Why a digital media player instead of a dedicated computer?


I’ve been trying for some time now to better understand the value of adding a digital media player to one’s system. This is of interest to me because I listen to music entirely from high-resolution digital files. I keep reading glowing reviews of digital players like the Bryston BDP-2 but I must be missing something, because if you have a computer and a good piece of software I fail to see what the media player adds to the equation. But if there is some kind of advantage to be had, I’d like to know!

I currently store all my high-resolution music files on an external hard drive, which I then connect to a dedicated Macbook Pro running Audirvana Plus. The Macbook outputs the files to an external DAC via USB, then on to my preamp and the rest of my system. I’ve been very satisfied with this arrangement, and it can handle almost any type of file I throw at it, from 16/44.4 to DSD 5.6.

Other than being able to control the playback wirelessly, what would be the advantages, if any, of using a digital media player instead of a dedicated laptop? Is there any sonic improvement to be had over my current arrangement? Or is this simply a matter of convenience and not having to tie up a computer in my music system?

Thanks!
zm
I'm not sure why this computer has to be dedicated.  Using computer for other chores might affect USB timing, that is irrelevant if you use asynchronous USB DAC.


Because standard computers use large amounts of electricity and generate large amounts of noise. Many processes running on your computer degrade sound quality of the signal that you send to your DAC. RFI and grounding issues only complicate matters.

Single purpose low power devices, especially those running smaller operating systems(.e.g. Linux) tackle some of the problems. If your music is stored on a network drive in another room and connected by ethernet you also get galvanic isolation resulting in lower noise floor.
IMHE, getting rid of Audirvana+ was a big improvement in stability and improved user experience.  

The main reason to stick with a regular computer is if you want to run HQ Player and do upsampling to quad DSD or do DSP equalization.

There is another computer and audiophile related site where plenty of folks more expert than me cover these topics in gory detail daily. I'd suggest reading there too, although many of those folks don't have too much experience with audio gear once it gets converted back to analog. Cheers,
Spencer
When you use asynchronous USB you don’t transfer music but data. Timing is created inside of USB DAC. For that reason computer speed, amount of RAM or even playback program are unimportant as long as it delivers required resolution and does not do any processing, like upsampling. It is also not important if you run other programs at the same time (it does not have to be dedicated computer). With S/Pdif connection (Toslink or coax) situation is different. Different programs, computer speed or amount of RAM can affect timing that originates in computer resulting in noise added to music.

Electrical noise produced by computer is always unwanted and it should be minimized, by placing computer away form the audio system, plugged to different outlet (another phase if possible). Ideal USB cable would have good shielding and would be missing power wires. Power line filter for the audio can also help.


The main reason to stick with computer, at least to me, is convenience.

I use a computer, but many people (reviewers and users) have recently commented that dedicated music servers can sound better than computers.  It's plausible.  The downside is that these dedicated computers are relatively expensive.
A ready-made media player makes sense if you aren’t computer savvy. Setting up a cutting-edge computer solution can be quite challenging for the casual computer user even with assistance from a competent tech. Such a setup is highly tweaky and may consist of diy dual low-power fanless PCs with high quality usb cards, high-end sata cables, low latency memory, individual linear/battery PSUs for cpu, SSD, sound card plus emi/rfi shielding, vibration control and other measures. Some also utilize additional extreme software measures to reduce noise and jitter by eliminating or tweaking processes by using Windows Server 2012 os in core mode (i.e. no GUI), Jplay for streaming and rendering, Audiophile Optimizer and Fidelizer, Process Lasso, etc. The advantage is that such a setup can be very cheaply accomplished, be continuously upgraded and I have heard several that competes with world class analog setups. However, I’d never recommend such a setup to the casual user.
hew, although I've been in computers since 1959, the new operating systems require too much use of symbols and placement that I find counterintuitive to want to bother, I have learned enough to have a music server running JRiver MC-21 with the onboard computer with absolute minimal things other than playing the music. This achieves the lowest latency and the best music.

I had used a Mac Mini prior to this but this is clearly better.

I do wish those who do these programs were to include some intuitive symbols and locations for finding them.
I've been playing around with "audio" computers for a few years.

hew nailed it......
by using Windows Server 2012 os in core mode (i.e. no GUI), Jplay for streaming and rendering, Audiophile Optimizer and Fidelizer, Process Lasso, etc.

I really wish there was a streamer available today I thought delivered good value and features. 

The Auralic Aries mini for instance is very close, but offers no Android support, and I honestly don't think they'll ever commit to Android. 

Everything else is a combination of too expensive for the value, software I don't like or again, iPhone only. 

I'm using an 8 year old Logitech Squeezebox Touch with a linear supply and no one is prying it away from me. I like how it works, there is active open source development for phone clients as well as the media server part of it. They just added DSD streaming and the AMD A10 based server does other things for me such as games. Now there are also SB emulators ( SqueezeLite ) which let's me turn any PC or old Android device into a Squeezebox.

Honestly media servers have regressed in my mind. It's a decade after the SB and prices are still at the $2,000 level or higher without reaching the level of software maturity and features of the SB. Get the Aries into the $500 range with Android support and then I'll be less cynical. :) 
@tbg There is something inherently wrong with UI designers of JRiver and MediaMonkey.  Very little works as I wold expect it or obfuscates file location and data in such a way as I'm constantly left groping to understand what files I'm working on, listening to or re-tagging. 

Your not alone. 

Erik
Erik I still use squeeze system but also have found plex to be a very good value streaming system. With very good sound that runs on most all common devices.   Not perfect but works well.  
Erik- I loved my Modwright Logitech Transporter but the display is dead and my understanding is that replacements are not available, at least from Logitech.  That's the problem w dedictated servers which typically have proprietary parts or software. That's why I have upgraded my PC-based server/computer (Sound Science Music Vault) to one of the very low rpm fan models and installed it directly in my system.  

Should protect me from having another $3K boat anchor.  Of course if you know of source for a replacement display, I'd love to know about it.  
@swampwalker Sorry I do not, however used or NOS Squeezeboxes do come up for sale on Audiogon and Ebay with some frequency.

I have been seeing NOS Transporters I was tempted to pick up, but with USB 2.0 outputs becoming standardized, a Touch is a better option. You can now convert the Touch USB output to 2.0 Asynch output and work with any DAC that supports driverless Mac/Linux installation.

Also, now they supposedly support DSD as well, with the latest LMS 7.9 builds. So I’m really really not motivated to move except to a PC. I’m getting a Mytek this week so I’ll let you know how it works.

Best,

Erik
@mapman I did too, but after trying and failing to get my ARC DAC 8 to sound as good as it did in the store I have come to the conclusion that despite the reasonably good Stereophile measurements it was not working as well as I would like.

I strongly recommend either using it with a USB 2.0 DAC, or getting the Wyred4Sound Remedy. 

I'm using the Remedy, but I have a Mytek in the mail. ;) Now I'll have all that plus DSD and MQA.

We'll see!


Erik
Just to be clear, I am moving away from the SB Touch, but keeping the Logitech Media Server (LMS) infrastructure. I'll be using that with Squeezelite to drive my new DAC via USB 2.0 directly.  Yahoo! :)

Erik
I'm sticking to a 'puter, but planning to return to a dedicated one.  I've a Cooler Master low-profile case that can hold a micro ATX board, 2 CD drives if I opt for that, and has enough space for a pair of terabyte drives.  The plan is to have it do nothing But a media hub for music files and the cards and programs for it to accomplish that and some other activities that a media server can't do.
I set about doing that with it some 15 yrs. ago, but 'real life concerns' interrupted the project.  There's more and better now to accomplish that project.  And everything runs faster now, which only makes what can be done now possible.  That wasn't the case, not so long ago...
Thanks for your helpful responses, all.  Doesn't seem like a digital media player is anywhere in my future!
I have used a Logitech Duet then the Touch, and recently pulled a HP Xeon computer out of the trash!  The benefits of condo living!
I put Daphile on USB memory stick and put a 1TB drive in it with my music.  It sounds much better than my Touch. Now  I don't know if this is do to the parts in this computer, since it was a $2k computer 4 years ago or because it is set up right next to my Dac.  The Touch was also next to my dac but was connected to my computer with a 50 foot Ethernet cable.  If you have an old computer laying around and know how to get in the bios, you can run Daphile pretty easily, and it's free.  Worth a shot.
I own the LampizatOr DSD Komputer music server and can control it via the Internet, using Squeezebox software or a direct link to its Daphile controller interface. Right now, I often access it with thiPeng Classic controller program on my iPhone 4 or my MacBook Air laptop (via direct link to the Daphile interface). It performs wondrously!

Hew +1. Good tunes coming out of my slightly-tweaked dedicated Windows laptop. Besides Tidal, I enjoy concerts via Youtube @HD settings. Sounds pretty nice on the big rig. Can music players connect with any URL?

Any computer will do fine and deliver top notch sound if you connect using wifi (to avoid wired connections from your hifi gear to potentially noisy computers) and are comfortable using computers including things like maintaining backups.

I use a Gateway laptop that’s about 10 years old or more and newer Seagate USB drives for storage and backup.

Bluetooth streaming is even another viable option these days, even from portable devices running applications capable of CD or higher resolution streams via network connections to a server or other good quality music streaming source. Companies like Audioengine make affordable and well received gear for Bluetooth connectivity to hifi systems.

Definitely rip and stream CDs with good quality software for higher res files and use lossless format.

I use DBpoweramp to rip and mostly older Squeeze and newer Plex systems for playback from music servers.  Plex can be run on a multitude of affordable common hardware platforms both home and mobile.

Also of course find a DAC that is to your liking.



Well, you can make a very cool server out of a Raspberri Pi 3 and Ubuntu, so why not? It certainly has very low power consumption so it can be left on all the time, and has USB 2.0 ports as well.

Add Squeezelite with a Logitech Media Server 7.9 and you'll have high resolution includind DSD playback. :)

I actually think it's worth most audiophiles attempting this.  It will certainly de-mystify a lot and help reduce the perceived value of a lot of what are essentially the same idea with expensive cases.

Best,

Erik