Author Topic: Output MB to Network DAC?  (Read 6860 times)

avianmanor

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Hello everyone,

Hope I'm posting this question in the appropriate section of the forum. Since discovering Music Bee one year ago, I have never looked back; MB has become the heart and soul of my audiophile sound system and in my mind remains absolutely the best software available for archiving, organizing and enjoying digital media. I'm currently ripping and archiving my music on a Synology NAS, and use MB for transfer and playback via ethernet. For output to my sound system I use a Meridian USB DAC plugged into my laptop, which sounds fantastic but means I must always be hard wired and tethered to a cable and stereo system.

 My question for the more technically inclined is this: since I can drawn digital data from my NAS to my laptop via Ethernet and /or my wireless network, is there not a way to send an output from MB or better still, using MB to control the digital stream from my NAS to a networked DAC, which could be permanently hardwired close to my sound system? I know that one can purchase Network Media Players that could be used this way, including Meridian's high-end Sooloos system (13 kilobucks), but these run on proprietary software with their own music management programs, and would not allow me to use MB to control playback and route it through the Media Players DAC.

 My Synology NAS has several media servers built in (Plex and Synology) that can be output to a USB port on the back of the NAS and then on to my Meridian USB DAC, but again, these music managers are inferior to Music Bee. I have scoured the Internet looking for hardware that could do this, but have found none. One could purchase a wireless USB transmitter and receiver that can output from MB, but the built in DACs in these units sound terrible by comparison. In addition to this shortcoming, the bandwidth of a wireless connection will not allow higher resolutions than standard CD 44 KHz.  My existing arrangement approaches the sound quality of the 13 G  Meridian Sooloos system, at a fraction of the cost ...... I'd just like to use my beloved Music Bee without the wire tether to my HI-Fi system. I'm very open to members thoughts and suggestions.

Cheers!

Barbie-qu

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My understanding is that you need UPnP control functionality to do this (which MusicBee doesn't have).
I have a similar setup to you, and unfortunately I haven't been able to find  a way to do this with MusicBee either.

Ricky Roma

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I came across a similar problem. I still use MusicBee for playback in the office as everything is hardwired (media drive >PC > external DAC > amp) and I like MB's playback functionality.
For the rest of the house I access the same FLAC files wirelessly using Logitech Media Server which runs on my office PC. The bandwidth limitations of WIFI are not a problem for streaming ( CD quality is only 1.411mbps...24bit/96khz would theoretically require 4.61mbps).

The remote playback devices are a Squeezebox Touch, O2 Joggler, ipod touch and various android tablets. The Touch connects to my lounge HIFI for decent playback (you could pop your Meridian DAC betweeen the Touch and the amp if you prefer it's sound). The sound handling via LMS is great..perfect gapless, no dropouts, synchronised playback from multiple devices & playlists exported from MB into LMS. You can control playback of all devices from a smartphone/tablet.

BUT..I know I'm getting off topic as u still wanted to use MB to control playback. Have you looked at the Airplayplugin for MB ?

http://musicbee.wikia.com/wiki/AirPlay

If u then got an Airport Express next to your amp then I think u could take TOSLINK output from that and feed it via your Meridian to the amp, effectively giving you the networked DAC.

avianmanor

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Thanks Barbie-qu and Ricky Roma,

 for your prompt response to my questions regarding a "Network DAC". I was very intrigued Ricky with your suggestion of an Airplay plugin for MB, thinking I could use this with my Apple TV ..... I downloaded the plugin, paid for an activation code and installed it as per Eric Milles's text document -upon launching, MB locked up and would not run, even after a complete reboot of my PC. I had to remove the Airplay plugin from MB before it would run again.

My PC OS is Vista 64-bit, and is known to have issues with it's audio drivers. Some time ago I tried an AudioQuest Dragonfly USB DAC and it promptly locked up my computer. I went to AudioQuest's web site and discovered that their DAC will run on Windows XP, 7 and 8, but not Windows Vista -they say "Microsoft is working on the problem" but I think this highly unlikely as Vista is the next Windows OS on the chopping block for support. Partial support on drivers, gadgets etc. has already been withdrawn. On the Meridian website there are drivers for XP, 7 and 8 but Windows Vista interestingly enough is not mentioned. I was able however to successfully install the drivers for my Meridian DAC, and it seems to run perfectly On Windows Vista. I will contact Eric Milles and ask for his assistance with his plugin running on Vista -will let you know the results of that.

The specs on the Apple TV box say the max. resolution on the Toslink out is 48K -as you suggested Ricky, this should be more than enough to provide standard CD quality resolution. I do have a Synology App on my iPhone that will stream via Airplay mode to my Apple TV box, but, as the base player for the app is Apple, it won't play Flac files, just MP3 and Wave. I use Flac files almost exclusively for audiophile playback, and this is one of the primary advantages MB has over Windows Media Player and Apple iTunes.

Perhaps one day soon someone will design and manufacture an addressable network interface for a DAC -as home and car audio move more and more in the direction of hard drive computer based music players/servers and NAS for data storage, the demand for such devices will be much greater.

Cheers!

mrad

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I expect that you know to chase Vista solutions is an exercise in futility for anyone involved as many developers do not target Vista nor regard it as a serious OS.  Consider saving yourself and others effort and upgrade to at least Windows 7 to place yourself in a far more stable situation and free up your time for much more fun stuff ;)

avianmanor

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Thank you all for your thoughts and suggestions. Yes mrad, I'm fully aware of the futility in finding solutions for Vista at times, but FYI, Eric's Airplay Plugin for Music Bee is fully compatible with Windows Vista, and through communication with him it was possible with little effort to get it up and running perfectly on my PC.

My Apple TV box is networked with an Ethernet cable, and the Airplay output works equally well from my laptop via hard-wire (Ethernet) and Wi-Fi. Now I'm half way there to a tether-less networked DAC running from MB -the next step is to take the Toslink optical digital output from the Apple TV box and feed it into my Meridian DAC -will report back with results of this shortly.

Thanks again everyone for your help, especially Eric Milles for your Airplay Plugin, making all of this possible.

Cheers! :D

Ricky Roma

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Fantastic ! Glad you are getting somewhere with it  :)

Keep us updated on the quality of sound u get from the Apple TV toslink

avianmanor

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Thanks Ricky for the inspiration.

A preliminary report in regards to streaming digital audio via MB over wireless network to a high quality DAC

Music Bee on Sony Vaio Laptop running Vista 64-Bit OS - built in wireless connection to Local Wi-Fi Network
Eric Milles's Airplay Plug-in for MB
Apple TV 3rd Generation Networked (Ethernet Cable to Router)
Standard Wireless N Router
Music Library located on Networked Synology NAS (Ethernet Cable to Router)
Meridian Director DAC Connected to Apple TV via Toslink Optical Digital Out
Preamp Analogue Audio Out from Meridian DAC to Audio Note Hi-Fi System

This arrangement of gear was stable, glitch and stutter free streaming bi-directional Wi-Fi
(Synology NAS /Wireless Router / Wi-Fi to Laptop, Laptop Airplay / Wi-Fi to Wireless Router / Apple TV

Music Files used for listening tests were ripped from CD to Standard 44.1 kHz 16-Bit Flac format.
Airplay technology is restricted to Standard CD Quality 44.1 kHz 16-bit - higher resolutions are not possible over Airplay

Sound Quality? Initial audition revealed dynamic and clear audio, with a reasonably good sound stage, depth and detail; quite pleasant to listen to, with no long term fatigue.

For comparison sake I switched to the USB input of the Meridian DAC and a hard-wire cable direct to the laptop USB digital output (configured in MB Player settings), again at 44.1 kHz 16-Bit Resolution; the improvement in sound quality was quite noticeable, significantly more detailed, airy, and a sound stage with far greater width and depth.

I suspect this is primarily due to the technical nature of the Apple TV Box, which up-scales all digital audio data to 48 kHz, no doubt creating undesirable artifacts that degrade sound quality. If I understand correctly, Apple Airport Express, the audio only equivalent to Apple TV, processes digital audio bit-for-bit at 44.1 kHz with no up-scaling to 48 K, so perhaps this arrangement might yield better results. I will try to get my hands on one and report back.

Alas, Airplay in it's present form however is restricted to a maximum resolution of 44.1 kHz 16-Bit, which will fall short of many an audiophile's hopes and dreams. Hopefully new technology is just around the corner to address this shortcoming.

The good news for now though, is that it is possible to stream audiophile quality audio from MB over a wireless connection to my Hi-Fi system, freeing myself of a tethered cord for all but the most critical of listening sessions, in which case I would stow the laptop, fire up my Audio Note CD player, spin some vinyl, crack open a wobbly-pop, and enjoy.

Thanks again Ricky and Eric for your ideas and technology, and kudos to Steven for MB and this forum.


avianmanor

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Hello again everyone!

A follow up report to my previous post regarding a "Network DAC". After some trial and error I believe I have discovered an alternate and superior method of adding an audiophile quality DAC to a hardwired or wireless network. The limitation of the former Apple Airplay / Optical / DAC setup is Airplay's inherent limited 44.1 kHz 16-Bit Standard CD quality resolution -my Meridian DAC and many others are capable of resolving much higher resolution rates and bit-depths; the difference in sound quality on a good Hi-Fi system being quite significant.

There exist a multitude of so called "USB Server" devices on the market, all of which theoretically extend a USB input on your computer to a small box with a LAN Ethernet Port. Most of these were designed to add a USB printer or scanner to a network. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these interfaces do not have sufficient processors to support Asynchronous or even Isochronous communications with a USB DAC or Sound Card, but the few that do could theoretically be used to connect a higher end external D/A convertor to a LAN. Through some online research and a little trial and error, I have discovered a number of products manufactured by Silex Technology (http://www.silexamerica.com/) may have this capability. Since these are premium priced interfaces and I'm still in the experimental phase of my research, I looked for more budget minded products. I tried several Chinese made "USB Device Servers" which claimed to work with sound cards ...... one would not work at all, the other worked intermittently; both I deemed a failure. Then I read that Silex software was known to recognize and connect with a Japanese manufactured device made for a few years by Belkin, the F5L009 "Network USB Hub" (http://www.belkin.com/networkusbhub/). As Silex builds a number of "drop in" USB Server boards to allow various manufacturers to incorporate in their design, it wasn't a far stretch to imagine Belkin utilizing this technology in their product, and the fact that Silex software detects them on a network, is an indication the products have something in common.  I picked one up for peanuts on eBay, downloaded the latest software and drivers from the net and Viola! It works like a charm! Ah ...... but there is a catch in regards to using my Meridian Director DAC, and more than likely any other DAC which is not UPNP and requires proprietary drivers for their device (I am still researching and experimenting on this point); please read on:

I have a wonderful little USB DAC / Headphone amp made in South Korea by Gyrocom / Audiotrak called the Pridigy Cube (http://audiotrack.net/en/usb/528) -it is built with many audiophile quality components and capable of 24Bit/96 kHz resolution. It is a plug n play device with it's own built in drivers, has standard 1/4 " + 3.5mm  headphone out jacks with an Alps volume control, one pair Standard RCA Analogue outputs, one digital coaxial output and one Toslink Optical Digital Output -all to be had brand new with priority shipping direct from the manufacturer for less than $100.00. On it's own it is a mighty fine DAC, and once plugged into my wired / wireless network via LAN cable and Belkin USB Network Hub, works flawlessly running wireless from Music Bee on my laptop, playing high resolution files including 24 bit HDCD. I also ran a few 24-Bit/96kHz files without a hitch. This arrangement offers much better sound quality than the Apple Airplay setup, and the Prodigy DAC is available to any computer on my network.

Now to my Meridian Director DAC -unfortunately, this premium priced DAC will not run directly from the Belkin Network USB Hub -the root cause of this is still under investigation, but I suspect that the Meridian being an Asynchronous device utilizing it's own internal clock to minimize jitter on a USB link, requires a USB Server with a more powerful processor than the 5 year old, long discontinued Belkin USB Hub. Silex Technology does manufacture a device which they claim is compatible with Asynchronous USB devices and sound cards .... I have yet to try one in my system. For the time being I have found a work around which functions equally well -taking the optical output from the Audiotrak Prodigy DAC, and feeding it into the Meridian Director DAC ...... this works and sounds fantastic, with no further financial investment required!

One last detail however - the inability to bypass Windows sound drivers and use Wasapi and Asio drivers for either of the above mentioned DACs while connected as a network device -selecting them from the drop down list of devices and drivers in MB player's settings, result in immediate blue screen errors on both Windows Vista and 7 64-Bit the moment the next file is played. This is not a problem specific to Music Bee, as attempts with other Music Players including native Windows Media Player result in the same tragic crash of the OS. I suspect this is an issue that someone with a little more knowledge of windows protocols might be able to solve -any thoughts or suggestions regarding this would be greatly appreciated. For the time being I will have to continue to use the Direct Sound Output / Primary Sound Driver option which despite it's shortcomings, is 100 % stable and still sounds great on my system. The premium priced Silex Technology device ( http://www.silexamerica.com/products/connectivity-solutions/device-networking/usb-parallel-connectivity/sx-ds-4000u2/ )  may also offer a solution to this problem -will keep you posted on that as one is on it's way to me now. This detail will be the final challenge in the pursuit of a high resolution "Network DAC" that can offer the best of all worlds and run with direct connect audio drivers.

In conclusion I think it is safe to say that a Universal High-End Networked DAC is no longer a "dream of unicorns" as members of another audio forum have coined the expression ..... this dream is very much alive and real. Hope other members and guests of this forum will find this information useful.

Cheers!


2525

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Reviving an old thread now.

First of all: A big thank you, avianmanor, for you detailed explanation! So glad to have found a solution to using MusicBee together with a network DAC.

There seems to be at least two different version of the Belkin F5L009 Network USB Hub (v1 and v2) out there. Which one did you use, avianmanor? Any chance you'd know if the version matters?

Did you ever try out the Silex SX-DS-4000U2? How did that work out, or have you found an even better solution?

I'm planing to get the ASUS RT-AC56U WiFi router which have two USB ports, one USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0. I'm going to connect my NAS drive to the USB 3.0, but I was thinking that maybe I could plug my UPnP DAC straight to the router? We'll see how that works out.