Chipbyrd

In need of help.

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I am clueless.

 

Almost all of my music is on iTunes. I know that wasn’t the smartest move, but when I bought most of it I was more concerned with convenience than the quality of the audio. I even gave away a bunch of my cd’s.

 

So here’s my dilemma. My listening area is in my basement. My wife has been very accommodating in letting me set up a two channel room. I have a Cambridge Audio 840a and 840e. I want to get the music from a computer to my preamp. FWIW, the CA 840e has balanced inputs. I know I need a reasonably good DAC. I am leaning toward a Benchmark DAC1 – USB (largely because of all the good reviews). But I would be willing to consider another model in the same price range $1200ish.

 

I will need to purchase a small computer for my listening area and I was thinking about buying a small, inexpensive netbook. Here are a couple questions.

 

1) Should I buy a computer that I place next to the DAC and preamp and control it with my iPad?

2) Or, should I go for the netbook and run a 10’ cord to the DAC? (That wouldn’t be a problem in terms of convenience.)

3) Whether I use a computer next to the DAC or run a cable from the netbook, what is the best kinds of cables—USB, Toslink, or something else?

4) And for some reason, this feels like a really stupid question, but is there any reason I will need a cd player? Since all my music is digitally stored I don’t see myself beginning to buy cd’s.

 

I would appreciate any advice. My goal is the best audio I can get, apart from rebuying all my music (although I just realized that there are sites where you can download uncompressed music). I have fairly good separates (I really dig the CA’s) and have comparable speakers. How do I get my music from my computer to my audio gear? I am clueless.

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A couple of things.

 

I think a netbook is too weak, in other words they usually have marginal power and you may have trouble running some player software. I'd get no less than a decent laptop or Mac Mini.

 

I think the 10 foot cord route is ok as long as you use a decent cable (I mean well put together not expensive necessarily).

 

You'll need to go either USB or if your dac doesn't have an USB in you'll need a USB to Coax converter. Or you'll need a hiqh quality soundcard for your computer like the @julie. I advise that you don't use the pc's native Coax or Optical outs. I'm not sure about the Macs, in that regard.

 

As to balanced inputs, you can get converters if you need them. Balanced, unbalanced generally is no big deal either way when it comes to home audios.

 

And no you don't need a cd player as long as you keep back ups (several) of your files. And in any case I'd keep a dvd player as they are nice for concert videos and the like and they usually can play cds too.

 

I hope this helps a bit and good luck.

 

-Chris

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One more thing. If money is a concern at all, there are much less expensive dacs that will do an excellent and comparable job to the Benchmark. Many in the $350 - $600 range. The Musical Fidelity V-Dac II comes immediately to mind, but there are many others.

 

-Chris

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I was thinking of a Mac Mini, so that really helps. As long as I am using USB do I need an upgraded sound card? Or will my dac handle that? And can you give me an idea what a good 8' to 10' USB would cost?

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Convenience and ease of use is IMO what computer audio is all about, so if to we're my $1200, I'd go the route of a co-located Mac Mini connected to Cambridge DacMagic Plus which gives you asynchronous USB and balanced outs for your preamp. Combined, the cost is equal to your DAC only budget. As to USB cables, any cable will do. How you route the cable is more important than the brand or cost.

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I also think a mac mini would be a good move. I have never regretted mine. If you also have a TV in your basement paradise, the mini has an HDMI out as well, so you can serve movies. In addition to USB, the mini has a mini toslink optical out, which in my experience works quite well.

 

The new mini does not have a CD drive, but you can get an external USB CD drive if you need one to rip CDs.

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I was thinking of a Mac Mini, so that really helps. As long as I am using USB do I need an upgraded sound card? Or will my dac handle that? And can you give me an idea what a good 8' to 10' USB would cost?

 

If you use a Mac you don't need a sound card. If you use USB on either Mac or PC you don't need a sound card. As to the usb cable, if you buy it online it should cost less than $20. Plus with a Mac you can go optical I think. Decibel is very good and inexpensive software to go with on the Mac.

 

As Mayhem mentioned, DacMagic is another possibility, although I'd probably favor the Musical Fidelity as it's less expensive and does about the same as the DacMagic. Plus there are lots of other dacs.

 

Computer audio is not only about convenience, many claim that it sounds better than most if not all cd players, when done correctly.

 

-Chris

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If you use a Mac you don't need a sound card. If you use USB on either Mac or PC you don't need a sound card. As to the usb cable, if you buy it online it should cost less than $20. Plus with a Mac you can go optical I think. Decibel is very good and inexpensive software to go with on the Mac.

 

As Mayhem mentioned, DacMagic is another possibility, although I'd probably favor the Musical Fidelity as it's less expensive and does about the same as the DacMagic. Plus there are lots of other dacs.

 

Computer audio is not only about convenience, many claim that it sounds better than most if not all cd players, when done correctly.

 

-Chris

 

Sorry Chris, but coming from the pro audio side of things, I prefer the performance of balanced interconnects whenever possible and in the case of computer audio, the need to wick off power supply noise through the shield instead of sharing it with the signal+ is worth the cost to match the OPs balanced inputs. I guess we'll just agree to disagree on the subject.

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I really appreciate all th help. I have settled on several thing, but I still have one question. Is USB or coaxial or toslink better? When I read the specs on dacs they seem to vary, i. e., it appears to have a higher rate with coaxial. Does that mean that coaxial is necessarily a better choice. Thanks again for the help.

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There is zero agreement on which input is best. Since you are going with a mac mini, you can try out both usb and toslink and see which one works best. There is no need to pay a bomb on digital interconnects. Also if you are rebuilding your music library, CDs are a less expensive than hi res downloads plus CDs give you a back up if something ever goes wrong with your hard disc.

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As to digital transmission interconnects, as previously posted you'll find passionate arguments for all of which some can be substantiated via measurements but none through listening tests other than subjective opinions. In other words, you asked the wrong question. Best to research the topic on your own so you might preserve your own objectivity. You'll find enough to make a sound decision in a couple of hours. Controversial topics include digital jitter and electromechanical interference and whether these anomalies are audible. In the case of USB, there's a case for asynchronous data transfer capability, something not possible with the optical or coax format. Whether there's an audible benefit again, is best to your own objectivity. Good luck in your search. Using a Mac mini and a multi input type DAC allows you to have the flexibility to use both.

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Everyone has been super helpful. So here's where I am. I will be putting all of my digital music on my Mac Mini. It will be connected to a Dacmagic plus. The dac will be connected to my preamp. Here's my next question: Is there software that will allow me to control the Mac Mini remotely from my iPad (I would prefer not to put a monitor in my listening area). So my iPad essentially becomes a remote. I know this is a "software" question, but I figured it was so basic for most of you that I wouldn't need to post it in a different section. Thanks.

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Is there software that will allow me to control the Mac Mini remotely from my iPad (I would prefer not to put a monitor in my listening area).

 

Check out the VNC clients available in the iTunes App Store. There are a lot of them. I don't usually control my Mac mini music server this way, but I've tried LogMeIn (the free version) and it worked pretty well.

 

--David

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If you rip everything to Apple Lossless and use iTunes, the Remote app is an excellent controller and works flawlessly with iTunes. This arrangement also allows you to easily add a music/video streaming network to your system to send all of your iTunes content to any or all rooms of your home. I currently run seven zones so my music follows me wherever I go....including the bath!

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Mayhem, I like your title. It describes my audio sensibilities since I have tried to go digital. I think I mentioned above, my music is already on iTunes. Unfortunately, I gave away most of my cd’s a few years ago. (I know, BONEHEAD) So I will be playing them through iTune through 256k.

 

Anyway, can I connect easily to the Mini Mac from my iPad and just use iTunes? As a novice, it seems odd not having a monitor and just using the iPad. But will that work? Thanks again for all the help.

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The Remote app is primarily for controlling iTunes of which it does extremely well. In order to operate the Mini's OS, you'll need a remote desktop app. Sorry to say, I'm not familiar with the functionality of these first hand, but looking through apps on the app store looks like there's some promising candidates. I would start a thread in the General Forum asking for guidance on which Remote Desktop App works best.

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If you rip everything to Apple Lossless and use iTunes, the Remote app is an excellent controller and works flawlessly with iTunes. This arrangement also allows you to easily add a music/video streaming network to your system to send all of your iTunes content to any or all rooms of your home. I currently run seven zones so my music follows me wherever I go....including the bath!

 

Mayhem,

 

I need to learn more about these "zones" you were talking about here. I use the Remote app on my iPhone to control iTunes but, how do you get it in different rooms? Wireless speakers? If so, which ones? And, can you turn some speakers off (in one room) and turn on others (in the next room) with the iPhone or Remote app?

 

Thank you in advance for any light you can shed on the matter.

 

Vaders Son

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Each zone requires either an Airport Express or an Apple TV or some other AirPlay enabled device such as many of today's AV receivers or stand alone powered units from Logitech, B&W, etc. You'll also need a network to connect all of the devices to, whether wireless or wired. Once the forementioned devices are connected to the network, they become available for streaming and control. Using the Remote app, you simply select the AirPlay Icon and a toolbox opens showing all of the zones. You can select which ever zone you wish to listen in or select all for background or party music. The Apple TV units can be controlled directly from the display they're connected to and will display all of your stored iTunes content including photo's. You can use the supplied remote to navigate the menus or if the ATV is part of a complex system, a programmable remote works extremely well. Another convenient feature of Airplaynis direct streaming from an iPhone,Touch or Pad. Content from Apps like Pandora, LastFm or iTunes music stored on these devices can stream to any of the zones without having to turn on your computer. For the Apple TVs, you can also directly stream high definition video such as YouTube videos and many others.

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Each zone requires either an Airport Express or an Apple TV or some other AirPlay enabled device such as many of today's AV receivers or stand alone powered units from Logitech, B&W, etc. You'll also need a network to connect all of the devices to, whether wireless or wired. Once the forementioned devices are connected to the network, they become available for streaming and control. Using the Remote app, you simply select the AirPlay Icon and a toolbox opens showing all of the zones. You can select which ever zone you wish to listen in or select all for background or party music. The Apple TV units can be controlled directly from the display they're connected to and will display all of your stored iTunes content including photo's. You can use the supplied remote to navigate the menus or if the ATV is part of a complex system, a programmable remote works extremely well. Another convenient feature of Airplaynis direct streaming from an iPhone,Touch or Pad. Content from Apps like Pandora, LastFm or iTunes music stored on these devices can stream to any of the zones without having to turn on your computer. For the Apple TVs, you can also directly stream high definition video such as YouTube videos and many others.

 

Thank you for this! Very, very helpful! Have a great weekend!

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Each zone requires either an Airport Express or an Apple TV or some other AirPlay enabled device such as many of today's AV receivers or stand alone powered units from Logitech, B&W, etc. You'll also need a network to connect all of the devices to, whether wireless or wired. Once the forementioned devices are connected to the network, they become available for streaming and control. Using the Remote app, you simply select the AirPlay Icon and a toolbox opens showing all of the zones. You can select which ever zone you wish to listen in or select all for background or party music. The Apple TV units can be controlled directly from the display they're connected to and will display all of your stored iTunes content including photo's. You can use the supplied remote to navigate the menus or if the ATV is part of a complex system, a programmable remote works extremely well. Another convenient feature of Airplaynis direct streaming from an iPhone,Touch or Pad. Content from Apps like Pandora, LastFm or iTunes music stored on these devices can stream to any of the zones without having to turn on your computer. For the Apple TVs, you can also directly stream high definition video such as YouTube videos and many others.

 

Don't forget Airfoil which allows you to play synchronized music in more than one "zone" at a time - even one zone only applications. Very handy.

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Chip,

 

I use my Ipad as a remote for my MacBook Pro with Itunes and it is very simple and effective. Most of the discussions I've seen tend to say that the MacBook or MacMini's are excellent music players. You can do just as well with a PC, but the Mac's were engineered for audio since a long time ago. I remember ages ago meeting the sound engineer for Bruce Hornsby and seeing his home setup with Mac Quadra or something mixing his CD's. There are things I don't like about Itunes, but the first time I sat down with my Ipad with my entire music library available to me at the touch of my finger to the screen was REALLY cool and the way that all the Mac stuff talks to each other about music is pretty cool. With an Airport Express or the other standard Apple wireless stuff, you can stream music anywhere in your house for a ridiculous cheap price. Most of the proprietary itching powder of Itunes has been removed and it's much less confining than it used to be.

 

I think you'll be hard pressed to beat the performance of the MacMin and DacMagic combination and you'll have a sweet all Cambridge stack.

 

I use any old PC and DbPowerAmp per the CA Ripping guide found on this site and store all my music on a NetGear Duo NAS. My MacBook and Itunes sees the NAS drive over my network drive just fine and I just import the music to the Itunes library, but make sure you check the little box that says to leave the music files in place instead of copying to the library. I like having my music files in one big directory unmolested by Itunes that I can copy, backup, however I like without worrying about the Itunes library structure.

 

Or, you could just use a simple USB Hard Drive that would plug into any machine that is ripping your music, PC or Mac and then plug it into the MacMini. You could have two USB Drives for redundancy, or just have one USB Drive to move music around and backup the MacMini.

 

Whatever you do, make sure you keep at least two copies of your music on two different hard drives. I just assume ALL hard drives are crap and WILL fail when you least expect it. I think I could prove this statistically, but either way, it's the only best operating assumption about hard drives and data protection. Don't ever even worry about whether a hard drive is good or not, they're all crap (even if they're not). Just buy two and plan to throw one in the trash when you least expect it, right after you've just loaded hours of new music.

 

Cheers,

 

Jamie

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