Goondu DIY: building your own digital music system

February 28th, 2011 | by Alfred Siew

A few months ago, I did what was once unthinkable for many audio geeks and unplugged my Marantz CD player from a living room hi-fi setup that was beginning to get more complicated than it should be.

I had decided there was no turning back from what audiophile snobs once called “digital music”. Sure, the CD was digital but how could music encoded, stored and delivered from home computers be any good, compared to what’s played on a $20,000 CD player, they would say.

Well, thank goodness that type of argument is no longer the in thing now in audio circles, thanks to advancements that enable “bit-perfect” ripping and playback – with no detail lost. For me, the argument was settled by the fact that my Marantz CD6002 was no S$20,000 CD player, but a money’s-worth budget player that could be improved quite easily with a new digital music setup.

Thus began a sometimes unfamiliar – but ultimately fulfilling – journey to build a setup that could play high quality music using the affordable utility that everyday computing offers.

Today, I’m quite happy with a digital music setup that not only produces excellent sound but also the convenient access – via my Android phone or tablet – to thousands of songs delivered wirelessly over a home network.

More than two years ago, my friend and former Goondu Boon Kiat recommended a no-compromise music player setup based on the day’s technology. Thankfully, a lot more options exist today to make things even easier than before.

Here’s how I set up my system, which I think would work for many fellow music fans.

What I am using:
1. Self-built FreeNAS box (Intel Atom, 2GB RAM, 2TB Wester Digital hard disk, SlimNAS + Squeezebox Server)
2. Gigabit Ethernet + Wi-Fi home networking (D-link DIR-855 + Buffalo WZR-HP-G300NH)
3. Logitech Squeezebox Touch
4.  Belcanto DAC 3.5VB + Belcanto Ref500m + B&W 805s
5. Intel Core i7 PC with dBpoweramp and Media Monkey
6. Google Nexus One/Samsung Galaxy Tab with Squeeze Commander

For starters, I’d have to get the right software to rip the CDs into digital tracks. I also need to have a way to organise the tracks and get the right tags all in place, so when I scroll through the songs, I can view all the album art and titles.

Theses songs, along with high-rez digital downloads you can get from stores like HDtracks.com, are stored on a network attached storage (NAS) box that would also distribute the music over the home Wi-Fi network by using Squeezebox Server.

The songs are fed wirelessly to a Logitech Squeezebox Touch, which hooks up via a digital SPDIF link to the Belcanto DAC. This in turn converts the digital signal into analog and sends it to the power amplifiers and then the speakers which turn the electrical energy into sound.

To control the entire process from my sofa, I use an Android phone (my Nexus One) or a tablet (Samsung Galaxy Tab) and the excellent Squeeze Commander app.

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