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Apologies for multiple post on the Audio Circle.
Ok, bought the Squeezebox 3, will likely do the Bolder mods and upgrade the PS. I will be using the SB3 with a Tri-Vista DAC (yeah, I have heard all about USB DACS...I am using what I have).
Since I am starting ground up, I have ultimate flexibility on which PC and software to use with the Squeezebox. I will dedicate this PC to music only, nothing else. All of the solutions below will be linked to external USB or FireWire drives. I really want the best combination of ease of use plus sound quality. Feedback?
Apple MAC Mini.
PRO: Complete, compact, reasonably quiet, good value, very user friendly, can use Itunes playing .WAV or AIFF files, easy to burn to external drives.
CON: Accessories add to price, people claim Foobar playing .WAC or FLAC is better, can't use EAC to rip. Can't use my IPAQ as a remote. A bit of a pain to integrate with my current XP computers.
Windows XP on a fanless or quiet Mini-Itx System
PRO: I already have an XP system to network to, the opposite of the Apple CON's. Plus, I have a Wifi IPAQ I could use as a remote control, plus I can use Foobar and FLAC or WAV files and EAC.
CON: Have to find and assemble (or have vendor assemble) the necessary hardware. Gordon Rankin claims PC's are inferior to MAC. XP is a huge OS, so I need a hard drive. Probably more than a MAC MINI
Damn Small Linux on a fanless Mini-Itx, booting off CF card.
PRO: No hard drive, small and very dedicated, can use FLAC files.
CON: Not user or newbie friendly, still have to figure out how to burn to the external hard drives. Can't use my IPAQ
I decided to blog all the great info I've gotten from fellow inmates, plus keep tabs on my saga to build a ground up computer music server that can compete with my high end transport.
Feel free to visit and comment/post
I spent a fair amount of time researching the pros and cons, and got lots of great advice. I will provide a quick review of the feedback, so others can make their own opinions.
It came down to the MAC Mini for several reasons of convenience. I have never owned a MAC, but the simplicity and integration out of the box is pretty incredible. With an XP or Linux system, there is much customization required. I can do it, but I have so little time to spare (kids, work, life). If there is no sonic differences of any magnitude, the easiest solution wins. Linux was really interesting, and I thank John Swenson for providing great info. I wonder why a high end company has not put out an integrated product based on the components John recommends. For me, too tweaky to DIY unless you already know Linux or have the time to learn it.
The MAC mini is also compact, and easily configurable to work with my existing XP and WiFi setup. Several hard drive makers also make external and reasonbly quiet drives that cosmetically match the Mini's cool look. (When you have a VAC Avatar and a Pioneer Elite reference transport, looks can be worth something).
Second, while file formats may sound different (and I will experiment with WAV vs. Apple Lossless prior to embarking on a massive ripping process), there seemed to be NO sonic differences anyone could attribute to the OS and "server/storage" components. The only thing sonically different would be the method of getting the files to my VAC (SB3 vs. an external SPDIF DAC vs. a USB DAC).
When the 2 Squeezebox 3's I ordered come in next week, I plan on doing a few comparisons that I will write about. First, the stock SB3 vs. one with a Bolder Cable Power Supply. Next, the stock SB3 vs. the Bolder modified SB3 (easy to do since I am only modding one). Third, I will try listening via both XP Itunes playing apple losseless and WAV, and the MAC Mini doing the same.
"Third, I will try listening via both XP Itunes playing apple losseless and WAV, and the MAC Mini doing the same."
Just for the record you really should compare Wav files vs Aif files. Regardless of what apple says about their proprietary lossless format there is a difference to be heard between the aif and apple lossless formats given a decent high resolution system. Don't get me wrong the apple lossless is really good but you do take a hit sonically so if you are looking for the best output I would recommend aif's.
As a footnote, I have ripped some hundred or so cd's and to date have yet to find one single album that was not recorded as an aif file originally. I am not saying that wav files do not exist as originals but I have not found one so far. And finally for the price of about two average cd's you can purchase the pro version of QT ($30.00 USD) and then upsample your files to 24bit/44.1/48/88.2/96/or 192khz which ever sounds the best. For that matter you can even go as high as 64bit processing but keep in mind the files will be huge by then and in fact will already be around some 250mb just for the the 24/88.2 my personal favorite by a small margin. I wish that QT Pro allowed 176.4 khz sampling but it does not. iTunes will play the higher rez versions, but also be careful to setup your midi device so that it is outputting accordingly as well on the Mac Mini. That last step definetly makes a difference, one that you can hear instantly.
Thank you for taking the time and effort to undergo such a comparison. I (we?) eagerly anticipate your results. Good luck and have fun!
as far as I understand it.
We are Importing Apple Lossless to a large File Server in our basement and then playing ITunes on several IBooks and MAC Minis located around our building via Airport Extreme(s).
We have USB to Digital converter cables and boxes that allow us to use digital inputs on DACs and Universal players.
This works quite well and has incredible quality.
Is it better than FLAC? That I cannot tell you.... But it is my understanding that it is better than MP3 as MP4 files are created by Apple Lossless...
If you're using a Squeezebox sound quality is NOT dependent on what computer or storage media you choose. The data will be buffered in, and clocked out from, the Squeezebox. As long as your computer can keep data in the buffer (very easy to do even with 10mb Ethernet) the only thing left to worry about is getting "secure rips" and using a lossless audio file format.
The problem with USB DACS right now is they are designed to match the USB audio transmission mode. USB DACS follow the data rate of the USB transmission. They do not have large buffers to isolate the DAC from the computer. To do that would require audio server software designed for the DAC, like Slimserver for the Squeezebox. This way the DAC is 100% isolated from the computer.
Even large buffers don't isolate you from having to follow the USB clock.
The Squeezebox is the master clock for the playback and it pulls the data on demand at the rate it's local clock is sending it out through the S/PDIF interface.
For most USB interfaces a piece of software int he PC is the master clock and the data is pushed at that rate down to the interface. Whether large buffer or not the USB converter needs to estimate the rate at which it is beeing fed this data and adjust its S/PDIF clock to keep in sync.
If the device simply requests data to keep it's buffer from running out it's clocking can be independent of the PC interface, USB, Ethernet, Firewire, or whatever.
The Squeezebox gets data in bursts, when needed, so it won't run out. It's happy to get that data at whatever rate the local Ethernet can manage (up to 100mb). There is no clocking between Squeezebox and computer.
It's the "audio mode usb" that requires a USB DAC to follow the data rate of the usb interface. Don't use audio mode and that clocking problem is solved. There's no reason a USB DAC couldn't work in a way simalar to the Squeezebox. The problem is it requires custom software on the computer to satisfy the devices requests.
have a junky DAC in it?
Can you avoid the Squeezebox DAC and go digital out of the Squeeze box?
The SB2/SB3 has a very respectable dac in it. What it does have is a piece of junk power supply. The Bolder modded SB2 with the upgraded power supply bettered my reference tube SACD/CD player. I sold it on Audiogon and I'm enjoying the SB2.
Looking forward to your comparison of modded SB2 and Benchmark.
I run a squeezebox 2 into a Big Ben (to reduce jitter) into a Tact 2.0s (room correction system) into a Benchmark Dac1. The big step up in sound quality was the Tact. The next big step up was using the Squeesebox as oppossed to a CD based transport. The improvement was HUGE.
I'll eventually compare the SB2's DAC to my Theta DAC.
For the purpose of comparing the use of conventional transport vs. lossless from a hard drive, I'll run both through my Genesis Digital Lens and then Theta DAC so I can have a remote controlled input selector. Might fool with this tonight.
You can use the IPAQ to control slimserver no matter what platform the server is running on. Since slimserver uses a web interface, you can control it using any method you have that can get to a web page. When using a squeezebox there is little advantage to having the server be a super quiet machine since it can reside in a different room than the listening room. You can even use the squeezebox as the wireless access point for the IPAQ interface. (Server connected to squeezebox with cat5 and and wifi on squeezebox being used for wifi to IPAQ if you don't jave another wireless access point)
In my case I have two dedicated computers, both running DSL, one the server with the big drives, not particularly silent, running in the spare bedroom. The quiet mini-itx is right next to the listening chair and is connected to the USB DAC and serves as its control interface. The idea is that squeezeboxes will go in other parts of the house and run off the same server.
I know a number of people using MAC-minis as server/controllers in the listening environment and like them very well. I don't think there will be an issue of which type of hardware sounds better for driving a squeezebox.
For me I'm perfectly happy with slimserver, others hate it and vastly prefer iTunes or something else, thats going to be a personal choice.
Depends on the driver written for each OS. I have found that often the MAC drivers are better than the PC drivers. Cannot comment on Linux. It also depends on the harwware because each hardware has a different driver.
However [selecting one of the more popular] Linux [distributions] will give you the greatest flexibility.
Seems to me that by starting with a blank slate, you are in the perfect position to let the application/solution drive the hardware/OS. Least this is what they used to teach us to do back when the world was young...
One could argue that as opposed to the RIP software, the driving application is how you will control and access the library remotely - meaning that it works with Squeezebox.
As a Mac guy I would encourage you to consider the inherent goodness of having a carefully integrated package that brings together the RIP and the software management applications into one interface - ie iTunes. As a bonus iTunes gets along with Squeezebox just fine. It also lets you load your iPod, burn CDs etc. There is something to be said for convenience
IMHO the search for the ultimate db and integration of disparate packages is great if you have the chops and the time. If you don't, chances are that great sound and ease of use will trump the possibility of the ultimate solution. My unscientific guess is that there are a few people who are active posters here who truly enjoy all the fiddling and are rewarded by superb sound. Then there are the twenty million plus iTunes users who don't bother to post because it is dead easy and they are happy as can be...
Finally, if you can I would encourage you to use SATA for your drives rather then USB or Firewire. (Not sure that you can do this with a Mini) No more money and much more robust. Regardless of OS, given current prices and your intention to use wav or aiff I would not even bother with anything smaller then 300Gb drives. As I got into this I discovered that adding a new drive meant more money in enclosures and cables so the fewer units you have to build out the better. Don't forget to plan for a back up strategy...
BTW I have a G5 (I get that you don't need this, but I do) I run my Parts Connexion modified TriVista off the G5 digital optical output. (Like you this is what I had) I also run my modded Squeezebox 2 from the same library but do not have any nifty remote beyond what is provided by SLIM. The library resides on a Seagate 400 SATA drive - it is backed up to 200Gb Hitachi firewire drives which are the remnants of the previous system.
The only thing I can imagine improving is the local Squeezebox surfing experience. That said I tend to make up playlists and then just access those. And I am making increasing use of Internet radio via Squeezebox for my non-critical listening.
And I agree with Mac - at least technically there is no inherent reason that the bits coming back from one OS should sound at all different from the bits coming back from another... that said, attention to detail at every step (which is what you are doing) is the key to superior results
Since the MAC Mini is appealing for many reasons, is the risk of USB/Firewire drives one of robustness (i.e. drive failure??) If so, I would be willing to consider a SATA drive as a backup device, and leave the MAC MINI and external drives as the "daily driver."
I do listen very little, about 10 hours per week at best, and usually concentrated in 3 listening sessions, the drives would otherwise be turned off.
I would definitely not rule out the Mini because of SATA. I should have said - given a choice... for instance if you build out a Win box its pretty trivial to add a SATA card in a PCI slot - and these are available for internal (so you can add the drive inside the tower) or external use. The new Mac boxes like my G5 all have SATA innards.
It is not so much a matter of drive failure (its all the same manufacturers) as it is how easily it mounts (shows up on the desktop), how finicky the cabling is etc. After all before SATA there was only Firewire (leaving SCSI out of the discussion because its not relevant.) There are millions and millions out there so don't over think it. Take a look at www.macgurus.com for more SATA info. And www.granitedigital.com for firewire enclosures, premium cables etc
The Mini has Firewire 400 and USB 2.0 So you know, USB 2.0 is a much faster format - actually a bit faster then Firewire 800. However in this application - meaning audio - it is simply not an issue - both will do the job. If you also want to do photos and or video then go the USB 2 route. Either way you can daisy chain multiple drives. So make your best deal on a quiet enclosure and move on. And yes a fan is one key to longevity - though the fanless cases are tempting...
Realistically ripping a large library takes time. Enough time that investing a few hundred dollars to back it up on another hard drive makes sense.
xmasparty, USB2 has higher burst transfer rate. However, Firewire has higher sustainable transfer rate. You are right, for WAV it does not make any difference. For video, Firewire is a weapon of choice.
Bobp is correct, Firewire is the choice for very large files such as those typically found in digital video and photography. If this was a choice between USb2 and FW800, FW would be the clear winner - and is the de facto standard at most digital studios.
But in the specific case of the Mac Mini, IMHO the much higher data rates make USB2 is a better choice for large files when compared to Firewire 400 which is what the Mini offers. (I am going to make a wild leap here and guess that anyone putting some photos on a Mini is not exactly pushing 100Mb multi-layer files down the pipe...)
For the purpose of serving music across an Ethernet connection the usb1 spec is more than sufficient. Given this, the added bandwidth of fire wire, usb2, sata is purely academic.
it is true - but that is not what the Mini comes with...
as for SATA - I will never go back to Firewire for anything but back-up - this has nothing to do with speed (which is nice but not necessary here) and everything to do with the fact that my devices behave like they are supposed to - FILO, FOLI, hard start, hard crash, makes no never mind
noise (if it's located in the same room), and size does....
Remember, - it's not the hard drive that "plays" the music or even delivers it, - but the whole computer.
Our "Server" is in the basement. It has more to do with the amount of RAM memory + processor speed.
One can connect an Ethernet cable to the file server, - or use their airport as we do, - and have 1 gig of RAM powerbook G4 and a simple little 6 gig HD on an IBook or MAC Mini.
The hard drive is just a storage bin
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