Big News!!!

We have finally found a music server that meets our standards!

For many years we have been looking for a music server that was truly worthy of being part of a high end audio system. And to that end we auditioned quite a number of different models from various manufacturers. But as of Fall 2014 we have finally found a company that makes servers that are sonically superior to all of the other ones that we tried as well as the ones that we designed ourselves.

The Baetis Audio music servers meet the three most important criteria. First they have the best sounding digital output we have heard on a music server. Second they offer an excellent support package. Third they utilize an excellent iPad app as a user interface which is the normal way to use it. As an added bonus these media servers can also play not just audio files but audio/video files as well. The Baetis music servers are what we now use in the store ourselves.


(Note: The following is old information on the approach that we used to take. Although we no longer recommend this approach as the sound quality is not as good as the Baetis. And in addition there isn't any good support.)

 

Building a budget quiet (but not silent) computer to use as a music server:

NOTE: This is not for the faint-hearted or the inexperienced!  Things can go wrong and you could damage your audio system!  Please use care!  If you are unsure of what you are doing we suggest that you let someone who really knows do it for you!

If you wish to use a regular computer then you need to select one that is appropriate. We suggest a custom-made computer made with high quality parts that has either no or as few moving parts so that it is as quiet as possible. Of course if you can locate the computer outside of the listening room then it doesn't necessarily need to be silent.

Here are the specific parts that we have used when building a computer in January 2012. Obviously computer parts change frequently so this list is subject to change.

Note: With regard to power supplies the higher the efficiency the better. As of 2012, the highest rating for power supply efficiency is "80 PLUS Platinum". (Technically speaking "80 PLUS Titanium" is even higher yet but at this time it only applies to 230v redundant/server grade PSU's.) For more info here is a link.

Note: alternatively if you can't source the PSU model above you could take a look at other Seasonic models: http://www.seasonic.com

Note: Instead of the Intel 320 SSD specified above, alternatively the Intel 710 or 720 line of SSD's will offer greater longevity as they are made for computer servers. However for a typical music server spending extra on these more expensive models is not necessary as the SSD will not be used that much. In addition in 2013 Intel will be releasing a new SSD design: Intel SSD DC S3700.

Video monitor: your choice - and it can be a touchscreen if you wish.

Keyboard & Mouse: your choice - wired or wireless.

OS: Windows 7 64-bit (Home or Pro or Ultimate)

There are several different Music Server software choices for use with Win7 that you could decide between. Whichever you choose we recommend using the 64-bit versions:
JRiver
JRiver with JPlay
Sonata
 

If you wish to use a NAS for your music files, and wish to have both your ripping computer and your music server hooked up to that same NAS, then you can keep them on separate networks with a VLAN (virtual local area network).

[Note: Because component parts can sometimes arrive and be defective out of the box, it is much better to build at least two identical computers simultaneously. That way if there is a problem you automatically have a spare part on hand to substitute for troubleshooting.]

If your collection of music files isn't too large you can use one or two SSD's (solid state drives) internally.

However if you have a large collection of music files you can use a NAS (network attached storage) with RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks). There are different forms of RAID that are useable for this purpose including such modes as RAID 1, RAID 5, RAID 6, or X-RAID.

This music server setup has a high quality USB output. So either you will use a DAC with a USB input. Or you can use a USB to AES-EBU adaptor (or USB to SPDIF adaptor) like the Berkeley Alpha USB which in turn would feed a DAC with an AES-EBU input like the Berkeley Alpha DAC Series 2.

We recommend using an iPad as a remote controller using WiFi which means you will also need a wireless network setup. Alternatively you could choose to use an iPod Touch, iPhone, or an Android phone as a remote controller via WiFi. Note that the wireless network is only intended for remote control. We recommend using wired gig ethernet if you are connecting a NAS to your computer music server. In addition we recommend a separate network for your music server setup that is not connected to the internet. The only time you will need the internet is for the initial setup of the computer.

We also recommend ripping, downloading, acquiring metadata be done on a separate computer that is connected to the internet rather than to perform those functions on your music server. That way the music server install stays clean and you don't need antivirus on it as you are then not connected to the internet.

Note: We recommend doing your downloading and ripping on another computer. This keeps the music server functioning solely as a music player. For transferring music from your CD's you can use dBpoweramp or Exact Audio Copy. After using both extensively ourselves we would recommend dBpoweramp as our first choice.

Note: This is a much simpler computer to build then one utilizing heatpipes. But for a more sophisticated setup using heatpipes which would provide better cooling thus presumably offering greater longevity with potentially less need for repair you can take a look at this pre-made custom-built computer that we co-designed for use as a higher quality silent music server.


Building a quiet (but not silent) computer to use as a music server:

NOTE: This is not for the faint-hearted or the inexperienced!  Things can go wrong and you could damage your audio system!  Please use care!  If you are unsure of what you are doing we suggest that you let someone who really knows do it for you!

If you wish to use a regular computer then you need to select one that is appropriate. We suggest a custom-made computer made with high quality parts that is as quiet as possible. While building a totally silent computer is quite complicated, building a reasonably quiet one is more within the reach of an experienced computer builder. For music files either an SSD array or a hard disk array configured as JBOD or RAID 1 using enough 1TB (terabyte) or larger hard drives can be utilized, although some sort of RAID (except for RAID 0 which is not redundant) should be used for redundancy. At the time when this was written (mid-2009) we were recommending using Windows XP as the recommended operating system. (NOTE:  For some reason or reasons the computer itself can affect the sound of the digital output using the Lynx AES-16 card.)

Here are the specific parts that we used when building a computer in 2009. (Obviously computer parts change frequently so this list is subject to change.)

[Note: Because component parts can sometimes arrive and be defective out of the box, it is much better to build at least two identical computers simultaneously. That way if there is a problem you automatically have a spare part on hand to substitute for troubleshooting.]


Case: Antec P180, P182, or P183  [Note P183 is the current version.]

Power Supply: Corsair CMPSU-520HX  (for a list of newer power supplies that are highly efficient click here)

[Note: Here is a calculator for the amount of power required from a power supply for a particular configuration.]

Case fans: Scythe S-FLEX SFF21E 120mm

Fan Controller: Scythe SCKMPN-1000-BK "Kama-Panel" Multi-Functional Controller


Motherboard: Gigabyte or Asus

CPU: Intel E7400 or the newer "Clarksdale" CPU's i3-530 or i5-650 or i5-661. [Note: The Clarksdale processors are a marriage of a 32nm CPU with 45nm graphics chip and so it turns out that they are not as energy efficient as one might imagine.]

CPU Cooler: Thermalright Ultima 90 etc. (Note: CPU cooler should be matched to your CPU/motherboard/case combination.

RAM: 2GB or 4GB (DDR2 or DDR3 depending upon motherboard)

Video Card: onboard video or silent video card with low power requirements for cooling reasons


C: Boot Drive - for OS and programs only: Intel 40GB or 80GB or 160GB MLC SSD (Solid State Drive)

[NOTE: 34nm 80GB (SSDSA2MH080G2C1) and 160GB (SSDSA2MH160G2C1) are two that we have utilized.]


RAID Storage - for music files only: RAID 1 Array for music storage:  Either large SSD's (preferred but more expensive) or multiple 1TB or 2TB (or larger if they are introduced) SATA hard drives.

[NOTE: Most recently for hard drives we've been using Western Digital RE3 WD1002FBYS 1TB drives and these have proven to be reliable.]

[The number of drives needed obviously depends upon the total capacity required.]

[NOTE: As of July 2009, we are waiting to test the new 2TB Western Digital RE4 drives - model # WD2002FYPS however we are not yet recommending them due to reliability issues that we have experienced.]

[NOTE: High Resolution 176.4/24 and 192/24 files are large--roughly around 4-5GB per album.] 

[Note: If you wish you may use other RAID types including RAID 5, RAID 6--with RAID 6 being preferred to RAID 5. Or if you are using a Netgear ReadyNAS you can use the auto-expandable X-RAID2.]

UPDATE:  As of January 2009 we are testing the Netgear ReadyNAS Pro which is a separate Network Attached Storage box. This can be remoted in another room, closet, or basement and connects via CAT 5e, CAT 6, or CAT 7. This particular unit holds up to 6 hard drives—so for instance with 6 x 1TB drives in RAID 1 it would provide approximately 3TB of mirrored storage. Or in xRAID2 it would be over 4.5TB for the same 6 x 1TB drives. Since it would be in another room the noise from the fan (which is quieter than most) and the noise from the spinning hard drives would not intrude on the listening noise floor.

UPDATE:  In the future we will also be testing SSD's in RAID 1 connected via SATA or eSATA. Although of course this would be more expensive if you want many TB's of storage.


CD/DVD SATA drive: Plextor has been reliable in the past—see http://www.plextor.com/english/ UPDATE: We have been told that the current Plextor drives may not be as superior as they once were.


Digital Audio Card: Lynx AES16 PCI

or

Lynx AES16-XLR PCI (not the PCIe version) card. (NOTE: This version includes the AES-EBU XLR breakout cables.)

[Note: SRC version is not recommended]

http://www.lynxstudio.com/
http://www.lynxstudio.com/product_detail.asp?i=13

NOTE: It is important to properly setup the Lynx AES16 by using the right driver to keep the audio stream out of any imbedded Operating System SRC’s, volume controls, or EQ’s. Click here for some suggested set-up tips.


OS: Windows XP SP3


Music Playing Software: Media Monkey Gold

www.mediamonkey.com

NOTE for MediaMonkey setup tips click here.


Note: We recommend doing your downloading and ripping on another computer. This keeps the music server function solely as a music player. For transferring music from your CD's you can use dBpoweramp or Exact Audio Copy.