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

  1. #21
    Member Sponsor [WBF Founding Member] rblnr's Avatar
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    Squeezeox does.

  2. #22
    [WBF Founding Member] Moderator RBFC's Avatar
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    As we wait for a more learned colleague to join in, how about a basic description from start to finish of how to setup and operate a MacIntosh computer-based music server. Include all necessary equipment, storage options, methods of transporting data, DACs and their various connections, and getting the most out of high-resolution files. A big order, I know, but a tutorial that would be appreciated by many. This description would offer many points for debate and discussion.

    What do you say, PP?

    Lee

  3. #23
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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 elseís house would be better) and only comes out for occasional backups, the occasion being whenever Iíve 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 Ė song, genre, artist, album, composer, file type, or all of the above. It rips, copies and converts to other formats (not FLAC, but thatís easy to get around) seamlessly, transparently and without error (if youíre using error correction. Itís 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 playerís only job, beyond its database and human interface, is to move digital data from one place to another. It shouldnít ďsoundĒ 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 ďsoundĒ better than iTunes. I respectfully disagree. Iíve 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 doesnít 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 ďSo WhatĒ 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 thatís just Miles. Iíll get a few covers, too.

    Yeah, I know: And I call you guys obsessiveÖ

    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?

  4. #24
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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

  5. #25
    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.
    Yes, it has. OSX has been a huge leap forward. And Windows has grown as well. If my bit of experience with my wife's Dell is any indication, with W7 it is now only a generation or so behind OSX.

    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?
    It's overkill. And the fact that the kinds of slow, quiet, low-tech drives that are best for this purpose are so cheap an extra 500MB was almost free.

    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 .
    The drives are for redundancy, but don't mirrored drives mirror errors? I could run Windows Home Server, in Windows, on my Mac while running OSX programs simultaneously if there were any need, but I can back up everything I have through Time Machine in OSX.

    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.
    Work and home....same place. But you're right. An off-site location would be best for the back-up drive.

    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.
    I keep running into people who seem to almost have their faith in democracy challenged by Apple's "closed" strategy. The thing is, when this old Windows user uses Apples, he doesn't feel closed off from anything at all. In fact, he feels empowered by a system that is so easy, so trouble-free. YMMV.

    But sure, if you are a Mac guy already and use iPhone/iPod, you can go with this option and not suffer too much
    Yes, and if you're one of the people who uses the Zune and you need company, I'm sure you can find the other one...I've got his phone number here somewhere....

    Actually there may be a reason for that beyond the one you mention regarding sample rate conversion.

    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.
    I get the theory, I just don't hear it in practice and believe more traditional ways of isolating electronic noise from analog circuits are both simpler and more effective.

    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 Mac Air. Fast and cool is good. And the quiet spinning of the HD in my MacBook, before the first song plays, seems to be the only audible noise I'm getting from the system. Maybe I'll get around to putting in a SS boot drive one of these days.

    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?
    All of them.

    Really, either platform is a good path these days, and I'm sure there are many people here who use both Windows PCs, and iPods. Is running iTunes, bit-perfect, in Windows 7 now a seamless path? No need to work around the kmixer, or whatever that thing was? Other than the SS boot drive, have you tried anything exotic? System optimization? Alternative software like Media Monkey?

    P

  6. #26
    Quote Originally Posted by RBFC View Post
    As we wait for a more learned colleague to join in, how about a basic description from start to finish of how to setup and operate a MacIntosh computer-based music server. Include all necessary equipment, storage options, methods of transporting data, DACs and their various connections, and getting the most out of high-resolution files. A big order, I know, but a tutorial that would be appreciated by many. This description would offer many points for debate and discussion.

    What do you say, PP?

    Lee
    It's not a big order at all, because it is so simple. The hard drives do not need to be exotic. In fact, faster drives typically create more noise. I use cheap, ubiquitous, very quiet Western digital My Book drives, but it really doesn't matter. When I was ripping my CD collection, I just set the MacBook and one of the drives up in a central location in the house, with all of the CDs.

    In iTunes>Preferences>Import Settings, choose Apple Lossless recorder and check the box for using error protection.

    In iTunes>Preferences>Advanced, set the iTunes media folder location to your external drive, check "keep media folder organized," and "copy files to media folder when adding to library.

    in iTunes>Preferences>General, set "when you insert a CD" to "import CD and reject."

    Get up. Stick in a disc, go to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. Stick in another disc, brush your teeth. Stick in another disc, get dressed, Stick in another disc, make your bed.... Repeat for an entire weekend, or as long as it takes to rip your CD library. You're done. To set the Mac up for listening, just plug the hard drive into one usb port, plug the Mac into a DAC, plug the DAC into your system. What DAC? Really, that's up to you and not what this thread is about. I'm not a fan of NOS DACs, and Macs output optical, usb and fire wire, so the choices are wide open. If your collection, like mine, is 99% 16/44.1, you don't need to plug in a DAC or keep your computer in your listening room. You can stream wirelessly from your Mac to an Airport Express, which then plugs into a DAC, and into a system anywhere in your house. And if you have an iPhone or an iPod Touch, you can download a free app called "Remote," and control the iTunes on your Mac from anywhere in your house, in front of any system. Try that on Amir's Windows system . Airport Express doesn't do hi res, though. There are other streaming devices that do, if you have a high-res library to consider. You'll also need a copy of Pure Music to automatically switch sample rates for you, so you don't have to go into the Audio Midi settings and switch manually every time you play a hi-res file.

    That's it, really. If you don't believe in magic, it's quite simple. Now, if you don't believe lossless is lossless, if you think you can hear the noise of your computer thinking, or its switching power supply, even through the perfect galvanic isolation of a wireless connection (if you're not connecting wirelessly use optical, or a digital transport that isolates), if you believe that you can deepen the soundstage and reveal inner detail through the use of a silver plated usb cable that reduces skin effect (as if the zeros and ones actually know whether or not they're carrying high frequency information), you can make it as complicated as you like and still be tweaking when the rest of us are listening. And if that's where you find your bliss, enjoy.

    By the way, now that your computer is your source, a whole new world has opened up. Internet radio -- incoming and broadcasting! Online album art, liner notes, concert tickets, videos, downloads....there's lots to talk about, lots to enjoy. Here's a great place to start:

    http://www.rogueamoeba.com/

    Great little audio programs. A couple of them will even work on Amir's PC.

    P
    Last edited by Phelonious Ponk; 07-31-2010 at 03:31 AM.

  7. #27
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    This is about using a PC for direct playback.
    Might be one running OSX or Win but I don’t see any reason to call it a music server.
    The moment you have a PC running a server process and a client connecting to it over the network using a specific protocol (DLNA, Squeeze, DAAP, etc) you use the box as a server.
    Does this matter?
    I think it does. The moment you use the box as a server you bypass almost all of the OS audio.

    Win7/WMP12 – OSX/iTunes
    I do think the interfaces most of all have more in common that that they differ.
    Both keep it simple, an interface allowing you to do the basic things.

    Ripping
    Both have a secure mode, both are equally badly documented about how this works.
    Both don’t support AccurateRip, you need dbPoweramp on Win to do so.
    Don’t know if there is a OSX ripper with AccurateRip support.

    Both use an online database for tagging. In case of iTunes you have to open an iTunes account and handover your credit card number first to get cover art.
    Cover art is where iTunes shines. WMP reduces it to 250x250

    Both promote their proprietary lossless format, both don’t support FLAC natively.
    Both can be configured to play FLAC using third party plug-ins.

    Drivers
    Both players won’t allow you to bypass the audio engine of the OS.
    In case of Win you can bypass the audio engine using WASAPI in exclusive mode but you need another player like J River ($50) or Foobar (free) to do so.
    In case of OSX you can’t but there is a HOG mode, giving you a straight unaltered audio path. You need a third party tool like Pure Music ($ 129) or Amarra ($695) to do so.
    In both cases your audio will be played at its native resolution (if your hardware supports it)

    Out of the box both will resample everything to the rate set in the control panel.
    According to dCS, OSX does a better job than Vista but they don’t consider it being ‘audiophile’ grade.
    http://thewelltemperedcomputer.com/L...ampleRates.pdf

    Hardware
    This is where Win shines, supporting each and everybody’s hardware.
    You have a wider range of sound cards to choose from.
    However when using a laptop or an outboard DAC this argument is less relevant.

    Server
    Microsoft is a DLNA member, Apple isn’t
    http://www.dlna.org/about_us/roster/
    DLNA is the industry standard for streaming AV.
    Win has good DLNA support, OSX not.
    If you want to integrate all your AV gear regardless of its brand, Win is the platform of choice.

  8. #28
    Quote Originally Posted by Vincent Kars View Post
    This is about using a PC for direct playback.
    Might be one running OSX or Win but I donít see any reason to call it a music server.
    The moment you have a PC running a server process and a client connecting to it over the network using a specific protocol (DLNA, Squeeze, DAAP, etc) you use the box as a server.
    Does this matter?
    I think it does. The moment you use the box as a server you bypass almost all of the OS audio.

    Win7/WMP12 Ė OSX/iTunes
    I do think the interfaces most of all have more in common that that they differ.
    Both keep it simple, an interface allowing you to do the basic things.

    Ripping
    Both have a secure mode, both are equally badly documented about how this works.
    Both donít support AccurateRip, you need dbPoweramp on Win to do so.
    Donít know if there is a OSX ripper with AccurateRip support.

    Both use an online database for tagging. In case of iTunes you have to open an iTunes account and handover your credit card number first to get cover art.
    Cover art is where iTunes shines. WMP reduces it to 250x250

    Both promote their proprietary lossless format, both donít support FLAC natively.
    Both can be configured to play FLAC using third party plug-ins.

    Drivers
    Both players wonít allow you to bypass the audio engine of the OS.
    In case of Win you can bypass the audio engine using WASAPI in exclusive mode but you need another player like J River ($50) or Foobar (free) to do so.
    In case of OSX you canít but there is a HOG mode, giving you a straight unaltered audio path. You need a third party tool like Pure Music ($ 129) or Amarra ($695) to do so.
    In both cases your audio will be played at its native resolution (if your hardware supports it)

    Out of the box both will resample everything to the rate set in the control panel.
    According to dCS, OSX does a better job than Vista but they donít consider it being Ďaudiophileí grade.
    http://thewelltemperedcomputer.com/L...ampleRates.pdf

    Hardware
    This is where Win shines, supporting each and everybodyís hardware.
    You have a wider range of sound cards to choose from.
    However when using a laptop or an outboard DAC this argument is less relevant.

    Server
    Microsoft is a DLNA member, Apple isnít
    http://www.dlna.org/about_us/roster/
    DLNA is the industry standard for streaming AV.
    Win has good DLNA support, OSX not.
    If you want to integrate all your AV gear regardless of its brand, Win is the platform of choice.
    Thanks Vincent, I was hoping you'd pop in and add some much-needed detail. Not sure I get the "server" distinction. You can easily set up a Mac or Windows source to serve multiple audio playback systems in multiple rooms. I can't speak for Windows, but iTunes can also share among all computer systems in a network. What are we failing to serve?

    P

  9. #29
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    I know it is common to call a PC running playback software a ‘music server’.
    But I object.
    A true server doesn’t do the playback.
    It sends the AV over the network to a client, there the actual playback is done.

    A lot of aspects which might make a difference between OSX and Win loose their meaning.
    Sound card: not used on the server
    Audio drivers like WASAPI or HOG mode: not used on the server.
    Cover art: not used on the server
    Impact of system load on sound quality: irrelevant on the server as long as it is able to stream fast enough to avoid buffer under run a the client.
    Etc.

    The only aspect I can think of where the server can have an impact on sound quality is when the audio format is not supported by the client. Than the server has to do the transcoding. This is the case where arguments about the quality of the SRC applies as well.

    Otherwise I’m inclined to say that in case of streaming audio, the server has no impact on sound quality when transcoding is not used . As a consequence, the OS is irrelevant.

    iTunes server is known to me.
    What I was trying to say is that it is a proprietary protocol, just like Squeezebox is using it’s own proprietary protocol.
    As more and more AV gear supports DLNA, you can’t integrate them when using out of the box OSX.
    I expect DLNA will be the de-facto standard protocol in the near future for AV like TCP/IP has become the de-facto standard for the networking

  10. #30
    Quote Originally Posted by Vincent Kars View Post
    I know it is common to call a PC running playback software a ‘music server’.
    But I object.
    A true server doesn’t do the playback.
    It sends the AV over the network to a client, there the actual playback is done.

    A lot of aspects which might make a difference between OSX and Win loose their meaning.
    Sound card: not used on the server
    Audio drivers like WASAPI or HOG mode: not used on the server.
    Cover art: not used on the server
    Impact of system load on sound quality: irrelevant on the server as long as it is able to stream fast enough to avoid buffer under run a the client.
    Etc.

    The only aspect I can think of where the server can have an impact on sound quality is when the audio format is not supported by the client. Than the server has to do the transcoding. This is the case where arguments about the quality of the SRC applies as well.

    Otherwise I’m inclined to say that in case of streaming audio, the server has no impact on sound quality when transcoding is not used . As a consequence, the OS is irrelevant.

    iTunes server is known to me.
    What I was trying to say is that it is a proprietary protocol, just like Squeezebox is using it’s own proprietary protocol.
    As more and more AV gear supports DLNA, you can’t integrate them when using out of the box OSX.
    I expect DLNA will be the de-facto standard protocol in the near future for AV like TCP/IP has become the de-facto standard for the networking
    Objection noted. DLNA is cool, and could be very convenient under some circumstances, but at this point it's not worth an OS change to me. W7 may have solved all the problems of older versions of Windows, but I still have that nasty taste in my mouth and I don't trust them going forward; it seems like every other major release of Windows implodes.

    P

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