Computer-Based Audio Primer

I had a few requests to elaborate on some of my suggestions for PC-based audio. Hopefully this will help:

Ripping your music:
Use Exact Audio Copy (EAC) to rip your music. It is the undisputed leader in perfect ripping. Set up the correct way, it uses error correction and reads the CD multiple times until it gets a perfect copy. You can download it for free here:

You will need to configure EAC, which can seem daunting. Do some google searching to find a good guide for how to do so. A couple are here:

Encoding your music:
I recommend you do it losslessly. This is done for sound quality as well as ease of use (once it's lossless, you can convert it to any other format without re-ripping). Popular lossless formats include WAV, FLAC, and Apple Lossless (ALAC).

Personally, I use iTunes, so ALAC was the best format for me. I use iTunes because I have 2 iPods and I love iTunes’ interface. If you don’t need/want iTunes, Foobar2000 is the best way to go, as it has the most output options and sounds the best. I used EAC to rip my CD’s to a single file (using EAC’s “Copy Image and Create Cue Sheet” command), then mounted that file with Daemon Tools so it shows up on my system just like a CD. From there, I ripped the virtual CD with iTunes with Apple Lossless. I did it this way to get the perfect ripping provided by EAC, while iTunes still can go look up all the track names in the CDDB.

To play back your music, you need:
1. Software player
2. Source (Something to convert the lossless file into a digital stream)
3. DAC (digital stream to analog signal)

Software players:
The most used are iTunes, Foobar2000, and SlimServer (for use of Squeezebox, which is explained below). If you have a Mac, iTunes is the way to go. Interface is awesome, and the output is bit perfect. On a Windows PC, Foobar2000 sounds the best (and supports high quality output formats such as ASIO and kernel streaming), although iTunes apparently sounds good too. If you want to use iTunes as your front end, but get the better audio quality of Foobar, you can do so with the multi-plugin…see this post:

One problem is Foobar’s ALAC decoder is currently buggy, so going Apple Lossless from iTunes into Foobar may be buggy. All of this should be solved in time. I hope so, since this is the approach I will take.

A good primer is here:

A source can be as simple as your PC’s audio card. If you want good sound quality, look at sources that live outside your computer, which is notorious for noisy electronics.

If your stereo can be close to your PC, look into Red Wine Audio’s USB transit or Empirical Audio’s USB Freeway. Both are modifications of the M-Audio transit. Personally I have a USB transit on the way, as the price was right and it runs on battery power (lowest jitter). Read about these products here: (click on “Computer Audio”)
Do beware of other “USB sources”. It’s all in the implementation…just because it takes in USB and outputs S/PDIF doesn’t mean it’s going to sound good.

If you need to have your computer far away from your stereo, probably the best way today is to use a Slim Devices Squeezebox ( . This thing pipes music wirelessly from your PC, also does internet radio, and gets great reviews. Red wine audio also can modify it to make it even more audiophile quality ( . I read a post where a guy said the modified version sounded as good as the output from an ack Dack 2.0 sourced from a CD transport). Squeezebox must be run from SlimServer, but SlimServer integrates with iTunes and I believe Foobar as well.

iTunes users can also use an Airport Express, which is wireless and has a Toslink digital out. Toslink isn’t as good as coax (SP/DIF) as it adds additional conversion (from SP/DIF to Toslink and back, which can add jitter) to the signal path, but if you have a good Toslink DAC, this may be a good option, as the Airport Express does get bit perfect output out of iTunes on Windows (only way to do so, I think).

You can either use the DAC from whatever source you use (if it has one), or buy a separate one. There’s nothing new here, same DAC considerations as with CD playback. If you have bucks and want the absolute latest and greatest, you may want to consider getting Empirical Audio’s I2S USB source and a Perpetual Tech DAC that has I2S input (details on Empirical Audio’s site) . I2S is the native communication of a DAC, and apparently feeding it exactly what it wants provides unparalleled sound.

My personal opinion is that the best price to performance is going to come from battery powered DAC. The DAC creates the lowest powered signal, therefore any noise in this signal gets amplified a LOT. Battery power removes AC noise from this low power signal, resulting in a very black background and clean, analog sound. Another new development in DAC’s is the filterless DAC. The ack Dack has both battery power and filterless, and I have heard how good it sounds (I have one on the way). You can read about filterless DAC’s on ack’s site:!.html.

I hope this serves as a place to start for those of you looking into PC-based audio.
I have been pondering the idea of building an "Audiophile" PC. One thing a lot of people seem to miss, is liquid-cooling for custom built PC's. The only moving part needed is the pump, which can be stored outside the PC to avoid transferring vibrations. All hoses can be run with rubber grommets, to further avoid any vibration from the motion of the cooling medium.

For a quality redundant solution (in case of pump failure), you can have a second in-line pump to trip, or have fans installed on top of the water cooling copper 'plates' and they can automatically come on if the temp gets to a desired set-point (which in our case would only be due to a pump failure).

The rotational hard drive has vibrations, but purchasing a quality, low-RPM laptop hard drive, and mounting it with rubber 'edging' will eliminate most of that vibration.

A quality audio card to transmit a digital signal, and one should be set!

Any thoughts? I'm seriously thinking about starting this project, I just want some feedback...
Excellent info and thank you. Any recommendations for storage?
Nice work Matt! thanks for putting this together.
Another option is buy a plextor burner and use plextor tools to extract FLAC's as the plextor software performs like EAC without the configuration.
Tobz - if you are going to go to all that trouble, don't use a sound card.
Tobz-my "audiophile" PC is a fanless, headless mini-ITX system with a NEC spinpoint drive. It is dead silent, and uses a Waveterminal U24 USB audio output device. Doesn't take much computing horsepower to route audio out the USB, so I really wouldn't invest too much in trying to build a monster PC... I also previously used a Mac Mini as an audio server, although in comparison, the Mac Mini was louder.

Lokie, for storage I went with a Buffalo terastation. It can be configured as RAID 5 and provides about 700GB of storage for less than $1K. It is "Network Attached Storage," which means it hooks up to your LAN and can be stuck in a closet somewhere (even though its pretty quiet). In a single user/single system environment, the easiest thing to do is to "mount" the NAS as a drive--it will just appear as a letter drive (e.g., "F:") on your desktop. My config is a bit different, but that is because the NAS is accessed by a bunch of different computers. Incidentally, if you go the Squeezebox/Slimserver route, I understand you can run slimserver on the terastation, which has to be on all the time anyway...
Matt, thanks for the primer, nice work!! I am looking into setting up PC audio and I need all the help I can get.

Another alternative for external storage is to get a router with USB built-in, such as the Netgear WGT634U. Any external drive can be connected to the router and acts as network storage. Additional drives can be daisy chained if needed.

Edesilva or Matt, is there anyway to connect my PC to a Benchmark DAC1 without going through the USB since the DAC does not have a USB port? My PC has a standard coax digital out already. I suppose it's for me to hook up to a HT setup for DVDs, I am not sure if I can configure it to play MP3 or any kind of music source. Please advice.

I thought the Benchmark had some provision for USB in; if its an add-on, I would seriously consider it. I'm not sure how good the on-board digital outputs are--might try it and see if you like it.

A number of devices exist that are USB audio devices that have USB in on one end and coax or toslink digital out on the other. I use a Waveterminal U24, but there is also the M-Audio Transit, some Edirol devices, and others--including some "networked" solutions using Squeezeboxes or Apple Airports. The Waveterminal gets a lot of kudos, but I gather its no longer being made. I also know that there are a number of companies out there (including audioengr here--aka Empirical Audio) doing modded Transits. So, yes, you can use a USB audio device and run that output into your DAC via coax or toslink. (That is what I do...)
Hey Matt or anyone... what do you think of Glyph drives. I thought they were the standard for professional mixing studios but I could be wrong. They're not cheap, but supposed to be dead quiet.
Kublakhan, saw this recently... Might be a less expensive solution. My mini-ITX system has a NEC spinpoint drive in it--it is one of the quiestest drives I've never heard. Seriously, you might also look at the reviews over at (think that is the name).
guys - there are only 4-5 drive manufacturers out there - its a very complex, capital intensive operation - not like making cables LOL

the easiest way to quiet a drive is to put it in an aluminum enclosure (for heat dissipation) with no fan - voila no fan noise - but shortened lifespan too... Anyone know what's inside a Glyph or if its cooled???

If you are looking for hardcore metrics to compare drives try this site which caters to IT buyers:
Glyph drives have external power supplies and are fan cooled. I don't know if i'd be comfortable with an 800 gig hard drive that wasn't fan cooled. actually, who cares about the drive, it's the work getting it filled that you want to protect.
Has anyone implemented a NAS solution in a Mac + iTunes environment? Someone told me yesterday that there are word length restrictions in OSX that make it incompatible with using network attached storage as the residence for your music library, and that he had investigated this thoroughly with Buffalo and some other storage suppliers. Perhaps it does work, but you lose important functionality in iTunes. Curious if anyone has knowledge about this.
I used a Buffalo Terastation with a Mac Mini for a time and didn't have any glitches. Had about 1500 CDs on the terastation.

In that vein, just noticed this guy, which seems like an interesting option, since it includes a VPN Firewall, router, etc. in addition to being a 1TB/1.6TB/2TB NAS RAID storage solution. Kind of a nice all-around box:
Some clarification. Buffalo claims that you cannot save files to their drives from a Mac with filenames in excess of 32 characters or containing special characters other than "-". Does that make sense?
Ah. Maybe that is why I didn't have a problem. I populated my Buffalo using a Windows machine--all the Mac did was read files, not write. All the ripping/encoding I did was on an XP machine in my study...
I have an XP machine so I could do that also. Dumb question: can all the Macs and XP machines on one's network access the same music collection if it's stored on a NAS box? Via iTunes? Any tricks to making this work?
Both SB and iTunes are OS agnostic. No doubt there are some tricks making NAS do its thing, but we have a PC accessing a iTunes Library that lives on a Mac, that is also shared with the SB.

Check the threads here and on Audio Asylum PC Forum under NAS to see what you come up with - i recall seeing some things about how it required some know how but that was eons ago in developer time (6-12 months LOL)
That is the way I had it set up--the same files on the terastation were accessed by a couple XP boxes, a Mac Mini, and a collection of audiotrons and squeezeboxes. On the Mac side, I think the only trick was making sure the drive was mounted before starting iTunes. I seem to recall a bit of frustration on the windows side before realizing that using the full server address was a better solution than "mounting" the NAS as a letter drive (e.g., "G:"). The problem with the latter setup was that depending upon whether other things were hooked up, the NAS might appear as "F:" or "G:", and if the addressing in iTunes was built on one, it wouldn't find the songs if it ended up the other, if that makes any senses. Using full server addressing (e.g., "//server/My Music/" eliminated that problem. I think I set up different accounts on the NAS for each computer as well to avoid problems with it not allowing the same "user" to be logged on more than once...
Hi Guys!
Are there any way to get a stabilized usb signal, from my laptop. I use a Musiland US1 usb interface to connect my laptop to my Cambridge Audio 840 C cd-player, which has two digital input. My question is, if there any solution to get a better signal from my USB port? I heard about external powered usb signal purifier...., but I can't find any on the net.

anyone know if a windows based PC music server can be controlled remotely via an app on a tablet, which i know apple can do w/ their grossly overpriced products?