Computer Audio for Dummies



I would like to get my feet wet in computer audio, but will admit my knowledge is very limited about it.
I have a MacBook Pro laptop. The rest of my system can be seen in my system page.
Here’s what I know I want to do right off the bat;

Build a library that I can pick and choose what to play- mostly for convenience & backround music. But if it is good enough, might become a source for serious listening.

Record music from some/ all of my other sources.

Download music.

I haven’t done anything yet other than purchase a stereo cable that allows me to hook one end to an unused input in my pre amp and the other to my headphone jack on my Mac.

Should I look into a DAC or somethingthing between the two for better sound quality?

Thanks in advance and please, easy on me as I know not too munch in the digital/ computer world.
markpao
These guys were a big help to me:

http://www.computeraudiophile.com/forum/
You will need a DAC for decent sound quality. Start with something less expensive like a Concero or metrum octave. Drive it with a good USB cable like an audioquest diamond or coffee. USB cable should be 1.5-9 feet long, no shorter or longer.

Start with a good playback software on the Mac, like Audirvana or Fidelio. Some are free. Rip your CDs to wav or ALAC format using free software tool XLD:
http://tmkk.pv.land.to/xld/index_e.html

Other tips:
http://www.empiricalaudio.com/computer-audio/

http://www.empiricalaudio.com/computer-audio/recommended-systems

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
A very simple solution would be to pick up a USB DAC and try tidalhifi.com lossless music streaming service. It will give you unlimited access to 25m tracks free with a 7 day trial then $20/month.
You may want to consider a different path. Do you really want to get into computer audio or do you want to:

"Build a library that I can pick and choose what to play- mostly for convenience & background music. Record music from some/all of my other sources. Download music."

You can do almost all of that by connecting a Sonos to your existing system (which is very nice) with a set of RCA cables and accessing your iTunes library.

Just a thought. I have considered computer audio, but never thought it was worth the time or trouble. I do like being able to play music I have on iTunes through my stereo, including CD's I have added to my iTunes library.
The most important first decision to make is what kind of format you wish to store your digital music. The best quality is "lossless" vs "lossy" (like MP3s). That could be WAV files, ALAC files, or FLAC. ALAC is proprietary to Apple, which would pose problems should you go with another operating system. WAVs purport to have higher quality, but you forgo the metadata that you get with FLAC or ALAC (ie the artist name, track name, album name, etc.).
Thanks for the suggestions so far. I have a lot of reading to do.

Jperry, not sure where this is going. As I mentioned, those are things I know I want to start with. Then we'll see if this goes anywhere.