Are you wedded to a particular file format?
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I can speak to option 2, and you're fine with FLAC there.
I went with Sonos for exactly the reasons you mention - that it's modular, expandable, and can be improved incrementally as I need to, in the zones where it matters.
In my main system, I'm using ethernet into a Cullen-modified (~$500) ZP90, into a Monarchy DIP (~$300), feeding a Cambridge DacMagic (<$500) before heading to a modest tube amp. Lossless files live on a RAID NAS so my computer doesn't need to be fired up all the time (nor is its HD jammed up with my music files).
Quality easily equals modest (~$2k) CDP's, and the convenience and freedom is simply impossible to imagine if you're still rummaging through CDs and their jewel cases. The music factor just goes through the roof - it's so much easier to explore your collection, to build playlists (or 'queues,' in Sonos parlance)...it's just absolutely and definitively a superior way to interface with and enjoy music. You'll never look back.
The Sooloos might be great, too - others will have to weigh in there. Good luck and have fun!
Thanks Soundgasm. Sounds like a neat setup. A couple of questions: 1) I see you went with a cost-effective solution for the DAC. Do you think there would be benefit to putting more $$ into the DAC, and would that perhaps elimlinate the need for the Monarchy DIP? Also: 2) Do you feel like you get a big gain from the Cullen modification of the Sonos? Looks like pricing for the Z90 + mod is ~$900.
Thanks and happy listening.
“…would prefer to control use the PC to search, select and play.”
I’ve got a couple thoughts here that can help.
Who’s going to download all your CDs onto the Sulu or Sonus?
Is the option for streaming music into other rooms a desire?
Are you driven to spend $2500 - $4000 or would you prefer to save a lot of that money instead and maybe spend it elsewhere??
As you apparently have a PC now, about all that is needed then is a competent media storage center, and media player…. Well and the prerequisite man hours for ripping the whole of your library. You might also think about getting another rom drive too. I went thru 2 easily just ripping around 500 CDs.
My concern with regard to the $2K - $4K turn key server fix is just one area…. The conversion of the digital info to analog coming out of or off of the HDD.
I felt that could be improved upon handily. Therefore improving the audio quality too..
As “Soundgasm” posted their turn key box gains for them the equivalency of a $2K CDP or so. I feel the presentation I derive exceeds that level by a pretty large margin due solely to the conversion process of the digital files, media interface and media player. All of which translate as to affecting the resultant audio quality directly.
Consequently, I went without such a OEM solution and went DIY instead in a manner of speaking. Large outboard storage device. PC. Sound card or USB converter, and DAC.
I mean, if the computer is the deal that will search, select and play the files in storage anyhow, why then spend $$$$$$ on another likewise gizmo?
True too, actual remote control akin to those you’ve used with your CDP, DVD, receiver, etc can be used then… or merely your media player inside the pc.
Storage ‘depending on amount’, will run from $200 to $1000. I’d say alot $300 – 600 there for a decent NAS or ether net storage unit and that’ll get ya around 3TB of space if not more. 3TB is a lot!
Get a very nice DAC for that $2500 or less, like an Ayre, Bryston, Bel Canto, or think about just doing USB or Firewire completely and getting in with Wavelength or Weiss, and that way no converter is required additionally. Your bandwidth will be truncated somewhat though to 24/96,but that’s better than CD! High resolution or definition files can then be played.
Fubar 2K is free and supports FLAC & ALAC & tons of other file formats. It sounds exceptionally good too. J river MC also does a good job and allows for zone uses too. it’s around $40.
If you want to use a converter so you can do files in excess of 24/96 or just want to use a more standard DAC, another $300 or so is needed.
What I’m saying here is simple…. For the same money as a turn key fix, I feel you can gain as much versatility as they would enable, yet definitely improve upon the audio quality itself in the doing, and not spend nearly as much. Or if as much is spent in the end, the audio quality will surpass IMO the Sonus or Sulu option.
If you think about it you might agree. Their DAC can’t be as good as those I mentioned here.
If I can do it anyone that can dress themselves and find their way home at night can do it too.
You’ll have to get your pc closer to the audio rig but then a coupler and ether net cable is cheap.
Thanks -- I'm enjoying it very much. I should say that my using ~2k CDP players as a benchmark isn't definitive by any means. I have little experience with more expensive CDPs, and those which I have heard have been bolted into much much more resolving systems than mine. Also, I didn't want to start a flame war by perhaps exaggerating. :-) Anyway I'll bet the results to date are at least a little better than that.
Regarding the Cullen Mod (you're correct about the all-up pricing; I only listed the cost of the mod itself in my earlier post); I was able to A/B the modded unit with another ZP90 at home and the improvement was very significant. So much so that I wondered if the DIP would yield further improvement, especially since Cullen's work improves the clock and outputs a 92kHz signal. But sure enough, the DIP yielded still more resolution - not as large a change as the Cullen, but still very audible.
I do imagine that if you threw enough money at a DAC (ie. Bryston?), you might be able to dispense with not only the DIP, but possibly the Cullen mod as well. I'd LOVE to be able to really compare that approach to mine. Another, much more-savvy, audiogon member pointed out to me early on that my path was going to reveal my DAC as the weak link, and sure enough, I believe he's correct. I am now scheming on a DAC upgrade that doesn't completely invert that situation, causing me to then need to replace every other component in the chain. I'm very interested in the Decware unit...
I should note that my situation/system is unique to me in a couple of ways...obviously, I've been taking a baby-step (or ~&1k step) approach to this. Maybe weirdly, it's the only source I plan on using - no CDP, no analog. I was also keen to NOT use a computer for this - I'd had several other computer-based systems earlier, and the keyboard/mouse/screen method of navigation, while obviously powerful, just doesn't work well in our household. ...it has a big footprint, makes a lot of noise, and any computer in our home gets co-opted for web surfing, etc. I was looking for a more elegant solution. I'm a newbie audiophile, but a long-time interface snob, and Sonos is the best game in town in that regard. It's arguably their entire business, perhaps to a fault among this crowd. And finally, I needed a multi-zone system which I could build incrementally. My two nice systems are just part of the equation - the bigger picture is really about our whole family, and our whole home.
Whoa, that went long. Sorry. Point being, if I was 'simply' going to build a single system, and if I was going to be the only user, I'd pass on the Sonos. But for us, it's unbelievably great. It works perfectly for my home and family, and it responds well to my personal tweaky quest to make a couple of zones Hi, or at least solidly Mid, -Fi.
Please post your experiences with whatever system you go with - there's still precious little information about systems like these on the web, and I know I've benefitted tremendously from being able to dialog with the membership here as I waded out into these digital waters.
Fun and much music to you,
I don't have any experience with the Squeezebox (other than fiddling with it for a grand total of maybe 15min), but anecdotally, I do have three SqB early-adopter friends who eventually abandoned SqB for Sonos systems. None of them did so for 'audiophile' reasons, though - they all migrated for the interface and overall ease of integration.
I debated the Squeezebox and Sonos systems and ultimately went with the Squeezebox. I got a Transporter for the main system which let me incorporate a DSP into the system and has a really good DAC built in plus balanced outputs. I just installed a Touch in the BR. Very easy system to use and all my files (FLAC) are on a HP MSS in the office.
It's easy as pie to control the system with a PC, the UI built into the Transporter and Touch are very easy to use and the simple IR remotes provided work effectively. I plan to eventually get a smartphone and will use one of the apps that have been made to control the system. iPeng(?)for example. Also there's a very active users group and the software is constantly being improved.
I really like the Soolos but $$$$s
Something to consider
I went the Sonos route and really like it, we use it more as an easy to use interface for friends and family. Then the iPhone/iTouch interface gave me more controllers for free, we have 3 zones and multiple controllers – and I have my eyes on an iPad to replace the Sonos controller itself.
However, I really do see the advantage of the Sooloos with regards to navigating my library. The problem is that my library has gotten rather large (it you listened 24 hours a day straight it would take you 31 days to get through it). So the problem with the Sonos is that it’s a bit intimidating and I have noticed when I have company over that we rarely get to groups/titles that start with the letter R or later because so much browsing and scrolling is involved to get through the library. Bottom line – someone needs to figure out how to emulate Sooloos’ “swim” capability – btw, I can almost do this with iTunes Genious, but then I’m not using the Sonos interface.
As for quality, run the digital output into a good DAC, preferably one that re-clocks on its own, like the Benchmark.
I, too, had been searching for a cost-effective way to catalogue my redbook collection and looked to Sooloos and Sonos. I have had the opportunity to play with the Sooloos and admit that it has a "high-end" fit and finish, which I would expect at that price range. The downside was that the 17" touch screen is a fixed solution and not portable. I did like the fact that Sooloos uses FLAC when ripping CD's, which retains bit-integrity of the CD's. As far as the Sonos goes, I think they have a great line up of "modular" components to create a solid whole-house music distribution. Regardless of which Sonos product you go with, in order to get audiophile grade audio, you'll still need a solid DAC, whether external or integrated into a higher end receiver or pre-pro. With that in mind, I built my whole-house music distribution system from scratch using the following. The end-result was a lot more cost-effective than either the Sooloos or Sonos solution.
1. Method of cataloguing CD’s:
iTunes using ALAC (similar to FLAC but Apple proprietary; maintains bit-integrity of the CD’s; roughly 300MB for each CD, compared to 700MB of actual CD)
2. Method of whole-house music distribution:
1st gen. Apple TV’s (with ATV Flash and 1TB external USB HDD in each room where a TV is present; files are “sync’ed” from iTunes in ALAC format; no need to keep HTPC/server on at all time once files are sync’ed)
Apple AirPort Express units (in rooms without TV, like kitchen and deck/patio)
3. Method of converting digital ALAC files to analog output: Integra pre-pro (DHC-80.2) powered by external amp (Arcam P1000); Apple TV’s and Airport Express units use toslink output to connect to pre-pro (Integra DHC-80.2 has built-in 32bit/192kHz DAC); you can substitute with any good external DAC
4. Method of controlling what to play where:
iPhone/iPad (running “Remote” app – free from Apple’s app store; enables you to stream different tracks from one Apple TV to another or Airport Express unit, or the same track from one source to all Apple TV’s and Airport Express units)
Additional benefits: With the latest version of “HD Remote” app included in ATV Flash, you can use 1st gen. Apple TV’s as “Airplay” outlet for both video and audio. If you want to stream what’s playing on your iPad to a TV, you select the appropriate Apple TV via the iPad’s “AirPlay” feature.
Another alternative that fits your budget, existing wiring, and desire to use the computer for storage and control would be the Linn Akurate DS ... also a solution where the sound quality is minimally dependent on computer setup, DAC jitter rejection, etc. There are also many wireless handhelds (i.e. iPod touch, iPad) for control.
All you need is SB Touch (modded to Linear Power Supply), a good DAC, and DBPoweramp ($30) to create FLAC's from CD's.
I have beed using the SB Classic for about 5 years. The original software version was a little problematic but the SB's guys have been regularly updating the software and nowadays it is fairly reliable.
I am a software developer and the bugs I encountered in the past I was able to find solutions for. I think a non-techie may have found it more difficult than me. The most recent updates have been very good and I have had to do minimal diagnostics.
For the low cost of SB Touch I think it is a no-brainer (even in stock form).
BTW - MOG.com is coming to SB in September.