Sunday, February 21, 2010

HiFi : Source III : Home Music Server

The third source element in my music system is the digital music server.

In a nutshell, all my music files are held elsewhere on my home network. Music is accessed via a laptop computer and the digital stream is fed out through a DAC to the amplifier.

The set up consists of three elements:

Laptop : Currently, this is a Dell with one or two issues, like turning itself off or freezing after an hour or so ...
Software : I'm getting good results with Media Monkey
DAC : Cambridge DacMagic

The laptop connects to the home network via WiFi. This means the music files can be held elsewhere so HDD noise is kept to a minimum. Most files are in .flac format. This is a lossless compression format. .mp3s are lossy and it's possible to spot the degradation in a .mp3 file on playback through a reasonable system.

.flacs have different levels of compression, but this only makes a difference to the amount of processor power the computer needs to decode the file. Since this laptop does little else, it's not really an issue.

Media Monkey both catalogues the music files and processes the digital file for export as a digital stream from the laptop via a USB port. When the DacMagic was first plugged into the computer it was identified as a USB sound card. Media Monkey can use a variety of output modules. At the moment I'm using the standard wave output.

The DacMagic can switch between three different digital sources and has three switchable digital filter profiles. The device converts the digital input to a regular analogue output which plays back through my Marantz amplifier.

The music source files are either ripped from the original CDs or, more and more often, downloaded direct from websites run by the artist's label or retailers who are set up for digital delivery. It is possible to find music which is recorded at a far higher fidelity than can be delivered via CD ... more about digital music files another day.