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INTRODUCTION TO COMPUTER AUDIO

AN INTRODUCTION TO COMPUTER AUDIO

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Computer Audio Systems offer unparalleled flexibility and convenience. They allow the user to organize and catalogue a music library with simple keystrokes, and to use remote applications to control that library. For computer audio playback, Ciamara favors the Macintosh platform because we believe it offers the best balance of functionality and usability.

Computer Audio systems are incredibly powerful, and when designed appropriately, provide superb sound quality that rivals esoteric optical disc players (and perhaps even vinyl).  High-end, dedicated audio players such as the Lumin S1  and the Auralic Aries take things a step further, by optimizing the hardware for audio performance and convenience.  Many of our clients find these dedicated devices sound incredible, and they can be configured to work on a number of different platforms. To help you decide if a computer audio system is right for you, we have put together this introduction to computer audio so that you can understand the basics of what goes into a computer-based audio system.

Choosing a platform

A DAP (Digital Audio Player) can be a streaming audio player, a PC or a music server.

A few aspects to consider are:

  • Noise Level - Streaming audio players in general don't have moving parts; they are quiet by design. It is now possible to buy or build a PC with few or no moving parts by using SSD (sold-state drive) instead of a traditional spinning disk drive.
  • Sound quality - In most systems, you'll be able to achieve the best sound quality by using an outboard digital to analog converter (DAC). However, there are some exceptions so please contact us with any questions.
  • Hardware Interface - The type of audio interface(s) is how your digital audio player will connect to a DAC or player. The best choice of interface will depend on which DAC you chose. The most common interfaces are USB, digital coax (spdif), BNC (spdif), AES/EBU, optical (toslink), HDMI and Ethernet (network).
  • Control Interface - In the past a lot of streaming audio player comes with a small screen. Today they often have an app to interface with your smartphone and/or tablet.
  • Supported audio formats. - MP3 support is almost universal. If you want CD quality, check which lossless formats are supported. FLAC and ALAC have become popular lossless compressed formats and offer superior file tagging. The two most popular lossless uncompressed formats are AIFF and WAV.  Uncompressed file formats are exact copies of the original data. As such they take up more space than compressed formats. Some suggest, and I'm one of them, that the cost of storage has reached a point where the extra storage requirements and associated cost for uncompressed formats is negligible.  Please note that support for tagging WAV files is poor, so we recommend using AIFF over WAV. Direct Stream Digital (DSD) is also an uncompressed, lossless file format. DSD comes in two formats: Digital Interchange File Format (DFF), which is a DSD format that does not support embedded metadata. Direct Stream File (DSF, which is a DSD format that supports embedded metadata.
  • Supported bit depth and sample rates - CD quality (16 bits/44.1 kHz) is standard. Any format above 16/44.1 is considered high resolution.  You'll want to check to see if 24 bit depth and higher sample rates are supported if you plan to play high-resolution audio (88.2  – 384 kHz).
  • Gapless playback - Check if gapless playback (uninterrupted playback) is supported. Note that gapless playback is not a part of the DLNA standard.
  • Networking - In case of streaming audio players, you need a home network as the music comes from the Internet, another computer or often a NAS drive on your network. Music players can be used without a network but often needs to use online databases to lookup and tag the file's information (metadata).
  • Storage - The amount of storage you require is based on the size of your digital music collection. Storage options include a computer, external hard drive or NAS drive. We recommend choosing a solution that includes enough space for your collection to grow.

To achieve superb sound with computer audio, proper configuration and setup are critically important. To ensure best results, Ciamara offers a number pre-configured computer audio systems optimized for audio performance.

Contact us today to learn more.