Deep Dive

    Moving to Computer Audio: A Comprehensive Overview, Part One

    Issue 144

    An Individual Approach to Computer Audio

    Mention the words “computer audio” and it is likely to mean different things to different people. To traditional audiophiles, it could mean convenient access to their music collection, be it ripped CDs or streaming, while ultimate-performance enthusiasts would naturally marry high-resolution formats with the latest DAC technology. The younger generation may be drawn to the user-friendly way of enjoying music from a familiar smartphone interface. Computer hobbyists can find an additional way to enjoy a favorite pastime via high-res music listening, and specification enthusiasts can indulge in a race to the next dB.

    The good news is that the hobby of computer audio can provide enjoyment to more people than just traditional audiophiles, and in more ways than before. A larger market results in greater variety and better-quality products at better prices, and that is good for audiophiles. The current availability of a wide range of quality DACs at the $1,000 to $2,000 price point is an example.

    Chord Qutest DAC, US$1,695 from various retailers.

    Chord Qutest DAC, US$1,695 from various retailers.


    However, computer audio has also brought a hornet’s nest of sometimes complicated hardware and software setup requirements, (sometimes unnecessary) jargon, and wildly differing and often less-than-helpful advice. Plenty of arguments on chat groups lead nowhere, and many need attention from the moderator. There was less “noise” in the heyday of vinyl, when audiophiles had more consensus on the direction of how to achieve the best sound from records, and what was necessary to get there. Back then it was possible for a dedicated audiophile to audition most of the leading sources, amplifiers and speakers, and in the most effective combinations, and this carried over to much of the CD era.

    In the world of computer audio, the greater complexity means that there are simply too many variables for even the most dedicated enthusiast to be an expert on everything. No one can possibly try every type of software, computer, DAC, LAN switch, cable, power supply and so on and in all possible configurations. Even a conceptually simple test between any of these can be hard to arrange, and A/B comparisons are either hard to do or impossible. For example, how would someone compare the sound quality of Tidal via two different internet service providers feeding the same hi-fi system in the same room?

    In a world where no one has the same goals, systems or circumstances, then everyone is right, because they have figured out what works for them. It is my belief that in the era of computer audio, the audiophile must march to his or her own beat, so if you disagree with what I am writing, good for you!


    Why consider computer audio? Many if not most Copper readers are experienced audiophiles with a good sounding high-end system that represents a significant investment in time and money. Equally important, readers already possess the most important measuring instrument – a trained set of ears.

    Some may be interested in an easy way to add streaming audio to an existing system, while others may want to go all-in and retire the CD transport, and still others may want to move towards a whole-house network setup with different systems for different music or rooms.

    The desired level of technology involvement is a consideration. One should be able to enjoy computer audio without having to do computer engineering. Yet if computer engineering is your thing, then why not? This is, after all, a hobby, and if someone says you are wasting time assembling Raspberry Pis but that is what you enjoy, then you know what to do. Already we can see there is not going to be a one-size-fits-all solution.

    My basic philosophy is to do what is right to maximize your own enjoyment. To make the hobby sustainable, my belief is that one should aim to retain as much of their existing system as possible. Incremental rather than wholesale changes are preferred, so that progress can be made in a step-by-step rather than a random fashion. In this article, I would like to discuss some common considerations based on my own experience.

    A Personal Note

    I may be the luckiest audiophile in the world. On a given day I could be treated to a Chopin Nocturne played on a Steinway Model A. How about a Bach Cello Suite played on an 1840 Kennedy cello? Maybe a Salzedo tango played on a Lyon & Healy concert grand harp? All this right in my own lounge. You see, my family members are gifted musicians and there is often live music in the house. The experience of a concert instrument unleashed at close range is astounding – once heard, it is hard to view recorded music in the same realm.

    But live music in an ideal setting does not happen on demand. I also like a variety of genres, composers and artists. Like many UK audiophiles, I spent too many evenings tuning my Linn Sondek turntable to sound euphoric on a small selection of records (in reply to my good friend Dr. Adrian Wu). Imperial College, where I studied electrical engineering, had an active audio society. Manufacturers such as Meridian, Naim and Dynavector would come to demo their equipment. They must have thought we had good ears because as students we certainly did not have good credit.

    When CD arrived in 1982, it did not deliver “perfect sound forever” but it did bring the enjoyment of convenience that enabled each listening session to have more music and less fiddling around. (I concede that some folks prefer to fiddle around and that’s fine.) As CD sound quality improved over the years, it brought a welcome level of consistency and enjoyment across genres. I began to buy CDs exclusively but kept my Linn.

    iTunes: the First Popular Computer Audio

    In 2005, along with my first iPod came my interest in iTunes which, for me, was a defining product in computer audio. iTunes was not intended to be a high-end product and its sound quality was sufficient only for casual listening, but for the first time, I could easily browse my entire CD library and find any track by artist, album or song. Whereas before I felt I did not have enough CDs and often struggled to find something to listen to, now the effect was like having a larger library at no additional outlay. I transferred my entire CD collection to the computer in lossless formats and since I kept my originals, I could use the CD transport whenever better sound was required. But, I thought, what if there could be an iTunes with sound approaching or even comparable to a CD transport?


    Older Apple iPod models. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Chris Harrison.

    Older Apple iPod models. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Chris Harrison.


    High-Resolution Computer Audio Software

    Bit-for-bit computer audio software such as the JRiver Media Center (PC) and Audirvana (Mac) promises to combine iTunes-like easy browsing with much improved sound quality. They were easy to set up and operate – if you could install Word, you could handle JRiver. When I changed to JRiver in 2010, computer audio sound quality was some way below a CD transport, but the combination of an entire music library controlled from the listening chair and with good enough sound quality was persuasive.

    JRiver had two key audiophile features. Memory playback involves the pre-loading of an entire track from a hard drive to semiconductor memory before the first note is played. Many things happen when music is read from a disk drive. The disk spins to the angle where the track is stored, powerful motors move the magnetic heads to the correct position, and the data is read, checked for read errors and re-read if necessary. With so much going on, some audiophiles could even hear differences between different models of hard drives. With memory playback, however, the computer merely needs to feed the track from memory to audio hardware during playback. By decreasing the work performed in real time, the sound quality could be improved.

    JRiver could send the audio data directly to compatible audio hardware – at the time often a professional sound card such as a Lynx or ESI – via a technology used in studios called ASIO (Audio Stream Input/Output) that gave much better sound because it bypassed Windows’ multiple layers of audio processing. Microsoft’s more recent WASAPI tries to do the same thing but does not sound as transparent in my experience. With user-friendly bit-perfect software like JRiver, computer audio began to gain traction.

    Building a Music Library

    The availability of a digital music library is, of course, critical. Most audiophiles have hundreds of CDs or even thousands, so this can form a good basis. Transferring (“ripping”) CDs to a computer for personal use is legal and accepted (see About Piracy - RIAA). Exact Audio Copy is a popular software utility (see Tom Gibbs' article in Issue 143), and, for whatever software you might decide upon, a lossless audio format, usually FLAC or AIFF, should be chosen. The software should be set up to automatically fill in the fields for artist, album, track and genre by matching the CD with an online database (the computer needs to have internet access during ripping), but manual editing is sometimes required. Ripping 1,000 CDs sounds daunting, but it is not that hard once you set up a production line.

    One can of course also purchase tracks, albums and entire libraries online, and some of my favorite albums are now available in hi-res. However, I think there is something wrong with having to purchase the same music three times – the first time for vinyl, the second time for CD and now for hi-res, so I have kept my purchases to new releases.

    Nowadays, by far the biggest source of music for computer audio is hi-res streaming. I am a fan of Tidal HiFi because it caters to my musical tastes (classical and jazz) and the audio quality is excellent. If Tidal suits you, there is no need to rip your CDs. Simply take out a subscription to Tidal HiFi and enjoy a library of 60 million tracks at CD-quality or better. Tidal hi-res is streamed in MQA format and my experience has been very positive. The big announcement in hi-res streaming this year (2021) was the availability of Apple Music in hi-res, and audiophiles will need to figure out how best to use it and whether it has competitive sound quality.

    USB DACs

    Computer audiophiles have long recognized that computers are bad places in which to put audio hardware such as DACs. The inside of a computer is an extremely noisy electrical environment and the switching power supplies are designed for electrical efficiency and not sound quality. A few manufacturers have made efforts to design audiophile sound cards but with mixed results.

    When high-end USB input DACs became available that allowed computer audiophiles to move the DAC outside of the computer, sound cards went out of fashion overnight. USB DACs further improved once engineers figured out how to turn what is basically a dirt-cheap data link into a high-end interface. Nowadays pretty much all USB DACS use asynchronous transfer, which improves sound quality by increasing the isolation between the DAC and the computer.


    AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt USB DAC.

    AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt USB DAC.


    Directly Connecting a Windows or MacOS Computer to a DAC

    At this point, we have a PC or a Mac running bit-perfect software directly connected to a USB DAC. Sound quality has improved but it is probably still way below a CD transport. Why is that?

    If you open Task Manager on a PC or Activity Monitor on a Mac, you will see its doing hundreds of tasks at the same time. All those tasks enable office workers to get their documents done, work-from-home folks to do video conferencing, students to research their homework and everyone else to watch YouTube and play games at the same time. Very few tasks have anything to do with audio, and every unnecessary task is detrimental to sound quality because it makes the computer work harder for no gain. How can Windows or MacOS possibly compete with a dedicated CD transport that is designed specifically for music playback?

    You could try using “optimizing” software that streamlines Windows or MacOS by shutting off some unnecessary tasks. But shut off too many and the computer stops working. It is simply impossible to turn Windows or MacOS into something they are not.

    Running hundreds of concurrent tasks requires powerful processors. Look under the hood of any recent computer, even a laptop, and you will see at least a quad-core processor that uses so much power it needs fancy cooling. All that power is consumed by billions of transistors switching on and off at mind-boggling speeds. Imagine 30 billion tiny light switches inside your computer flipping on and off three billion times a second, happily generating electrical noise and RF interference.

    Audiophile Computers

    If you must use Windows, you can consider an “audiophile computer.” Potential European suppliers include Audio PC Shop and Pachanko Labs, and some suppliers use chassis from a company called HDPLEX.

    Some argue that equipment upstream of an asynchronous USB DAC cannot affect sound because bits are bits. As audiophiles, you must trust your ears.

    Look inside an audiophile computer and you should see a gaming-grade computer motherboard. (The best-quality motherboards are designed for eSports.) The motherboard may have some modifications, such as higher quality clock chips, to make it more suitable for audio. You should find a medium-power processor – appropriate for the job and with reduced electrical and fan noise. Quality solid state drives such Samsung are standard. No audio engineer expects you to drive your high-end DAC from a consumer motherboard so look for a separate audio-grade USB or SP/DIF/AES board. A linear power supply is preferred but adds considerably to the cost. Decent casework completes the picture. If you must use MacOS, your options are effectively limited to Apple’s product line.

    With an audiophile computer, sound quality has improved to the limit of what can be done with a computer directly connected to a DAC, but in my experience may still be below what can be heard from a high-end CD transport.

    The fundamental problem is that the PC industry does not make computers designed for audiophiles. Development and tooling costs are high and factories are running flat-out, shipping 500 office and gaming computers every second. To them, the audiophile market is but a rounding error – it does not pay to make computers designed for us. The audiophile computers I see advertised, even those incorporating significant engineering, are still office or gaming computers at heart. (There is a better place for these in a computer audio system, see my comments in the next installment.) In the same way that a heavily-modified production car still cannot match a specialist racer up Pikes Peak, a computer based on standard parts will have difficulty matching the sound quality of a CD transport.

    Linux, and Streamers Designed for Audio

    If Windows or MacOS involves an uphill battle, why not find a better alternative?

    Streamers (or network players) can play music from your ripped CD library stored on disk or network drive and from your online sources such as Tidal hi-res, all at high-end sound quality. They connect to your existing DAC, can be controlled from iPad, smartphone or another device, and are not that expensive. How is this possible? Enter the Linux operating system.

    Unlike Windows or MacOS, Linux is open sourced (any computer engineer can work with it) and configurable for optimum performance for each application. Your router runs Linux, and so does your smart TV, smart doorbell and your Mercedes. Did I mention SpaceX rockets? Linux’s configurability means high-end manufacturers can offer minimalist software configurations that do away with all those sound-quality-sapping superfluous tasks.

    With much less processing work to be done, a genuinely lower-power processor will suffice. In a stroke of good fortune, it turns out that smartphone processors are very suitable for audio streamers. Smartphone processors are low-power (consuming only a few watts), low-noise, and suitable for linear power supplies at reasonable prices.

    If a streamer satisfies your needs, it is hard to argue why you would need anything more.

    In Part Two of this series, we’ll discuss the Raspberry Pi phenomenon, endpoint streamers, Roon and how to optimize its use, why computer switches and networks can matter, why Wi-Fi  can be a sonically superior alternative, and other considerations.

    Header image: the inside of a Denafrips Terminator II DAC.

    28 comments on “Moving to Computer Audio: A Comprehensive Overview, Part One”

    1. CD good players are better than computer music you say.
      Many of us are totally satisfied with our PC audio. How much are we missing out do you think?

      Looking forward to your evaluation of Linux microRendu renderer with (or without) ultra capacitor power supply.

      1. Like you, I have not used a CD transport for some time. In my experience, sound quality from a reasonably tweaked (not ultra-expensive) Windows PC with a professional S/PDIF card directly connected to a DAC is not comparable with a CD transport when feeding the same S/PDIF DAC. I'm sure a full-house audiophile PC can narrow the gap but the outlay would be significant and raise the question of budget allocation. Items that move the goal posts in favour of PC is that newer DACs may sound better via USB than S/PDIF and PC's ability to play hi-res. Are you using microRendu or other endpoint streamer? That is a whole different ball game - I ask for your patience until part 2 is published.

    2. Outstanding contribution Mr. Kwok, I look forward to your subsequent articles to gain further knowledge from your experience. Welcome to the Copper team!

    3. Thank you, thank you, thank you for an easy-to-understand explanation of a difficult subject (for me anyway). I am not an audiophile (and maybe have some doubts about those who claim they are ...) with old ears and damaged hearing but certainly enjoy good music. This subject interests me as I have a spare computer sitting next to me and have ear-marked it for an audio storage device connected to my 5 zone distributed audio system. My goal and it's implementation lack only one item - knowledge. BTW, as a suggestion, block diagrams would help explain some of the verbage.

      1. OMG here is where digital is so BAD. Set-up is miserable, still. You need a NAS, you need a NETWORK, you need a PC, you need a DAC, You need a controller point, you need software or firmware at each of those points, you need an Internet channel speed.

        Every one of those items above has setting after setting to get right or you get NOTHING most of the time. People seem to dismiss this complexity and those with the skills seem to forget the rough roads traveled to get the knowledge. It is REALLY hard to transcribe the digital knowledge base FORWARD like analog. Technically there are no standards you "must" have with digital. That's good and bad and it makes the decision as to what you chose all the harder to feel you got right.

        Trust me, or don't (same either way), the path for me has been FULL of changes at every turn to get it "right" and is still in progress. I plugged in my T.Table years ago and just have some cartridge fine tuning, but not whole sale channel changes! My PS Audio Memory Player? Pick an input that's it. Streaming Digital's path choices to analog into your preamp is bewildering.

        People who do have working digital systems are still struggling with it, trust me for sure on that!


      1. Hello. Most computers should rip a cd much faster than real time. My 2012 Apple Macmini typically rips
        a cd in about a minute, maybe a little longer on 70 minute length(in real time) cd's. I'd estimate 1-2 minutes time to rip each of your 500 cd's.

        1. CD rIpping software such as Exact Audio Copy has functionality to compare the result of your CD rip with an "official" online database. I did use the best CD drives available at the time (Pioneer) but I never saw an error no matter whether I ripped at x1 or maximum speed. Perhaps readers who have gone to the trouble of listening tests at various rip speeds could share their experience?

    4. When are we done? What are we measuring to reach that "end"? When USB, as an example, is bit perfect that's it. You can't get better than a BER, Bit Error Rate, in the billions to one range and like it or not, the digital data is no more important than office or banking (maybe this is more important!) tasks.

      A PC's background tasks aren't even in the slightest taxing a modern PC. The idle task manager CPU loads are less than 3% on average for ALL the tasks running! This is a fly on the elephant scale, and that's that on "taxing" a CPU.

      The modern PC has USB 3.2 gen 2 @ 10 gbps speeds. Well in excess of what is needed for streaming. Even USB 3.0 is 4.8 gpbs. Again, bits is bits and the BER is error corrected on the fly with digital. Digital is NOT your enemy especially in a noisy environment as the noise is completely IGNORED and removed in a proper speed digital network. This is the reason digital was even a glimmer in the eye of the data IT expert...the freedom from the external noise. How do you think your bank statement goes around the world and is always correct?

      I've spent WEEKS updating to a more modern PC from an eleven year old model to keep W11 happy and stuff just more secure and this is the change...nothing. Same MC28 and fidelizer (no audible impact running that by the way).

      Digital isn't "different". I didn't say that. I said the PC isn't the problem in my case at all. The PC is ASIO but perfect driver equiped. I also use a PS Audio Memory Player transport with AES/EBU digital link to the DAC. Both sound good but the problem is the FILTERS.

      Going with a native DSD512 encoding on the fly that DOES tax the CPU, a fly weight phone CPU can't really do that efficiently, the. DIGITAL path can be through the DSD filter(s) and not the PCM filters(s). Here, with different AD error in the AD filters I can hear a difference but the supply of bits off the USB has zip impact. The crazy BW, Band Width, of the native DSD512 simply allows the DSD filter to be more accurate in the audio band. The data is the exact SAME to both DSD and PCM filters, but the FILTER is more linear in the transcoding to analog error.

      We do have a filter in J.River MC28 that moves PCM to DSD called SoxR.This is a firmware fixed renderer that can't be changed and is designed to be as accurate as possible. This firmware stage could ALTER the data at that point, but once it is spit out, the bits stay "perfect" the rest of their little lives. It has nothing to do with NOISE but the designer's intent in the firmware SoXR filter. Nothing can escape that decision. The digital to digital filters seem to me less error prone than AD and DA so the impact on SoXR isn't too understood yet. Maybe some experts on D to D transcoding filters can define their built errors. This is NOT the same as NOISE, though.

      Filters are like phono cartridges, each has an ANALOG sound to them. Not digital per say, we can't hear digital. We can hear the conversion filters error, though. This is what people call digital and it isn't any more fair than the error your phono cartridge makes once it is designed. Everything that goes through it is changed. I see no difference except the amount of distortion various items exhibit analog or digital.

      My take on digital with the PS Audio DS DAC and the T+A SD3100HV PCM / DSD DAC? Pick your FiLTER's sound wisely as that is what you will fundamentally have to listen to. The PC won't fix that major issue with so called audiophile digital audio. As though our one's and zero's are really different to the underlying tech. Once all the upstream changes are made, did the BER show a benefit? Show me, please. I'm glad to see CHANGE and THEN decide if I can hear it, some we can't, but to test nothing and then say, trust your ears? Maybe this is just a me thing.

      The ability to make DSD more linear than PCM involves some pretty heavy circuits and isn't as easy to do as PCM it seems. And, we still have to LIKE a more linear sound. This is entertainment so pick the error that suits you best be it PCM or DSD. I just happen to like the DSD filter's sound far better so I use native DSD512 on the fly with a AMD 5600G CPU to get it using J.River MC28 with SoXR. Sure the PC is quiet, I want to hear the music not the PC. It has nothing to do with the bits errors at all. I can hook up a BER analyzer to the USB 3.2 and wait years to see an error. Hint, for noise suppression if that's your thing use a VERY low DCR shield AT RF to improve the transfer impedance of the shield. The lower the shiled's resistance at a specific frequency, the lower the induced noise as the RF noise is routed to ground. So look for the USB cable's SHIELD design over other fancy stuff. The length is far more impacted by ATTENUATION than the NOISE as this is a high frequency serial stream. It. simply falls below a legal "high" voltage value. Keep your USB cable short.

      Analog is way different than digital since it can't jettison the error from external noise. Once the error and bit perfect eye pattern requirements are met, the digital doesn't get better and better like analog does as we strip away more NOISE. You can watch a BER tester go BINGO to zip errors once the offending bottleneck is removed for digital. Removing more doesn't change the BER appreciably. It adds "headroom" for future cable damage, true, Proper digital has no NOISE attribute when it meets proper timing (jitter) and amplitude based specifications. What digital DOES have, is AD and DA error. Moving data between those two filters at each end...not so much.

      Be really happy digital is immune to noise. Be happy that the analog errors are in transcoding from filter error that we can TEST and VERIFY for improvements. Digital is great since it is so much better at signal integrity end to end. Better, the more accurate filters are getting cheaper and more available. Witness the PS Audio DS DAC over the years. The same device with better and better FILTERS firmware changed it, markedly superior to the "original" recipie at the same price. Some say the measured changes are too small to hear...but there IS change! I'm all ears with true change. I trust the change, then my ears to see if it matters. At this point, Paul has converted me to DIGITAL as my primary source with the true changes in AD and DA filter tech. In God we trust all else bring data as the saying goes.


      1. I agree 100%. Though your matter-of-fact approach to digital music will offend some. I grew up with LPs and I don't miss them a bit. Completely happy with digital music and the flexibility and fidelity it offers.

        Looking forward to the next edition since using Raspberry Pi's has revolutionized how I listen to music in my home.

        1. Mother nature is far more matter of fact than I ever could be, so we have that. Engineering is all about trying to be mother nature. If we get in her way with designs, look out.

          I will DEFINITELY miss my records and won't let them go. There aren't digital sources that are better than they are yet. I tried getting digital versions and nope, they have the dreaded softness creeping in. NEW music is mostly digital but my records are still wonderful. LP's are simple, yes, but the better overall playback system isn't cheap.

          I won't take a stand either way except that my digital is now pretty decent. It wasn't for several years though.


        2. Same here, but I'm kinda predisposed to embrace digital. I did build my first computer in 1979 and was part owner of a computer store in the 1980's. Still, if the sound quality of digital was fundamentally flawed I'd be spinning vinyl.

      2. Galen, loved your comment. I can relate to my previous life as a professional engineer where one would rarely propose extreme excess and also all designs would certainly be backed up with solid mathematics. Most engineering is developed to tackle everyday problems, as it should be, where it doesn't matter that it takes eg. a second to update your banking records. However, high end is a hobby of excess where even extreme situations and peak demand need to be handled with the same fidelity as a no-load situation - just look at the speaker cable and power chords we all use! My engineering background does hold me back in terms of experimentation because, well, some things are impossible right? Fortunately, the ears refuse to listen to reason!

        1. This hobby tends to ignore the major fundamentals and dive into the minutia of tertiary elements for that "magic". For all the, "trust your ears" arguments be they bad or good...they won't be as bad or good unless the underlying fundamentals are as right as can be. We have to stick to the knitting we know is right and reproducable. I've never seen a design that refutes basic EM circuit theory work "better". Those ingredients have to be in the sauce. Getting the main ingredients right goes a LONG way to improving the tertiary elements we all seem to adore unseen in measurement.

          This leads to the situation that seems to say, did the improvements to the fundamentals cause the undocumented tertiary element to be better or worse, or are we simply hearing a better fundamental device and the tertiary elements are just not there?

          I call this situation chasing ghosts. All those tertiary elements we feel are doing something aren't defined as to how the EM field is CHANGED by them. We hear the EM field after all in the end. If it is identical, we can't hear a change. That's the trust your ears part of it all. We are done with measurements when we can define an EM wave, what we hear, such that what component (amplitude or phase and all that) we are hearing is vetted out. Maybe not how it was changed input to output, but what a circuit does to the data when we finally use it as a signal. Not the same thing.

          We can isolate a "problem" and yet may still never understand it. Wire quality is isolated in the exact same design and we hear differences in the wire. The ghost is in the details that we can't yet see in measurements. Hence I call them ghost properties. We can get it down to where they do exist but guesses to their properties is usually not beneficial to the proper measurement techniques to characterize them property.

          Digital is far more immune to ghosts than an analog EM waveform. It actually tolerates all kinds of ghosts with no ill effects UNTIL we move into the digital or analog domain with FILTERS that interpret the EM wave each way. Now it gets interesting! Can the ghosts get through the AD and DA digital filters, ever? Don't know. What I do know is we like to gather around a bunch more ghosts in the digital domain. The next time I play the TRON video game, I will be looking for those ghosts.

          Fun article and enjoyable to read as we all learn stuff we didn't know about. But man, digital is such a messy road map from input to output with so many options and yes, that causes all sorts of long faces when we try to say it is easy. No it is not. Your articles can really help people "get it" step by step one "bit" at a time!

          Thank you Ed,

          1. Galen, you are too modest. Understanding how and why different cables sound as they do has to be just about the toughest problem there is. We'll come across more ghosts in part 2 and LAN cable is one of them - please do share your thoughts!

      3. Thank you Galen for the suggestion to try SoxR conversion in jRiver.
        There is a general feeling that getting into computer audio is overwhelming. So people avoid it.
        A pity as even a first Level setup is very satisfying.
        And then hi-fiddling tweaks add a few percent sound quality.#. We need to tell beginners this.
        And get the infinite joy of having immediate access to our full Music library.

        Our Paul gave up on jRiver — too many decisions. No actually, defaults rule.

        Google: “windows 7 and J River Media Center 14 Configuration.”
        Under audiolifestyle

        Yes! So long ago it was pretty well nailed.

        # PS. I love Fidelizer pro with its default settings. I have run A/B tests and confirmed.
        Eg “Fast Car” went from interesting Sonics to empathy with her story.

        But guys just jump in.
        Then tweak later if that is your thing. (Alll of us. Oh)

    5. Thanks for the information and replies. I find little to nothing wrong with using a medium-powered PC for digital playback. It excels in the convenience department and when used with an external DAC (Chord Qutest in my system), I have zero complaints.
      As far as the potential Bitstream corruption due to electrical noise, I have compared my home-built (full SSD Server) with a Streamer costing nearly 5 fold the price of my own build.
      I was unable to hear any differences even on demanding, high-quality DSD recordings.
      This is in no way conclusive as it is only my own experience. I would live to hear an Audio Server that DOES improve the music.
      I understand the concept of linear power supplies and other measures taken by the high-end manufacturers to isolate interference but feel it may be an extremely small concern and/or necessity.

    6. I believe Chord have sophisticated USB circuitry that surely helps. Do you use anything between the PC and the Chord? Also have you tried the Qutest with an endpoint streamer such as microRendu?

    7. Yes, the QUTEST utilizes Galvanic Isolation on their USB circuit.
      I don't use anything between the PC and the CHORD except a reasonable quality USB cable.
      I haven't had an opportunity to try a microRendu.

    8. Ed, a great article, thanks. I am just as happy with my little Mac based system because it does what I want and I enjoy the music that I like; Steely Dan et al. I could not really justify spending thousands of £ on a better system. But, if the lottery was to come my way then, well, I am dreaming!

    9. I may ruffle a few feathers... before 2010 I had only disdain for what I kept hearing from friends’ devices. Then a friend tossed an M-Audio 24/96 card. I had dubbed a lot of 45s to DAT & CD-R, so the SP-DIF port got a lot of use. Then I started messing with noise reduction.

      Turns out that _was_ the proverbial slippery slope. Now I’ve declipped about 1000 loudness war casualty CDs... decoded a bunch of HDCD files to 24 bit... removed the hideous Haeco-CSG encoding from some lovely tunes... and taken the hum out of the ambience of Mystic Moods Orchestra.

      Oh yeah, it’s also possible to generate a reasonable facsimile of the low bass cut in LP mastering, by analyzing the overtones. It’s really a cinch to address that shrill thing that happens sometimes. I have a lovely 5 band Eventide parametric...

      Oh, and some musician-grade interfaces are great for the money. I can do 16 analog channels (well, up to 48k, it’s down to 10 at 192.) Less than $1,000.

    10. Nice article, Ed. Looking forward to the next installment. Welcome to the PSA family!

      I’m a “retiring IT Pro”, and system builder.
      All that was said is true…
      I remember back when working with a small, local system builder and lobbying to get some “multimedia kits” on display and in stock. They let me bring in a small quantity of same, and we sold out in a couple days, had several back-orders, and it all took off from there.
      As manufactures went toward more large scale integration, we had sound, NIC onboard.

      I’ve need watching the digital audio movement with interest and humor since.

      I’m currently in “the dark ages”, but do have a decent Lumin streamer.

      This means I’m doing the shuffle to get some CDs, SACDs ripped and stored, organized (proper tagging, album art) and stored in a safe, redundant environment. I’ve been working with NAS units for years, so did not have to deal with that immediately.

      I love the delivery of Octave Records with an SACD, and the DSD and PCM files on a data disc. Simply copy the DSD files to the NAS, rerun the scan in the UPNP Server (running as a native app in the NAS’s OS).

      I’m currently cleaning of some older basic files and organizing.

      I looked at Roon, but got sidetracked with its complexity and cost.

      So for now it’s NAS, networking, and a Lumin with streaming and DAC in one unit. This unit is infinitely superior to any audio file I have stored to date, and when does a pretty good upsample for less than perfectly recorded, ripped files.

      Of course I’ll upgrade as things develop (PSA streamer)- it’s just the nature of the industry.


      1. An alternative to Roon is Audirvana. It's a subscription based model too but I prefer it. There are a few bugs here and there but they've been doing a good job of eliminating them and they do have a trial so you can check it out to see if you like it without spending anything.

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