HTPC - music orientated

Discussion in 'Home Entertainment Computers' started by monstermoo, Feb 9, 2009.

  1. monstermoo

    monstermoo
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    Hi all,

    I'm considering building an HTPC as an alternative to the rather expensive digital streaming devices currently offered by high-end manufacturers.

    It will be mostly for playing music so the sound quality has to be excellent (as good if not better than a high-end CD players for instance) - this will be 2 channel stereo sound, outputted to a power amp.
    I will store all my CD's on it in 'FLAC' format (I guess?) or in as high quality as I can - so I suppose as huge storage capcity is needed?

    But secondly, I have a new KDL-40W4000 so I would like to be able to play SD movies with great upscaling and the ability to play Blue-ray movies (should I decide to start buying them) instead of SD from now on. So, the option for 5.1 or greater at a later date is desirable.
    Would I be able to recrod from TV as well?

    So, a few questions - as I'm totally new to the subject of HTPC...

    1. How much is this likely to cost?
    2. How do I go about it - pre-built/DIY?
    3. Suggested components
    4. Important - would I only be able to view the music files, playlists etc. via the TV - ie. does the TV have to be on for me to navigate my way through the various files/albumns etc?

    Thanks in advance :thumbsup:
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2009
  2. Clipsey

    Clipsey
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    Go for a 780G chipset (Motherboard) this will have a built in gfx card with HDMI output.
    You are then best off buying a decent soundcard (all depends on budget).
    Tv card.
    Blu-ray drive - can pick these up reasonably cheap now a days.
    1TB of hard drive space can also be had at a reasonable cost and unless you start ripping blu-ray movies will last you a loooong time :)

    Oh and cost is what ever you want to pay but as a real rough guide I'd start at around the 350 mark.
     
  3. monstermoo

    monstermoo
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    Thanks Clipsey,

    I'm thinking around the £500 mark really, don't want to go much past that if I can help it.

    Will the blueray quality be as good as a dedicated player?

    Sound card....depends on the cost of the rest of the kit I suppose but say up to £200 would that still fall within the £500 total spend?

    How would this all work - would I get the usual MS Windows OS and desktop on my TV screen and then have to use a mouse to navigate my way through? Sorry if this seems a daft question:rolleyes:

    I'd like to have the finished player/device looking pretty low key so it would blend in with my Linn LK280 amp (audio only afaik), so preferably a subtle black finish.
     
  4. Clipsey

    Clipsey
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    monstermoo you have a lot to learn (in a good way) as to what a HTPC can do for you :)
    500 pounds should be more than enough and a decent sound card should not effect that budget too much - it more depends on how you encode/rip your music (at what quality level).
    You can indeed get the usual MS Windows - but then use something like MediaPortal which is a program which integrates all your music/videos/Tv/radio etc into one funky user friendly interface.
    You can either use a mouse/keyboad combo or program a remote to use as the function (such as a Harmony or something)
    Then lastly, again the sky is the limit when it comes to the case you want, there are some real fancy looking cases out there that replicate a 'seperates' piece of audio equipment - again price being a factor.
    Have a look at some of the big computer component websites and see what you like.

    Here is a pic of MediaPortal in operation regards to some music (excuse the lame 50 cent stuff but just for informational purposes :))
    [​IMG]
     
  5. wayneclements

    wayneclements
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    If you use itunes already, I cant recommend an apple tv enough if music is the main thing. The interface is miles better/faster/slicker than any htpc can do. Although the downside is you dont get the web options a PC has....and the video needs to be encoded (I use getsent) to an apple friendly format. And its miles cheaper. If you dont use itunes, then you can head the htpc root. Although having both, I would put a £200 apple TV over a £1000 htpc any day of the week for music quality and ease of use. (It got 5 stars and shot down the popcorn, linksys etc boxes in this months what hi fi).

    I use an apple tv for all my music and some video, and then Media centre extender which can pull any content the apple tv cant handle from another room over the wireless network. Although now ive found a hack that allowed me to install xmbc and boxee on my apple tv (which also lets you access nas drives for content), I can easily watch nas stored 5gb MKV files that have been ripped from bluray at 720p. And when im done I can slip straight back into the apple tv's menu for normal content.
     
  6. russelkhan

    russelkhan
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    As Clipsey says, there's a lot to learn about HTPCs. If music is your primary focus, you need to understand that no soundcard can match the 2-channel analog output of a high-end, or even mid-range, CD player. There's just too much noise and interference in the average PC. If you want THAT kind of quality you'll be needing an external DAC that has a USB input. There are many such devices around, one popular example is the Cambridge Audio DacMagic at £200. You can spend even more if you want, there are models from Cyrus and Musical Fidelity that cost around £1000. There are cheaper models too. The DAC will be acting as the sound-card, and its output will go directly to the amp. The DacMagic does not have a pre-amp section or variable output, so it can't be connected directly to a power amp.

    There's also the issue of bypassing Windows' own audio processing (as carried out by kmixer), which many audiophiles claim has a detrimental effect on the output.

    The situation gets even more complicated if you want 5.1 output for movies. In this case you'll be needing the digital output going straight into an AV amp. If you do decide to go for the DAC option, choose one with a digital output that can feed an amp. The DacMagic does have a digital out, but I don't know if the 5.1 signal will pass through untouched.
     
  7. monstermoo

    monstermoo
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    Thanks, that is some very helpful advice.

    So, the DAC will filter out any noise that has been created within the HTPC before it gets to the pre-amp/amp?

    You say that the DAC will act as the sound card, although I'm assuming that the HTPC will still require a good quality sound card in order to send a signal to the DAC at all?

    I'f I go down this route then I will definitely need a seperate pre-amp before the LK280?
     
  8. russelkhan

    russelkhan
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    Sorry for the late reply, I totally forgot to check this thread.

    That's not how it works. The DAC will totally replace the soundcard, so you won't need one at all. The PC will see the DAC as an external soundcard, and all audio will be routed to it through the USB port. The PC will send the pure digital data to the DAC, and all the digital-analogue conversion will take place in the DAC, away from the PC's noisy internals.

    If you choose the Cambridge Audio DacMagic you will also need a pre-amp since it has no volume control. You could use the Windows volume control but you'll be compromising on sound quality.

    Hope this clarifies things.
     
  9. Cafe Racer

    Cafe Racer
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    'xcuse my ignorance, but how does that differ from an optical output to an amp?
     
  10. Daveybryce

    Daveybryce
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    I would honestly suggest getting one of the auzentech soundcards. You can upgrade the opamps on these to improve the signal to noise ratio which will dramatically improve your sound quality.

    Here is the link for the sound card

    Auzentech, Inc. Sound Cards. Audio You Can Believe In. World First soundcards for Music, HTPC, and Gaming.

    Here is a link for the swappable OPAMPS

    Auzentech, Inc. Sound Cards. Audio You Can Believe In. World First soundcards for Music, HTPC, and Gaming.

    Hope this helps you, you will still require an external amplifier to drive your speakers.
     
  11. russelkhan

    russelkhan
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    Firstly, the OP is wanting to use a Linn power amp, which does not have an optical input. Secondly, as music is his main priority, an AV amp does not seem to be the obvious choice.
     
  12. Sheepish

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    Ive been considering the DacMagic rather than my original plan of upgrading to an Asus Xonar D2 in my htpc but need a few things clarified before I buy.

    Ive read that the usb input on the DacMagic is limited to a certain bitrate/frequency, does this mean anything played on my htpc outwith this wont play or that it will be resampled? What if i connected via optical out on my 780G motherboard? Even if its resampled it will still sound better than a £100 internal sound card? And finally.. will i hear the difference between DacMagic and Asus Xonar D2 on a Cambridge Audio 340 amp and pair of MA BR2's?

    I have also read that connecting by optical bypasses Vistas own volume level, is this true and does it apply to USB too?

    Sorry for jumping in on this thread but I think my questions are relevant to the OP.
     
  13. russelkhan

    russelkhan
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    The USB inut on the DacMagic is limited to 16-bit, which is CD quality, so you will be able to play ANYTHING that has been ripped from CD. You won't be able to play 24-bit flac files that are now available from some of the specialist online audio labels. The optical input will accept 24-bit.

    The 340 amp and BR2 speakers are entry-level, so in my opinion you won't notice a difference. A good soundcard is sufficient. It's only when you have a more revealing hi-fi system that you start to notice the difference between PC audio and a proper source. But make sure you invest in a good quality interconnect between your soundcard and amp.

    A USB DAC does NOT bypass the Windows volume control, unless you install a kernel-streaming plug-in for your chosen playback software. Do a google search on kernel streaming. I don't have optical out on my PC so I don't know if that bypasses the Windows volume control.
     
  14. Cafe Racer

    Cafe Racer
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    Okay, but how would a DAC compare to a quality Music oriented amp connected optically? I'm only interested.

    OP did mention doing 5.1, though...
     
  15. russelkhan

    russelkhan
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    Well, quality music oriented amps with onboard DACs are VERY rare! Off the top of my head I can only think of the Naim SuperNait (£2500). There might be a few more from lesser-known brands, but you get the drift. Amps with optical inputs are almost always AV amps, whose primary focus is surround sound, and 2-channel music is usually an afterthought. Countless reviews have shown that an AV amp cannot compete with a similarly priced hi-fi amp when it comes to music.

    Recently there have been a couple of all-in-one music systems with optical inputs from serious hi-fi brands such as Linn and Myryad. All you need is to add speakers.

    Although the OP did mention going 5.1 at some point, he did specify that he wanted "an alternative to the rather expensive digital streaming devices currently offered by high-end manufacturers". The advice I've been giving is therefore aimed at that goal. From my point of view, an external DAC is the only way to match a high-end music streamer from the likes of Linn and Naim.
     

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