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Nick Lidakis 07-19-2008 07:37 PM

OT: Audiophile grade music server using several flavors of Debian
Ron Johnson wrote:

Mark it [OT] and post away!


Just thought someone could benefit from this application, or I could
receive some constructive criticism on some of choices I had made.

I had been researching way to assemble an audiophile grade music server
since early last year for my dedicated listening room. There were
several ready to go retail (Sonos, Slim Devices, McIntosh, etc.)
solutions that were quickly dismissed because of price and/or their
closed hardware/software nature. The server had to fit several criteria:

1. open source, preferably Debian based (apt makes software easy to
install and it's my desktop OS)

2. relatively low cost
3. audiophile grade (FLAC output via USB without any re-sampling and/or
conversion of the audio stream)

4. power efficiency (preferably below 10 watts)
5. absolute silence ( NO fans or disk drives in the listening room)
6. ability to control music and play lists from the listening position
with relative ease.

7. stability

An article on the Linux Devices site was my rough blueprint for the
server I wanted to put together:
The author spent nearly $600 USD for a music server that uses the
(cheap) on board audio of the mini-itx board as the output. That, and a
crude software hack for running Debian off a IDE flash drive. Not cheap
and definitely not audiophile grade.

Because of my frustration (reboots and sucky firmware glitches) with
cheap, mass consumer firewalls, I have been happily running Monowall on
a PC Engines WRAP board for the last 3 years with absolutely no
downtime. I periodically check his website to look at his new wares and
was pleasantly surprised one day to see that he was offering a new line
of single board computers called ALIX. ( )

There are several flavors, one of which caught my attention immediately:
The ALIX 3c2 ( A 500Mhz AMD Geode CPU
(fanless), 256MB RAM, 2 USB ports, 1 serial, 1 Ethernet, 2 mini PC-I all
on a board sized 100x1600mm. The whole thing runs off a small 12V, 18
watt adapter. The boards are meant to be running as firewalls or WiFI
bridges using either Monowall, pfsense, or other software meant to run
off Compact Flash. One link on the PC Engines sight was for a
distribution called Voyage Linux.

Voyage Linux is basically Debian for embedded devices that run off of CF
cards as small as 128MB. It keeps apt, which would make the ALSA and MPD
installation a breeze. The Voyage Linux developers were kind enough to
build a kernel with USB and ALSA modules, as they were not included in
their current kernels.

Software wise, I wanted: MPD on the server, FLAC files served to the MPD
server from the bedroom computer which would act as an NFS server, and
an MPD client on some kind of Linux hand held to control it all. A Nokia
N800 running MMPC ( if I could find one
used at a decent price.

Putting it all together:

1 ALIX 3c2 with Voyage Linux running off a 512 MB CF card. (board $125,
enclosure $15, wall wart $10)
Used Nokia N800 w/ latest Maemo OS 2008 and MMPC. (Craigslist, mint
condition, $100)
NFS running on the bedroom computer where all the FLAC files are ripped
with Grip. (apt-get install, $0)

Used Linksys WRT54G wireless router. (Craigslist, line new, $20)
Items already on hand: 1 gig compact flash card.

Total: $270. Still cheaper than any of Slim Devices products; none of
which have USB audio out.

The ALIX sits on a rack and is dead silent. It's fed via CAT 5 that runs
from the listening room to the bedroom switch. My Kill-A-Watt registers
3 watts max consumption when the ALIX is playing FLAC files; top shows
~%8 CPU. FLAC output is via USB, which is plugged into a Trends Audio
USB-to-S/PDIF converter. The trends is plugged into a Adcom GDA-700 DAC.

The Nokia N800 connects to the Linksys WRT54G, which accesses the ALIX
on the LAN via a dedicated port. I can manipulate MMPC using either my
finger or the stylus. Changing songs or play lists is instantaneous.
Even though MMPC is at version .1, I've only had it crash once in the
six months I have had the server up an running. The ALIX, with Voyage
Linux, has had uptimes of months without any issues.

Installing MPD and ALSA on voyage was as simple as making the CF disk
writable with the command remountrw. Then apt-getting mpd and alsa-base,
configuring mpd.conf, and fstab with the NFS partitons, and re-setting
the file system to read only with the command remountro. All the MPD
configuration files, play lists, and state files are stored on the NFS
disk; obviating any need to write to the CF card.

My only installation issues were partitioning the compact flash for
Voyage Linux. GRUB refused to boot unless the partition was 512MB or
less. Don't know why.

Hope it wasn't too long of an OT post...


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