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Easiest way to play from hard drive without PC

JunkHippo

Member
Joined
Feb 8, 2021
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Hello,

I'm a long term lurker on ASR thanks to the wealth of knowledge on here. It's a great site! Now I'd like to get some direct input.

With the perpetual Covid lockdowns and winter, I figured this is the perfect opportunity to finally rip my collection of about 500 CDs to an external hard drive. CDs were so far my only digital source (I'm mostly a vinyl guy), aside from very rarely connecting a laptop to my Grace m920, which I use as DAC and preamp.
Now I'm looking for the easiest way to play back those FLAC files in the future, without having to use a PC.

Here's my requirements:
- Need only playback of locally stored files. Don't care for streaming services (of course no problem if the device offers it anyway)
- Playback is on my main listening system, no multi room stuff.
- No monthly fee for software, unless lifetime subscription for reasonable price.
- Easy to set up, low maintenance, high stability! I'm coming from CDs, they just work 99.99% of the time. This point is giving me the most doubts so far.
- Should be able to display the covers embedded in FLAC (standard feature I guess?)
- Digital output: coax or AES, possibly USB.
- Shouldn't cost crazy money like e.g. the higher end Auralic stuff. After all this thing should just play files and deliver the signal bit-perfect to the digital out.

Originally I was drawn to something like the Sony HAP-Z1, a unit with built-in hard drive and a display, that lets me scroll through the collection without using my phone if I feel like it. You might know the video from Techmoan about a similar model :) This particular niche seems to have died out though. Can't find anything like it.

An alternative would be a small device that I can hide in the rack and control via phone / iPad. Here's what I found. Glad to hear any feedback on these options or even some extra ones I overlooked:

- Auralic Aries Mini: Has the digital out, is small, and you can even put in a hard drive. Out of production, but you can get mildly used 2nd hand units. Conflicting reports about usability of the app and stability. Gotta admit I just like the thought of that internal hard drive.
- Bluesound Node 2i: Obviously very popular. Connecting a hard drive via USB seems to come with several caveats and some even report the drive gets very hot etc? I understand that NAS is the preferred way to go here but seems like bit of a hassle for what I'm trying to achieve here (playing back music files).
- Cambridge CXN V2: Seems to fare even worse than the Node with external drives via USB? Bit overkill in size and features, though if I could efficiently select music via the front controls that would add appeal for me.

... and that's it. I realize my requirements are a bit old-fashioned, but happy to hear thoughts / recommendations.

Cheers!
 

Katji

Major Contributor
Joined
Sep 26, 2017
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I would..try to use a tablet... Android or iPad, USB hard drive ok, but I don't know about connections to USB HD and audio output at the same time. Get a nice stand for it so you can see the display.

[PS:] I eventually thought I'd rather use a small laptop/netbook, like Huawei MatePro. Display is easier, no need to get a suitable stand thing, will be easily able to connect audio out and USB HD at the same time.
 
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