In my home office, I have a headless server running Windows
Server 2008 with iTunes 8 installed. This machine is where I store all of my music, photos, videos, and other entertainment related files. The interesting thing is that I also use this server to wirelessly broadcast my iTunes music digitally to my kick-ass home studio setup (a Benchmark DAC1, Coleman Audio M3, Quested Powered F11As, and a REL Subwoofer). The setup that I am about to describe should work equally as well for those of you who have any kind of audio playback equipment that has an optical audio input.
The setup is simple. I bought a Shuttle XPC SD30G2B and a RocketRaid 1740 card off of NewEgg.com. Here is the machine stashed away behind some of my other gear. The server has no monitor attached and I use Remote Desktop to connect to it. The other key component is the Apple Airport Express which has a digital audio out.
When I launch iTunes, it get the following error message, since the onboard audio card is not configured properly (I believe that is because I do not have anything hooked up to the onboard audio card). This message can be ignored.
After iTunes launches you can choose the Airport Express from the dropdown list on the bottom of iTunes. You only have to do this once, if your Airport Express is always plugged in.
Here is the Benchmark DAC1 (on the bottom of the rack) set to its optical input with it’s blue status light lit up. The blue status light will light up on the Benchmark DAC1 as long as something is playing from iTunes.
This area also doubles as my home office, where I work as an independent Software Development Consultant. I get to listen to music on a kick-ass system while coding!
The setup is also very reliable, Windows Server 2008 is rock solid and so is the Airport Express. One last note: Originally I had setup Windows Home Server but it has file corruption issues, so I highly recommend staying away from WHS.
EDIT: 7/24/2009 – This does not work when you try to use the physical soundcard connected to the server.
I just tried switching from using AirTunes to a physical sound card on the Server and it does not work when using via RDP (Remote Desktop). When I RDP into the server and click on Control Panel –> Sound, I see a message: “No audio devices are installed”. If I log on locally at the physical computer, I can see all of the devices fine.
It turns out that this is “by design” and choosing “Leave at Remote Computer” in Remote Desktop is ignored by Windows Server 2008 x64″. Here is a link to the KB article and a thread on the TechNet forums describing this.
So, at least for the time being, I can still play iTunes from the server to AirTunes, even when logged into the server via Remote Desktop.