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Any advice on building a Surround Music Server.

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Ron Wagstaff

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Hi. This is my first post after many months of browsing.

All my surround music is stored on my NAS and I'm using an old i7 Toshiba laptop with a broken screen as my music server. I have read that a dedicated music server could be built and that it would sound much better. So I am considering this.

One suggestion is to use a fan-less case and that would definitely be an improvement because the fans do fire up from time to time.

I'm told that the i7 processor is overkill but I do like the zip it gives me.

It seems most music servers use external DACs but that doesn't appear a practical possibility for surround sound. I am connecting to my aged Sony STR-DA5300ES receiver using HDMI and relying on the built in DAC. Could I do better?

Another suggestion is to use a linear power supply. My laptop is permanently connected to the supplied step-up charger but ultimately it is running from the battery (DC). Should I change this?

Other updates would include swapping Windows 10 to Windows Server, using a M.2 hard drive and using ECC grade memory. Would any of these suggestion help?

Or would I do as well just making a few incremental changes to the Toshiba?
 

ubertrout

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I have a HTPC that works great (Core i3-2100T on a ASUS P8H67-I mini-ITX Mobo, booting to a 40 GB SSD with a 2 TB data drive), but honestly my Sony X800 plays 90% of what I'd want with zero headaches. A lot of newer AVRs also have built-in functions if you want to upgrade that.

If you want a surround music client (which is what I think you mean by server - the NAS is the server), a Intel NUC is generally a good choice. As long as what you have can play the music files without lag or stutter any changes you make will be pretty minor compared to the other changes you can make in the system.
 

LuvMyQuad

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Hi. This is my first post after many months of browsing.
Welcome to the forum.

All my surround music is stored on my NAS and I'm using an old i7 Toshiba laptop with a broken screen as my music server. I have read that a dedicated music server could be built and that it would sound much better. So I am considering this.
I can't agree with that. A dedicated server will do nothing more for you in terms of sound quality. Its the digital part of the system responsible for getting a digital stream from your NAS to your DAC. As long as it functions efficiently and doesn't result in dropouts or anything, that digital stream will be the same regardless of which music server you use. I would be very wary of anyone trying to convince you to spend serious money on an upgraded server promising better sound quality.

Do you use wifi to connect your server to the NAS? A wired connection may provide better network performance, but no real increase in sound quality. The sound quality is dictated by the DAC and the rest of the analog playback chain. Some believe using a USB connection instead of HDMI to connect the server to the DAC does improve sound quality by eliminating clocking errors, but that it still the DAC that is the primary factor. Even your Toshiba laptop can use a USB connection to transmit audio.

One suggestion is to use a fan-less case and that would definitely be an improvement because the fans do fire up from time to time.
So this is pretty obvious. If the fan noise bothers you, a fanless server will certainly eliminate that problem. I use one, and they are available at many price points, but a fanless unit with respectable processing power can get expensive. The good news is even i3's and i5's and lesser processors generally have plenty of processing power for high res multichannel audio, and they can be had for less cash. The exception to that is if you apply any DSP within the server. Then a faster processor might be desirable.

I'm told that the i7 processor is overkill but I do like the zip it gives me.
It likely is overkill for what you are doing. For me the biggest leap in "zip" came from using a Solid State Drive (SSD) in the server instead of a mechanical hard drive. What software do you use with your media server? J River? Kodi? Foobar?

It seems most music servers use external DACs but that doesn't appear a practical possibility for surround sound. I am connecting to my aged Sony STR-DA5300ES receiver using HDMI and relying on the built in DAC. Could I do better?
There aren't many multichannel DACs on the market, that's for sure. But here is a couple:
minidsp
Exasound

In order to use a DAC like these your AVR needs to have multichannel analog inputs. Those are becoming a rarity on modern gear, but older units like your Sony may have them. Also, if you don't need the switching capability of a preamp you may be able to port the DAC directly to a power amp

Another suggestion is to use a linear power supply. My laptop is permanently connected to the supplied step-up charger but ultimately it is running from the battery (DC). Should I change this?

Other updates would include swapping Windows 10 to Windows Server, using a M.2 hard drive and using ECC grade memory. Would any of these suggestion help?

Or would I do as well just making a few incremental changes to the Toshiba?
I think you are wasting your time/money on the power supply. Same with the OS change and the memory upgrade. The M.2 has benefits in operation (as discussed above) but no return in sound quality.

Where are you hearing all these recommendations from? They sound very high-endish, almost verging on snake oil territory. Not something i would expect coming from a guy running a Sony receiver.
 

Ron Wagstaff

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I have a HTPC that works great (Core i3-2100T on a ASUS P8H67-I mini-ITX Mobo, booting to a 40 GB SSD with a 2 TB data drive), but honestly my Sony X800 plays 90% of what I'd want with zero headaches. A lot of newer AVRs also have built-in functions if you want to upgrade that.

If you want a surround music client (which is what I think you mean by server - the NAS is the server), a Intel NUC is generally a good choice. As long as what you have can play the music files without lag or stutter any changes you make will be pretty minor compared to the other changes you can make in the system.
Is it a client or a server, I would argue both - it's serving the source music to the AVR. Perhaps I should have called it streamer. If I bought something with similar functionality from Richer Sounds they would call it a streamer (but I'm not streaming anything over the internet).
 

Ron Wagstaff

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I take it from your final comment that you don't rate my Sony AVR. When launched in 2007 it was top of the range and got good reviews. I thought I had got a good deal three years ago when I paid only £120 for it. I'm not interested in all the latest bells and whistles (such as Dolby Atmos); I am only interested in playing surround music. Do you think a modern receiver would sound significantly better?

And you don't think replacing my laptop can be justified,which is a pity because I enjoy building PC's!

Actually I thank you for your comments, I think I'm concentrating on the wrong end of the process if I'm looking for big improvements in sound quality (but then I'm more comfortable with computers than Hi-Fi). My speakers are from Acoustic Energy and of a similar vintage to the amp. May be I should be looking to upgrade those?

In answer to your questions: I'm running Foobar2000 on the laptop using WASAPI over HDMI and the connection to the NAS is via the ethernet.

When I last bought a hi-fi system, in the 80's, the mantra was spend as much as you could afford on the music source (turntable) and compromise on the amp and speakers. I guess today the equivalent statement is spend as much as possible on the DAC; but the surround DACs you suggest seem very expensive. Would going that route override the need to upgrade the AVR?
 

Soundfield

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When I last bought a hi-fi system, in the 80's, the mantra was spend as much as you could afford on the music source (turntable) and compromise on the amp and speakers.
I'd suggest that was never true! Speakers, for obvious reasons, have by several orders of magnitude, the greatest influence on sound quality of all the components of a hifi system. Lots of people (probably most, in the general population) would never be able to tell one amplifier from another, but even the most cloth-eared can usually tell the difference between speakers. If you are on a limited budget then investing (even modestly) in better speakers is the best way to go. But always listen before you buy!
 

furui_suterioo

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Windows 10 might actually slow down your old Toshiba, I installed it on my old Hp 8440p i7 and it doesn't boot as smoothly as Windows 7 also had to do lots of fiddling to get all the old drivers to work properly, but it does run GTA5 at 30fps(slightly faster than win7).
 

LuvMyQuad

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I'd suggest that was never true! Speakers, for obvious reasons, have by several orders of magnitude, the greatest influence on sound quality of all the components of a hifi system. Lots of people (probably most, in the general population) would never be able to tell one amplifier from another, but even the most cloth-eared can usually tell the difference between speakers. If you are on a limited budget then investing (even modestly) in better speakers is the best way to go. But always listen before you buy!
Agreed
 

LuvMyQuad

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Windows 10 might actually slow down your old Toshiba, I installed it on my old Hp 8440p i7 and it doesn't boot as smoothly as Windows 7 also had to do lots of fiddling to get all the old drivers to work properly, but it does run GTA5 at 30fps(slightly faster than win7).
The problem is, a lot of software is now no longer compatible with Win7, or win 8 for that matter. For example, DVD-audio extractor will no longer run under Win 7 or 8.
 

LuvMyQuad

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I take it from your final comment that you don't rate my Sony AVR. When launched in 2007 it was top of the range and got good reviews. I thought I had got a good deal three years ago when I paid only £120 for it. I'm not interested in all the latest bells and whistles (such as Dolby Atmos); I am only interested in playing surround music. Do you think a modern receiver would sound significantly better?
No sorry, you misinterpret my comment. I'm not dissing your AVR at all. Its just that those who typically consider swapping out power supplies and DACs don't run an AVR at all, they would tend to lean toward high end separates which cost considerably more. Better power supplies, DACs, cables, etc are more like tweaks in the grand scheme. The idea being once you have those high end separates in place, you have the basis for being able to hear the more salient sonic qualities of of the tweaks, which are very subtle, if you can even discern them at all.

I do not think a modern receiver would sound significantly better unless it was equipped differently. By that, I mean, some of the better high end receivers include DSP room correction via Dirac or Audyssey. Now adding room correction will definitely improve things sonically, almost like getting better speakers. I do recommend a move to using good room correction if you don't already have it. And beware, not all room correction platforms are created equal. The house brand platforms are not as good as the major players mentioned above.

And you don't think replacing my laptop can be justified,which is a pity because I enjoy building PC's!
I didn't say that. If the fan noise is a problem, then yes consider an upgrade. If you want it to load files faster, go for it. If you are expecting it to give you a better sonic experience than you are getting now, its probably going to disappoint you.

Actually I thank you for your comments, I think I'm concentrating on the wrong end of the process if I'm looking for big improvements in sound quality (but then I'm more comfortable with computers than Hi-Fi). My speakers are from Acoustic Energy and of a similar vintage to the amp. May be I should be looking to upgrade those?

In answer to your questions: I'm running Foobar2000 on the laptop using WASAPI over HDMI and the connection to the NAS is via the ethernet.
I agree with the bold type above.

When I last bought a hi-fi system, in the 80's, the mantra was spend as much as you could afford on the music source (turntable) and compromise on the amp and speakers. I guess today the equivalent statement is spend as much as possible on the DAC; but the surround DACs you suggest seem very expensive. Would going that route override the need to upgrade the AVR?
As Soundfield already stated, the transducers (speakers and phono cartridges) give the biggest bang for the buck with respect to sound quality. Next I think is room EQ and amplifier headroom, then followed by everything else.

Stand alone Multi channel DACs are not cheap. That's why so many use the DAC's in their Oppo players.

The best reasons you have to upgrade your AVR would be added features, added functionality, better room correction, and greater amplifier power. If you feel you don't need any of that, there is no need for an upgrade. Save your money and buy new music.
 
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LuvMyQuad

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But the price of used Oppos is going up and the price of multichannel DACs is, if anything, going down.
Very True. But for those who already have a 100 or 200 series Oppo sitting around, it makes a lot of sense. I never recommended that the OP look into buying a used Oppo, only that its what many people use in place of a standalone DAC.
 

Ron Wagstaff

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I'd suggest that was never true! Speakers, for obvious reasons, have by several orders of magnitude, the greatest influence on sound quality of all the components of a hifi system. Lots of people (probably most, in the general population) would never be able to tell one amplifier from another, but even the most cloth-eared can usually tell the difference between speakers. If you are on a limited budget then investing (even modestly) in better speakers is the best way to go. But always listen before you buy!
Certainly when I bought my 'balanced' system in the 80s the ratio in price was 3:1 turntable vs speakers (and both the turntable and speakers were made by Linn!). The argument was, the speakers can only reproduce the quality of the sound they are presented with. You can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear. If the music source is picking up all the subtleties in the music then it will sound better whatever speakers you use.

And I seem to remember that the argument was contentious at the time. However I have always thought there was an element of truth in it.

Why is it that some people today prefer vinyl to digital. I suggest it's the same principal, the quality at source is vital.
 

Ron Wagstaff

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No sorry, you misinterpret my comment. I'm not dissing your AVR at all. Its just that those who typically consider swapping out power supplies and DACs don't run an AVR at all, they would tend to lean toward high end separates which cost considerably more. Better power supplies, DACs, cables, etc are more like tweaks in the grand scheme. The idea being once you have those high end separates in place, you have the basis for being able to hear the more salient sonic qualities of of the tweaks, which are very subtle, if you can even discern them at all.

I do not think a modern receiver would sound significantly better unless it was equipped differently. By that, I mean, some of the better high end receivers include DSP room correction via Dirac or Audyssey. Now adding room correction will definitely improve things sonically, almost like getting better speakers. I do recommend a move to using good room correction if you don't already have it. And beware, not all room correction platforms are created equal. The house brand platforms are not as good as the major players mentioned above.



I didn't say that. If the fan noise is a problem, then yes consider an upgrade. If you want it to load files faster, go for it. If you are expecting it to give you a better sonic experience than you are getting now, its probably going to disappoint you.


I agree with the bold type above.


As Soundfield already stated, the transducers (speakers and phono cartridges) give the biggest bang for the buck with respect to sound quality. Next I think is room EQ and amplifier headroom, then followed by everything else.

Stand alone Multi channel DACs are not cheap. That's why so many use the DAC's in their Oppo players.

The best reasons you have to upgrade your AVR would be added features, added functionality, better room correction, and greater amplifier power. If you feel you don't need any of that, there is no need for an upgrade. Save your money and buy new music.
I don't have an Oppo. Would the quality of the DAC in the Oppo be superior to the DAC in my AVR?

I ran the automatic speaker setup that came with the AVR (with the attached microphone). I looked into using REW but considered that too high end. I guess I was put off because it involved spending £100 on a measurement mic. Was I wrong?
 

Soundfield

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You can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear. If the music source is picking up all the subtleties in the music then it will sound better whatever speakers you use.
So, for any given reasonably high quality source, you don’t think that listening to it via (say) the speakers in your smart phone or via a decent pair of floor standers would make much difference?!

You are looking at this from the wrong direction - If the speaker is a pig's ear your signal source, however good, cannot ever transform it into a silk purse!
 

fredblue

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source is absolutely vital imho.

fwiw though, having moved several times in the last few years, lugging the same components around, i felt that the biggest difference with all this surround music stuff came from the rooms themselves and how i arranged the speakers within them.

for example, i'm currently in a 5x3 room with wooden floors and windows running along one side; no one speaker is more than 1.5m from the main listening position (the only decent spot for MultiCh music really). the Rears are set more to the sides and are nearer to the listening position than the Front 3. i've dispensed with a sub.

previously i was in a 9x5 basement with stone floor and no windows; speakers were all approx 3m equidistant from the primary listening spot, the Front L&R were twice as far apart from one another as they are now and the Rears were behind the listening position rather than to the side as they are now setup. i needed a subwoofer.

with the same speakers, the same AVR, the same source, the same ears, the same furnishings, after running MultEQ on that AVR in the same way, the sensation of surround sound between the two spaces feels quite different to me.

before it seemed open and airy, yet with some material things could get detached from the mix.

now it feels more focussed, kind of more immediate, even at times intimate and dare i say it "warmer". that said, i can pick out certain details i don't remember being so apparent before and with some of the old Quad stuff in particular (things like "vocals all round" mixes that have lead vocals mixed at equal volume in all 4 channels, such as Guess Who's #10 Quad.. or Surround Master decoded SQ things with CF vocal Rear leakage) it seems better balanced now than i can ever recall.

obviously i'm relying on memory and memories of how my surround system was in a totally different place a few years ago, its admittedly not a situation you can just A-B.. anyway just my twopennuth, the room is a big part of your surround music system! so err, yeah, there you go! no big surprise to any of you i'm sure just fun popping in for a mo! 👀👍🤣
 

Soundfield

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having moved several times in the last few years, lugging the same components around, i felt that the biggest difference with all this surround music stuff came from the rooms themselves and how i arranged the speakers within them.
Yup, absolutely agreed. Speakers themselves come second only to room acoustics in their influence of quality of sound reproduction. But I sort of assumed that Ron Wagstaff was on a budget that didn’t allow for moving house as part of his upgrade!
 
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