S/P-dif coax v. S/P-dif RCA v. USB v. IEEE 1394a

Mike22 -- Thu, 11/11/2010 - 18:31

Hi,
  I am new to the AVguide, but a long time subscriber to TAS. I am also an IT professional and I build compters as a hobby. I want to build a music server and have some ideas that I would like to try in order to improve--or rather limit degradation of the sound. So I have been following the reviews and digital concept articles in TAS and other paper and electronic sources for guidence. 
  One kind of information that seems to be hard to find is a comparison of the effects on DAC performace of the available interfaces: S/P-dif RCA, S/P-dif optical, USB and IEEE 1394a (Firewire in the Apple world). Taming the increased jitter inherent in USB requires more expensive and complicated circuitry, but in other aspects of sound reproduction simple seems to be better than complicated. So it would seem likely that a given DAC might possibly sound better driven by the S/P-dif RCA or 1394a port (if it has one) than by a USB or even S/P-dif optical port.
  My interest is practical: A system builder (like me) who works from the motherboard up has many choices available in digital out interfaces in addition to USB. So it would be very interesting and helpful for purchase decisions to learn if a particular DAC sounds significantly better when driven from one or another type of interface.
  I could just build it and then see if the audio stores near me would let me schlep it in and test, but even if I could find some place that would go along with this, it would be a pain to carry it out.
  If anyone has experience with music software for Windows or Linux, I would appreciate hearing about that, as well.
Thanks,
Mike
 
 

Sam -- Thu, 11/11/2010 - 23:42

R.H just released his new edition guide to high end audio. That should have very useful information. Some claim USB or a wadia I transport can give u reference level sound. That is simply not true for now but may change shortly as Berkeley audio releases it's USB to xlr adapter due out any time. If not that id say in a computer the best way is to put a Lynx AES16 card and use it's balance cable with a high end DAC. A solid state drive may help with noise. Lots of info on these forums for u to research. Don't trust everything some products end up disappointing but that's part of the game .

Robert Harley -- Sat, 11/13/2010 - 22:00

In theory, FireWire (IEEE1394) is the best interface. It has wide bandwidth and is bi-directional, allowing the DAC to server as the master clock. Some of the newer USB implementations are catching up to the other interfaces, but USB is a non-starter unless it is asynchronous. SPDIF on TosLink optical is also not a good choice.
The sound of the DAC will vary greatly depending on the interface and source.

Sam -- Mon, 11/22/2010 - 19:40

Yes Robert, but could FireWire (IEEE1394) ever become a possiblity in high end audio and use with current or future DAC's? It looks like everyone is moving towards the USB route????? I am not sure but what are your thoughts as far as possible future audio interface Firewire vs. Asynchronous USB?

Barry Diament -- Tue, 11/23/2010 - 12:53

Hi Sam,

I've used a Firewire connection to my converters for many years now and wouldn't think of switching to another method of transferring digital audio.

Metric Halo's converters ( www.mhlabs.com ), particularly their ULN/LIO-8 have removed many of the reservations I've had about digital since I created my first CD master in 1983. They *do* require a Mac to set them up (and to take advantage of the software they come with) but once set up, they can operate "standalone". The ULN-8 and LIO-8 models also have their own (digitally controlled) analog volume control, so they can be used to feed power amps directly, eliminating the line stage and associated interconnects.

These are designed for professional use, so they may have more abilities and functions than what most folks will ever use. However, for their DACs alone, I can't think of another unit, at any price, I find as neutral to its input. (I have been involved in many blind comparisons of the ULN-8 with many contenders, from both the pro and audiophile worlds and have yet to hear one that approaches it, much less beats it.)

Just my perspective of course.

Best regards,
Barry
www.soundkeeperrecordings.com
www.barrydiamentaudio.com

Sam -- Tue, 11/23/2010 - 13:47

Barry, thanks for the info. Yea sounds like an excellent option. I guess my question in asking about FireWire in mainstream consumer products was for future choices or options that may develop. Even computer hardware over only a couple of years need to be updated. Also For example if USB will be the standard and most everyone is or will likely be using, new software and hardware will be easy to use(for those lookin for turnkey no brainer server option and a good user interfase. i.e. If some one makes a software/updates on windows or apple it would be easy to upgrade because it's easily available and have the most common jacks available. BUT if it requires one to update a whole 6k to 10k setup in a few years without the ease of software upgrades that would not be nice. Unless one buys the DAC you mention and a FireWire type output can be installed on any Mac or apple computer. I still don't buy these custom made server options selling $8k computers with only 1TB disk space. For 1 k you could get better computer options. The software itself(sooloos or qsonix) is not worth $7000 in my view. Those are snakeoil prices. But then it's just my view. Someone ought to make a reasonable software solution that's easy to use, and gives cover art. If you look at the science behind computers/hardiscs/datatransfer etc., 10k computers in fancy cases is just plane wrong and tricking the public.but then again what do I know. ayres website recommends starting with a Mac mini. It seems promising and the box us under 1k not 8k doing the same functions. I don't know where things are going for the general public but ur solution as a professional seems awsome. How is the software that came with it? Is it better than media monkey or iTunes? In terms of layout and ease of use to you?

Barry Diament -- Tue, 11/23/2010 - 14:36

Hi Sam,

All the Macs I've owned have come with Firewire ports, so I have not experienced this as an issue. (I don't know how good the Firewire implementations for Windows are.) Hopefully, they are fine.

Metric Halo interfaces have been around since 2001. A year or two ago, the company offered an upgrade for their oldest units, which essentially brings them up to today - improving the clocking and many other aspects of performance (which I found more than impressive 9 years ago). How many companies do that!? I think MH may be alone in this and it is just another one of the reasons I like them so much.

I'm confident that if something truly better than Firewire comes out, they'll offer that as an upgrade to the oldest units too.

As to the software that came with the Metric Halo interface, I am repeatedly finding myself saying "This is SO cool!" out loud as I use it.
The Record Panel section is simply the best recorder I've ever used, regardless of price or format. The main MIO Console even allows the use of what they call "Character" to provide many different types of sounds (mostly suitable for pop recordings but also usable for listening if one so desires), from "Valve" (tube) to "FET" to a variety of others. The EQ plug-ins are the cleanest equalizers I've ever heard and I use them when mastering - but not for simple listening, where I like to leave all options set to "None" and just hear what the input sounds like.

To be clear, the MH software doesn't include a "server" app and is not intended to replace Media Monkey, iTunes or any of the others. When I'm listening to the server, I use iTunes feeding its signal to the Metric Halo and listen through that.

I agree about some of the turnkey server packages out there. The software is beautiful but to me, not thousands and thousands of dollars beautiful. I've got a number of software packages I've listened to on my system (some of which I beta test) and continually return to the (free) iTunes. Some offer more convenience in terms of auto-switching of sample rates as you go from a file of one rate to a file of another, but in terms of sonics, my own testing (using listening as well as null comparisons to the sample, against the masters used to make the CDs I extracted with iTunes and against my own high resolution recordings played on the software that I used to create them) have shown the input to my DAC chip is exactly the same in all of them.

If I want to change sample rates to avoid sonically degrading on-the-fly conversion, I simply open the Audio/MIDI Setup (control panel), switch the rate, re-launch iTunes and go on about my listening. Sometimes, if I'm going from files of one rate to another a lot during a listening session, I'll open one of the other apps which makes the switch automatically. But I'd say, 99% of the time or more, iTunes never fails to impress me with its interface, ease of use and performance.

Best regards,
Barry
www.soundkeeperrecordings.com
www.barrydiamentaudio.com

Sam -- Tue, 11/23/2010 - 15:12

Barry, Thats very useful information. Thankyou! Now I wonder why Cutting edge digital companies like dCS, Spectral, Maridian, would not offer a Firewire Option if all Mac's have it. I tunes seems like serious enough of a user interfase...yea may be switiching and adujusting the resolution/sample rates is a small effort right now(which Im sure they will take care off if they figure out more and more people want that ease). I wonder why more cutting edge guys have not jumped into the Firewire option? Or may be they do use it and its not talked about much. I had not heard about Firewire untill recently...and USB(asynchronous) has only gotton attention in this last year. Us oldies have been mostly familiar with the usual s/pdif, XLR(AES/EBU) etc...stuff. The other thing that buggs me of a big old touch screen monitor is that either 1. Its away from the listening chair in the rack near the DAC. or 2. there is a big old monitor thats on the side of the listening chair that you have to twist and turn to lookup things. 3. if you use an iPhone or iPad to control the system anyways then what good is the mega buck touch screen software? especially if it can be made to make the same quality sound. I would like something when I am in the listening chair the darn thing does not have a wire attached to it, and its not so darn big that it is on a side table. Id also like to swift through music, search, make playlists, and set option wirelessly from the listening chair. If an Ipad can control lets say a macmini or other computer as a music server in a rack that would be great. If the Ipad control only plays,pause,stop etc..doing only basic functions then again.....it doesn't give you that control from the listening chair. May be its being lazy and I should move my butt, maybe we are a little bit behind....but I feel like the music server thing is progressing very fast. and why I want all this control in the listening chair is not just because I want to be lazy and relax...its to use and enjoy the full extent of technology as well. When remote controls first came out they had wires attached to them but wireless is amazing.
In my view a Music server should:
1. not distort the data to the DAC: i.e. if this firewire works or the upcoming Berkeley Asynchronous USB adaptor is equally as good that would take care of that.
2. there should be automatic or easy backup options:
3. It should play Hi-Resolution (something that doesn't need to be tweeked for different types of resolutions would be nice).
4. It should allow searching, formation of playlists, ALBUM ART(which helps significantly in searching rather than going over a list of 100 Tracks). A picture is worth a thousand words.
5. It should be quiet. (My dell is so darn noisy at all times with the fan and other noise its annoying no matter where you put it).

For an itunes bases system i think Mac mini or another mac that can be controlled by an ipad looks very promising and if Asynch.. usb can give better than megabuck cdtransport sound from a DAC everyone would be in buisness. And a music server could be made by the general public at a fraction of a cost with just as good sound. In 2010 with computer hardware and software technology at an amazing level I think there is hope in the near future for this. (I remember in the early 90's when I bought my first computer with primitive software and hardware) I paid through the nose for that and look where we have come over time with technology and affordablity. With all these advances there are people out there who still want to rob people with fancy boxed computer servers makes me cringe. I know we have options, I know people can choose, but 2TB with software and $10K price tag is just foolish in my view.

Barry Diament -- Tue, 11/23/2010 - 15:35

Hi Sam,

You said:
"...Now I wonder why Cutting edge digital companies like dCS, Spectral, Maridian, would not offer a Firewire Option if all Mac's have it..."

I believe Firewire development began in the mid-80s and came out in the mid '90s. From the start, it was designed for streaming audio and video, so it didn't have the limitations of USB, which was initially designed as a cheap way to connect a mouse or keyboard.

In my view, there is currently more opportunity for commerce with USB, so many companies are going that way. (All I can say is I'm very, very glad I found MH.)

Best regards,
Barry
www.soundkeeperrecordings.com
www.barrydiamentaudio.com

By the way, my backup "solution" involves a single click. I house my music library on an external drive and keep another as a mirror backup.
The software was free (sorry, Mac again ;-}) and is called Silverkeeper. Once the initial setup is done (to tell it the source and destination drives for a particular "backup set", there is just one on-screen button to click to run the backup.

ScottB -- Tue, 11/23/2010 - 18:34

Sam,

I've been messing around with "music servers" in one form or another for about 5 years, and have some different perspectives and experiences than Barry does, which may or may not apply to your situation.

First off, as Barry notes, Firewire preceeded USB 2.0 by many years, and was originally designed as a streaming media interface. Almost all digital pro audio and video gear was historically interfaced through Firewire, and most of it still is. There is no particular technical reason why Firewire should be superior to asynchronous USB 2.0 as an audio data transport, but the asynchronous USB protocol was an obscure part of the USB specification, and took special expertise to develop drivers for. So you haven't seen many asynchronous USB implementations until recently. My educated guess - and it's no more than that - is that USB will come to dominate the consumer side, while Firewire will continue to dominate in the pro audio and "prosumer" products like Weiss and Metric Halo.

Having used iTunes for my initial forays into the music server world, on both Mac and Windows, I don't quite share Barry's enthusiasm for it. iTunes has serious limitiations in tagging, browsing, audio format support, audio protocol support, remote control support, ripping, and sample rate switching. Overall, although iTunes is certainly simple to use, I increasingly found it was not easy to use, in the sense it didn't have enough functionality to let me do what I wanted to do without undue extra effort.

The tagging and browsing limitations - what AHC recently referred to as iTunes' flawed "directory structure" - are particularly problematic to me. I have a very large and diverse music collection, more than half of it Classical. A simple Composer/Artist/Album/Song tagging/browsing structure works OK for Pop/Rock, but it's totally inadequate for Classical. Support for advanced custom tagging and browsing - being able to utilize tags like Conductor, Orchestra, ComposerSort (lastname based), subGenre (symphony, quartet, etc), Instrument, Venue, Era, etc, etc make my music collection far more discoverable. And that, in my view, is 75% of the reason to move your collection to a music server in the first place. BTW, I have an iPad and iPod touch, and while the iTunes remote interface is certainly sexy to look at and interact with, it's even more limited in browsing capability than desktop iTunes.

To cut a long story short, I use a program called dbPowerAmp to do my ripping, and a program called J River Media Center to do browsing and playback. dbPowerAmp supports a very clever way to ensure error-free ripping without the extra time of dual rips; more importantly, it supports several metadata (tagging) databases that are much more consistent and complete than the Gracenote DB used by iTunes, saving lots of time in manual tag editing. J River allows you to define any custom tag you want, and use that tag in any of its user-configurable browsing modes. It supports basically every common and obscure digital audio format and resolution, including the FLAC format that is rapidly becoming the standard for lossless music downloads (hdtracks.com,iTrax,Linn,Passionato,etc). It will interface through any Windows-supported Audio protocol, including the new and very well-designed Windows Audio Session API (WASAPI) recommended by most high-end soundcards these days. It has a "library server" function which will allow you to host your music files on one PC in the network, then access them from any other PC, utilizing the same interface. You can even host your files on one system, play them back on a second system, and control browsing and playback from a third - that's exactly what I do. dbPowerAmp (www.dbpoweramp.com) is $38, JRMC (www.jriver.com) is $50, and you can install JRMC on up to 10 machines. Windows only for both, but if you can't live with iTunes, you're basically on Windows since iTunes is the only real choice on Mac (there is also Songbird, but it has its own issues).

My personal system now uses a Blue Smoke Systems Black Box (www.bluesmokesystems.com) as the playback system. It's a highly specialized, fanless, solid state hard drive PC designed entirely to be a low noise, low jitter digital audio source.The Rockport folks demo all of their systems using this as their source (including that system RH called the "best stereo he'd every heard"). At first blush, $7K seems outrageous. But I can tell you from painful personal experience, you can spend almost $4K building a generic fanless PC, with top of the line Lynx soundcard, and you still won't have anywhere near the performance, build quality, and aesthetics you get with the Black Box. The Black Box also contains some proprietary hardware and software oversampling solutions, which are designed to make Red Book digital (16/44.1) sound more analog-like, tube-like. I don't know how they work, but they are strikingly effective with some material. The Black Box feeds a low-jitter AES/EBU bitstream to a Berkeley AlphaDac, which also serves as my preamp. Spectral DMA 360 S2 amps and Magico M5s complete the best sounding system I've ever had. I control the system from my listening seat using JRMC on a Dell Mini 10 laptop with solid state hard drive. The Mini 10 was chosen because it's also fanless.

I'm intrigued by this Berkeley USB interface you're talking about - haven't heard about it yet. But that would obviously open up the possibility of utilizing the netbook directly as the playback device. You'd lose the Black Box oversampling algorithms, but gain a simpler, cheaper system.
Alternatively, you can use something like the superb Ayre QB-9 USB DAC, but you then need a separate preamp (which you may need anyway). There are numerous other options, depending on your budget, taste, existing equipment, etc.

All of this may seem a bit daunting at first, but trust me, when you get it all together, you'll never want to spin a disc again :)

Sam -- Tue, 11/23/2010 - 19:42

ScottB a true Audiophile!!!! Reasoning, Testing, Knowledge, Experience all put together in one Man! Thanks for your contribution.

agb -- Thu, 09/01/2011 - 14:51

Sorry Barry,

iTunes simply does not sound good. It is highly distorted and a pale facsimile of what is possible with any number of software solutions.

I happen to like FIDELIA player for it's simplicity and capability, and I have tried others. Even on a common iMac one can hear the solid improvement from FIDELIA.

iTunes next to it sounds like a transistor radio.

Barry Diament -- Thu, 09/01/2011 - 15:44

Hi agb,

I understand you do not like the sound from iTunes playback. You refer to it as "a pale facsimile of what is possible with any number of software solutions". I respect that this is how you feel and know other folks who feel similarly.

My own approach for evaluation differs. Since I seek to hear the true sound of the input rather than one that has been modified in any way (even if such modification makes something sound more "pleasant"), I use comparison with the original as my criterion for evaluation.

It is entirely possible that I am not (or my system is not) sensitive to the types of differences many folks describe. My experience over the years has shown me that different people have different sensitivities to different aspects of sound. That said, I find playback from iTunes to be sonically (and measurably) identical to the masters used to create the CDs I ripped into iTunes. (Again, perhaps my measurements are inadequate.)

Therefore, if iTunes plays back identically to the original master, any departure from that sound, no matter how much more "pleasant" would by definition be a departure from the sound of the original and hence, to my mind, a distortion.

I have Fidelia too, as well as a number of other playback applications. So far, all the ones I've tested provide the same (to me) sonic results. I have captured the output from several of these apps (including iTunes) from just ahead of the DAC chip in my ULN-8. So far, I have been able to null all of these against each other and against the original masters.

It would seem we all hear it differently. I know folks who like SACD; I find the treble discomforting. I know folks who find FLAC indistinguishable from .wav or .aif; I prefer the raw PCM every time. On the other hand, I know folks who tell me .wav sounds better than .aif; I have not been able to hear or to measure any differences.

Best regards,
Barry
www.soundkeeperrecordings.com
www.barrydiamentaudio.com

agb -- Fri, 03/02/2012 - 21:02

Barry, this is an old thread, I came across it by accident, so my very late reply.

I found it remarkable that you cannot hear the differences between the good engines like Fidelia's that use iZotope and iTunes. Since you cannot, can you explain why Amarra and Fidelia and many others are in business? Are these people con artists? And we who hear the improvements, and dramatic they are, some are bit perfect, are we just stupid? Imagining things? Or just foolish? Hey, anything is possible.

We are not speaking of minor improvements here Barry. Major ones, much bigger than the differences between DACs....and I see you're arguing about the merits of DACs you assert are superior, and I assume with which you are using iTunes.

One cannot argue with someone who admits to not hearing huge differences most can, can one? Yet you hear great improvements with your DAC most would dismiss as relatively minor. Hmmm? Of course there are audible differences between DACs. And between iTunes and good software too.

The better players indeed can sound alike. Amarra and Fidelia for example do. Neither sound even remotely close to iTunes. They both use iZotope. Next to these fully fleshed out sonic imagery, iTunes sounds like early digital, threadbare, wiry, pale, indistinct, lacking saturation, color, and dimension. And dynamics and transient capability. The best way to describe it is like a pencil etching versus a saturated oil painting. The last realistic, the first like a mirage. A ghost.

Like I said, earlier and maintain today, iTunes sounds like a transistor radio. Perhaps it's your DAC that does (though I doubt that, as well as I doubt that it is as good as you assert) and you judge everything by what goes through it? I can't answer these, but I would be extremely interested if others on this thread also can't hear the differences I had described. An aside, not that it matters a great deal, I too have over three decades of experience, as well as having had written for this journal for over a decade.

In fact, I am transferring about 3000 tunes right now - have been doing this project for two months for my sister. I create lists on iTunes of course, the usual way. She will listen to these on an iPod classic. Which is what it is. Not high end, but adequate for her purposes.

And during this exercise I needed to listen to both iTunes and Fidelia on both my iMac's speakers and on a desktop system using Audeze LCD-2 headphones and a Wyred4Sound DAC-2, Moon Silver Dragon wire and Nordost USB wire. So this experiment was repeated literally hundreds of times.

Speaking of processing, iTunes cannot save the packets in memory mode, nor does it have many features Fidelia does. iTunes processes through Apple CORE. Fidelia processes through a far more sophisticated algorithm, iZotope. I am however not up to discussing the technicalities, other than to suggest that iTunes was designed as a basic player best adept at sorting and labeling tunes, and not designed for ultrahigh fidelity playback; iZotope is a professional software that you probably use... perhaps in another application, A-D conversion?

From what I understand, iZotope-based blayback software is far more sophisticated and extracts far more information from the digital stream than iTunes can through CORE Audio because I can hear it with both my ears stuffed with a woman's nipples.

Lastly I add is that I can easily hear the dramatic improvements using Fidelia - not just differences, but solid, repeatable and easily to hear improvements - and so do tens of thousands of others who are using these players today. In fact, you may be alone whom I've heard asserting that you hear no differences - and for this discussion I leave out the issue regarding which is better. Even then, I believe that you hear no differences. I take you for your word.

On that note, since you alone assert what you are not hearing, meaning what other do hear cannot exist (have I heard this argument before?) the phenomenon thousands of others regularly and repeatably do hear that is, do you think there's a problem somewhere?

Barry Diament -- Mon, 09/03/2012 - 13:52

agb,

I've already said I find iTunes to match the *master*, so any departure is by definition, a distortion of the original. You might *like* it Arthur and I wouldn't argue with that.

As to the operation of the different applications, iZotope is not the engine behind Fidelia or any other server application. By the way, iZotope is the name of the company and not the name of any particular product. Their products (such as their "64-bit SRC" and "MBIT+" are used for *processing*, in this case, specifically for sample rate conversion and/or dither and noise shaping. I'm quite familiar with them and use a number of their products in my work.

However, when I listen to my music server, I listen to everything at its native rate, with no processing applied. Perhaps that is the source of the differences you hear. If you engage processing, all the applications will sound different from each other.

As to your having written for this journal for three decades, one would think that by this time, if not three decades ago, you'd have learned to actually listen to something before offering comment - as you did on the converters I use. (Frankly, this makes me wonder how many other *opinions* you've offered over those three decades without having inconvenienced yourself with actual experience.)

Lastly, I have never asserted that what I hear or do not hear is true for other folks. Seems like you not only came to argue, you brought a pre-packaged argument along with you, which has nothing to do with anything I said. For that, you are on your own. Might want to actually get some facts together next time though.

And while you're at it, ask yourself why you're so angry and so contentious. It is just *audio* Arthur! Get a grip! I'll tell you this: Arguments never come from folks who are confident in what they say.

Have a good life.

Barry
www.soundkeeperrecordings.com
www.barrydiamentaudio.com

staxguy -- Tue, 11/23/2010 - 15:40

I guess then a $12,000 sound card option (digital IO with analog monitoring I believe) won't interest you then. :)

Smiles,
Staxguy

Barry Diament -- Tue, 11/23/2010 - 16:01

Hi Staxguy,

It would have to outperform a ULN-8 at $5,995, with 8 channels of the best A-D in my experience, 8 of the best D-A in my experience, 8 AES/EBU ins and outs, 8 of the most transparent and dynamic mic preamps in my experience, 8 analog ins and outs, a wonderful, separate headphone preamp, more dsp horsepower than I'll ever use, the best recorder I've ever heard and to top it all off, the most transparent sound I've experienced.
(Other than that, its okay. ;-})

Please let me know when you find one. ;-}

Best regards,
Barry
www.soundkeeperrecordings.com
www.barrydiamentaudio.com

staxguy -- Tue, 11/23/2010 - 20:22

Hi Barry,

We're in a different world. This must be a phenomenal product. Last I checked the shops (just did again at MusiciansFriend online) even good two-channel (let alone, 8 channel), simple MIC pre-amps were in excess of $1000 per channel per, let alone stunning (best) 8-channel AD/DA, headphone amp, and dsp, etc. Heck, my stereo headphone amp is $2,249.99 (just checked Elusive Disc) which is actually a bit outdated for reference gear ('phones are $2,649.99 if I wanted another pair) and the better ones are double that or so now. That's only phones.

Now, I don't know the quality of a ULN-8 (haven't heard it so can't say, just assume it's better than the latest Apogee, which is too popular to miss), but a EMM Labs DAC-8 (8 channel) which Bob Ludwig and Bob Woods "schill" for is $8,625 at Super Audio Center (who sells Sonoma), and a ADC-8 is also $8,625, which makes the ULN-8 AMAZING VALUE, if it tops these standard units. DCS used to make great Pro DACs and such, I know (though a bit complicated to use) but it seems they have stopped, from their website. As you know, audiophile AD/DA's (2 channel IO) can easily exceed $30,000 or more.

There are a couple of well regarded 8-channel converters besides the Meitner / EMM Labs ones, though I'm out of the market for such, and haven't kept abreast.

I see from your website that you're monitoring on Magnepan MG 3.6's, with nice Nordost cabling, and love the shots you have of your ULN-8! Your mastering credits are pretty long - and well filled - love Benny Carter ("My Man Benny, My Man Phil" with Phil Woods and of course his earlier material) - and diverse - wow - ELP / NIN / CSNY / etc!

I guess I'll have to give the ULN-8 a listen. :)

What do you do for monitoring bass, though? Admittedly, not many ghetto blasters or Bose Wave Radio's go below the MG 3.6's 34 Hz -3db point. I won't argue with someone who'se done mastering for EMI, etc. but I wonder if you roll off or visually monitor your sub-bass if you're not hearing (or feeling) in your room? If the 3.6 really goes nicely up to 40 KHz, that's fine enough for 24/96, I guess.

When you picked out the ULN-8 from the bunch, what AD/DA's did you get rid of in its place? :)

I simply love your list of credits. Very good on you!

Staxguy

Barry Diament -- Tue, 11/23/2010 - 21:21

Hi Staxguy,

Thank you for your kind words.

As to EMM and other gear, one of my fellow Metric Halo colleagues is Ed Abbott at Universal Mastering. He was a huge fan of the excellent Meitner gear too. Then he heard the ULN-8.
( http://blog.mixonline.com/briefingroom/2009/12/29/metric-halo-gear-a-sta... )

Before the '8, I was using a ULN-2 as my main workhorse. When the ULN-8 was in beta, a number of us did some blind comparisons of sets of three files (rock, jazz and a classical recording, the last by Keith Johnson) all transferred from the analog masters via over a dozen converters, ranging from my previous favorite, the Pacific Microsonics, to Meitner, Apogee, Lynx, Burl, Lavry, Prism, Weiss, Apogee and a number of others most folks here probably haven't heard of. In what I found to be an extraordinarily rare consensus among audio folks, everyone from whom I heard, including myself, picked the ULN-8 as their favorite. Actually, we picked it by number because the identities of the converters were not revealed until after everyone made their pick.

And mic pres? Bring on the Grace, Manley or any other comer. As with converters, it really depends on the type of sound one seeks. There is a lot of very good gear out there today. However, to my ears, much of it tends to fall into families of "colors". It is a rare beast indeed that simply gets out of the way. Perhaps not as commercially successful in the end as some that go for a more "fashionable" sound, whether that is via "enhanced detail" or by making everything "silky smooth". Still, for my work as well as my own listening, I prefer the gear that simply gets out of the way. This, to me, is where the '8 leaves all others, converters and mic pres alike, far behind.

As to my monitoring, no, I don't roll off anything at all. The room is fully treated acoustically and what is harder to make out in the photo on the BDA home page is the pair of subs behind (and slightly outboard of) the Maggies. The Maggies are run full range, with the subs crossed over at 30 Hz. The response is +/- 1.5 dB down to 20 Hz. I have not tried measuring lower, though the subs are spec'd to 16 Hz.
I do also monitor visually using Metric Halo's (there they are again) amazing SpectraFoo analysis software, some of which can be seen on the projection between the speakers on the "Studio" page.

Reading through my posts, I must clearly sound like a big fan of Metric Halo. I am.

Best regards,
Barry
www.soundkeeperrecordings.com
www.barrydiamentaudio.com

Sam -- Wed, 11/24/2010 - 00:57

Barry, you found ur current DAC better than the pacific microsonics? The PM is considered the best ever made in history by many experts. If ur current setup outdoes that. Then this thing sounds like a steel.

Barry Diament -- Wed, 11/24/2010 - 12:14

Hi Sam,

An easy choice in fact. (So did all the other beta team members I know of who listened to the same blind comparison, giving our responses before we were told which converters created which file sets.)

I too considered the PM "the best" - for many years. Then I heard the ULN-8. Then I participated in the comparison tests.
In my view, the '8 *is* a steal, big time.

To be clear, I still think the PM superb. Just not, to my ears, nearly as able to "get out of the way" as the '8 is.

Best regards,
Barry
www.soundkeeperrecordings.com
www.barrydiamentaudio.com

JIMV -- Sun, 12/26/2010 - 14:21

Try Channel D's Pure Music....a bargain!

scott sanwick -- Fri, 08/12/2011 - 17:28

so using toslink out of a mac mini to a dac is not a good choice? would it be better to use firewire from the mac mini to the dac? or to use usb with a usb-to-s/pdif interface? thank you

paulwelch250 -- Thu, 09/01/2011 - 20:48

Backing up the statements, in actaul parctice wit my Arcam r-DAC, I find sound tracks I like from HD tracks and down load them at the highest resoluion offered. The USB port on th rDAC makes it possible for me to know if I like the music or not (where as with head phone to rca converter I often can even tell much if like it because it so non hi fi. So then I burn a CD even though it takes the higher resolution and cuts it down to 44.1K and I slip it in my cd player which is connected into the r-DAC via co axial. Then finally I have sound that quailty that ranges from better than most of my well worn LPs to darn near live muisc quality. Therefore, the same DAC is used, nearly the same source file (high res to 44.1K conversion is care of my PC) but using different input port on the DAC, co axial input proving to be much better but is probably the fault of the USB interface format.

staxguy -- Thu, 11/18/2010 - 15:16

http://www.computeraudiophile.com/content/Magico-Merging-Technologies-an...
Mike,
You may find this link interesting, perhaps.
The more mainstream / popular solutions seem to be Apple-based, mixing the iTunes interface with replacement audio drivers, etc. I'm on Windows, myself, relying on my 24/96 MB PC audio chipset and/or same resolution SPDIF-RCA output, also MB. My interests were more towards multi-channel when I last thought of upgrading my PC audio hardware, so the RME Hammerfall solutions were more to my taste.
Today, I'd wonder how to get 32-bit / 384 KHz audio to/from my PC into something like the MSB Diamond DAC IV / Platinum Studio ADC pair.
I -think- I heard the new Mykerinos cards and Pyramix software setup mentioned positively on the Stereophile site, in reference to an audion at Magico, or something like that. How wonderful it sounded, etc. The Lynx solutions seem a lot more affordable.
Cheers,
Staxguy
 

ScottB -- Sat, 11/20/2010 - 21:07

I'm a former software CTO, and I've been using music servers as my sole music source in my high-end speaker and headphone setups for about three years now. RH, as usual, is absolutely dead on in his technical analysis: the best interface to a well-designed DAC is Firewire or asynchronous USB. To expand on what he said: given a bit-perfect playback software implementation, of which there are many, a Firewire or asynchronous USB interface to the DAC makes the price and quality of the computer source essentially irrelevant.

You are permitted skepticism: in the world of analog audio, everything makes a difference. In the digital audio world, it's the same. Digital audio fans are fond of saying "bits are bits" - and they're right. But a bitstream - a sequence of bits delivered at precise points in time - is an analog signal. If there are shifts in the timing of the bitstream, we get "jitter" - a form of distortion unique to digital audio. Any digital audio data source which communicates to a DAC through bitstream interfaces like coaxial SPDIF, optical SPDIF, AES/EBU, or HDMI, communicates in bitstream form, where the timing of the signal is established first at the signal source. Many DACS are now very good at correcting timing problems from bitstream sources, but such correction is never perfect.

In a Firewire or asynchronous USB interface, the communication with the DAC is not in bitstream form. The communication is instead in chunks of data - "packets" - which are delivered to the DAC on request. This type of communication is fundamentally similar to that used in computer networks, like your home or office network, or the Internet. Such communication is impervious to small intervals in the time of communication; all that matters is that the data arrive with perfect integrity, in time to fill the "input buffer" of the DAC before it empties. These kind of network tasks are the things even the cheapest computers are optimized to do, these days. The DAC itself has a clock which controls how the data is metered out from it's input buffer; in the case of asynchronous interfaces like Firewire and async USB, the DAC is therefore solely responsible for any audio artifacts resulting from converting the data from a "chunk" into a bitstream that the A/D converter uses. The upshot of this is, a $10K computer encased in gold will perform essentially identically to a $75 dust-covered piece of junk you bought from your local PC repair facility, if interfaced through Firewire or asynchronous USB.

Now, it's important to note that if your interface your DAC through SPDIF or similar, and your DAC has poor rejection of input jitter, the quality of your soundcard can matter quite a lot. And, if you're not trying to deliver just a bit-perfect copy of your digital audio to your DAC, but instead want to use some of the advanced software-based equalization or room-correction software solutions, the quality of your software solutions can matter a lot - and the best aren't free.

Sam -- Sun, 11/21/2010 - 14:05

ScottB, Thankyou for the detailed information you provided!

Brendan -- Tue, 11/23/2010 - 16:10

Do you think that USB cable quality is less important for asynchronous USB given that then data is being sent in packets rather than a bitstream? The audiophile USB cables on the market all talk about reducing jitter, but I'm wondering if this is even an issue for packet data whereas it makes sense that this could be an issue in a bitstream, thoughts?

ScottB -- Tue, 11/23/2010 - 19:00

Correct, the cable should have little impact on an asynchronous protocol (same with Firewire). Like any cable in the system, it must be well-shielded to screen EMI/RFI, but otherwise it has no more effect than the brand of ethernet cable in the internet connection you used to download your music file.

Sam -- Tue, 11/23/2010 - 19:43

The kimberKable USB seem good enough...they discuss how they do EMI/RFI shielding.....and don't cost an arm and a leg either.

cfmsp -- Tue, 11/23/2010 - 20:21

ScottB,

I share your enthusiasm for Firewire / Async USB interfaces, and agree with most of your comments in this thread. However, more than a few people are reporting (on Computer Audiophile, e.g.) that USB cables DO make a difference (beyond shielding). No one can explain why. Even Gordon Rankin - who created the first USB DACs - notes that they can affect sound.

OTOH, Firewire cabling does seem , as you suggest, to have no more effect than the brand of Ethernet cable.

I consider this an advantage for Firewire interfaces, i.e., one needn't worry about (or spend money on) upgraded "audiophile" USB cables.

FWIW, I own an Async USB DAC (Wavelength Proton, made by Gordon Rankin) and a Firewire DAC (Metric Halo LIO-8). I share Barry's enthusiasm for Metric Halo (in particular) and Firewire DAC interfaces ( in general).

Sam -- Mon, 11/22/2010 - 19:47

ScottB, How do you address the fan or other noise coming from the P.C? Do you use a quiet laptop instead? and what are the software options? a lot of companies are advertising using iphone or iPad as a remote control which seems like a good idea but what about the layout? i.e. how it appears on the ipad.  Are we still behind on the software part?
Also I posted a question for R.H. above regarding Asynchronous USB vs. Firewire future....what are your thoughts.  I think the Berkeley Audios upcoming Async USB device that can be used with any DAC which is due out in Jan 2011 looks promising.

cfmsp -- Tue, 11/23/2010 - 20:38

Sam,

Absolutely no reason to wait for Berkeley's Async USB device, there are several available already, not the least of which is Wavelength's latest release.

As for Firewire versus USB, I've been reading about the 'death' of Firewire since before I bought my first Firewire DAC. Can't speak for PCs, but Apple continues to provide Firewire ports on all of the computers, but the cheapest & smallest (i.e. no room) laptops. I personally don't see this changing until something like Lightpeak comes along.

ScottB -- Tue, 11/23/2010 - 21:06

Don't know about the Berkeley device, but almost all USB DACs and interfaces are currently limited to 96 khz maximum bit rates. I personally can't tell much difference - if any - between 88.2 and 176.4, but then my ears are 50 years old. There are very few 96K+ bit rate files available - Reference Recordings' HRx files and a couple of Linn recordings are the only ones I know of - but the purist may want that capability.

As for Firewire, Apple did discontinue the FW interface on its laptop line a few years back. But they got so much flack from their customer base, many of whom had investments in FW peripherals driven by Apple's enthusiasm for the format in the late 90s/early 00s, that they restored FW interfaces to most of their current models. Many Windows PCs, OTOH, don't have Firewire as standard configuration, and since most consumers are still PC based, and most of the best playback software is still Windows-only, that is a consideration that DAC manufacturers and consumers have to take into consideration.

FWIW, the best-sounding source I had before my current Black Box PC was a Weiss AFI1 Firewire-to-AES conversion box. Daniel Weiss is great at customer support, too.

cfmsp -- Tue, 11/23/2010 - 23:06

"...most of the best playback software is still Windows-only"

Just curious why you would say this. There are several audiophile music players on the Mac. Are you aware of Amarra, Pure Vinyl/Pure Music and/or Ayrewave?

I think the best pro audio software is more likely to be Mac only.

I'll agree that Windows may have more music players available - perhaps for two reasons, the dreaded K-mixer and the fact that iTunes on Windows does not sound as good as it does on a Mac. OTOH, I only know of two Windows-based players that are truly audiophile caliber, XXHE and cmp2/cplay.

In one well known example, Steve Nugent of Empirical Audio put his favored Jriver windows app up against Mac-based system and promptly switched to Mac. For another, Gordon Rankin (see USBDACS.com) made his living for many years creating PC motherboards, yet he uses Macs exclusively now, and says the Mac platform is the best sounding.

FWIW, I'm not saying that you can't get good sound from a PC. I'm just pointing out that more than a few people would disagree with your statement above.

cheers

Sam -- Wed, 11/24/2010 - 01:19

From the little experience I have on I tunes and how things show or are organized on the new iPhones/iPods, the mac setup/iTunes seems to have amazing potential. Other then low fidelity MP3s that the world is using it looks awsome. But the different download formats like FLACK, high Rez , album recognition issues could be a deal breaker. From what it looks like I find it hard to believe that iTunes cannot be taken to the finish line as a cutting edge audiophile server software. Also if the async USB sends info in packets that is lowest in jitter then anyother interfase one may not need the 7k bluesmoke+laptop. the whole thing could be done under $2k. But hard to tell. Let's see what happens. The ayre QB9 is the 1st step in that direction.

ScottB -- Wed, 11/24/2010 - 11:17

"I'll agree that Windows may have more music players available - perhaps for two reasons, the dreaded K-mixer and the fact that iTunes on Windows does not sound as good as it does on a Mac. OTOH, I only know of two Windows-based players that are truly audiophile caliber, XXHE and cmp2/cplay."

I think that there are more music players available on Windows because Windows is a larger market, and a significant body of music lovers like me find iTunes inadequate in many ways unrelated to audio quality (see my comments above). I'm familiar with the programs you refer to, but they are what I would consider to be "tweaky" niche products with unacceptable interfaces for actually browsing and enjoying a music collection.

For the record, I've never heard audible differences I could attribute to differences between bit-perfect software stacks. My Berkeley DAC was an ear-opening experience compared with my Meridian 861. The Weiss AFI1 was subtly better that the Lynx card I tried, and I could even hear very subtle differences (I think) when switching the Lynx card between two different computers. The Black Box and the Weiss were too close to tell. But J River, Media Monkey, WinAmp, XXHighEnd, ASIO, WASAPI, WaveOut, XP, Vista, Windows 7 - all seem to sound identical to me (and identically good, for that matter) when correctly set up to output bit-perfect audio.

It is theoretically possible for bit-perfect software to affect sound quality, by indirectly affecting the soundcard, or other components in the system. Different software will use the processor and memory differently, creating different patterns of electromagnetic noise (EMI/RFI) inside the computer case and in the power supply ground. To my ears, those effects remain theoretical, and in any case they are much better addressed through good hardware design and proper power conditioning (I use EquiTech, very effective and efficient).

I would say that, in general, people get much too religious about this Mac/PC thing. Under the clothes, modern Macs and PCs are far more similar than different (Windows runs great on a Mac, after all). The latest low-latency audio pipelines on OSx and Windows Vista/7 are now both quite well-designed (WASAPI for Windows, Core Audio on Mac). The user experience is now pretty close, and in any case you'll spend far more time interacting with applications than with the OS, per se. You can find lots of people who will say thats PCs or Macs "sound better"; given all of the important variables ignored in such sweeping judgments, you shouldn't give them any credibility.

cfmsp -- Wed, 11/24/2010 - 15:27

"You can find lots of people who will say thats PCs or Macs "sound better"; given all of the important variables ignored in such sweeping judgments, you shouldn't give them any credibility."

wow, that's a bold statement. You apparently have no idea that Steve Nugent and Gordon Rankin are two of the leading innovators in the computer audiophile industry. These are not random posters on a forum, these are folks who are literally advancing the state of the art.

They have a TON of credibility, as far as I'm concerned.

"To my ears, those effects remain theoretical,"

These effects are way more than theoretical to many. I don't have time to get you up to date on the latest and greatest in computer audio here - there's LOTS to learn - but suggest you peruse Computer Audiophile forum, if you are interested.

all the best

ScottB -- Wed, 11/24/2010 - 16:55

OK, calm down. This kind of thing is one reason why I don't spend much time at computeraudiophile.com any more.

Look, I'm a twice-degreed engineer, I've been a serious audiophile for 30 years, I spent 20 years in the software industry as a developer, architect, and CTO. I've been avidly tinkering and researching computer audio since 2005, long before it got to be the latest "thing". I'm very familiar with the names Rankin and Nugent and a hundred others. I've plenty of respect for what people like that have accomplished, but I don't value arguments from authority over my own experience or common sense.

The fact that Rankin and Nugent use Mac as their reference, while, say, the folks from Rockport and MSB use a PC, proves very little one way or the other, because their are too many other significant variables other than the operating system that aren't controlled for - not least among them the biases (conscious or unconscious) of the listeners themselves. What I've found personally is that its quite easy to fool myself into thinking one thing or another is better, unless I'm very rigorous about how I compare.

As I said, to my ears, the effects of different playback software are theoretical. Peter of XXHighEnd did a fascinating test a couple of years back in which he compared the actual audio output signal under different settings in his software. There's a thread on it in the CA forum (my handle there is MahlerFreak). Lo and behold, there were distinct, repeatable, if very tiny, differences in the output signal traceable to those software changes (the largest of these apparently due to EMI from the display controller refreshing the time elapsed display every second). But try as I might, comparing the same track and focussing on the same details over and over, I can't hear those differences between different software. Maybe they're too tiny to hear at all, maybe I just can't hear well enough, maybe my system is less sensitive to that kind of thing. The point is, I spend time trying to validate what's important to me and not, and I don't just take anybody's word for it.

As for computeraudiophile.com, I went there quite a lot when it was new. CA certainly deserves credit for helping popularize the music server trend, and for creating a community for folks to share experience. I don't go there nearly as often now; there is indeed LOTS of information but the signal to noise ratio, in terms of credible information vs. pure opinion vs. infantile yelling vs. outright technical nonsense, is often not very high, especially in the forums. And I myself am not nearly patient enough with some of the crap sometimes :) So it's better if I just drive by and look now and then.

Peace, and good listening.

Scott

Sam -- Wed, 11/24/2010 - 17:23

Well Said! I am also an audiophile for 20+ years and have fairly decent exposure to a broad range of products/systems. Although am very new to the computer/music servers.....infact I don't have one and am looking into the options to jump in as a first timer. I will have to agree with ScottB......1 out of 100 if not more is what you find as a decent poster on the forums who knows what they are talking about, have some experience and knowledge and actually make some sense rather than garbage nonsense that most discuss on here. And sadly that includes even some audio reviewers. I have nothing against authority, I love TAS and Stereophile....Although my tastes are more similar to TAS then Stereophile. When people start messing around and don't have something useful or are simply lieying!!!!! then what option does one has but to leave. Scotts five years of messing around and learning from mistakes and sharing those frustrations with others is very valuable, and those who don't value that are at a loss. At the same time that doesn't mean his is the last word....there might be many other options..and everyone is free to choose what ever they like. Like I said....Scott and Barrys views are something that people pay money for and here its free. And at lease I am happy for that. My Grandkids are happy with their iTunes and MP3's...when I ask what resolution is that they are like what? this guy must be crazy....But hey that works for them so its great... what ever works for you is whats great. The best debate is everlasting.

cfmsp -- Wed, 11/24/2010 - 19:17

"As I said, to my ears, the effects of different playback software are theoretical."

I"m with you, if you can't hear the differences, there's no reason to worry about them!

"there is indeed LOTS of information but the signal to noise ratio [...] is often not very high, especially in the forums. And I myself am not nearly patient enough with some of the crap sometimes :) So it's better if I just drive by and look now and then."

Understood. :)

sunmoon95 -- Tue, 11/23/2010 - 14:44

Hi Robert,
As an added topic to the discussion - which interface is better in transmitting high resolution music (SACD/Bluray audio media) Firewire versus HDMI.
Please enlighten us on the pros and cons!
Thanks in advance for your feedback.

1audio -- Tue, 11/23/2010 - 16:29

As usual lots of discussion about technology but little about execution. Good execution of SPDIF or AES EBU will easily trump bad execution of USB or Firewire. No easy answers.
If you are comfortable with Linux (as you suggest) and command line setup then this might be your best bet: linux.voyage.hk/voyage-mpd it is a really clean Linux audio player that will run on an X86 system. If you aren't comfortable with tweaking a setup through the command line but you are interested the Auraliti player  www.auraliti.com is based on the same code with both hardware and software optimization to make it easer for non-technical users.
HDMI is a very poor medium for audio. The audio is packetized and sent between the video data in the horizontal refresh periods which are a function of the video format chosen. The numbers are far from ideal.

Barry Diament -- Tue, 11/23/2010 - 16:33

Hi 1audio,

But good execution of Firewire will reveal what is lacking in the other protocols. ;-}

Agreed on HDMI. For example 192 from Blu-ray does not show what 192 can do.

Best regards,
Barry
www.soundkeeperrecordings.com
www.barrydiamentaudio.com

1audio -- Tue, 11/23/2010 - 21:54

Firewire audio is a real challenge. There aren't existing firewire audio chipsets so making a firewire audio device requires some specialized programming and glue logic to make it work. The pro market was willing to pay for it since they had few choices and the market was pretty large. For high end audio it is very expensive to create. There is one company that offers a solution for OEM's but even then it's still expensive to implement.

Barry Diament -- Wed, 11/24/2010 - 07:03

Hi 1audio,

Firewire might be a challenge but there is evidence the challenge has been met.
As to expense, one company who has met the challenge is selling their best product for $6k. In a world where there are lesser performing audiophile boxes (and lesser performing pro boxes) selling for considerably more, I think this needs to be seen in perspective.

A Lamboughini does cost more than a Geo but what can be expected from both is not the same. ;-}

Best regards,
Barry
www.soundkeeperrecordings.com
www.barrydiamentaudio.com

ScottB -- Tue, 11/23/2010 - 19:09

1audio,

Yes, execution absolutely matters, and you can build extremely good systems based on SPDIF or AES/EBU interfaces - I have one myself. The thing about Firewire or async USB is that you can engineer a high performing system without paying much attention to the digital source, and therefore you can theoretically get equivalent results for less money.

Mike22 -- Tue, 11/23/2010 - 17:31

Thanks, everyone for the information. I found ScottB's explanation, in particular, both very clear and very heartening since it put the issue more in terms of the computer/network technology with which I am more familiar, and verified what I would have expected about the delivery of bit perfect information over USB to a DAC with its own clock. There are a number of current x86 motherboards with IEEE1394 output, but every mb has multiple USB ports. (Coax S/P-dif is the least available.)
I understand that there are more and more reasonably priced DACs with async USB becoming available, such as the new Arcam rDAC. So looking for other features (such as lower power consumption, therefore lower heat dissipation and therefore lower noise from cooling fans, etc.) will be the determining factor in my computer component selections.

By the way, if you haven't tried it, I heartily recommend building a PC from scratch. It requires only a screwdriver plus the parts, and many sites provide step by step instructions. You not only learn about the workings of the seminal technology of our time, but you can put together a machine that is customized to what you will use it for with the fewest compromises your budget will allow. My first few home computers were Macs but the lure of building to my own specs changed that.

staxguy -- Tue, 11/23/2010 - 20:55

Nice follow-up, Mike22! 
My 2c is that speaking as somone who has 7 old grey-box PC's in his computer room, and one HP PC (terrible to even think of upgrading, I admit), upgrading and building your own PC's really gets really boring especially after you build your first 3-4. That's not to discourage anyone from trying to do so (it's really easy - certainly easier than seting up a high-end turtable rig properly) - it's just that buying a PC system from a major manufacter these days is really cheap. If you're performance-osbessed, you can get into multiple video cards for gaming (4 or so), major liquid cooling, and all the hoopla, and then see your results as performance metrics on screen or simply frame-rates (and higher resolutions) in your favourite video game, or else focus on the low-noise side of things, and marry your computer hobby with music.
But again, the quality and usabily of -stock- PC's and Macs is rather high these days - just look at the dimensions of a MacBook air, say, or the pure cheap tiny functionaily of an Asus EEPC (0.92kg). If you start building your own computer, you can easily spend more on your power supply. :) Again, I admit it can be fun at first, but have to argue that after a few generations of "home-made" PC's have lived (and gone to PC heaven) in your home,  you might long for a simple one-purchase operation.
Installing BIOS updates, operating systems, applications, and drivers, etc.  is a lot easier to do than previously, now that we have the internet, and not just BBS's (dating myself here) and the hardware in parts is admittedly widely and cheaply (relatively) avaiable but your warranty, technical support (phone or onsite), and such is far more limited to yourself, when you roll your own.
Building a nice audio PC is a bit of fun, but to say that it can't also be a bit of headache (epsecially if you are on your own, and don't know one type of bus from another), might better be others if all you're interested in is -results-. Having computer friends helps, just as having a friend who has fashion sense and knows your best interest often better than you in cases, say if you go shopping in boutiques. The same applies to shopping for parts to build your PC - not a lot of supplies will have an interest in you - unless you already know what you want. The margins are just that low. If you don't know what you want, they might sell you what they have, and then you'll have to go back and try to return it when you figure that out later.
I guess if you're an engineering type, building your own PC is a lot of fun. That I'll agree.
I just think that the early days of PC when hobyists were the norm is now far behind us, as are the early days of radio, when the norm was to make your own radio.
It's a lot easier just to go shopping, for a box.
My2c.
Staxguy
 
 

Sam -- Wed, 11/24/2010 - 04:44

ScottB, can the iPad or a tablet Pc/mini laptop control the J.River MC? and as far as controls what options are there? only basics or full control or partial control? Do you do everything on your dell notebook or do you have something else attached to the bluesmoke?

ScottB -- Wed, 11/24/2010 - 11:41

Sam,

There are quite a number of remote control options for JRMC. First, you can use a full copy of JRMC on one computer to control JRMC on another, a function called TRemote. That is what I do. This gives you full capabilities - it's exactly like using JRMC stand-alone, you're just controlling a different playback "zone".

JRMC recognizes Windows Media Center remote control commands, so you can use a handheld remote to control playback. See this thread for details:

http://yabb.jriver.com/interact/index.php?topic=53651.0

There are also web-based remote control functions which are designed to run on various mobile devices. I've not tried this, details on this page:

http://wiki.jriver.com/index.php/Media_Network

There is a third-party app dedicated to controlling JRMC from mobile devices, called xpTunes, which many people seem to like:

http://yabb.jriver.com/interact/index.php?topic=43402.0

Finally, JRMC can be a DLNA server (aka uPnP server). uPnP is a universal control protocol for networked audio/video devices - Linn uses it in their network music players, for instance. There are iPhone/iPad apps to control uPnP players - one popular app is called PlugPlayer.

I have to say, like the iTunes Remote, none of these other options look functional enough to me to be my primary interface. But, your mileage may vary :)

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