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Pasanda

Digital music

47 posts in this topic

My next project at home is going to be relocating my study/gaming/man cave into a bigger space. This is needed to more effectively facilitate VR, which needs a lot more than the 1 square meter in my current hole. My model display collection is also running out of space. But above all, i have had a dream for many decades to have a half decent audio set up for music. 

Most, if not all, of my music is on my server, in all the usual formats, including an increasing number of FLAC files. I want to be able to stream that content, ultimately to decent audio speakers. These may also be used for computer audio, but this is by-the-by: music quality is where the bar will by set. I don't know much about it, but i've assumed i'm looking at something that includes a top-flight DAC, whether that is separate, or built into some other device. I'm not interested in online services, like iTunes, Rhapsody or Pandora for now. Nor am i interested in multiroom setups. And i'm not interested in any optical media. The core of the requirement is windows server to hifi speakers, via some sort of amplification and either wired or wireless network.

I've not set a budget, but if i go over around £4k, to include the speakers, amplification, DAC and whatever is needed to play stuff on the server. For it to go much above that, it would need to be REALLY amazing.

Anyone got any experience in this area? Any recommendations?

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I have little experience. I stream music from my Plex server through my Raspberry Pi onto my tv. It is connected to a 15+ y/o Pioneer receiver with a 5.1 Canton speaker set. The mrs. likes to stream to her phone with a set of headphones. We are both very content with the quality. However, we know a professional musician who uses a SONOS box to stream music over some extremely pretty ceiling-hanging speakers. The fact they are suspended creates a whole other dynamic with much better sound quality. Atleast according to him. I don't hear the difference. :unsure: 

But it looks fantastic, the sound quality is great, and you don't need a DAC, amp, or receiver. It's all built in, very lean, and you can stream straight from the server wirelessly. You will need to use a pc/tablet to play the files with the program of your choosing. 

Not all versions are wireless apparantly, he uses the Elipson LW speakers in white using the setup on the right (2 speakers).

 

91474-10616807.jpg

Edited by Wolphard

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I did something similar with my basement.  The best way to do something like this is to figure out what hardware you want first.  Then figure out where you want to place everything.  That will drive all your connections and determine connection placement.

For instance, I have my computer in the corner of my basement, my receiver is located on the same wall about 15 feet away and my projector is located on another wall far away.  So I had to run my sound connections from the PC to the receiver and the video connections everywhere.  I wired all of the possible connections and suggest you do the same if you have to run cables behind your dry wall.  Use conduit if possible ... HDMI have higher than normal failure rates.

You may or may not want a sound card.  Receiver and or amplifier.

I haven't shopped for a receiver in years, but I imagine the latest ones can be networked, which might render all the connections irrelevant.  Or at the very least, allow devices to wireless connect.

If you are getting new speakers, I'd recommend factory direct.  Usually the best bang for the buck.

You building a room from scratch or modifying an existing room?  Either way, think about sound proofing when selecting materials.  Last thing you want is to hear Fin while you are listening to music, or to have the wife tell you to turn it down.

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I wasn't thinking of getting a receiver at all, rather than a dedicated amplified designed for music. Most, if not all the AV receivers i've seen would never be used for serious music listening - 95% of the innards of an AV receiver is just not designed to push musicality. Saying that, i have a Yamaha AV receiver and I think music sounds good on it. But i don't want good music. I want great music. However, I recognise that, if i want to use the same gear for computer audio, i would either have to either settle for stereo gaming, which would be a backwards step, or get an AV amp and face less quality music amplification.

So there is one compromise there, that i hadn't realised until right now. This thread has paid for itself already. Thanks.

The other area i'm not familiar with is the approach for piping network traffic into some gizmos that will eventually pump out some sweet music. I know there are network receivers, some being great quality (if price is anything to go by), but they seem to be full of features that hold no value to me, or don't fill the windows server connections all that well.

Edited by Pasanda

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IMO run cables to a receiver or switch.  If you wait a bit the blue tooth stuff will drop in price, my experience with it has been you get a lot of connection issues with too much Bluetooth traffic.  You can get a sweet sound card for dirt cheep to really up your pc sound quality, Shame on me I just use on board or Nvidia HDMI sound, but I don't really have a set up to take advantage of it anyways.  The man cave is cramped at the moment with too many computers and kids. :(

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In general terms ...

First ... by the time you're able to afford a high-quality system capable of playing really great music, you're too old to hear and appreciate it.

Second ... given the same analog source material, digital music will never be as "good" as the original analog (note: "good" is a relative term), due to the lossy nature of the conversion from analog to digital.  To be fair, at very high sampling rates, digital music can approach the quality of analog, but the losses are still there.  Now the question is, "can those losses be discerned?"  See my first point.

Third ... I've been halfheartedly looking for a way to play computer sounds (e.g., music, games, etc.) through a hi-fi whole room sound system.  I currently use a set of Logitech 5.1 speakers with the rear two channels removed, and I have output from my old receiver piped as line input to my computer ... which then plays through aforementioned speaker system.  So I'm kind of paying half-attention to this thread.  I don't really have much to offer, except the route I was looking at initially was to pipe digital output from my computer to a new stereo receiver which would then provide surround sound through strategically placed bookshelf speakers around my man-cave.  Ideally, the new receiver would also accommodate some of older stereo components like my phonograph.  That said, I came across this thread over at [H]ard Forums, which has a lot of technical bits that are currently over my head (at least until I get off my ass and do the research proper), but maybe your pursuit might benefit from some of it now.

Good luck.

 

Edited by Elovia

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Good thread, and thanks for posting Elo. I was hoping you'd contribute. What you say about age is true. I developed permanent tinnitus Jan 2016, and i understand this will eventually destroy my hearing in a specific set of frequencies. 

I think the way i'm pitching the requirement is a different focus to most of what i'm reading. I'm not looking for the computer to play high quality audio. I'm looking for a high quality hifi that i can plug a digital input into. I can go out now spend a few k, get decent hifi speakers and a decent amp, which i could then plug a CD player into and that would be almost there. But it needs to be able to play music files stored on my server.

So i don't want the computer to play hi quality audio. I want i high quality hifi that can play music on my SSD. Sorry guys, i'm not explaining this very well.

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That's too general, but i think i'm now on the right track thanks to your thinking and commentary.

I think i'm looking for a simple but decent quality set of speakers and an amp, and then a good USB DAC like the Dragonfly Red. That will let me use the computer to control the music (which i admit wasn't in my head), but won't use the computer to generate the analogue music signal. Out of the box, computers don't do this very musically, even with a decent sound card - they are mostly designed to generate and to benefit computer audio, not music.

Secondly, i think i will need to separate out music amplification from computer gaming audio. I can't play games without surround sound, but i don't believe there are surround amps that do music well. They are generally designed from the ground up for different purposes. 

 

So i may end up with a hifi amp and speakers, alongside my Pc and ancient cambridge soundworks 5.1's

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Another thing to consider, you can always get some high quality gaming speakers plugged into your PC.  Then build a separate system with other speakers set up for your music.  I have an older model of these and they are fantastic ... https://www.amazon.com/M-Audio-20-Watt-Compact-Monitor-Speakers/dp/B00X741TB0

You don't have to get those, but something similar in size, mine are 9x6 inches.  I have my monitor in a corner and they are positioned on either side of my monitor.  Its not surround sound, but its very immersive.

Edited by Dunnar

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5 hours ago, Pasanda said:

I want i high quality hifi that can play music on my SSD.

You got music on a SSD? Fancy!

Like I said, I have little experience. Did some googling and the lengths people go to for 'optimum quality' is doing my head in. An USB-DAC, then another DAC and pre-amp a 3rd DAC for optimum sound quality. Geez... :huh: Sounds like a mess of cables & stuff. SONOS provides some very nice kit, often wireless, but apparantly not enough quality for the audiophiles. Since you're willing to drop quite a bit of money on this, perhaps the Magna Modification of the SONOS is something for you. For around €750 you can get it and it's on par with the quality people want. If you have FLAC files that are of CD-quality it should be more than enough. It will look good and will be a nice conversation piece to boot.

Edited by Wolphard

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My physics professor used to rant about the idiots spending THOUSANDS of dollars on speakers.  He had some fancy physics explanation about sound waves, and about the tricks the stores use to make them sound amazing, and a bunch of other things I have long since forgotten.

The one rule I remember is this:  Your system will only sound as good as your weakest component.  This is the reason things like the old Bose sound wave or whatever are so amazing (I still use one, right now it is connected to Alexa).  In the self contained unit are high end components and a simple speaker.  The speaker gets the credit, but it is the whole system that produces that amazing sound.

Edited by Jag

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Fancy? 10k songs on 64Gb. Seems a bit mean not to stick em on an SDD. Quicker wake-up time. 64Gb SSD cost under £30 these days.

Capture.PNG.a788ea195cd4d0673432cb484a376e8b.PNG

I've recommended Sonos to people in the past. I understand they are decent quality. But i don't think the speakers are good enough. And i think they are overpriced. If you have loads of money and don't care what the cost is, then fine. Fantastic for room to room general listening, but not for sitting down and concentrating on the finest music. 2 sonos 5's are a £1000. I listened to the 5 and they are decent enough, but for that much money I think you could buy some far better and proper hifi music speakers.

@Jag. My standard for PC audio is far lower and, as you say, chuck a few hundred at those, or the big Logitech things and it'd rock the place.

 

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You have me beat in the amount of songs, yet juding by the size they're mostly MP3's. Seems a waste to spend  4k GBP on them for equipment. :P

muziek.png.14ee08eddfd231b508006f8fd30ec7e0.png

Seriously, the modified SONOS box is a DAC by what I can decypher. You can connect any type of speakers to it. The speakers I posted before are from Elipson, a Bang&Olufsen daughter company, and supposedly the dog's bollocks.

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Ah. I hadn't considered attaching other speakers to the box. Thanks for the tip.

Most of the music i have is rubbish quality rips. It's only in the past few years have i started looking for higher quality stuff. I have maybe one or two dozen albums worthy of HQ kit. But i think this will grow.

Edited by Pasanda

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A quick update. I eventually ended up with:

- a streamer/DAC/Preamp (but not really using the preamp bit), called the Cambridge Audio Azure 851N.

- an integrated amplifier called the Cambridge Audio Azure 851A.

- speakers call Monitor Audio Gold GX300.

- Interconnects called Fisual Havana Custom XLR

- speaker cables called Fisual Super Pearl 2.5mm

- I will be buying this to attach to the streamer for bluetooth connectivity.

 

Picking up the speakers on Sunday. I bought them on ebay second hand. The 2 components are being shipped from Italy, where they are £600 cheaper than here. Cables arrive tomorrow. Cable chap is running an Ethernet cable to my new study on Friday.

Total bill £3712.

 

I took an awful lot of advice through a pretty awesome forum, called AVforums. The amount of time people were prepared to give up to offer their advice was quite amazing. One or two people in particular would gathers bucketloads of info to help out. 

If it helps, the full post and the advice is here: https://www.avforums.com/threads/my-first-digital-hifi-setup-sanity-check.2121584/#post-25424151

 

Thanks also to those who guided and steered me along here. I started knowing next to nothing, and now i know a tiny bit more.

But if it ends up sounding shit, it's down to you guys.

Elovia and Lasraik like this

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Just as a matter of interest, the chaps i'm buying the speakers off is upgrading. His new system cost £32,000. I'm hoping to have a listen on Sunday. I will personally suck all of your dicks if i end the day thinking the system is worth the money.

 

 

Edited by Pasanda

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4 hours ago, Pasanda said:

Just as a matter of interest, the chaps i'm buying the speakers off is upgrading. His new system cost £32,000. I'm hoping to have a listen on Sunday. I will personally suck all of your dicks if i end the day thinking the system is worth the money.

Does that include free delivery?  Because, you know ... a fella needs to weigh all of his options.  :D

By the time it's all said and done, you'd probably spend that amount just delivering the first round.

Edited by Elovia

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Sorry to disappoint you chaps, but he didn't audition his own system - only his amp and CD player attached to the speakers i was buying. It was a £5k CD player and a £10k amp. 

I know you were looking forward to my attentions, but you'll just have to wait.

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Another update. I received the amp and streamer a few weeks back now. So it's more or less set up, just in the wrong room for now. We're having guests over, for the next few months. So I am waiting to decommission the spare bedroom, into a music/gaming room. I've had the network run installed, which was a bit of a palaver.

 

Here's the running order...

Domestic 230v into an Ixos power conditioner, with two kettle leads out to the amp and streamer.

Gigabit UTP into the back of the streamer.

Google Chromecast Audio (CCA), connected to a digital input of the streamer, to use the streamers DAC via a TOS cable. Can also analogue in from the CCA direct into the Amp if req'd.

Dug up my old Marantz CD player from the loft, just for shitz-n-grinz. Connected the CD player to streamer using digital phono connection, again to exploit the superior DAC of the streamer.

Streamer connected to amp via two balanced XLR cables, which i've just posted back as one of the cables delivers a significant drop in volume (tested by switching).

Amp connected to speakers using custom cable pairs from the same company as the XLR (Audio Visual Online who came highly recommended by the folks on AV forums). Using Fisual cable and BFA plugs.

Speakers are the Monitor Audio Gold GX300's mounted on purpose-build stands, spiked into a wood-block floor.

Using the Cambridge Connect app, or 'casting' from either Plex web, or a range of mobile apps, to select tracks from the server.

 

Opinions.

Overall, the sound is lovely. Awesome response range from upright speakers, matching and probably surpassing both the KEF and wharfedale subs for deep booms and no distortion. Over the past 7 or so years, i've listened to music from the AV setup, which is a low-end Yamaha RX-V673 out to KEF KHT2005.3 and a kube2 sub, then a wharfedale powercube SPC-10, when the Kube blew. That setup cost me about £1k. This new setup cost me £3.5k and if i'd bought the speakers new, and the amp/streamer from the UK, it would have been £6k. In my opinon, it is neither 3.5, nor 6 times better than the Yamaha/KEF combo. If that's me being unreasonable, then so bit it. If one is to expect diminishing returns on investment with audio, then i didn't know that. Could I just have been lucky, buying amazing low end AV kit? Possibly; the Yamaha AV amps are supposed to be among the most musical.

I'm not disappointed. I just expected better.

The Cambridge connect app isn't that great, but it seems to be the only way to get album art up on the streamer screen. I am hoping that a direct USB connection from the server will overcome all of that, when i get it up there. 

The CCA is an amazing piece of tech. It costs £20 new (£30 right now). It connects over wifi, including 802.11ac. It outputs either analogue or optical digital, via the same neat 3.5mm jack. You can send anything to it via an app that has cast-ability, and the quality is about 20 times better than the best quality APTX-HD bluetooth. You can also group several CCA's together to cast simultaneously for, say, a party.

Last thing to add is that the speakers are not properly positioned. They're sat in front of long curtains in the bay of my lounge window, crowded by tables and TV's and too close together. so i am still holding out for an improvement from positioning.

I'd offer photos, but it's not a very pretty set up.

Edited by Pasanda
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