• Current CA Music Servers and Diagram

    I frequently receive emails about my music servers from readers interested in taking the music server plunge. Some readers are interested in a whole thesis with pros, cons, and longitudinal studies while others are interested in one small piece such as processor speed or disk storage. While it's impossible to tell someone what will work best in their system, I can let people know exactly what I'm using and what I prefer. I've listened to countless configurations on many operating systems and hardware platforms. In addition I continue to evaluate new, old, and state-of-the-art software and hardware frequently. What follows is a list of my music servers, network configuration, remote control options, diagrams of server placement outside of my listening room etc...


     

     

    This document will be updated as I add and remove components from my permanent music server collection. None of the following equipment is here on review or on loan from a manufacturer, distributor, or retailer.

     

    System Diagram

    Click to enlarge
    CA Music Server DiagramNext to my listening room is a closet where I keep my music servers. There is a passthrough port in the wall for cabling between the servers and components (USB, FireWire, S/PDIF, AES, Ethernet). Virtually no noise can be heard in the listening room while music is playing, even during very quiet passages. Close to the listening room is a utility room where an Internet connection comes into the house. This is where one wireless access point is placed in addition to a noisy NAS unit for disk storage. This diagram is not to scale rather it's just to illustrate what's going on in my system. Hopefully this will help readers not only understand what I am using, but also help readers gain perspective when reading reviews of equipment here on Computer Audiophile. I'm not hiding an ENIAC hiding here as a super music server. I'm getting fabulous sound from the components listed in this diagram and the following detailed illustrations.


     

     

    Mac G5

    Click to enlarge
    Mac G5 Music ServerApple Mac G5 2.0 DP (M9032LL/A)
    2 x PowerPC 970 (G5) CPUs
    3 GB - 533 MHz PC2-4200 DDR2
    1 S/PDIF Optical Output
    USB, FireWire 400 & 800
    OCZ Vertex Turbo 2.5" 120GB SATA II MLC SSD (OCZSSD2-1VTXT120G)
    Apple OS X 10.4 Tiger
    Lynx Studio AES16 PCI Digital Audio Input/Output
    Gotham Audio custom HD26 to XLR AES/EBU cable to DAC
    Playback Software: Apple iTunes, Sonic Studio Amarra
    Network Attached Storage (NAS) drive for main music storage (5TB) Thecus N5200B Pro


     

     

    Dell Inspiron 530

    Click to enlarge
    Dell 530 Music Server Also featured as the Music Server for a Song
    Dell Inspiron 530
    2.2 GHz Intel Celeron CPU
    2 GB RAM
    USB
    320 GB 5400 RPM Spinning Hard Drive
    Operating System: Microsoft Windows XP 32-bit
    Lynx Studio AES16 PCI Digital Audio Input/Output
    Gotham Audio custom HD26 to XLR AES/EBU cable to DAC
    Network Attached Storage NAS drive for main music storage (5TB) Thecus N5200B Pro
    Playback Software: MediaMonkey v. 3, J River Media Center v. 14
    CD Ripping Software: dBpoweramp


     

     

    Mac Pro

    Click to enlarge
    Mac Pro Music ServerApple Mac Pro (MA970LL/A)
    2 x 2.8 GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon
    10 GB -800 MHz DDR2 EEC FB-DIMM 1 S/PDIF Optical Output
    USB, FireWire 400 & 800
    Solid State Disk: MemoRight GT 2.5" 64GB SATA II SLC SSD (MR25.2-064S)
    Operating Systems: Apple OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit via OS X Boot Camp
    Lynx Studio AES16e PCIe Digital Audio Input/Output
    Gotham Audio custom HD26 to XLR AES/EBU cable to DAC
    Network Attached Storage NAS drive for main music storage (5TB) Thecus N5200B Pro
    Playback Software: Apple iTunes, Sonic Studio Amarra


     

     

    MacBook Pro 13"

    Click to enlarge
    MacBook Pro Music ServerApple 13" MacBook Pro (MB990LL/A)
    2.26 GHz Intel Core Two Duo
    4 GB - 1066 MHz DDR3 SDRAM
    1 S/PDIF Mini Optical Out
    USB, FireWire 800
    SD Card Slot
    OCZ Vertex Turbo 2.5" 120GB SATA II MLC SSD (OCZSSD2-1VTXT120G)
    Apple OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard
    Network Attached Storage NAS drive for main music storage (5TB) Thecus N5200B Pro
    Playback Software: Apple iTunes, Sonic Studio Amarra


     

     

    Current Music Server Side Projects

    1. Embedded Linux running on an ALIX3d3 single board computer. Totally fanless system, extremely small, low heat, and low cost ($132).LINK

    2. Embedded Linux running on an Intel D945GSEJT single board computer. Totally fanless system, extremely small, low heat, and low cost ($109).LINK

     

     

     
    Comments 94 Comments
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Eloise - I don't use Foobar because it's like looking at a spreadsheet. I consider it a laboratory tool that's there if I need it, but it's not my cup of tea. Sure I can use another skin, but I'm just not into it. Nothing wrong with Foobar sonically though. I share one library for all my Macs, plus I have a small library on my MacBook Pro that's more for testing and fooling around than anything. I store the complete iTunes folder on the NAS. This way I don't have to update individual library files on each Mac.
    1. Audio_ELF's Avatar
      Audio_ELF -
      When you share the iTunes folder and library files, can you access it with more than one computer at once, or is it limited to having iTunes loaded on one only at once?<br />
      <br />
      Eloise
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      I don't take the chance of sharing the library. Plus, I don't need to because all my servers are connected to the same system. Once of these days I'll play with it, but I have a feeling it may take a while for a problem to happen.
    1. Deyorew's Avatar
      Deyorew -
      What about Stereo Equipment?<br />
      <br />
      What speakers, dacs, interconnect, sources, amplifiers do you have in the system at all times? (understanding you switch out some, but certainly there are some ones that stick around a while)<br />
      <br />
      Make and Models?
    1. Mike in MD's Avatar
      Mike in MD -
      Chris,<br />
      I will be very interested in hearing more as these "side projects" progress. I did not like my experience buying the Zalman setup from the west coast computer shop. These fanless single board computers in a small case with an SSD should be a real winner for someone who is willing to use Linux.<br />
      <br />
      Mike<br />
    1. nyc_paramedic's Avatar
      nyc_paramedic -
      Chris, <br />
      <br />
      Did you receive my reply to your inquiry about my Alix setup? I got back to you within a couple of says but heard nothing back. let me know if you have any more questions.<br />
      <br />
      Nick
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Nick - I certainly did and I've been in my own world working on the Alix board and the Intel board since last Friday. Thanks for the information I'll be in touch shortly as I have a question or two for you :~)
    1. Egon's Avatar
      Egon -
      Eloise- I'm not sure if this will answer your question, but with PC it is possible to run multiple ITunes instances off the same Itunes library. I have a NAS with up to four sources (3 PCs & Apple TV streaming) from the same Itunes library, all pointed to the same .itl file, running at the same time. Control them from the same Touch to feed Airport Expresses in different rooms of the house. 4 different songs, 4 computers, playing at same time, no issues so far in 8+ months with this setup.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      That's great to hear Egon. When you rip CDs do you still have iTunes open on all the computers? I'm glad you've had it running for many months.
    1. jb5200's Avatar
      jb5200 -
      Hey Chris I noticed you mentioned that using a laptop is the ultimate remote. I looked into the remote desktop solution and it sounds promising. If I use my netbook to access my music from the internal drives in my desktop in another room how well does that work?<br />
      <br />
      Can I have XP on my netbook and Windows 7 on the desktop, will that work?<br />
      <br />
      And lastly, if I am accessing my music using the netbook to the remote desktop can someone go onto my desktop and use it while I am using my netbook to access it? I hope that makes sense.<br />
      <br />
      Here's what I am thinking, I was going to put the desktop right next to my audio tower to connect it my stereo but if I can use the remote desktop and still access it without putting it right next to my tower (less clutter, noise, cables, etc.) why not, right? I just wanted to make sure it would work just as good and to see if someone can still use my desktop while I was also accessing it or is it pretty much locked to me once I log on using the remote desktop?<br />
      <br />
      Thanks
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi JB - This can be tricky depending on what version of Windows you use and if you want to use third party applications. Not all versions of Windows allow remote desktop. If your music server is running Windows 7 it will need the professional or ultimate version in order to be controlled via Remote Desktop. Any version can be controlled by third party VNC software.<br />
      <br />
      Nobody will be able to use your computer that is being remote controlled.<br />
      <br />
      It's really not that difficult even if I just made it seem hard.
    1. silverarrows's Avatar
      silverarrows -
      I'm pretty sure this is the type of solution I'm looking for. My main computer is an iMac. That is what I use to manage and add to the library which is stored externally on a NAS. I tried the library share thing with another XP PC and while it does pick up the library, I can't control it with my iPod touch since it is not in the main library. Chris, in your setup, can multiple computers add to the library and are they all in sync automatically? I'm not sure now to point my PC to the itl file, if there is one, on my iMac. Ideally, I would like cover flow and to be able to use Remote with all of my computers.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Yeah, the NAS setup works wonderful with multiple computers. Since my computers share the same library there really is nothing to sync. They can all add to the library without problems. I just make sure iTunes isn't open on the machines not adding to the library at the same time. If iTunes had a real database they could all add at the same time. <br />
      <br />
      To point computers to the NAS located iTunes library just direct iTunes to the iTunes folder. You don't have to select a specific file. iTunes will figure it out. Hold down shift on a PC or Option on a Mac when opening iTunes and you'll have the option to browse to the library.
    1. Andrew S.'s Avatar
      Andrew S. -
      How's MPD & Linux coming along Chris?<br />
      have you managed to add AIFF/ALAC support in MPD? <br />
      My impressions cf Amarra are that it is more "raw" but equally enjoyable. And streets ahead of Win.<br />
      I imagine your async USB dacs would be the thing.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Andrew - Things are going extremely well with Linux and MPD. You should hear the sound I'm getting right now. absolutely fabulous :~) Yes, the async USB input on the dCS stack is incredible and the total sound in my listening room is stunning at this moment in time. So enjoyable to listen to my music this way!
    1. Andrew S.'s Avatar
      Andrew S. -
      I wish I could! I'd be over in two shakes of a lamb's tail.<br />
      <br />
      There is something delicious about combining a sub $200 transport and a $40,000 (?) dCS stack. Less is definitely more wrt computer audio IME.<br />
      <br />
      I know the Alix 2d2 I have around the place is very good as a transport (Thanks Nick - NYC Paramedic). <br />
      <br />
      How good is the dCS U Clock & Scarlati! Amazing front to back dimensionality. Actually the dCS U Clock and any dCS dac eg the Elgar Plus is amazing.<br />
      <br />
      On a tangential note my Quad 57's are finished having new bass panels/fabric grills/psu's/clamp boards fitted and are due back in a week - yippee. Mahler without arcing - joy!<br />
      <br />
    1. Audio_ELF's Avatar
      Audio_ELF -
      Chris ... <br />
      A question that someone else asked and I thought I knew the answer but sure you'll know for sure ... can the PC just open the same iTunes Library files as the Mac? I thought the answer was no but perhaps you could clarify for us!<br />
      <br />
      Another thought I had - in trialing MPd, have you tried it on a "full spec" PC such as your Dell box?<br />
      <br />
      Eloise
    1. Egon's Avatar
      Egon -
      I was asked above whether I can rip CDs on my PCs with multiple computers simultaneously using the same .itl file. And I'm not sure, haven't had time the last couple of nights to test it out.<br />
      <br />
      My logic with this thing is that ITunes code has to allow for multiple different streams from the same library if someone owned several streaming Apple TVs. So I'm guessing that's why all my PCs are able to use the same .itl file on my network. (I have only PC so can't comment on the Mac/PC use from same file.) Anything that's outside just streaming, I don't mess with it because it's easy to avoid.<br />
      <br />
      As a precaution, when making any change to my ITunes library, or updating software, I close all but one computer. Once changes are made I'll open the others as needed for streaming needs. I'll test this weekend whether or not it's necessary and post results.
    1. Andrew S.'s Avatar
      Andrew S. -
      @ Eliose - I too would love to know if Chis has run MPD on his eg Dell.<br />
      <br />
      I run MPD on both my regular pc music server and the Alix 2d2. The regular pc sounds great but the Alix is superior. Which is not surprising when you consider the Alix draws 3 watts, is truly headless (you set up via SSH) does one thing and one thing only. Having said that I tend to use the regular pc as it is multi functional ie I have it hooked up by HDMI to my telly and eg can type this while listening.<br />
      <br />
      On the pc I have tried Linux Mint and Ubuntu Studio. Ubuntu studio sounds amazing. Linux Mint (which is a repackaged regular Ubuntu with all the codecs installed) is slightly inferior. This is due I assume to the low latency kernel in Studio. The 32 bit versions of Studio and Mint both sound better than the 64 bit versions. Linux likes less ram - being hard limited to 3GB isn't a bad thing.<br />
      <br />
      I also run Win7 64x with Foobar + Wasapi. Windows likes lots of Ram - 8GB is good. Foo sounds very good - I use it eg for listening to online radio.<br />
      <br />
      The mobo does make a difference with a Asus P5Q Pro sounding the best of several I tried - I assume because it offloads video duties to a pci card. Plus debian plays nice with it. Not always a given.<br />
      <br />
      I have tried unsuccessfully to port MPD to Snow Leopard - I don't know enough about it to not stuff up my Mac so have given up on that little venture. Just for fun I did run Studio under Parallels but could discern no real difference to iTunes and core audio (not surprising since Parallels uses core audio) I've yet to run Studio under Boot Camp. Mucking around with my Mac work laptop is a tad dangerous. <br />
      <br />
      I found Amarra, when I tried it, to be a smoother more analogue sound and MPD to be more raw and brutally transparent. I liked each in their own way. <br />
      <br />
      The Alix 3d3 is interesting because it can be used with a display - plus set up is easier.<br />
      <br />
      I run AIFF for Mac and Flac for MPD/Foo. I like having multiple back ups in any event.
    1. ldolse's Avatar
      ldolse -
      The problem with testing the Dell is Lynx AES 16 drivers. Using the Lynx requires yanking out the more popular ALSA sound system and replacing it with OSS, and it also means paying 50 bucks to the OSS guys to get the closed source drivers.<br />
      <br />
      I think the answer for TV based control is to get a client that can run from a TV. Someone's already developed a Linux based client aimed at a TV, but I haven't tested that out as I don't use Linux for my HTPC, uing a Mac Mini/Plex. Would love to see the Plex or XBMC guys add mpd integration, but I don't know that it will ever happen. There has been a bit of interest on both boards, and someone started a proof of concept project, but it never got far.<br />
      <br />
      The Network Media Tank community has something that looks interesting:<br />
      http://www.networkedmediatank.com/showthread.php?tid=23653&page=1<br />
      <br />
      There is also an AppleTV client on the MPD wiki...
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