Revision 7: August 2001
Things got weird in August, when I accepted a contract to do development from home on a database using IBM's DB/2 for Linux, which meant I needed a Linux server in the rack ASAP.
I happen to have an older system hanging around in a desktop case that I was planning on using as an MP3 player upstairs, but hadn't found an effective way to make it work. It was thrown into the rack just sitting on top of the server stack, and a Linux expert came in and put Red Hat on it, along with the free developer's edition of DB/2 for Linux.
Around the same time, I discovered a device that made my aspirations of building an MP3 player for upstairs moot - the Voyetra AudioTron. This device is a stereo component style MP3 player, but instead of using RAM, CDs or any other kind of media to get the tunes, it has a network connection. You give it a user name and password, it grabs an IP from the DHCP server and scans the network for shares, cataloging all the MP3 files it finds along the way. A quick peek inside revealed a WinCE device! And, best of all, its rack mountable!
I acquired two of the gizmos in short order - one for upstairs, and one for down. I ran a new network cable into the living room and punched it down on the patch panel to provide a network connection for the Audiotron upstairs. There was already a stereo upstairs for the AudioTron to plug into, but there wasn't anything on the rack. The outputs on the Audiotron include standard stereo jacks (which were used upstairs) and a SP/DIF optical link for Dolby 5.1 audio. Not wanting to waste such a fine feature in an audio device, I went in search of the impossible: an amplifier that is black, rack mountable and has a SP/DIF input.
The audio industry has been using 19" rack mounting longer than the computer industry, and rack mount amplifiers are readily available, but are professional audio equipment, so they have totally different sorts of inputs and are very, very powerful - much more powerful than anything my little office would require. In the end, looking at off-the-shelf professional rack mount audio equipment proved unreasonably expensive and unnecessary.
The alternative then was consumer audio equipment. A number of manufacturers, such as Marantz, actually make rack mount audio equipment. But even this was overkill to a large degree - a lot of money, and a lot of rack space. Then I discovered that the supplier of my rack itself, Middle Atlantic Products, has an entire division dedicated to custom rack mounting. They already had rack mount kits made for virtually every audio receiver under the sun. Now all I had to do was find the receiver I liked - the smaller the better.
In studying receivers, I found they were almost universally 4Us high, which is a lot of space for an amplifier. Also, the speakers were sold separately, and were more money than the amplifier! Then I ran across Sony's DAV-S300. Designed as an all-in-one, just-add-the-tv home theatre system, it had all the features I was looking for, at a reasonable price. Its only draw back is that its silver, and I'll have to get custom rack mounting done for it, but it doesn't waste space and it does look (and sound) great.
Time for an updated set of photos:
Issues with this revision: