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strummy_funk's picture
Last seen: 4 years 4 months ago
Joined: Jun 29 2013 - 10:04am
Point an old guy in the right direction - first post

My first post here.

I'm a long-time Stereophile subscriber.  I have a nice "traditional" system, a dedicated listening room, a couple thousand CDs and several hundred LPs.  After years of resistence to anything Apple, i got an iTunes account after I wound up with an IPhone.  I've since downloaded a fair number of songs from iTunes and have ripped several CDs into iTunes so that I could leave the CDs at home and have music on the go.

Outside of my reluctance to really understand digital audio, I'm fairly tech saavy, with a good wireless home network, a monster (Windows 7) desktop, and a couple laptops thrown-in for good measure.

I want to make the leap.

I want my CDs and downloaded audio, at least, at my fingertips -- in my listening room, in my home theater, in my kitchen, basically anywhere I have speakers.  I want quality that I've come to expect listening to "old fashioned" software.  I see articles about PCM, and DSD, and lossless this, and codecs that, and my head spins.  So, I toss it aside, put on an LP and decide to figure it out another day.

I don't understand the path to get from where I am to where I need to be.  I don't really even understand where need to be.  But I know I missing out on the opportunity to enjoy more music, more conveniently.

Can someone give me some advice?  Point me toward a resource that will help me out? Provide a roadmap?  Give me a recommendation or two?  Most everything I pick up to read assumes a level of understanding that I don't quite have, or the existence of set up that I haven't assembled.

Thanks for any help.


Poor Audiophile
Poor Audiophile's picture
Last seen: 4 years 1 month ago
Joined: Feb 14 2006 - 7:35pm

sister site "Audiostream" would be a good place to check out.

shp's picture
Last seen: 8 months 2 weeks ago
Joined: Nov 18 2007 - 4:57pm
Hope this will help


I've spent the last 3 months researching all of this so I’m hoping I can help.

It’s a tricky space because the technology is shifting and the roles of each component are shifting as well. 

The basic elements:

1.  Ripping and file management

I know there are solution sout there to rip vinyl, but I'm not very knowledgable in this area.  

I did just finish ripping all of my CD's however.  I used dbPoweramp, which will simultaneously rip from all of your CD drives.  It's well worth buying a few extra drives from Amazon or NewEgg.  You can use USB, buy a cage and use regular CDs or add the drives those to any open bays in your computer.  

Before you start ripping you have to decide what format you want.  If you will use Apple, AIFF or M4A (compressed) are the best choices.  If you want to use a different player, FLAC is the best choice.  Most other players will also play the Apple formats.  But Apple won't play the other, open formats.  See below for more info.

You have a lot of music, so please properly back them up.  Or use a RAID-based NAS or external cabinet.

2.  Playback/control

Your library sounds pretty large for iTunes.  JRiver is an alternate standard package.  It’s worth taking the 30-day trial.  There is also AlbumPlayer.  One note though: Apple basically plays its file format.  The other players mostly play FLAC, though some have plug-ins for Apple.  You need to figure out your playback/control software before you rip your whole library.

If you are going to use iTunes, plug-ins like Audirvana, will be important for Apple to dynamically change bit rates and frequency on the fly.  

Another consideration is if you plan to use a network streaming product, like Naim's or Sonos.  In this case, you'd be using their player.  So double check what formats those packages accept (I know Naim accept them all but I haven't researched Sonos).

3.  Data networking/distribution.

Locally this is a done via coaxial cable, optical cable and USB.  USB is the dominant format for computer audio, but a few PCs and most Macs support (limited resolution) Toslink/optical cable.   There are a number of DACs that can connect via USB for asynchronous 24-bit/192khz datastreams.  Now, the asynchronous part is important: without it, the data rate from the computer to the DAC gets out of control. 

Some DACs will play both PCM (like what is on a CD) and DSD (like what is on an SACD).   DSD files are rare, but increasing in jazz and classical.  Here is where it gets a bit tricky.  Mac supports 24/192 PCM natively.  But the Mac prevents DSD from working.  So you will see people write about DoP or DSD over PCM, which basically tricks the Mac by wrapping the DSD signal inside a PCM message. 

Windows gets around this problem by providing absolutely no support at all.  That is why 24/192 asynchronous USB DAC’s will provide Windows drivers.

If you’re a PC person already, you’re better sticking with Windows here, too.

Ayre has some really detailed coverage here

On the network side it gets more complicated.  There are many out of the box commercial solutions, like Apple (with Apple TV), Sonos and Meridian.  There is an open source networking solution called Twonky that uses PnP (peer to peer networking).  And then there are devices like the Musical Fidelity M1 CLiC, which is an integrated pre-amp and network-ready DAC, complete with control software.  Naim makes a few devices that are network receiver, DAC, pre-amp and amp all in one.  ProJect also has an integrated network+DAC.

One thing to check for with network streaming devices is their data rate support. Many, like Apple TV and Project, will limit network data streaming to 16/44 (same as a CD) and will downsample your higher resolution files (including ripped vinyl).

4.  Digital to analog conversion.

DACs are coming in many shapes and sizes these days: dedicated devices, network DACs (like the CLiC), DAC+Preamp, DAC+Integrated.  And now some of those integrates are pure digital: they will even convert analog to digital (see NAD).

It sounds like you already have a system in place, at least in the main room.  So a dedicated DAC would just get connected to your existing pre-amp.  In the remote rooms, you would use a networked DAC, Twonky or Apple TV to receive the digital signal and then pass it on.  Here a pretty standard configuration might be the Musical Fidelity CLiC+amp, a Naim unitiQute2 standalone or an Apple TV attached to a Peachtree decco65. 

With the multi-room stuff if you want to keep it simple and have the funds, Meridian, Naim and Sonos -- which make music streaming servers -- have it all worked out for you.  Musical Fidelity's CLiC works out steps 2-4 above.  Apple TV will handle #3 for any DAC with an optical input.

I hope this helps.  And if any readers catch an error, let me know.


shp's picture
Last seen: 8 months 2 weeks ago
Joined: Nov 18 2007 - 4:57pm
This is also a great overview

This is also a great overview of the technologies and components involved in streaming digital systems.

jackfish's picture
Last seen: 4 years 1 month ago
Joined: Dec 19 2005 - 2:42pm
The easy and perfectly acceptable way...

I wanted decent sound quality without a lot of hassle. So I just went with Apple. I purchased a MacBook Air with 4GB RAM, a 256GB SSD and a SuperDrive to use for ripping CDs. My DAC is a Schiit Bifrost USB. I also use a 2TB USB hard drive. Operating system is currently OS X Mountain Lion. I use iTunes to manage my library and BitPerfect to override iTunes/Audio MIDI. Because I also have an iPhone4S I use the Remote app to control iTunes with my iPhone. Music downloaded from iTunes is compressed mp3 and not conducive to quality playback. I ripped all of my CDs to Apple Lossless (ALAC). The Apple AirPort Express will let you distribute your music throughout your house. An optical input DAC that can cope with high jitter are best with the Airport Express.


Here is my system:

13.3" MacBook Air, 4GB RAM, 256GB SSD, iTunes/BitPerfect
MacBook Air SuperDrive
Western Digital My Book Essential 2TB USB HD
Schiit Bifrost USB DAC
Emotiva USP-1, ERC-1 and two UPA-1s
Pro-Ject Xpression III and AT440MLa
AKAI AT-2600 and Harman Kardon TD4400
Grado SR80i
Magnepan MMG Magnestands
Rythmik Audio F12

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