If you are an avid collector like me and have a fairly large music collection, you might want to consider setting up a music server in your home. I have converted all my CDs into lossless audio files. Unfortunately, spinning discs are a dying breed and I needed to save space in my living room. Thus having fewer Hifi components or CDs is always welcome :)
To get started, take any computer (PC or Mac) plus cheap hard-disk storage. Virtually any computer is powerful enough to act as a music server that can handle thousands of discs in loss-less uncompressed quality.
A key driver of the music server movement is cheap storage. But once you have accumulated a large collection of music or movies, you are going to need a solid strategy to manage your media content.
Granted, you can set up separate systems to manage your music, videos and storage. But I find that this can quickly become a nightmare – even for seasoned IT professionals. I have talked to folks spending hours every week just to keep their digital household running smoothly.
I definitely recommend sticking with uncompressed audio formats for a number of reasons. Even if you “don’t hear the difference”. One reason is that you have at least one “master copy” from which you can create MP3 versions for your mobile devices. In addition, you can always switch to newer formats without losing quality. If you have only MP3 quality files to begin with, you can never go back to the original without losing quality!
Complexity is a huge turn off if you just want to relax with your favorite tunes. After all, who wants to update a harddisk’s firmware, manage operating systems, drivers, backups and network infrastructure?
Fortunately, all of this can this be avoided. The solution is to consolidate all your devices into a single dedicated audiophile music server. No more separate solutions for audio and video, routers or wires. And only a single remote control.
Let’s look at some of the major benefits of having your own personal media server:
First of all, you are not limited to just music. You can store all your video content including your entire digital photo collection. And you can record live TV shows with a few clicks. As an audiophile, you are naturally concerned with audio quality. You should therefore generally avoid your media server’s onboard sound card. The smart approach is to simply use the media server as a digital transport which outputs a clean SP/DIF signal. The resulting digital signal is sent to a high-quality external DAC. For instance, the M2Tech Hiface is an excellent USB to SP/DIF converter and perfectly fits our requirements.
On top of that, imagine how cool it is to access your entire music collection using a single remote control, or browse album covers without even getting up from your chair. No more disc flipping. Look up your favorite tracks within seconds or create play lists across your entire music collection. Your precious discs reside in a safe place to prevent them from getting scratched.
You can archive your precious vinyl collection.
I also want my music server to be an intelligent hub in the home that can potentially make my preamplifier obsolete. Digital volume control has come a long way and it is getting better all the time.
Size and capacity are no longer an issue today. You can buy 1-2 TB of harddisk space for less than $100. This is easily enough for 2000 or more albums without compression. Even hardcore enthusiasts sometimes have fewer albums than that. You can either rip CDs and videos to internal storage – that is your laptop’s or desktop computer’s hard drive or keep the music files remotely on a NAS (Network Attached Storage).If you are concerned with complexity, internal hard disks are much easier to manage than any external NAS solution.
With that said, you should still have proper backup solutions in place. You probably don’t want to lose your precious media collection as a result of hardware failures. If you are running Windows, check out Acronis Trueimage. This fantastic piece of software will create automated backups of your entire system. Not only can you restore Trueimage backups with ease but you can also restore individual files. This comes in handy if you accidentally delete stuff from your media server. For the ultimate speed and comfort, consider a solid state drive (SSD) to hold your media server’s operating system plus frequently used applications. Although a SSD is going to cost a bit more while offering less space, you are going to experience a huge performance boost. On a properly configured system, Windows will boot in less than 15 seconds. Your actual media content can be stored on a traditional harddisk giving you the best of both worlds.
Finally, a music server is really inexpensive considering how many devices it can potentially replace. Even a high-quality server (that is only covering the computer side) just for music can be built for about $500. In addition, you can cheaply upgrade its internal hardware to add new features or to stay up to date with the latest technology. If you choose the internal components wisely, a decent media server can be a quiet, cool and eco-friendly machine. You can purchase HTPC parts at Newegg.com if you live in the United States. Amazon is also a great place to shop. They operate worldwide regional subsidiaries to give you the best deals on virtually any electronic product. Local computer storer are also an excellent source.