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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'm interested in what's available from a high end audio server component.


I have seen some info on the Linn and Meridian products but looking for something in a lower price range.


Seems like the market is only focusing on the cheap MP3 format for audio storage.


Any suggestions.....



marty
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by mfb
cheap MP3 format for audio storage.
I'll try to be brief here, since you seem to have a firm opinion that MP3's are "cheap".


MP3's have progressed a lot in the last year or so. Files created with the open-source "LAME" encoder are extremely high quality; I have done extensive side-by-side on my Sony receiver / Infinity speaker setup. After this Thursday, I will be once again performing the same extensive comparison using my new Rocket 750 speakers. The commercial programs such as MusicMatch do not use high-quality encoding codecs... and that does not help the reputation of MP3s.


In any event, I have an AudioTron. However, it is more than merely an "MP3" player; it can also play uncompressed WAVE files from the host server (as well as Windows WMA files).


That means, you can store your files on the server uncompressed & un-altered from the CD. Granted, you will sacrifice about 500 megs (average) per CD, but with 120 GB drives for just under $120, that will let you store about 240 full CD's.


So, provided you can throw enough storage in your "server", you can store all the uncompressed CD audio you want! However, I would urge you consider A-B'ing a raw CD with a high-quality MP3 (created with the LAME encoder, at at least 270-bps) - and you'd probably be shocked.


MP3's got a very bad name when, early on, people called 128-bit "CD quality". This was due to smaller hard drives. I can hear the difference up to about 220 bit (depending on the song; some are more susceptable to artifacting unless at very high bitrates). However, you also have to ensure you have a high-quality decoder and interface to your stereo.


The AudioTron has optical digital outs, so (especially in WAVE format), there is no loss in quality.


Still, a decent number of "die-hard" people on the AudioTron mailing list use it exclusively as a WAVE player - so it is essentially an extremely customizable, instant access "CD changer" - that can sort the music based on artist, album, genre, or via playlists.
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by Glen Graham
That means, you can store your files on the server uncompressed & un-altered from the CD. Granted, you will sacrifice about 500 megs (average) per CD, but with 120 GB drives for just under $120, that will let you store about 240 full CD's.
Just a shout from the peanut gallery here...


I hadn't even thought about loading up all of my music on a server until I just read this post. I guess I've been too focused on the construction of my HT to go "outside the box". This is cool. Not only that, but Glen, your post was like a mini-primer for CD-Servers for Dummies (speaking exclusively about yours truly... not the thread starter :D)


One other question (perhaps this belongs in the HTPC forum); do people generally use the same box as an HTPC and CD-Server? I wouldn't think there would be any issue but I usually get myself into heaps of trouble when I start doing that (i.e. thinking).


Cheers!


- Ed.
 

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This is a very interesting part.... I sometimes wanted to store all my CDs(300+) onto a HDD for convenience....:) I have some questions:


1. Could you lead me to some information of products/features/HDD capacities/prices of this kind(music server?).


2. Is there any product that supports MLP encoding/decoding for more lossless music storage than WAV file?


3. Have you tried to compare original CD and WAV file on server which is recorded from THE CD? Were you able to hear the difference if you tried? IMO, depending upon the jitter performance of the CDP+CD and the server, it could be better or worse if the server has the S/PDIF output...


4. Is there any server that supports multichannel playback?


Thank you in advance for your reply.
 

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Jaehoon,


Only the Meridian at present has MLP capability.


To do MLP on a music server you need:

1) An MLP encoder

2) An MLP decoder


The only commercially available MLP encoder for PC type applications I'm aware of is Minnetonka's Surcode MLP encoder, which retails for US$2500 (ok $2495, but I bet you'll spot me the $5).


The MLP decoder can be had by purchasing the Creative Labs Audigy 2 soundcard.


BTW, Meridian's solution does a background encode, as it is very CPU intensive by design. MLP was designed to be front end heavy, with more processing power to encode than decode. I'm pretty sure DD and DTS are the same.


So, you'd have to spend a few $$$ to add the capability.


I think Meridian is working from the iMerge base platform, and addition of MLP means they likely had to write their own encoder since iMerge runs on Linux the last I knew.


On the plus side, you'd be able to get about 30-50% more effective capacity with the addition of MLP.


Regards,
 

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Why don't you consider other lossless formats, especially for 16/44.1 CD source material? MLP is not the way to go, unless you are planning to master your own 24/96 multichannel or 24/192 2-channel mixes.


Look into APE or WMA lossless. They are free.
 

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John and greggplummer,


Thank you for your information. Gregg, do you know of any server product that has APE or WMA lossless CODEC?
 

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No, but I use a spare PC as my audio server and it is running Windows Media Player 9 and using WMA lossless.


Others have been using APE with Media Jukebox.


I've gone the PC route because it's cheaper, and more flexible than a STB music server. A quiet case and high quality sound card works well.
 

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Hi,


I use my HTPC as Media Server for both DVDs and CDs. Formerly I used WMA format music files (160k - 70mb per album) and could rarely if ever tell the difference from playing the CD.


Now I use Windows Media Player 9 LOSSLESS compression WMA files for perfect CD archives (variable bit rate ~350mb per album).


I can play movies or music from any room in the house that has a computer (I prefer a PC with an ATI video card for DVD playback). Meanwhile, everything is stored on a single location. Makes PC crashes easy to resolve when you don't have to worry about your files.


I do use mirrored harddrives in case of a drive failure to prevent loss of the archived material (nominal $300 investment).


I have found no issues using it as an HTPC/SERVER. I can play a DVD movie on the HTPC/SERVER while playing a DVD movie on one remote PC and listening to music on a second remote PC (via my ethernet network).
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Glen,


This is the info I'm looking for. I should have prefaced my post with, I have very little experience w/ MP3 devices and their performance. I have listened to a few and have not been impressed.


That said, this is the priority of features/options that I'm looking for:


1. Rip/burn/transfer my current CD library (approx 700) to some sort of audio server.


2. Digital output (either toslink or coax) into my Proceed AVP.


3 Audio performance as close as current CD playback. Current system is Proceed PMDT/AVP/HPA's with Audio Concept speakers. I know that I will not get to this level, but as you said an A/B comparison may surprise me.


4 Would like a STB type of component. Current computer is an iPaq and really is only used for internet access.




Looks like I need to ramp up on the HTPC/server options.


thanks,


marty
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by jheoaustin
1. Could you lead me to some information of products/features/HDD capacities/prices of this kind(music server?).
First, there are 2 different paradigms being talked about here. What I am referring to, is using a component like the AudioTron, which is plugged into the stereo (has ethernet connection to server). It is normal "stereo" width, has a remote, display, etc.


The other paradigm is an "HTPC" - a computer connected directly to a stereo (audio out from sound, into stereo). I have heard of some high-end sound equipment that allows for some form of remote-control, but you still need the PC pretty close. Not sure how you'd see what you are playing (no display on the stereo).


See below for more AudioTron info...

Quote:
Originally posted by jheoaustin
2. Is there any product that supports MLP encoding/decoding for more lossless music storage than WAV file?
AudioTron does not support MLP, not sure if other (similar type products do). The AudioTron supports MP3, WMA and WAVE. However, it does not yet support the new WMA "lossless" version, but I imagine it should soon. The AudioTron runs a custom WindowsCE (I think).

Quote:
Originally posted by jheoaustin
3. Have you tried to compare original CD and WAV file on server which is recorded from THE CD? Were you able to hear the difference if you tried? IMO, depending upon the jitter performance of the CDP+CD and the server, it could be better or worse if the server has the S/PDIF output...
I have compared the MP3 directly to the CD. Got them both in sync, and switched the inputs back and forth. As I'd mentioned, I can hear the difference up to maybe about 200-bit. After that, I'm sure any differences are imagined, and due to the slight volume difference between the inputs.


I have not tried playing WAVE files via the AudioTron. My new Rocket speakers arrive tomorrow, so I imagine I will again be comparing the MP3s to the original CD's, to ensure that they are still a 100% acceptable alternative. It is sooo darn convenient to have the equivalent of my own "custom radio station", and instant access to every song in whatever order I want.


As for jitter, I have made 100% perfect digital extractions of music that has clicks and pops when played on a normal CD player (scratched CD's, etc). To do this, I use the application ExactAudioCopy, which does an "intensive" read - it takes about 12 minutes per normal CD, but damaged ones like my New Order Substance took 11.5 hours to do a perfect extraction. So, I'd argue that my WAVE files on the PC are 100% (unless the application notes a "suspect" timestamp) - which is better than any CD player. 100% is 100%; you can do extractions on different PCs with this application, and a binary comparison of the wave file will be identical.


Quote:
Originally posted by jheoaustin
4. Is there any server that supports multichannel playback?
Not that I know of - but, remember, I do not use a "HTPC"; I use the AudioTron, which plays MP3s - all of mine are normal 16-bit, stereo only.


***


As for the AudioTron (continuing from question 1 above), to be brief, it can play MP3, WMA (any bitrate), and WAVE. It can also play "net radio" if you have broadband.


My 2 AudioTrons (1 in living room, 1 in bedroom with Rocket 150s) are both connected via ethernet to the "server" which is in the bedroom. A "server" is merely a PC; it does not need any real horsepower as all it does is feed bits off the hard drive and shove them out the ethernet port. My server is a P3-667, 128 RAM, 30 GB "OS" drive, and 100 GB "MP3" drive (a 5400 rpm drive, to be quiet). It is on 24x7, and the whole system runs with no fans at all due to using excellent heat sinks. Very quiet.


The server has never hiccuped (ie, caused the AudioTron to skip due to waiting for data) - even though the PC is also my wife's e-mail / web surfing box, print server, and was also the internet connection sharing server (dual NICs).


AVS Forum has an Audio MP3 Servers forum - drop by!
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by mfb
1. Rip/burn/transfer my current CD library (approx 700) to some sort of audio server.
This is the proverbial "rabbit's hole" -- if you go through the time-consuming task of doing all the work (ripping and storing the music - with or without encoding it to MP3), then the next natural progressions are, How else can I take advantage of all this digital music?


Realistically, here are some advantages of storing the music on a network share:

1) You can hook multiple playback devices up, and only have to use one storage... yet enjoy the music in several places even at the same time.

2) Transfer songs to portable MP3 (etc) playback devices, such as for travelling

3) With a CD burner, create custom mix CD's extremely easily. It takes about 4 minutes for my wife or I to burn an 80-minute CD (after selecting the songs we want on it). With $0.07 blanks, they are disposable when we get tired of it!

4) With the music on a PC, it is easier to back it up! Face it, music stored on a proprietary device would lose all your time (and it will take time to encode 700 CDs) if the hard drive died. Storage on a network can be backed up to tape, CD-R, or DVD-R. People even invest in a RAID drive array to give them fault-tolerance. Personally, my friend has a copy of my 80 GB on his network, in case my server dies.

Quote:
Originally posted by mfb
2. Digital output (either toslink or coax) into my Proceed AVP.
The AudioTron has optical digital out. Extremely recommended, because the on-board DAC is not that great (but, I use analog with my bedroom AudioTron and digital in the living room).


Quote:
Originally posted by mfb
3 Audio performance as close as current CD playback.
If you stored the songs in uncompressed WAVE format, it would be 100% identical to CD - you're using digital out, so you'd use your processor / receiver's on-board DAC. Even with MP3, if you use a high-bitrate and a high-quality encoder CODEC (such as the LAME encoder), I could virtually assure you that you would not be able to distinguish the difference.


One way to test this, is to take a CD, encode it into an MP3 (using LAME, not MusicMatch). Then, convert it back to WAVE and burn it to a CD. Play that CD in your stereo. I doubt you'd be able to tell the difference - yet you would be playing back a decoded MP3. Do you have a CD burner on your PC? Does your CD player (stereo) accept CDR's? If you don't have a burner, and I have any music identical to a CD you have, I could burn a disk from my MP3s and send it to you - so you could A-B it.


Quote:
Originally posted by mfb
4 Would like a STB type of component. Current computer is an iPaq and really is only used for internet access.


Looks like I need to ramp up on the HTPC/server options.
STB - set top box? I presume you'd rather have a "one-stop" device that both stored the music and played it back. HP did make one, but it sort of did not make it in the market ($1000 for 40 GB, last year).


However, many AudioTron users have the same issue. To solve it, they either built a cheap economical server (honestly, without the hard drive, you could do it for $100 - all it needs is a Pentium 1, 64 RAM - then a huge hard drive). But, there are "turn-key" alternatives - another way is people buy a "Network Attached Storage Device", or NAS. This is usually about the size of a shoebox, and is basically a hard drive enclosure, simple processor, custom firmware (to be a network server), and network card. It sits on your network as a "shared hard drive". The AudioTron happily accesses songs stored on that. You can put the NAS unit under your stereo with a dedicated network cable that runs straight to the AudioTron. It is meant to be on 24x7, and is darn silent.


So, with $270 for an AudioTron, and about $300 for a simple PC with a huge drive, you're set.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Glen,


This is getting good.


What's your take on the HP de100c. There are a few on ebay.


There is an article in premiere issue of Robb Report's Home Theater magazine which talks about various audio servers. Curious if you saw it.


I may have to take you up on A/B'ing one of your burned MP3s. I don't have a CD burner at home.


PM me to work out details.


Thanks for the info,


mfb
 

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Most stand-alone audio servers are designed as consumer appliances, and tend to trade ultimate flexibility for easy of use and reliability. As a result, they usually support a limited set of common audio storage formats (e.g., MP3, WMA).


If on the other hand you are willing to "roll your own" computer-based audio server, there are a number of additional audio codecs you can use. Like MP3, some (e.g., ogg vorbis , MPEG-4/AAC ) are lossy. A number of others (e.g., FLAC , LPAC ) are lossless. These are far less common, but the curious can check out a practical introduction to their use as well as comprehensive surveys of the lossless alternatives here and there .


The lossless methods preserve the full audio quality and offer about a 2:1 compression ratio. Because they allow the reconstruction of the original source material, lossless compressors make excellent archival formats. Unlike lossy codecs, lossless methods enable conversion to other formats without an taking an additional quality hit. That may not seem like a big deal now, but you might have a different opinion if you had to re-rip several hundred CDs at a higher quality.


Given the continuum of codecs and parameter values, it's impossible to make a universal judgement on the sonic impact of using a lossy format. It's also a personal call whether the greater storage efficiency of the lossy codecs is worth the corresponding reduction in audio quality. With drive capacities soaring and prices falling, I tend to favor the more future-proof lossless approach, but every situation is different. At some point, it is arguably simpler to simply store the uncompressed AIFF files rather than bother with relatively modest compression, but that's pretty extreme for most applications.


The down side to lossless compressors is that their limited adoption restricts compatibility with most consumer hardware. In other words, if you want to use the music in an iPod or Rio, you'll need to make a separate MP3-formatted version. The aggravation factor (and storage requirements) for that goes up pretty quickly, though, and for most folks it's just not worth the trouble. Still, if you are going to convert your entire music library, it's worth considering the full range of alternative.
 

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Before I contribute my $0.02, let me first state "where I'm coming from"... I am a purist in search of "the absolute sound". Though I am now in the computer field (that's where the money is ;)), I have a long background in the audio field and have held such positions as Corporate Audio Trainer for a major upscale retail chain, as well as President of a small, independent speaker firm.


My audio system is a dedicated system - separate from my home theater audio system - and consists of a passive pre-amp, custom designed and built DIY class A amplifier and a pair of Magneplanar MG-III's (with true full-length ribbon tweeters) which I own because they provide the most open, spacious, extraordinarily detailed sound that I've ever heard from a speaker.


Now, then, as to music servers and digital file formats...


Personally, I can easily differentiate between an (LAME-encoded) MP3 file and an Ogg Vorbis file of the same relative size/encoding rate. The Vorbis file is cleaner and less "constrained". IMO, if you feel compelled to use lossy compression, Vorbis is currently the way to go. Portable units aside, however, I don't see why you'd want to choose lossy over lossless compression - disk space is cheap, and getting cheaper all the time. No format using lossy compression will sound as good as a Monkey's Audio .APE file. (Sorry, but M$ is "in bed" w/the RIAA and others who would deprive me of my fair use rights - NO WAY I'm using WMA.)


You need not have a "golden ear" to hear the difference between .MP3, .OGG and .APE files - you simply need to have an audio "chain" in which the source format is not the weakest link. I daresay that if you're using a Proceed .AVP and ACI speakers (Sapphires? Jaguars?), then your system is more than capable of revealing the relative sonic merits of these file formats. (But don't take my word for it - find a way to audition these for yourself and you be the judge.)


As to servers, HTPCs, STBs, Audiotrons, etc....


I have no firsthand experience with the Audiotron, but I can say with a high level of confidence that, if you're taking the bit stream from the A'tron and feeding it into your Proceed, you have absolutely nothing to gain relative to a properly configured PC. (But the reverse is not true - a PC will offer you a great deal more.)


Try not to get hung up on the aesthetic of a STB - that's easily handled with a PC - cruise over to the HTPC forum & have a look at some of the custom cases available there - you're sure to find something that will appeal. You can add a beautiful blue VFD display to the front and have a component that you'll be proud to have sitting alongside your Proceed gear. And as for remote control, check out the NetRemote threads in the HTPC forums... try getting bi-directional remote control on an Audiotron!


MainLobby is a fantastic UI - properly configured, you need never have to be faced with "My This" and "My That" icons. Populate the server with a couple of 200GB drives (you could do more, but I'll assume that a slimline case is desirable given your stated preference for STB's) and you should have ample room for well over 1500 CDs (using the APE file format.) Probably significantly more than you'll ever need (at least until 400GB hard discs become readily available.)


Finally, when all is said and done, (and for le$$ than the Audiotron would have cost you,) your media server can also serve up your DVD collection as well - and with performance that's far superior to virtually any DVD STB. Then there's HDTV functionality, scaling/custom projector resolutions, the list goes on and on.


NOTE: I wouldn't try to include PVR (a.k.a. TiVo) in the same box as all the aforementioned tasks. PVR functionality is very CPU intensive - better to give it its own box. Besides, a Linux-based box is a better choice for PVR (unless you're going to attempt HD PVR.)


HTH...
 

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Hai,


Getting back to your question, can you have a audio jukebox that doesn't only do mp3 but also uncomressed or lossless compression. The anwser is yes. I am using a arq from audiorequest ( www.audiorequest.com ) They support mp3 upto 320kb, wav and flac (lossless compression) they range from i think 60Gigs to 480Gigs (Tera server) has alot of thinks installers like including creston/amx etc etc, video out, remote software. Now they are not that cheap (i think between $2500 and $15.000 new) but online second hand they are for about $800 for the older models and they can be upgraded in many ways (i unstalled a 100Gig, extra mem and a new cpu).


Hope this helps,


Daniel.
 

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Glen,


Thank you for your detailed reply. There is one point I should tell. I was not doubting the bit accuracy of ripped copy on HDD. I just wanted to know how good those music server(AudioTron?) are in S/PDIF jitter performance, in other words, the audio clock quality, because I believe the jitter over S/PDIF connection makes audible difference, and transports(digital source machines) have all different jitter characteristics.
 

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A couple of other points I'd like to add...

I have to agree with Glen's comment, "It is sooo darn convenient to have the equivalent of my own "custom radio station", and instant access to every song in whatever order I want. "


I'm a big fan of the software player's capability to automatically generate playlists when I'm not interested in listening to a specific album. I haven't seen this kind of functionality in a STB. I can predefine an automatic playlist based on characteristics of my music collection, like year, genre, how often I've played the tracks, etc.


So I have my custom radio station play Jazz that I haven't heard for a month; or, rock music that was released in the 60's and 70's excluding anything from Frank Zappa (the kids are listening) that I also haven't heard in a month, etc., etc.

prestidigital mentioned, "The down side to lossless compressors is that their limited adoption restricts compatibility with most consumer hardware. In other words, if you want to use the music in an iPod or Rio, you'll need to make a separate MP3-formatted version."


I've been using the beta of Microsoft's Windows Media Player 9 and it has a "Copy to Device" feature that will automatically transcode my WMA lossless tracks to a smaller 128Kbit lossy WMA file when it writes the track on my MP3/WMA player's compact flash memory card. I don't have to store a separate MP3 or WMA file. It just takes a little longer for the transcode.
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by greggplummer
[WMP9] will automatically transcode my WMA lossless tracks to a smaller 128Kbit lossy WMA file when it writes the track on my MP3/WMA player's compact flash memory card. I don't have to store a separate MP3 or WMA file. It just takes a little longer for the transcode.
That's handy for the smaller units, but I'm not sure it's practical for the larger multi-gigabyte portables (e.g., the iPod). It would save on permanent storage requirements, but it seems prohibitively inconvenient to have to to re-rip hundreds of songs every time you tranfer a stack of albums. With a USB connection, I suppose it might not slow things down that much, but I lack the patience to use USB on anything bigger than a few megabytes anyway. With a FireWire connection you quickly become accustomed to cycling gigabytes of media in minutes, and it's hard to go back.


Still, it's an interesting option, and I'll bet it's just the ticket for for some folks. Thanks for the tip.
 

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Been looking at going with a PC based servers because I want to store my CDs on something I can access faster than a big mega changer. I have heard good things about AudioTron etc. but I don't want compression of any sort nor do I want a winblows based system hooked up to my HT or Music system. I just picked up a Yamaha CDR-HD1300 unit, which seems like it might do the trick. It still only has a 80gig hardrive, but that is the best I have seen so far for a unit under $1000 bucks. Open for comment on this, because I am still debating using a Mac using iTunes or using a PC using Winblows media 9 player for playback. The Yamaha unit can be hooked up to a PC and has a S-Video out jack so you can see what is on the play list, I was also told you can use a larger hardrive, but this would void Warr. Any comments?

http://www.yamaha.com/yec/products/DVD/CDRHD1300.htm
 
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