NEW!
22-4-2020

This article is about building the best possible digital audio streamer
Over the years I have learned, and after heaving a lot of experience with ROON, JRiver, Daphile I came to the conclusion that a NAS doesn't work for audio streaming.
Especially if you have a large music collection
A NAS is just too slow, this has many reasons.
I found the sollution in storing my music collection not on a NAS anymore, but just on the hard-disks that are directly attached in my PC.
This is called: "Direct Attached Storage" or "DAS"

Why is this better for audio streaming?

If you have a lot of large audio files then speed is important because you want to scoll quickly through your music collection.
Speed is also important because your DAC needs the audio data fast, audio streaming is a time-critical process if the DAC get's the data too late the sound quality will degrade...

There are more reasons why you would like to have fast storage, I will come back to this later in the article


The idea of creating a perfect backup scenario

I have tried all kind of audio streaming software in the past, the ones I like most are “ROON” and “JRiver Media Center”
Both programs have their good en bad points.
ROON works very well, and your music catologue really looks good when browsing your music collection with an Ipad.
But ROON has two (maybe more) major disadvantages.
First of al it needs a constant internet connection to function.

That means ROON checks periodical if your license is in order.
At first this doesn’t look like a problem, but for the long term it could be mean then when ROON as company stops in the future, that it could mean that it will be uncertain if your still will able to listen to your music collection….

Another issue is that ROON when compared with other audio streamer software doesn't has the best sound quality, others just sound a bit better in my opinion.
Therefore I decided to create a secondary audio streaming software solution,
that could work independently alongside my ROON configuration, so that I always have an alternative audio streaming solution

I also made sure that both systems have their own storage for my music collection.
So I have two identical storage solutions, which are constantly synchronized, so that they are always the same.
This way I have created a perfect backup solution.
If one of two systems gets a defective hard disk, I can always restore the music to its original state.

Some will think why put all this effort with creating two independent music storage collections when you also can place your music collection on one NAS that has a redundant Raid?


The problem of RAID on NAS

The problem of using RAID on one NAS is that you have created not only one but more “single point of failure vulnerabilities”

In theory if one hard-disk fails in your RAID set you should not have a problem
Your RAID set should solve this problem, because of it’s redundancy
But in practice the truth is something completely else ...

If a hard-disk breaks in a NAS with RAID you still should replace it, otherwise you will no longer have redundancy …

And this is precisely where the problem come in.
When you replace your broken hard-disk with a new one
your RAID set has to be “rebuild”

And this takes a very, very long time, even days or maybe weeks
And there are more things the NAS manufacturer didn’t told you….

- rebuilding a RAID set in not without risk
(it still can go wrong, still you can loose all your music!)

- The replacement parts for keeping your NAS alive during the years are limited.
NAS manufacturers are changing their models also frequently,
so it is questionable whether the part will be still available after all these years if your NAS breaks…

The manufacturer prefers to sell you a newer model NAS instead $$$ :-)
So as a user you are now in fact depending on only one company, so you are actually a victim of the so-called "Vendor lock-in"

But there is more ...
What many experienced IT specialists have known for a long time, is that "redundancy" is not that really important, often they say "redundancy is not a backup!"
By this they mean that a complete backup is many times more important than redundancy alone.

In addition, you should of course also check your backup regularly, because you must be sure that both backup copies of your music collection are 100% in order.

But there are even more disadvantages to a NAS, namely:

- NAS is slow, not only because the music is transported over Gigabit Ethernet, but also because the CPU is in a NAS does not have the same processing power as for example an Intel i7 processor in custom DIY storage server…

- Losing storage capacity
If you use RAID you lose a lot of available storage capacity of at least one (RAID 5) but sometimes even two hard disks! (RAID 6)
And that's a shame because you want to use your capacity for your ever-growing music collection

Partly because of the above disadvantages of a NAS, I wanted to create a modular storage solution where I have complete freedom:

- Free to choose which audio streaming software I want to use (JRiver, Daphile, ROON, etc)
- Free so that I am not dependent on any particular operating system (Windows, Linux, Mac, etc)
- Free so that I do not depend on any form of (software) RAID
- Free so that I do not depend on an intermediate hardware HBA or
RAID controllers.
- I would like to have a system that has “local storage” DAS (Direct Attached Storage)
so that it is much faster than NAS (Network Attached Storage)



Building the ultimate JRiver DAS Media Center

Because my first audio streaming system uses ROON, I wanted to use something different for my second system.
Daphile was my first choice, but Daphile has the disadvantage that it works with a web-based music browser, which in my case worked very slowly with my music collection.

That's why I chose
for this project "JRiver", which has a nice Ipad remote app called “JRemote”, which is also very fast.
You can effortlessly browse through your large music collection without any delay

JRiver also sounds very good, it sounds better than ROON in my opinion
and thanks to the recently released "RoPieeeXL" image, you can now (just like ROON) also use your “HiFiBerry DAC +” as an "endpoint" with JRiver!



The Best Way To Protect Your Music Collection


In the diagram above I try to make clear what my current audio streaming solution looks like now
The top diagram is my Synology NAS with ROON installed (this is also a DAS solution, only the CPU of the NAS is not nearly as powerful as the i7 processor in my JRiver DAS)
This is system A.

The bottom diagram is my new JRiver DAS streamer / server
This is system B.
So there are just as many hard drives in Synology NAS as in my JRiver DAS
Every hard disk in System A has an excact copy in System B.
So now I have a real backup of my entire music collection, this is much better then only redundancy
what one standard NAS provides...

The new idea:
No RAID anymore


I always thought that RAID was needed to join multiple harddisks together to create a large volume
were I could store my music collection.
if it works well when there is nothing wrong with it, but if it fails, then you loose everything
and that’s a risk that I’m not willing to take.
So I was looking for other sollutions to store my music collection
Then I read about using “software RAID” by using a HBA (Host Bus Adapter) instead of a hardware
RAID controller.
A big advantage of software RAID is that it can be hardware agnostic when it comes to migrating
drives and arrays.
So if the HBA adapter or computer gets broken, you can replace the disks to another computer
and your music collection is safe.
You don’t have the slow proces of rebuilding your RAID set anymore, and you don’t have the risk
that you loose all your data when if the rebuild process will fail.

But during serveral years using software RAID I found that also software RAID has also disadvantages,
because every form of RAID is an extra layer between the actual hardware (the disk) and your music
files.
More layers also means more chances that something could go wrong...
You can have software RAID on Linux and on Microsoft Windows operating systems.
To use software RAID you need some basic IT skills, and this is something not everybody has.
Also the performance of software RAID is not better than for example using a “single disk”
So forget "Raid" and "Software Raid" we are going to do it differently (better) and also much easier!

Then there is the problem of adding a aditional disk to your excisting RAID set.
I found out that adding a extra harddisk to my Synology SHR (= software RAID) volume took very long.
Serveral days I had to wait till my volume was extended with an extra harddisk.
The same problem exsist when one drive fails, then again you have to wait very long till you volume
has been repaired.
So I also was not happy with this solution, so what could I do?
What is the best way to store my data?
I found out the simplest solution was the correct one for me.

So I got rid of RAID, and formatted my harddisks in NTFS “single disks”
I used NTFS because both “ROON” and “JRiver” can read from these disks without any problems.
This setup gave me the following benefits:
Its easy and faster to implement (just format your harddisk to NTFS), it’s also gives better
performance, better protection and its easier to maintain and expand.
Because a single harddisk has no redundancy, I found out that a excact “copy” of the entire harddisk to another hard-disk located in another PC is
best way to protect my data.

So I ordered the same amount of harddisks that I had in my NAS (6 disks) and placed these disks in a
different PC.

The disks are directly connected to the motherboard SATA connectors, so no special HBA controller
anymore.
So no extra layer between the hardware and my music files.
I named the disks, “Disk 1” “Disk 2” “Disk 3” , etc.
and started copying all the music from my NAS to my PC with 6 SATA harddisks.
This took of course so time, but it resulted in that I created a complete backup of my music collection.
and this is much better then just trusting on redundancy.
Currently I have still on my NAS a SHR volume, but when something goes wrong in the future,
I will not take the effort of rebuilding my volume anymore with SHR.
then I will just format all my disks to NTFS “single disks” and copy the data from each disk to the other
corresponding disk.
One on one.
Data of “Disk 1” to “Disk 1”, data of “Disk 2” to “Disk 2”, etc.

It may seem like a cumbersome way of working, but in practice it is not too bad, you just manually copy all music files to two network shares, that's it.
Now I know for sure that I have a real backup of my entire music collection

By installing JRiver on this new build PC I have created a secondary independent audio streaming system
So when my ROON system fails I can switch in no time to my new JRiver DAS streamer!



Building Your Own JRiver DAS streamer


If you've never built a PC yourself before, don't let the thought put you off
Building a computer yourself (or rather just putting it together) is much easier than you would expect

There is a lot of information available on YouTube and on the internet about howto build your first PC.
Don't worry all computer parts are also standardized and fit together only in one way.

The advantage of building a PC yourself is also that it's a lot of fun!
You also learn a lot from it, and also now you are able to repair your PC yourself

What is important that you are willing to learn
and that you are precise, and imprtant is to read the manual carefully before you start building.
Building a PC yourself not only gives you a lot of self-satisfaction, you also save a lot of money, because a self-build PC is much cheaper (and better!) than a ready-made audio streamer that you can buy in the store

You are now also no longer dependening on companies for support
So no more high repair bills...

Because now you can maintain & repair your own PC and even upgrade it!


I have had good experiences with building computers myself, they are reliable, versatile, modular and also cheap.
It is also a lot of fun to do, and certainly it’s not difficult, just read carefully the motherboard manual first.
Therefore I can heartily recommend everybody to build a PC yourself!
You will not only learn a lot during the process, and you will also be able to repair your own creation.

I used a 5 bay computer case to build this DAS audio streamer
With an Intel i7 processor CPU and MSI motherboard (with good quality capacitors that last a very long time)
The hard-disks will be connected straight to the motherboard
I will not use any Host Bus Adapter (or RAID card) to connect the hard-disks to the motherboard.
Just standard SATA cables, that’s it.
Keep It Simple :-)

 
What is important if you are going to build an audio streamer are:
- Fast processor (Minimal Intel i7)
- Enough memory (16 Gb or more)
- Sufficient room for storage capacity (the computer
  cabinet should have space for five 5.25 inch bay's or more)
- The PC must be very quiet (if the server is also going to stand in the living room were you DAC is)


My Cooler Master had five 5.25 inch bay's and internal there is space for two hard-disks more
So in total I had space for 7 SATA hard-disks
That more then enough for me, I am using 6 TB WD Red hard-disks that gives me a total storage of 42 TB!

 

I used 5 “ICY DOCK” tray less brackets (Type: IB-168SK-B)
that are very
versatile, you don’t need a tray or plastic side strips, you just place your hard-disks in the holes, that’s it!

I used WD RED 6TB hard-disks because they are reliable and quiet.

 

I also can recommend to use a ICY DOCK “flexiDOCK MB521SP-B” for the operating system SSD
This way you can change easily and quickly your operating system, to give your computer a new purpose (if needed)


Installing the software

I prefere to install open source operating systems and applications on my computers, but in this case Windows 7 was a better choice.
The motherboard that I had was Windows 7 optimized, and also the license I had of JRiver was for the Windows operating system.
Activating Windows 7 (because it’s out of support) became an incredibly annoying affair, the automatic activation system via phone did not work, and the poorly speaking telephone employee did everything to stop me from activating my legal retail Windows 7 license...
But my perseverance was finally rewarded, my Windows 7 became activated!

Installing JRiver is pretty plain forward, then I add the hard-disks to the Library of JRiver.
I did it one by one, and not everything in one time.
Adding each 6 TB hard-disk took almost 2 hour, and I had five of them…

After the computer was installed and configured I made a backup with “RedoBackUp” program.
So that my Widows 7 image was secured.


 


My "HiFiBerry DAC+ XLR" with the new "RopieeeXL"

ROON works with "endpoints", which are small network devices that can be placed in any room where you want music
You can link a DAC to these "endpoints".
Some "endpoints" even have a DAC built in so you can connect directly to your amplifier
The HiFiBerry DAC + XLR is one such device
If you install "Ropieee" on this you get a Roon Certified network endpoint and DAC!

The device costs about 200 euros completely, which is certainly not much considering the sound quality.
What many people don't know is that this device also works with JRiver Media Center.

Yes, you read that right, you just have to install the free "RopieeeXL" version and now your HiFiBerry DAC + XLR can be used by both ROON and JRiver!

So now I can listen to music while the JRiver DAS server is located in another room, and the "HiFiBerry DAC+ XLR" is located in my living room next to my amplier and speakers

The "JRemote" app for IOS works perfectly and very fast.
Now I can scroll through my music collection very fast without any delay.
In fact I can search my music now much faster than with my ROON app.

I found out thet JRiver has some advantages over ROON:

- JRiver can read SACD.ISO files (Roon cannot)
- JRiver can automatically devide single ripped music albums in seperate tracks
- JRiver sounds better than ROON,  Yes it is a big difference...
- JRiver doesn't need a constant internet connection to check your activation
- JRiver also has "endpoints" like ROON  with the RopieeeXL image

- JRiver can read WavePack, ROON not
- JRiver is cheaper


Conclusion

Designing and building this JRiver DAS server was educational and surprising
Surprising because I didn't expect the difference in sound quality would be so great.
To me JRiver sounded much better than my ROON streaming solution.
I am now also considering upgrading my license for JRiver to the latest version (I am still using MC18)
JRiver is also faster then ROON, you can browse faster and more easier through your music collection using the JRemote app on your Ipad.

JRiver also looks pretty good, in short, I am very satisfied and in addition to being able to quickly choose between two different audio stream systems, and I also immediately created a good backup.

I can recommend everyone to experiment with JRiver Media Center in combination with a DAS PC
where your hard-disks are directly connected to your motherboard in your PC
You will be amazed at the sound quality!





 

 

 

 

Audio Dandy

(Maarten van Druten)

 


BACK


OLDER POSTS CLICK HERE