Computer Audio – Help Getting Started

I want to add a computer based audio source. My goals are to store a majority of my music collection on a computer accessed hard drive (with back up) and have the ability to easily play those digital files through my main system. I would also like the ability to copy selected music from the hard drive onto a small portable hard drive (or a thumb drive?) so I can play it at remote locations such as an office system. I will consider playback hardware (DAC's etc.) at a later time.

Before I start ripping desired CD’s to my computer, I suspect I will need to first decide which type of computer and operating system I will be using (Mac or Windows). Since I already have a home desktop and work laptop that use a Windows based OS, given that I am not interested in i-tunes, and knowing that Windows based laptops are about half the cost of a MacBook Pro, are there any compelling reasons why I should consider purchasing a Mac over a similar featured Windows based laptop as a dedicated computer for my audio?

Once this first decision is made, then I am sure to have more questions about specific software I should use for ripping and playback to preserve the highest quality sound possible, hopefully to match my CD source components. Thanks for any help provided.
Itunes works well with some aftermarket software like J.River or Amarra if you use a Mac.
I prefer a PC but a Mac can be fine for just music.
A great site is
I prefer Macs because they are less buggy and the virus issues are so much easier. More audio based hardware tends to work with Windows based products, so this might be a consideration if you think that you might be adding a product
such as the Marantz NA 7004.
I have done direct comparisons with a Dell laptop and a Macbook playing the same files (formatted for each OS) in my system and I can't detect any audible difference.
i just moved to computer audio and went through the same decision process. was in the same position as you are. long time pc user debating if apple was the better route. ended up getting a very nice pc and could not be happier. for under $700, it was a no brainer compared to an apple product. what does $700 get ya??

intel i5 w/WIN7 64 bit pro
8g memory
2g graphics card
3T worth of high speed hard drive space
network/streaming hardware (router and ethernet adapter)
J River MC16
wireless keyboard and mouse

apple makes great stuff and if you're already's a good way to go. however...if you're a pc person, i see no compelling reason to pay a lot more and change over to apple. with the intro of WIN7, the choice was made even easier for me. it's far and away the best OS microsoft has ever produced. miles ahead of vista and other problematic microsoft os's.

if you're like me and need a pc for home and work, switching to apple just for music makes little sense imho.
First, thanks to those who recommended the computeraudiophile site. While I have been browsing it, your recommendations prompted me to dig deeper and find some really good information.

Second, much thanks to Richardfinegold and Levy03. Your responses are exactly the type of user specific information that I was hoping to obtain by asking questions on this site. The only reasons I could think of to purchase a Mac would have been if it were considerably easier to extract the music or if there were noticably superior software available for Mac only. However, since my other computers are Windows based, and since I don't listen to an i-pod, the reasons I am hearing to put Mac above a Windows PC are; better virus control, better build quality, perhaps a little easier to extract bit perfect files, and a more "historical" reputation as a leader in computer audio (let me know if I am missing something). In favor of a Windows PC are; compatibility with my other computers, lower price, and availability of a wider range of (less costly) upgrades as the industry advances. Thanks for the specific recommendations and please keep them coming.

I am looking forward to getting into hardware selection because of the many new products that seem to come out almost weekly. I want a high quality solution to at least equal the sound of my MUSE Erato II and Ayre C-5xeMP players. It seems Empirical Audio, Wavelength, and Weiss gear is generally out in front, with the Ayre QB-9 a half step back. I believe there are likely others to consider and after reading the recent 6-Moons preview, I would be interested in hearing how something like the Metrum Acoustics Octave with a Stello U3 might stack up (at a much lower price than the first three listed). However, I need to nail down the software side of things first. Thanks again for the help.
Mitch2 - everyone on the forums appears to be an expert, but believe me they are not.

For ripping purposes, you dont need a Mac, but for playback Mac works best.

If you only have a PC, just pay $35 and get dbpoweramp and start ripping with accurate-rip enabled. This will give you great rips in AIFF, wav or FLAC. You cant go wrong if you do this.

Other tips (no advertising):

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Steve: what makes you say macs work best?. i did some a/b streaming with a friends macbook pro and could not tell a difference. they sounded identical in my set-up.
Thanks Steve for weighing in and for the link. I like what you have done with the recent Overdrive changes that make it more affordable and an easier one-box solution for maximum sound quality. Are you saying Mac works best because it is the easiest or because it sounds better, or both?
I went through the selection process just about a year ago. I chose a Mac Mini for simplicity. I ripped maybe a third of my cds in AIFF and store them on an external hard drive.
The two advantages that sold me were the size of the Mini and the fact that I can control it remotely with the ipod touch. The Mini sits on the equipment rack with no monitor hooked up, just a very small USB keyboard and a remote mouse (which is turned off unless needed). I hook a monitor to it once a month or so to check for updates.
The Mac's optical out feeds a Monarchy Super Drive DIP which in turn feeds a PS Audio DLIII. My favorite way to listen is to call up "all songs" on the touch and select shuffle. Never know whats coming next.
Regarding DACs, I use a firewire dAC, which is another vote in favor of Macs (although some Windows computers have firewire outputs, such as Sony VAIO).
My only experience with a non asynchronous USB is via the aforementioned
Marantz NA 7004. I would like to try Empirical Audio Off Ramp and Musical Fidelity V_Link but I have no experience as yet with these products. If your budget will allow for the Weiss DAC I would strongly consider pairing that with
a firewire output PC.
I've also used a MacMini similar to the way that Timrhu has and was very pleased, and I second his comments about the space savings offered by a MacMini.
Firewire can be added easily to most PC's. My Sony and one of my HP's have it. They have HDMI for audio and video too. I also like Media Center which is great for Netflix, movies, internet TV etc.
The Berekley Audio AlphaDAC is also well regarded. I would add it to your list to consider.
countless ways to put together a nice computer based system. my head was spinning when looking into all the options. i understand that apple had an edge at one time but after doing some research, i walked away thinking those advantages disappeared in the last year or two. seems personal preference played a roll in many folks saying one was better then the other.

all things being equal, i didn't come accross anything showing one was in fact better regarding SQ. seems one might work better for certain set-ups but the set-up was the determining factor...not the computer.

would like to hear why Steve thinks mac's are "better". after declaring other opinions as uninformed and wrong (rather rudely i might add), i'd like to hear something concrete from an "expert" as to why macs are *always* better.
Levy and Mitch - If you use the RIGHT software on the Mac, it will crush the best PC setup. iTunes alone will not cut-it. I have lots of customer feedback supporting this also.

The software makes all the difference, as well as the Mac hardware setup. For instance if you use a Mini and put Amarra version 1.21 on it, it's very live and dynamic, as well as being analog-sounding. Battery power is even better. I have found other player software to be a bit soft on top, so the percussion is not live sounding.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Steve, what is it regarding the mac hardware that makes it better for streaming?.

also...the macbook i tested in my system was using amarra (unsure about version) and i heard no difference what so ever.

Levy - I wish I knew. Even the designers of the playback software admit that they dont know what is going on in the PC and Mac audio stacks that affects sound quality. They can only speculate.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
With regards to ripping - what is the difference between a dbpoweramp rip and a rip from iTunes w/ error correction turned on?
sorry Steve...i can't buy into that. like i said earlier, it's all a bunch of opinions with nothing to back it up on either side. to claim expertise and discredit other folks opinion as ignorant, you'd better have something to back it up with it (and you don't). so playback says one thing and another mfg say another....this doesn't not prove a thing. if you're partial to mac's, that's fine. however, when it comes to opinions, i'll trust my own after hearing both in my system. i have no doubt that mac's or pc's might work better in certain set-ups. i have alot of doubt when someone says one is flat out *always better*.... especially after hearing them for myself (with my gear of course).
Goatwuss - the sound quality. give it a try. its free.
Audioengr what are the major differences between J River and dbpoweramp if any? I'm more of a PC guy and although I sometimes use a Mac, I don't care much for them.
DBpoweramp is a good ripper. Jriver is a good playback engine for PC

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
So, you need both?
Rwwear - I use both. For most new, good quality CDs they rarely show rip errors. J River will rip them fine. It gives a report that tells you if it had to retry any reads. If there are no errors, I just use that. dBpoweramp is better at reading damaged disks and it adds the option to have your rip checked against a database of rips of the same disk by others (AccurateRIP). I find the convenience of using J River for both ripping and playback to be worth it. Using dBpoweramp is easy, but it does mean you have to import the files into J River Also, sometimes on some classical CDs the tagging can get a little complicated. When ripped with J River, the tags are clean and consistent in the library. If you want the absolute best rip with the best checking, use dBpoweramp. If you are OK with an occassional issue, you can use J River for most cases and dBpoweramp when needed.
Thanks Dtc.