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Thread: iTunes or Looney Tunes? The great music server debate.

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  1. #1

    iTunes or Looney Tunes? The great music server debate.

    Forgive the goofy title. My long background in advertising still has me believing that I need an interesting headline to get people to read the body copy. And while I don't want to call Amir out for one on one debate (I suspect he's significantly smarter than I am and I hate to lose...). I do think he would be a great candidate to fill in the blanks below and challenge the logic, particularly as they relate to setting up a server in Windows. Care to join the party, Amir?

    With that said, here's the story...

    Doing A Computer-Based Music Server, My Way (ie: Getting Ponked)

    I suspect the management here at What’s Best got together and said something like “we need to find something constructive for Phelonious to do.” Nevertheless, I’m honored that anyone would think my humble contribution could be the start of anything constructive. While I will try my best to fluff this piece up with all the dark humor and utterly irrelevant asides I can come up with, at its core it will be a short story because for me, the process of setting up, configuring and operating a computer-based music server looks like this:

    2X1TB external hard drives>Mac/iTunes>DAC of choice>your existing system

    You can, of course, do all of this on a PC, and my understanding is that it is only a bit more complicated, but I’m a Mac guy. And while I have a modern Mac that will run Windows, in another window (the gist of the old legal challenge…), while running OSX programs...well, running Windows on a Mac is like running Yugo on a Ferrari (my apologies, Amir. I couldn’t resist ☺). I’ll count on Amir to dress the Windows.

    OK, back to the outline:

    2X1TB external hard drives>Mac/iTunes>DAC of choice>your existing system

    Why two drives? One of them stays in a closet (a closet in someone else’s house would be better) and only comes out for occasional backups, the occasion being whenever I’ve added enough new music that re-ripping it would be too time consuming.

    iTunes? Are You Serious?

    Why iTunes? The more pertinent question would be why not? It is free, powerful and versatile. It can be configured, in a click, to be a simple list of its database or an elegant, graphic flow of album covers. You can parse the data just about any way you see fit – song, genre, artist, album, composer, file type, or all of the above. It rips, copies and converts to other formats (not FLAC, but that’s easy to get around) seamlessly, transparently and without error (if you’re using error correction. It’s a great piece of software.

    But some people believe other players sound better. This is a pretty tough case to make, given that a media player’s only job, beyond its database and human interface, is to move digital data from one place to another. It shouldn’t “sound” at all. Yet some hear. I believe they are hearing deviations in the data. In older versions of Windows, my understanding is that you get them automatically if you don’t work around them. In iTunes, on a Mac, getting and keeping bit perfect for any given sample rate is very simple: Go to Audio Midi Setup in OSX and tell it what you want. OSX doesn’t adjust rates automatically, though, it downconverts or upconverts to whatever your settings are and then your data is no longer bit-perfect. This problem is addressed through the use of programs like Amarra and Pure Music, which provide automatic switching, and I personally think that is their only advantage. Quite a few folks out there seem to think these programs “sound” better than iTunes. I respectfully disagree. I’ve tried both of them and when all other things are equal, I hear no differences between these programs and iTunes. Pure Media is a worthwhile investment if you plan to have hi-res files in your system. And if it sounds better to you too, good for you. The bar it sticks on top of iTunes is goofy-looking but that, and the $129 is a small price to pay if you think it sounds better.

    Will A Really Weak Computer Give You Stronger Sound?

    So can it really be that simple? Yes, but you can complicate it if you like through the process of system optimization. In a nutshell, it involves minimizing the processor activity going on while your computer is playing music. At the extreme, it requires a system dedicated to music playback, with solid state hard drives and maybe even an upgraded power supply. There is some logic to the theory: more system activity means more electrical activity and more hard disk activity, resulting in more noise that could be carried, with the data, to your analog systems. I just think a more effective solution is galvanic isolation. I use a digital transport that isolates, re-clocks, converts usb to optical, coax and AES/EBU, and then sends optical to my active speakers, coax to my headphone system. It sounds great and it doesn’t hobble a computer.

    The Jukebox Of The Gods

    I guess the biggest question, or it should be, anyway, is what does my listening gain from all of this?

    A) It sounds great.

    B) I can walk into my listening room, type “So What” into a little box, and up pops the version from the original CD release of Kind of Blue, the KOB re-master, a couple of live versions and a couple of duplicates from boxed sets. And that’s just Miles. I’ll get a few covers, too.

    Yeah, I know: And I call you guys obsessive…

    P

  2. #2
    [WBF Founding Member] RUR's Avatar
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    Do not mock Looney Tunes or we shall not be friends.

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by RUR View Post
    Do not mock Looney Tunes or we shall not be friends.
    Forgive me RUR, I did not mean to mock Looney Tunes, only to turn a phrase. I hold Looney Tunes in the highest regard. Was it the implied relationship to Windows that insulted the highest of Loonies? (ducking and running......)

    P

  4. #4
    Site Founder And Administrator Steve Williams's Avatar
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    I had asked PP to post this thread here not only for informational purposes but to see if we can draw out any member who feels this is a simple but worthy topic to debate. If not, my advice would be to move it to either general debates for everyone to discuss or to its appropriate forum.

    Did anyone hear me mention "Amir"
    Steve Williams
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    There's ALWAYS another Steve Williams BUT there's only "oneobgyn"
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  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Williams View Post
    I had asked PP to post this thread here not only for informational purposes but to see if we can draw out any member who feels this is a simple but worthy topic to debate. If not, my advice would be to move it to either general debates for everyone to discuss or to its appropriate forum.

    Did anyone hear me mention "Amir"
    I've even thrown a couple of barbs at Windows, hoping to draw Amir out, Steve, but no luck so far. He must be actually doing something constructive.

    P

  6. #6
    Site Founder And Administrator Steve Williams's Avatar
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    i am sure he is just geting ready to launch his first salvo
    Steve Williams
    aka oneobgyn
    There's ALWAYS another Steve Williams BUT there's only "oneobgyn"
    USA Dealer of Center Stage Feet and owner of PitchPerfect Sound (www.pitchperfectsound.com)
    Dealer Lamm Electronics
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  7. #7
    [WBF Founding Member] RUR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Williams View Post
    I had asked PP to post this thread here not only for informational purposes but to see if we can draw out any member who feels this is a simple but worthy topic to debate. If not, my advice would be to move it to either general debates for everyone to discuss or to its appropriate forum.

    Did anyone hear me mention "Amir"
    Sorry for the levity, Steve. I can't delete my post in this forum(!), so please feel free to do so.

  8. #8
    Site Founder And Administrator Steve Williams's Avatar
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    A little bit of chatter initially won't hurt to spur on our soon to be named debater
    Steve Williams
    aka oneobgyn
    There's ALWAYS another Steve Williams BUT there's only "oneobgyn"
    USA Dealer of Center Stage Feet and owner of PitchPerfect Sound (www.pitchperfectsound.com)
    Dealer Lamm Electronics
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  9. #9
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    Sorry for the late response Y'll. When you are trying to tend to two business and have 6 acres to mow and weed, sometimes participating in the forum takes the backseat .

    Quote Originally Posted by Phelonious Ponk View Post
    Care to join the party, Amir?
    I will join but let me say that the Mac has grown up a lot in the last few years and I certainly don't see anything wrong with people using it as a media source.

    2X1TB external hard drives>Mac/iTunes>DAC of choice>your existing system
    What are you doing with 2 terrabytes of storage? My lossless library I think is 200 gigabytes. You don't have 10X the music I have, do you?

    Or are you suggesting to mirror those drives to get redundancy? If so, a better way may be to set up a home server such as WHS (Windows Home Server) which can not only be your music store, but back up all of your computers and provide remote desktop capability. Oops, it doesn't run MacOS .

    2X1TB external hard drives>Mac/iTunes>DAC of choice>your existing system

    Why two drives? One of them stays in a closet (a closet in someone else’s house would be better) and only comes out for occasional backups, the occasion being whenever I’ve added enough new music that re-ripping it would be too time consuming.
    I suggest keeping a copy at work or at second house as I do. Cloud storage is another option but probably not worth the cost right now given these options.

    Why iTunes? The more pertinent question would be why not? It is free, powerful and versatile. It can be configured, in a click, to be a simple list of its database or an elegant, graphic flow of album covers. You can parse the data just about any way you see fit – song, genre, artist, album, composer, file type, or all of the above. It rips, copies and converts to other formats (not FLAC, but that’s easy to get around) seamlessly, transparently and without error (if you’re using error correction. It’s a great piece of software.
    Well, you haven't listed anything that windows can't do. But you did point out a key problem: Apple's instances of its way or the highway. Throw it WMA Lossless library that I have and it will proceed to convert it to AAC on Windows. Not sure what the heck it will do on the Mac. Here is the thing that is really sad: WMA Lossless playback and encoding is all free on Windows. Indeed, that is how iTunes is able to read them to then convert to AAC. They could just as well store them as is in their database but instead, it goes and chews up CPU and disk storage.

    But sure, if you are a Mac guy already and use iPhone/iPod, you can go with this option and not suffer too much .

    But some people believe other players sound better. This is a pretty tough case to make, given that a media player’s only job, beyond its database and human interface, is to move digital data from one place to another. It shouldn’t “sound” at all. Yet some hear.
    Actually there may be a reason for that beyond the one you mention regarding sample rate conversion.

    Quite a few folks out there seem to think these programs “sound” better than iTunes. I respectfully disagree. I’ve tried both of them and when all other things are equal, I hear no differences between these programs and iTunes. Pure Media is a worthwhile investment if you plan to have hi-res files in your system. And if it sounds better to you too, good for you. The bar it sticks on top of iTunes is goofy-looking but that, and the $129 is a small price to pay if you think it sounds better.
    Ok, here is a bit of theory. A media player indeed just spits out the audio samples. It is the DAC that coverts them into sound. Problem is, the PC (mac or otherwise) is a noisy beast. What these other players attempt to do is to quiet down the activities of the PC if you will, and make it more of a steady-state operation. And entire clip for example, may be read into memory and played from there rather than going to disk one chunk at a time and at that moment, cause something to leak onto DAC clock.

    Whether these techniques make a difference audibly is hard to say. It all depends on how your PC works, the quality of your DAC, other activity in your PC, etc.

    Will A Really Weak Computer Give You Stronger Sound?

    So can it really be that simple? Yes, but you can complicate it if you like through the process of system optimization. In a nutshell, it involves minimizing the processor activity going on while your computer is playing music. At the extreme, it requires a system dedicated to music playback, with solid state hard drives and maybe even an upgraded power supply. There is some logic to the theory: more system activity means more electrical activity and more hard disk activity, resulting in more noise that could be carried, with the data, to your analog systems. I just think a more effective solution is galvanic isolation. I use a digital transport that isolates, re-clocks, converts usb to optical, coax and AES/EBU, and then sends optical to my active speakers, coax to my headphone system. It sounds great and it doesn’t hobble a computer.
    All goodness. My Media Center PC in front of me has an SSD for its boot drive. It runs very fast and very cool. BTW, which Apple model ships with SSD as its boot drive?

    The Jukebox Of The Gods

    I guess the biggest question, or it should be, anyway, is what does my listening gain from all of this?

    A) It sounds great.

    B) I can walk into my listening room, type “So What” into a little box, and up pops the version from the original CD release of Kind of Blue, the KOB re-master, a couple of live versions and a couple of duplicates from boxed sets. And that’s just Miles. I’ll get a few covers, too.

    Yeah, I know: And I call you guys obsessive…

    P
    Yup. I have all of that, plus all of my best pictures as a nice slideshow as the music plays, plus I have network-based digital tuners letting me watch HDTV on the same box. Which Mac lets me do that?

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by amirm View Post
    All goodness. My Media Center PC in front of me has an SSD for its boot drive. It runs very fast and very cool. BTW, which Apple model ships with SSD as its boot drive?
    Great point Amir, i am a Mac guy, but am desperate to get a SSD boot drive big enough to house my music/pictures, it could really reduce noise form the music server! i didn't realize some PCs went this route already

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