DIY Music Server

Member Carl F submitted a nice write-up concerning his process for setting up a home music server. Images haven't been transferred to this page yet, but for the most part they deal with a specific software package you may or may not use. Carl's original submission is attached below as a PDF for those interested.

My Music Server; How I Did It After several years and any number of presentations on computer based audio (i.e., music servers in my mind), I decided to build one. In doing this I had a great deal of guidance and encouragement from Luke McCready and Oliver Masciarotte, “OMas” inside the Hennepin County Library system. Thank you both a lot; any mistakes in this document are mine.

Two Computers

I wanted my server to be simple and robust (fool proof). I didn’t want to have to stream signals, run long cables, build a network, or whatever. I had this idea that I could build a music database on one PC and move that database to a smaller, obsolete, machine for music playback. I didn’t want iTunes, Apple, Media Players, and as little Microsoft as possible. Given that I already had two PCs, I used them. Here’s how it turned out…

I have two computers, both are Windows based; My CD burning machine is my office desktop, a Dell Inspiron 660; Intel i3 CPU, 8 GB RAM, I TB hard drive, and 64 bit Windows 7 Professional. I used the CD/DVD combo optical drive the machine came with, a Hitachi/LG model HL-DT-ST DVD+RW GHA2N. I have had no problems with it, nor did I change settings or replace components. I used it a lot, and strictly as is.

My playback machine is an eight year old Dell Inspiron 640m laptop; x86 Intel 1.6 GHz CPU, 2 GB Ram, 120 GB hard drive, Windows XP SP3 Professional, with four USB 2 ports. I reformatted and rebuilt this obsolete machine, reloading XP and installing only Norton 360 security, the Chrome browser, and foobar 2000 software as detailed below. Yes, Windows 7 might have made things easier but the machine won’t run it, and I’m cheap, so…

For music storage, currently I have 3 Western Digital My Passport Ultra 2 TB drives, model number WDBMWV0020BBK. These are great; they take their power from the USB cable; one (or three) less wall wart. One playback drive with two backups seems sufficient; we’ll see about that.

I formatted each to exFAT on the Windows 7 machine, which should allow them to be used with Mac–based machines. Luke and I guesstimated that each will hold up to about 3100 uncompressed albums. I bought mine for about $90 each on Amazon Prime, and they’re also available at Microcenter.

For a playback DAC, I have the Micromega MyDAC with an AntiCable Level 3.1 Reference Series USB Digital Interconnect. The MyDAC came from Amazon Prime and AntiCables are available via their http://www.anticables.com website. Since my playback laptop will live on the bottom shelf in a cabinet (rack) containing my stereo equipment, I purchased a wireless remote keyboard/touchpad to control it at a distance from Microcenter for around $30.

I also used a 6 foot analog RGB cable to plug the laptop into an LCD TV that’s in the same family room cabinet. This displays foobar and its album covers during playback, see configuration below, and is much easier than squinting at a laptop sitting on a shelf from across the room. About $15 from Microcenter –Ultimately, I used an old cable I already had.

Software

I use three primary software products, all available from the same website, https://www.dbpoweramp.com/.

I purchased dBpoweramp, currently $84 for five licenses, which includes PerfectTUNES which was easy to download. PerfectTUNES will de–duplicate tracks if you wish, crawl the Web to find album cover art, verify rip accuracy, and probably some other stuff. I didn’t find it too helpful but it was heavily discounted with dBpoweramp and I couldn’t resist. I also downloaded foobar 2000 for playback. It’s free but they beg for and deserve a donation. You’ll need Internet access and a browser for downloads, accuracy checking, and so on.

To get the MyDAC working, I had to download the .NET framework from Microsoft. Version 3.5 SP1 is available free at: http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=22 . This enables a Micromega driver to allow Windows PCs to output up to 24 bit/192kHz music to the MyDAC via USB. The Micromega driver is also free and available at: http://www.micromegahifi.com/en/products/my-range/mydac.

Also, my XP laptop could not see files on an exFAT formatted drive. To address this, I downloaded a Microsoft fix, http://www.microsoft.com/enus/download/details.aspx?id=19364 and the drive worked fine.

In all I spent about $900 on this project:

$84.00 for dBpoweramp, PerfectTUNES, and foobar 2000, for 5 machines.

$90.00 X 3 or $270.00 for 3 WD external 2T hard drives

$370.00 for MyDAC

$154.00 for an AntiCable USB Digital Interconnect

$30.00 for remote keyboard

Installing & Configuring

I installed dBpoweramp as provided, and set its encoding to WAV, a format with no lossless compression. Album (Output file) naming conventions were configured to be

artist \ year-of-album \ album title \ track #, artist, track name.

When defined inside dBpoweramp it looks like:

[IFVALUE]album_artist,[album_artist],[IFCOMP]Various_Artists[][IF!COMP][artist[][]\[ye ar] [album]\[track] [artist] – [title].

Looks messy but it’s a drag-and-drop interface and you can certainly name yours differently. The setup will provide sample file names given to an album. Here’s an extreme example:

Madonna\2003 Immaculate\05 Madonna – Holiday

So, all your Madonna albums will be under a single Folder:

/Music/Madonna

And no, I don’t have any Madonna in my collection. One other nice thing this naming configuration offers is that compilation discs are all put into a Folder named Various Artists. Each track will then be named with the correct artist(s).

I moved some albums during and after ripping; creating and then dragging to new folders named Various Blues Artists, Various Jazz Artists, Soundtracks, Christmas, and so on. Foobar 2000 will find all your albums for playback.

Under its Options menu item, I always set ripping method to Burst. If you get an inaccurate rip, see below, you can re-rip that track as Secure. If that doesn’t work, you can then try Defective by Design. I don’t think I ever had Defective by Design give an accurate rip if Secure did not, but then it might help. 99+% of tracks will rip accurately and much faster in Burst. I found that Secure will deal with most of the rest.

Sadly, some CDs had a scratch or gouge bad enough that it just won’t rip accurately. On two occasions I had a damaged CD that was bad enough to lock up dBpoweramp, which they claim can’t happen. I once had to power off the PC and pry open the CD drawer to remove the CD. Then I re-ripped the CD, skipping that track. I think it was a CD drive conflict of some sort that confused Windows. But this can happen…

Also under its Options menu item are some AccurateRip selections. These control how it verifies that a rip is accurate. I checked all three of these then never touched them. dBpoweramp will not, I believe, download replacement music but does check four different online databases for accuracy during a rip. You can change these locations if you have other sources in mind; I did not modify those or anything else in Options. I made no changes to any other parameters; fade-ins, offsets, replay gains, etc., and so far have used none of the hundreds of mods that are available on the Web.

Ripping Music CDs

Most of my music is from my CD collection, now largely for sale, ha ha! Any MPEG downloads or promo stuff on my C: drive was ripped/imported to the above named file structure also, with no problems. I can’t speak to SACD or other advanced formats too much. I have several SACDs and the Red Book layer ripped fine. At least it told me it did, and they do play and sound great.

It’s really easy to rip with this facility. It rips much faster than normal playback and has a little meter telling how fast it’s going. While speeds will vary, it routinely goes up to 30x or so the actual music. This allows a 50 minute CD, for example, to rip in 1 – 2 minutes. I keep a lens cleaning microfiber cloth and eyeglasses spray around when ripping and wipe down every CD prior to loading. If nothing else, all my CDs got cleaned.

Amazingly, dBpoweramp imbeds track and album information inside the WAV file’s ID3 chunk. All album cover art is put into the album Folder and named folder.jpg. Foobar 2000 will pick that up and display the album cover during playback…Neat!

I am not aware of any size limitations for dBpoweramp. I have over 2700 CDs loaded with no problem. dBpoweramp maintains a good forum and FAQs, inside https://www.dbpoweramp.com/, where you can find answers to most problems both advanced and lame. They’re good about fielding questions, too. Don’t ask why I used this, a lot.

While you can change the names it will be assigning to albums and tracks that are based on the naming conventions defined, dBpoweramp gets its information from each CD’s metadata and these can be misleading or quite verbose. I rarely renamed anything and usually went with what dBpoweramp found on the Web. It’s possible for some classical pieces to have really long track names. These, when combined with the album title, can surpass the Windows 260 character path naming limit. dBpoweramp will stop and point this out to you if and when it finds one, and then you’ll have to shorten it inside dBpoweramp.

As an example, not all Beethoven symphonies will naturally slot under a Folder named Beethoven. I had stuff rip into Folders named Ludwig van Beethoven, Beethoven Symphonies, Symphonien, the conductor’s name, the orchestra name, et cetera., et cetera. I usually left these as is. I decided that if I ever get another disc in that series or orchestra, then the naming will be consistent. The compilation albums get pretty interesting sometimes if there are pieces from multiple composers or orchestras; the good news is that foobar 2000 will find it all for playback. Again, while I rarely changed album or track titles, I did move some to those folders I created.

Playing Back Music

I have foobar 2000 loaded on both my PCs and it works great. Again, no size limitations that I’ve found. You can configure it to point at one or more sources, such as your G:/music volume, and it will recursively scan for each album and track contained there.

You also configure it to output to the external DAC rather than the PC soundcard. On foobar’s Menu Bar, select File / Preferences / Playback / Output. or press cntl–P. For example:

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The red oval above highlights the Option being set, and the green oval the Device choice. If you have a USB DAC plugged into the PC and powered on, you’ll have a choice between output devices. The PC in this example didn’t, it only had its soundcard. For help. foobar has its forum within https://www.dbpoweramp.com/, and also has a FAQ link right under Help…Nice.

Playing Music

While you can select an individual track and play it, foobar likes Playlists. Basically you select a single song or entire album and Send to Current Playlist. That is what will begin playback. You can mix and match tracks and albums and even add other Playlists into a Playlist for playing and saving.

By right clicking on an album or track in the listing, you’ll see the options available:

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Usually, I just remove the playIist of whatever album has finished playing, and Send a different album to the Current Playlist. While one Playlist is playing, you can Add new tracks and albums to it or rearrange their playback order.

It’s pretty self-explanatory. As you can see, there are a number of other things you can modify here, as well. You can build and save any number of playlists, edit them, rename them, and so on. Very cool for parties.

I set foobar up to display the album covers; it is a very nice feature. On the foobar Menu Bar, select View / Layout / Quick setup:

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My current setup shows below, the biggest cover image when foobar is maximized with no cropping, along with listings, times, info, and a very cool spectrum viewer at the bottom.

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Notice how foobar lists every available album by artist, album date, and title on the left, with album and track details on the right. Magically, this info seems to all be in the WAV files. And no Madonna.

Lessons Learned (so far)

Life with this software can get pretty technical if you let it. I try not to.

1. dBpoweramp: Clean every CD! It can make a huge difference in ripping speed, accuracy and error avoidance.

2. Some CD sets have a DVD; these will not rip via dBpoweramp. I have a couple of these and created a Folder under the artist’s name with the Year/Album Title and then “DVD”. For example: If there was a DVD included with the Beatles White Album, it would all look like, Beatles, The 1968 The Beatles, Disc 1 1968 The Beatles, Disc 2 1968 The Beatles, DVD  I created, and then copied the AUDIO and VIDEO folder contents into here. You can’t watch the video via foobar but other tools work fine.

3. foobar: If you start foobar and your external DAC is not connected and powered on, foobar will throw an error. Turn on the DAC and foobar will then be happy. NOTE: You may have to re-point foobar’s Output (as per the above) to the DAC.

4. foobar scans the input file location that you configure and builds an internal (In memory? Please see below) file list that it will then use for finding the albums. I use my ripping office PC to rip CDs to an external hard drive, and periodically swap that hard drive into my playback laptop with any new albums. I have managed to swap an external hard drive into a different USB port on the laptop, which messes everything up, so don’t move USB ports. Switching USB ports for things like the MyDAC don’t seem to matter; Windows finds it.

So, from foobar’s Menu Bar, within File / Preferences / Media Library, make sure that the Music folders path is pointed to your drive and folder that contain all the albums. Here’s an example from my ripping PC:

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The red oval above highlights the option being set, and the green oval the albums’ path. I named the highest level music folder on all my external hard drives to \Music. Then you can swap drives into the playback PC and not have to edit this parameter to the different path.

I strongly recommend that you name all your hard drives the same (ex: \Music). At one point I cleverly named one hard drive \Music and a backup drive, \Backup\Music…Fail.

When swapping hard drives on the playback PC, foobar couldn’t see the different Folder structure. Changing the path in Media Library (as above) wasn’t enough, nor was restarting foobar. I finally rebooted the PC after changing the Path to get it to read correctly. When you first use foobar and point it to a hard drive, it will catalog all that drive’s contents. I suspect that foobar may keep information in main memory since changing the Media Library path and even restarting foobar wasn’t enough, once I rebooted the machine it all worked fine. I’m still searching foobar’s Forum for definitive answers on this, but if you name all hard drives the same at the beginning, you can avoid my problems.

Should you use this software you’ll find an almost infinite number of mods, tweaks, and plugins available. They are beyond my meager knowledge; I haven’t tried many. But please try some of them and let the Society know how they work out.

5. Keep good notes of everything you modify. Again, don’t ask how I know this either. Best of luck, I hope you successfully build your music server, and enjoy!