Now It Begins
by, 12-20-2011 at 11:08 PM (897 Views)
So I have been playing around with the idea of computer audio since my second bookshelf is now nearly full of CDs. It seems like a great idea, as it would solve the space problem, make it much easier to manage the collection, and at least potentially give me equal or (hopefully superior) sonics. The last objective is the deal breaker. I won't compromise on that. The system now consists of an Esoteric SA-10 (intro level) CD player, Ayre K5xe preamp, Bryston 4BSST amp, and Wilson Sophia v1 speakers. I've been very happy with the system for the last four years. My audiophile nervousa is in complete remission. Haven't been the least bit interested in adding any new equipment. Just happy listening to tunes. But I can see the future. Pretty soon those shiny silver discs are going to go the way of the dinosaur. It will all be downloads. So I decided to make the plunge and get into computer audio.
My first task was to find out what the heck I needed in the way of hardware and get a cost estimate. This is surprisingly hard to do. The Computer Audiophile site turned out to be a great source of information and help. I read the FAQ's, then I tried to master the terminology. Got to say that was a problem. Translating answers was a problem. NAS, SP/DIF, USB, UpNp (sounds like bladder problem) required some study. Still can't figure out why software like iTunes is a "player." I got a number of very helpful replies to my questions about configuring a system, and now have a pretty good idea of what I will be aiming for: Mac Air >> Mac Mini >> USB >>DAC. Will probably have some external storage there sometime, but that's too far down the road.
I decided that the was a lot to learn, and there was also a potential for wasting a great deal of time and or money if I tried to do it all in one shot. Instead I decided to phase things in. First, I decided to learn about the player software and ripping CDs. That way when I got some hardware I would have something to play on the DAC. I ripped a few CDs to iTunes using XDL. Well at least I thought I was using XDL. Turns out I was on button press short of actually telling XDL to rip the CD and actually was using iTunes. Who knew? No instructions with XDL and no system is foolproof because fools are ingenious. Along the way I learned about iTunes libraries, and that it wasn't designed to work with classical music. But I got round that problem with some helpful suggestions and reading the forums. Pasted in composer and told iTunes to sort and voila! Nicely arranged with art and everything. Plus, due to my incompetence, I now can make a comparison between XDL rips and iTune rips. Hooray. Phase II complete.
Now comes Phase III. I decided that rather than to buy a Mac Mini and a 2-3K DAC that I would have an interim stage. I would get an inexpensive DAC, set it up with my Air book (using the Air battery) and see if I could get the thing to make some music. Then I could play around with player software (Amarra, BitPerfect, etc) and get acquainted with using the hardware. I will hook the Air up to the dac via USB and play with that for a while. So what DAC to get? Well once again the site seems to have come through big time. The review of the Peachtree DAC iT was very impressive. It seemed pretty simple to operate (why do I feel like I will eat those word?) and didn't have any complicated set up which is a big plus for me. Making it into the C.A.S.H. LIST was the closer. At that price how could I go far wrong? Worst case I sell it and lose a little money. Best case I have a DAC I can use while I consider a more permanent solution.
So I pulled the trigger today. Got the DAC and a Pangea USB cable from Audio Advisor. Sprang for 2-day shipping. It arrives Thursday. Hopefully by Friday I will be raptly listening to my new front end. I will be very interested to see how it compares to the Esoteric. The guy at AA said that I would be very pleasantly surprised. Course you have to take that with a grain of salt. Now I am going back an looking over all the info I found on how to set up the Air and iTunes. By Friday I will be posting my impressions or sending out MayDays to the helpful folks here at Computer Audiophile.