I love my squeezebox but w/o a PC, check out The Music Vault. I'd grab one if not for already being set up.
13 responses Add your response
I have both the Squeezebox SB3 and Mac Mini. Both running into Bel Canto DAC3.
Mac Mini is a better source via a USB cable into DAC than is the SB3 via coax or optical cable into DAC3.
I had a Transporter on loan and I am pretty sure Mac Mini would beat that as well, when used as transport. I found the Transporter to be noisy in the background and lacking overall naturalness and musicality. It was easily distinguished when compared to my then cd player, Audio Research CD3MkII, in a matter of seconds. I used same balanced interconnects to compare - Acoustic Zen Silver Ref MkII. Not even close. Bel Canto DAC3 improved things for the Transporter and brought it closer to the ARC player, but still it was not that great.
I am pretty sure that after Esoteric player, Transporter would not cut it. Forget SB3 if you are serious.
IMO, the solution that comes close to a good CD player is a music server + a decent DAC. I am pretty happy with Mac Mini running into DAC3 via USB cable.
Mac Mini is affordable, external HDs are now cheap so storage should not be an issue. I have two 1TB drives - 1 main and 1 backup, rip music in AIFF format and there is still plenty of space left. Also, I am controlling Mac Mini via wi-fi from my Dell laptop or from my iPhone when just listening. It is super cool, convenient and easy to use, aside from the fact that the sound is just great.
FWIW, I am using the SB3 only to listen to internet radio now. Not using it to play music off the HD at all.
Also, we had compared Mac Mini with a dedicated hi-end CD transport. There was 3 of us taking turns listening, evaluating, commenting and taking notes and none of us could tell the cd transport via a $700 digital balanced interconnect apart from Mac Mini via USB cable.
When building your own server, you need to take a few things into consideration. Specifically, power usage and backup. A lot of folks re-task an old PC for server duty, set it up with linux and stick it in a closet: this can work really well. But if it runs 24/7, it surely consumes a lot of power when you're not actively using it.
Low power NAS units can be really green, but if you have a large song collection it can take a really long time to rescan your library, and response time might not be all you could want.
The other big issue is once you've ripped all your CD's to FLAC, you'll want to be able to back up your collection somewhere, preferably off-site (so when your apartment burns, you don't lose all your music). After ripping a couple thousand CD's you certainly won't want to go thru that again.
A couple other things. The coming trend is to high-res downloads, which means you'd like to have a player that will natively play higher bit rate, such as 192kbit recordings. If you look at Logitech, for instance, right now the Squeezebox won't do that, but the Transporter will. But it's a lot more bucks. If you run off your server or a Mac Mini, you'll need something like the Hagtech USB to digital converter, to convert the output to something you can feed into a high-quality DAC.
Lots of good info on the AA computer audio forum. You can also learn a lot by hanging out on the Logitech user forums.
Of course, you can purchase turnkey systems as well, and if you are not a computer geek, that might be a better solution.
Acurus, I haven't heard the Wadia 521. I think with the proper dac, you can equal (perhaps better) the sound of the X03 SE. Expensive, but sure that the D05 or D03 would get you there. Also have heard that the Berkley Dac is a must listen. My Benchmark is pretty good, but not near the Esoteric. I am tempted to upgrade the Benchmark, but just can't justify. When I want to be blown away, it's the Esoteric or vinyl.
Ok, what about the music vault? If I run out of that into a DAC, using USB converter to something like Wadia 521.....maybe that would get me there. I think the real bottleneck would be the interface between the server and DAC. If I Use squeeze, I will have to use something like the Duet and its digital output, if I use iTunes, I think I could run directly out of the server? Thoughts?
Interesting Thread... I'm also wanting to upgrade in this area. I'm mostly into vinyl but have a few hundred CD's and also close to 100 albums as FLAC files. I'm currently using a Denon 2910 universal player.
I have been looking at several CD players like the Cambridge and Rega units but also thought that a music server may be better. I was looking at a self-contained unit like the Escient Fireball MX-111, and just storing the music on the internal hard drive. Single room into 1 system.
How does this type of server compare to what you are doing?
My guess is that when you get into the Escient, Request, Kalediscape stuff it is more you are buying the software that these companies sell. Which limits you to what you can do. Thats why I am considering either building my own or getting a music vault that will run the Squeeze software or iTunes, both which offer excellent interfaces, multiple room capability and commonality.
Other than that, I can't see any real reason to get a prepared box with proprietary software as it will pidgeon-hole you.
Acurus, I do feel that if you use a PC, you need to keep it out of the sound room, if you wish to approach X03SE levels. PC's are pretty noisy, unless you go for a fanless, flash memory type computer. The squeeze box (or other options) allows you to keep the PC in the home office and with a really great dac (in the sound room), you're there, with alot more convenience. I do have a Shunyata Power Cord on my 'puter and am currently playing with isolation devices under the computer and external hard drive.