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WTB: Computer based streamer with internal SSD and capabilty to output direct to DAC.


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I'm mainly a vinyl guy and also have a very decent CD transport. I've never been into streaming/file based replay in any grand way, but I do find streaming useful for discovering new music I want to buy on physical media, and I do have a hard drive with about 600GB of FLAC files that are also worth playing out. I currently do this through an ancient 2011 Macbook Pro, Uptone Audio USB Regen/linear PSU into my DAC. I'm told this could be improved.

So I'm looking to see what's out there in an all in one box streamer/replay device: this would comprise a computer of some sort, preferably with wifi and a decent amount of compute power for running a proper OS, replay software and an online music service such as Qubuz; an SSD drive for file storage; and a board for outputting either SPDIF or USB (I don't really care which). I will probably want to give Roon a go as well. I currently own JRiver for file playback.

What I don't want: an all in one streamer + DAC (my existing DAC is excellent); or just a network/playback box that needs an additional box (such as an RPi) to provide the output to the DAC. I tried the RPi thing when they were trendy a few years back and didn't like them much (I had two, one fitted with a DAC board, another fitted with a SPDIF board - neither particuarly impressed).

Any thoughts? What's out there?

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What DAC do you have? What inputs do you have?

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1 minute ago, Cable Monkey said:

What DAC do you have? What inputs do you have?

OK I read your post in full after posting!

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, montesquieu said:

I currently do this through an ancient 2011 Macbook Pro, Uptone Audio USB Regen/linear PSU into my DAC. I'm told this could be improved.

Ask whomever told you this, what they would recommend 9_9

Given your user case, I would suggest tweaking your current system.

Either a small SSD for the OS, and keep your large drive.

or

a large SSD and store files internally (or run a large SSD with the Mac OS externally)

And maybe increase the RAM; do some research 9_9

Otherwise, give your budget and preferred OS

ronnie

Maybe also ask the question elswhere, other than the Classifieds

Edited by Man in a van
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Posted (edited)

Although it's a 2011 Macbook it's quite a powerful beast even by today's standards. 15in Macbook Pro, 2.2GHz Intel Core i7, 16GB (that's the maximum), AMD Radeon HD6750M 512MB built in graphics card. It has a 250mb SSD and 1tb internal (swapped in for the DVD drive - I have an external if needed) - plenty big enough for me actually. I stripped out all the other apps so it's just an OS and what I need for music.

Word has it that the USB output on a Macbook is sub-optimal compared to a dedicated card. Certainly there's a huge difference in sound quality through the USB Regen. I'm just curious as to whether I can get that out of the box with a cleaner output arrangement.

I suppose budget is up to £1k but I'd prefer to spend less if possible, as streaming/file based replay is not really a priority in my system. (Vinyl is, followed by redbook CD). I don't have an OS preference.

DAC is a a maxed out custom job, based around the Audio Note non-oversampling implementation of the AD1865, much upgraded in every department from balanced output transformers (the absolute top of the line perma-nickel copper ones) to Blackgates everywhere, to a complete redesign of every PSU, in terms of performance I would put it somewhere close to current specification factory DAC 5. For Redbook there's little can touch it in my view (including a visiting Lampizator GG). It has been fitted with a tube USB receiver board from Zulfugarf Abbas in Ukraine in addition to XLR, BNC and RCA inputs.  Only goes to 96k/24bit but I have no interest in hi-res anyway.

Edited by montesquieu
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It’s worth looking at this free software http://www.computeraudiodesign.com/computer-setup/. It might just increase your enjoyment of the MacBook Pro. Also, pick up an Audioquest jitterbug which will help clean up the USB output from the Mac. Not necessarily long term solutions but could offer worthwhile improvements for around £40.

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10 hours ago, montesquieu said:

Word has it that the USB output on a Macbook is sub-optimal compared to a dedicated card. Certainly there's a huge difference in sound quality through the USB Regen. I'm just curious as to whether I can get that out of the box with a cleaner output arrangement.

IME, yes. If you like the MBP in terms of usability, I would just get a new M1 Mac and possibly a nice fast external drive for your files. I've used both older Macs (2012 MBP, 2011 Mini, 2019 iMac) and RPis (Allo incl. USBridge + Digione sig.+ good PSUs etc.). The new M1 Macs are a step up in SQ, and WiFi seems to have less ill effect on SQ too. 

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38 minutes ago, karlinamillion said:

Have you considered a Raspberry pi with a digital out and maybe a touchscreen?

He says he has tried Pi’s. However there are a couple of streamers based on the compute module version of the Pi. This is essentially an expanded version of the SBC’s we use which were only ever intended for evaluating the platform prior to coming up with commercial solutions without the built in compromises made on Pi’s prior to the Pi4. The device that caught my attention was the Stack Audio Link II.

Linky!

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2 hours ago, Cable Monkey said:

He says he has tried Pi’s. However there are a couple of streamers based on the compute module version of the Pi. This is essentially an expanded version of the SBC’s we use which were only ever intended for evaluating the platform prior to coming up with commercial solutions without the built in compromises made on Pi’s prior to the Pi4. The device that caught my attention was the Stack Audio Link II.

Linky!

Thanks Henry this looks really interesting and definitely worth digging into.

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Innuos make very good, highly respected solutions.

 Depending on budget, you can by new, but occasionaly they do come up second hand.

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I have a Zenith MkII. They are coming out with their own OS very soon. Said to be giving Roon, a run for the money.

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1 hour ago, catcando said:

I have a Zenith MkII. They are coming out with their own OS very soon. Said to be giving Roon, a run for the money.

They don’t have the resources to do the back end stuff Roon does. You’ll get something that looks a bit like Roon with claims of superior SQ. Just like the others who’ve made similar claims!

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Tom I think you said you tried both dac and SPDIF converter hats on a Pi, I've found the best results with the USB out into either a separate high quality SPDIF converter or a dac with a good converter built in. I would understand if you didn't want to have another go, but maybe you could borrow a standalone Rpi 4 with Volumio or similar to try out.

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Hi Tom

just my two penny worth!

I wish I’d discovered these sooner. The SOtM sms200. Ethernet in one end and dac output the other. Elite Audio sell them. I’ve matched a special edition with an SBooster 9v. 
basically a small computer that’ll be found by Roon as an end point and I’m running Qobuz through it as my source.

giving my SP10 a run for its money

oh.. and you can tweak to your hearts content with all sorts of upgrades.

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