Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Project Continues...

Here are just a couple more photos of what my brother and I are working on. After attending CES and seeing what's new in the world of music servers, my brother--a long time IT guy and fellow music lover--is amazed at the complexity of it all. His point is that people are focused on the hardware end of things such as controllers, wireless adapters, interfaces, etc. He asks the simple question: why don't you just use your existing PC for all of this? Why don't you just put your money into your desktop, tower or laptop?

In just a day or two, we have created a versatile system that uses little more than a laptop (with four gigs), a $100 Sound Blaster sound card and some software to create a commercially viable and affordable music server system.

He downloaded his music library (he has eight terrabytes of memory on our big music server downstairs) onto my laptop in just a few hours--that's 44,000 songs--and I've been comparing WAV and WMA files to CDs on my CD and there's very little compromise in the sound. (While he's doing all the hard work, I'm the one who gets to sit down and listen and determine whether or not this is "audiophile" quality.)

I'm a little self-conscious about using my blog as a marketing tool. Someone in the audio industry asked me just this weekend if I made my living on this blog, and I replied, "No. I don't make dime. I do this for fun." And I do. At the same time, I think we're onto something very cool. I don't know where this will lead, since my brother has spent the last 14 years offering computer support on a very local level, but you never know. What he has done is very cool, and I honestly can't see spending tons of money on hardware after seeing what he can do. And he told me everything I have can be done for just three figures, and that includes the laptop.

I'll say it once more--I'm not a technical guy and I'm really just getting into the whole computer music thing. Your more technical questions should be directed at my brother Mat. I'm also not a salesman or a marketing guy. I'm an anachronist and a music lover first. But I welcome any questions or concerns!


  1. Mark,

    I am in the process of trying to do this for my dad. While I think you might be on the right track I don't believe just putting off the shelf components together will do the trick, but I am will ing to be proven wrong.

    In talking with my dad I've developed the following criteria for a digital music server:

    1. Seamless integration in install into the current system.

    This means that essentially you can plug in a "box" to your current system just as you would a CD player

    2. User experience similar to current usage.

    Theres something satisfying about the act of selecting a CD (or LP). Any new system must have something in place to duplicate this especially for someone like my dad who is finding it harder to get around these days. Ideally the interface should replicate the act of selection digitally and be available form a wireless tablet device. Searching through rows of song or albums just isn't going to cut it, and given the status of most off the shelf players and their metadata collection something custom most likely is in order

    3. "No brainer" upgrades.

    When he wants to add storage he should be able to go to Newegg and get some, not go back to the manufacturer for it. When he wants to add a new CD to the system he should insert it into the slot and it gets ripped.

    4. Remote equipment location.

    Unless you want to pay for a Rowland case around your server i don't want all that kludged hardware cluttering up my living room. The server should be able to deliver the goods from afar.

    5. Sound quality at least as good as the equivalent $$ CD player you are replacing.

    Many would think this should be #1 but if you can work on the first four I'll take that and hope that the tech improves like it did from the first CD player.

    There are companies out there that get some of these right but no one does it all that i have seen. Most try to lock you in to proprietary storage or the software lacks refinement. Sooloos comes closest to my ideal but Meridian's insistance in favoring their speakers is understandable but futile effort at branding. Open it up and I guarantee you'll expand your market. I haven't investigated their just released stuff but it looks promising.

  2. Try an outboard DAC such as the Benchmark Media DAC1 USB, in place of the Sound Blaster.
    I couldn't afford one of those, instead using a BEHRINGER UCA202, but I believe I can hear an improvement in sound quality between that and the sound card in various laptops.

    Check out Tim Bray's notes for some heavy-duty computer geekery,

  3. I have an outboard DAC from Wavelength on the way! That should take everything up a huge notch.