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The Never Ending Search for a Music Server


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It seems like I've been trying to do this for years and WFH may finally force the issue enough into the forefront that I do something. So, what I'm basically looking for is a stand-alone music server, with onboard storage capacity, decent library management tools, and a reliably updated GUI.  I'm not against the obvious Mac Mini choice as I have external DAC options that make that doable, but would be interested in hearing folks other thoughts on this. Budget is not unlimited and the Brooklyn solutions of the world need not apply.  I've looked and can't really find anything that gets me very excited.

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Rolling with Tidal Hifi on the Macbook today fed thru the Ayre.  Sounds pretty great. A stable setup will start being assembled today and hopefully get this party started right.

OK I have to change my mind on Roon. I spent the morning reinstalling my Roon Core and now it all works flawlessly. Since both Roon as well as my infrastructure has changed significantly since the las

Thanks for posting that, I'm all over $4  to get me thru July.

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I reached the same conclusion researching an upgrade for my dad's stereo system.

The Mac Mini (or something like it) + DAC/preamp/headphone amp (possibly all separate) seems like the best compromise to future-proof the system.

Traditional hi-fi manufacturers' solutions (e.g., Naim Uniti) all seem to be expensive, clunky, and quickly obsoleted by the rapid advance of digital audio technologies. Running a full computer and operating system (+ storage management) seems like overkill for an audio system, but the crippled alternatives in the hi-fi boxes are worse for functionality and expansion options.

You also have a lot more choices in software – running a full-fledged computer allows you to switch between a hi-fi/high-res audio library or casual streaming like Spotify, Tidal, or Qobuz.

I gave up on trying to figure out high-res formats and took the easy route – ripping my CDs to ALAC as a way of increasing convenience and backing up the discs. No monthly fees, no hassle.

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A British friend of mine (whose ears I trust more’n my own:

”See if you can find the time to hunt down something called and Innuos (even the Mini is stunning) you will honestly never want to listen to music stored anywhere ellse again. it's a unique music server - I get to sell loads, and listen to them both at home and work. the 'Statement' is a beast, but oh my!  I control it via iPad and an app called ipeng. Utterly sublime.”

Probably falls into Brooklyn territory.

My personal solution has to be a computer, because Bandcamp, HDTracks, Tidal, etc.

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I'd recommend a used Auralic Aries Mini.  Can handle all types of music (FLAC and DSD), has a built-in DAC and RCA analog outs, and coax/optical/USB out for digital out to DAC.  Connects via ethernet or WiFi.  You can use an external USB HDD, or mount a 2.5" inside.  Transferring music is a bit slow/tedious, but it works.

The App for it isn't bad, but I use mine with Roon & Tidal as it's a recognized Roon Endpoint.

These are tough to find used, but a fairly nice option.

Another thought: an SMSL DP3 (https://www.amazon.com/Headphone-Amplifier-SMSL-DP3-Turntable/dp/B07CQKKY5B).  A kind of nice all-in-one unit, lots of similarities to Aries Mini with a few differences: 1) has a headphone out; ok, not great, 2) does ethernet, WiFi, and Bluetooth, 3) has a screen for seeing what is going on, 4) internal storage is SD card, 5) BUT....app interface is Hiby App, connected via Bluetooth, and I don't like it much at all.  It has other connectivity options (DLNA, Airplay, etc.) so maybe there is a better interface out there.

All that said, I have one of these if you want to try/borrow it Nate, along with the other stuff to come your way. 😊

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Yeah, I think the computer is the right solution it then comes down to hating to pay the ridiculous asking price for a Mac Mini.  I guess I'll have to start watching refurb outlets for stuff like this. 

Todd, really appreciate the input and the offer of a loan. Let me look into the Aries first along with a few computer options before we go down that road.

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Some relative in law has one of those Raspberry thingies that a friend built for him. It sounds pretty good, he controls it with the iPhone (maybe it's an Android phone, not sure). It plays whatever there's into the HDD he feeds it. It sounds pretty good. Not his vinyl rig good, but not bad at all.

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On 4/1/2020 at 10:01 AM, n_maher said:

It seems like I've been trying to do this for years and WFH may finally force the issue enough into the forefront that I do something. So, what I'm basically looking for is a stand-alone music server, with onboard storage capacity, decent library management tools, and a reliably updated GUI.  I'm not against the obvious Mac Mini choice as I have external DAC options that make that doable, but would be interested in hearing folks other thoughts on this. Budget is not unlimited and the Brooklyn solutions of the world need not apply.  I've looked and can't really find anything that gets me very excited.

if you go the mac mini route i'd recommend getting an open box from best buy's website

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I know it’s not what your looking for and you’d still have to solve the DAC question, but why not take thIs opportunity to liberate the local storage need and go full Tidal/Qobuz? 

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Just now, blessingx said:

I know it’s not what your looking for and you’d still have to solve the DAC question, but why not take thIs opportunity to liberate the local storage need and go full Tidal/Qobuz? 

The DAC question is largely (completely) solved with the Ayre QB-9, which i'm in the process of trying to see if I want to upgrade to Twenty status.  If I make that kind of investment (~$1500) I can't imagine replacing it pretty much ever. I'll have a look at the Best Buy website to see if that's enough of a savings to justify, or whether or not I just need to accept parking a laptop permanently on the desktop to serve as the "bridge".  I admit that I never really have bothered to look at subscription services like Tidal, but at $1k for a front end like the Mac Mini would cover a lot of months (looks like $20 for high-res subscription).

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Qobuz is $15 and Amazon His Res $14 of that matters. It’s a price/convenience/music discovery question I suppose. Qobuz and Tidal have a free month trial if you want to give them a spin. 

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I'll likely give a trial a shot as soon as I can get the basics of the front end setup. My home office has been thrown into chaos as a result of full time WFH and I was unprepared for the acceleration.  

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I know you mentioned standalone, but have you considered the modular approach where the files are kept on a separate computer(somewhere else in the house), something that could be much less than a mac mini in price (even build one from old PC parts lying around, or a refurbed (aka off lease) box, which are available for $150-200,  and then have a small "bridge" device like a Raspberry Pi, as mentioned above, (or my current favorite Toy, a Nano Pi Neo 2 from Friendly Arm) driving your DAC?

There is a software client for MPD that has me very interested, that to me looks like it could be a no cost alternative to Roon in a lot of ways (since it pulls in metadata from various sources like Roon), called RompR.

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I tried Tidal and Qobuz and preferred Quobuz for the volume of high res and jazz options, but Tidal seemed to have more new music. I ended up just using the Spotify family plan that Claire and the kids had been using for years. If I get serious again, I'd pick Quobuz. 

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I listen to Tidal probably 75% of the time now. If that percentage gets much higher I am likely to ditch the Mac mini. I am pretty happy with the GUI of the MacOS Tidal app and its audio quality. 

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I’ve had Tidal and Qobuz jointly running for a few months now. I prefer Qobuz Mac interface quite a bit, but Tidal’s iOS interface for significant speed loading difference. Tidal has a larger artist catalog, but Qobuz goes deeper with the artists it has (EPs, etc.).Like Americana and Bluegrass? Go Tidal. Listen mostly to Classical and need detailed metadata? Go Qobuz. Listen mostly to albums? Qobuz is organized for you. Want generated playlists based on recent listens? Tidal has them. Want auxiliary information on releases? It’s Qobuz. Want upfront presentation of new releases? Tidal. Then there’s everyone favorite MQA (Tidal) v. 24/192 (Qobuz) debate. Keep in mind this is all in comparison only. Either service is pretty wonderful and are amazing options we have. Because of personal artists preferences, I end up on Tidal more often (and sometimes struggling to get around their suggested new young artists), but the Qobuz missing artists is still an issue, though that list is clearly shrinking. 

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4 hours ago, morphsci said:

I listen to Tidal probably 75% of the time now. If that percentage gets much higher I am likely to ditch the Mac mini. I am pretty happy with the GUI of the MacOS Tidal app and its audio quality. 

I’d be lying if I said, “this me,” as I tend to listen to Mixlr/Illuminator, SoundCloud, MixCloud, YouTube, and Bandcamp as much as Tidal* and Foobar2K (FLACs).

 *I do have a tendency to listen to quite a bit of new music.  I otherwise agree with almost all of the above, except the EP comment.  I’ve found quite a few of those on Tidal, but that just may be my choice of artists.  It’s very much a function of the artist.  I’ve found some artists with nothing but albums, and I’ve found some artists with the entire deep catalog, including singles that are just the album track by itself.

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I have not listened to any of my 3tb of hires music on the NAS in over a year. I only use Qobuz, Tidal and sometimes Sirius on the Sonos system and I have been perfectly happy. I could stream all my music through Sonos as well, but I am fine with the streaming resources. I even bought that flavor of the month music library software everyone was using a year or two ago and only used it once or twice as it was not worth the hassle of having a computer on and running and it plays like shit embedded on a NAS. 

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Thanks for the opinions, guys. I need to look at the respective lists of artists and start a trial or two.  I'm with you Jeff, where I just want stuff to work and not be fiddly.  I've got enough of that in my life.

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I've been on Tidal for a while, enjoying it combined with my own library.  I have found some obscure things on Tidal that are tough to find.

I actually find some of the non-MQA releases sound better than MQA on Tidal!  Some others have echoed my thought.

For me, I added Roon to the equation, and love it all.  I am a huge fan of the convenience, and have several Roon endpoints about the house (and in my Maine condo....if i ever get back up there!).

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I tried using Roon but it was never an easy proposition and I think k that is why I gradually shifted over to  Tidal. I also tried to get Roon to run on my NAS ()which is pretty capable) but it is not reliable. Because of the above comments I am going to try Qobuz as an addition to Tidal. 

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