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bober
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Suggestions on building a mac-based 2.1 bedroom system

Hey all, this is my first post on this forum after reading through it for several months.

Basically, I am a 22-year old student/part time worker at a BB/Magnolia store and am looking to build a 2.1 system in my bedroom until I graduate and move into a modest sized apartment as I pursue further education. I'm on a budget but I am willing to spend a few more bucks to get it done right rather than compromise.

I have a 13" macbook 2ghz and 1gb of ram. I also have a WD Mybooks 500gb external hard drive that I have a lot of music on, some in high bit rate mp3 and a lot in flac ripped straight from cd's. I have about 100gb taken right now and increasing constantly.

I want to know a couple of things as I start to piece this system together. I want audiophile grade sound, but I want to know what I need to have, and what the best signal path would be. Right now I have the external hard drive connected to my Macbook via USB 2.0.

Would I then connect another USB out to a USB DAC and connect that to my reciever/seperates (haven't decided which way I'll be going)? Or should the external hard drive run to the computer through firewire? Does the quality of the USB and/or firewire cable matter? What would be the best USB DAC for unde $250? I am willing to spend a little more if the improvement is significant.

If USB DAC is not the best choice, how good would an ampless Sonos unit be? I have a wireless network set up in my home. Does this give a better sound than an all USB to a DAC would?

Is there something even better than either of those two options?

Are the questions I am asking dependent on my listening preferences or not?

Further, I'd absolutely LOVE to watch HD movies and/or DVDs off my computer and keep that same sound quality. Is this possible? I have about 10-15 HD-DVDs ripped to that external hard drive and about 30 DVDs, and my Macbook is connected to my TV via VGA. Would I be able to output the sound through the USB and the picture through the VGA at the same time? Or am I just asking for too much now?

I am looking to ideally spend under $300 if possible on making the signal path from my external hard drive to my reciever/seperates as close to audiophile grade as possible. Am I out of my mind in thinking that this can yield the same sound quality as a $1k cd player?

Thanks for all your time and I look forward to your recommendations!

bobedaone
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Re: Suggestions on building a mac-based 2.1 bedroom system

Hello, fellow Mac user! I have an iMac G5 with a WD Elements 320GB drive. I use it as a music server (with Airport Express) and have not tried to set it up as the nucleus of a system, but your project sounds interesting!

Based on what I've heard about USB DACs in your price range, they may not be the best option. The jitter (timing inaccuracy) specifications are not yet up to snuff, unless you're willing to pony up $1k+ for a Benchmark DAC-1. There's a corresponding thread under "digital sources" that you may find helpful.

What I would do (and have done) is take advantage of the optical digital output on your Mac. What looks like just a regular old headphone jack is actually a dual analog/digital audio output. All you need in order to tap the stream is an optical miniplug-to-toslink cable (I got mine here: http://www.impactacoustics.com/product.asp?cat%5Fid=901&sku=27015), or a regular toslink cable with a mini adapter. Then, you're free and clear to send the digital signal to just about any DAC, fine examples of which can be found on eBay and Audiogon. I ended up with an Audio Alchemy DDE v1.2, which comes with my recommendation. Most other DACs will work; Just be sure it has a Toslink input before you buy.

I'm a little confused by your mentioning connecting the HDD to the DAC directly. As far as I know, you will need the computer to run an audio program in order to interface with your music. Additionally, I don't believe the type of cable you use to connect the drive to your computer will have any effect on the sound quality.

If you connect your computer in the way I suggested above, ALL audio will be sent to the DAC for processing. Therefore, you should not have any problem using this solution for movies, or anything else that makes sound on your computer. Note: Be prepared for Apple system sounds through your stereo!

Good luck and come back with any other questions or clarification requests!

P.S. You can never ask for too much.

bober
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Re: Suggestions on building a mac-based 2.1 bedroom system

That sounds good, Erik_B. I'd be very eager to hear or read debates over usb vs. toslink optical out for the macbook before trying it myself. But seeing as how it would also work for movies, It'd have to be a considerably large quality difference in the usb to make me go that route. What are some good DACs to use? Is buying a used one okay? I have a good amount of knowledge in speakers and amps but am absolutely new to the DAC game and never thought i'd really own one. What would be recommended in the under $300 category (new or used)? If there is something that is higher, like lets say $400, I'm willing to pay for it if it's really worth it.

What I was asking about the firewire vs. usb is on the connection from the hard drive to the mackbook. I am aware that I am running the music off the macbook and not directly off the hard drive. What route should i go? firewire 400 or usb 2.0? what will give me the best sound quality? and does the quality of the cable from my hard drive to my macbook matter?

Thanks for your time.

bobedaone
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Re: Suggestions on building a mac-based 2.1 bedroom system

Most of the high-quality DACs in your price range are going to be used. If you're familiar with eBay, then you probably know what to look for to avoid being ripped off. Audiogon is another place to check out.

I got my DAC on eBay for $125. It was slightly more expensive because it came with a matching outboard power supply. If you're looking at Audio Alchemy, $100 is probably close to what you'll end up paying.

Another contender is the Entech Number Cruncher. A link to its review is provided on the Stereophile home page in the form of a large picture. Prices would be comparable to the Audio Alchemy.

Moving up the price ladder, we have the MSB Link III. These will be less common than the above-mentioned DACs and probably 3-4x more expensive. I'm not sure if it's worth the extra cash, but it's a very highly regarded piece of equipment.

Now, the crown jewel is a Bel Canto DAC2. If you can find one, keep your eye on it. If it's within your budget at all, grab it. I've never seen an auction close on one of these, but $400 isn't out of the question, I'm sure. The DAC2 is one of the best-reviewed DACs I've seen, probably on par with the Benchmark DAC-1 for price:performance.

With any luck, someone else will pop in and shed more light on the choices I've mentioned, maybe even recommend some that I missed.

The Audio Alchemy DDE series sold extremely well in its day, so you probably won't have any trouble finding one. The Entech was similarly successful. The MSB and the Bel Canto will be more scarce.

My Audio Alchemy is no slouch, besting the DAC in my brand new $300 CD player, despite the fact that it's about a decade old. You will not be disappointed if you go that route. If you're allocating $300, then you have more options than I did, and some, like the MSB and Bel Canto, are worth considering.

I don't know what to tell you as far as your HDD connection. The cable *shouldn't* have an effect on sound quality, but I can't say for sure. I'm not computer savvy enough to give you a definite answer. GEEKS WANTED!

USB vs. optical is an easier question because the differences are measurable. I won't completely trash USB DACs because some people like them a lot, but I think optical is the more accurate, and probably the better sounding, way to go.

Dave_c
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Re: Suggestions on building a mac-based 2.1 bedroom system

Great thread!

Any updates?

Mono
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Re: Suggestions on building a mac-based 2.1 bedroom system

Dave,

We noticed that there are a lot of people with questions about this very topic.

We're pretty die-hard turntable guys, and we didn't want to seem "music server hostile" so we put up a little article about getting the best sound from a computer.

It can be a pretty mind-numbing topic but we've done a bunch of listening and futzing around.

Hope this helps (and I hope this doesn't seem too "spammy"):

http://singledriver.blogspot.com/2007/07/your-computer-as-high-end-playback.html

ROLO46
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Re: Suggestions on building a mac-based 2.1 bedroom system

http://www.avihifi.co.uk/avid/avid.html

Check this site as well.

Roger

bobedaone
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Re: Suggestions on building a mac-based 2.1 bedroom system

That's an absolutely brilliant design. I'm a huge AVI fan, largely because I'm one of the few Americans with a dealer nearby. (Recently, two gentlemen from the South were in Indianapolis for the NHRA nationals, and made the drive up to Ann Arbor just to audition AVI.) I haven't heard the ADM9, though.

At any rate, I love their speakers and amplifiers, so the ADM9 definitely has a lot going for it.

ROLO46
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Re: Suggestions on building a mac-based 2.1 bedroom system

The ADM9's are powerful (350W a side) and quite transparent
The sub is 250w and has a wonderful 10" driver.
I've heard them with and without the sub
The midband as with all AVI is really very clean
The system can achieve very high levels nearfield.
Overall I prefer a hint of sub
Just for B drum thump in the thoracic
The kit is very compact
Merely add an Apple Mac with good memory and plenty of HD
Their Wolfson DAC even makes MP3's sound bearable on a proper rig, which this is.

Roger imho
Check out Ashleys downloads, they're FUN.

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