Seeking guidance on server and drives to buy for a new NAS

Hello Guys & Gals,

New member here.

I am just getting into streaming and I am seeking some helpful advice on the server and drives to buy for a NAS. I plan to buy a very nice DAC/streamer and use Roon to stream music from my NAS and over the Internet (probably Tidal).

I just purchased an Acronova Nimbie and the dBpoweramp batch ripper software. Hopefully I can rip all of my CDs in a matter of weeks. (If I have to rip one CD at a time, manually, then it will take me forever.) The Nimbie machine arrives today and I should be ready to begin ripping CDs this weekend.

This leads to my first few questions . . . about file formats, and brands and types of servers and drives.

A. Which server and drives should I buy to store my music? For the server box, it seems that Synology and QNAP are typically ranked as the two best (with Western Digital a close third) among “regular” servers for home users. Have you all found that one is better than the others for serving music to a DAC/streamer?

B. I’m also being told about the supposed benefits of “audiophile-grade” servers like the Music Vault by Sound Science and the Vault and Vault II by Bluesound. But, dang, these are much more expensive. I’m told (by a dealer, of course) that one of these “audiophile-grade” servers will make my music sound noticeably better compared to a regular home server. Any truth to that? Are there any real benefits to using an “audiophile-grade” server over a regular home server like Synology or QNAP?

C. Which hard drives should I buy to populate the server boxes? It seems that a lot of people are using solid state drives now. Is that the way to go? From your experience and research, what is the best type of drive to use? Is there any particular brand that you consider better than the others? In other words . . . If you were starting over from scratch, which server and drives would you choose today?

D. File format. From what I’ve read, and for my purposes, I think FLAC is the best format. I definitely want a lossless format. I don’t have any Apple products, hence FLAC over ALAC. The cost of storage is so low that it didn’t seem to make any sense to choose a lossy format. But the real question is compressed (FLAC) or uncompressed (AIFF or WAV)? I’m told that uncompressed eases the strain on the DAC and allows it to perform better. Any truth to this? Have you all found any audible difference between using compressed lossless (primarily FLAC) and uncompressed lossless (WAV or AIFF)?

I’m told the dBpoweramp can rip multiple formats in the same session, so maybe I should just rip three formats to cover all bases: FLAC for my daily listening, WAV or AIFF to have an uncompressed backup, and a high bit rate (320 kbps or better) MP3 that I will use in my portables and for thumb drives in my car.

E. WAV or AIFF? I am leaning WAV here, again only because I’m not an Apple guy. But do WAV files support metadata? I’m getting conflicting info on that.

Anyway, thanks in advance for any insight and guidance you can provide.

Best regards,

Doug

I’d stick with QNAP or Synology since they are specialists in this niche and offer a wide range of options/support but I would not recommend them as host for the music player software. The prices rise too steeply as you approach usability. Keep the NAS for storage.

They are friendly to use but also limited in flexibility. Any new features are installed only when the manufacturer deems to do so. A PC/Mac/Linux computer is a better way now and for the future. FWIW, both JRiver and Roon have such recommendations as will many on this forum.

SSDs are quiet and fast but, imho, too expensive for a large collection. For the cost of SSD, you can buy quality HDs for your NAS and another NAS with HDs as an essential back-up.

Yes. There is no strain on the DAC because decompression must occur before the DAC and, no, WAV will not generally support metadata. Also, any decent music player software should be able to convert FLAC to MP3 (or any other format) for other uses.

Neither. See above.

IMHO, of course.

1 Like

Kal, Many thanks!

I will be using Roon for sure, and a DAC/streamer. Is there additional software that I will need to feed the music files to the Roon app and the DAC/streamer? Does that depend on the particular DAC/streamer that I am using?

I’m trying to come to a decision on which DAC/streamer to buy. I was originally leaning towards a Meridian 818, but now I’m thinking that something like the exaSound e32 or e38 + PlayPoint might be more “future-proof.” [I’m still seeking advice on this as well. Looking at exaSound, Merging, T+A, PSAudio DSD, and Mytek. Would love a dCS Rossini with the MQA update, but that’s beyond my budget.]

I also think you’d be fine with Synology or QNAP. Are you planning on running Roon Core on the device or using a separate box for that? That could make a difference. I only have older Synology NAS with the lower end CPU and have a separate utility PC that does Roon Core. In that case, the NAS is just doing basic file serving and for the size of audio files, even hi res, requirements are pretty low.

I also go with Flac, even though I am an apple guy. For mobile playback, I use the Onkyo HF player anyway on my iphone and don’t use itunes at all. May as well get the benefit of compression with FLAC over using WAV.

QNAP is now a no-brainer for a NAS. Their latest firmware has scheduled RAID scrubbing, which was its only major shortcoming. Having had both, the hardware on the QNAPs are a better value.

I would only use a NAS for backup or auxiliary storage. The internal memory and processing are still light at times for serious server duty. A dedicated computer is still a more robust A/V server solution. A two or three year old Mac with a Thunderbolt array is pretty bulletproof these days, can move a lot of data across a diverse network, and is much more capable for the inevitable transcoding tasks.

Flac is still nice, but storage and bandwidth capacities have evolved to the point where full uncompressed WAV takes relatively little space and presents a light streaming load on a modern system/network, and significantly lightens the processing load on the head end device. The argument for running lossless compression formats was a good argument a decade ago, but not with today’s typical 15-20 TB stack and gigabit ethernet. Compared to 4k and BD-quality video files, a directory of uncompressed audio files is now trivial.

DB Poweramp is a great addition to any audio toolkit today. It is excellent.

Where will ROON Core live? If it is not on the NAS (and I am not a fan of that), you need it to reside on something. exaSound PP can do it, as can the Merging NADAC Player but I prefer a suitable PC/Mac/Linux box, especially if you are contemplating multichannel.

…the lack of metadata compatibility remains.

The software to index and catalogue digital audio has also evolved. You can adequately tag even WAV files today. DB poweramp can do it automatically now.

And smart music management software (such as Roon and some lyric engines) can scan and detect sufficient track data to import the rest from online databases into the user interface. None of this Internet-leveraged software power was seriously available a decade ago. I frankly don’t worry about tagging anymore.

I certainly have a far worse ‘tagging’ problem with my vinyl. But have no intention of ever abandoning it over that minor shortcoming.

Thanks, all!

I’m going to set the batch ripper to rip three formats at once. FLAC, WAV and a high bit rate (320 kbps or better) MP3. I’ll experiment with the FLAC and WAV files in my daily listening, to hear whether there is any audible difference. I’ll only be using the MP3 files in my portables.

Kal, Longplate & Enginerd:

Thanks for the guidance on the server and pointing out that the software/OS/Roon Core has to reside somewhere. I’m exposing my ignorance; I did not realize that software/Roon Core had to reside somewhere on my end. I thought the software/Core resided entirely in the DAC/streamer and the Roon app. You see, I’m very new to all of this and not yet very knowledgeable.

So is it agreed that it is better for the software/OS/Roon Core to reside somewhere other than on the NAS? In that case, which is better: a ROON R.O.C.K. NUC (or similar NUC) OR a full-fledged computer? I was hoping to have my server sitting very close (within a few meters) to my DAC/streamer. My wife could live with a small server box (and maybe even a small NUC) taking up residence in our family room (my main listening room). But she will balk at having a full-sized computer standing next to the AV rack. I too would prefer not to have a full-sized computer standing next to my AV rack. If a full-fledged computer is better than a NUC then I guess I could get a small laptop that won’t be as prominent sitting in our family room.

So, my questions are:
(A) Would a Roon ROCK NUC be just as good as a full-fledged computer for this purpose?
(B) If a full-fledged computer would be better than a NUC, would a decent laptop be sufficient?

Addendum:
When I say that I was hoping to have my server sitting very close (within a few meters) to my DAC/streamer . . . That is because someone had told me that it would be better if my DAC/streamer was directly connected to the server instead of being connected through the network. Is there any truth to that?

If there is no truth to that, and there is no advantage to having my DAC/streamer connected directly to the server, then I can have my server reside elsewhere in the house and the wife acceptability factor goes way up. With the server exiled to an unseen location in the house I could then have a full size computer to run the software/Roon OS/Roon Core/whatever is needed.

Still, I have the same questions.
(A) Would a Roon ROCK NUC be just as good as a full-fledged computer for the purpose of running the software/OS/Roon Core?
(B) If a full-fledged computer would be better than a NUC, would a decent laptop be sufficient?

I don’t think there is any advantage to a “dedicated” ethernet connection. That is high end nonsense that fails to comprehend modern IT and networking technology. Modern ethernet switching and packet protocols are very precise, with layers of error correction. An audio stream is child’s play to even a busy network. The only caveat is that the ethernet cabling and connection points be workmanlike and meet protocol standards, and that a thoughtful switching and routing plan be designed, so that there are not excessive skew or packet issues. But these are infrastructure issues specific to the individual network install. The architecture of a modern gigabit or 10G ethernet network is more than robust enough for audio streaming. Many networked audio devices still run at 10/100; even the ATV 4 still has a 10/100 ethernet port for 1080 video streaming. CAT 5e or better is far more than enough for even 192/24 audio streams. I run our server through two switches and can routinely saturate the network to design ceiling to any target, provided the source and target hardware can keep up.

Kal is right. Stick with a PC or Mac for a media server (‘Core’ in Roonspeak). These platforms will provide the most flexibility and easiest migration path going forward. Many NASes and specialty devices have definite hardware limitations. Dedicating one’s media library to a smaller manufacturer’s specialty hardware can sometimes become a trap if that device suddenly becomes unsupported or obsoleted. Boutique specialty hardware makers have come and gone; the PC and Mac have a proven record spanning decades. Most serious audio and video software solutions today are coded for these two platforms, so all your A/V tools will be at one convenient ‘workbench’.

But the most important thing is that you properly backup your data library and have an adequate disaster recovery plan. Use that NAS for data backup only (not as a working data source), and both manually and mirror backup your server’s library to it. That way if you bollocks something on your working server directory, you can always run back to the NAS for recovery. Make sure you have version controls for any automatic backups, or a corrupted data file will eventually wind up on the backups if you don’t catch it. And also have at least one off-site backup channel, such as Backblaze, in case a real catastrophe strikes. You can never have too many backups.

I personally don’t care for laptops as ‘servers’, but I know many do. My preference for an A/V workstation is an AIO conventional system such as a iMac, or a Mac Mini if space challenged. If you are savvy, you can buy ‘preowned’ and potentially save thousands. As I mentioned above, an outboard Thunderbolt RAID array (and Areca makes a terrific one), will provide a huge, fast data point with genuine fault tolerance. All drives fail, even SSDs. Don’t use the operating system drive for critical data storage. You will eventually compromise overall system speed if you do, and system OS drives do not typically have the fault tolerance of a RAID array. Keep your big data separate from the OS. It’s more portable, and if you ever need to change systems, all you do is move the Thunderbolt stack over to the new system.

Roon has 3 components - Remote, Core, and Streamer. In your case the streamer will be a Roon Ready DAC. The Remote can reside on almost any tablet or phone for control and visibility into what is playing. The Core is what talks to your NAS and streams the files to the Steamer, as well as applies any volume leveling or other DSP that you might want. The best option is a Roon ROCK i7 NUC w/ SSD for Roon DB and NAS for music collection, all located in another room/closet and connected to your DAC/streamer via Ethernet. A ROCK NUC is optimized for only playing Roon, whereas a general purpose computer has many other things going on that can affect the noise generated in the computer. Keeping any computer out of your equipment rack will avoid the computer generated noise from affecting your equipment. The Roon KB contains a lot of info on what kind of NUC to get and how to install and configure it. If that looks like too much work, then get a SonicTransport or pre-order a Roon Nucleus. Both are optimized NUCs for Roon Core only and are plug and play.

Who puts a general purpose computer inside a home audio rack? That’s just nuts.

Run some high quality ethernet cable, and you can put the data stack and server system anywhere you want.

I do.

I need a full (but silent) PC in order to do multichannel hi-rez audio with DSP/EQ and, while I haven’t tried the ROCK i7 NUC yet, I am skeptical that it will suffice. It certainly would be a great choice if it is capable.

Also, it needs to be in the room because I prefer to have a full-size monitor, keyboard and mouse for control. Smart phone and iPad control is unacceptable (my iPad is never where I want it).

But that’s just me.

Thanks again, everyone!

I definitely need to spend more time familiarizing myself with everything in the Roon Knowledge Base so that I have a better understanding of all this.

Up to this point, I wasn’t grasping the different functions of the different component parts of the Roon setup. I still don’t really grasp it, but I’m now understanding that you all (or at least some of you) are recommending the NAS only to house a backup copy of my music files. The working music files should be saved on drives in a computer that is operating as the music server. That computer needs to be robust enough to handle whatever processing is required on its end before feeding the music files to the DAC/streamer.

I don’t have immediate plans to stream video or multi-channel hi-rez audio, but I might sometime in the future, so I presume that I need to take that into account as well and get a computer that is robust enough to handle the processing of video and multi-channel hi-rez audio files.

It sounds like a NUC might be insufficient, and I should go for a proper PC. It will be a dedicated media server because we (my wife, son & me) won’t be using it for anything else. I’m a Dell guy just because I’ve always had Dell computers and I like their customer service – I’m set up as a business customer so I think I get an even higher level of customer service. I assume (hope) that I can call Dell and read to the Dell sales rep what you guys have recommended above and the Dell rep can then spec out the computer that I need.

Aside from what you all have recommended above, what do I need to specify to the Dell rep so that I get everything I need?

If it matters, I might end up with a Merging NADAC Player, which I’m told uses a Ravenna server, which in turn requires a more robust/sophisticated/or something network switch in order to prevent the Ravenna server from “flooding” my home network. I have no idea what that means, only that I’ve been told to watch out for it.

If you all can think of anything else that I need to specify to the Dell rep, I’d be ever grateful for your advice.

Thanks again!

That’s not for me. I prefer the server and all its noise (both audible and electrical) in its own faraway computer room. My main listening room is kept dead quiet, except for what’s playing and the tinkling of glasses at the nearby bar. Digitally, I’m still living quite happily with primarily two channel 96 khz and a mountain of old Red Book, much of which is long out of print. So the only thing I need to keep at the system is the digital head end and its DAC. And the head end better be able to adequately browse that library on its own, even though I do occasionally like to navigate with a pad. But if all that hardware works for you, more power to you.

The only thing I insist be dedicated in a serious system are the mains circuit(s), preferably on the quieter leg of the phase. A typical mains line is very dirty (particularly during usage peaks), and that does work its way into the power supplies even with outboard filtering unless you spend big dollars for regeneration equipment, which can present its own supply issues. Keeping a PC on the same circuit anywhere near those local supplies paints a most unpleasant picture on my scope. But I presume you have electrically segregated yours.

There is no audible noise from the PC and it is isolated on a dedicated line.

Indeed. We are entitled to our preferences and my does not include an exclusive commitment to Roon.

Doug, If you put a PC or Mac in another room as the server - like in a home office where people expect to find a computer - your WAF will go through the roof. And you can use it for more than just streaming music if you need to. An i7 iMac can do a lot, including transcoding high bitrate HD video. Unless you are getting a great Dell deal, I would again consider a preowned Mac in a home environment. While the gap is narrowing, Macs require less daily attention and malware protection than a PC. I made the switch seven or eight years ago, and I’m sorry I waited that long . . . and I’m a old-time MSFT shareholder who profits when you buy a PC.

Otherwise, if your switch or router can handle it, try to specify that your new system be able to handle LAG teaming, which will permit the server system to offer up to two gigabit service into the network. This involves two ethernet runs off the server to a compatible switch, but LAG gigabit is still presently much cheaper than 10G switching gear, and will give the server some extra headroom in managing multiple streams, especially if HD video streaming is involved. A better NAS will also have LAG capability, and if you can tie the server and NAS into the same LAG-compatible switch, you will have a very fast backup pipeline, limited only by HDD speeds. Cisco makes some good smart switches that handle multiple LAGs for under $250. If the server computer is 10G ready, that will be a plus for the future when 10G becomes affordable. Again, while most audio clients will likely only see 10/100, your server may encounter multiple simultaneous clients and Internet traffic as well. You will be surprised. If you ever get hooked on something like an ATV4k, you will find yourself quickly serving video streams off that server too. So the bigger a network pipeline you can give it, the better.

Two Cat6 drops to the audio system (one for expansion) and a run of RG6QS (if you still do OTA FM), and you will be provisioned for up to 10G service going forward. You just can’t beat a dependable ethernet run. I’ve still got some parts of our house running on 15 year old 5e drops, and they still pass heavy gigabit loads beautifully.

Unless you need to do what Kal does at the system itself, you will then have a great streaming setup for years to come.

Good luck to you.