Simple Digital Music Server - Opinions Please

Six months ago, I added an Audio Mirror DAC to my system and use my Marantz SA14 SACD player as a redbook transport. I’ve thought about replacing my Marantz and getting a stand alone transport. While doing some research, I’ve stumbled on some very interesting information on hard drive based digital playback systems. I’m thinking about giving one a try. I read numerous posts here on Audiogon, and I think for a modest sum of money, one can achieve superior results with a hard drive playback system.

I’ve stumbled onto a product that will bridge the music from a PC to your DAC. It’s manufactured by a company called Roku and they have a few variations that will do what I’m looking for. The line of product is called the SoundBridge Network Music Player.

Here is what I’m thinking of doing and I would like to get some feedback for those who have heard music from hard drive based play back system.

Using my existing PC in another room (having the PC in a different room eliminates PC fan noise); I plan to add a 400GB external USB hard drive. (600-650 music CD’s) I plan to rip all my CD’s into wave or Apple Lossless files. Apple Lossless with give one double capacity without any sound quality loss. Please give me some feedback here if you have experienced differently. I will run an Ethernet cable from the PC to the Roku device in my sound room. The Roku will then connect to my external DAC via coax cable and DAC to my preamp.

Here is what I’m hoping to achieve with my project:

• Superior redbook playback compared to my current setup.
• The convenience of have all CD’s accessed from my listening chair via the Roku remote.
• Added bonus of digital internet radio
• File sharing possibilities with others
• Selling my SACD player and having a few hundred dollars left over for added music after funding my project

I’m estimating that my total investment will be:

• Roku Soundbridge $499
• Ethernet Cable $50
• 400GB external hard drive $300

• Total investment $850
I would be very interested to hear how this works out.

For about five years, I have used a Mac to control three CD mega changers with Titletrack Jukebox software and Keyspan USB to RS232 adaptor and an "Slink" box (RS232 to Sony S-link commands).

It all works beautifully - shove a CD in and it goes and gets the artwork and track listing on the internet just like iTunes. I can even stagger/cue music alternately to each changer for continuous uninterrupted music feed.

It saves me from the very laborious task of burning CD's to a hardrive...I estimated that 500 CD's might take me a while.

Recently I got a Mac Mini ($400) so that I coud run things from my new basement installation rather than use longer RS232 cables from my office/computer room. I also use an airport express to feed my overall house Russound system for background music around the home.

At that time I got the Mac Mini, I did look at harddrive storage...but I am still really worried about backup...I normally mirror all my drives in preparation for the inevitable hard drive failure and this makes the harddrive only option a little too painful/expensive for me given my sunk investment five years ago in three CD Mega players.

I know I will end up going to hardrive storage at some is just a matter of time. So I am very interested in your experiences.
The Roku doesn't sound very good when I did the research ( The Slimdevices Squeezbox 2 or 3 sounds much better plus the servering software is freeware. I have two of them and I use FLAC lossless as was recommended by people that have done this before (wav took up too much space and didn't support tagging).
You will want to find EAC freeware to do the bit perfect ripping or buy a Plextor drive and use Plextools to do the Flac ripping directly (I use this method).

I can use my Mobile Phones web browser to control either one of my stereos (2ch or HT) and my Table PC can also be used to control them with a web browser or I can use the remote controls..

Sounds pretty good, but with Modifications from Boulder Company or Red Wine this product can be made to sound oustanding.

The software supports Mac's/PC's/Linux and doesn't even need the hardware so you can try it out.
If you are buying Soundbridge M2000, act quickly. It is discontinued. It has the most impressive and visible display in this type of devices.

Soundbridge, except for M1001, is capable of bit-perfect digital output. If your DAC is reasonably jitter resistent, you should have not worry about the sound quality. All of your stated objectives can be achieved.
IMO, no question - a digital music server is the way to go. I've played around with a bunch of them and they're all imperfect - every one seems to have something that it truly gets right, and some things that it doesn't do well at all.

If you want the computer to be remote, there are some limitations. I got the Squeezebox stuff up and running in, literally, 10 minutes, running flawlessly, streaming from the remote server to my laptop. All software was free, and I was streaming lossless WMA files. Really nice. Assuming the Squeezebox device (200-300 dollars I believe) outputs SPDIF, you'd be set, as long as the feature set works for you - remote control from a laptop, infinite remote storage, seems to scale well.

Once you've had all your music at your fingertips, it's difficult to imagine going back to a CD or a record at a time.
Works just like you are hoping - I second Cytocycle, i would take a look at the Squeezebox before you spring for the Roku.

Read my post to a similar link for more detail. It's in Agon PC Audio Forum in a thread called Where Should I Start For Computer Audio

For simplicity, stay with iTunes and Apple Lossless - nothing to be gained by going to wav.

When budgeting do allow for a backup hard drive. You don't need it immediately but you'll want it after you rip the first two hundred or so CDs. The good news is you can get that 400Gb drive for closer to $200 - check
Jamesw20, both have okay but not great analog output. The mod market is more active for s'box to improve its analog output.

If you use digital output, they should be about the same.
Allow me to offer an alternative - the LinkSys Wireless MusicBridge, sells for approx. $89 at CompUSA and other computer stores. Jack this into your pre/pro and have a laptop provide the source material.

This will allow you to have "remote" control, streaming audio from the Internet, you can use *any* file format (FLAC, WAV, OGG, MP3, WMA, whatever) and you can daisy chain as many drives as you like via USB.

What's not to like?
Only issue with Linksys is its wireless nature... wireless xmission of 16/44.1 requires some decent throughput, and depending upon walls/other devices in the area, you may have issues. If you can run an ethernet cable, I would.

I looked at both the soundbridges and the squeezebox 3s, and went SB3. The SB3 supports Apple Lossless, which is the format I've decided to use for storage.

One note--I highly recommend ripping with EAC. Find a little script called iTunesEncode and have EAC call iTunesEncode as a commandline compressor; EAC will pass the CDDB data tags to iTunes, which will register them in the library and write the tags into the files. If you run with SB3s, you can then tell slimserver to use the iTunes library, so when you update iTunes it will automatically update slimserver...

Good luck, have fun, and seriously consider backing up your data somehow...
Thank you for all of those who responded. I've decided and purchased the Roku M2000 and it does support Apple Lossless. I must say that I'm quite impressed with the build quality of Roku. All of that brushed aluminum for $500. It fits right in with the rest of my high end gear. Looking at the Squeezebox, it does seem like a heck of a value as it includes its own DAC. I plan on using my current DAC with the Roku.

I've ripped CD's in the past for my iPod and read that there is a way to rip CD's without any kind of a gap between songs on a CD. The gaps I wish to eliminate are for concert CD's and CD's where run songs together like DSOTM, American Idiot, Abbey Road, etc. Can someone explain to me where to find the option in iTunes to do this? I will only rip entire CD's and want exact copies of the CD.

BTW, the M2000 comes with the optional wireless card which I will try before I run cable. In the past, I've always been partial to Western Digital HD's and was going to order one. They are a little more expensive but I've found their reliability to be second to none. Since I have not really kept up in the computer industry, does anyone have a different opinion on hard drives or are they all pretty much the same.

As soon as I get things up and running, I report my finding on this project.
Unless you want to do a funky workaround with the groups tag, you have to join the tracks together when you rip. iTunes has a "join tracks together" function that allows this when you rip in iTunes. I think you can do this in EAC if you "rip by range" or something. Haven't done it myself, and am frustrated by Apple lack of a "join together" function in the library... You should be able to select two songs "Intro by X..." and "Song by X..." and establish some kind of link to get them permanently pasted together. But you can't.
I was thinking about this some more and found this an AppleScript called "Join Together v3.2.1." If you are running iTunes for Windows, this won't work, but if you have a Mac available, this script purports to bridge between iTunes and Quicktime Pro to combine tracks... Here's the link:
If you go to iTune preferences you can play with the cross fade setting to tie songs together without a gap. It may effect sound quality.
It would apply to your entire iTunes library, but it can be toggled on/off as you see fit.
Not being a 'computer guy' myself, I must admit a lot of the above is Greek to me. But when I got my Alesis MasterLink CD-R recorder that has a built-in hard drive, I was curious to hear how the sound compared. This unit, for those who don't know it, is widely considered to be of professional mastering quality, and is of course a dedicated component designed just for audio. (Although it's capable of recording and playing back at higher than CD-resolution, I'm only discussing uncompressed 16/44 here.)

Well, using my external Theta DAC, the MasterLink does give superior sound playing from its hard drive, ripped at 4X speed, than it does playing the same CD live in real time. But, both options still can't compare to playing the same CD live on my Theta Pearl transport (not that this method sounds like there's no room for improvement to me, but it clearly delivers significantly more information to the DAC than the MasterLink can). I'm not talking about preference here -- on some disks, I actually preferred listening to the lower-fidelity rendition provided by the MasterLink, as it could occasionally be easier on the ears -- but rather things like spatial delineation and ambience, transient attack and decay, fine microdynamic and harmonic detail, stuff that represents true transparency which is simply being attenuated via the MasterLink used as a transport/server vs. the Pearl (which employs the Pioneer Stable Platter drive mechanism).

These results would seem to indicate that merely using a hard drive to store and retrieve the bits is not a panacea all by itself as far as sonics go. (FWIW, all signals fed to the DAC were jitter-reduced through a Monarchy DIP 24/96, all digital separates were fed balanced, isolated, and voltage/waveform-corrected AC, identical powercords and digital IC's were used, and one digital source was turned off while the other one was in use -- yes, the sound is better that way.)
Zaikesman--the Masterlink is a single box unit with no control over how ripping/storage/playback is performed, and is vastly different from, say, my PC system which uses EAC, foobar/iTunes, and an external USB-based audio device. I'm sure you heard what you heard, and I agree that hard drives are not a panacea, but I'm not sure the results of your listening test can be extrapolated to all use of hard drives v. transports...
Edesilva: Yes, I wouldn't expect that this little test of mine could serve to describe all hard drive-based systems. Quite the contrary as a matter of fact -- I just take it as an indicator that we're probably going to face the same kinds of choices and differences with hard drives as we have with transports, "bit is bits" or no...Never ends, does it? ;^)

(OK, this is strange. A'gon server doesn't like one word responses? What is the minimal response needed?)
It would be interesting to use a devise like the Masterlink to record a CDR from the digital output of a hiend transport like Zaikesman's Theta, and then use EAC to rip copies of the both CDR and original CD on to a HD and compare the wav files to see if they're the same.

Is there a software program that can be used to compare files?

PS- in the new issue of Stereophile, MF comments on using a modified Masterlink.

Kana813: I'm thinking about doing the mods for the MasterLink. I did try sonically comparing a CD internally ripped to the ML's hard drive (at 4X speed, no other option available) with the same CD ripped from the Pearl used as exterior transport (real time), with both ripped versions auditioned from the ML's hard drive feeding the Basic IIIa DAC, and the versions did sound a little different (though not, unsurprisingly, as different as with the CD actually playing live from the Pearl), so I suppose they couldn't be bit-identical. The advantage was very minor, but I thought it was in favor of the Pearl (could be a compromised test however, because the two components are stacked, and as I said they each sounds best with the other one turned off, so using one to feed the other is probably not ideal in this setup).
I stand corrected. Roku does not support Apple Lossless but does support FLAC. Because I use my iPod at work daily, I've really have no choice but to use AIFF files.
A initial listening session to my hard drive digital server is very promising.
Islandflyfisher, Roku does not support FLAC natively either.

However, you can use Slimserver to serve up both Apple Lossless and FLAC to Soundbridge. You can use Apple Lossless with both iPod and Soundbridge.
Zaikesman-if you want to mod your MasterLink, contact Anthony at, he owns one and knows a lot more about digital equipment the Chris at BP.
I could not be happier with the results of my digital music server. I’m using the Audio Mirror D-1 non over-sampling DAC with the Roku M2000. Sound quality is vastly better than the Marantz SA-14 SACD player. Music presentation is smoother and quieter. I did not A/B the Marantz as transport with Audio Mirror DAC verse the Roku system because of hassle factor. After weighing in the added benefits, if the Marantz-Audio Mirror was to slightly better the Music Server, I would still use the Roku system because of all the added benefits. If I had to guess, the Roku system out performs my previous Marantz/Audio Mirror combo by a significant margin.

The silver lining is the added convenience of not having to get up and pick through my CD collection to change music selection. The Roku also has volume control that is calibrated with very gradual adjustments. This is a huge plus for me, as my pre amp does not have a remote control. The display of music information is nice as it let’s you know track name, artist, year of release date and track time. Internet Radio is also part of the package. The navigation of the Roku is very easy to use and if you own an iPod, you will learn how to navigate this device in less than ten minutes.

The negatives to all of this are that you need to rip your entire CD library. I’m about only 20% done. A CD takes approximately 15 minutes to rip. Roku does not support Apple Lossless so you really cannot compress your music without significant lose of sound quality. I ended up ripping to AIFF files so that I could still use my iPod. In this format, each CD takes up 500MB of hard drive space. To view this predicament as a positive, once music is ripped in a non compressed file, you can do anything with it in the future as far as converting it to a new compressed format if you decide to do so. Hard drive space is getting cheaper every month.

Lastly, the quality of the Roku until is very impressive. It’s a brushed aluminum cylinder with a 2 1/2” to 3” LCD display. I took a few pictures display under my “system”. The display options are very well thought out. The remote control functions perfectly but is a bit on the cheesy side. All in all, the Roku M2000 is my best bang-for-buck investment in high-end audio to date. Anyone want to purchase a Marantz SA14? I've got it listed.
Islandflyfisher - just picked up this thread. While you could rip all your CDs onto your PC, I am using Yahoo! Music Unlimited and streaming WMA files. Not only do I get to select music from the 1MM+ catalog ($60/annual subscription), but the WMAs streamed via Ethernet to my Roku Soundbridge fed into a Musical Fidelity A3.24 via SPDIF and A3 integrated amp sound great! I also get Internet radio, so I nearly never turn on my tuner or CD player anymore.

Congrats on your purchase of the soundbridge. I have the M1001 feeding a MF Tri-Vista. Computer to ethernet cable to Soundbridge to DAC to Integrated. I honestly can not tell a difference between this setup and using my transport. It is also a lot more convient.

my understanding is that all such PC based wireless solutions....including Airport Express, Rokus and Sonateer etc...all have perfect byte for byte transmission yes, but are very poor in rejecting jitter. In fact JA at Stereophile measured this awhile back in one of his follow ups on Airport Express. so to assume it will be "better" than your current CD player is not a given by any means.