Computer audio covers a very wide range of possible ways to enjoy music. Apple’s iTunes changed the music world as we know it, followed by all kinds of streaming music services such as Pandora, Rhapsody, and Spotify. Owning a physical piece of media is a thing of the past, especially with all kinds of web sites popping up that provide downloadable audio files in far higher resolution than any CD ever dreamed of!
The ease at which you can navigate a large CD collection stored on your computer vs. all of the boxes of CD’s or mega changers is an unbelievable contrast. With proper back up, you also never have to worry about losing your music either.
Joining the computer audio revolution can be broken down into three segments. Obtaining music and/or uploading your existing music; determining how to make your music sound the best when you listen to it; and finally deciding the best way to take your music with you and/or get it all over your home.
If you are over 30, you’ve probably got a sizeable collection of CD’s you have gathered over the years. The first step is to get the music into your computer. Apple’s free iTunes is a great way to start, but it is critical you upload them the right way for best sound. Luckily, we’ve done a blog on how to best set this up: How to make iTunes sound its best. The easiest way to get all of your music into your computer is to simply load them up as you are working at your home office. With backup hard drives well under $100, it’s also well worth it to purchase one of these and set it up to back up your files.
If you do not have a big CD collection but want to explore music, Pandora, MOG, and Spotify are three great choices. And once again, we’ve got detailed blogs on each one: Why I love Pandora Have you heard about MOG Leon checks out Spotify and Spotify after a week.
Getting the Best Sound
Audio Advice was one of the very first hi fi stores to get into computer music, so we have a ton of choices. Your music will be stored on your computer, but you need another piece to get it out of your computer into your stereo system. The most common component is a USB/DAC. This is a piece of gear that connects to your computer with a USB connection and then becomes like a CD player for your stereo with standard audio output jacks. Audio Advice has USB DAC’s from $150 and up from Sumiko, Arcam, Peachtree, Bryston, NAD, Ayre, Audio Research, and Classe. If you use iTunes, the simplest way to control your music is with the free Apple Remote App. Just like better CD players of the past, there are audible differences in the USB DACs. There is a huge upside for audio though when using your computer compared to a CD player. When a CD player is trying to read a disc it’s only got one chance, if it misses anything it has to use correction circuitry to try and replace any missed data. When you rip your music to your computer (if you set it up right) the computer will keep trying to get any missing data. Also, during playback, if you have a good USB DAC it will communicate with your computer to make sure the timing is correct. The net result is a CD ripped to your computer played back through a good USB DAC will sound better than that same CD played back through a great CD player!
Check out all of the the great computer audio products from NAD that make it really simple to start out with computer audio.
At Audio Advice we can help you out with all kinds of variations on computer audio set up and playback through your primary music system. Here’s a blog from our founder on how much fun he is having with computer music: Fun Again with Music
And here’s a video from Leon showing how to set up iTunes so you’ll get the best audio quality:
The No Computer Method for Computer Audio
If you are willing to spend a bit more than the average USB DAC, there is a way to enjoy your music without the need for a computer to be turned on! This concept stemmed out of all the streaming services now available. Once all your music is on a NAS drive, you can use a streaming player to pull the music from your network. The Naim players are our favorite in this category. Read all about streaming here and more specifics on Naim here.
Taking it with you around or out of your house
Obviously if you use iTunes, an iPod or iPhone is a great way to take your music with you. The streaming music services like Pandora, Spotify and others offer ways to stream to your portable device or in some cases download to it.
The great thing about getting your music on to your computer is that now it can live on your network. For the serious enthusiast, you can set up local computers such as a Mac Mini and point them to a NAS Drive (network attached storage) so you can have great sound in any room with a system. Another wonderful product for getting your music all over your home is Sonos. Sonos has small devices that can either create a great whole house music system or connect to an existing one. With their free iPhone, iPad, or Android app, it’s a snap to control!
We invite you to drop by our stores to learn more about computer music. The really fun part is with the streaming music services, you can just find so much music you never knew existed! As a matter of fact, as I sit and write up this part of our web site, I’m enjoying a CD on Spotify I never knew existed from an old rock artist Ray Davies!
Taking it to the next level
If you have invested in a Mac Mini or other Apple computer product to store and access your music from, there are several after-market pieces of software designed to improve the sound even more. Amarra from Sonic Studio is our favorite. It has tons of great features and once you install it is very simple to use. Amarra will give you a 15 day free trail to play with it so you can hear for yourself how much it improves your system.
We’ve worked with Sonic Studio to offer a special discount for Audio Advice customers. Just click the link below and you will save 15% on your purchase of Amarra! You’ll see the savings of 15% when you check out.