30 thoughts on “A Reference Media Server or Very Expensive HTPC? Part III

  • August 27, 2014 at 12:01 pm
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    If John Mingo and his company think, that this is what I need to enjoy music, he can count me out.
    I am happy with less.

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  • August 27, 2014 at 12:21 pm
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    Mark,

    Life is full of compromises and challenges. I think your blog is required daily reading due to the interesting information that is posted. The compromise is that sometimes I think you act as an “agent provocateur” with some of your statements. Examples being the cost of Esoteric (TEAC) products, comments about loudspeakers as fancy pieces of furniture so people should use studio speakers, Baetis media servers etc.

    In each case you make some good points but in this crazy world of audio products sometimes it’s about what something is worth to a customer as opposed to what it costs. You have made it clear, almost on a daily basis, that you like Benchmark products but I have heard people say their $500 DAC sounds just as good and I have heard others say their $10,000 DAC is better. Freedom of choice is a wonderful thing. I like Aston Martin’s but there are many who would say they are a waste of money when the speed limit is 65 mph.

    Have you had opportunity to use the above mentioned products in your studio or home? If not I would suggest procuring loaners and then making comments afterwards on your website. That would give additional gravitas to your comments. I have used a Niveus HTPC at home and the sound was spectacular, however one should remember that taking into account the market at that time they were not cheap either. They looked like a Levinson amplifier but the market wasn’t ready for such a grandiose product.

    You make a positive difference to the world of A/V but remember, when invited to a knife fight, take a gun. Comparing the cost of one product to another is sometimes a fruitless excursion. Thanks.

    (At the risk of being pedantic, is there any chance you could resist using the upper case for “and” to emphasise a point as it’s shouting the word. My grammar is perfect either!)

    V

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    • August 27, 2014 at 1:20 pm
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      Thanks for the comments…my point is the cost of great music reproduction doesn’t have to include $150,000 speakers, $60,000 amplifiers, and expensive power cords. I had a Niveus server, the top of the line, in my studio for a long time and collaborated with them on some shows.

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      • August 27, 2014 at 3:41 pm
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        Thanks, Mark.

        I couldn’t agree with you more as I have put together many $5K systems that outperform $15K equivalents. The market place has a habit of weeding out good and bad products so companies like Baetis will sink or swim.

        V

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        • August 27, 2014 at 4:35 pm
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          Beatis has some good ideas…my suggestion is that they tailor the message to more accurately reflect what they offer.

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      • August 28, 2014 at 9:25 am
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        Perhaps a parallel article to consider is an HTPC/media server that does it right, like the JRiver Id (http://yabb.jriver.com/interact/index.php?topic=89084.0). For 2% of the cost of the Baetis, you get something that does many of the same things probably audibly the same, several key things that the Baetis doesn’t do, and forego a few things the Baetis does that the Id doesn’t that may or may not be important to listeners. I’ll bet when reduced to a simple table of comparing capabilities, the justification (or lack thereof) for the huge price difference comes down to just a few things, and at the additional cost of not being able to do several things that the Id does, not to mention the long-term support that one can count on from JRiver.

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  • August 27, 2014 at 12:43 pm
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    I find it hard to get too excited about a transmission method limited to 4 channels of 24/96 (AES/EBU/AES3). Not even up to 5.1 channels, and limited to 2 channels at 24/192. At that point, why bother, just get it to a good sound card via a more generic data interface and give me the analog audio. I guess they expanded the spec to permit mpeg audio…who cares? Frankly haven’t touched AES/EBU since the DAT days ended.

    Oh, and last time I looked, any optical connection is pretty much galvanically isolated, though optical has limits too.

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    • August 27, 2014 at 1:22 pm
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      I can’t argue with people that want to spend a lot of money on equipment, software, or accessories…as long as they know what’s up with their purchases. Audiophiles are subjected to a lot of hype.

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  • August 27, 2014 at 2:00 pm
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    You’re certainly on a roll with pointing out emperors with no clothes. If Baetis had any true technical chops and actually believed anything he spouted, he’d lay out his own printed circuit boards (PCBs) to deal with many of the issues he purports to be of vital importance in a far more effective manner than pathetic tweaks like EMI fabric using the same PCBs that many cheap PC makers use.

    I almost choked when Baetis stated in one of his white papers “But why buy a NAS built like a Sherman tank?” as an appeal to buy his NAS that he thinks is similar to a Sherman tank. For anyone who actually knows anything about Sherman tanks, one knows that Sherman tanks were built to be cheap, reliable and very mobile, so that one could put 2 or more Sherman tanks against one very expensive, relatively unreliable, relatively immobile Panther, Tiger or Royal Tiger tank. His product is the very antithesis of a Sherman tank. In short, he’s targeting the wealthy and technically illiterate, not to mention historically illiterate.

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  • August 27, 2014 at 2:52 pm
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    Mark I do have one question, you seem to be saying that any of the systems using JRiver software is going to offer better sound than other media software. I’m running either Clementine or Amarok under linux to my onboard Realtek 889A HDA soundchip which feeds my outboard DAC via S/PDIF coax. Why would JRivers software supply a more accurate data stream to the rest of the system than Clementine-etc under linux?
    TIA
    Sal

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    • August 27, 2014 at 4:34 pm
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      JRiver is a great application that provides terrific access to sound files, a great interface, and wonderful sound. It handles surround as well as stereo files…but I wouldn’t say that it delivers audio that is audibly better than Amarra. There are lots of things that impact the delivery of data from one device to another. However, at the end of the day the stream is the stream is the stream…and when properly clocked it then hands off to the DACs. That’s where the rubber meets the road.

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      • August 28, 2014 at 4:41 am
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        It’s how the software communicates with the hardwar, and the quality of the (CoDecs, well decoders for playback). VLC on my Note 3 sounds markedly superior to the default Android player because of the way it hooks into the hardware. VLC allows for of a lot of tweaking and I would imagine a lot of other software-based players do too.

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    • August 27, 2014 at 5:10 pm
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      Sal,

      Your Linux OS has better UAC 2.0 implementation than OSX and obviously Microsoft Windows.
      Make sure to run ALSA and you are good to go. It still years ahead of CoreAudio or anything by Microsoft.

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  • August 27, 2014 at 4:23 pm
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    Folks can pay whatever they want for their systems. They can even look down their noses at my equipment. That’s fine – I’ll continue to review the facts and determine what choices give me the most bang for the buck. My big gripe is the monopoly of the big companies that control the media we purchase. They can’t fool me but they are hoping to fool the masses. They just aren’t delivering the goods at any price and that’s a shame.

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  • August 27, 2014 at 4:53 pm
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    Time to chime in on this topic. I have my own computer business and have built a couple of ‘media servers’ of my own. I’ve done a ton of testing of digital music in the last 4 years or so. Started with a laptop using USB into a DAC with iTunes. Now I’m using JRiver with a Bryston SP3.
    I built a music server using some standard parts in a home theatre case from Silverstone. I have an Asus motherboard with HDMI out, 4G ram and 2 SSD hard drives – one for the OS and a 960G one for my music. One fancy item I put in was a fan-less power supply from Seasonic. Sure keeps the computer quiet!
    The part that makes my computer sound BETTER than any music server I’ve heard is a professional sound card from Digigram. It has an AES/EBU output which I run into my SP3. Now I did have other DACs before, but the SP3 is simply an unbelievable piece. I use the motherboard’s HDMI out to play multi-channel Hi-Rez music. As you have said before, the SP3 is probably the best multi-channel DAC on the market and I would have to agree (not a bad 2-channel as well!)
    Once I had my computer built, we played around with different sounds cards such as the Essence STX from Asus. It was good, but once I got wind of the Digigram product, well, it literally blew my socks off! I now have what I consider to be the best music server built and it costs less than $2K! The keys are JRiver, the Digigram card (PCI-E) and the Bryston SP3.
    To prove my point, I borrowed a Bryston BDP-1 to compare. As good as the Bryston is (and it is), my computer sounded better in every test. But for someone wanting a HT piece to match their system, the Bryston is the way to go, I think. I even visited Bryston’s factory and took a tour. What a place!
    But if someone is computer savvy, my system is fantastic. I even took it to a client who has auditioned the Beatis system, and he preferred my computer in his system.

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    • August 28, 2014 at 9:33 am
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      The SP3 is an absolutely amazing piece of equipment…but does have a hefty price tag ($8000). But if you’re going to do multichannel at the highest level that is the way to go. I wouldn’t rule out the Oppo BDP-105…especially with the Aria Music Server add in…as a cost effective solution as well ($1300). I haven’t heard the Digigram card but will take a look. The point is that HTPC solutions don’t need to be expensive. However, they do require some computer chops. I’ll get some posts prepared that go through setting up a good HTPC.

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  • August 27, 2014 at 5:20 pm
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    You say: “…the empirical crowd that digital operates the same way as analog and is subjected to the same science”.
    Science is one, but is it possible that the new science of digital audio hides unknown phenomena?
    You say: “I would happily test all of the digital outputs with a variety of cables and see if the same digital data is output from all of them…regardless of cable type”. I bet that you would find the same data stream but, with all due respect, would really digital cable and digital connector formats all sound the same ?

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    • August 28, 2014 at 9:35 am
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      If the same digital information is output from the various sources, cables, formats…yes, they will sound the same.

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  • August 28, 2014 at 4:02 am
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    LOL – yep…Intel NUC ($350) + Emotiva XDA-2 ($220) = $570 … and you got AES/EBU too …sigh

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  • August 28, 2014 at 4:03 pm
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    Yes Mark: “If the same digital information is output from the various sources, cables, formats…yes, they will sound the same.” I agree with this statement, which is applicable right before analog amplification directly connected to speakers. But modern sound reproduction systems may have several digital devices therefore other digital cables.

    Cables connecting digital devices prior to the last digital to analog stage and after the CD transport digital output (let’s say the source), I would suspect that the quality of cables could make a difference.

    For example, every cable has a certain capacitance. The square waves from the digital signal may be distorted to a point where a timing error is introduced in the downstream-connected digital device. For audiophiles who use an external clocking mechanism, too much capacitance can probably induce some jitter. Finally, when audio is distributed through a home network with a CAT 5 Ethernet cable, drop out problems do occur.

    So, with my old analog frame of mind (born too long ago), it seems to me that, other than at the last stage of a modern audio reproduction system, the quality of the digital connectors and of the external wires used, may produce audible differences.

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    • August 28, 2014 at 6:30 pm
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      I might go for the CAT5 for a long lead…but otherwise, modern equipment reclocks at every stage minimizing jitter.

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  • August 29, 2014 at 6:50 am
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    Thank you for your messages you deliver daily. I am a scientist and it gets on my nerves when marketeers (pirateers? privateers?) try to bypass science and truth in their claims for music reproduction. I wonder if these folks know that the original source of the music is based on physical properties such as density, velocity, phase and acoustic phenomena not through some magic or flooby dust. I am a bass player and I can tell you if I am having a bad day, my playing will reflect that and no amount tubey goodness, or its actual phenomena of fumbled output impedance is going to make me sound any better.

    I am thinking of building my own nuclear power plant to improve the sound of my Outlaw Audio/Vandersteen/SME/Schiit Audio based system because I have heard that nuclear fission does not introduce hash, reduce pacing or flatten the sound stage in the music. There are have some environmental and geothermal drawbacks, but, hey listen to the music. Tongue firmly planted in cheek.

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    • August 29, 2014 at 8:45 am
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      Thanks Ronald.

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  • August 29, 2014 at 9:04 am
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    This is the first I have heard of interconnects needing calibration for the exact components they connect. Any opionions?

    http://transparentcable.com/special/

    Brian found an almost new pair of 1-meter Transparent Balanced Reference Interconnect listed on Audiogon at a great price. He jumped at the chance.

    When he hooked them up to his Krell system, though, they just didn’t sound right. He was almost ready to send them back for a refund when his friend asked him if he had the cables calibrated for his system.

    “Calibrated? What?!”

    “Call Transparent, and tell them your serial number. They’ll know what components were intended to be used with your cable.”

    Brian called Transparent. He told Demos, Transparent’s customer service guru, the model and serial number of his cables and told him he had a Krell system.

    Demos called Brian back with the info: “When we built those cables, they were optimized for an Audio Research preamp and amp. No wonder the cables didn’t sound right in your system. The ARC system has totally different impedance characteristics from Krell components. You need to take your cables to a Transparent dealer and have them returned to us for calibration. You have 2 options: basic calibration or certification.”

    “What’s the difference and what does each cost? ” Brian asked.

    “Basic calibration for Reference Balanced Interconnects would be $350. Certification includes calibration, new packaging, and a warranty. The warranty will give you upgrade privileges, and future calibrations will be no charge. Certification for your cables would be $700. Your closest dealer would be Paragon Sight and Sound in Ann Arbor. Their phone number is 734-662-3595.”

    To make a long story short, Brian opted to get his cables certified, and they sound great. When he visited Paragon, he heard a system similar to his own with Transparent used throughout. The system really sang.

    Brian is now talking to Larry at Paragon about a pair of Factory Certified Pre-Owned Transparent Reference Speaker Cables and perhaps a digital cable and a few power cords.

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    • August 29, 2014 at 9:30 am
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      Bill, it’s absolutely true that the type of equipment and the types of signals that are sent between them must user cables of the proper type. For example, in my studio I use balanced XLR connections between my DACs and the power amplifiers. The connections must be wired correctly (balanced with pin 2 of the XLR connector carrying the positive signal) and be of nominal impedance at 600 Ohms. If I had wired the connectors incorrectly, used the wrong impedance, or employed very poor cables for long feeds, my system wouldn’t perform up to expectations.

      However, the story you relate above is complete hocus pocus and a rip off. The customer simply had the wrong cables. If he had built his own using good quality cable (we use Canare/Mogami) and connectors (Neutrik) and made sure they were the right electrical specifications for the equipment being connected…then the idea of calibration or certification is just another jerk on the audiophile chain.

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      • August 29, 2014 at 9:55 am
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        I use Canare and Mogami for both my audio and instrument connections and they are well made pieces that will probably outlive me. I also use Belden cables from Blue Jeans cable and have been very satisfied with those products too. That cable calibration hocus pocus voodoo garbage is what it is.
        It’s sad that those illogical statements are allowed to persist and people wade into the muck and can fall victim to the snake oil.

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      • August 30, 2014 at 3:44 pm
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        WHAT,
        You folks don’t use black XLRs with the Sennheisers and silver with the Neumanns?
        Color matching connectors to microphones is the proper way to avoid compromising the color palate of the sound.
        We tried to find the clear XLR connectors (almost impossible to find, and insanely expensive) a few years back, since these are supposed to have the most transparent sound of all as well as can be used with any color mic.
        Pfffft!

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        • August 31, 2014 at 9:45 am
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          LOL thanks.

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    • August 29, 2014 at 2:00 pm
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      People have been x-raying and cutting open the mystery boxes in such snake oil cables for years. If you’re lucky, the mystery box just contains glue (and many apparently do). If you’re unlucky, it contains a cap and/or a resistor and/or inductor, such that you have cascading crossovers and/or voltage dividers when you have the misfortune of inserting these signal degraders into your signal path.

      Here’s one such breakdown: http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-make-a-Transparent-Audio-Reference-XL-Speak/?ALLSTEPS

      Reply

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