Custom media center with JRiver and HiFace2

Ramses82

Standard Member
Hi everyone,
I thought it might be useful for someone else to share my experience with a custom made media center I have built.

I didn't need any video capabilities, most of the blu ray players and modern TVs have that integrated and they work quite well for the use I have.

I am more interested on good audio and what I wanted was a Hi-Fi media center that allowed me to stream directly from my NAS server or USB drives lossless files and possibly also files with higher quality, such as SACD or HDTracks FLACs and doing that with audiophiles results.
After looking at VERY expensive "ready to go" media center on the Hi-Fi market, I decided to investigate and came out with this solution on my own.

I started by buying a mini-PC. Watching on Gumtree I managed to take home a couple of years old Zotac. The important things for me were:
- it has USB 2.0 ports
- it runs windows/linux (some mini-pc are now running on Android...)
- ethernet/wifi available to access my NAS through the network
- enough processor to be able to play and decode on the fly a SACD file (modern ones should be all fine, I would always stay above the 1.7Ghz though...)
Zotac.jpg

I then bought an HiFace2 USB to coaxial card http://www.m2tech.biz/it/hiface2.html
HifaceTwo1.jpg
i bought mine from Igloo Audio http://www.iglooaudio.co.uk/ for £140.
This is a very good solution to get an Hi-Fi digital output from any computer running on Windows or MacOS. I used that as I have an external DAC integrated on my pre-amplifier.

If you don't have an external DAC already, you might want to use a good USB DAC to provide a clean audio signal to your analog pre-amplifier/integrated amplifier. HiFace has few options on that as well.
I wouldn't suggest to use the internal audio card of your mini-PC as the sound quality wouldn't be as good due to a lower quality DAC and lower quality components overall.

Now the hardware is ready to do the job, you need a decent software to manage it all.

I went for JRiver media center http://www.jriver.com/
There are multiple reasons that made me go for this choice, but I can condense in 2 main ones

1) it streams basically any audio file, including SACDs (DFFs for example). It also directly detects the ISO files (if you want to save your CDs into ISO files) and it shows them into separate tracks in your library

2) it fully integrates with their mobile/tablet application called JRemote. This basically means that your don't need screens etc on your mini-PC: once it is configured properly and the application is also configured to run on start-up, you can basically just push the power button on the mini-PC, wait few seconds that it boots (an old SSD drive would help to make the procedure faster) and you will have full control over your iPad, iPhone or Android device. On Android you can also use another option called Gizmo (never tried that though). You can google the options, there are few.
From JRemote I can create playlists, load them, chose what to do at single click on a song or hold the touch and select each time to play instantly, add to playlist, play next for a single song or entire album. I find it VERY powerful!

So to check a bit on the costs side, you pay the license for JRiver just below $50, JRemote is another £7.99, I paid the Zotac mini-PC just £30 all together (old SSD included) and the HiFace2 £140, with something around £250 you get a solid Hi-Fi and user friendly audio media center!

I guess many of you had other experiences as well, I just wanted to share my little one hoping it might help someone else too!

Alex ;)
 

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