New iMac but how to connect to home stereo - wifi or cable?

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SwedeSound

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Friends, I could use your help.

We have a gorgeous new iMac arriving later this week (*see stats below), and I'm finally ready to create the iTunes-based music server system I've always dreamed about. I am planning to rip my entire CD collection (nearly 1,000 now with perhaps 10 more each month) in a lossless codec - most likely AIFF or Apple Lossless. I'll store those on a 1 TB external hard drive connected to the iMac leaving the machine's 500 GB hard drive for other uses. I have tested Apple's "Remote" app on my iPhone and I love it. It's like magic. So that would be the main way for me to find albums, songs and playlists in iTunes during most listening sessions.

The problem, however, is one of proximity. The new iMac will be on a desk roughly 20 feet (as the crow flies) from my main stereo system (a Harman/Kardon HK3480 amp driving Monitor Audio Studio 6's) and there is little chance of them getting much closer. They're in the same room essentially -- a great room that combines living room and dining room which is served by my existing WiFi set up.

I am most seriously considering running it through a USB DAC like the $89 Music Streamer http://blog.stereophile.com/ces2009/screamin_streamers/and going along the baseboards with a 5-meter USB cable to meet up with a pair of long and high-quality RCA interconnects a friend is loaning me (thanks, Paul).

The other option is something using the Wi-Fi connection. Maybe with an AirportExpress or Extreme? I guess I don't know what I would use for a connection at the stereo end should I go with the WiFi option. This is terribly overwhelming. Any thoughts?

If it's any help, with this setup I am aiming for:

*Affordability -- I really can't spend much. A couple hundred total. Tops.
*Simplicity -- I don't want to have to get another degree to set it up or run it.
*Fidelity -- no loss of bits/data/music between computer and amp

Swede's new iMac specs:
PROCESSOR -- 3.06GHZ INTEL CORE 2 DUO
MEMORY -- 8GB 1066MHZ DDR3 SDRAM - 4X2GB
HARD DRIVE -- 500GB SERIAL ATA DRIVE
GRAPHICS -- NVIDIA GEFORCE 9400M
OPTICAL DRIVE -- 8X DOUBLE-LAYER SUPERDRIVE

Will2

Hi,

I'm certainly no expert, but here's my reaction.  I've but have been facing similar issues and I think I would go with a toslink cable from the iMac fed to a DAC located with your main stereo system.  I like the toslink option becasue (a) it seems to me that the premium you have to pay for a quality Toslink cable is much less than for a quality USB cable and (b) it's easier to get reasonable quality toslink DACs than USB DACs (I'm led to believe that an external DAC adds a lot over most stock DAC's out there).  Going the WiFi option would likely be more expensive because you would still need an external DAC given how mediocre the DACs in the AirportExpress etc are.

Cheers
Will

Crimson

Hi,

Your choices are:

1. A USB hookup as you've described.
2. A toslink connection as described by the poster above (you'd need an external dac assuming your receiver doesn't have one).
3. Plugging an Airport Express into the receiver, either via analog or toslink.
4. Using an Apple TV the same way as an Airport Express.
5. Analog out from the iMac straight to the receiver.
6. Using a Squeezebox, Sonos, or other similar wifi device.

If you're running an 802.11n network at home, I wouldn't hesitate to go with options 3,4, or 6.

SwedeSound

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Well, it seems the wi-fi route would send me down a long upgrade path. I am on an 802.11b/g network, so I worry about whether it could handle streaming lossless without dropouts. It seems if I can get a longer interconnect and keep the USB cable to under 6 meters, then I could run the iTunes through the Music Streamer and then straight into the stereo. Point A to Point B, solid physical connection. Done.

Or if I can find a way to relocate the stereo closer to the source, maybe I don't even need a longer interconnect. I mainly wanted to make sure there wasn't an affordable, reliable and simple wireless solution that I hadn't considered. I knew you guys would have the bases covered. Thanks so much.

Jason

mikesmith11

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I would use a cable. Buying a good quality cable should ensure that the sound quality of your stereo system is very good. These are the ones i buy Speaker Cables - They work really well. Why not try them out??

srb

I am on an 802.11b/g network, so I worry about whether it could handle streaming lossless without dropouts. It seems if I can get a longer interconnect and keep the USB cable to under 6 meters, then I could run the iTunes through the Music Streamer and then straight into the stereo. Point A to Point B, solid physical connection. Done.

I run two Airport Express in remote locations (bedroom and patio) on an 802.11g wireless network without audible dropouts, but I would completely loose the wireless connections on a regular basis when using the preferred WPA-2 security, and had to revert to using less desireable WEP security to maintain a reliable connection.
 
It just may be my older router (D-Link DI-624 with WPA-2 capability added in a later firmware update), and I might not have had any connection problems with a different or newer router.
 
But my main listening area is served with a wired connection, and like you say, is rock solid.  So I would say if you can logistically pull off a wired connection that would be the way to go.
 
One thing to keep in mind, if you plan to acquire any high-resolution music files, the HRT Music Streamer is limited to 16bit/48KHz files, while most S/PDIF DACs can accept 24bit/96KHz files.
 
If high-res music is something you would like to have the capability for, and/or if you are worried about long USB and analog interconnects, another way to go would be with an optical cable from the Mac to a DAC with an optical S/PDIF input.  I use a 35 ft. optical cable to my office system with no problem, but I don't have a DAC recommendation in the Music Streamer's price range that I know for sure is as good.
 
But here is one $105 DAC possiblity: http://www.mcmelectronics.com/product/50-7774
 
Steve

oneinthepipe

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If you use a toslink (digital optical) cable with a 3.5mm adapter from your iMac's digital optical output jack (i.e.; headphone jack), and the DAC doesn't have a toslink input, you can use a toslink to coax adapter that is available from monoprice for less than 12.00.  My iMac's digital optical runs to a DAC, then the DAC's analog outputs runs to a preamp.  Works great!

Geardaddy

WiFi all the way.  It is sweet.  I use a modified Airport Express (Zardoz) with a Time Capsule (a N-based router/wireless HD) and experience no dropouts and excellent sonics.  I actually have several unmodified AEs in the house to feed other non-audiophile rigs.  This pleases the wife immensely and allows us to stream music to multiple rooms, etc.  WiFi also has potential jitter advantages as discussed by Steve Nugent in his recent article in ETM: (http://www.enjoythemusic.com/Magazine/manufacture/0509/).  I do understand your apprehension as there are a myriad of options....and a lot of opinions floating around the internet highway.   

K Shep

I would suggest the wired approach, especially for you listening room.  I too run an Airport Express from my Mac to other parts of the house with fair results.  Please share the rest of your system.  If you have a DAC/preamp that will accept XLR interconnects then we will have a different conversation.

Below is a photo of my setup, I would run a long USB (brick colored cable in photo) or long interconnects (silver/black colored cable in photo).



SwedeSound

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Oooh. That Ayre DAC. You're killing me.  :D  I bet it's glorious.

Well, my budget such as it is, I am leaning toward the hard-wired approach if I can swing it. I am going to look at other DACs as well considering some of the hi-rez limitations mentioned in re: the Music Streamer.

Is there a preference in having either long interconnects or a longer USB? Or does it matter?

Edit:*I have a Harman/Kardon HK3480 integrated amp driving my Monitor Audio Studio 6s. My source is a 400-disc Sony CDP M333ES, which actually has tremendous sound, but still doesn't hold half my discs. Currently no DAC. The new iMac is coming Friday.

Jason

K Shep

Is there a preference in having either long interconnects or a longer USB? Or does it matter?

I apologize, I missed the H/K receiver you own.  IMO you are better off running long interconnects. 

Will2

Not to beat a dead horse here but ....... I'm not sure what the DAC is like in the HK receiver but you might consider whether it would be a better investment to buy a longer toslink cable and run it from the iMac to an external DAC that fed the HK receiver than to buy longer interconnects.  I try to avoid interconnects if I can because I've been surprised by the difference they can make and how expensive quality interconnects are.   

Mike Nomad

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« Last Edit: 16 Jul 2014, 03:00 am by Mike Nomad »

srb

I'm not sure what the DAC is like in the HK receiver but you might consider whether it would be a better investment to buy a longer toslink cable and run it from the iMac to an external DAC that fed the HK receiver than to buy longer interconnects.

Jason's HK3480 is an 'AV Receiver' in that it switches composite video along with stereo audio.  It is an analog-only receiver, there is no internal DAC.
 
I would get one of Monoprice's Premium Toslink optical cables which are pretty decent quality and sell for ~ $10.00 for 25 - 35 ft. length
http://www.monoprice.com/products/subdepartment.asp?c_id=102&cp_id=10229
 
and a Toslink Female to Toslink Mini Male Adapter to connect it to the Mac.  (They also sell a cable that actually terminates in Mini Toslink at one end, but not in their premium series)
http://www.monoprice.com/products/product.asp?c_id=104&cp_id=10423&cs_id=1042301&p_id=2671&seq=1&format=2
 
Then you can decide which DAC you want to get that has a Toslink optical input. Some DACs like the Audio by Van Alstine don't have an optical input and would require a coaxial to optical adapter, but most DACs in your budget price range will (except of course for the low-priced USB-only DACs like the Music Streamer).
 
If for some reason you later decide you want to use an Airport Express instead of the long optical cable, you are only out the $10 for the cable.  In either case, I don't think you would be satisified with the internal DAC in the Airport Express for critical listening and would prefer the external DAC anyway.
 
Steve

SwedeSound

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Steve,

Thanks so much. That's the kind of powerful research and advice AC'ers bring to the table. I have a modestly priced but very resolving and musically satisfying system, so I don't want to take a step backwards. Frankly, I'd be happy if it was a wash sonically. I'm already enjoying the iPhone Remote app on my computer speakers so much, I can't imagine how much fun it would be to have access to ALL of my music through my main listening rig.

That MCM DAC you posted earlier http://www.mcmelectronics.com/product/50-7774 looks like a leading contender. I'll keep you posted. New iMac arrives Friday.

Jason

Will2

Jason,

Here are a few more DACs for you to consider:
http://www.cambridgeaudio.com/summary.php?PID=320  (many come up for about $350 shipped used - like this one http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f43/fs-cambridge-audio-dacmagic-350-shipped-457050/ )
http://www.pacificvalve.us/PVFathom.html
and sometimes the AudioSector NOS DAC comes up used for about $300 - it comes highly regarded, as in this thread http://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=56975.0 .  Peter Daniels (the designer) might even have one lying around - here's his e-mail phdaniel@sympatico.ca

Cheers
Will

chrisby

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Then you can decide which DAC you want to get that has a Toslink optical input. Some DACs like the Audio by Van Alstine don't have an optical input and would require a coaxial to optical adapter, but most DACs in your budget price range will (except of course for the low-priced USB-only DACs like the Music Streamer).
  by many accounts, this is not a piece to be passed over based on the price and sole input

Quote


If for some reason you later decide you want to use an Airport Express instead of the long optical cable, you are only out the $10 for the cable.  In either case, I don't think you would be satisified with the internal DAC in the Airport Express for critical listening and would prefer the external DAC anyway.
 
Steve


I couldn't agree with ya more on that one Steve,  the big questions still remain:

- how many inputs & types do you really need? - a lot of budget to midrange DACs are actually minimally featured pre- and or headphone amps;  and
- how much do you want to spend on interconnects and adaptors - it wouldn't hard at all to be tempted  by the allure of USB or SPDIF cables that cost more than the DAC itself

there's just too dammed many choices already


ultimately of course, who wouldn't want affordable  high resolution and bulletproof wi-fi that can handle all formats and be controlled by an intuitive and customizable app from your laptop or iPod/Phone

then of course, there'd be nothing to complain about, except the content?

"dreamer, you silly little dreamer"

srb

...this [the HRT Music Streamer USB DAC] is not a piece to be passed over based on the price and sole input

If it were passed over it wouldn't be for those reasons, but for the reason that Jason may want to add some high-res 24bit/96KHz files to his library, and the Music Streamer can only accept a 16bit/48KHz input.
 
Steve

SwedeSound

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All good points... And yes, more affordable, bullet-proof (and future proof) wi-fi alternatives really shouldn't be that much to ask for, should it?

As for the hi-rez capability, it's certainly something I'm interested in, but perhaps not a requirement if an HRT Music Streamer would deliver performance reasonably close to what I'm experiencing in my existing setup. I'm happy to take a leap forward if the budget allows, but failing that, I'll be content if all I gain is convenient access to my entire CD library while preserving the the satisfying sound I currently enjoy.

I'm not too hard to please, but I also want to make sure I've at least considered all my options... which, seem to be growing by the hour. Thanks again for all the great input.

-Jason


chrisby

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...this [the HRT Music Streamer USB DAC] is not a piece to be passed over based on the price and sole input

If it were passed over it wouldn't be for those reasons, but for the reason that Jason may want to add some high-res 24bit/96KHz files to his library, and the Music Streamer can only accept a 16bit/48KHz input.
 
Steve


you probably said that twice now, sorry my goof
I think I read somewhere (6moons?) about the latest threshold (or is it?) -
Antelope  Zodiac Gold - 384kHz sample rate on proprietary USB for a mere 2800 Euro  :o