A condensed guide with additional resources inspired by our Ask the Expert event on Computer Audio.
Computer Audio is now!
We are all listening to some form of computer audio, whether from our computer or streaming from our favorite mobile device but it is still a relatively new source for music and if attendance at our Ask the Experts event on Computer Audio last Thursday told us anything it is that people are still learning and want to know how to get the most out of their digital music listening experience.
If you missed our event or were there and your head is still spinning, have no fear, think of this as your cliff notes for computer audio.
Computer Audio Basics
If you are just getting started with computer audio, begin by reading Computer Audio Basics on Peachtree Audio’s website which answers some important frequently asked questions. This information was originally posted on by Chris Connacker of Computer Audiophile, which is an in-depth resource for all things computer audio.
Bringing a World of Music Home
The mass appeal of using a computer as a source for all your music is rooted in the ability to access a large personal collection instantly, to grow that collection easily, and to discover new music using streaming music services and the vast number of internet radio stations that are available. On top of that digital music is portable, take your collection and stream radio anywhere through your mobile device.
Build your digital music library ripping your CD collection lossless to a hard drive on your computer.
Pro Tip: Shop the used CD section at your local music store and pick up music for a steal. Remember to rip them to your computer.
Grow your digital music collection by purchasing songs on HDtracks.com or from the iTunes store.
Pro Tip: If using iTunes, opt for Apple Lossless downloads.
Pro Tip: Try a service out by registering for a free account. There will be ads and limited features but once you find a service you love, upgrade to premium account to remove ads and access all the features.
Playback through Your Audio System
There are several ways that you can play digital music back through your audio system and the best way will vary based on the system and person using it. Below are some of the most common ways, note that they we advocate a digital connection from the device to the audio system which allows you to take advantage of the DACS in your audio system which are almost always better than what is available in your computer or mobile device.
Direct Connection: Quite simply hooking your computer up directly to your audio system using either a USB or digital audio input (optical or coaxial).
Pro Tip: Use USB or coaxial if you have it which will allow playback of hi res audio files (24/196) like those downloaded through HDtracks.com as optical is limited to 24/96.
Airplay: This technology from Apple allows you to stream audio and video and is built into many newer receivers however the user friendliness will vary by manufacturer. If your audio system does not have Airplay you can add an Apple TV which is a popular solution because it is inexpensive and very easy to use. Find out more about Airplay.
Pro Tip: Download the free iControl App in the Apple App store to control an Apple TV from your mobile device.
Sonos: A scalable audio system that allows you to start accessing your music and internet streaming in one room and then expand throughout the home wirelessly using different Sonos components that best match the application for each room. This is a hugely popular solution because of its easy installation (no wires), expandability and free control app for Apple and Android. Find out more about Sonos.
Mobile Devices: Your mobile devices, like the iPad or iPhone can also be used as a source to playback music stored on your phone or to stream services like Pandora or Mog.
Pro Tip: Always use the digital connector to USB cable for the best sound and to keep your device charged while in use. If your audio system does not have a USB connection, you will want to use a docking station.
Pro Tip: Make sure to turn the volume up on the mobile device all the way so you don’t lose digital information and use the volume control on your audio system to adjust overall volume.
Optimizing your Audio System for Performance
Digital music is stored as 1s and 0s but we don’t hear in 1s and 0s so you’ll need a DAC (Digital to Analog Converter) to convert that information to analog. If you don’t have a stand-alone DAC in your system or built-in to your receiver or preamplifier, as is the case with a lot of vintage audio equipment you will need to add one to really reap the benefits of this new found source of music. It could also be time to upgrade your preamplifier or receiver altogether. Be sure to talk with a consultant to compare what you currently have to the new technology available.
Pro Tip: A vacuum tube preamplifier section limits listener fatigue by making digital music which can have a harshness to it sound more natural.
Check out our gallery of our recommended components for digital music playback.
We hope you found the information presented here helpful, if albeit brief. We encourage you to comment below or come in if you have specific questions, to learn more or try out some of the products and technologies discussed in this article.