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Help with amplifier dac player

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May 2, 2020
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#1
Hi All,

I'm new to the forum and, currently am looking for the best way to play music at home, and am finding myself overwhelmed with options. I found this site when looking at reviews, was impressed with the quality of the reviews, and thought I would give a shot asking for help / recommendations. I feel like I've spent hours over the past few weeks, but haven't gotten very far.

Here are the details:

Format: I have lots of CDs and digital files, mostly FLAC files, though I just bought some DSD files (for CDs, for now, I would be plugging in a sony walkman dis cplayer to the amp, until I could figure out a decent CD player
Desired system: Would like some kind of amplifier / dac / that I can plug a USB hard drive into and actually be able to have some kind of menu to browse through the folders. My family would like it if it had bluetooth connectivity for streaming podcasts, audiobooks from their phones.
Music: Primarily listen to older music: anything from early music, baroque, classical, romantic, 20th century classical (I still like listening to rock, but much less frequently, and would prefer to optimize the system for older music)
Room: I have a large living room, but might eventually move the stereo up to a man-cave in the attic at some point
Budget for this bit tops off at around 1K (trying to put aside other money for speakers, etc.)

Not sure if what I am looking for is unrealistic. So far I haven't been able to find any any integrated amps that I could plug a hard drive into and clearly navigate folders, and playback - this seems to be the biggest hangup at the moment. Maybe I'm trying to find one device to do too many things? I'm figuring nearly any amp is going to allow me to plug in a CD player (and maybe, hopefully have bluetooth for the lo-fi stuff).

As of today I don't have a home audio system, only a sony walkman, plugged into a fiio with Sennheiser PXC550s.

All that said, any thoughts, directions, points of reading would be welcome. Thank you for taking the time.

Emerson
 
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Bob-23

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#2
Hi All,

I'm new to the forum and, currently am looking for the best way to play music at home, and am finding myself overwhelmed with options. I found this site when looking at reviews, was impressed with the quality of the reviews, and thought I would give a shot asking for help / recommendations. I feel like I've spent hours over the past few weeks, but haven't gotten very far.

Here are the details:

Format: I have lots of CDs and digital files, mostly FLAC files, though I just bought some DSD files (for CDs, for now, I would be plugging in a sony walkman dis cplayer to the amp, until I could figure out a decent CD player
Desired system: Would like some kind of amplifier / dac / that I can plug a USB hard drive into and actually be able to have some kind of menu to browse through the folders. My family would like it if it had bluetooth connectivity for streaming podcasts, audiobooks from their phones.
Music: Primarily listen to older music: anything from early music, baroque, classical, romantic, 20th century classical (I still like listening to rock, but much less frequently, and would prefer to optimize the system for older music)
Room: I have a large living room, but might eventually move the stereo up to a man-cave in the attic at some point
Budget for this bit tops off at around 1K (trying to put aside other money for speakers, etc.)

Not sure if what I am looking for is unrealistic. So far I haven't been able to find any any integrated amps that I could plug a hard drive into and clearly navigate folders, and playback - this seems to be the biggest hangup at the moment. Maybe I'm trying to find one device to do too many things? I'm figuring nearly any amp is going to allow me to plug in a CD player (and maybe, hopefully have bluetooth for the lo-fi stuff).

As of today I don't have a home audio system, only a sony walkman, plugged into a fiio with Sennheiser PXC550s.

All that said, any thoughts, directions, points of reading would be welcome. Thank you for taking the time.

Emerson
Hello,
I'd try to get a used Laptop, e.g., a Thinkpad T420 (this is the pro-line), the last one with the good keyboards, their Sandy Bridge CPU is completely sufficient, install a Linux, install QuodLibet as player, and PulseEffects for EQ (and many other functionalities, like Crossfeed for headphones). Having tried out several players, I found QuodLibet capable of handling large music file collections (other players didn't). T420's built-in dac may well be sufficient. I wouldn't expect too much from an an amp with USB-connectivity... Can't say anything to bluetooth, I don't use it.
 
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Webninja

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#3
Might look at some of the AVRs as I believe my old Denon and Marantz had the ability to play via a thumb drive. Some receivers also have Air Play if you are on iOS, which will cover the streaming podcasts.

The Denon X3600H, measures ok and is under $1k.
 

Jimbob54

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#4
Hi All,

I'm currently am looking for the best way to play music at home, and am finding myself overwhelmed with options. I found this site when looking at reviews, was impressed with the quality of the reviews, and thought I would give a shot asking for help / recommendations. Here are the

Format: I have lots of CDs and digital files, mostly FLAC files, though I just bought some DSD files (for CDs, for now, I would be plugging in a sony walkman dis cplayer to the amp, until I could figure out a decent CD player
Desired system: Would like some kind of amplifier / dac / that I can plug a USB hard drive into and actually be able to have some kind of menu to browse through the folders. My family would like it if it had bluetooth connectivity for streaming podcasts, audiobooks from their phones.
Music: Primarily listen to older music: anything from early music, baroque, classical, romantic, 20th century classical (I still like listening to rock, but much less frequently, and would prefer to optimize the system for older music)
Room: I have a large living room, but might eventually move the stereo up to a man-cave in the attic at some point
Budget for this bit tops off at around 1K (trying to put aside other money for speakers, etc.)

Not sure if what I am looking for is unrealistic. So far I haven't been able to find any any integrated amps that I could plug a hard drive into and clearly navigate folders, and playback - this seems to be the biggest hangup at the moment. Maybe I'm trying to find one device to do too many things? I'm figuring nearly any amp is going to allow me to plug in a CD player (and maybe, hopefully have bluetooth for the lo-fi stuff).

All that said, any thoughts, directions, points of reading would be welcome. Thank you for taking the time.

Emerson
Silly question. What are you currently using to play the CDs and FLAC files? Or you mean you are starting from scratch with just the CDs/ files?

If not, are the files on a PC of some sort and what are its outputs (digital, analog etc) ? If you get a DAC/ amp what will you be listening to it through if you are saving for speakers? TV?

How happy would you be buying/ building/ operating a small DIY PC/ Raspberry Pi?

Assume you have a smartphone (Android or iOS?) and a home wireless set up? Or would you be relying on it all being hard wired?

It may well be there are some easy wins based on your existing kit, but we need to know what you currently have.
 
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Willem

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#5
Where do you keep your digital files? I suppose on a computer or NAS. Do you stream from services like Tidal etc? That would be the most current technology in my view. Why stream from phones using Bluetooth if you can use them to stream from Tidal etc using something like the Chromecast Audio or Sonos? Try to think about all that first and learn about modern technogies. After that you can look for an amplifier.
 
OP
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Thread Starter #7
Silly question. What are you currently using to play the CDs and FLAC files? Or you mean you are starting from scratch with just the CDs/ files?

If not, are the files on a PC of some sort and what are its outputs (digital, analog etc) ? If you get a DAC/ amp what will you be listening to it through if you are saving for speakers? TV?

How happy would you be buying/ building/ operating a small DIY PC/ Raspberry Pi?

Assume you have a smartphone (Android or iOS?) and a home wireless set up? Or would you be relying on it all being hard wired?

It may well be there are some easy wins based on your existing kit, but we need to know what you currently have.
Hey Maxxevv - thanks for the response. For CDs, I currently have a sony walkman, plugged into a fiio with Sennheiser PXC550s. For the FLAC files I listen with a Western Digital plugged into my Dell Laptop (through the fiio / Sennheister headphones). I literally haven't had a home stereo in years, and am now suddenly impatient to get going again. I do have an LG OLED B9. It would be cool to set it up with the TV as well; however, I'm not absolute about needing to do that. I might be interested more in buying than building, probably for the fact that I likely wouldn't have the time to do enough research to figure out how to build it right, then to go out and do it. I do have an iOS (iPhone) and wireless. but it's more my wife that would like to use BTooth to stream podcasts, and stuff. For me, I like the idea of the stereo being wired: I could be wrong, but I have the impression that wired delivers higher quality (I laugh at thinking I'm going for super high quality, but only have around 1K for an amp budget, but so be it). So, the main pieces of kit that I need to integrate for now is the western digital hard drive for FLAC files, and eventually a CD play (for now I will probably connect my walkman to play CDs for now, until I get a bit more budget later in the year to buy a high quality CD player, etc.) I figure I'm building largely from the ground up. Thanks again for asking so many questions. It's getting me to think this through more thoroughly.
 
OP
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Thread Starter #8
Where do you keep your digital files? I suppose on a computer or NAS. Do you stream from services like Tidal etc? That would be the most current technology in my view. Why stream from phones using Bluetooth if you can use them to stream from Tidal etc using something like the Chromecast Audio or Sonos? Try to think about all that first and learn about modern technogies. After that you can look for an amplifier.
Good questions Willem. I tend to either use CDs, or have FLAC files on a hard drive. I do stream, but more when I go running, or for random, once-in-a-while whims. Some day I'll get there, I think. For now, I have the impression, which probably is wrong, and needs to be updated, that streaming and technologies like BTooth are fine but not full/high quality, which is why I'm focusing on CDs and FLAC. I'd be happy to be disabused of this idea!
 

Bob-23

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#9
Why not: Stay with your dell, stay wired, forget streaming, play your high quality flac files, forget the cd-player (I've got a decent one, but having transferred my cds to hd, years ago, I don't use it anymore), take your 1k or so, get a simple and good amp (there are good ones, today, for little money) & use 70% of the sum for decent boxes, they are what matters.
 

Willem

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#10
Yamaha rn803d. It has an excellent 2x100 watt traditional amplifier, a tuner if that appeals to you, multiple analogue and digital inputs, including usb to connect a computer and optical and coaxial digital inputs for best connection to a cd player and television audio, dlna connectivity for a nas hard drive. bluetooth, and room correction to deal with bad room response problems. The latter in particular will have great sonic benefits. Here in Europe it currently costs some 700 euros so nicely within your budget. It also has Apple Airplay and apps for many streaming services. Nothing is likely to tick more boxes and has a very solid power amplifier as well.
 
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OP
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Thread Starter #11
Thanks all for the posts. They are all very helpful. Much appreciated. Lots of good direction. Through the conversation I tripped up on a google search around a player that - functionally looked near to what I'd be looking for, but from reading the review on this site it's a stink bomb performance wise: Sony HAP S1 (though I prefer the idea of external storage, simply because I have a lot of flac files and 500GB or even 1TB seems restrictive). So if there are other things like this out there, that actually perform qualitatively, that might be the direction I could see moving in. The Cambridge Audio CXA81 seems like it might fit the bill, but not sure I can functionally browse music from USB on it without using a laptop too, and there are no scientific reviews on it like the ones found here.
 
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OP
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Thread Starter #12
Why not: Stay with your dell, stay wired, forget streaming, play your high quality flac files, forget the cd-player (I've got a decent one, but having transferred my cds to hd, years ago, I don't use it anymore), take your 1k or so, get a simple and good amp (there are good ones, today, for little money) & use 70% of the sum for decent boxes, they are what matters.
Hi Bob, I think just getting a good amp is likely the way to go now, though I was getting a bit hung up trying to take the laptop out of the picture, to just plug my USB Western Digital external drive directly into the amp, and using either an onboard amp display for browsing music and/or an app on a phone (so that I didn't have the laptop in the mix. Thanks for the advice!
 

Bob-23

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#13
I'd always prefer a modular system: you are more flexible, if you want to exchange one part of the chain, and you don't have to throw it all-in-one away, if, say, only the dac fails, and not the amp. And these AVR-monsters, who really needs them, and the more abundant functionality they have, the higher the failure rate, and forget about repairing them, they are not made for that. A simple good amp! And if your laptop's dac should really be insufficient, you could later on get a little dac, eg. in the price range of 100 - 150 Euro. But your dac could well be sufficient. With regard to amps: They all 'sound' the same, if the construction is not flawed. How to build a good amp is well kown. What you pay is mainly the name. You have to decide if you want mainly functionality or an ostentatious 'name' on a more or less pompous case - To me the 'inner values' count, but, of course, nothing against nice looking gear, but I adhere to 'form follows function'. Look at these apple products, which look great and 'modern' in the first 2 years, but then rapidly age. On the other side these old Thinkpads: timeless functionality. - And you don't have to pay 800 Euro for an amp! (The electronics inside an amp is incredibly cheap; the power supply, if it is a traditional linear one, may be the highest post. An example: Last christmas I built a 25 Watts hifi-amp for the kitchen: components cost 35 Euro, including a good power supply, 'sound' is great, btw.)
 

Willem

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#14
All in one has an important cost advantage because case and power supply are the most expensive parts and distribution cost is probably at least as much as manufacturing cost.
The Yamaha that I mentioned is largely based on the same old amplifier design as the 501/701/801. Those now also have digital inputs. The snag with the OP's question is that he also wanted inputs for a computer (i.e. usb) and NAS connectivity plus bluetooth or similar. By the time you include all that the choice is limited and particularly if you want to avoid bad quality av receivers (which this one is not). This is just an AB type stereo receiver with some extra connectivity (plus a tuner thrown in probably for almost free) for which you pay an extra 200 euro.
 
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Bob-23

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#15
All in one has an important cost advantage because case and power supply are the most expensive parts and distribution cost is probably at least as much as manufacturing cost.
The Yamaha that I mentioned is largely based on the same old amplifier design as the 501/701/801. Those now also have digital inputs. The snag with the OP's question is that he also wanted inputs for a computer (i.e. usb) and NAS connectivity plus bluetooth or similar. By the time you include all that the choice is limited and particularly if you want to avoid bad quality av receivers (which this one is not). This is just an AB type stereo receiver with some extra connectivity (plus a tuner thrown in probably for almost free) for which you pay an extra 200 euro.
Yes, if gdannolfo wants all these functionalities in one case (and if they do work as they are supposed to do), your recommendation may be appropriate.
 
OP
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Thread Starter #16
I'd always prefer a modular system: you are more flexible, if you want to exchange one part of the chain, and you don't have to throw it all-in-one away, if, say, only the dac fails, and not the amp. And these AVR-monsters, who really needs them, and the more abundant functionality they have, the higher the failure rate, and forget about repairing them, they are not made for that. A simple good amp! And if your laptop's dac should really be insufficient, you could later on get a little dac, eg. in the price range of 100 - 150 Euro. But your dac could well be sufficient. With regard to amps: They all 'sound' the same, if the construction is not flawed. How to build a good amp is well kown. What you pay is mainly the name. You have to decide if you want mainly functionality or an ostentatious 'name' on a more or less pompous case - To me the 'inner values' count, but, of course, nothing against nice looking gear, but I adhere to 'form follows function'. Look at these apple products, which look great and 'modern' in the first 2 years, but then rapidly age. On the other side these old Thinkpads: timeless functionality. - And you don't have to pay 800 Euro for an amp! (The electronics inside an amp is incredibly cheap; the power supply, if it is a traditional linear one, may be the highest post. An example: Last christmas I built a 25 Watts hifi-amp for the kitchen: components cost 35 Euro, including a good power supply, 'sound' is great, btw.)
Thank you Bob. This is getting interesting for me now. I certainly was thinking of buying not building, but you are the 2nd person to mention building. My 20 year old self would love to do this, and would have the time for it. My 40 year old self, with much less personal time would like to build as well, but I fear that: I could get something built, but it likely wouldn't match the quality of other people out there who do stuff for a living. For instance, thinking modularly (putting bluetooth on the back burner for now, I found an A class speaker amp by Schitt which seems to have a level of design sophistication that I'm not sure I could get to? They even seem to have custom made USBs on their DACs. But then when I look at their amps, I wonder if it wouldn't be better to go with a tube amp... It seems like selection is a bottomless pit. But back to the subject at hand: if you have any reference for building an amp from the ground up that you used and appreciate please send them along. I'll maybe do a little more googling in that area (and searching threads on this site). I'm not sure I'll go this route, but it might be worth another couple hours of research.
 
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