What do I need to set up digital music server?


OK, I'm an old analog guy but have started to dabble in digital. I've been using my laptop up to this point but it just ain't the best way to go. What I want to do is this:

a. Have a box that will store a lot of music (hi res music).
b. It would have a user friendly, visual interface that would help me organize and retrieve music.
c. It would have to be able to RIP(?) CDs using my CD player.
d. It should have a remote control.
e. It should be compatible with my wifi network and work with services like Pandora.
f. It needs to be affordable, less than $1500.

I've been reading up on all this but I still have trouble with some of the "digital" terminology. Any suggestions will be appreciated.
winggo
What you are after in "c" is not entirely clear, possibly because of how you have worded "c". I hope the following will help your understanding related to "c":

99% of the time CDs are "ripped" (thereby producing digital audio files from the tracks on the CD) by using the CD drive in a computer in conjunction with software, such as dBpoweramp, that's installed on that computer. It's only in the last few years that some hardware devices geared to audiophiles have come on the market which, while not being computers per se, do incorporate the ability to "rip" digital audio files from audio CDs, store and organize those files, and also play back the files. Naim Audio offers an entire product line of such devices. Their website is informative.

However, I suspect that all the Naim devices, as well as all the other comparable devices that are now on the market from other companies, are priced above $1,500. To stay in your price range, I doubt you'll get all the features you want in a single device -- but you can get close.

Sony is just bringing to market this month two devices (HAP-S1/B priced at $1,000 and HAP-Z1ES priced at $2,000) that look quite interesting. Other than the CD ripping part, I think they do pretty much everything else that you are looking for. The Oppo 105 at $1,200 is another excellent option in your price range provided you have a computer to do the CD ripping part and can store your resultant digital audio files either on that computer or on an external USB harddrive.
My system consists of MacMini with external 1TB drive, Apple Express (Wi-Fi receiver on my network), Benchmark DAC1 (D/A converter with volume control) and power amp. I rip CDs, using free "MAX", to ALAC format (Apple Lossless Audio Codec). I use Itunes to organize and play albums. As long as you send all the bits ("bit perfect") nothing on this side (computer, software etc.) makes any difference. Music data is sent in packets to wireless receiver (Airport Express) that recreates timing producing S/Pdif stream going into DAC. Up to this point music was just data thus had no timing but now it becomes digital music stream in S/Pdif format. It is important that bits in this stream are recognized in D/A converter in exact time intervals. Any uncertainty in time converts to noise on the analog side. It is called Jitter. Jitter at this point is the only thing that can affect sound. After conversion you get analog outputs of your DAC and connect to amplifier.

Reducing time jitter of the S/Pdif stream is the most important thing. You can achieve it by using good wireless receiver (Airport Express is not horrible but it is not great either), reclocker or jitter suppressing DAC (like my Benchmark DAC1). Reclocker, that you can install later, will give you better jitter suppression than DAC and will make you more flexible with your choice of DACs. Think of reclocker as buffer that corrects moments of transistions.

I don't use reclocker, happy with suppression of my Benchmark DAC1, but you can find few of them on the market. One of them is manufactured by Empirical Audio. Steve Nugend of Empirical Audio is very knowledgeable and active on this forum.

In spite of bits coming to DAC in exactly same intervals (no jitter) DAC itself might create jitter when noise is present since transtions from one level to another take time (uncertian threshold). Because of that you should use power supply filters and good shielding on the cables. My DAC has 3 switchable digital inputs. I have my CDP and TV connected to two others.
Thanks for your responses. In "C" I was trying to say, I want to be able to transfer my CD collection over to digital files.

As I explore more about this I can see that there are a number of different approaches taken by different manufacturers. Some products are all in one with storage, DAC, CD drive, digital music player and software in one unit. On the other hand there are many products that do only one or two of those functions.

So,,,If I have an external DAC and and external storage device then all I would need is the digital music player with a remote or use an Ipad. Then I could "rip" music from my CDs using my lap top. Am I getting closer here?
Lets make your life easier

1. do some browing on http://www.computeraudiophile.com/
if you are curious and a hobbyist PC builder
2. if not buy a spec system like the Carbon; with Jriver media player software and an external CD/DVD drive for ripping, that should get you well set up for least fuss at $1500

If you are Mac oriented you can buy a Mojo Audio set up Mac server for about $2300

http://shop.smallgreencomputer.com/CAPS-v3-Carbon-CAPS3-Carbon.htm

this all assumes you have the server connected via hardwire Ethernet to your wireless router so that you can Wifi control it with your mobile phone or an iPad.
For your budget I would recommend the following:

1) Oct 2009 Mac Mini with Snow Leopard disk, keyboard and mouse - upgrade with SSD and increase DRAM to 8gigs - total outlay $600 - buy it on ebay for details see:

http://www.empiricalaudio.com/computer-audio/recommended-systems

2) Amarra, Pure Music or Audirvana software - ~$74-300

3) upgrade power supply for the Mini from paulhynesdesign.com or equivalent - $800-900

4) good USB cable to go to a USB DAC or USB converter - $450

You do not rip CD's with your CD player. You rip them using XLD on the Mac Mini. IT has a slot drive. XLD is freeware.

This will beat 99% of servers out there, including Linn and Naim. You would have to spend at least $5K on a all-in-one server to beat this.

You never said whether you need digital source or analog source. If you are currently using your CD player left and right analog outs, then you will need a DAC. If you are using your CD as a digital transport, then you will need a USB to Coax digital converter. (USB converter) Big difference in cost.

The thing to understand is that the digital master clock is the most important thing in any digital system. This clock currently resides in your CD player, but must be located elsewhere for a computer audio system. The best place to locate it is in a USB converter, where you can have independent high-quality power supply. The USB converter can drive digital to your DAC, SS processor or Home theater receiver.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Winggo, yes you are getting closer! Be advised though that you should not have all your digital audio files in only one place. Keeping two copies in two different places is highly recommended by everyone. When I use my laptop's internal CD drive to rip a CD using dBpoweramp, I rip a FLAC copy to my laptop's harddrive as well as a WAV copy to an external USB drive. This gives me a backup of everything if one or the other of these drives should fail.

As for the DAC, you don't want to rely on the DAC built into your laptop's soundcard (quality just not good enough) so you are correct to be thinking in terms of needing some other DAC as part of your solution.

As for the "digital music player" you just need to be sure that you have a workable way (be it USB cable, Ethernet cable, or WiFi) for the device that performs the playback function to access your audio files from wherever you've stored those files. And as you've already gleaned your solution also needs some kind of visual interface (often an iPad) that allows you to browse your audio files wherever you've stored them and select the ones that you want the "digital music player" component to play.
What DAC are you planning to use?

My preference would be to just get a CAPS 3.0 build, and run JRiver and Jremote on iDevice for remote control. (Discaimer: I hate Mac)

You can buy them prebuild at smallgreencomputer, for around $1200.

If you want to spend more down the line you can run Dirac Live on the CAPS, and you can get external battery power.
i recommend
#1 a Dac , (I bought a Musical Fidelity M1 clic) on sale $499
#2 A usb to Spdif ConVerter (I purcahsed a Musical Fidelity V-Link2 ) open box for $79.00). Output to pre-amp or Ht receiver
#3 a pc with 500 gig to 2 Terabytes (you can get used or Refurbished for 100-500 depending on the parameters
#4 software such as Jrivermedia $49.00 to rip and play music. you can buy the jriver remote.
you can use Windows media player and buy a remote for it
-you can output video to your tv if it accepts pc input.
you can get good dacs for 200-5000
Pc for 100 and up
usb "a" to "b" cable and an optical or digital cable and you are set .
you can get all of this for less than $500 if you want ... just to start

DAC =$200
Usb to Spdif converter= $50+
PC =+100+
Window media Player =free
Cables $25+
"4) good USB cable to go to a USB DAC or USB converter - $450"

Steve,

Why so much for the USB cable? You don't have to sell me on the benefits of using good cables, but $450 seems a bit high when looking at the cost of the other components you recommend.
Right now I am using a Musical Fidelity V dac II. I am using my laptop as the source which is connected to the dac with a long USB cable running across the floor. I would like to get rid of all the clutter, and as I said, the PC leaves something to be desired as far as sound quality goes.

Sonos has a neat little unit that has a remote with a screen. I like the idea but I don't think the Sonos will handle HD files. Logitech also has the Sqeezebox Touch, but again not sure of the sound quality. Any opinions on these two products?

My laptop has a wireless connection to our modem. Is it possible for a server to also be wireless or does it neccessarily have to be hardwired for internet access? I would like the server to be able to access things like Pandora and also to be able to download music files direct from the internet.

Could someone explain more about this "clock" thing? It sounds like it is the heart of a digital system. Will a good DAC provide the "clock" or is it in the server?

I'm learning a little more everyday.
Sonos does not support hi-res files which is indicated as the first objective in the OP. Logitech no longer makes Squeezebox (and hasn't for some time) so why get in bed with yesterday's news? As for "is it possible for a server to also be wireless" the word 'server' is probably not the best choice here, I think the word 'player' would be better, but in any case, the answer is yes.
Winggo - Have you read my post?
Courage and patience.
Right now I am using a Musical Fidelity V dac II
This is a necessity. Unless your Dac has An "Asynchronous" usb input. It does make a world of difference (The v-link2 , which is what i use also ), versus the standard usb output to a Dac that does not have an Asynchronous input DAC
This is a really great thread. I just had the opportunity to listen to some 24/192 files at a speaker demo (ATC). Very nice!

I don't have any HD files like that yet, but I would like to move in that direction. I'm stuck with iTunes compatibility, as my wife uses iTunes extensively for her music, books, etc.

I look forward to watching the responses.

The one thing I could do to play the files is to add an eSata drive to my Oppo bdp-95, but the interface is clunky from what I've read. Plus, I have to figure out how to hook the eSata to my macbook pro (firewire to eSata?). I do also have the option of going into the Marantz AV8801. Or I could get a DAC, etc. as described above, or use Kijanki's suggestion. Hmmmm...
zd542 - Based on feedbacks from many customers and personal experience I have found that there are only a couple of really good neutral sounding USB cables. Unfortunately some of the best ones came from a designer that is not with us anymore, Lee Wieland. My customers tell me that the best cable is now the Revelation Dual-Conduit which is all silver and spendy.

Using Async USB, the theory says that the USB cable should not matter, but due to other factors such as RFI and common-mode noise, it still does.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
"Sonos has a neat little unit that has a remote with a screen. I like the idea but I don't think the Sonos will handle HD files. Logitech also has the Sqeezebox Touch, but again not sure of the sound quality. Any opinions on these two products?"

Sonos only supports up to 48kHz. Logitech Touch is much better stock and supports up to 96. Both can be improved to world-class performance levels by adding the Synchro-Mesh reclocker in-line, particularly if upgraded to use the Dynamo power supply. It does not matter which one you choose once you have the Synchro-Mesh. You can even use an iPod dock like the Pure i20 ($85 on Amazon).

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
"I don't have any HD files like that yet, but I would like to move in that direction. I'm stuck with iTunes compatibility"

You can still use iTunes as long as its on a Mac. Just combine with Amarra or Audirvana and you will have a great sounding player. Use XLD to rip to .wav for best results.

For PC, avoid iTunes at all cost for music playback. Get Jriver instead and maybe improve it by adding JPLAY. Rip CDs with dbpoweramp to .wav format for best results.

The MOST IMOPORTANT thing with digital audio is to minimize jitter from the digital source. The best way to do this is to reclock the datastream or use a good quality stand-alone Async USB converter like the Off-Ramp 5.

More tips:

http://www.empiricalaudio.com/computer-audio/

http://www.empiricalaudio.com/computer-audio/recommended-systems

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
BTW, I have a Sonos color LCD remote that I can sell you cheap. I don't use the remote anymore.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Progress Report:

I downloaded dbpoweramp on the 24th and spent part of the afternoon setting it up and ripping a couple of CDs. Using my laptop I played the files back through the V-dac-II. Then I played the CDs using my CD player. The sound through the CD player was much better than the sound through my laptop. I am not too supprised about that. Hopefully, when I get a good player/server the sound will improve.

This is where I am at right now: I will use my laptop to RIP my CDs. The next step is to get a player/server and storage device. Now all I need is to find a player/server that does what I what it to at a decent price.

Audioengr, If one buys a real good, high quality player/server will one still need the reclocker? Where is the reclocker located in the system?
"Audioengr, If one buys a real good, high quality player/server will one still need the reclocker? "

I'm afraid so, if you want it to be as good or better than your CD transport.

"Where is the reclocker located in the system?"

If you are using USB, then its a USB converter like the Off-Ramp 5, located between the computer USB output and the DAC coax input.

If you are using Sonos, Squeezebox, Apple TV or a digital docking station, then its a reclocker like the Synchro-Mesh, located between this source device coax output and the DAC coax input.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Steve, do you recommend use of a reclocker between disk player used as transport and DAC?
Yes. Unless you have a megabuck transport, the Synchro-Mesh reclocker will improve things. Particularly if you use the Dynamo power supply and my BNC cable.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
The Dell T5400 works pretty well as a server .($250.00on
Ebay) I am running JRivermedia. This 5400 has two dual core
2.66 gighz cpus. It will hold 8 gig of ram , but you need
to use windows 7 for it to recognize that much ram. My T5400
came with two 500 GIG SATA drives. It has a 970 watt
power supply. It will also run raid o,1,or 5 . Mine also
came with a ati 9250(I think ) with Vga out and S-video out
. I have it hooked to my Sony 55 inch TV. Theater mode works
great for large tvs on JRiver. I also downloaded and use the
Black on Black skin. Much easier on the eyes
Also i am using the Musical fidelity V-Link-2(a Usb to spdif
converter), which is not the best out there , but it isn't
the worst either. If you want good sound, you must use one
of these if your DAC does not offer Asynchronous USB input
I am running optical out of the V-Link to the optical input
of My Musical Fidelity M1 clic, then analog out to my pre.
It sounds pretty darn good. It has a lot more detail than my
Sony CDP-M555ES .Can be a little sharp if cranked up , but
it has pretty darn good bass , It could be better , but it
isn't bad. It just could be a little more prominent. It is
Taut and not at all Flabby.
I was able to get the M1 clic at a great price at Music
Direct (75 percent of off MSRP)
I would like to try the Arcam iRDAC.
Has anyone tried this DAC yet ?
Also curious to know if anyone uses the Digital Coaxial out
of the V-link instead of the optical out , and which you
like better.
"I don't have any HD files like that yet, but I would like to move in that direction. I'm stuck with iTunes compatibility"

You can still use iTunes as long as its on a Mac. Just combine with Amarra or Audirvana and you will have a great sounding player. Use XLD to rip to .wav for best results.

For PC, avoid iTunes at all cost for music playback. Get Jriver instead and maybe improve it by adding JPLAY. Rip CDs with dbpoweramp to .wav format for best results.

The MOST IMOPORTANT thing with digital audio is to minimize jitter from the digital source. The best way to do this is to reclock the datastream or use a good quality stand-alone Async USB converter like the Off-Ramp 5.

More tips:

www.empiricalaudio

Steve N.
Empirical Audio

Thanks, but it went over my head especially the stuff on your web page. Ouch I feel even less smart now.

I think I just stick with what I have for now. I really don't want to buy a stand alone DAC when I have pretty decent DACs in the Marantz AV8801 and the Oppo BDP-95. I'll just copy files to a USB drive and plug and play when I want to do critical listening. I'm not going to set up a music server at this time, mainly due to the cost of a DAC but also due to my ineptitude in this sort of thing.

Also, is it just me or does HDtracks not sell any singles (or very few)? Seems to be albums only. I'm not really interested in buying all my CDs again...
I'm not really interested in buying all my CDs again...

There are different reasons for using the server. I have only regular 16/44 CDs but storing them on computer Hard Drive allows me find them easily, set up playlists, become independent from the CD transport (often expensive and hard to replace). Backup HD keeps my music protected from theft fire etc. I can easily change music on my USB drive I use in the car.

Yes, it is complicated to set up right but we all learn new things in this crazy hobby.