Best solution to send digital files to my DAC

Hi All,
I’m a novice when it comes to digital audio, so:
I have a very good DAC feeding into a good preamp. I have many digitized CDs and hi-rez files stored on my computer, but I would rather transfer them to a better audio device.  What is the best device(s) on which to store all my digital music and send it to my DAC. I don’t care about connectivity with any other devices; I just want to know what’s the best thing to use. Is it a streamer? A server? What’s the difference? What is the simplest way to get the best possible quality from a storage device to my DAC?
Thanks in advance.
Ag insider logo xs@2xrustler
  • An audio network streamer is what's going to actually connect to your DAC and send it the digital audio signal.
  • A server is what's going to hold all your locally stored digital audio files and make it available to the network streamer.
  • You also need a mechanism for getting audio files onto your server, which is most likely your computer (but may not be).
All three of those functions could be found in one unit, which could be your current computer. Or can be split among multiple units.

As for what device might be best, it really comes down to what would be best for you. What works best for how you want to acquire, store, and manage your music? What streaming services, if any, do you want to use? What other devices, or audio systems, do you want to also use? What user interfaces or applications do you find the most intuitive and easy to use? Do you want to limit the number of physical boxes? etc.

We're primarily using Lumin products here after trying multiple options, with music ripped from a computer and stored on a NAS. That's been the nicest experience for us.
I'm a novice when it comes to hi-fi but I am using my Mac as a music server connected to my DAC via USB.

This is a very simple solution and since I use iTunes I can run it all from my chair with Apple Remote on my cell phone.

There are certain things you need to do to keep the files from running through the computer's sound card but that's easy too.

Many will say the iTunes messes with your files and degrades SQ and I can't argue with that. I use BitPerfect, a cheap app that claims to bypass all of iTune's machinations to send a bit perfect file to your DAC and just uses iTune's cataloging features which really aren't that bad. I can't really tell any difference with BitPerfect on or off.

I rip CDs using XLD which is free.

Even with a cheap DAC there is not much difference between this system and direct playback of a CD via a CD player.
I use a CD player, digital out to DAC.  I also stream wirelessly from any Apple device to an Apple TV or an Airport Express.  I also have a Chromecast Audio that works well.
This works for me because I can't really hear any difference between 16/44.1 and any higher resolution.  Jitter may be a problem for some, depending on your DAC (you can always try out a re-clocker).
I know my opinion is controversial.  I have taken super hi-res files downloaded from HD Tracks and listened to them direct with headphones, and then listened to the same source through the AEX (which downsamples to 16/44.1) and my accuracy at identifying the source (blind testing) is 50%.  If there is a difference, I cannot discern it with any of my equipment.

for the OP, servers can usually be accessed by other people on the network.  For example, I have a Synology NAS (Network Associated Storage) that is connected to my router.  My music systems are in other rooms, each one having a streamer that is connected to the network by Ethernet, but wifi could be substituted.  The streamer takes music from the NAS and sends it to the audio equipment in whatever system is being played

  At the same time that I access the NAS for music files, my wife can download or upload photos on the NAS.  Potentially movies can be be stored on a server and watched while music is being accessed.

  Hopefully this helps understand some of the terminology

Another thing to consider is streaming services.  I use both Tidal hifi and Idagio.  Most anything I want to listen to is available from those services, so the need to go out and buy music, either physical or downloaded, is greatly diminished.  I will buy an occasional obscure recording, and I will buy records (another story for another time), but I have significantly downsized my collection of CDs.  I have about 75 CDs ripped to a hard drive (mostly alac, some Flac, about 50GB), but stopped when I realized most of that material was available on Tidal.  My 500 or so CDs do not take up much room, and I enjoy reading the liner notes!
Again, my approach works because I am completely satisfied with Redbook quality.  If you are pursuing higher resolutions, your life will become considerably more complicated and expensive.  I am blessed that I cannot tell the difference!
Check out Bluesound Node 2i or Vault 2i if you need to rip cds to its internal drive.  
You want a network streamer. Tons of these nowadays at different price points. The best one might be something like the Innuos Zen MK3
+1 on the Innuos Zen MK3.

For about 15 years, I used a Netgear ReadyNAS and Logitech Media Server for playing music files and streaming.  That solution worked well for me.  A couple of years ago, I migrated to a Synology NAS and stayed with LMS.  That solution worked even better.  

This year, I moved to Roon and haven’t looked back.  I now use an Innuos Zenith MKII CD ripper/network media server connected to a Mytek Liberty DAC.  SQ is great.  It’s a bit pricey.

I’ve never heard a Node 2, but there are a lot of folks on agon that give it very high marks.  

If you look at any music server, they are just a personal computer with usually a Linux OS of some type. I have been down that route. Most music servers use the inferior USB connection. Another thing you don’t want to do is have a music server with disks attached in your audio room. 1 more thing, the app that you use to play your music is very important too.
When you consider all of this, why would you buy a music server?
I use my iMac in a different room running Roon server, connected to my ps audio DS dac using Ethernet. I have used Auralic’s DS Lightning software and Lumins and they are very good, but still no match for Roon. The Mac allows me to use a raid disk setup for more fault tolerance, plus my data is backed up regularly, easily recoverable, and many local companies can fix the Mac if I can’t. What other music server can state that? 

if you read my post above, you might see why a NAS is the choice for some people.  Some of us live with significant others who may have other uses for a server, or may wish to access the server from different locations.
Does your DAC support the UPnP protocol (Universal Plug and Play)?  If so, you’re in luck.  If not, I think you’re gonna need to buy some more hardware as others have suggested.