Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Music server setup scheme

(click on the scheme to see a bigger image)

Monday, March 30, 2009

Photos of the Alix board

I received the Alix 2d2 board. Here are some pictures of it :
(click on the pictures to see a bigger image)

front side

front side with CD (for size comparison)

back side

the open enclosure with the CF card and the AC adapter

Saturday, March 21, 2009

What do we need ?

In order to build / configure the music server we will need :
  • an unused PC (where we will install Linux and which will contain the music library) -> an old one would be ok
  • a broadband Internet connection
  • a single board computer (I will use the Alix3d2) -> you can find it here =>update : see below
  • Debian Linux for the music library computer -> you can find it here
  • Voyage Linux for the single board computer -> the installation will be explained
  • MPD (Music Player Daemon) -> I will explain how to install it
  • a handheld device like the iPod Touch or any other like the Nokia N800 if you want to control the music server from your couch over WiFi
  • MPD-client -> there are many (I will list some nice ones)
  • a USB DAC (if you want good quality sound) -> for exemple this cheap one or these expensive ones
reminder : the idea for this setup and the above informations were taken from the articles from the user "nyc_paramedic" (cf. links in the last post).

update : nyc_paramedic suggested to use the 2d2 Alix board instead of the 3d2. I was able to change my order to get the 2d2, so that's the board I will use.

nyc_paramedic says :

"The Alix 2d2 is nicer because it keeps all the connectors (USB, LAN) at the back of the unit, and the LED's up front. The 3c2 has the USB ports up front & the LED's in the back. It could make for routing the USB cable to the DAC more difficult or require a longer USB cable.

With the 2d2's simple black aluminum case I have the status LED's up front and viewable from the listening seat. I can also use shorter length USB cables, i.e., with the ports facing from the back of the ALIX and USB DAC.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Where it all started

I was searching for a solution for a music server with the following requirements :
  1. high-quality ("audiophile")
  2. silent
  3. as cheap as possible
  4. open (in the sens of open source)
  5. user friendly
  6. rock solid (no software crashes)
My actual situation concerning music listening is the following :

My home stereo system is composed of a very good quality CD player and Amp and some good quality speakers (they should be replaced as they are only good, not very good). I am by no means what people call an audiophile (in the sens of being willing to spend many thousand dollars in audio gear). But I really enjoy listening to very high quality music, be it live or on the Hi-Fi system. That's why I put audiophile between quotation marks in the above list. I hate the actual tendency of low quality MP3 music, although I have an iPod which I use for listening to music in the car (with Apple Lossless music files).

My home computer is a 4 years old Apple iMac G5, but at work I use Windows PCs. In the past years I had tried several times to install Linux (Madrake, Suse, Ubuntu) but I always abandoned, it was still a too geeky world for me.

I now have a quite big library of music in my Apple computer and I like to listen to this music via iTunes, which I consider a good music player (although it accepts too few music formats). This music is fed directly into my Amp and home stereo system, so it sounds not so good, compared to the CDs.

So, coming back to the my above mentioned requirements for a music server ...

1. High quality ("audiophile") sound :

Audiophile music is a whole world which has no upper limits. I would call myself a pragmatic audiophile or "audiophile".

The first requirement is to have a good quality sound file. There exist very high sample rate / frequency files, but for myself, CD quality 16 bit / 44.1 kHz is ok. So you can either store your music in uncompressed CD quality or you can compress it in a lossless manner to gain space on your hard disk. Apple has it's own lossless format which is proprietary (bad) and there is the open FLAC format (which iTunes doesn't recongnize of course). Actually I use Apple's lossless format, but I would like to change to FLAC for its openness.

In order to get a very good quality sound from music stored on a computer, one of the best solutions seems to be a USB DAC which transforms digital computer signals (bytes) to analog signals which can be fed into an Amp. There are many different USB DACs available and many are quite expensive. One which seems to be very good and reasonably cheap is the devilsound DAC.


2. Silence

For having a very good quality sould, I could just buy a USB DAC and connect the USB output of my iMac to the Amp. But my iMac being an old one, it makes a lot of noise which I don't want in my listening room. Most PCs are even louder, so having a computer with fans and spinning harddrives is not a solution for me. There are silent full featured PCs (for example water cooled), but they are expensive. A solution would be having very long cables between the USB DAC and the Amp but this isn't ideal and above all not very userfriendly.

3. As cheap as possible
4. Open (as in "Open Source")
5. User friendly
6. Rock solid

Here I didn't have any more solutions, ... until I stumbled over the following forum threads :

My new 3 watt dead silent usb linux music server

Dead silent dedicated Linux music server for USB DAC's

I let you have a look at these articles.

This setup seemed to be a solution for my 6 basic requirements and there could even be added a seventh :
7) Low energy consumption

That's why I decided to test the author's idea.

I took an old PC and started "playing" with Linux again. I wanted to try to implement this setup myself as it seemed very nice. As my Linux knowledge was more or less zero at that point, it took me some time to getting used to.

As the author of the above mentionned articles says, quite some people could be interested in this music server setup, but for most of them Linux would for sure be a big obstacle.

That's why I suggested to write some kind of tutorial which discribes the steps needed to build and configure this device from scratch and without much Linux knowledge. That's what I will try to do on this blog. I'am not a Linux specialist, so if I am able to configure this setup, many other people should be able to do the same.

P.S. : For sure you will find some strange sentences or some errors in my articles, that's because Shakespeare's languange is not mine. Please excuse me for that.