Getting out of the way
In yesterday's postI described the balance of what we will need to make our music server: a Mac Mini, a Mac Super Drive, an iPad Mini for the user interface, and software that makes it all sound good. All in, we're looking at about $1,000, which was the goal from the start of this project. What we want in our choice of software is a means for the audio stored on our hard drive to get out of the computer without being altered or molested in any way. Both Apple and Microsoft want to fool with your audio in ways that don't serve the music and we're not going to let them do that. We do, however, want to keep iTunes for our music management tool. There are a few excellent software programs out there that do exactly what we want. I am going to tell you about the one I've chosen and why. From the beginning of this project I've mentioned my goal was simplicity, no need for keyboards, mice and video screens, high-end performance and ease of use. I want all the features and fun of using iTunes for my music, but I don't want any hassle or downside to playing it. A tall order actually, but it is achievable. Let me say upfront that none of the available choices for software are perfect, so we have to choose whatever we think is closest to our goals of simplicity without sacrificing the sound quality. For this task I have chosen Bit Perfect. The program hides in the background as if it didn't exist and yet is extremely powerful: grabbing the audio from iTunes and forwarding it in perfect form to the computer's memory. There it fills up the memory until enough has been added, and sends it on its way out the USB port in bit perfect fashion (hence the name). Moreover, it makes sure the sample rate and bit depth remain exactly true to the source material without any intervention from the user. This last bit is certainly not unique amongst the available programs, in fact I don't know if any of this is unique, but here's what I do know: it seems to be the least intrusive to the user experience than any of the other programs I tried (and I tried most of the big names) without any compromise in sound quality. In fact, to my ears, the SQ is marvelous and close to that coming from the PerfectWave Transport Memory player. I am also enamored with the use of the computer's RAM to mimic what we call a Digital Lens. Again, I don't know if this is unique to Bit Perfect, but it certainly works, is effective and best of all, Bit Perfect is only $9.95. So what about DSD? If you're going to be playing DSD, as certainly I will be doing, here's where we come into a bit of a hassle. To use DSD files you have to run them through another program Bit Perfect offers called DSD Master. This $29.95 program is used to package DSD files in a form that iTunes can understand. iTunes and Mac or Windows machines can't natively deal with DSD as I have written before in the series on DoP. Different programs handle this in different ways. The easiest program to use that handles DSD is JRiver. Place DSD files on your hard drive and JRiver handles them without further ado, converting them to DoP on the fly as needed by your DAC. Definitely the easiest of them all. But DSD files work in JRiver and can be managed in JRiver because they have their own user interface. I spent a lot of time with JRiver and must say the only complaints I have deal with the user interface and controlling it with another program called JRemote. JRiver is not a user friendly program in my opinion and neither is JRemote. But for those of you that are ok with this aspect, there may be no better solution than JRiver and JRemote. I spent three full days trying to get the JRiver suite working flawlessly on my music server and trying to get JRemote to communicate with the server and finally threw in the towel. Perhaps on a Windows based machine this would be a no brainer, but on the Mac it is anything but. I believe I now have less hair than before. So I made the decision to keep what hair I have and go with Bit Perfect. The iTunes interface is, in my opinion, as good or better than the one in JRiver and it certainly is easier to connect to and keep within the walled garden Apple provides. The only downside to this choice is the prep one must do with DSD Master. It's not difficult, it's just time consuming. You drag the DSD file into DSD Master and it takes care of the rest, the album and cover art showing up in iTunes perfectly after some crunching time. There's no loss of performance, in fact, it may be argued that there's even better performance when entered into DSD Master. I am still evaluating, but I can assure you there's no loss. Bottom line, I spent an extra day setting up my library because of DSD Master. A relatively small price to pay considering I now have DSD in my iTunes library and they play perfectly as if they were a "normal" PCM file. Awesome. Tomorrow, I'll explain how we're going to make this without a router or anything else attached.
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