JM, keep those network-y, hires-y insights coming. Your earlier piece about how hires trumps tweaks really hit a chord (heh) so to speak with me regarding the sorts of things a listener should perhaps focus on.
Here's the setup I'd like to read about soon:
Take the hires files of your choice and convert these FLAC files to Apple Lossless. Not as many Windows users rely on iTunes as Mac users, but this would keep comparisons based on an iTunes database relevant at least up to that point.
You use a Mac, so convert to Apple Lossless using XLD or perhaps xACT. If there's a concern about the converted files not sounding as good as the original FLACs address it but for the sake of conversation let's say it's not a known problem. Files converted by XLD can be automatically added to iTunes and regardless of iTunes' import settings they will remain hires Apple Lossless files once there.
And now the other shoe drops: Using the player of your choice (Amara/Decibel/Pure Music) pipe the music to one of these network players that has AirPlay, Ethernet and hires DAC.
No USB stick silliness, and we get to see how this more realistic hires iTunes networked chain works.
The other other shoe thuds: I recall Stereophile's review awhile back of the Linn network player that relied on Ethernet to supply its DAC, and claim by Linn that a large part of why it sounded great was that lowly Cat5 supplying it. While most external DACs still rely on coax/TosLink/USB inputs, here at the low end with CD Receivers and surround sound receivers (some Marantz, Pionner etc. have AirPlay, Ethernet and hires DACs) there's a chance they, too might benefit some.
I'm not suggesting a $600 surround receiver will sound as good as that Linn. I mainly want to know if a hires file sitting in iTunes will really play without downsampling over wired AirPlay to one of these networked things, and secondly if it could sound at least as good as a similarly priced (i.e. less than $1K) stand alone DAC via USB (or USB-coax converter first for stuff better than 24/96 ...)