Mac Mini or Book + Berkeley USB-to-AES/EBU converter - best PC-based music server?

ack

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Rumor has it that Berkeley will be introducing a USB-to-AES/EBU converter box, which coupled with a Mac Mini or MacBook would make for a fantastic, ultra-silent PC-based music server, running iTunes, and remotely controlled by an iPad or iPhone (there are already apps to do that right now). The box allegedly aims to buffer and reclock the USB signal and provide exceptionally low jitter. Look for more details in the fall...
 

KeithR

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May 7, 2010
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it seems the new Weiss is the cream of the crop---and is firewire which is nice for Mac fans. see the recent CA review by Chris....

i just don't understand why Berkeley just doesn't release a new dac with USB built-in....
 

Ron Party

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Keith, I've been wondering the same thing for a couple of years now. Mebbe they are but just aren't telling.
 

ack

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More rumors... they will include some sort of software to make itunes reference quality. I don't see the point of them releasing a new DAC with USB support if they can provide the "adapter" for much less and let everyone use their own DAC, saving us tons of money in upgrade costs just to get a new interface.
 

ack

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Would you define "Reference Quality"

Not all players are created equal. For example, MediaMonkey sounds better than stock iTunes, cplay perhaps even better than MediaMonkey, etc. I suggest reading up on cplay for more info - they discuss everything extensively including a section on jitter within a computer.
 

ack

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BTW, the Mac Mini features a switching power supply; there is a thread on a'gon where it's claimed that replacing it with an analog supply has made a huge difference - I can easily believe that. It looks like my PC server will be Mini-based (the basic $699 version), but with an internal aftermarket SSD drive for the OS, plus two 1TB external USB drives (one for data, the other for backup, using clonezilla for cloning), if the Berkeley software and adapter box prove to provide exceptional sound.
 

amirm

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Apr 3, 2010
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If you are going to modify the mac from hardware to software, why not build a PC from scratch with the parts you want???
 

Nicholas Bedworth

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Maui, where else?
FireWire to AES/EBU and S/PDIF

There will be an exhaustive (but one hopes not exhausting) review of the Weiss Engineering INT 202 FireWire to AES and S/PDIF converter appearing over on www.6moons.com in a few days. I can send a preprint of the review privately to interested parties.

Let's just say it's very, very good. And it includes a set of test files that confirm (in hardware) bit-perfect operation.

The Weiss DAC 202 is also exceptional. Basically it has the functionality of the INT 202 packaged with an SOTA (in my opinion) DAC.

In the next few months, you'll see similar products from other unnamed vendors. In the $6-7K price range, consumers will have several excellent choices that will significantly advance the still rough-around-the-edges state of digital audio in the home.

On the bit-perfect side of things, keep in mind that the modestly-priced ($50) but fully-audiophile-featured J. River Media Center (JRMC to its friends) gives you bit-perfect data in 10 seconds or less on Windows platforms (Vista and 7).

Everyone should keep in mind (and as Bruce probably knows from personal experience) that it's really easy to get non-bit-perfect data from iTunes or Windows :)
 

ack

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BTW, I never owned a Mac, only PCs... But I find the form factor of the Mini simply irresistible, not to mention it's the only thing that will fit on my rack and won't sit on the side somewhere...
 

Nicholas Bedworth

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May 7, 2010
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Yes, but I wonder, regardless of the platform, how many of the mastering rooms actually keep absolute phase intact, to say nothing of watching out for bit-perfect shennanigans? And then there are not-exactly audiophile monitors that they often use; consumers would regard them as ludicrously inadequate. You guys know what you're doing, and perhaps a dozen other guys do, but my confidence in the rest is declining over time. Of course the "loud, louder, loudest" demands of the client base don't help :)
 

Bruce B

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Yes, but I wonder, regardless of the platform, how many of the mastering rooms actually keep absolute phase intact, :)

Well I didn't start investigating this until about 2yr. ago. This was brough to my attention by George Louis at Ultra Bit Platinum

Found out that "YIKES", one of my cables was reversing polarity! Remember to use "Phase" and "Polarity" in the correct context.

As I went back and looked at the waveforms, observed my woofers and starting listening, I then went through my whole system and made sure everything was correct.


Regards,
 

Nicholas Bedworth

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This kind of stuff happens! I spent the last 6 months sorting this all out, so don't feel badly ;) And both of my amplifiers had the XLRs wired incorrectly. Who would have thought? But it happens.

Regarding the correct terminology and context for the terms phase and polarity, it's a bit of a muddle, isn't it? How would you differentiate the usages?
 

Bruce B

WBF Founding Member, Pro Audio Production Member
Apr 26, 2010
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Regarding the correct terminology and context for the terms phase and polarity, it's a bit of a muddle, isn't it? How would you differentiate the usages?

When something is out of phase, the sound seems disembodied and you lose the pinpoint imaging.
Looking at a stereo waveform, the lines will appear to be a mirror image of each other or the transients don't line up correctly.

When something is reversed polarity, when looking at a waveform, the initial attack of a transient will go to the negative (down) instead of the positive (up)...

Polarity can affect one or both channels. You need a stereo file to determine phase. When one channel has reversed polarity, then the stereo file is out of phase.

You can't always hear polarity reversal when it affects both channels, but you can definitely hear when something is out of phase (even my wife can!).
 

Nicholas Bedworth

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May 7, 2010
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Just to amplify (as it were :)) Bruce's points, keep in mind that with respect to their positive and negative going aspects (as mentioned earlier) audio waveforms are usually not symettrical. They're not like sinewaves generated by a synthesizer. And the case Bruce describes here, of one channel being out of phase with respect to the other channel, should be especially lethal.

To me, polarity reversal of both channels together is also easy to hear on a good system. There's something strange about the transients, reverb is off, etc. it's a subtle effect, not readily discernible on, say, a car radio, but on a home system, could be.
 

Phelonious Ponk

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Jul 1, 2010
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Everyone should keep in mind (and as Bruce probably knows from personal experience) that it's really easy to get non-bit-perfect data from iTunes or Windows

Yes, but it's really easy to get bit-perfect data as well. And once you have it, you have data and timing, and the possibility of electronic noise being carried with it. So if you have a bit-perfect path, good isolation, good jitter reduction, how there can be differences in sound from playback software that merely moves that data in a system and provides a user interface remains a mystery. Or at least I've yet to see a good explanation.

P
 

Nicholas Bedworth

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But it's a good idea to check from time to time regarding bit-perfect. Sometimes software updates, etc., "helpfully" reset parameters to default positions. Just reporting on various "war stories" on other forums.

@PP you've got it. Why spent $1000 on Amarra when humble JRMC does the same job, and a lot more, for, ahem, $49? Windows doesn't have bit-perfect outupt from WMP, probably because of the home-theater targeting of the player. And WASAPI for developers seems to work quite well.
 

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