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Audiophile

Table of Guides (with quicklinks):

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Introduction to the Audiophile HTPC

This guide was written by my friend John Mingo who is a very knowledgeable audiophile and a pioneer in audiophile HTPC.

What is an Audiophile Computer? (Welcome to the future.)

At the turn of this century, the word “audiophile” generally referred to someone that owned a high‐quality music system. The typical system consisted of a pair of good speakers, a “receiver”, and a CD player. The system was called a Stereo system because it had only 2‐speakers. Graphically, the stereo system looked something like this:

In this traditional setup, the CD Player was responsible for spinning the disc and converting its digital file into analogue signals sent to the Receiver. The Receiver, in turn, was responsible for providing a volume control and amplifying the analogue sound, then sending it on its way to the two speakers. The Receiver might also access radio stations – that is, it typically included an AM/FM tuner among its functions. The true audiophile, however, would not think of playing music from his CD collection through something called a Receiver, because the audiophile believes that combining too many functions into a single machine only serves to lessen the quality of the individual jobs being performed by the machine. Thus, as the budget of the audiophile increases, he tends to add additional, and better, components to his system. Therefore, in 2000, a typical person who referred to himself as an audiophile might have a sound system that looked something like this:

In this type of system, the first machine simply “transports” the CD – causing it to rotate and to spit out an unaltered digital stream to the DAC. The DAC, in turn, makes sure that the audio information is properly “clocked” and converted to an analogue audio stream which is sent to the pre‐amp (a pre‐amp is, literally, nothing other than a volume control). Sometimes the DAC and pre‐amp are combined in a single component, and volume control is applied in the digital realm before the DAC does its job of converting the audio file to analogue form. The audiophile 2‐channel system can take many forms, including the use of TWO amplifiers, one dedicated to each of the two stereo channels.

Also, other machines, such as separate FM tuners or turntables could provide analogue input to the pre‐amp. But, as complicated as the 2‐channel audio world had become in 2000, the first decade of the new century brought absolutely revolutionary changes to this world. Two earthshaking trends have defined the current state of affairs:

First, more and more, the audiophile’s components reside within a multichannel setup that combines highest quality video with highest quality sound – the so‐called Home Theater (“HT”) system. In this system, a large, high quality TV monitor (50” to 100” or more) conveys gorgeous 1080p video (and, yes, even 3D video), while a special component known as a pre/pro (or “pre‐amp/processor”), acts as the gateway between the speakers and various “players” that feed this pre/pro with all sorts of audio and video material. These players include CD/SACD players, DVD and Blu‐ray players, High‐Definition satellite or cable content players (e.g., DirecTV), and even specialized computers known as Music or Media Servers.

As a result, the audiophile has become something of a videophile. His 2010 setup, which he refers to as his Home Theater room, might look something like the following:

But there has been a second element to the revolution ‐‐ an explosion in the type and quality of audio tracks that the entertainment industry now provides to the audiophile.

In 2012, the user can access new audio tracks that reside a) within ordinary CDs that have specially coded signals (HDCDs), b) within Super Audio CDs (“SACDs”), c) within Blu‐ray discs that have audio tracks whose quality rivals that of SACDs, d) within computer files that employ especially high quality material downloaded from HD audio web sites, and e) from various forms of streaming audio (and video) that involve using internet browser software to access, for example, a live performance.

The result of these two trends is that there has been an explosion in the possibilities for setting up a true audiophile system – one that can access and play all the possible forms of audio file – and play them with exceedingly high quality of sound. These multiple possibilities lead to many questions regarding how, if at all, video should be incorporated into the audiophile’s system. Should the audiophile insist on having two separate listening areas – one within his Home Theater setup and one within a dedicated 2‐channel setup? Or, put the other way, if the audiophile is going to have only a single room for listening and watching, how might this room be set‐up at least cost for the highest quality audio AND video?

This is where the new Audiophile Computers come in. They represent an attempt to a)reverse the explosion in “separate” components feeding the audiophile’s speakers while b) providing for access to some types of audio and video files that can be obtained ONLY through the use of a real, fully functional computer. In this new view of the world, the important distinction to be made is between two types of Components in the audiophile’s (and videophile’s) setup –

  • Those components that store and play every conceivable type of audio and video file, and serve ONLY to output these files as purely and perfectly as possible. Such perfect outputting is often termed “pure digital bit‐streaming of audio and video.”
  • Those components that convert these purely digital streams into actual streams of video seen on the video monitor or into actual streams of audio as heard on 2 or more speakers in the system.

The first of these two components is what many call Home Theater Personal Computers (“HTPCs”). If you happen to be a person more interested in the quality of the sound than the quality of the video, we would call the machine an Audiophile Computer; but if, like many home theater owners, you are more interested in the quality of the Video, then the machine might be called a Video Computer.

But here is a most important point to take away from this discussion – in terms of the Quality of the digital output, the very best Audiophile Computer happens also to be the very best Videophile Computer. The two can no longer be separated, as they have been by the manufacturers of “Music Servers” during the first decade of the new century.

This is because some of the very best quality audio out there now resides on Blu‐Ray discs and on a new generation of DVDs with greatly enhanced audio tracks. If you want to hear a concert as you would if you were sitting there, live, then you now have a choice to make. You can turn off the video monitor and listen to this as you would have 10 years ago in your 2‐channel room, or you can listen and watch, if you prefer. It is also your choice as to how, exactly, you listen – whether it be with 5.1 channels, 7.2 channels, or (as many audiophiles now do), within the highest quality 2‐channel systems that, given the new forms of digital audio files, will knock the socks off of what we listened to a decade ago.

Meanwhile, the second type of component – the ones that “translate” these amazing digital files into analogue form that reach your 2, or 6, or 9 speakers – have also undergone massive improvement. In 1999, my 2‐channel DAC was the best there was. It would translate the audio stream coming from the CD into an audio stream going to my pre‐amp. In the process, the DAC was receiving from the CD transport a file that had two types of Quality Measurements – a bit‐depth (of 16 bits) and a resampling frequency (of 44.1 khz). Back then, a CD with 44.1khz/16‐bits was termed a Redbook CD. The DAC could do nothing other than turn this particular quality of input into the best analogue sound going to the pre‐amp, the amps, and the 2 speakers.

But now, DACs do some amazing things. The most expensive of them are multi‐channel DACs that we call pre/pros. They receive from, say, a blu‐ray disc, an audio file whose quality is 48/24 or 96/24 – both the bit‐depth and the resampling frequency are WAY beyond those available a decade ago. The multi‐channel DAC might also receive (and convert to analogue), audio files that have bit depths of greater than 24 bits (e.g., 48/32 files) and an array of resampling frequencies between the old 44.1khz and the new highest 192khz.

But these DACS can only convert to analogue what comes to them in digital form – in other words, “garbage in garbage out.” And the vast majority of Home Theater users simply know very little about the garbage that goes into their DACs. For example, the basic MP3 file that resides on the listener’s iPod produces information at the rate of 192 kilobits per second (kps or bit‐rate). Compare this to the 1411 kps being produced by a WAV file. The size of the file is less than a sixth that of the uncompressed file residing within the CD. The quality of sound is, unfortunately, much less than the quality of the CD.

Or, the listener plays an expensive blu‐ray on an inexpensive blu‐ray player plugged into an all‐in‐one AV Receiver that costs $299 (while the speakers and TV monitor in the Home Theater cost many thousands of dollars). The AV Receiver does, for its modest price, too many jobs. It might do DAC work (converting audio and video files to analogue form); it might serve as the pre‐amp (i.e., the volume control); and it does serve as the amplifiers, one for each sound speaker.

The result might be, well, quite poor as far as either audio or video quality. Worse, the various players feeding into the AV Receiver, might themselves be improperly bitstreaming the digital video and audio files to the Receiver, not permitting the Receiver to do even a barely adequate job for the price paid.

This is where the new Audiophile Computer shines. It does some jobs that the typical home theater owner does not know even exist, while performing perfectly some jobs that other components do poorly.

1. The Audiophile Computer doesn’t simply “play” a CD or a DVD or a Blu‐ray disc. It first “rips” the disc, saving its content onto one or more massive hard drives. This succeeds in protecting the owner’s disc from obsolescence, from scratching it while playing it in the future. It also allows the user to separate out the process of accessing the audio/video digital file from the process of highestquality digital‐to‐analogue conversion. The ripping process can save only an audio track (from, say, a CD), or it can save both an audio and a video track from, say, a Blu‐ray disc.

2. Indeed, the Audiophile Computer achieves absolutely perfect digital bitstreaming to a 2‐channel or multi‐channel DAC – or it does not meet our definition of an Audiophile Computer. The DAC itself might be a separate component for the true audiophile, or it might be part of a very good (and relatively expensive) AV Receiver. This is strictly up to the tastes and income of the user. But no longer is there the concern that not all of the information that resides on the disc is being translated into the finest quality sound and video.

3. By separating out the perfect bit‐streaming of the audio and video tracks from the digital‐to‐analogue conversion process, and separating out these bit‐streams from the amplification process, the Audiophile Computer for the first time truly allows the user to “audition” other components in his system. There is only one, 100% effective, way of determining whether your DAC, your amplification system, or your speakers are the source of less‐than‐satisfactory sound (or whether your monitor is the source of less‐than‐satisfactory video) – and that is to demo each piece of equipment in your own home theater.

This can be done by visiting high quality AV dealerships or by purchasing components from highest integrity dealers (including some few internet sites) that will accept returns (within a specified period) ifyou are not satisfied with a piece of equipment.

4. Just as importantly, the Audiophile Computer allows you to pick and choose among your entire collection of CDs, DVDs, and Blu‐ray discs in a matter of seconds, via the computer interface. This beats, by a country mile, the oldfashioned way of doing things ‐‐ by standing in front of a large CD or DVD cabinet trying to figure out which disc you want to listen to now, then taking the disc out of its plastic jewel case and inserting it into some kind of player. The good Audiophile Computers allow you to do this by scanning down 1000’s of album or blu‐ray covers on the large home theater TV screen, or on a small Android or iPad device on your lap, or both. You will find that, within a matter of days of becoming an Audiophile Computer owner, you will be listening to CD music or watching movies or concerts about which you had completely forgotten. And your interest in audio and/or video content will be renewed. You will again become a dedicated listener (and watcher).

5. Finally, there are some sources of audio pleasure that cannot be accessed OTHER than by computer. That is, the very best quality and most engaging musical performances are NOT just to be found on CDs, SACDs, or DVDs and Blu‐ray discs. During the past decade some innovative companies – companies such as Reference Recordings, HD Tracks, and Mobile Fidelity – have taken old and new master tapes and reprocessed the sound into astoundingly high quality audio files. Some of these files are available on DVD‐R discs (essentially massively large WAV files)

WAV files are types of computer audio files that are “lossless” – exhibit the same quality as the underlying disc from which the file is copied. FLAC files are also lossless, as are Apple Lossless files. The FLAC files have become the audiophile’s standard way of saving audio, because the FLAC file is somewhat compressed (takes up less room on the hard drive) yet retains every bit of information from the CD disc. Note that SACD discs cannot yet be copied (ripped) with perfection and stability. But this ability is months away not years, and some of the best audio-playing software for computers are being improved to allow full and perfect playback of SACD audio files.

while others can be downloaded onto the computer via the internet at prices that are quite competitive against the still‐being‐produced 44.1khz/16‐bit CDs.

Also in its infancy are AV sources that can only be accessed by computer via live streaming. One such internet site is the Berlin Philharmonic Digital Music Hall, which allows a computer browser to access live performances as well as a large library of high‐quality AV files showing the Philharmonic in action. The audio is high‐definition 2‐channel sound at the moment, but this will certainly evolve into HD multi‐channel sound in the near future. And the video can be as good as the High‐Definition TV we see when watching live NFL games, depending on the speed of your internet connection. The price is astoundingly low (approximately $150 per year), for front row seats (for as many friends and family as you have) at one of the truly great orchestras in the world. The price of a single ticket for one person to only one performance would be more than this yearly cost (not counting the plane ticket to Berlin). Yes, the global village has its benefits in the quality of our culture as well as its price.

So, the new systems of the second decade of the century may look like the following. First, there is the new, computer‐driven Home Theater that looks like this:

The audiophile/videophile home theater computer can replace all of the earlier players and do each of their jobs better than they individually can do. It is also may be the user’s choice to separate out the jobs of the high quality Receiver into, for example, a separate Pre‐Pro and multichannel amplifier(s). But this new breed of Computer, it must be remembered, can also serve as the starting point for the Audiophile who wants to maintain the highest quality Stereo system! The two‐channel Audiophile’s setup will, in this decade, look something like the following:

This Audiophile Computer is rapidly replacing the old CD player, because of all the jobs the computer can do – the ripping of high quality audio discs and their long‐term preservation; the separation of the audio file from the clocking and DAC functions; the allowing for component‐by‐component demonstrations of the system’s quality; and the accessing of new sources of highest quality audio, whether from concerts recorded on new Blu‐ray discs, the newest large‐size downloadable audio files, or the use of an internet browser to hear, if not see, live concerts at the world’s major venues.

One thing missing from the graphical diagram above is the computer’s video monitor. In order to see what the computer is doing, or is capable of doing, such a monitor is a necessity. In some music‐centric computers, the monitor is very small, such as a 15” touchscreen device or smaller. In other systems, the monitor is quite large, or is accompanied by an iPad or Android device for scrolling through all the media on the computer. This is both a matter of taste for the user and a question of speed and efficiency. We have treated this issue separately in other reviews dealing with the differences across major brands and types of Audiophile Computer.

Finally, note that an important development during the first decade of the century is the coming of what amount to 2‐channel‐only pre/pros. Several of the major 2‐channel DAC manufacturers provide, within their machines, a digital volume control prior to passing the analogue audio stream to the stereo amplifier (or to the two mono‐amps that comprise the best of systems). These 2‐channel pre/pros demonstrate the inherent benefits of digital volume controls, rather than pre‐amplifiers that must provide volume control in the analogue domain. Again, taste and budget must combine with technological details to give the user the very best bang for his buck.

If you want to hear one of these new Audiophile Computers use these guides or visit www.assassinhtpc.com for more materials that explain what the fuss is all about and why certain brands and models dominate the competition. But, remember, there is nothing that can substitute for your ears (and your eyes). You have to hear it to believe.

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Configuring Windows for JRiver (Audiophile)

Configuring Windows 7

Make sure Win 7 and the audio controllers are configured properly.  We suggest the following:

Right click anywhere on the desktop and choose Graphics Properties.  There, under Advance you can change the aspect ratio of video to fit the computer’s output to your TV.

Select Custom Aspect Ratio and adjust the sliders to fully show your screen.

Under Control Panel/Sound, make sure that your DAC or pre/pro is connected to the best audio output for audio purposes only.  That is, you might connect the HDMI out on the HTPC to your TV/monitor or your pre/pro, or use the HDMI for video only and connect via the coax SPDIF BNC output on the HTPC for sending the audio signal to your DAC or pre/pro.  (You may need to set up your pre/pro separately to properly to receive the HDMI out for video while receiving the coax SPDIF for audio.)

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Configuring the JRiver Media Center Audio (Audiophile)

Step 1: Install JRiver Media Center

This is the most important part of the process when you have a high quality multi-channel or 2-channel DAC connected to your media server.  First, go to Tool/Options, then choose Audio (at the top of the list):

a)      Set Output mode to WASAPI-Event Style as shown.  This is the best-performing output mode when you are using a zero-latency integrated sound card as on the HTPC.  Your objective is to achieve the fastest and purest “bit-streaming” to the DAC. You do not want any Digital Signal Processing being done by the computer’s media software, or by its soundcard software, if you can avoid it.  As will be discussed below, sometimes DSP cannot be avoided, especially when you are listening to the latest types of high-definition audio files, such as those on multi-channel blu-ray discs.

b)      Use the default settings on Output Mode Settings for WASAPI (assuming you have set the default audio digital output to be the S/PDIF coaxial digital output from the Assassin AR-1 computer):

c)      Now, the most important part of choosing the audio setting is how you set the Digital Sound Processing under “DSP and output format….”  When you press this tab on the main audio window, the following screen pops-up:

In the screenshot above, the 2-channel DAC used in the example wants to use 24-bit bit depth and the JRiver software responds by choosing 24-bit when you set the bit depth at “Source bit depth”.  This is exactly how an ASIO sound card responds – by using the hardware’s native bit depth. (See upper right hand portion of screen shot).

The 2-channel DAC being used in this example also has a max resampling rate of 48khz, so either choose No resampling or choose resample All Sources, setting the sample rate at 48,000.  For newer 24/192 audio files and the most up-to-date external DACs, you might choose, for example, “resample All Sources” and choose a sample rate of 192,000.

Of course, for a 2-channel system with a 2-channel DAC, you would choose to use 2-channels (stereo) under the Channels option above.

It is important to realize that you can achieve the best audio bit-streaming without any DSP by not setting ANY of the inputs in the screen shot above – rather, simply uncheck the box at the top of the left hand column in the screen (uncheck “output format” after setting output mode and output mode settings in the previous two screens.  The very best 2-channel DACs will allow you to do this.  These DACs will also show the resampling rates as they are being fed to the DAC by JRiver software – in this way you are assured that you are getting pure bit-streaming without any change in resampling frequency or bit depth from the original source material.

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Configuring Other Audio Options (Audiophile)

In the discussion above we cover the most basic parts of the audio option screen(s), but other things are important too.  Look at the following changes to the main Audio screen:

In this screen shot, the user has chosen to play audio files from RAM rather than from a hard disk (4th line down under Settings).  This eliminates any hard drive anomalies that might cause wow and flutter, and also it eliminates any sound associated with the hard drive spinning while the music is playing.  Assassin Audiophile HTPCs are built to minimize such hard drive sound in case the user(s) forget to maintain this method of playback (i.e., if the box becomes accidentally unchecked).

In this example we also have chosen to leave unchecked the second box down under Track Change.  If you check this box, or the one following it, audio tracks will play immediately upon the end of the previous track, so that silent passages in the music will be lost.  Moreover, these choices are just one more example of computer processing that you do NOT want as your music flows into your DAC.

One of the most important things to remember as you are configuring MC16 is that signal processing must be avoided in the computer so long as you are confident in your other hardware doing the digital-to-analogue conversion, pre-amplification, amplification, etc.  This means that, within the “DSP Studio” options window of MC16 (screen shot below), you should ONLY make choices under Output Format (and, depending on your DAC, you might completely uncheck the Output Format box).  All of the other boxes on the left-hand side of the main audio DSP screen should remain unchecked, as below:

Under DSP Studio, you should generally not check anything on the left hand side of the screen; but you might make an exception for Headphones if you do not listen to these out of your pre-amp or pre/pro but instead must listen to them out of your computer.  One thing an audiophile will NOT want to use is Volume Leveling, which affects the digital-out volume level.  The idea behind this option is that, when you go from a rock album to, say, a classical album, volumes will not need to be changed on your system’s pre-amp.  Yet, audiophiles are quite used to adjusting volume on their pre-amp’s remote control.  The best quality sound will come from having TWO remote controls – the pre-amp’s remote control and an Android device running JRiver’s Gizmo application (for choosing which albums to play and for pausing or stopping a track).

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Configuring JRiver for Surround Sound (Audiophile)

In this application of  JRiver you normally would set differing audio choices than those used in a 2-channel listening room.

a)  Uncheck the box calling for playing a file from memory instead of the hard drive.  In the case of a movie, for example, the ripped blu-ray file may be 6Gb, not 6Mbs – which is too big to load all of it into memory for playback.

b)  Under DSP Studio, choose 5.1 or 7.1 channels or whatever corresponds to how your system is set-up.  Better yet, allow the source material to determine both the number of channels and the bit depth within JRiver:

In this screenshot, we have set bit depth as the “Source bit depth,” and Channels as the “Source number of channels.”  No resampling is chosen because of our confidence in the quality of the ripped DVD or Blu-Ray file (e.g., in the form of an mkv file).  Further, choosing resampling rates might prove counter-productive given the wide variety of audio track types and formats on blu-ray discs.  In our experience, the settings in the screenshot above handle almost all audio problems associated with ripped blu-ray files.

For example, if you use a pre/pro within your surround sound system (a component that has DACs associated with each of the multi-channel inputs and, as well, does volume control), the hardware may specify a bit depth.  The Marantz AV7005 pre/pro used in developing this manual has 24-bit resolution on each channel and so, the JRiver software sets the bit depth at 24-bit.

Similarly, some classical music DVDs have only a 2-channel audio stream.  By using the source number of channels, we can allow the pre/pro to play either in stereo or in one of the neural models that converts 2-channel streaming artificially into multi-channel sound.

Don’t be afraid to experiment in a multi-channel system.  For example, the JRiver DSP Studio allows for artificial surround sound processing of a 2-channel track just as do many pre/pros or receivers.  You might prefer one component’s software method over another.

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Ripping Audio CDs and Bluray Discs (Audiophile)

A main feature of the JRiver software is that it entails a very powerful Library function for all audio or audio/video files.  The software continually updates information regarding the copied disc, including cover art and other information.  When playing an audio file in Theater View, JRiver allows you to choose Playing Now” (under which is “List”).  This is a delightful mode that shows the album cover art and the list of tracks, AND shows photographs of the artists, often dozens of photographs in rotation.

When using JRiver in a home theater room, these photographs will show up on the system’s large TV screen.  When using JRiver in a smaller, 2-channel set-up, the photographs will show up on the smaller monitor you use mainly for setting-up your audiophile HTPC and for tweaking software.  For people with less than perfect eyesight, it helps to have a larger TV/monitor in a 2-channel set-up.

Note also that you may want to listen to concert blu-ray files on your 2-channel system – for this kind of experience a larger TV can be quite useful and be an entirely new experience to the 2 channel stereotype.

When using JRiver to rip discs, whether audio or blu-ray, you should pay attention to the following:

Ripping audio CDs.  First, know that SACD ripping is not yet mature enough to allow playback resulting in stable operation at high quality.  Furthermore, we have conducted many listening sessions with high-end systems.  Our view is that, for almost all rock and country music, SACD does not provide any benefit whatsoever over CD recording.  Listening with a high-end DAC will sound very much the same as listening with a high-end SACD player.  This may be why new-issue rock/country albums in SACD have all but disappeared.

The same thing applies to classical music or jazz in which the ensemble is small (e.g., a quartet or trio of musicians) – the high-end DAC sounds as good as the high-end SACD player.

For classical music entailing a large orchestra, however, listening to a multi-channel SACD can be a thrilling experience.  So, for the time being, the audiophile will want to have a good SACD player in his multi-channel system along with a good multi-channel pre/pro.

When ripping audio CDs, the main objectives should be to make sure 1) that the album’s information is accurately transcribed to the JRiver Library, and 2) that the album’s cover art is recorded (to allow more productive use of the Theater View).  This information is usually referred to as the audio file’s “tags.”  Generally, any modern album (post-2000 or so), when it is being ripped, will have all of its info and cover art appear in the MC16 library (when the ripping is completed).  But older albums, especially older classical CDs, will present difficulties.

Ripping Made Easy 101

Using JRiver’s Standard View, go to Tools and choose Rip CD.  The program will prompt you to insert the disc into the optical drive of the HTPC.  You’ll then notice at once whether the information on the CD is fully being recognized by the JRiver Library function.  For example, on a particular classical CD from the late 1990’s, you’ll see the following screen:

No cover art has yet appeared.  Moreover, the Genre is “unknown”, the release date is unknown, and the Artist listing contains the names of the composers, not the name(s) of the artist(s) doing the playing.  You can change these inputs at any time, but it is best to do this editing at the point you are ripping the CD – because you have the CD jewel case in your hand and won’t have to go looking for it later in your collection.

In the screenshot above, the user realizes that Tracks 7 through 19 are by Rachmaninov, not Scriabin, and begins to make changes (highlight the box to be changed, right click, choose Rename, then type in the correction).  You may also copy this new field information and use Paste for other boxes that require the same input.

But, again in the screenshot above, the user also realizes that he wants the artist’s name under Artist.  The user may also want the composer’s name at the beginning of each Track name.  And inserting the release date from the jewel case may help the software eventually find the cover art.  Make these changes while you are set up to rip, if at all possible.  If you are using a retailer’s batch ripping process on your CDs, I would advise giving the dealer only the non-classical part of your collection and ripping the rest yourself – unless the dealer has a large digital file collection of classical music and can use his ‘tags’ on your music albums.

Once you are comfortable with the information regarding the disc, click on the Rip button at the lower left part of the window:

Prior to starting the rip, you’ll notice an Options button in the Action Window (lower left hand part of the screen – see previous screenshot).  Clicking on this will bring up the portion of Tools/Options dealing with file location, encoder type (e.g. FLAC, WAV) etc.

You’ll want to check digital playback of audio CDs. Under Rip Complete Options you’ll get the following screen:

You might want to check “Play sound after ripping” to alert you to put in another CD for ripping.    You may also want to check “If no matches are found show CD submission dialogue” under Auto Rip options (We have not used this option since the results are not as accurate as desired when using older classical albums).  Note that album art, if unavailable over the internet, can always be scanned from the material in the jewel case.  For classical albums, some might require an album cover art be scanned.  Then go to the Standard View in Media Center, highlight the album in question, and select obtaining cover art not from the internet but from a computer file.

On the screen shot above go to the Encoding button on the panel on the left side:

You’ll want to choose FLAC encoding, because it is truly lossless while offering some compression relative to WAV files.  Under Encoder Settings, choose the highest quality encoding (8) as below:

Hit “OK” and you are basically done with audiophile options for ripping audio CDs.

a)      Ripping blu-ray discs.  JRiver does not perform this function, but it is important to realize that JRiver plays mkv files that are exact copies of blu-ray discs.  JRiver file creation is not treated here; go to my previous guides for details and software to make such files.

When ripping blu-ray discs using makemkv, you will be asked to specify a folder into which the ripped file is saved.  Generally, you will name this folder with the name of the blu-ray materials – i.e., “Avatar” or “Celine Dion in Las Vegas.”  The software will then rip the disc to the specified folder. It is important to give the resulting mkv file a name associated with the blu-ray movie or concert (rather than the usual Title01 name given by the makemkv software).  This is because some Views in JRiver use the file name for the blu-ray file rather than the folder name.  If you have a large collection of mkv files, this specific file naming process also helps to preserve the identity of a file if it happens to be misplaced, at some point in time, under an incorrect folder name.

As you did with your FLAC files, you need to tell JRiver where it can find your mkv files.  Go to Tools/Import at the top of the Standard View window:

Select “import a single folder” then use the Browse function to choose the folder.  You can ask JRiver to import an entire movie folder with subfolders or just a single folder containing a single mkv (or FLAC) file.  You will already have used the Tools/Options process to set up file locations for your audio versus video files.

By the way, it is safer to never use the Auto-import function under Tools/Import.  This is because JRiver might import into its Library function a back-up copy of the audio or video file (which resides on, say, an external hard drive).  Be sure you have NOT checked the Auto-Import function under Media Import before you do any loading of audio or video files onto the hard drive(s) of your HTPC.

Finally, note that the makemkv software must continually be updated (as often as a couple of times a month) in order to allow the software to defeat encryption codes on the blu-ray disc.  Assassin does not make this de-coding software and does not condone illegal copying of blu-ray discs.

Until court cases show the opposite, we are assuming that any blu-ray disc that you own in legal fashion may be copied only for your personal use (e.g., to protect the disc from deterioration or to play in another room of the house).

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Setting Up Multiple Zones (Audiophile)

Zones can be set up to simplify the setting of DSP options when playing audio files with varying characteristics (such as when shifting from a CD file to a blu-ray multi-channel file within a 2-channel audio system.  This “ease of use” function for Zones differs from the normal use of Zones to relay music from the HTPC/server to another room in the house, or, over the internet, to a mobile platform.  We treat the second of these topics in a separate section below — “Multi-room listening and viewing”.

The setting up of alternative “Zones” can have various uses within both 2-channel audio systems and multi-channel systems.  Here are some of them, and we think the use of these Zones is a major reason why the JRiver/HTPC combination is so flexible for the true audiophile.

Using Zones in a Stereo set up:

a) In order to change DSP settings.  In 2-channel setups the main use of the Zones is to permit one-touch selection of alternative DSP treatment of various kinds of audio files.  That is, Zone 1 can be set up only for 2-channel audio involving certain resampling rates.  On our own demonstration models, for example, we like to use the S/PDIF coaxial digital output from the integrated sound card in the Intel iCore processors.  These integrated cards involve zero latency compared with PCIe sound cards that we might install for certain customers or for certain purposes.  The drivers we use for the integrated cards, however, differ depending on whether the coaxial digital output is being sent via HDMI to a multi-channel DAC or via the coaxial BNC jack to a high-end 2-channel DAC.  In the former case, the HDMI output sends out ALL resampling frequencies without any DSP and with perfect bit-streaming.  The coax-BNC digital S/PDIF jack, however, has a driver that requires down-sampling for one particular resampling frequency (176.4khz) while perfectly bit-streaming without DSP all the other frequencies up to and including 192khz.  If you want the zero latency benefit of the integrated sound card, you might set up Zone 1 as using the integrated card digital output device, without any DSP whatsoever.  See screenshot immediately below:

Then, Zone 2 might be set up to employ the S/PDIF coaxial output jack using the integrated card, but with down-sampling (converting via DSP the 176.4khz resampling rate to 96.0khz).  This saves lots of time when you go from, say, playing a 96/24 file to playing a 176.4/24 file because you no longer need to change all the options in DSP under Audio in Options every time you switch files.  All you do is make sure the audio file using Zone 1 characteristics is stopped, then you click the next desired Zone number and begin to play the next desired file.  See the next screenshot.

In order to create a Zone, use Standard View, not Theater View.  Go to Player, Zones, Add Zone in the top menu.  If Zone 1 is going to be the current options, simply give a title to the Zone and you are done.  Then, create a new Zone 2 and give it a title.  Then, when that new Zone is highlighted make all your changes under Tools/Options/Audio, etc.  Remember, you must be playing in a Zone in order to make changes to the Zone.  You must stop any file from playing in a Zone (“Stop”) before you can switch to another Zone.

Now, suppose the user has a substantial library of blu-ray concerts he would like to listen to on his high-end 2-channel system.  The blu-ray audio file typically would be in 5.1 (or higher) multi-channel format.  So, to play the audio file over his 2-channel system, the user must use DSP to “down-mix” the 6 (or more) channels into 2-channels (stereo).  The JRiver software is, we believe, the best software available at down-mixing.  However, if you conducted the down-mixing for one audio file, then immediately want to listen next to a regular 2-channel file, much time would have to be spent going to Options/Audio/Output Format to make the changes.  It is much faster to simply create a Zone 3 solely for playing multi-channel audio files on your 2-channel system.  One touch of the remote control (e.g., the Android device) and you have made the necessary DSP selection.   Again remember to have the current audio file completely stopped before hitting the button to change to another Zone.  See the next screenshot for the Options/Audio/DSP settings for a multi-channel Zone 3 within a 2-channel system:

b)  Using Zones in a multi-channel setup:  Suppose, for example, that you have built-up your multi-channel room over a period of years in a series of upgrades based on your original, very high-quality 2-channel speakers and amplifiers.  Now you’ve added center and surround channels and a powered sub, along with a good pre/pro.   You still might want to play 2-channel audio files over your 2 great stereo speakers but NOT via the multi-channel pre/pro.   This would be the case if your 2-channel DAC is better than the DACs in your pre/pro.

Again, you can use Zones for this purpose.  The JRiver software allows you not only to construct a zone with a particular set of DSP options but also with a different digital audio output than your other zones.  So, you can use one zone for hooking up your HDMI output from the media server to your multi-channel pre/pro, but then use a separate zone for hooking up your coax S/PDIF output from the media server to your 2-channel DAC.

If your two channel amp has multiple analogue inputs (e.g., RCA and XLR inputs), you simply set up your pre/pro to use, say, the coax analogue outputs to your 2-channel amp while having the 2-channel DAC use its XLR outputs to your 2-channel amp.  As soon as you switch zones in JRiver, the software selects both the DSP setting AND the output settings so that, for example, no digital sound will be going to the pre/pro but rather will be going to the 2-channel DAC.

The screen shot below shows how to use Options/Audio/Output Mode Settings when setting up the particular digital audio output terminal for your HDMI output (which must be “enabled” to allow output to the pre/pro instead of the coax output):

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Other JRiver Tips (Audiophile)

Theater View takes up the entire TV/monitor screen, therefore be very careful when setting up your HTPC so that the graphics utility positions the screen properly within your TV/monitor.  (See the Win7 tips on the first page of this manual) or view the Assassin HTPC manuals on this subject on www.assassinhtpcblog.com.

It helps to set up JRiver to start-up in Theater View (go to Tools/Options/Start-up) and to do so when the HTPC boots.  This way, for the seconds while Windows takes to start-up (around 15 seconds only on an Assassin HTPC), you can be turning on the other components of your system.

However, when shutting down your HTPC when in Theater View, do not use EXIT from Theater View, then shut down Computer.  We’ve found that this sometimes results in a sloppy shut-down.  More certainty in the shut-down process is achieved by simply choosing Exit Theater View, then shutting down JRiver while in Standard View, and then shutting down your HTPC using the standard Windows shut down button.  It takes a couple more clicks of your wireless mouse that you keep by your listening position, but might save you some headache down the road.

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Multi-Room Listening and Viewing with “Satellite” Computers (Audiophile)

Suppose you want to play extremely high quality music (and/or video) in another room, utilizing a separate set of speakers and DACs, preamps, and amps.  The very best way to do this is to set up a second music server (usually a small passive one with no optical drive or storage drives) in the second room.  Then, the best quality sound will arrive at this 2nd PC by using JRiver Library Server functions rather than by using Windows DLNA settings.

First, set up your main JRiver computer by going to Media Network under the Standard View – Tools/Options/Media Network.  You will want to engage Library Server – the third line down within Media Network, by check-marking the box and then assigning a name and password to your main computer.  You can choose something like Audiophile for the name and a simple password.  Note that once you do this, your Android tablet will also have to incorporate this name and password when it is next logging into your main server computer.  You’ll also notice that this name and password allows control of your main server from over the internet (depending on what’s checked next).  Even though web-based control of your server may not be your desire, you will find that setting up this name and password will improve your Android connection (even though you are only using the Android within your household wi-fi network).

Next, go to Advanced to choose DLNA server commands.  You’ll want to allow a client server in another room to share your main server’s library or libraries, but you probably won’t want to allow the client PC in another room to control your main server’s operations.  So you’ll set the Advanced setting something like the following for your main PC:

Notice on this capture shot that the user allows another DLNA device to share the main server’s media, but leaves the next two choices unchecked.  You probably don’t want someone in another room messing with the settings on your main server.

Then, on this same window on your main server, go down to “Client options”.  You’ll probably want to leave unchecked the first 3 items – thereby always having the client PC in another room use the main server’s library.  We’ll describe below how this is done on the client machine.  Notice too that the user wants the client machine to be able to play the main server’s audio files in their native format with no encoding or compression.  See the two boxes under Audio Conversion on this screen.

Next, set-up the client PC.  It will have a copy of JRiver Media Center installed on it.  Under the JRiver licensing procedures you may use the same installation/registration key you used on the main PC for this client computer.  Remember to save somewhere your registration key on your main machine (a 30-item alpha/numeric key).  Then, download the JRiver software from their main website, install it on the client machine, and enter the registration key for the client machine’s JRiver.

Then, using the Standard View, go through the set-up process for the client machine just the way you did for the main server – setting audio options, etc., to match the components in the client’s audio system.  For example, you might have an integrated DAC/pre-amp/amp in your client room (i.e., an AV receiver).  You may be connecting the client PC to this receiver via a coax SPDIF output, an optical SPDIF output, or via HDMI.  Again, remember that, if you have choices, the coax SPDIF output will produce the best sound, and can be used for audio while the HDMI output is used for video.

Then, when the client machine is set up for audio, go to Tools/Options/Media Network and set this up on the client machine the same way you’ve done in the main server.  The final screen shots should look like this:

You will get an Access Key for your client’s copy of JRiver Media Center that differs from the one on your main media server, but everything else can be set up exactly the same.  That is, you will enable the third line down in the screen above and even use the same name and password for that 3rd line as you did for your main machine.  If you are using another Android device as a remote control in the client room, you will set up that Android exactly like the Android being used to run the main server.  Again, the first time the 2nd Android device uses Gizmo, you will be required to enter the username and password as you did for the main server.  You already will have set up the Android device by using the new Access Key generated by the software for the client copy of JRiver Media Center.  See the manual for setting up Gizmo – the wonderful Android based device for JRiver remote control.  We highly recommend that you use a dedicated tablet for JRiver – a device that you leave in your listening room – one for the main listening room and one for any client room.  We also recommend that you have a wireless mouse and keyboard for your client room, so that, using the Standard View (not Theater View) in the client room, you can look at all the myriad details pertaining to any audio album.  Remember, no matter how great the tablet control device is, none of these tablets can show you all the detail that can be seen in the Standard View as accessed by a mouse.

Below is the screen showing the Advanced setting for the client – only the Access Key will be different for the client machine.

Once you have the client machine set up for Audio, and Media Network, go once more to Standard View on the client machine and “load” the main server’s library (or libraries) of audio or audio-video files.  To do this simply go (in Standard View) to Playing Now at the left-hand top of the window.  JRiver on the client (assuming you have correctly connected to your household wifi system) will automatically start looking for libraries elsewhere on that network.

You should “see” the available Library on the main server (it will have a name such as “Audiophile-PC main library”.  Highlight with the mouse this library and then notice that in the right hand side of the Standard View window you’ll see the choice “Load Library” – the one you’ve highlighted.  If your household wifi has average speed it will take several minutes, not seconds, to load this library onto the client machine.  Remember, you are not literally loading the thousands of audio files onto the hard drive of the client machine, only the locations (on the main server’s hard drives) of those audio files.  Still, this is much slower than when you “load a library” on the main server, because inter-room wifi does not approach the speeds of intra-machine transfers of information.

Suppose the JRiver software on the client machine does NOT recognize the main machine’s library.  You then have the option of going to “add a new library” under Playing Now in Standard View on the client machine.  When you click Add a Library, you’ll see a screen like the following:

You might choose Library Server and enter the 6-letter registration key for the main server:

You shouldn’t have to use this option, but household wi-fi set-ups are somewhat unstable.

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