Music PC in Living Room Stereo

Finished project installed The Silverstone project is more or less complete. I’ve been playing music in the living room for several hours without once changing a CD – or, for that matter, loading one.

iTunes is happily cranking out WAV files on the 300GB hard drive. The acid test, I knew all along, was going to be: but how good does all this sound through the big front and rear living room speakers? It sounds great! Despite surprises and setbacks you may have followed on my “Silverstone Project”, the project was very worhwhile. I am happy and satisfied.

Cabinet doors opened The Silverstone is the black component on the top left shelf of the home entertainment center, above. I am using a small 15″ Sony flat panel to run iTunes and a photo slide show. A wireless keyboard and mouse found a home on top of the cabinet to the right of the monitor.

The little white wired gizmo on the right is a plug strip. I will find a better home for it later. The next photo shows off the mirror finish of the Silverstone case.

Case closeup - click image for large pictureThe two front panel covers open with a slight press inward, and then the cover glides down slowly to the horizontal “open” position. The left bays show the floppy drive and 40GB Samsung SATA C drive. The right bays house the DVD/CDR unit and the removable DataPort for the 300GB Samsung IDE hard drive. Click the image for a larger picture of this.

This system is driven by an ASUS A8N32-SLI motherboard, AMD 64 3200+, and Windows XP. I chose a much faster ASUS video card than I need right now, but it has S-video out for later. There is no sound card. I am using the RealTek onboard audio controller (on the motherboard) to output audio to the Denon receiver. Nvidia claims these controllers can do a better job of faithful audio reproduction than most sound cards. I can certainly find no fault with this methodology.

Finished project installedLastly, most readers will be familiar with the excellent Apple iTunes software. I recorded some 71GB of songs (over 1800, or 5 days playing time) onto uncompressed WAV. As you can somewhat see in the photo, I do use playlists to put together my own “tapes and CD’s” as well as using them as containers for each recorded CD or CD set. There are well over 100 CD’s in the collection so far; I am not sure how many.

Some people report that using playlists “stamps” the audio file such that it can’t be ported to other machines, but I have not found any problems between my desktop machine (where most of my authoring of all kinds is done), the Silverstone, and the Phoenix desktop where a copy of my modest iPod tunes collection lives. (A “playlist” is a user-assembled collection of aliases to original sound files. In case you have never done this, each song on a CD breaks out or “rips” into a separate sound file. So, by recording the tracks, you can access each individually, or mix and match to make your own collections just as we used to do when making tapes and CD’s).

By exporting to uncompressed WAV audio files, you lose nothing of the original quality, but you can’t cram two days of playing time into a 3GB iPod, either — compressed MP3 and other formats are quite credibly good, but you lose dynamic range while saving storage space. Flattened dynamic ranges are great for headsets at airports and other noisy environments, but most serious audiophiles would insist on the full uncompressed sound image for the high-end home entertainment center or stereo.

Expansion:

I plan to shop for a cheap wireless station so the Silverstone can “talk” to the home network as my laptop currently can. This will enable periodic software updates, and file and audio file synchs with the main machine. I don’t plan to “surf” from the living room so the 15″ monitor will do fine until I give away the 500 pound Sony tube TV monster and bring our more manageable Sharp LCD into the system. I don’t watch a lot of TV. I will play a DVD on a PC if my arm is twisted sufficiently, but have yet to fire up a home DVD player all on my own. I see no reason to break this admirable record.

The 300GB hard drive sounds like overkill and in fact was an overestimation. I was figuring on capping out at something like 200 CD’s, at 650MB per 74 minute CD. But, the 650MB figure is actually for a CD disk image; many CD’s contain as little as 35 minutes of music, and proportionately less room is needed for their WAV files.

The CD’s recorded thus far are my “core” collection, ones I would play at some point in time anyway. I also have 10-CD collections like Dylan’s “Biograph” I haven’t even sampled in almost 10 years, so, no need to load these just yet.

Down the road, probably in retirement, I will start re-recording old reel-to-reel tapes and old LP vinyls that I didn’t do in the first round of audio recording in 1998. This will take years. The hard drive space won’t go to waste. By the way, if you took care of your old LP’s, you will be AMAZED at how good they sound recorded from a good turntable. It’s not that the digital audio does or can improve them; vinyl LP’s always had tremendous frequency response and dynamic range.

A lot of the “tapes” that we put together for our own pleasure contain audio tracks that are also used elsewhere. For example, I recorded all of my favorite Brandenburg Concertos, but, many of the pieces also appear in my own “tapes”, which I call the “Mojave Classics” for reasons I may or may not get into. When making tapes, or your own custom-mix CD’s, you get to record everything all over again.

I own all my audio source material, so I record the originals once, and put together the collections with aliases to the sound files, rather than re-recording all the tracks again.

Conclusion:

I must say that getting this audio project working has already brought a lot of joy and satisfaction to this modest apartment. I look forward to years of audio enjoyment, and picking back up on a hobby that pretty much died when reel-to-reel no longer made sense: audio recording.

“Mojave Classics” and the new technology

Oh, what the heck. It’s a great story: back in the 1990’s we used to go shooting in the Mojave desert. There was a place where you could do that safely and legally. The friends and wives would come along and we would make a camping trip out of it. On year, in conspiracy with a friend’s wife, I helped us do something different.

We had a formal dinner in the desert. The men wore suits and ties. The gals wore formal gowns, some of it costumes that looked to be straight out of “Little House on the Prairie.” The men wore sidearms. I looked positively dashing in my red power tie and pinstripe suit, with my Ruger 10-1/2 inch barrel .44 Super Balckhawk strapped to my leg.

We had a white linen tablecloth, candles, and a delicious formal 3-course dinner. I had put togther a cassette tape for the occasion. a boom box blared out Mozart and the Brandenburg Concerto into the desert dusk. Right at sunset, a Chevvie Suburban drove by, slowly to avoid raising dust on the dirt road. We turned some heads, all right, but when the family figured out what we were doing, they all smiled and gave us a great big thumbs-up.

I named the cassette tape the “Mojave Classics“. That tape lasted a few years, but tapes didn’t last long in cars. CD’s didn’t do much better. The Mojave Classics are up to four “volumes” now, some16 years later. I re-did them in CD in 1998. Some of those home-grown CD’s started disintegrating in the hot Phoenix summer temperatures (the A/C is left off when no one is there). So, that’s the story of the Mojave Classics, and also explains the impetus for preserving home recordings in a format that’s more durable and easily backed up.

In closing, what do I do if I want to play the Mojave Classics in the car?

Easy: go to iTunes, select my Mojave Classics playlist, put a blank CD in the machine, and click “Burn”. CD blanks are a few cents each. When the originals are safe on a hard drive, who cares how long the CD lasts in the car?

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