IMO are either Empirical or Wavelength, everything is a compromise at this point. Choice is limited for the level of gear you own, so you owe it to yourself to give either of those products a hard look before taking the plunge into server based audio.
Difference between Wavelength (WA) and Empirical (EA). EA is largely a modder, although more of his own stuff is being listed on his site..Everything form WA is custom designed from the ground up-no mods. EA tends to have more answers for the sPDIF inclined, whereas WA is largely pure USB Zero DACs, very little sPDIF, no I2S (native interface for alot of DAC chips). As far as sonic differences between the these two, can't speak for EA, and sonics really have to be tested in your own system.
I can say for my system, the Cosecant easily beat out a $12K Nagra player, among other very expensive players. Best digital I have ever heard.
Playback from SSD has already advanced:
Holographic could very well beat out SSD as well.