I was going to jump into network audio players, networking and all that’s involved with that, but due to a rash of requests I will postpone that for another day and answer some questions.
We learned a few days ago that without a lot of hand work, iTunes does not play tracks in their native mode: meaning whatever the highest acceptable rate your USB connected DAC accepts is what all tracks are upsampled to – whether you like it or not (you don’t like it).
Take, for example, Audioquest’s cool little Dragonfly USB DAC. This unit plugs right into your USB output and plays music with very little fuss. It is based on a TI chip whose driver is limited to 96kHz for the maximum sample rate. When you connect the Dragonfly to either a Windows or a Mac computer and select it to play, iTunes will not play the native sample rate of the music. Rather, it will play everything at the higher sample rate of 96kHz, 24 bits by upsampling. If you want iTunes to play the native sample rate via USB, you will need to go to the Windows or the Mac audio control panels and set the rate to match each track that’s different.
While many of us have only a relatively small selection of higher resolution tracks, relative to our CD collection, we could easily set by hand the rate to 44.1kHz and call it a day. But if you have some higher rez stuff, this process is not only a pain but impossible if you’re also using a program like Apple’s free Remote app to control iTunes. With the remote app, you can sit in front of your hi-fi and use your iPhone or iPad and Remote App to play to your heart’s content. It’s quite cool. Just understand that if you manually set your computer to play 44.1kHz – when you select a 96kHz track it will be downsampled to that frequency.
So what’s an alternative for Windows users? There are several but our pick is J River Media Center. It looks very much like iTunes but has none of the problems I just mentioned, will play DSD as well as FLAC files. The only downside to J River is the setup can seem daunting. They have a very active forum and user’s group that’ll help you set it up – and once setup you never have to mess with it again. They also have a wonderful app called J Remote that works really well.
There are also many other Windows based programs you can use, from the venerable (and free) VLC, FOOBAR, to Media Monkey and so on. I recommend sticking with J River.
Tomorrow let’s try and tackle networks.