Do I need a "music server"? - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 23 Old 01-01-2014, 09:42 AM - Thread Starter
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I’m actually not a newbie to high-end audio (well, maybe medium-end), or technology in general, but I’ve been reading articles about music servers, music streamers, mac minis, synology, etc. and I’m flummoxed.

Here’s what I’ve got:
• A large number of Apple Lossless files on my macbook pro iTunes library. I've also starred to download HD music files.
• Airport extreme and AppleTv
• Apple TV is hooked in digitally to my Emotiva receiver (an old MCC-1).
• I’ve also got an Oppo 103 dvd player
• I use iTunes because I’ve got a bunch of Apple devices and it is native to Apple and easily works across all my gear

Here’s what I do today:
• Whenever I’m at home, I’ll play my iTunes music over AppleTV. I play the tunes from my macbook.
• I control the iTunes library that’s hosted on my macbook using the iPhone’s remote App, which is very convenient.

Here’s my problem:
• The AppleTV thing certainly works but I think that I would have better sound if I had a wired connection directly from my iTunes library into my stereo (i.e., from the computer/server holding the files into either the Receiver or the Oppo and then into the Receiver).
• I’ve tried an optical connection from my macbook headphone out (doubles as digital) into the receiver and to my ear it sounds better than over AppleTV.
• I don’t want to wire my macbook pro into my stereo, and I’d also like ease of control over whatever I set up – that is using my iphone or ipad to control it.
• I’m also thinking it would be good to set up a separate box to house my music, and the movies I am likely to increasingly download.

So here’s what I think I need:
• I believe that I need a new device (server, computer, whatever) that holds all my itunes files, is wired into my stereo with a digital connection, and which can also be controlled using an app on an iphone/ipad.
• Perhaps this new device can also hold movies as well, and even general back up of all files on my macbook but that’s not my primary concern

Does that sound to you all like what I need?

If so, can you recommend something? (again, this something would need to be able to house an itunes library and be controlled from an app on my iphone/ipad)

I’ve read that a mac mini will do this. And it has the advantage of being an Apple product which would integrate well with all my other Apple products and the iTunes software. Some people rave over that solution, others say that – to use the mini as a pure media server –is an overpriced and medium quality solution.

Some postings I’ve read recommend other devices (everything from squeezebox, synology, etc.) but I don’t really understand how they would work or integrate with my system. Synology seems cool and comprehensive, but I’m concerned it will be labor intensive (particularly given my obvious ignorance in this area) and again perhaps not integrate well.

Quite a long post. Hope you can help.

Thanks.
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post #2 of 23 Old 01-01-2014, 10:52 AM
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The AppleTV thing certainly works but I think that I would have better sound if I had a wired connection directly from my iTunes library into my stereo
You would be wrong about that.
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I’ve tried an optical connection from my macbook headphone out (doubles as digital) into the receiver and to my ear it sounds better than over AppleTV.
I can think of no reason why this would be the case. Meaning no disrespect, you could just be imagining this.

To your larger question, a Mac Mini would work, but all you really need is an external hard drive large enough to store your iTunes library. Connect it to the laptop and continue to run iTunes as you do now.

If you can't explain how it works, you can't say it doesn't.—The High-End Creed

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post #3 of 23 Old 01-01-2014, 11:46 AM - Thread Starter
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My understanding is AppleTV only transfers at 16bit/48khz. And that HD files are at higher rate. Perhaps lossless is as well (though the original source would dictate ultimate quality). The AppleTV rate is also different from the cd rate of 16bit/41.1khz.

So it would appear to me that AppleTV does some sort of compression/transformation to get it from my macbook over wifi into the AppleTV box that is plugged in (via) optical to my receiver. Maybe the AppleTV box reconfigures it back into it's original 16bit/41.1 or 24bit/196 or whatever, but even if it does it strikes me there would be some compromises there.

It also strikes me intuitively that server > digital wire > receiver is just overall cleaner and less prone to all manner of potential impediments to sound than server > wifi> AppleTV > digital wire > receiver (might have even missed a step there).

I'm a bit out of my depth but that's what I've picked up from reading. If the above is correct, it still begs the question as to whether or not I could actually HEAR a difference on my system. I certainly thought I did when I hooked my laptop directly into the receiver. I had my girlfriend do a "blind" test and she did as well. So that led to my question about a dedicated machine hooked directly into the receiver.

On to my larger question . . . I'm not sure I understood you but I don't want to connect an external drive that is connected (with a wire) to my laptop. My laptop moves around a lot and I don't really want to use it at all. I want to use an app on my phone to play music if possible.

Thanks.
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post #4 of 23 Old 01-01-2014, 12:22 PM
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My understanding is AppleTV only transfers at 16bit/48khz. And that HD files are at higher rate. Perhaps lossless is as well (though the original source would dictate ultimate quality). The AppleTV rate is also different from the cd rate of 16bit/41.1khz.
True, but none of this has any practical significance, as far as what you can or cannot hear. Your intuition about compromises is understandable, but probably incorrect.
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It also strikes me intuitively that server > digital wire > receiver is just overall cleaner and less prone to all manner of potential impediments to sound than server > wifi> AppleTV > digital wire > receiver (might have even missed a step there).
The only thing to worry about here is interference disrupting your wifi connection. That's not a sound quality problem. It's a no-sound-at-all problem.
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If the above is correct, it still begs the question as to whether or not I could actually HEAR a difference on my system. I certainly thought I did when I hooked my laptop directly into the receiver. I had my girlfriend do a "blind" test and she did as well.
When it comes to listening tests, the power of suggestion is a b!tch. If you so much as say, "do these things sound different to you?" you're putting that suggestion in their mind. We can't know for sure without doing a much more careful experiment, of course. I'm just suggesting that you not put too much faith in what you (think you) hear.
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I'm not sure I understood you but I don't want to connect an external drive that is connected (with a wire) to my laptop. My laptop moves around a lot and I don't really want to use it at all. I want to use an app on my phone to play music if possible.
That wasn't clear from your first post, but it's understandable. In that case, a Mac Mini is definitely a solution. There are probably others, but as you're comfortable in AppleWorld, I'd lean to sticking with that. If cost is an issue, you might want to look for a used Mini, since you aren't going to require the latest and greatest to do what you want to do.

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post #5 of 23 Old 01-01-2014, 01:24 PM - Thread Starter
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I note there's a whole section of this site dedicated to mac minis as media servers, so I have some more reading ahead of me. From your perspective, if I connect a mac mini through apple tv I'm good to go. Me, I'm sill wondering if a wired connection from the mini (or whatever) into the receiver would be better (no offense but I think I'll do some more "blind" testing before I'm satisfied).

Either way, it's a stand alone "server" that feeds music to my receiver. Is there anything that is better (from a sound quality perspective) than the mini for playing those files? Particularly if I wire it into the receiver (presumably with the mini I'd use an optical mini jack or maybe a USB connection)? I suspect you'll tell me digital is digital and as long as it comes out as 0s and 1s I'll be fine but wanted to check.

And two other things if I can further try your patience.

When I did my hearing test, I noticed that the AppleTV was much louder than when I switched to a direct optical connection from the macbook to the receiver. Any idea why that is and if it indicates a degradation of the sound for either method?

Finally, do you think that adding something like audirvana would increase the sound quality - either over AppleTV or if I do the wired connection?

Thanks again. I appreciate the help.
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post #6 of 23 Old 01-01-2014, 01:42 PM
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Originally Posted by spyrelx View Post

I note there's a whole section of this site dedicated to mac minis as media servers, so I have some more reading ahead of me. From your perspective, if I connect a mac mini through apple tv I'm good to go. Me, I'm sill wondering if a wired connection from the mini (or whatever) into the receiver would be better (no offense but I think I'll do some more "blind" testing before I'm satisfied).

Either way, it's a stand alone "server" that feeds music to my receiver. Is there anything that is better (from a sound quality perspective) than the mini for playing those files? Particularly if I wire it into the receiver (presumably with the mini I'd use an optical mini jack or maybe a USB connection)? I suspect you'll tell me digital is digital and as long as it comes out as 0s and 1s I'll be fine but wanted to check.

And two other things if I can further try your patience.

When I did my hearing test, I noticed that the AppleTV was much louder than when I switched to a direct optical connection from the macbook to the receiver. Any idea why that is and if it indicates a degradation of the sound for either method?

Finally, do you think that adding something like audirvana would increase the sound quality - either over AppleTV or if I do the wired connection?

Thanks again. I appreciate the help.

There isn't anything you can do about the sound quality of a digital file. It isn't music. It is data. It is going to sound like it sounds after conversion no matter what you do. If you want sonic improvements in your system. you need to be looking at speakers and room acoustics. Otherwise, use whatever is convenient to get the data to your receiver for conversion. I'm not an Apple person so my preferences wouldn't be very helpful.
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post #7 of 23 Old 01-01-2014, 01:51 PM
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Quote:
I note there's a whole section of this site dedicated to mac minis as media servers, so I have some more reading ahead of me. From your perspective, if I connect a mac mini through apple tv I'm good to go. Me, I'm sill wondering if a wired connection from the mini (or whatever) into the receiver would be better (no offense but I think I'll do some more "blind" testing before I'm satisfied).
If you're using it as a dedicated music server, there's no reason not to use a wired connection.
Quote:
Either way, it's a stand alone "server" that feeds music to my receiver. Is there anything that is better (from a sound quality perspective) than the mini for playing those files? Particularly if I wire it into the receiver (presumably with the mini I'd use an optical mini jack or maybe a USB connection)? I suspect you'll tell me digital is digital and as long as it comes out as 0s and 1s I'll be fine but wanted to check.
Good guess on that last sentence there. smile.gif

It's not quite universally true, but it's a sound working assumption.
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When I did my hearing test, I noticed that the AppleTV was much louder than when I switched to a direct optical connection from the macbook to the receiver. Any idea why that is and if it indicates a degradation of the sound for either method?
No idea. The only thing I can imagine is that iTunes is doing something to the digital stream before it sends it to the AppleTV, maybe in concert with the conversion to 48kHz. Again, it shouldn't affect sound quality, unless they're doing something dumb, which would be unlikely but can never be ruled out. The possibility would lead me to lean toward a wired connection, however.

BTW, the fact that the levels are different means that your comparison of the two is totally meaningless. (Unless you know how to match volume levels with a voltmeter.)
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Finally, do you think that adding something like audirvana would increase the sound quality - either over AppleTV or if I do the wired connection?
i've never even heard of that device. I googled it, and I still can't figure out what it is or what it does. But the previous comment about 1s and 0s applies here.

If you can't explain how it works, you can't say it doesn't.—The High-End Creed

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post #8 of 23 Old 01-01-2014, 03:27 PM - Thread Starter
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Thanks a lot mcnarus. I really appreciate the advice and insight. I've got some more thinking and research to do, but this was very helpful. Thanks again.
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post #9 of 23 Old 01-01-2014, 06:30 PM
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Here is what I have as an alternate music source when I'm not using the Mac Mini:

http://www.amazon.com/Pure-i-20-30-Pin-iPhone-Speaker/dp/B0049MOK92

It is connected to my AVR using optical cable and I'm using an 160GB iPod Classic with it. Sounds good to me.
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post #10 of 23 Old 01-01-2014, 11:45 PM
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Originally Posted by spyrelx View Post

I note there's a whole section of this site dedicated to mac minis as media servers, so I have some more reading ahead of me. From your perspective, if I connect a mac mini through apple tv I'm good to go. Me, I'm sill wondering if a wired connection from the mini (or whatever) into the receiver would be better (no offense but I think I'll do some more "blind" testing before I'm satisfied).

Either way, it's a stand alone "server" that feeds music to my receiver. Is there anything that is better (from a sound quality perspective) than the mini for playing those files? Particularly if I wire it into the receiver (presumably with the mini I'd use an optical mini jack or maybe a USB connection)? I suspect you'll tell me digital is digital and as long as it comes out as 0s and 1s I'll be fine but wanted to check.

And two other things if I can further try your patience.

When I did my hearing test, I noticed that the AppleTV was much louder than when I switched to a direct optical connection from the macbook to the receiver. Any idea why that is and if it indicates a degradation of the sound for either method?

Finally, do you think that adding something like audirvana would increase the sound quality - either over AppleTV or if I do the wired connection?

Thanks again. I appreciate the help.
I use a mac mini as a music server with Audirvana. It works great. Audirvana is software that is made specifically for macs. It basically takes over playback from itunes and will allow you to play flac files and DSD and other HD Hi rez files. Since you are already using apple lossless I don't know how much of an advantage Audirvana would be. You also mentioned Synology which may be more to your advantage. It is networked attached storage, or NAS for short, which plugs in to your router and stores all your music movies, etc. Very easy to set up. If you went that route you would be able to stream your music to the Apple Tv and use your iphone as a remote. I have my mini plugged in to the rear HDMI jack on the back of my Oppo 103. The Oppo would also be able to stream from the synology but I'm not sure it can stream apple lossless.
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post #11 of 23 Old 01-02-2014, 07:57 AM - Thread Starter
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I downloaded a trial of Audirvana and it does appear to make a difference through my current AppleTV set up. I like the way it integrates seamlessly with iTunes since I'm committed to iTunes for now. I've got 15 days to play around with it before I have to make a purchase decision. I like that as well.

I don't understand what a Synology/NAS set up would get me that a Mac mini set up would not. I assume I could use the Mac mini (perhaps with an added external hard drive connected to the mini) for all my media files, control it with my iPhone, and connect it to my receiver/HT through a wired connection - and presumably connect it other Apple devices through appleTV.

i've also read some posts on the apple support forums that say setting up sinology as an "iTunes server" is problematic. I.e., it doesn't really work as seamlessly as your system, the iPhone control isn't there, etc. I don't really know much about this.

I have read (perhaps on synology's site) that synology lets you create your own cloud so that you can access your media (any other stored files)from anywhere that you have an internet connection. That sounds pretty cool but, again, I'm a bit nervous about complexity and smooth integration with apple products.

By the way, your connection for music playback is mini hdmi out > oppo hdmi in, and then into your receiver? So you use the oppo dac and send it to the receiver through an analog or digital wire? I assume it's the same for any video that comes from the mini?

Thanks.
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post #12 of 23 Old 01-02-2014, 06:32 PM
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Originally Posted by spyrelx View Post

I downloaded a trial of Audirvana and it does appear to make a difference through my current AppleTV set up. I like the way it integrates seamlessly with iTunes since I'm committed to iTunes for now. I've got 15 days to play around with it before I have to make a purchase decision. I like that as well.

I don't understand what a Synology/NAS set up would get me that a Mac mini set up would not. I assume I could use the Mac mini (perhaps with an added external hard drive connected to the mini) for all my media files, control it with my iPhone, and connect it to my receiver/HT through a wired connection - and presumably connect it other Apple devices through appleTV.

i've also read some posts on the apple support forums that say setting up sinology as an "iTunes server" is problematic. I.e., it doesn't really work as seamlessly as your system, the iPhone control isn't there, etc. I don't really know much about this.

I have read (perhaps on synology's site) that synology lets you create your own cloud so that you can access your media (any other stored files)from anywhere that you have an internet connection. That sounds pretty cool but, again, I'm a bit nervous about complexity and smooth integration with apple products.

By the way, your connection for music playback is mini hdmi out > oppo hdmi in, and then into your receiver? So you use the oppo dac and send it to the receiver through an analog or digital wire? I assume it's the same for any video that comes from the mini?

Thanks.
The synology is attached to your router not your receiver and is storage. You can stream from it to other devices. If you are nervous about setting it up go with the mini and a usb hard drive. I've never had a problem with my NAS but that doesn't mean you wouldn't especially if you are unsure about what to do. And my set up is HDMI from the mini to the oppo then all audio goes thru an HDMI cable from the Oppo to the receiver. Handles audio and video. I think you'll like Audinirvana especially if you buy files from sites like HD Tracks.
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post #13 of 23 Old 01-03-2014, 09:12 AM - Thread Starter
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Thanks acebreathe. Just so I'm clear, do you use a NAS now? E.g., store your media in a NAS and then feed it to your mini via wifi? if are you just using mini now?
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post #14 of 23 Old 01-04-2014, 11:12 AM
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Originally Posted by spyrelx View Post

Thanks acebreathe. Just so I'm clear, do you use a NAS now? E.g., store your media in a NAS and then feed it to your mini via wifi? if are you just using mini now?
Sorry for the delay is responding. Yes I use a NAS now. I had it before I got the mini. But I do use it to stream via wifi to my mini or my Oppo. I also have a pc running windows and stream to that as well. A NAS does have some advantages. You can back up everything not just music and movies. Right now your mac book needs to be up and running in order to stream to the Apple TV. With a NAS the computer does not need to be on. How well the app works on the iphone is another issue. I don't have an iphone so I can't help you there. I do have a ipad mini and the new Oppo app works great on that. There is more storage on the NAS since that is pretty much the whole point but in your case since you are already entrenched in the apple system and seem apprehensive about the NAS the mini and a USB hard drive for back up and storage might be the better bet.
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post #15 of 23 Old 01-04-2014, 01:06 PM
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There is one other thing you can look at and I'm sorry I didn't think of it sooner. Go on ebay and look for the old Apple TV. It has a HDD installed and will sync with your mac book to copy over your itunes library. I'm not familiar with your receiver but the ATV can be hooked up either by HDMI, optical or analog stereo. The one drawback is the HDD is only 160 gigs. I have no idea how big your library is but once the sync is complete it will automatically back your itunes up whenever you add new music. It acts as a NAS and as a server and is cheaper than a mini. You would then play from that and since it would be wired it might sound better. The mac would not need to be on and there should be an app to control it. Just something else to think about.
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post #16 of 23 Old 01-06-2014, 04:50 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by acebreathe View Post

Yes I use a NAS now. I had it before I got the mini. But I do use it to stream via wifi to my mini or my Oppo. A NAS does have some advantages. You can back up everything not just music and movies. Right now your mac book needs to be up and running in order to stream to the Apple TV. With a NAS the computer does not need to be on.

Can you explain why the computer (mini) doesn't need to be on? Isn't the NAS just storage, more or less like an external HD? Wouldn't you need iTunes software that was running on something to feed it to your OPPO? Or are you running iTunes on the NAS?

I didn't know oppo had an app for iphone/ipad. I downloaded it the other day and it works like a charm - thanks!
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post #17 of 23 Old 01-07-2014, 08:34 AM
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Can you explain why the computer (mini) doesn't need to be on? Isn't the NAS just storage, more or less like an external HD?
No, it's not just storage. It's network-attached storage, which means it's available to any other device on your network, including your iPhone, which can act as a remote.
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Wouldn't you need iTunes software that was running on something to feed it to your OPPO? Or are you running iTunes on the NAS?
My guess is you're using something like iTunes, but not iTunes.

If you can't explain how it works, you can't say it doesn't.—The High-End Creed

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post #18 of 23 Old 01-08-2014, 10:19 PM
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Just to follow up on what McNarus said. Yes the NAS is storage but it is accessible to any device on your network, that means iphone ipad ipod touch, apple tv, kindle,etc. I don't know your living arrangements but anyone in the house apartment whatever would be able to stream from it. That alone makes it different from a stand alone external HD. There are NAS's available in all price points just about and not just from synology. Most if not all come with some sort of set up for itunes. It's not however the same itunes you get on your computer. You won't have all the bells and whistles it's more or less just storage that works with a device running itunes. Right now you have to have your mac book up and running to stream to apple tv. As long as the apple tv is on the network the macbook would not have to be on. Or you could also stream to the Oppo since that also has network capabilities. Again the macbook would not have to be on. I really think you should look at the first generation apple tv's on ebay. It might be the perfect solution for you. The last time I looked there were a lot of them. Or buy a Sonos system.
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post #19 of 23 Old 01-10-2014, 12:33 PM - Thread Starter
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Thanks guys, I appreciate all the help.
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post #20 of 23 Old 01-12-2014, 05:51 PM
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Spyrelx,

Could you please share your experiences using the 1st gen Apple TV as your music server of you choose to go that route? I am looking to do something similar. I would be curious to hear if the library shoes up in your "remote" app. Also, does the Apple TV allow you to organize your songs (creat playlists, search by artists, genre, etc).


Thanks.
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post #21 of 23 Old 01-15-2014, 06:40 PM
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Originally Posted by HAdiy View Post

Spyrelx,

Could you please share your experiences using the 1st gen Apple TV as your music server of you choose to go that route? I am looking to do something similar. I would be curious to hear if the library shoes up in your "remote" app. Also, does the Apple TV allow you to organize your songs (creat playlists, search by artists, genre, etc).


Thanks.
I can't help with the remote but you can create playlists on your computer and those will show up on the ATV. If you turn on the genius thing in itunes on your computer the ATV will create genius mixes. And you can search by artist song etc.
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post #22 of 23 Old 01-27-2014, 11:03 AM
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I'm looking at the same issue. I want to be able to play my iTunes music, which includes both iTunes downloads, Apple lossless from CDs and a few Hires tracks from HDtracks,com, There are several network streaming devices which do this and most are advertised as AirPlay compatible, To me the name Airplay implies WiFi, but it is really a network transfer protocol. Apple devices can play some HiRe formats, but apparently deres them before they do. I'm assuming that the Apple TV DACs don't support HiRes or perhaps aren't very good.

I'm looking at the Denon DNP-720AE.

As an aside, Apple is starting to store HiRes masters on their servers for futue HiRes streaming. That may require an upgraded Appke TV to work. They may go into competition with HDtracks by selling HiRes tracks and upgrading the DACs in their various devices.
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post #23 of 23 Old 01-28-2014, 09:08 AM
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I checked out the DNP-7200AE. It does NOT support Apple Lossless.
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