Which way to go to built a music server??

Hi Guys,

may I ask you for your opinions on how to best set up a music server? I am currently exploring a few different ways and anyone of them does have its weaknesses.
Obviously I have yo get a DAC which is fact. I am looking into a few and at the end it is a matter of how much money I want to spend. The main issue is how to feed the DAC! All my files are Apple Lossless.
I use Martin Logan Odyssey speaker, Krell FPB 450 monos, a KCT pre-amp all with Crystal cables.

The ways I am thinking of are:

1) Use Apple Airport express and connect APExpress via Toslink cable (with mini jack adapter on one end) to the DAC to get the digital signal into the DAC. Would be the cheapest because I do have the cable, the APExpress and an iPod touch to control iTunes via remote on the WiFi network.

2) Use Squeezebox Duett and get the digital signal also wirelessly from the Server and feed into DAC via interconnect (RCA or XLR etc). Digital files is coming in via WiFi and there might be some disturbance especially during rainy days and thunderstorms.

3) Get a SlimDevice Transporter which is a DAC and a Squeezebox in one unit. (I have to buy in US no one carries in Singapore as far as I know). Saves me to buy the DAC and the Squeezebox but in case of any warranty issue I face problems. Still the signal travels via WiFi....

4) Get the Wadia i170 dock and get the digital signal out of my 160 GB iPod Classic into the DAC via interconnects. Safe way to get the digital signal transferred to the DAC but choosing songs is not so easy because I cannot see the small iPod display from my listening position. Even a small monitor does not help because Wadia transport does not transmit the UI to the monitor.

5) Get an iMac (is cheaper than the Mac mini with display) place it on the rack (I do have the space) and use the iMac as a server. Via front row I can choose songs and browse the library. The DAC will be connected via USB to the iMac 20" and the digital files are streamed into the DAC. This is a more expansive solution but solves most of the issues. I can watch TV series from iTunes store, browse the iTunes library (and see everything also from a distance) and feed the DAC directly via a cable.

Now the question is what is the best way for the sound? I could not find much info in regards to USB connections? I am in favour of solution 5 with the iMac due to its versatility (can use the iMac also for other things when not streaming music)

-Are there improved USB cables available or only the of the shelves ones?
-Is a USB connection better than an optical or RCA connection for the digital signal?
-does the wireless streaming of a digital signal has any impact on the final sound?
-Should I pump more money into the DAC or into the server (iMac or Transporter or Squeezebox)?

Finally I am keen to hear your opinions about the DAC's I am looking at and how they would rate with the above in mind:

Cambridge DacMagic

Wadia 521 (no USB port - means have to use Toslink cable with mini-jack adapter to get the digital signal - but that connection could spoil the sound of which the Wadia should be capable of and renders the higher investment useless compare to a cheaper USB DAC)

Aprilmusic Stello DA 200MKII

Benchmark DAC 1 USB

Slim Device Transporter

Thanks for your comments and helping me to reduce my confusion.

Best regards

I use option #2, using a Squeezebox that's hard-wired to my house's ethernet network. I use a Linux server that runs the Slimserver software, and make backups to an NAS. One major advantage to the Squeezebox/Transporter route is that the software works on multiple operating systems (Mac OS X, Linux, and Windows), and also works with iTunes. I recently added another Squeezebox for another system and it took about 2 minutes to set up and start using. I can control each Squeezebox independently, and it works great. I use a California Audio Labs DAC connected to the Squeezebox and the sound is great.

I imagine that the iMac solution would be good, too. (I own an iMac, and it's a wonderful machine, and certainly is quiet enough to have in your rack.) The iMac has an optical digital out, and also has built-in wireless and wired network capabilities.

Good luck,

None of these WiFi devices will compete with a good transport unless they are reclocked. After reclocking, they are all about the same. In stock form, the Duet probably has the lowest jitter.
I use a modified SB 2 directly into my preamp. This mod was done by RedWIne Audio with the analog upgrade. I think the upgraded internal DAC is competative with any reasonably priced external DAC. RWA doesn't do these upgrades anymore but Bolder Cable does do a similar but I think more extensive set of mods ala cart. The power supply upgrade is also key. With these mods, I think the sb 3 will perform way above a similar priced CDP
Use Apple Airport express and connect APExpress via Toslink cable (with mini jack adapter on one end) to the DAC to get the digital signal into the DAC. Would be the cheapest because I do have the cable, the APExpress and an iPod touch to control iTunes via remote on the WiFi network.

As a first step in your process I would try that into a Benchmark DAC1 and A/B it very carefully against your high end CDP (in order to A/B you need matched volume levels with an SPL meter and probably need to spend extensive time listening to at least 20 or 30 different tracks). I use a remote to switch so that I do not change listening position (which can be a huge problem when evaluating)...pretty much all my purchases have relied on careful A/B with switching hundreds if not thousands of times. If you buy from a reputable place with a good return policy then you can probably play with the DAC for a month and satisfy yourself it is doing what it should (if it doesn't work to your satisfacion then simply return it at no cost to you)
The Squeezebox includes a DAC. The one in the Transporter is better, but there is one in the SB. You can take digital out from it into a DAC or analog out directly to your preamp.

If you have other Macs in the house, you can run the Mini "headless" by using screen sharing. This is what I'm doing, so the Mini in my audio rack has no monitor or mouse and keyboard attached.

There is definitely a difference between Toslink cables. I'm told USB cables also vary.
My route is the Mac Mini to a Wavelength Crimson Dac via a short USB cable and it is superb. Can't speak to the other options mentioned, but do believe a good USB dac is hard to beat. I can control iTunes from either my iTouch or on my laptop via Chicken of the VNC. Fantastic! Having owned the Brick, and the Cosecant (still do) I believe all the Wavelength dacs do a stellar job at their respective price-points. A better quality USB cable does matter.
Decide what level of fidelity and "sound characteristics" you want and choose the DAC first - that will help define the rest of your solution.

I personally enjoy the Transporter (uses a "Miracle" DAC) and people rave about the ModWright Transporter. I heard it briefly at the Rocky Mountain Audio Festival a couple weeks back and found it almost as nice to listen to as a great turntable. That would keep things simple and provide shortest signal path (and fewest cables).

If you go with a computer solution, I haven't heard better than the Wavelenght asynchronous DACs. They have a special USB connection that allows the DAC clock to run the digital stream instead of the computer and the resultant reduction in jitter helps significantly. At the RMAF two weeks ago, this was the "affordable" room I thought sounded best and most of it traced back to the asynchronous DAC in my opinion.

For USB cables, Kimber makes a great bang for the buck cable (about $50 US for a 6 foot). Lengths over 15 feet (where USB signal degradation becomes problematic) get extremely expensive. With a computer solution, definitely use USB as most optical or coax adapters on computers are compromised at best (and expensive to do well).

Wireless transmission of data files has no impact on the sound. In the computer realm of data, bits are bits. Fidelity is impacted when a) the file is transformed into a digital music stream (accurate?), b) when that stream is transported to the DAC (jitter?), c) during the D/A conversion process (more jitter), and d) any subsequent transporting of the analog signal to your amplifier (coloration, distortion). The conventional wisdom of "shortest path being the best" is almost always true with Hi-Fi, and this is no exception.

My advice to most people is this; if you like toys and fiddling with stuff, do a computer oriented setup and have fun with it. If all you care about is ease of use and good fidelity, get a Transporter (ModWright if you can swing it) and be done with it.

Finally, be aware that there are many high end hardware makers entering this sector in the very near future. I saw the new PS Audio DAC a couple of weeks ago that uses I2S for data transport and that has potential to be a real game changer if others follow suit.

Good luck, and enjoy!
Sounds like you want to go with #5. That is what I would choose. I use that same basic setup except with a Mac mini. I also use a laptop with Chicken of the VNC as well as an iphone for remote control. It has worked pretty much flawless for almost 3 years now. I have a 1.5TB library of files ripped in Apple lossless. Remote control with the iphone or ipod touch is to cool.

As far as DACs go, I will strongly recommend the MHDT labs Paradisea +. This is a USB DAC as well it has toslink and SPDIF inputs. This is a super sounding DAC for 550.00 new. I had a 3500 Wavelength Cosecant and this one sounds better. In fact I will go as far as to say it sounds better than any digital I have ever owned including the Audio Aero Capitole MK 2, Ayre D1-Xe and Wadia 860X. It is truly a bargain.

Yes USB cords do make an impact on the sound. I am currently auditioning a Ridge Street Audio Poiema USB cord. I haven't formed a conclusive opinion on it yet, but I can say that it sounds very different from the one that came with my Cosecant.

thanks all of you for the detailed replies! Love this forum....

For time being I am auditioning an Aqvox DAC. Have connected my MacPro via USB cable to the DAC and control the set -up with the Apple remote control via Front Row.

Compared to Airport Express and it is a huge difference in sound especially the sound stage and clarity is better via USB connection. May be it is also due to the fact that I can only get the digital signal out of the AirportExpress with a Tosling-minijack adapter cable.

In terms of comparing wireless and wired data transmission - I now guess that a direct connection via cable is better. On USB the computer sends packets of data which are "unpacked" at the receiving end (DAC). For wireless the data is transformed/encrypted which means additional "handling" of the bits. Whether this really effects sound - I am not so sure - because if bits and bytes are effected then also any file send via wireless should have some losses (means grainy pictures, missing letters in emails and so on). I believe the main problem is the WiFi Network strength and the Tosling cable with minijack adapter. Had quite ba number of drop outs yesterday due to a thunderstorm. If heavy rain or thunderstorm my WiFi is badly effected. With sunshine no drop out at all.

Thanks also for the hint on the cable for the USB - but I do not subscribe to that in terms of sound. Good connectors and may be a shielding are good to protect the signal from loosing bits and parts of the packets. But the influence on sound (coloration) I really doubt that. I checked another thread on Audiogon regarding the USB cable issue and most are stating no difference at all. One guy even wrote a hilarious satirical post about his Wonder USB cable.

Fact is I will not use wireless which means I have to choose my DAC carefully and then decide whether I shall go for a Mac Mini (thanks for the tip with the screen sharing) or the iMac.

I looked at Chord (QBD 76) a beautiful DAC with USB port but at 5 times the price of the Aqvox (same league as Benchmark, Lavry...). Shall try to audition that one as well and find out whether it can be 5 times better in sound ;-)



If you read carefully most everyone who says USB cables don't have an impact on sound haven't heard one, they are just going on theory, which is really stupid. There aren't very many available yet which is why we aren't able to discuss openly what they do and don't do. From the guys I've talked to as well as myself who have actually compared them the consensus is they do have a big impact on the sound

got the point and I shall try it myself in my system. Just to find a good USB cable here in Singapore that might be a challenge.


It is my understanding that USB cables going from an external hardrive(where i have my WAV files stored) into my PC do not make a difference. I am using a pretty high end sound card with a break out box that has a built in DAC. Is this a correct assumption, or should i be auditioning USB cables for this application to improve sonics? I am a firm believer in cables making a significant improvement but when it comes to USB cables there seems to be a large controversy. I have read nothing about USB cables improving sound quality for the application i am mentioning here but if anyone can tell me otherwise i am all ears. Thanks
I've recently purchased a mac mini and find myself in the same boat as yourself.
There is a sixth way, Active monitors and a mac/pc with either usb or toshlink connection. Apparently a combo of mac mini and avi 9.1 + sub will demolish all systems under $10000. Very favourable ratings from users.

Here's a decent site with lots of info reference server configurations, systems and software:

As for the chord qbd 76, I heard it at a show recently, via its wireless bluetooth connection. Seriously impressive.
i'm trying to audition this at home against a weiss and arc dac7. and will get a pair of 9.1's for comparison too.


I am only refering to the USB cord between the computer and USB dac. I have no idea if the cord to the hard drive changes things or not, never tried it.
there is no reason to go with another route than the airport express. if you are using a mac (or heaven help you if a pc), all you need is to get the signal from the mac which the APExpress does. most people go into a dac from a mac/pc or from the APEpress units. don't do it, you will not be getting the most out of your system. use a toslink from the mac or APExpress unit into a jitter reduction box. the toslink will connection will guarantee that you will not be inducing any current from your source to the jitter device. then from the jitter device, use a good quality digital coax cable into a good dac. don't mess around with usb hookups until they make a good sounding dac that uses usb (the only dac that looks promising is the new audio research dac 7 i heard at rmaf). also by using the jitter device, it allows you to pick the dac that you like and can afford and use the cable that the dac will accept.