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Author Topic: How do you play high quality digital music *LOCALLY* - (CD quality - or higher)?  (Read 8148 times)

tomos

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This thread is *not* about streaming.
Most HiFi solutions for playing digital music involve streaming. That seems to be the norm these days, so other solutions aren't readily available or well publicised. I'm interested in the other solutions. Solutions that can be added to a DAC/amp combo have various names, and various capabilities. The companies never seem to straight up tell you what the product does -- it's like trying to solve a bleeding crime sometimes, trying to figure out what a HiFi product in this niche actually does ;-)
Hence the query below, and a summary of what I've figured out so far...

So, how do you play high quality digital music, CD quality (or higher) locally?
(I've completely ignored bluetooth below, as it seems to be more suited to mp3's.)

I have to admit I never use headphones (I get a sort of claustrophobia if I wear them more than a couple of minutes) so haven't listed any options involving headphones here:

#1 Most basic option seems to be computer with speakers.

#2 Then there's computer > DAC > speakers (better)

#3 Then there's a dedicated computer option -- often a Pi these days, with a "high hat" DAC for analog output, or a high hat to give a quality digital output. This solution appears to be very capable, with various quality software options. You need to be willing to mess around to get it right, and you pretty much need to leave it running constantly (I find both of these off-putting).

#4 Then there's a dedicated "Streamer" who's focus is normally streaming music from the internet, but usually includes capability to connect to your network (WiFi & possibly Ethernet). Sometimes called a Network Player.
#4.1 Connection options could include simply connecting a USB drive or an SD card (this is of particular interest to me, as I dont have a network as such, and after years of working at home I hate leaving computers running). Sometimes Streamers sound amazing, but they fall down on the software front.
#4.2 Software used by streamers usually works on a tablet or smartphone. Again, the focus is usually streaming, but music on the network is usually well supported as well. Simply connecting SD or USB dive seems to be rarely properly supported.


I'll put a few examples of streamers with Pros/Cons in a spoiler here:

some examples of streamers - with a european bias
What I've been looking at:

Argon Audio Solo
~€250 only available in the EU
Sound supposed to be very good
Only has WiFi (no ethernet, no USB AFAIK)

Pro-Ject Stream Box S2
€300 September 2022
Seems to be quite good soundwise
Option to connect USB drive
There's an ultra version of same for 666
Software? Indexing poor: shows files from external drive as long list
Amazon reviews not very positive

ifi Zen Stream
€400 September 2022
Sounds great
Lots of connection problems and software dissatisfaction -- seems to work fine for some and be a disaster for others

Primare NP5 Prisma Mk2 streamer
€500+ September 2022
Very good sound!
Hardware minimal (note: no DAC). USB in (so can add USB drive), but not out.
Software okay, apparently

Bluesound Node (2i or 2021?)
~€575  September 2022
Sound good / Hardware good (DAC okay, for best sound use better external DAC)
Software considered the best for ease of use and user-friendliness! But has to re-index external drive on restarting😞


I know this isn't a hifi forum, so not really looking for solutions here - but am generally curious!
Tom
« Last Edit: September 13, 2022, 08:24 AM by tomos »

tomos

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As I say, I'm not interested in streaming - I actually love the limitation of CDs and will play a new purchase until I know it inside-out (presuming it's good enough).

But wanting to move toward digital files stored locally.
Tom

Deozaan

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This probably isn't the kind of answer you're looking for, but I usually use #1 or something similar when I listen to music. I'm not really an audiophile and don't pay much attention to having high quality hardware. Even so, I don't use any of the music streaming services, such as Spotify or YouTube Music. I don't like the idea of "renting" music through a subscription service. If I like something enough, I'll make sure I get a copy of it for "local" play.

What I do is I rip all my CDs to FLAC or just buy digital music in FLAC format (usually from Bandcamp) in the first place. Then I either play it from my computer, or use Plex to stream it from my computer to another device, such as the TV or my phone (with connected Bluetooth speaker/earphones).

I'd consider moving to #3 with a Raspberry Pi or NUC in the future (without the DAC because I don't care about having the best audio quality). The reason I'd go for a dedicated computer is because like you said, I need to leave my desktop PC running anytime I want to access my music (or videos) through Plex. And it would be more convenient and efficient to have a small, low-powered 5-30W device tucked away in a corner somewhere, running 24/7 than having my 500W desktop PC running constantly.

Shades

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There are still audio cards available with more different outputs that allow you to connect your (desktop) computer to decent HiFi equipment.

My needs are in principle also quite basic in this regard. The built-in audio card in my desktops and laptops is sufficient for me. However, I do have a small el cheapo 5.1 audio set which contains a FM radio, Bluetooth, card reader, USB A slot and tulip connectors to connect external audio to.

This el cheapo set produces quite some ruckus if asked and plays my MP3s and FLAC's stored in my local LAN very well (for my ears at least) and without hiccups. First tried to do this with Bluetooth, but even when there was only a meter of distance between audio set and laptops there would the occasional hiccup.

So I just went the old-fashioned way and used a 3,5" jack to tulip plugs conversion cable and connected that way. No worries about connection reliability, no extra noises or hisses are introduced. For me, it works marvelously.

tomos

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Thanks Deozaan and Shades. I'm interested in all solutions :up: and, as I say, curious.

I have been tempted by a small all in one but I'm going the more Hifi/seperates route because I already use a decent amp and decent enough speakers (all vintage but working well).
Tom

Shades

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If your vintage HiFi gear has an AUX button/switch, Chances are high that you'll have Tulip connectors at the back to connect your computer to. A CD-player or DVD player in your computer can deal with audio CDs directly (without that special audio cable).

Granted, I do not listen to music on my phone (or watch video for that matter), detest tablets and only use computers/laptops for audio entertainment. When still living in NL, I had a Sony 5.1 amp, where I had connected my Sony carousel CD player, my Sony Mini-disc recorder, my JVC VHS recorder, My Sony PlayStation 2 and Sony CRT TV, all daisy-chained with SCART cables. Each of these devices came with a remote control. But because of SCART, I could use each remote to control all the devices that were connected by SCART. 3 Sony satellite speakers and 2 Wharfdale speakers...so yes, I do know what vintage entails, hahahah.

Connected my computer to the AUX port of the Sony amp and that was how I listened to music. Even though the carousel CD player held 5 CD's, because I only owned albums I often had a lot of songs I didn't appreciate, hence the Mini-Disc recorder. Which was a really great device, but it always took forever to song titles from CD to Mini-Disc. Apparently I owned a lot of albums that didn't copy that info from CD automatically to Mini-Disc.

Would have repeated such a setup here in PY, but you can't get that type of HiFi equipment here, unless you import it yourself. Import fees at the PY border are a problem. People working there are very corrupt. And I have not seen any of that type of HiFi equipment in stores that sell electronics. The general populace here doesn't know or care about decent HiFi equipment. Vintage or otherwise.

Anyway, in my mind that is still the proper way to listen to music. Not sound bars, Bluetooth speakers or that kind of stuff.

4wd

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Load your music onto a uSD card, plug it into an old smart phone, (or buy a cheap new one).
Install a music player app of you choice.
Connect phone to HiFi AUX input via 3.5mm - RCA cable.

Or 3.5mm - 3.5mm cable for external powered speakers, soundbar, etc if they don't have RCA input.

tomos

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Connect phone to HiFi AUX input via 3.5mm - RCA cable.

Great idea :up:
Probably one step better would be via USB into the external DAC, to avoid using the phone's analogue converter. Will have to check the possible connections...
Tom

4wd

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Probably one step better would be via USB into the external DAC, to avoid using the phone's analogue converter.

A lot of phones have a pretty good DAC, some of the LG's, (V10 - V40, G5, G6, etc), made the DAC they used a selling point.

I'd try it before investing any money.

tomos

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^  I've got the DAC already (was a bit like buying the cart before the horse). Just got to order the proper cable for it...
Tom

Joe Hone

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I used to produce albums for bluegrass, Christian and rock artists. Nowadays I produce for a weekly radio show. I don't think that makes me an expert but it does mean that I've dabbled with music in various formats for years.

I have a mental block with FLAC - if the CD is in WAV, why compress it to another format when you can use freeware like Exact Audio Copy to copy it to a hard drive? With the price of hard drives being so affordable these days I don't see the need to compress audio to save space.

Since you have a vintage amp and speakers that you like the sound of, and since you'd like a higher quality sound to listen to, in my opinion the best option for you is CD-->computer using EAC then computer-->DAC-->amp-->speakers. I do this signal chain in the studio using a DAC, an amp I like the sound of and high end passive studio monitors from the 1980s that I also like the sound of.

It is true that many DACs will sound different, but it's a subtle thing and not very noticeable unless you are comparing them on higher end systems in tuned environments. Also, unless you have crazy good ears often a DAC won't sound different to you than the soundcard on your computer. I prefer using a DAC over the soundcard probably because it's what I'm used to. Finally, there are DACs for sale now for around $100 that sound as good as DACs from years ago costing many times that amount.

Slightly off topic, but there is really no debate that mp3 sounds inferior to WAV and FLAC. In fact mp3 sounds inferior to mp3! You can hear this for yourself. With a freeware program like Audacity you can export any song to mp3 and change the kbps from 145 to 320. Then do a comparison. The 145 kbps version will have harsh sibilance - the S and TH sounds - compared to the 320 kbps version. You will also hear a thinner sound overall, less bass and muted mids compared to a louder and more brittle sounding high end.

tomos

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I used to produce albums for bluegrass, Christian and rock artists. Nowadays I produce for a weekly radio show. I don't think that makes me an expert but it does mean that I've dabbled with music in various formats for years.
Thanks Joe :up:
Point taken about FLAC.
I'm not rushing into this, so am reconsidering using a pc or a pi computer.

My CD player, and my DAC (afaik) allow connecting a USB thumbdrive, but then there's no user-friendly way to  actually play the contents. I find it hard to understand how expensive the solutions on offer are.

Anyways, will try the above option first -- connect an old phone to my DAC, and see how that goes. Software seems to be one of the big problems with streamers, but there's a good choice on phone or computer - so not a problem there. Cable arrived today...
Tom

40hz

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Rip using various tools to FLAC (I have a lot of vinyl) and store to an inexpensive dedicated Linux based server which can either play locally through its soundcard or stream through Jellyfin.

Apple pie!  :Thmbsup:

tomos

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^ hi 40hz!
I'm not fully clear here: when you say server, how is that connected to my amplifier? Or I guess would be better connected to the DAC --  via USB maybe? Or were you thinking WiFi, or ethernet...
As you can possibly see here, I have never used a computer to play music. Also, disclaimer! I have never had a proper network running. I did say above that I wanted to completely avoid the computer approach. Still not what I want but have been considering it lately because there's so few solutions for playing music locally.

Could you then use jellyfin as a remote control to play the music stored on the computer, via bluetooth?
Tom

tomos

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My dream is mainly

  • something that I can store music on, and that I can directly connect with my hifi (DAC or amplifier)
  • that I can switch it on and off without having to worry about bootup time
  • that I can "read" and explore and play this music via an app on my android phone
  • that it's not too complicated to set up (but I have no problem e.g. with ripping CDs on my pc and copying them over somehow)
Tom

Shades

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Assuming there are very little power failures in your house, you'll keep all your music on a server, running locally in a network. That reduces startup times to practically zero. Just keep your server and network (incl. WiFi) powered and you are good to go very, very quickly.

There is an Android app for Jellyfin. When your phone is connected through WiFi to your own network, it will play music and video. Your phone should also work as a remote control.

Depending on your what your ISP allows and your networking skills, the Jellyfin app on your phone will be able to connect to your Jellyfin server outside of your local network too. But be sure to secure things properly, there is the possibility you'll invite the internet to wreak havoc. Or worse, the German courts come knocking on your door for facilitating piracy.

A Raspberri Pi (v3.x or v4.x) computer doesn't consume much energy in idle or when it is active, so it shouldn't be too much of an issue to leave it running 24/7. Those cost around 35 USD, spend 10 to 15 USD on a decent case for that Raspberry Pi, a SD card with enough space for your library & the operating system for that computer and a cable to connect it to your HiFi set/DAC, if you don't already have one.

You'll need a keyboard, mouse and monitor for the initial configuration of the RPi computer and installation of JellyFin server. Afterwards you can take those parts away and manage the server from a web-interface.

Nod5

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There are several linux projects that turn a raspberry pi plus a small DAC into a LAN music player controlled through an app or webapp.
Two examples
https://volumio.com/en/get-started/
https://github.com/rern/rAudio-1