What do I need to use my PC as a music server

Should I buy an external hard drive at least 300 GB. Then what, Install a program like Itunes to organize. Does Itunes also convert your CD's as well as anything you might download from the internet to the hard drive? How do I get the music from the hard drive to the Pre amp? From what Ive been reading using a sound card isn't the best way. My pre amp is not digital, it is a MCintosh C39, analog connections only. I'm starting from scratch so maybe some suggestions on what I will need. I went to comp USA for some help and they told to use creative sound blaster to go from PC to pre amp. If someone can tell me what I'll need by product name (so I know what to look for) I can see what the cost will be and if it will be worth it. I read that the sound from the hard drive to the Pre amp rivals that of a CD player in the 5K to 10K range. I know that some manufacturers are starting to make music servers, is using your PC cheaper, better or both?
In a world where computers are pretty easy to understand, I have a hard time seeing the role of dedicated music servers. Frankly, the lack of expandability in most would be enough to drive me away. I also tend to think the price/performance ratio is pretty lousy. So, I think it makes sense to build your own.

I'd say my computer rig is on par cost-wise with high end music centers--a Serener ITX fanless PC ($700?), a Viewsonic touchscreen Airpanel ($1K), a Waveterminal U24 ($250) USB audio device, and a 1TB terastation ($1K)--but it performs a *lot* better. Haven't seen any MC devices with RAID5 or USB based audio. My computer rig only outputs digital, however, so if you throw in my dCS stack, I'm out of any server price range by far. That said...

First, getting from the computer to the stereo. I, and I think many other PC audio buffs around here, prefer outboard USB-based audio devices to sound cards. This kind of thing allows you to reserve the computer for purely digital things, things it does well. Most USB devices, like the M-Audio Transit, will have a toslink or coax connection to allow you to hook the computer up to a DAC.

Since you don't even have a DAC, one option you may want to consider is a DAC that has a USB input--I think if you search the threads, you will find several recommendations.

Another alternative is going the Apple Airport route. Some folks have had good luck using an Airport Express, which is normally a Wi-Fi access point, to serve as a wireless connection to your DAC--the AE has an output that can be plugged in directly. This set up would then require an Apple laptop to talk to the AE and feed it music.

How much disk space is going to be influenced by whether you compress your music or not, and if you do, whether you use algorithms that compress it a lot and lose something (lossy compression), or compress just a little and retain everything (lossless compression). The other important factor to consider in selecting a scheme for storing music is whether you want tags (I assume the answer is yes)--allows you to see album/artist/genre/etc even if you copy the file somewhere else. A format like WAV does not support tagging.

-- Examples of uncompressed formats include WAV and AIFF.

-- Examples of lossless compression formations include FLAC and Apple Lossless.

-- Examples of lossy compression include AAC, MP3.

For comparison, I find ripping a CD averages 450 MB of WAV files. Those files compress to about 250 MB of Apple Lossless files. Those files also compress to about 25 MH of AAC 128 files. So, if I want to store 1000 CDs in WAV format, I'm looking at needed 450GB of disk space, 250GB for the same as ALAC, and 25GB for AAC.

You may also want to consider some back up plan. Ripping all your CDs is timeconsuming. You don't want to do it again. I tried just doubling the number of external USB drives I used, but still had major problems. Now I run RAID 5 systems, which spread data across multiple disks in a manner that allows data recovery if one drive blows up. I'm still screwed if two drives go up in smoke. Then again, my RAID 5 gives me storage of about 700 MB with 1000MB of raw drive space.

Now you have to get your music from the CD to the hard drive. Yes, if you use iTunes, it will perform the ripping function (and actually does it pretty well, from what I've heard). I use EAC, which is the only program I know will verify data--I've been told the J River Media Center ripper also works like EAC. But EAC is free. I actually use EAC configured to call iTunes as an encoder, so the output I get from EAC is a bunch of Apple Lossless files. EAC, iTunes, and JRMC will all look up the CD and supply track/title/artist information as well from Gracenote's CDDB database.

I also use iTunes for playback. I'm less a fan of iTunes than most, but more of a fan of iTunes than, say, foobar 2000. iTunes is like the pretty, but kind of stupid girl. Foobar is like the slightly odd girl who happens to be able to do almost everything. Foobar also has a built in upsampler (SRC) that is supposed to be good if your DAC can handle more than 16/44.1 kHz data.

While I pretty much totally agree with you... some subtle things..

You say:

Airport Express, which is normally a Wi-Fi access point, to serve as a wireless
connection to your DAC--the AE has an output that can be plugged in
directly. This set up would then require an Apple laptop to talk to the AE and
feed it music.

Not true, you can set it up to run as a client from any wireless router/
computer. Though I use all MAC gear, my router is a D-Link and I can control
my music from the girls PC... if I were ever so inclined.

iTunes does have error correction in the advanced panel of your
preferences... I do not know if it is as good as EAC, but being a MAC guy, I
may never know.

I couldn't agree with you more on backing up the data!!! Took me over a
month to burn my music in AIFF and to be honest, I'm not truly done.... And I
don't yet have my backup drive.... guess I need to get shopping..

FWIW I go the wireless route, and only rarely get drop outs, I am (currently)
limited to an optical digital out, but Steve @ Empirical Audio should have his
modded AE out soon....
kennyt, i was looking at the airport express and i was told at the MAC store that it would only work with macintosh computers. for my pc, i use a usb DAC setup that plugs into my jolida tube amp. i was using wireless transmission for a while and had to go to 802.11a to eliminate the dropouts.
Get a Mac with a decent harddisc-I'd recomend the iMac with the 20" screen! You will have all the software you need (iTunes!) and you will even have your remote to control the whole affair! Get Airport Express to stream your library wireless to your stereo and you're set. It's not necessarily High End (yet pretty good!) but there hardly is any "server" which is. Plus this design is a gem in your living room and you don't want to hide the ugly PC-box somewhere behind something!
Bodine, please describe the PC and stereo system you now have. That will provide a starting point. As much as I love Macs, you can start with an existing PC and upgrade it to perform as a viable hifi digital transport. If you can also describe the type of music you listen to, and the sound from your system that you prefer, that would help in coming up with recommendations for a good DAC to connect to your McIntosh C39.

Apple is notorious for saying that! I called my local Apple store to find out how to connect it to my D-Link router and the guy told me it couldn't be done. I then went into the store and spoke to one of the guys who told me how to do it in a minute. As much as I like my MAC's, they are seperatists.... I have had a hard time getting them to give me any helpful info when it comes to interfacing with other systems.... They told me to buy the $250 Airport Express BS... yeah right when every other 802.11 G router is $30 in the paper!

I did also manage to finally get them to tell me how to reset the AE to factory default which makes it much easier to reconfigure.

I fortunately don't have to bad a problem with drop out.... if I could I would hard wire, but it would be a long run, and it is really used for convienence so I tolerate the occasional drop out.
Right now a have a Mcintosh C39 Pre Amp, Powered by a Mcintosh MC352, using Infinite Slope speakers. Right now I only use stereo mode. The computer is a Dell, I don't know the series off hand. I would have to buy an external hard drive to rip my cd's to, any suggestions. Right now I'd like to use the computer I have. If I do chose to go the IMAC in the future can my hard drive that I will be saving my music on be supported by the IMAC? Can the external hard drive be used in both the MAC and PC?
If you use an USB2 external it will work on any computer. I'd suggest a firewire external (simply better) and the iMac.
My recollection is that most USB drives are Mac and PC compatible, but I'm not sure that means they can be swapped willy-nilly between the two. The NAS boxes are safe though, since they are intended to be network file servers. I know I used to access both my Dell Powervault 645N and my Buffalo terastation from both Mac and PC platforms.
Hmm... Aida_w, even Apple (the original firewire cheerleader) is moving away from that to USB--my understanding (could be wrong and too lazy to look it up) is that the new Macs don't even come with firewire. USB2.0 may be better for long term compatibility. Might want to look at the new Mac I/O options before going there if you intend to keep the drive for a while. (Then again, drives seem to be disposable these days.)
Bodine, It should be easy to purchase a hard drive that will work with PCs and Macs. Macs can read the MS-DOS (Windows) File System, or FAT32. However, if you were to eventually move to a strictly Mac platform, if I were you I'd reformat the drive to Mac OS Extended format for slightly greater reliability. If you are going to buy a second drive for backup purposes, this conversion and attendant file copying would be easy to do. Another approach, if you know you'll be migrating to Mac, would be to use MediaFour's MacDrive 6, which lets PCs use the Mac OS file format.

Edesilva, the new Intel iMac G5 has same ports as its predecessor, including Firewire 400. Apple saves Firewire 800 for the PowerMac. There has been speculation about the future of Firewire, but I think it hasn't gone beyond speculation. USB2 is plenty good for regular folks for now, but soon enough people will "need" Firewire 800 or an equivalent.

Kennyt, it does not seem you should have to tolerate any dropout with the Airport Express. Do you have iTunes' streaming buffer size set to large? I'd look for a solution to this.

I had it set to medium, I will try it on large and see if it makes a difference. FWIW I don't have a big issue with dropouts as is, but they do come once and a while particularly when several computers are sharing the router..
To back up what I Put on one hard drive, I'll need a second hard drive, is this correct. If so is it easy to do?
Yes, that's correct, Bodine, a separate hard drive for backup. To be super safe, you could keep the backup offsite somewhere when you aren't actually performing backup operations. I don't do that, but...can't argue with the concept. You can perform backups by just copying files from one drive to the other in Windows or whatever OS you're using. Or, you can use special backup software. Can be a little fiddly to set up, but when you run it, it will automatically figure out what's changed since the last backup and then back up accordingly. I use SuperDuper! and Retrospect Express on my Macs...don't know what's available on PC side but no doubt plenty.
I use this, http://www.xitel.com/product_phfl.htm , to move music from a PC to a sound system. The Xitel Pro offers digital hookup which is nice for a 60' run to a DAC with no voltage drop. My ARC converter handles three inputs, so one can be from the computer, one for a Fostex CD recorder and one for a Sony ES CD player. I haven't gone to an additional hard drive for storage.

Itunes will convert your CD's and downloads from eMusic, but not convert from Napster. Look at Napster for downloaded playlists, your or theirs, that are included in your monthly subscription.

The Napster mentioned is not file sharing, it's purchase or download, and it's a huge resource.
There are two kinds of software used for this. All you really need to do is "Synch" your primary and your backup folder based on date. What this means is that the application will compare the directories of the two hard drives and then copy only the files added since the last update. This is much easier to set up and the software is generally less expensive
Wagzel, the xitel looks interesting as an option, although I'm leery of anything that "bundles" 30 feet of three different kinds of interconnects. Do you know if it maintains the 44.1 kHz sampling rate like the M-Audio and Waveterminal, or converts to 48 kHz like the Edirols and some others?

Back when I used a M-Audio with a long stretch between the PC and the DAC, I found substantially better sound using a long USB run (using USB repeater cables, not standard USB cables) and a short coax run instead of a short USB run and long coax run. Don't know how yours is set up, but if its the latter, you may want to experiment.
I'm pretty happy with my setup. Have looked at a ton of options and this particular arrangement meets a variety of important needs for me - scalable, flexible, uncompromised music quality, value quotient, convenience.

- CDs ripped to FLAC (and MP3 VBR ~256) using EAC/AccurateRip/MAREO. FLAC for home audio, MP3 for portable. 600 CDs now put happily out of sight in a closet as archive.

- Linksys NSLU2 network storage link for USB2 hard drives. Two 300GB hard drives connected - one for primary use and second one for nightly backup. This device is extremely handy, very inexpensive, and does the job, although I have to admit that overall quality is less than I'd like; glitchy, counter-intuitive firmware, and low-spec'd hardware, but: once setup it's stable and does what it needs to do reliably.

- SlimDevices Squeezebox3 music player. High audio quality, great design, great concept, versatile, and growable to whole-house audio.

running into:

- Audio Note DAC, then into the receiver (HT 7.1; the system also serves as the family HT)

Since setting this up I've listened to more of my music collection than I've listened to in years. Quality-wise, even with a cheap-ola receiver and speakers, hands-down beats my old mid-grade (denon/nakamichi/linn/b&o) stereo system. A pleasure to listen to and even more of a pleasure, fun actually, to use.

Have a set of Amphion speakers on the way, and eventually I'll pull the trigger on something like the Outlaw or Rotel HT separates.

I am VERY happy with this whole setup. Only drawback might be, for some, that one computer in the house needs to act as the server to which the Squeezebox connects. I don't personally find this to be a problem. This system doesn't need to be particularly robust, an older unused computer or laptop would do fine.