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Discussion Starter #1
This is for a home stereo system that has worked well for more than 10 years. Sony 400 disc megastorage jukebox going into a middle-of-the-road NAD 340 amplifier to my Cambridge Soundworks speakers with sub-woofer.

The Sony player is on death's doorstep. The carousel spins around and around without finding the proper CD and has to be turned off and on to get it to work properly.

Sony no longer makes a 400 CD unit.

My music-loving friends tell me i should convert to a hard drive as my music centre. I should rip all my CDs as 320 bit rate MP3s and play everything back from a hard drive. They suggest a low-cost laptop for this. But my question is what quality of sound will that give me? CD players prices vary widely and my understanding is that the quality of the digital to analog conversion is critical to the final quality of the sound. But how does one judge the digital to analog quality of different laptops?

Are there other setups that would give me the flexibility of the hard drive but maintain the decent quality to which I am accustomed?

Many thanks in advance.
 

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There are uncompressed audio file formats and lossless audio formats that can be used but be prepared for problems in getting a particular audio format to work. There are compatibility problems getting riiping software and player software/hardware to work. This is particularly true if you decide you want to play the ripped files on various players, including portable players like phones or dedicated audio players.

Check Wikipedia for "audio file formats" and what it has to say about uncompressed audio file formats and lossless compressed audio file formats.
 

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I should add that storage is a major concern here.

A full CD holds 682 Megabytes or 0.682 Gigabytes. If you had a full jukebox with all discs using the maximum that would be about 273 GB and even if your average CD was half full that would be 137 GB.

While disk drives large enough to hold that amount are not that expensive, audio players with integrated hard disk drives of over 32 GB are not that common. Consider ripping in an uncompressed format to a large external hard drive and then transfer or compress to fit your player's storage.
 

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I was in a similar situation a couple of years ago, and decided to rip all my CDs (about 1000 of them) to Apple Lossless in iTunes. I purchased an Airport Express, which I connected to the optical input of my receiver, and I can play any of my music wirelessly over my network. I don't think the C340 has an optical input, but you could purchase a DAC and connect it to the Airport Express. Quality is very good, and I haven't experienced any dropouts of any sort.
As a bonus, if you have any iDevice (iPad, iPod, or iPhone), you can download the remote app from the App Store and control iTunes remotely. It's quite handy.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
The Brennan

Thanks for the replies and info. I've done a lot of surfing since my first post and came across the Brennan device from the UK. http://www.brennan.co.uk/ It has a built-in amplifier which i don't want, and seems to be available only in the UK. Otherwise, it seems to be close to what i am looking for. Are there other products like this available in Canada? I think what i am after is a large external hard drive and a DAC that would be easily controlled from a remote or something similar. Does such a beast exist?
 

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Bgillies:
I've got a spare Sony 300 player if that is of interest. PM me if so.

Otherwise Hugh had a thread on Sonos which might be worth a read. There is also a Philips model but not sure if available in Canada.

I tried to steer my in-laws towards the Brennan, but there were some negative reviews around. There was a promotion in the USA six months ago.

Alan B's point on file formats is a good one. I ripped my CD's to flac for my house system but have to re-rip them to mp3 for the Playbook. There are formats that sound as good as the CD if you steer clear of extreme compression.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Hard drive directly into an amplifier?

As I Google i see that the home audio scene is in a state of flux, to say the least. Perhaps this is what I am really after: An external hard drive that I could fill up by ripping my CDs on my computer, and then plugging the hard drive into a new amplifier that could handle the digital signal. Is this do-able? I haven't followed the audio technology scene, so I may be way behind the times. Has audio evolved in the past ten years as much as video?

Many thanks again for the feedback.
 

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What you are thinking of could be met by an NAS (same idea as the laptop but no screen and low power usage) that would come with music server software, and a DAC which would feed your existing amp etc. (or buy a new amp with in built dac)
TheBaconator's post describes that sort of system, except for substituting with an NAS.
I would recommend getting the hardware side straight first before ripping CD's. I had to re-rip mine when I had to switch formats from OGG to FLAX.
 

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I had a Sony 400 CD player as well and my collection eventually surpassed it's capacity about 4 years ago. My solution was to build a Windows Vista Media PC using Windows Media Center. Part of the reason I went this route was to also replace 2 VCR's that I was using to record analog TV. At the time it had a 1TB drive and I was ripping to lossless WAV files. This system is in my living room and connected to my TV and stereo and generally works quite well.

I have since moved to digital TV and that part of the system is no longer being used. The issue I am most concerned about now is that I have much metadata associated with my music (ratings, genre etc.) that I don't wish to lose. I really want to future proof my music library and I am concerned about being tied to Windows Media Player. It is quite powerful in it's ability to create playlists which I use extensively (Sonos seriously lacks in this area as there is no way to do any kind of query based play lists...a big sore point for a friend of mine with this system).

If I was starting from scratch now I would likely put my music on a NAS in another lossless format such as FLAC and use a program such as MediaMonkey or Fubar2000.

As interesting as Google Play or Apple iTunes are for making my music available I am wary of these options as it puts the control of my collection in someone else's hands.

A rather expensive but appealing system is a Drobo configured with a personal cloud for access from anywhere as it gives you easy remote access and integrated backup:

http://www.drobo.com/solutions/for-professionals/personal-cloud.php

I suspect there are similar options available or will be soon.

Other options are standalone systems such as those offered by Olive:

http://www.olive.us/

and the already mentioned Brennan.

As much as I liked the 400 CD player having my music in a database on a computer gives me so many more options in how I sort and listen to music. In order to get the most out of my library requires a considerable amount of time assigning ratings and other metadata to my music before I can truly reap the rewards.
 

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I've also gone through the same process (but with two Sony Mega changers). Here are my thoughts.

Ripping to a lossless format is definitely the way to go. Which one? Doesn't really matter. You should pick one based on how you plan to access the files eg. if you are in an Apple-centric world, obviously you want to go with AAC. Overall, FLAC seems to be the best solution for overall compatibility with most media streamers.

Even so, converting from one lossless format to a different one down the line just isn't a big deal because the conversion is....lossless....you lose nothing. If you change your mind simply convert from FLAC to WMA or AAC or Ogg Vorbis, or whatever.

The real issue is how best to do the initial ripping. There are freeware solutions eg. EAC but I went with dbPoweramp (about $40) because it supports ripping with multiple CD/DVD drives simultaneously plus automatically meta-tagging. With three drives I was constantly inserting and removing discs - about as fast a way to get the job done.

dbPoweramp also supports batch conversion. Point it at the lossless folder, pick an output format (perhaps a medium quality MP3 for an iPod), hit start and go do something else.

A note on the meta-tagging - it's not a perfect world. If you've ripped CDs with iTunes you'll know how well that works for obscure or non-mainstream releases. So expect to do some touchup tagging for some albums. Check out http://www.mp3tag.de/en/ (free).

And don't get hung up on how many GB of storage you will need to keep the lossless files. Considering what you originally paid for the Sony Mega changer, hard disk storage is pretty darn cheap.

The real cost of this whole exercise is your time - ripping 400 CDs (in my case about 700) is not exactly my idea of fun, but you only have to do it once. Obviously the original CDs are your "hard-copy" backup but I would definitely recommend periodically backing up your lossless rips as you go. You are protecting your own time and effort. And when you finish - back it all up!!

As for playback - you can use a PC, or a HTPC, or a media streamer, or a SONOS or a Boxee, or an Apple TV or whatever works for you. If you want an all-in-one solution check out the WDTV Live hub (http://goo.gl/3uVXZ) - about $200 and includes an integral 1TB drive. It also gives you a fairly decent interface to access your music library.

I went with a HTPC with the music files on a NAS. I can access my music from any computer in the house, my home theatre, my iPad, etc.

Hope this helps.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Food for thought

I want to thank everyone again for their advice. You have given me a lot to chew on. I had not heard of the Olive technology, and it looks ideal, but I am stunned at the price. The 2TB non-audiophile model is at least twice as much as i want to pay. If I were an entrepreneur, this market niche looks ripe for the picking. Or else try to persuade Costco to come up with a Kirkland house-brand system....

I'll do some more research and I'm sure I'll have more questions.

Best,

Bill
 

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my 2 cents

My post ran really long as I typed so,

Short answer:
Rip your CD collection to flac files with your PC and "back it up" to the
Western Digital TV Live Hub Media Center. A possible $200 solution with remote control.


Long answer:
FLAC Library.
I re-ripped my CD collection into flac files about 2 years ago. It used to be 320kps .mp3 files. I suggest flac because its an open source format. You can add tags to them if you want. Flac sounds a lot better than .mp3 or .ogg files. mp3 and ogg files drop some music info, so they lose some quality in the compression.
Flac are just a lot like the pkzip fie compressor program that some files over the internet are distributed in and are "lossless". A .flac file can be returned back into the exact original bit perfect copy wave (.wav) file that most CD ripper programs use when first ripping CDs as "lossless".
My Android phone supports .flac music right out of the box. A lot of players support this format today. I'm sure all Android tablets would support flac. My iPhone 3 did not. I don't know about iPhone 4. I'm not a fan of apple iTunes because its proprietary.

You can simply use the laptop's audio out jack with a $10 audio isolation transformer ( to isolate from power supply noise ) for pretty good sound.
A USB DAC for a little better sound.
An old unused desktop PC equipped with a RCA digital audio or SP/DIF optical audio output to a decent DAC for best audio.
Example DAC's; Benchmark DAC1, NuForce. or eBay search for DAC's. Your mileage will vary. My Beresford set me back almost $400 to get it into Canada.

I don't buy into all that jitter nonsense. I look at it this way. I don't see jitter on my HDTV. And I don't hear it on my system. Maybe ignorance is bliss. You (IMHO) will get more jitter my simply moving your head back and forth during listening. I use RG6 75ohm coax cable for my digital audio.

MY PLAYBACK:
My playback system is PC based, because this technology is a moving target. I have twin machines that are setup very much like NAS servers. The two machines back each other up. They are based on the Zotac mini ATX mother boards, with low power consumption. I bought them as NAS machines, but they play back HD video as well.
I use a Beresford Caiman Gatorized DAC with Grado SR325i headphones to listen on. The computer's digital out is also connected to two other DAC equipped amplifiers in the house for whole house audio. There are a lot of DAC's on the market these days. I've had my Beresford since last summer and the quality is stunning as long as the original recording well done to begin with. As with all things audio the $$ sky is the limit. With the PC as a playback "transport" device, you can start small and customize as you go along. The playback software for me is mplayer of all things. You can use any one of dozens of playback programs. I used to use winamp, which last I looked was still a fine playback system.
I use regular remote control inside the house and control it with my phone while outside. And any computer in the house can play back the collection as well.

A also have a "WD Live" which is an older non hard drive playback device. It plays music well, but the menu system may not be good for 400 albums. It chokes on my 600 HD video titles so I don't use it much. The WD hardware is well supported, so the new WD hub may have better large collection support in its menu system. You could just start out with the Western Digital TV Live Hub Media Center with any companion computer and connect it directly to your NAD with analog connections and expand later.
I personally would stay away from expensive off brand equipment. I have an IO-Data network DVD player which came out a few years ago, and the company simply walked away from supporting the product after only about 2 years making the unit worthless. A $400 lesson learned. ;)
 

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I have over 1100 CD's ripped to ALAC ( Apple Lossless ) .. They are stored on a now outdated, but functional, HP Mediasmart server. Wired network to a Logitech Squeezebox Touch. You can either run RCA outs to the receiver, or digital out to an external DAC, then to receiver. You can select music via the remote and Squeezebox Touch screen, or use an iPad, iPhone or iPod toch with the Logitech remote software to play it. The advantage of the Touch is that it plays FLAC, ALAC, AAC, mp3 etc easily and seamlessly. With high Rez downloads, (24-96 max) it is awesome as well.

The all in one Olive systems, and other likewise, are very pricey, for what you get. Using your existing home netowrk, thenTouch or aforementioned Apple TV or AirPlay streamer. The Apple stuff won't pla,y FLAC though.
 

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Similar story here. I used Exact Audio Copy (EAC) to rip CDs to FLAC format. I highly recommend using a lossless format and converting to MP3 as needed. The collection can be managed and converted to lossy formats, as required, by a program like MediaMonkey. 1100 CDs will require something in the neighborhood of 400GB-500GB of disc space in FLAC format. The advantage of EAC is that it can create error free, lossless rips of most discs. Discs with errors and some types of copy protection will not rip but they get flagged instead of creating a bad rip.
 
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