I can offer a relatively simple and effective approach similar to what I adapted a couple years back. I am 52 and deal with computers for a fairly large and well known company for a living.
I'd say your computer can be used, but use external USB hard drives to actually store any music library files.
You also need 2 such disks and an automatic backup program to keep an extra copy of files at all times in case the main drive dies.
I use Seagate drives from Best Buy. These work well, have been quite reliable for several years now, and include the backup software needed.
Then, use a separate Squeezebox Touch connected to your system for playback. You will need a network connection from Squeezebox to computer/music server. Any good quality modern wireless router can provide this.
This solution covers all the bases, is inexpensive, reliable, very flexible and provides excellent sound guaranteed. Adding an external DAC later (connected to SB TOuch digital output and in turn then connected as source in your stereo) provides a means to tweak or improve sound quality further down the road if needed.
Forget it, spend the time listening to more music. I've been in audio for sixty years, computers fifty years. I have found that stand alone media players, including vinyl, tape and cd's provide a better listening experience. I do rip music to MP3 files for use 'on the go', but found that all the codex's to store sound at full fidelity lacking. Recently I've been using one of Sony's 300 disc players, purchased for $99, and have found the sound and convenience great.
One thing I forgot to mention is you need software to rip the CDs to disk. I find WIndows MEdia Player does a good job and is included in windows. You will need to set the output format. For best sound use a lossless format, which will make bigger files but also provide best sound. I use .wav, which is most like CD format. The down side of .wav is you have to get the metadata tags (artist, album name, etc.) correct prior to the rip process in that editing after the fact is nearly impossible. TO change tags/metadata, you have to re-rip a file. Also, WMP automatic tagging using the integrated web service works very well for most CDs, however getting correct metadata ags with classical CDs is often problematic. THere may be better tools that do a better job with automated tags for classical CDs. If you are willing to manually edit tags in WMP prior to ripping, it is not a problem, but manual editing can be very time consuming in general and I try to steer away from having to do that. FLAC lossless format is better for editing metadata tags but WMP does not support FLAC.
One final thing. There is some overhead involved with setting up and maintaining a music server. With the recipe I provided, I find this to not take much time overall and I spend more time listening to my CDs off the server than I would otherwise due to all the ease of access convenience features Squeezebox provides. However, even the simplest music server can be a challenge for those not inclined to have the patience needed to use a computer to good effect. So think twice if this seems to complicated and you do not have the patience to spend the time needed to get up the learning curve.
The feature I like most with a music server system like the Logitech Squeeze system is the ability to queue up random or manually compiled playlists of tracks. Cueing up your CD tracks randomly on a music server is like having your own personal radio station. You do not know what to expect will play next, but its yours that you bought, so chances are you will like it. My music server has been a great tool for better familiarizing with me CD collection, including many tracks there that I would seldom or perhaps never play or discover otherwise.
The Squeezebox Touch is a separate music server box that gets the files from you Netbook over a network connection. You use the Touch as you music system and user interface. The other option is to have a software Player running directly on your Netbook, which is what I do.
I use a Netbook for my source (Gateway) and it works fine. Since you already have a nice USB DAC, all you need is a USB cable between the Netbook and the DAC, which you may already be using for Internet radio. For a USB cable, you can start with any cable you have, although like all audio, you can also spend a lot on USB cables. But a simple one will get you going.
I would suggest Windows 7 Starter over XP, but you can certainly start with XP. Windows 7 has a better audio subsystem than XP. If you go to Windows 7, I would suggest Starter rather than Home unless you need some of the Home components for other things. The fewer the number of processes running, the better the sound can be. Although I am not sure if you can upgrade to Starter, or if it has to come installed. For a start, you can certainly use XP.
For ripping, most playback software has ripping capability. For the best ripping, the stand alone program dBpoweramp is a great choice. It not only rips damaged disks very well but also compares you rip to those of others so you can be sure all the bits are correct. Personally, I would rip to FLAC. It is a compressed version of the track, but is still lossless. Think about as zipping a file to save space. Some people believe that WAV files sound better, but that is a very active debate. FLAC will save you something like 40% in disk space. With WAV, the tags (artist, title, album title, etc.) have to be stored separately from the data. With FLAC, the tags are stored in the same file as the data. This makes it much easier to move the files around from system to system.
For playback, I like J River Media Center. It is a very full functioned player will very good sound quality. It does take a little getting used to, but you can use it just as it comes with very good results. It also will rip for you. I use it to rip unless I have a disk that is damaged, then I use dBpoweramp. JRMC is much more full functioned than Windows Media Player. JRMC also has a app that runs on Andoid phones (not iPhones) that lets you control the player from your phone.
Your DAC has an asynchronous USB connection which really helps keep jitter at a low level. So, with JRMC you can use Wasapi Event Style or Kernal Streaming, which will give you very good results. That is easy to set up with JRMC.
For drives, you an get 200+ CDs into about 50GB to 75GB using FLAC. If you have that kind of space on your Netbook, you could just start with that. You would eventually like to be able to back it up which you can do using a USB drive or even over a wireless network if you have a larger desktop system available. If you have a lot of CDs, a USB drive is the way to go. But you could get started with you Netbook disk if you have some space. I just use my Netbook drive, although it is a 250GB drive.
I would suggest trying J River. It costs $50 but it comes with a free 30 day trial. Load up the software, rip a few disks and give it a try. They have a forum that can help you if you have any problems, or I would be happy to help get you going. That would also allow you to easily compare the sound to your existing transport. The comparison will cost nothing but a little bit of your time.
I am 64 and use my Netbook for all my digital music. It replaced a Classe CDP-10, which is a pretty good CD player, and the PC sounds at least as good, if not better. And you already have a very nice DAC. I actually have an old MF A3-24 DAC feeding Cary SLP-05 pre, Levinson 432 amp and Sonus Faber Cremona speakers.
I'm a Squeezebox convert myself. It's so convenient being able to browse through my 50k songs using the ipeng app on an ipad.
Once it's setup, it's very easy to use. A simple, free software mod will allow you to use the USB port as an ouptut into your dac for the best sound.
Sonos is supposed to be even easier to use and setup and may be a better (easier) solution for the OP, but doesn't support the highest resolutions.
If your ears are still intact and you care about sound quality, forget about WMP. Not good IME. If you use a PC, then rip CDs with dbpoweramp with Accurate-Rip enabled on-line. It is simply the best ripper and achieves the best results.
The SB Touch is a great choice, but so is the Sonos. Sonos is actually more popular worldwide and easier to use. More trouble-free. Both Touch and Sonos sonics benefit significantly if you place a reclocker between them and your MF DAC.
For a demo of how easy Sonos is see:
If you want to beat this sound quality and are willing to do a little computer work, then the next step-up is a low-jitter USB converter between your computer and your DAC. Your Netbook is probably not the best thing to drive USB with however. You may need a real laptop with more memory and stronger USB ports. You will definitely need a good playback software for USB, not WMP. I highly recommend Foobar2000 with Jplay.
I use Mac Mini myself. More tips:
With existing computer, as OP asks, I think it best to offload the player function to a separate device and run server only. I have done this with SB server (now called Logitech media server) on older more limited PCs with similar good results as with newer more powerful PCs.
Using a wireless connection from server to player then also keeps computer noise artifacts out of the picture completely helping insure the sound quality. So this is the happy path that I would recommend anyone use to avoid potential sound quality issues associated with using a general purpose computer to produce excellent sound quality.
Steve, can you quantify in any way the shortcomings you believe exist with WMP versus dmpoweramp? I don't doubt db poweramp to be a very solid and safe choice, but the results I have been getting using WMP and .wav is quite good. If there is loss occurring, I have not been able to hear it so far, though I have never done any valid a/b compaarisons.
Mapman - my Netbook runs at less than 5% CPU usage when playing through J River. I have 2 GB of memory, but there is always plenty free. If you can keep the number of extraneous processes down, then a player like JRMC uses very little CPU or disk time. I know that everyone wants a very fast CPU and lots of memory, but I find that a small system with a small number of processes running is a very effective server. That's why I like Windows 7 Starter. You can also turn of the network if you want to. And I do not run anti-virus software when playing music.I have actually had more problems with my i5/8 GB desktop than with my Netbook.
The MF M1 DAC using async USB and has (I believe - need to check) galvanic isolation, which means the noise issues from the PC are minimal. Obviously, this topic is one of endless debate, but with the M1 I really do not think computer noise is a major issue.
I like the simplicity of a one box solution, but you can get excellent results either way. One advantage of a software player solution, is that the OP can try it without any cost and then decide which way to go if he likes the system.
The real advantage of dBpoweramp is that it does a checksum on the rip and then compares that checksum to a database from others who have ripped the same track. Matching checksums is a strong indication that the rip was accurate.
Yes, I recall that feature of DBpoweramp which sounds useful.
With WMP, the only tools available to determine quality are my ears. I trust them so that is where I have stayed despite thinking about giving more elaborate tools a try.
I do get solace in knowing that it takes WMP a lot longer to rip a CD in poor condition generally than one that appears pretty good. That tells me that when I configure it for best quality possible rather than speed it is actually trying to accomplish that.
I can't imagine that most here would not be quite satisfied with the resulting sound quality I have gotten consistently using WMP over the years, but who knows, maybe there are other tools that are really better and can make a difference. My digital sound quality is already at all time highs off my music server so hard for me to complain really.
Mapman - unless a CD is damaged, I do not seen see any difference between using J River and dBpoweramp for ripping. I ripped several CDs on both and did bit compares on the files and they were the same. So, I only go to dBpoweramp for questionable CDs. My guess is that the same is true with WMP. Even if the disk is damaged, it is unusual for more than few sectors to be questionable, which means the effect is typically a very small part of a track. Of course, some will say the rips sound different even if they are identical, bit by bit. I am not in that camp, but some are.
Mapman wrote: "Steve, can you quantify in any way the shortcomings you believe exist with WMP versus dmpoweramp?"
Certainly sound quality is better with dbpoweramp rips, due to Accurate Rip verification of the dataset as well as the offset. Both are important. It also has very good read algorithms to get clean reads and makes use of C2 error correction when needed.
It's even better than EAC IME. Does a great job of converting FLAC to .wav etc..