Starting from scratch - new dedicated system
May 23, 2015 at 8:44 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 4

goaliechris

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Hi everyone,
 
What started as a simple search for a pair of headphones (not yet done), I have decided I want to set up a new standalone system for my home office. At this time I won't be using a computer but I think that could come later. I want the system to contain the following:
 
 - CD player: I have some ideas here as being familiar with home audio I have a good idea of where to start. Thinking Rega, used NAIM or Bryston, Cambridge, etc.
 - Headphone amp: This is where I am a complete newbie and could use some help. The Bryston BPA-1 would be awesome but probably more than I want to spend at this point. Does this unit act as an integrated or just as either a preamp or amp (I couldn't tell). Would like to keep to about $500 or less. 
 - In this system, do I need a preamp? Or can I just plug the CD player into the amp?
 - For the future state with a laptop, I suppose that's when I need a separate DAC. Given I may go this way is there a good unit that combines both the DAC and amp into one box?
 - Most of my music is on my iPhone 6. It appears that there is no great way to incorporate an iPhone into a system like this. I'm okay with going direct into it with a pair of headphones I guess but wish there was an easy solution to boost this for better SQ in this system I am looking to put together. I guess I could just use my Apple TV as a wireless server?
 - Okay, finally headphones. I have a pair of Shure SE535s but for longer listening, I prefer over ear headphones. I have a pair of Sennheiser HD280s but looking for something better. Thought I had it figured out with the Denon D5000 but then realized, again because I am new at this, that those are no longer and production and very hard to find. Any suggestions for a closed-back headphone? Was considering the Shure SRH1540 also but haven't heard them.To give you a little more info, like listening to rock, alternative, progressive (Porcupine Tree/Steven Wilson, Tool, Pearl Jam, Mark Knopfler, etc.). I have Dynaudio speakers in my home theater/audio room with separates. I really like their tone - mids are important to me I guess. More detail, less concerned with bass but want quality over quantity here.
 
Any way, thanks in advance for the help. I know it's a big request but I really appreciate any guidance you can give.
 
Thanks!
 
May 23, 2015 at 12:44 PM Post #2 of 4

ProtegeManiac

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 - Headphone amp: This is where I am a complete newbie and could use some help. The Bryston BPA-1 would be awesome but probably more than I want to spend at this point. Does this unit act as an integrated or just as either a preamp or amp (I couldn't tell). Would like to keep to about $500 or less. 

 
Headphone amplifiers already have a preamp built in, as evidenced by 95% of them having a volume knob (the other 5% have + and - buttons on the remote). No need for a separate preamp - it's basically like an integrated amplifier for speakers.
 
In some cases it's the preamp that's built into the headphone amp, so you can hook up a dedicated power amp. So in this instance you can have a Schiit Asgard that drives a headphone off its front headphone output, while it has a preamped output that you can hook up to a NAD214 or Muse 100 for example.
 
 
 
 
 - CD player: I have some ideas here as being familiar with home audio I have a good idea of where to start. Thinking Rega, used NAIM or Bryston, Cambridge, etc.
 - For the future state with a laptop, I suppose that's when I need a separate DAC. Given I may go this way is there a good unit that combines both the DAC and amp into one box?
 - Most of my music is on my iPhone 6. It appears that there is no great way to incorporate an iPhone into a system like this. I'm okay with going direct into it with a pair of headphones I guess but wish there was an easy solution to boost this for better SQ in this system I am looking to put together. I guess I could just use my Apple TV as a wireless server?

 
First off, I see one problem here: you have too many sources and most headphone amps have only one input, particularly those at a lower price point. You could use a DAC so all inputs into it will be digital and therefore the same hardware decodes whatever audio you run  through it, but then it brings up another problem with having too many sources - why use the CDP and the iPhone if you're open to using a laptop anyway? A CDP will just cost money and potentially costly to maintain when the transport develops an issue (I mean, you can buy a decent $500 CDP, but you never know when you need a lens replacement, and sending it in for repairs will just add to the cost) if not kick the bucket entirely.

That was the reason why I started using tablets and smartphones as music servers via USB into a DAC. I wanted something more focused and took up less space than a laptop, and didn't have any delays to boot up as they are perpetually running, so actually there is a way to use your iPhone6. 
 
Samsung Galaxy S3+sync dock and On-The-Go USB cable into Meier Cantate.2 USB input

 
iPad2 on sync dock and Camera Connection Kit USB adapter into Cantate.2 USB input

 
iPhone6, CCK-USB, D-Zero MkII

 
 
The thing is though another reason why I use these mobile devices as such is because I already had them or need them for other purposes (and in the case of the phone, subsidized by the carrier), on top of the reasons cited above over my laptop or my desktop gaming rig (this one being in another room on top of all that). In your case, since you're willing to spend on a CDP anyway, then why not just use a music server? if you still have discs you can just rip them to lossless on whatever computer you manage your iPhone's music with.
 
There are two ways to set this up. The first one is a slightly more complex process as it will use a miniPC - if you're using Androids these are relatively cheap, like a Raspberry Pi if one really wants the absolute cheapest, but since you're on an iPhone it usually means (used) MacMini, so I'm not sure how much money you'd have to spend there. Either way, these small computers will be set up as a headless audio server (just Google it to find tutorials), where after the initial set-up your compatible smartphone will now function as its touchscreen interface, so no need to use a mouse or display panel once you get it right. You can then use whatever player app you want and then stream the audio to a DAC via USB or SPDIF (whichever is applicable).
 
The alternative is to use a real networked audio server - they have either WiFi or wired LAN (or both), and through the home network router can do two things. First is access a network attached storage drive. Second is to allow a smartphone to act as its interface using the manufacturer's control app (since you'll have to navigate thousands of songs). Some have LAN or WiFi but have a USB input for the HDD, so basically instead of spending on an NAS any USB HDD can work but you still need to set-up the network connection so the smartphone/tablet can give you a more convenient interface over a two-line display and a few buttons on the server.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
May 23, 2015 at 2:38 PM Post #3 of 4

goaliechris

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First off, thank you for such a helpful and detailed post - very informative.
 
I like the points you made. I've always been a sucker for the idea of a CDP but never have bought a good one. Was probably just thinking it was a good time to buy one. Still may be.
 
But I agree, the music server idea is probably the best solution. All my music is on my laptop either burned there or purchased via iTunes (I also have Spotify premium). The issue with accessing the Macbook is that it's a family laptop - wife uses it and when she switches over users, the music will stop. Also the same issue when I let the Mac go into sleep mode (easily fixable). So, will have to think about this one. I have an older Macbook Pro that I am not sure works but may try to fix. It would be perfect for this.
 
And the course is now much clearer in terms of what I need for a power amp. I think for the money the Schitt Asgard 2 looks like a good start? 
 
Depending on the source, a DAC may also be in the future. Just need to think of where I am going to store the music and what kind of device I will access it.
 
Again, thanks! I can't post much right now as I have to go to a game but will probably have more questions later.
 
May 23, 2015 at 11:43 PM Post #4 of 4

ProtegeManiac

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Originally Posted by goaliechris /img/forum/go_quote.gif
 
But I agree, the music server idea is probably the best solution. All my music is on my laptop either burned there or purchased via iTunes (I also have Spotify premium). The issue with accessing the Macbook is that it's a family laptop - wife uses it and when she switches over users, the music will stop. Also the same issue when I let the Mac go into sleep mode (easily fixable). So, will have to think about this one. I have an older Macbook Pro that I am not sure works but may try to fix. It would be perfect for this.

 
Just to clarify, were you thinking that you need the server to access the music on the MacBook? Because you don't - the whole point in a dedicated music server is that it will access a Network Attached Storage unit on its own - basically a 3.5in HDD enclosure that is hooked up to your network router. Western Digital has many of those, others (especially photogs who want to backup their work on several HDDs as they work) use custom servers like those from Drobo (my brother uses an Acer unit he got for a huge discount and everything he does on the computer is automatically backed up in there, like digitized billings and other documents, everything he does on MSOffice, photos and videos, etc). 
 
Other audio servers have a USB input for HDDs on top of (W)LAN, while  Olive and Cocktail Audio servers have a HDD mount inside the units (they're basically small computers with a decent DAC section).
 
 
 
 
I like the points you made. I've always been a sucker for the idea of a CDP but never have bought a good one. Was probably just thinking it was a good time to buy one. Still may be.

 
After all the CDPs that shat their transports on me I gave up and went for something that doesn't have any moving parts, and subsidized by the carrier also. I still buy CDs but when half the music I buy are FLAC digital downloads (thanks to Customs Agents here I would rather not deal with) and I would rip the CDs anyway, well, I have a 2.5in HDD with me that has all my music and another at home on top of what's in my computer and currently loaded into my SD card. I'd have to be extremely unlucky (like, my house burns down and I get mugged on the same day) or desperate (ie I burn everything and go make a new identity or something) to lose all that.
 
That said I almost bought a CDP several times since then. Like when a Cayin dealer allowed 0%, 6mos installment on the CD50T and at a discount (so I'll end up paying around $70 a month), or that time somebody dropped a Meridian for around $350 at a local forum, but commonsense got the better of me. Still, if I come across a cheap CDT23, I might go ahead and get it anyway.
 
 
 
Depending on the source, a DAC may also be in the future. Just need to think of where I am going to store the music and what kind of device I will access it.

 
If you'll use a server you can skip the DAC, most of these servers have good quality DAC chips and decent output stages. No need to really worry about the DACs. At most maybe the Schiit Modi2U (which has SPDIF inputs) or the Bifrost.
 
 
And the course is now much clearer in terms of what I need for a power amp. I think for the money the Schitt Asgard 2 looks like a good start? 

 
Yes but make sure you read the reviews - the Asgard is appreciated for being a full Class A amp at a very low price, but while there are barely any differences between good Class A (and Class A/B designs with a lot of A bias), there are enough differences in the tiny details that people usually are willing to pay a little bit more for. In this case some people don't like the minute detail harshness of the Asgard compared to, say, the slightly smoother Valhalla (which isn't known for being too stereotypically "tubey"). I personally prefer the Asgard though, but then again if you're not planning on using inefficient headphones - and as it is newer tech has headphones becoming more and more efficient anyway, while the Valhalla2 as claimed by Schiit doesn't have the same issues with low impedance headphones as the original, then another $100 might be something to look into.
 
That said, in some cases the minute differences and how they are perceived can be overblown (in some cases one amp may be set at a higher gain, and if it's the better amp then it's louder but doesn't have the distortion; or, it's at audible distortion while the other isn't), so while you need to read up also take them in with a grain of salt.
 
 

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