Com­puter Based So­lu­tions

NOVO - - DIGITAL MUSIC PLAYER GUIDE -

Your com­puter it­self can serve as a DMP. In fact, it’s quite a com­mon so­lu­tion. Soft­ware media play­ers like VLC can play a broad range of file for­mats. And who could for­get iTunes! A sta­ple for many, iTunes al­lows ac­cess to Ap­ple’s vast li­brary of ti­tles. Wi­namp and Me­di­aMon­key are also pop­u­lar play­ers. A quick Google search can re­veal plenty of other op­tions for man­ag­ing and play­ing your mu­sic.

In or­der to get the mu­sic from your com­puter to your stereo you can use your sound card’s ana­logue out­put but you re­ally don’t want to. A USB DAC will be re­quired to max­i­mize your sound qual­ity. Re­mem­ber that your USB DAC will be the big­gest con­trib­u­tor to your DMP’s sound qual­ity so don’t skimp out here. As pointed out ear­lier, you should look for a DAC that sup­ports the Asyn­chro­nous USB Au­dio Class 2 stan­dard and can de­code all the file for­mats you’re in­ter­ested in us­ing, even DSD.

Un­for­tu­nately, us­ing your com­puter as a DMP can be some­what awk­ward. You need to be sit­ting in front of it and us­ing your key­board and mouse to con­trol it. I, for one, would much pre­fer the com­fort of my lis­ten­ing chair than an of­fice chair at a desk. Fur­ther­more, some com­put­ers can be noisy. Not some­thing you want in a crit­i­cal lis­ten­ing en­vi­ron­ment. Lap­tops are de­cid­edly smaller and more man­age­able than desk­tops but are still large and clunky com­pared to smart­phones or tablets. Con­se­quently, I would opt for the smart­phone or tablet op­tion. This way you can easily sit in your fa­vorite re­cliner right in the sweet spot.

Hard Drives and Back­ups

Re­gard­less of whether you choose a com­puter-based so­lu­tion or ded­i­cated hard­ware, I would urge you to be dili­gent with your mu­sic file back­ups. No­body wants to lose a col­lec­tion with thou­sands or even tens of thou­sands of ti­tles. Although mod­ern hard drives are far more re­li­able than early gen­er­a­tions, they still can, and do, fail. Au­to­mated so­lu­tions are great since you don’t need to re­mem­ber to per­form a man­ual backup all the time. NAD’s RAID 5 scheme comes from the com­puter world and can even be im­ple­mented in desk­top com­put­ers although you need a min­i­mum of three hard drives. Mir­ror­ing or RAID 1 is a sim­pler method where two drives are ex­actly du­pli­cated or mir­rored in real time. If one drive fails, an in­tact copy of its con­tent ex­ists on the other drive. These tech­niques can work very well if prop­erly im­ple­mented, but for most of us a sim­ple ex­ter­nal hard drive will work just fine.

If you’re se­ri­ous about mak­ing highly re­li­able back­ups of your mu­sic col­lec­tion, you should be aware that there are dif­fer­ent types and grades of hard drives avail­able. With tra­di­tional me­chan­i­cal hard drives, you can buy typ­i­cal desk­top grade units which are de­signed for light duty use. There are also en­ter­prise class drives which are de­signed for use in servers and data cen­ters. These are con­structed with higher qual­ity parts and are built to be pounded on 24 hours a day. The end re­sult is a far more re­li­able drive. One man­u­fac­turer spec­i­fies a 1.2 mil­lion hour Mean Time Be­tween Fail­ure (MTBF) rate for the­ses drives com­pared to an un­spec­i­fied MTBF rate for desk­top drives. Note that the ex­ter­nal USB hard drives of­fered by many man­u­fac­tur­ers al­most al­ways use desk­top grade hard drives. You can use an en­ter­prise class hard drive as an ex­ter­nal USB drive, but you’ll have to pur­chase the drive, and an ex­ter­nal en­clo­sure sep­a­rately and as­sem­ble it your­self. Be care­ful to prop­erly ground your­self be­fore han­dling the bare drive. This will pro­tect it from dam­ag­ing elec­tro­static dis­charges.

Solid State Drives (SSDs) are also an op­tion. These store in­for­ma­tion in non-volatile mem­ory chips rather than mag­netic plat­ters. The fact that these units do not have any mov­ing parts gives them a speed and re­li­a­bil­ity ad­van­tage over their me­chan­i­cal coun­ter­parts. How­ever, they’re not in­fal­li­ble ei­ther. One man­u­fac­turer specs its SSDs as hav­ing a 1.5 mil­lion hour MTBF rate. Ac­cord­ing to this num­ber, it’s a lit­tle more re­li­able still than the en­ter­prise class me­chan­i­cal drives. How­ever, it should be noted that man­u­fac­tures don’t al­ways rate MTBF the same way, so these num­bers can’t nec­es­sar­ily be com­pared. In the speed cat­e­gory, SSDs win hands down as they fre­quently boast read speeds in ex­cess of 500 MB/s and writ­ing speeds that aren’t too far be­hind. As for stor­age ca­pac­ity, the tried and true me­chan­i­cal drives have the un­de­ni­able ad­van­tage as they can store about 6 times more data than SSDs.

Con­clu­sion

By now, you should have gained a clearer pic­ture of what’s go­ing on in the world of Dig­i­tal Mu­sic Play­ers. It’s a bit of a mess but don’t let that dis­cour­age you. With a lit­tle bit of thought and con­sid­er­a­tion, you can build your­self a very ca­pa­ble sys­tem that will likely meet your needs for some time to come. Start by iden­ti­fy­ing ex­actly what it is you want to do and how you want to do it. Know­ing this will go a very long way to mak­ing the right pur­chase. Do some re­search and make sure the mod­els you’re look­ing at can play the file types you’re in­ter­ested in, have or don’t have a DAC, and can store your files safely and se­curely. Also make sure that the con­nec­tiv­ity and con­trol op­tions you seek are sup­ported. In the end, your new pur­chase will be well worth it and will keep your stereo hum­ming along for a good long time. Best of luck!

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