Pursuing great digital on the bleeding edge

Discussion in 'The Cutting Edge' started by Billfort, Oct 22, 2012.

  1. Billfort

    Billfort AK Subscriber Subscriber

    I’m getting ready to add digital streaming to my main system but want to do it in a way that gives it a chance to better my existing digital – a Sony SCD-777ES player with AudioNote DAC for redbook. It took me years to finally get-along with digital and this combination made that possible so this is a pretty high hurdle for me.


    I understand that computer based audio has the potential to sound better than physical media players so I’m interested, and the idea of ripping my CDs to a central server for convenient whole house sharing is appealing. The higher resolution recordings now available as online downloads take the potential for digital beyond my redbook stuff too and based on my SACD experience, might be a step in the right direction for me.

    In addition to PCM hi-res, I’m very intrigued by the idea of DSD streaming which seems to be gaining some momentum around the edges of computer audio. There are downloads available and (apparently) a way to get my SACDs through a streamer so this really ups the ante for me, even though it complicates my wish-list.

    I doubt I’ll mess around with vinyl ripping as no matter how ‘close’ this gets to reproducing the sound of an LP, I can always just listen to the LP – seems pointless if doing it right creates any compromises or raises the price of admission, unless…

    The hardware to do vinyl ripping could come into play if I consider a higher-end sound card (maybe external USB) that would allow me to do system and room measurements. I will soon be messing with tapped horns and a digital crossover in front of them so a streamer that can easily fill the role here with a mic plugged in would be real nice.

    So I basically want everything but have to do it on my budget – simple. :)
  2. Billfort

    Billfort AK Subscriber Subscriber

    After way too much time investigating all this stuff, I’ve come up with my want list and since it’s a long list, it pretty much means there isn’t an affordable canned solution and I’ll be putting it all together myself. I’d like to have;

    - Streaming from an external file server over a 1G wired connection (already have an unRaid server running on my network).
    - Windows OS running jRiver
    - Fanless with a solid-state drive for OS – has to be quiet.
    - Ability to later add a sound-card for acoustic measurements/analog-digital conversion
    - Ability to use high-end USB and/or Firewire cards
    - Motherboard, CPU, case (maybe DIY) and power-supply (fanless) will be whatever they need to be to get me to the pointy-end I’m shooting for.
    - Headless option – might start out with standard peripherals but can see moving to an android tablet or something down the road.
    - I don’t want ‘oversampling’ of redbook (based on my preference for non-ovesampling AudioNote DACs) but DO want to able to play hi-rez 24/96 or even 24/192 PCM.
    - I love SACD so want to be ready for the emerging option of streaming DSD. I know jRiver can stream it and there are DACs out there that can decode it so I want to consider this in any hardare/software decisions I make.

    I’ll probably do this in 2 steps – build the streamer and feed the Audionote DAC redbook and 24/96 hi-rez (which I’ve read it can handle – yet to be confirmed), then add a new DAC that can do all the other stuff down the road.

    I may end up on a tangent building a HTPC video streamer for my other system but there will be a bunch of crossover and shared wish-list items so it may be good to mix that in with this project. Ultimately, if jRiver works for my video streaming needs, there might be a lot of crossover and having 2 boxes using similar hardware and software would sure be nice.

    I’m a little apprehensive about changing out the AudioNote DAC as I just like what it (and AudioNote CD players in general) do but I’m trying to keep an open mind – and there is that DSD streaming thing stuck in my head. So far, I keep ending up looking at Mytek as a DAC option but that remains to be seen.
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2012
  3. ashok

    ashok AK Subscriber Subscriber

    I, like many others here, use Vortexbox for my digital music serving needs, and am therefore am a little partial to that solution. The latest version of Vortexbox does support DSD streaming, along with hi-resolution PCM.

    With that in mind, you might consider the following (no affiliation): Sonore Music Server. I think it meets a lot of your requirements. I do think you could build a comparable device for a fair bit less than their asking price. Output would be via USB and/or Firewire - connect DAC of your choice. But start out with a sound-card with S/PDIF output to continue using the AudioNote.

    Sonore sells a DSD DAC (USB input only) that seems reasonable. It is PCM-capable too, of course.

    Also check out Auraliti for some interesting products.

    And finally, a thread from Audiocircle on DSD DACs.
  4. BadassBob

    BadassBob Digitally rendered

    You might wanna shoot Jimmy Neutron a PM, he uses JRiver extensively and has a very nice music server that looks to be similar to what youre after. Im a Linux guy, so I cant be of much help in the software department. I can tell you how my system functions, that may give you more ideas. I run a large dual-quad Xeon virtual machine host, one of my virtual machines being the Vortexbox music server OS. I have my optical drive running in pass-thru mode, so the Vortexbox VM will automatically rip CDs once theyre placed in the drive. The server is stored in another section of the house, so noise is non-existent. I have 8TB of storage on that thing, and run 8 virtual machines. This way, I can tinker to my hearts content without worry of messing up something important. Im only a few minutes away from restoring to a fully functioning VM backup. As for the front end of it all, I use Squeezeboxes. Vortexbox runs Logitech Media Server which streams the music on out. I control it all through a web browser, my Android phone, or my Galaxy Tab. There are many ways to skin a cat. Like I was saying above, get ahold of Jimmy Neutron, hes sporting a similar setup, sans pro-audio card.
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2012
  5. ashok

    ashok AK Subscriber Subscriber

    Sorry, missed that part about the Windows OS. Vortexbox is Linux based, and that could be a big reason to disqualify it. But it is fairly easy to use.
  6. Billfort

    Billfort AK Subscriber Subscriber

    Thanks for the info guys, now I have more to read. :)
  7. Billfort

    Billfort AK Subscriber Subscriber

    That Sonore stuff is really interesting, especially the Sonore/exD DAC.

    I'm not that adverse to Linux, just like what I've seen with jRiver - more to think about.
  8. 240sx4u

    240sx4u AK Subscriber Subscriber

    That's a beautiful digital rig you have there. You will really like having everything accessible by server when all is said and done. I run a boulder modified squeezebox and having everything at my finger tips at all times is a great addition to my system.
  9. for_p1

    for_p1 Super Member

    When you design your streaming system, make sure that it can be fully controlled from tablet (either iPad or Android). From my experience tablet is the best interface to use for any audio/video system. You may avoided need of keyboard and screen for your computers (if you use one) in that case, which will me your music room cleaner.
  10. BadassBob

    BadassBob Digitally rendered

  11. nd4speed

    nd4speed Active Member

    I have to concur with this, you really don't want to be using a keyboard as a control interface if you can help it. This would mean you would need an MPD server (your OS would have to be Linux), and something like MPOD (that would run on your tablet).

    Personally, I would make it easier on yourself and try a Squeezebox Touch + NAS first. I've compared its coax out against a Pro Audio Lynx AES16 sound card using 24/192 files and found the SQ difference negligible. Plus, with LMS, you can use iPeng as a control interface which is phenomenal, a real game changer IMO.
  12. BadassBob

    BadassBob Digitally rendered

    iPeng is very nice for those on Apple devices. My favorite LMS controller for Android is Squeeze Commander, its crazy good. If youre using an Android device, its well worth the $5 :yes:
  13. nd4speed

    nd4speed Active Member

    I'm guessing you mean a DSD decoding DAC? If so, this is a rather esoteric fringe area of digital audio handled only by some high end DACs (like DCS and EMM) and will cost you dearly. It's kind a big, risky investment considering the future of SACD, which is rather uncertain.

    Equally as esoteric would be ripping SACD, but far less costly; I would look into this instead if you have a big SACD library. You need a first gen PS3 with SACD playback capability, and it needs to be on firmware 3.55 or 3.41 (or you need to figure out how to downgrade it).
  14. ashok

    ashok AK Subscriber Subscriber

    Well, this is the cutting edge forum after all, and discussion of esoterica is indeed the point.

    I would further submit that DSD DACs are slowly coming into their own. Consider the following:
    • Availability of DSD-DACs from Sonore, Mytek and Benchmark (soon to be released) that are not as expensive as the Meitner or dCS offerings. There might be one or two more.
    • Capability of software like Foobar, JRiver, Pure Music and Vortexbox to play DSF, DSDIFF and SACD ISO files. I think Amarra is capable of this too.
    • The DSD over PCM development effort - See this article in positive-feedback. Pretty much all major DAC manufacturers and player-software people are involved in it.
    All this is for nothing unless there is any music that can be played using these devices. There are a couple of companies offering DSD downloads:
    The offerings may not be to everyone’s liking, but they are there.

    Ripping SACDs is problematic even if you are able to get hold of the correct PS3 version. But there is a guy on AudioCircle who is offering to rip SACDs for free. Ok, not the most preferred route, but it does exist.

    In summary, I don’t think DSD playback via a computer will remain on the fringes for very long. But don’t hold me to my prediction :)
  15. Billfort

    Billfort AK Subscriber Subscriber

    Yes ashok, this is exactly what I have been talking about and the Mytek and Sonore DSD capable DACS are the kinds of pieces I might give up my AudioNote for...maybe. :)

    I do have a first gen PS3 player with the old firmware too so yes, that weighs into possible direction.
  16. BadassBob

    BadassBob Digitally rendered

    The tools for the job are there, time to grab some hardware :D :yes: :smoke:
  17. estreeter

    estreeter Super Member

    Despite having worked in IT for most of my working life - bar 4 years military service - I have to admit that 30 minutes on the Computer Audiophile forums leaves my head spinning. Those guys are flatout obsessed, and it gets heated. Very heated ;)
  18. JimmyNeutron

    JimmyNeutron AK Subscriber Subscriber

    J. River has a very high quality decoder and encoder built in that is based on EAC (Exact Audio Copy) for extremely bit perfect music rips. J. River can also play back DSD streams. They have a new version (still in Beta) that will handle all DSD and SACD rips natively. If price was no object in me building a hi-end media player I would not hesitate spending the $50.00 for this software. It's audio playback qualities are only limited by your hardware.

    Speaking of hardware, as much as we all love to hate a certain OS company, I don't believe there is a better choice for a DIY solution. The fact that Windows has "qualified vendor drivers" means that your software will talk to your hardware with much less issues than with a hacked driver from a community. This means that J. River, for instance, will playback all media that it's designed for, through Windows, with the resolution and quality that it was designed to play back with. Basically, Windows will work with the software and PC hardware - period. Any issues most commonly associated with Windows comes from the multitude of programs, drivers, and unkept housekeeping that infest most peoples PC's. Build a PC smartly, install only the software required to achieve your audio goals, use the machine ONLY for that purpose, and keep it clean. You should not experience much, if any issues. My HTPC's have been running with no issues whatsoever on Windows 7.

    External DAC's that can decode DSD and/or SACD natively are very expensive. I do not have one of these DAC's. Prices are falling, but it may be another year before I could afford one of them. In the meantime I am very happy with the results I get from my music files of up to 24/196. I can say without a doubt that my ripped music files sound no worse than their physical disc counterparts. There are several albums in my library that actually sound better than their CD twin due to poor original recording - early 80's CD's, for instance. The newer DAC's, sample rates, and processing of the software (J. River) actually makes them sound better. Also, the biggest flaw in a CD player is the actual mechanical laser assembly. It will introduce vibration induced influences to the electronics and the signal - no way around that - no matter how small. Remove that from the equation and that's once less thing to smear your bits - and in this game it's a culmination of many small things that makes an audible difference on an already excellent playback source. J. River also has the ability to play music back entirely from RAM. You want the best? Software wise J. River has you covered.

    A culmination of little things. Don't let rumors, or people convince you about blind A/B this, and science that, and proof this, and whatever else. Build your machine with love. Use the best parts you can - USB cables, SATA cables, digital COAX cables, EVERYTHING!!!! You've already got thousands of dollars invested in your audio gear. Your PC based music server deserves the same attention. The weakest link, or many of them, will smear the sound of your music. I can tell you first hand good (not absurd) USB cables and digital COAX/fiber cables play a sonic role in your gear - if you've not neglected it elsewhere. My recommendations: replace the PC's power supply AC cable, use a high quality USB cable, use unused USB ports for the DAC connection, keep USB traffic to a minimum, use USB3 or even better Firewire external drives to store your music, use a nice and fat CPU like an i5 or AMD 8-core, fill up your RAM slots with quality RAM to the max, and don't use your new media player for web surfing or anything else.

    There is a lot more to it, but this is the basics. Let me know if you need any advice or help or suggestions.

  19. MikeT.

    MikeT. Displaced Irish Cajun Subscriber

    I've been toying with getting into digital music, streaming and building a library of music in one place without using a keyboard, piggybacking on my home PC or using a tablet with limited memory. I've been wondering how the new Hewlett Packard TouchSmart 320 as the heart of the system. Touch screen, plenty of memory, wifi, USB out for connection to a DAC. Large screen (maybe too large) but maybe I could find some other uses for a video interface that large, home control, etc.


    What am I missing?

  20. JimmyNeutron

    JimmyNeutron AK Subscriber Subscriber

    J. River!! Actually, J. River has an app for Android/Apple pads and phones that allows complete control of the music. You can choose where to play to, what to play from, and complete control from your chair or throughout your house - even across the world!!! Leave your music server running at home, and from any place that has a Wi-Fi connection your phone/pad will stream your library over the internet to your device. Back at home, you use the device's touchscreen for control. You don't really need a monitor on your system anymore as there are apps that allow you to stream your PC desktop to your pad. The options are limitless.


Share This Page