This'll be the first of a few posts where we delve into networking and computer audio systems. In prior posts we looked at what I would refer to as a closed system: a single computer with a DAC attached to it. This works fine but has a number of drawbacks, many of which are not found when we move to the next level, network audio. In a network audio system the DAC is connected to your computer over a network. Unlike the first example, where our DAC was connected by a fixed USB cable, our network connected DAC is attached in any numbers of ways: an Ethernet cable, a wireless "cable", a combination of the two. Our network connected DAC is no longer bound by the restrictive maximum length of our USB cable nor is subjected to the quality issues of a USB cable. Finally, our network DAC isn't restricted to being next to our computer. Our DAC can now be placed anywhere in our home or, for that matter, anywhere in the world and we are no longer restricted to just one DAC in our home - we can have as many as we wish. Network connected DACS have major advantages over a tethered USB connected DAC but, as always with any new fangled connection scheme, there's a whole bunch of "gottcha's" to go along with it. So what is a network and do most of us have one? Chances are quite good that if you are reading this post on a home computer you have a network already. Certainly the fact that you're reading this on any device at all means you are using a network - called the internet. If you have a router in your computer setting then you have a network. Many of us don't know what a router is, or what it does or why we have it, but without it we haven't anywhere to plug into the internet. Perhaps your router is built into your phone or cable company's internet connection box, but I would place a pretty safe bet when I say you no doubt have a network at home. A network is formed when two or more entities connect. Unless you're name isTed Kaczynski, you probably already have a network of friends and family - perhaps through work, church, school, the gym or wherever more than one of your inner circle friends meet. In computer terms a network refers to a system that allows us to connect multiple machines together and communicate with each other. Just like your own personal network, when we connect machines together we have to have a common language and we have to know which devices are part of our inner circle and which are not. The common languages computers and their "friends" use to communicate with each other and the way they talk were developed in the 1960's by both private and public entities - with emphasis on a United States government funded group known as DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). From this publicly funded program pretty much everything we work with today, from the internet, the world wide web, computers talking with each other, mobile phones etc. all spawned from this fertile ground to create not just a new industry but a new way of life around the globe. The number of jobs created and the economics of this new paradigm are simply not calculable. If you're interested, there's a great book on the history of this titled Where Wizards Stay Up Late. So, let's assume for the purposes of our discussion that you have a router in your system and that, by definition, means you have a home network already setup and in place. Tomorrow let's start to cover how this router of yours communicates over your network and what it's language looks like.
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