Dedicated Music Mac or NAS

In my music room I use a DirectStream DAC with Bridge, and an iPad Mini with JRemote. In another room is an iMac with JRiver, connected via Firewire to an external HD used only for music files. The iMac is connected with Cat 5 to an Airport Time capsule which is both our router and backup device. It backs up the external HD as well as everything on the iMac internal drive. Cat 5 runs from the Time Capsule (router) to the Bridge.

Because the iMac is also used for all our computing needs, my question is would it be better to use a Mac Mini with JRiver and no other programs installed so it is dedicated to music. Or would a NAS be a better option?

I also posted this question under Paul’s excellent How To Build a Music Server because in there the benefit of having a machine dedicated to music with no other programs installed is mentioned.

It’s hard to say. I normally listen via the Bridge 2, streaming from my Synology NAS running MinimServer. I also have a small headless Windows machine that is connected to the DS via USB and used only for ripping LPs and occasionally playing music. For a long time it was clear that the Bridge sounded better. Then I put some effort into tweaking the computer (better cables and, most importantly, Fidelizer). Now USB and the Bridge are much closer, although the latter is still a bit better. If you are willing to tweak the computer for audio playback, I don’t think it’s easy to know which would sound better, or by how much. NAS setups like mine certainly can give excellent SQ.

There are other advantages to a NAS, such as being able to access music from anywhere in the house that is connected, being part of a backup solution, not needing to run a Mac or Windows machine to play music. It sounds like you have many of these bases already covered with your current setup. If you really want to stick with JRiver, then you need a Mac or PC since you can’t install it directly on a NAS. (MinimServer would be the way to go if you want to try a NAS.)

It depends largely on what your goals are. If it is sound quality and you don’t want to fiddle with much after it is up and running, I would suggest NAS with minimserver. It won’t give you the JRiver interface but it will sound good right out of the box.

Thanks for the input. I’m not married to JRiver, in fact have 8 days left on the 30 day trial. I think what I’ll do eventually is get a Synology NAS and use Minimserver which I’ve read about and looked at their site. I like that it won’t be necessary to insure that the computer is on and JRiver is running to play music. What’s the best iPad controller to use with Minimserver?

I’ve been struggling with this same dilemma. I currently have a multi-use Windows 7 PC with a small library of ripped CD’s in iTunes (which I used for loading an ipod) and a 3 TB USB drive with downloaded music. I would love to rip a much larger portion of my CD’s, but the time it takes has made me hesitate, especially since I want to do it right the first time. I think (thought?) I got the “do it right” part figured out, though Paul’s recent posts on Computer Music basically contradicted what I thought. iTunes for management? Hmmm, I would rather use JRiver, though I need some practice on doing it better (it just draws from iTunes and the USB right now, no organization). And what about using dBPowerAmp for ripping? I thought it was better than iTunes. Paul uses a Mac Mini for his storage and playback, but he has a relatively small library on it. Great for traveling, but he admits he has/had a 12 TB libarary that got corrupted. If he can get it back, how would he store/use it with the Mac Mini? USB drives can be attached, but only so many and it sure can get cumbersome. Plus you need a back up (I’m guilty of not doing that). How would you handle that? I keep coming to the conclusion that a NAS is the way to go for a large library, but then my cheap side side struggles with the cost of a good NAS (synology or QNAP) and at least two, better yet four, large HD’s, say 4-6 TB each. Lots of room to grow and a dedicated back up. In the interim I have thought of just adding a large internal HD (4+ TB) to the PC since I’m running out of available USP ports and I don’t want a USB hub, otherwise a small city of USB drives would pop up around the PC. My wife would cringe …

iTunes does appear to be easy to use, especially for aPple fans. Still, Paul’s series focused on using iTunes made me cringe. Since you are using Windoze, the best ripping software that I know of (and use) is indeed dBPoweramp. It has done a solid job for me with over 1000 CDs ripped to my computer so far. For tags management, I use MP3tag - very powerful, flexible and free. For server and library management, use what you like, JRiver, eLyric, minimserver, even iTunes if you must.

I do like the idea if storing the library on a NAS, whether you run the media server on the NAS or a computer. Minimserver is good and seems fairly flexible too. More than basic configuration is not exactly straight forward and I have not yet waded into it to try to tweak it to my preferences. This is not critical, as the default configuration is not too bad, but there are a few idiosyncratic tweaks to the library presentation that I will eventually make.


Why is it always “Windoze” or “WinDoze,” and aPple?

And why are all other software names properly spelled, including their idiosyncratic internal capitalizations?

@pmotz – I second the recommendations for dBpoweramp and mp3tag. I have been using both for some time. I think a NAS is the way to go for a large library, for reasons you understand. If the NAS will be in your music room (and it doesn’t have to be, of course) do pay attention to noise issues. I’ve never had a problem with my two-bay Synology setup. But more drives = more heat, so manufacturers put in larger fans or they come on more often. My drives spin at 5400 rpm, and some people have said that larger/faster drives (7200 rpm) can be noisier. This undoubtedly varies with manufacturer and model.

@wingsounds13 – “fairly flexible” is a great understatement in regard to MinimServer; its customization options far surpass anything else I have seen. Getting to know all the possibilities requires careful reading of the manual and is not something that most people want to do right away, but is worth doing once you have decided you want to stick with the program. I’ll give just two examples that I use. I store composers as ‘Lastname, Firstname’ but Minim provides an option to display them as ‘Firstname Lastname’ while preserving sorting on last names. You can also redefine some of the tags. For instance, I have set things up so that ‘artist’ displays the artist, a separator, and the conductor (if that field is filled out). So I get things like ‘Budapest Festival Orchestra / Iván Fischer’ for a symphony. This helps overcome the fact that control points don’t let you specify what tags you want to see.

dBpoweramp is also available for the Mac now, minus the HDCD decoder. I haven’t used it (I rip CDs using dBpoweramp on a Win7 PC, mostly because I still occasionally buy HDCD discs). Metadatics is a good Mac tagging program, available through the Mac App Store. I mostly use JRMC on a dedicated 2011 Mac mini to stream to the Bridge II. The combination works well for me. A dedicated Mac Mini is certainly a viable option for Mac fans, and it doesn’t need to be that new or powerful (I did replace the hard drive in my Mini with a SSD and that made a big difference in general performance but I didn’t notice a big difference in SQ; my music is on a USB drive).

Jeff-S, do you notice any difference in the sound when someone is using the iMac for other purposes? If not, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. I have not found a control app for the iPad that comes close to jRemote. Otherwise I’d consider a NAS with minimserver.

My spellings of Windoze and aPple are my own pointy headed way of showing disdain for both companies. I dislike aPple for their big brother policies and use the small lowercase first letter to make the company name consistent with their major products being iSomething. I have no love for Micro$haft either, thus the spelling of Windoze. The downside is that I grew up in the Micro$haft world and all of the software that I have and use is Windoze compliant.

I have taken a poke at the Linux world a few times, but never have gotten very deep into it. Aside from being rather fiddly (I used to love this aspect, but not so much any more) there is limited software support for Linux and I would still have to have a Windoze machine, or VM or boot partition. With the necessary duplication I currently lack the inspiration to delve further on.

Now… if only I could afford a good NAS for music, file sharing and backups… sad-029_gif



stevem2 said

Jeff-S, do you notice any difference in the sound when someone is using the iMac for other purposes? If not, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. I have not found a control app for the iPad that comes close to jRemote. Otherwise I’d consider a NAS with minimserver.

I got to the same point as you - I had a music library on a Synology NAS (DS 412+) with JMRC running on a Mac mini and JRemote as control point. A very good interface but I wanted to avoid using the Mac mini. Minim server instal;led on the NAS looked an excellent option but I couldn’t find a control app I could run on my iPad that was anywhere as good as JRemote.

My solution was to buy an Android tablet (Nexus 7) solely for music playback and run BubbleUPnP on that - not quite as good as Remote but good enough to do all I’ve ever wanted for playing music from an 80k track library. So I’d recommend that you buy an Android tablet - available at half the cost of an iPad.

If I were starting out again I’d use the cash from not buying JMRC to get an Android tablet and set up MinimServer + BubbleUPnP. Also much easier to setup and tweak than JMRC.)

To answer stevem2’s question, no I don’t hear any difference is SQ when someone else is using the iMac for other purposes. For that reason I’m not making any changes for the time being. And my system sounds the best it ever has since introducing the DS DAC a month or so ago!

Thanks for that tip david re: the cheap android tablet because in the future I’ll probably have a Synology NAS with MinimServer.

I let my JRiver trial expire without buying it so saved $50. Instead I’m using LMS (logitech media server) with a plugin that makes the Bridge look like a SB to LMS. Works great, and I like the Squeezepad app better than JRemote. It has a tab you can open from the side of the screen that instantly opens a web page with a bio of the currently playing artist from Wikipedia, Google, Discopgs, Allmusic (your choice). You can alternatively get info on the current song or the album.

davidl, thanks but I have long had a Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 with BubbleUPnP and I still greatly prefer JRemote on an iPad. I might have a different opinion with a different Android tablet but I doubt it. That said, BubbleUPnP is probably my second-best favorite control point and I’m a big fan of minimserver (which I also run on a Mac Mini; I don’t own a NAS and am not particularly interested in getting one).

After using Windows laptop with jriver and Mac mini with audirvana+, plugged into Directstream Dac, I decided to get the Melco N1A to store and play music from. Sounds far better than any of the aforementioned.

Like magister et. al, I have it both ways also. I have a QNAP NAS, which is in my home office where my router is located. All of my music is stored there serving as either a primary or a backup role. I also have a Mac Mini with the same music library on an external HD, connected via FW800. The Mac Mini is physically connected to my PWD via USB as well as through a CAT7 cable in my listening room.

I use JRMC and can load up the library from either the attached HD or the NAS. I stream over my network to the BII or use the MacMini as the player via USB. I control via JRemote on iPad. I find the BII to be better than USB in dynamics department. I don’t have a jitterbug or Regen on the this system so it could be they would bring the USB up to BII. One of these days I’ll give it a try to see.

Using the MConnect iPad app, I can access the files directly from the NAS and play them through the BII, although I give up a ton of library functions. I can’t say if there is much difference in sound quality streaming straight from the NAS versus using the mac as the streamer because I haven’t sat down to really listen to them critically. I like the library management functions of JRiver/Remote so even if there was a SQ difference, I might still use them. What I can say is that both sound terrific in my system to my ears.

I don’t have any high end USB or ethernet cables. The price of entry is just more than I want to swallow, compared to a Belkin Gold, etc. YMMV.

However you approach it, you are still going to need a computer to rip files, manage libraries and metadata so you won’t be eliminating the need for a computer, just removing it from the audio chain. I say, if you find a library manager/player that resides on the NAS that you like, it makes total sense to do so. I just haven’t quite got there yet, but I’m hopeful.