Help Me Set Up My Digital Stereo Solution

Discussion in 'Digital Audio' started by OldCorpse, Dec 26, 2007.

  1. OldCorpse macrumors 65816

    OldCorpse

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    #1
    Problem: I have a ton of music, but it's hard for me to get to listen to any.

    That is because:

    a)I have thousands of CDs, and I'm overwhelmed by the difficulty of storing them all in an accessible way. I have CD shelfs - but with that many CDs, I get cricks in my neck looking at the spines for long trying to pick a CD. And space limitations cause some shelfs to be too high or too low for easy access and CDs on those shelfs suffer from neglect.

    b)Other storage solutions don't work - I've tried binders, but with that many CDs, I have too many binders and flipping pages upon pages from one binder after another gets old fast.

    c)Returning CDs to their proper place after listening to, say, 20 of them, is a chore - having to hunt for "their" place one at a time - either on shelfs or binders.

    d)CDs are just not sturdy enough - and with repeated pulling out of CDs, putting them back in and handling them, they slowly accumulate scratches etc.

    My Solution: put all my CDs onto hard drives and listen to them on my stereo. I have a bunch of 3.5" HDD, from 300GB-500GB, in external enclosures with FW/USB. I intend to hook up the hard drives one at a time, (or daisy-chain them through FW) to a computer dedicated exclusively to music. And the computer would hook up to my stereo.

    I have already tried out the proof of concept in principle, but there are some missing pieces with which I need help. I hooked up my old Dell Inspiron 1100 to the stereo, and a HDD to the Inspiron, and I can get music to play from the HDD through the Inspiron and come out from the stereo. So far so good.

    Now for the issues: the media player jukebox on my Dell cannot play files from the external HDD. I can only get the files to play through QT, one at a time - obviously no good. The media player jukebox gives me the message that it "encountered an unknown error" - not very helpful.

    Questions:

    1)Should I stay with the Dell Inspiron 1100 as my dedicated "music server" (i.e. it would do NOTHING else, but serve as a music box), or go for another dedicated computer that I would have to buy. The advantage is that I already have the Inspiron and I'd rather not spend the $ on something else, but if I would be better off with another comp, then I'd look at that. And if I were to buy something else, then should it be a mac or a windows pc? Important point - the space around my stereo is very limited, and I don't want a tower - so only a windows notebook or a mac mini would work for me. If I were to get a mini, I'd use a kvm switch to control it from my computer monitor+keyboard.

    2)How should I rip my CDs to the hard drives? Important issue - I cannot listen to lossy music files. That throws out mp3s etc. as formats. That leaves me with apple lossles, aiff etc. So what can I use to rip the cds given this limitation - iTunes (there's also iTunes for windows, right)?

    3)I'd like to be able to see the music by albums, by artist and the tracks from every album should be associated with the album. I would also like to be able to play tracks in a specified order. So, how can I do this and what is the best app to do this - a jukebox solution that will work with my external drives.

    P.S. iPods are out for a number of reasons that are obvious, and there's no need to mention them further.

    So, clever and inventive posters - help me make this work, so 2008 is a year of non-stop music listening for OldCorpse and his poor neighbors! TIA!

    Sorry for the length of this.
     
  2. t0mat0 macrumors 603

    t0mat0

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    #2
    I'd recommend either flac with Mediamonkey (get a licence, worth it) or iTunes and apple lossless. Both should cope with a decent size library, and you can always split libraries into sub genres if wanted. Both can use Gracenote or similar to get info, but as flacs, you could use Music Brainz or similar to get other tag info. It'll take a while to fll up 500gb (that's >1000 albums, at 3 min a pop, thats 50 hours of background ripping (popping in discs every time the previous one's been ripped). Would be interested to hear everyone else's thoughts.
     
  3. OldCorpse thread starter macrumors 65816

    OldCorpse

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    #3
    Thanks, t0mat0, that was very helpful. I'm a bit hesitant on the iTunes issue, in that I've heard many reports on how iTunes drastically slows down, and often outright breaks when confronted with a very large collection (and I have over 5000 CDs). The other thing, is - the iTunes for windows, should I stay with the pc platform for this project... does iTunes for windows allow you to rip in apple lossles, and then can you play apple lossles through a windows pc (sorry for my ignorance here).
     
  4. o-mores macrumors newbie

    o-mores

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    #4
    IMHO, if you care about quality and you sense difference between a lossy mp3 and original track then you should listen your CDs with a CD player. Just google for an older cd changer like Technics SL MC7 which holds101 discs! :eek: (here i can buy one for about 150 euros)
     

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  5. OldCorpse thread starter macrumors 65816

    OldCorpse

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    #5
    Thanks, o-mores. Yes, I indeed care about the sound quality. Unfortunately, even 101 CDs is not enough. Here's how it works for me: I scan my CDs and I can go for hundreds and hundreds of CDs before I find one I'm in the mood to listen to. That makes a 101 or even a 300 jukebox just not practical. This is why I thought of the hard drive - there I can scan thousands of CDs and select just what I want at the moment, and even exclude tracks I don't like. That's pretty hard to do on a regular jukebox CD player. I used to own a CD player jukebox that held 60 CDs - and I found it totally unsatisfactory... boosting that to 101 would do nothing to alleviate that. I own over 5000 CDs, and I'd like access to all of them :)
     
  6. Audiofile macrumors newbie

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    Dec 26, 2007
    #6
    This is a common question with several solutions that will sound as good as $10K CD players.

    If you stick with a PC use exact audio copy and foobar2k. Rip to FLAC. This will allow you bit perfect output. To connect to your stereo I suggest something like the Benchmark DAC1 USB that will acept 24 bit / 96 KHz audio.

    I do suggest using a Mac with iTunes for a dedicated music server. This is a real audiophile solution. Google the worlds largest iTunes library if you think you'll have problems with iTunes and a big library. iTunes will output bit perfect audio. Rip to apple lossless. use an external DAC then connect that to your stereo. It will sound better than all mid-fi solutions and be in the hi-fi class.
     
  7. OldCorpse thread starter macrumors 65816

    OldCorpse

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    #7
    Audiofile - brilliant!

    I am extremely grateful for your advice.

    OK, that settles it. I'm buying your solution with a mac + iTunes + lossles + DAC1 USB.

    I am ever so slightly uneasy about this thread a few posts below, but I guess I can get over it:

    http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=398743

    Again, BIG thank you to you!
     
  8. zimv20 macrumors 601

    zimv20

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    #8
    fwiw... i have the pre-USB Benchmark DAC-1. i have it hooked up via the optical s/pdif to my powermac.

    great d/a converter, btw.
     
  9. OldCorpse thread starter macrumors 65816

    OldCorpse

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    #9
    Well, for the price, the DAC-1 better be good indeed... it's an odd feeling to realize that the dedicated computer (mac mini) will be cheaper than the USB box/d-a converter :)
     
  10. zimv20 macrumors 601

    zimv20

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    #10
    and that the d/a in the mini probably cost less than $2.

    forgive me for asking, but... are you listening in a room where the differences in quality would be apparent?
     
  11. OldCorpse thread starter macrumors 65816

    OldCorpse

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    #11
    Very good question. I'm a reformed audiophile. By reformed, I mean that I no longer care about the 0.00001% perceptible audio improvement bought with 10,000% higher cost of component (I was never the kind of audiophile who cared about specs he couldn't hear). That said, I am willing to spend reasonable $ for clearly perceptible audio quality upgrade. Ultimately I care about the music - call me more of a musicphile than audiophile, so if it makes a difference to my enjoyment of music (and I'm a "show me" - or "let me hear" kind of a guy), I'll put out the $, but I don't give a hoot about masturbatory audio "specs" that I can't hear.

    The room where the system will be set up is reasonably set up for music enjoyment, though it certainly is not a recording studio room or dedicated exclusively to listening to music. I have a decent stereo with decent speakers. Will the effects of the room overwhelm any effect from the difference in the d/a... I'm willing to give it a shot. If I can't hear the difference, I'll return the unit.
     
  12. o-mores macrumors newbie

    o-mores

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    #12
    What's point using a 24 bit ouput since CD content is a native 16 bit format. (16 bit /44.1 Khz) ?;) If a track is converted to 24bit there will be 0,00% gain in quality.

    Anyways... via its optical output a recent mac can handle 24/96 khz bit quality streams. And when it comes to digital streams it really doesn't matter if the stream comes from a standard/cheap "sound card" or from an expensive external solution.
     

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  13. Audiofile macrumors newbie

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    #13
    Hi o-mores - CDs will be the last physical music media released and they currently are 16/44.1. Fortunately many music downloads are now available with 24/96 quality. Linn records, iTrax and MusicGiants are offering this. I would hate to see someone spend a good chunk of cash on a 16/44.1 DAC and not be able to get the best sound now and in the future.

    Yes, the Mac can produce 24/96 from the S/PDIF mini-toslink output. However, this output may suffer from more jitter causing sound degradation. I think a bigger piece is that the DAC1 USB version is a much better upgraded DAC and should last longer and is usable on all computers. Not many have the built-in optical out. Sure you can always buy a card, but on a laptop that gets harder. So, even if you use the optical out on the Mac you'll need an external DAC. The question is the DAC1 or the DAC1 USB? Everyone in the audiophile world is suggesting the USB model. I can point out some other info on this or even some other DACs, but I think the DAC1 USB is definitely the way to go. That is what I use.

    And it should be. With computer audio the DAC is very important. If your source music is degraded before it even gets to your components downstream there is no squeezing something out of nothing.

    Don't even worry about that post. iTunes is an audiophile solution that outputs bit-perfect audio. Once you plug in the DAC1 USB there is one small setting to adjust in the audio midi config and your done.

    I am not trying to shamelessly plug my own site, but I do have several articles discussing this very thing. Stereophile magazine and the engineers at Benchmark have gone over this several times in the last month or so.

    Here are a couple links:
    http://www.computeraudiophile.com/node/78
    http://www.computeraudiophile.com/node/87

    I am with you 100%. Ultimately it is about the music. Specs mean nothing to me as well. I like the sound of solid state as well as tubes. The specs & price on both can be very far apart, but the sound excellent on both.
     
  14. Tarkovsky macrumors 6502

    Tarkovsky

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    #14
    Using CDs is better? No. Actually a well encoded CD will have less jitter than a CD player. The only jitter present at that stage will be jitter encoded - which is exactly why we use CDparanoia.

    24 bit means the software volume control wont distort the output.
     
  15. netdog macrumors 603

    netdog

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    #15
    Neither. All of your music should be on a very large networked drive (or redundant RAID Level 1 array). I keep mine hanging off of an Airport Extreme and can control the library from any Mac in the house. If you want to control from a PC, you had better get some sort of NAS-Drive that works on both networks. The library does not need any sort of dedicated computer attached to it directly.

    I use a couple of AirPort Expresses with Airtunes which keep my lossless format right up to the delivery point, as do my AppleTVs (though bear in mind that the latter requires a TV to be turned on to see the library). Both of these also hook directly into a stereo system via Auxiliary, Tape or AV sound connections.

    After looking at this for a long time, I went with ALAC (Apple's Lossless format). You could also look at FLAC, SHN and WMV Lossless. Given that I like iTunes as a controller, and given that I will always be able to convert these back to their original WAVs or directly to another lossless format, and that Apple's standard isn't going away, this seemed like a good choice. Under no circumstances should you rip your CDs to any sort of lossy format. Always archive at the highest resolution possible, and frankly, 44.1Khz is already too lossy in my opinion, so don't make that even worse.

    Apple Lossless will cut the size of the original files by about half, and if you ever want to rebuild the original files, they will be identical, bit for bit, to what is on the CD. That's lossless.

    I used iTunes to rip and I am very happy with that. As I said, there isn't any loss.

    NB: Keep at least one complete backup as this is your entire music collection and worth an incredible amount of money to you. I keep a full backup here and another backup off-site (three altogether). Don't blow it here in order to save a few bucks. Big mistake.

    iTunes is very good for this. Check out the BROWSER in iTunes, along with the VIEW OPTIONS for it. This, combined with the search window in the upper-right corner of iTunes makes it able to display anything I want with only a few keystrokes.
     
  16. netdog macrumors 603

    netdog

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    #16
    Regarding DACs

    To echo what is raised above, a great digital to analog converter can make a mighty big difference to your sound. Do remember, however, that you can add this at any time you want. The key at this stage is to encode your collection losslessly. It will then always be reasonably portable and will sound as good as what you convert it and play it through (or as good as CD source can sound anyway).

    I sent off 1400 CDs to the recycler after weeks of encoding, and boy is it great to have those out of my hair.

    Further, once you port your collection to a database, you will have access to your music like you never have before. I now listen to more, and am more varied in what I listen to, all with much less effort. It really has helped to make it all about the music.
     
  17. Audiofile macrumors newbie

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    #17
    You actually recycled them instead of selling them?

    What happens if your RAID controller breaks and your RAID 1 disks are inaccessible?
     
  18. zimv20 macrumors 601

    zimv20

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    #18
    recycle them.
     
  19. Audiofile macrumors newbie

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    #19
    Ha, I love it!

    I also should have mentioned in my post that I don't advocate getting rid of any physical discs just because it is ripped to a hard drive(s). A tape backup would be stable, but restoring can often cause problems and sometimes not even work.
     
  20. Sesshi macrumors G3

    Sesshi

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    #20


    Try j.River Media Center on your Dell for 30 days. It will talk ASIO to the Benchmark if you get it, and will be more flexible and powerful than iTunes while giving you options in the presentation of your library that iTunes also does not. While iTunes can output bit-perfect audio, this is not unusual for the better Windows jukebox programs - and the rest of iTunes is a toy compared to the better (Windows) media programs out there.

    My own media center solution is a custom-built Vista Ultimate machine (built for silence) running Media Center with the RME Fireface as the audio front end, driving a dCS DAC. Both are clocked by a separate dCS clock. The second HTPC also runs an RME/dCS combo using j.River Media Center. While it generally has no fundamental audio issues, in terms of function and versatility while retaining quality, iTunes is a non-starter for me.
     

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