Help for an Old School Audiophile


I'm 56 and I've been in this hobby since the early 80's and have a modest system and have amassed a collection of about 1500 LPs, 500 cds, and 400 cassettes.  Between two different older hard drive tower cases I have probably about 10,000+ songs on iTunes and I keep those tower cases around thinking one day I'd like to put those songs on a cloud - although I totally don't know what that entails.  I have the free Pandora on my iPhone and still regularly listen to FM radio and have an aversion to paying for satellite radio when there are good stations in the Philadelphia market that I listen to.

Last week, I went into a local hifi shop and listened to a bookshelf pair of powered Dynaudio speakers that you could hook a laptop up to but also had RCA outputs to hook up a phono preamp to and the salesman was playing music thru his phone.  He had Tidal and also mentioned other names that I forgot the name of.  When I saw what he could do thru his phone, it kind of made me feel a little foolish for having all of these albums, tapes, and cds.

I don't watch a lot of tv these days except for sports and I'm amazed at how my 24 year old daughter can watch all this stuff with Netflix and by streaming stuff and I'm still paying lots more each month for cable.

I'm not gonna go out and change it all tomorrow or the next day but I guess my questions are this:

1.  What's the best way to get educated about all of the different options that I have?
2.  With regard to all the music on iTunes that I have, is it better and more cost effective to put that music on a cloud or should I just subscribe to Spotify, Tidal or some other music format and just throw out the old tower cases?
3.  Can I assume that most people who have music servers are using that for music in lieu of actual music collections?  Or do most people have both?  
4.  If I were going to one day purge my collections but still wanted access to all the music I have now, what would be a good - modest - step by step game plan?  
5.  Is it better to get a USB turntable or analog to digital converter and start converting my LPs to computer files or is that a waste of time?

The actual collections and all the gear can take up a little room, but they are cool to look at too.... on the other hand, having the extra space and being a minimalist has it's own merits.  I'll never own a kindle either :)

BTW:  (My current system consists of:  Tandberg 3012 int amp, Thorens TD125 mk II turntable, Kyocera D-811 cassette deck, Harman Kardon TD302 cassette deck, Creek CAS3140 tuner, Oppo DV970 cd/dvd player, Fostex B-100 BH speakers, custom 45 SET tube int amp)

Thank you in advance for all of your kind comments and suggestions, 
Lou


lou_setriodes
Your plan should be to incorporate your collection into your system using a Music Server that will connect to your PC through your router using a Ethernet cable (this is called network audio storage aka NAS drive). A music server my or may not include a DAC, if you dont have a good DAC then you should purchase a Music server that has one built in or buy a external DAC. Companys like OPPO, Aurender, Aries, all make products that can streamline your digital music. Aurenders conductor app for tablets or smartphones is the best tool for catagorizing and searching for files. So ..copy all your tapes and albums to the Hard Drive and access them through a music server that connects to Tidal and allows you to purchase more music and stream to your hearts content, and of course it will decode MQA (master quality authentication developed by Meridian...acts like a zip file for music...Master quality sound file!) new technology that all the  main manufactures are on board with.

Matt M
I agree with Matt.

Tidal has an amazing back-catalog in high fidelity formats.

Best,

E
I cannot recommend the best way to digitize your record collection, with your Thorens turntable I would keep that as straight analog because I bet it sounds great. As far as the digital end you could invest in a streamer/DAC/ripper unit like the Bluesound Vault 2. With this you can rip all your CDs into the device as whatever files you want, AIFF or FLAC or another. Also you can have access to all your ITUNES files since these kind of streamers will allow integration with a HDD. After setting up the Vault 2, you can use a smart phone or tablet as your control device or remote control. You can also stream via Tidal, Spotify or another service. I have my Bluesound Node 2 accessing a Western Digital MyCloud Network Attached Storage (NAS) via my home network. This is where all my ripped music and ITunes files are located. I have over 16 thousand songs. It really sounds great. Lastly if you want to try MQA files (say via Tidal) the Vault will alllow you to play those too. There are other streamer/DAC/ripppers to choose from. It matters what your budget allows, the features and capabilities that interest you. If you have an input on one of your integrated preamp/amp units I would give the Vault serious consideration.
Get the free trial of both Roon and Tidal. You will be amazed. Roon will seamlessly play your iTunes stuff as well as FLAC and Tidal. You will need to burn your CD  collection to your hardrive.
I am about your age..... argh!

I agree with Matt about a NAS, network attached server.  Anywho... you are asking many questions all balled into one.  I can answer some of this by showing what I do..... but, a few questions.... do you still have a dedicated listening room with your chair in a sweet spot, or do you listen at a desk behind a monitor?  How close do you want to be to the controls for volume song selection, source selection etc....?  How important are old-school sources like a turntable and tuner?

I moved from my dedicated listening room into my office and sold off most of the big equipment I had... sold a pair of Magnepan 20.1!!! ooof that hurt.  For that big traditional system, I had a dedicated Windows laptop connected to an outboard DAC in the equipment rack as another source that was equal to the tuner, turntable etc, going to a CJ Preamp.  New school inserted into an old school system.  I had to get up to do any program changes.  The nice thing about a PC as a source, is that it can attach to the NAS and play your ripped library, or it can connect to any 'net streaming service.

Then I moved into my office.... my big desktop PC now is the primary source of control.... I purchased a Benchmark DAC1 that had a USB interface to the computer and a volume control.... I then fed the outs of the DAC directly to my big VTL Tube Amps..... In doing this, I maximized ease of use but eliminated my preamp and all the peripherals like my VPI turntable.  All my programing is from two sources, my huge bit-for-bit ripped CD collection on my NAS, and any web streaming service.  I have always used FOOBAR as my player software that will bypass any WIndows manipulation and passes pure, bit-for-bit, unmanipulated digital streams.  Nice, but you won't hear the computer beeps and farts when this software runs.  There are ways but it gets complex fast.... I have a set of cheapo logitek speakers plugged into the PC's soundcard and it passes the beeps and farts independent of the music bit stream.

I have since modded this desktop system.... I ditched the DAC1 and VTL Amps and purchased a PrimaLuna HP integrated amp.... kinda old school.  Now I can hook up old fashioned sources.  I pulled out my Accuphase CD player that has digital inputs so I can use his unit as a DAC or CD player, and hooked it to the computer using a MTEC interface device.  What old is new.

I can answer more questions but you have to be a bit more specific.  I will add that when you hook up a NAS to your home network, the music library becomes available to PCs all over your home.  BTW, my highest priority was pure bit-for-bit transfers from CD, and pure transfer through the system to an outboard DAC...... I will accept no sound degradation of source material.

Peace
Bruce in Philly

Lou...there is some very good advice here, and this can be somewhat overwhelming even for those of us very committed to these solutions.  Many of us have tried many of these solutions, so the good news is there is lots of good advice available.

Some other feedback from you that could help narrow down some of these recommendations...

Is budget a consideration, and if so, what is your max to get you to a good solution?

Do you consider yourself kind of tech savvy or would you prefer more of a set and forget solution?

Do you have the time and patience to burn all your important source material to digital, or would you pay a service to do it, or would you just skip that and have your analog and digital (CD) sources still available when you wanted them?

How important is ultimate sound quality vs. convenient musical listening?

Do you like random music presentment like Pandora or FM radio, or do you prefer to either select and listen to the album straight through, or select individual tracks for a "mix"?

From those answers you will be able to get more specific solutions that might best meet your desired outcome and point you to some deeper investigation.
BTW, if you have a computer that you can hook up to your integrated amps via RCA (through a headphone out jack for starters), or via USB to an external DAC for better sound, I agree with shadorne that a demo of Roon and Tidal together is a great first step for you.  You can hang your iTunes hard drive off of the computer and then get a glimpse into what would be a great digital front-end solution for you, then upgrade the bits behind it later if you like it.  Really, just some computer speakers to your computer will allow you to play with the Roon software, see what music Tidal gives you, and get of a feel for the whole thing without much effort or commitment.  Any of us here would help you set it up, but it's not hard on your own.  I bet in less than an hour you could be playing around with it and get a real taste for it with little to no financial commitment (at least during the trial period!).

I mistakenly fought against using Roon for the first year or so in lieu of an Aurender unit (which was awesome in it's own right), but now that I have the current Roon configured with Tidal and their online Radio options, I wouldn't go back.

That's how I'd recommend getting started and you can figure out how it might fit into your listening goals.
Yes I agee with the suggestions here, good ones. To add to what has been mentioned if you get a Bluesound Node 2 and a Roon subscription you are well on your way to awesome sound for really budget prices. You will have all of your own files to choose from, many streaming options like Tidal or Spotify etc which will provide more music, and a great way to organize it. The sound quality should be great, not cutting edge, but enjoyable. Since I have a preamp (and optical switches) to link everything and choose  sources maybe someone here could help with advice on if your integrated(s) could do that. BTW the Bluesound iphone app allows you access to all your music as your phone becomes your controller!

First off, I want to thank everyone for all of their comments and advice. 

After seeing the powered DynAudio speakers played thru the salesman's phone, I was more curious than anything else and also knew that I knew very little about this kind of stuff.  My post was therefore more of a fact finding mission as the future is inevitable and I wanted to see what others were doing with their systems.  Truth be told, it doesn't sound as fun as watching the record spin or my cassette rewind.  So whatever I do, I'm going to take it in a slow progression.  The other thought in writing the post was that if, one day, I scrap it all for convenience and minimalism, or moved abroad but wanted to have lots of music, how would I go about doing that and the answers provided give me a very good starting point.

I do not have a desktop system and do enjoy my home system and listening to FM radio.  As a Lyft & Uber driver, I listen a lot more to Pandora in the car than I do at home.  When I want to listen to Pandora at home, I just run an RCA to mini plug into my phone and listen thru my system; however, at home, I usually find myself either listening to FM radio or one of my other sources (LP, cassette, or CD). 

Sound quality over convenience is a lot more important to me and at this time, I don't mind taking the time to change albums, cds, etc; however, I guess its all what you are used to.  For those used to the convenience of a music server and Tidal or Roon, you probably wouldn't want to take the time to change records, etc when you can instantly push a button and have music play instantaneously.

I'll re-read the entire thread as it's a lot for me to understand and digest and I thank you for your ideas, thoughts, and opinions.



Update - my nephew recently set up Spotify Premium on my phone so I got rid of the free Pandora.  This is a huge upgrade from the Pandora and I'm enjoying making playlists for my car. 

My daughter has told me that it's time to just get rid of the 2 tower cases that hold those 10,000+ songs on Itunes because I can now get all of that music on Spotify.  

Baby steps, I get it, but that's how it's gonna go.  I also just got a new cartridge for my Thorens TT too.
You haven’t made it clear why you want to digitize.  I am 70.  I have about 500 CDs of classical, and about the same in rock, blues, folk.  

I thought about digitizing and opened another thread on it.  But in the end, with the quality of my speakers where a cheap CD or an MP3 is clearly audible, I decided to stay with the CD’s.  Another member talked about 2 friends who digitized all their CDs and now wishes they still had them because of the sterile sound that the digital music from the computer had.  Perhaps they should have used a $2000 DAC(digital to analog converter).  We surmised that jitter is a pretty serious problem when you have too many digitals in the pipeline.  
Well, CD's are digital, sampled at 44.1 Khz.
But listening straight from a PC sound card has limitations in sound quality.
It is really pretty simple to begin, but you can get as complex as you need.
First, download a media software program like J River (others may have different program recommendations). 
You can burn all of your CD's directly through J River into a file folder of your choice.
After that all that music is available on your PC or Hard drive when you open J River.
The music is shown as a file complete with the cover art.
Just click on the file and you can play the complete CD or any song on it.
Now regarding sound quality, you will want to obtain a good DAC (digital / analogue converter). The DAC is what will give you the quality of sound from the PC. There are some very good DAC's that sound close to analogue (nothing will replace pure analogue audio). I happen to like the R2R ladder Dacs that have become popular and no, you won't have to spend 2000.00 unless you choose to do so. After that the RCA outputs on the DAC can run into a pre amp, integrated, or headphone amp depending on your system. Pretty straight forward and you're off to the races. Never have to open another flimsy CD case again. 
About a year ago I decided I wanted to move into streaming my own music.  I had a collection of around 400 CDs and 1000 LPs.  I have four very standard and I suppose “old-fashioned” two channel Stereo systems,  the main one an almost high end living room system centered around Quad ESL-63 Electrostatic Speakers and a French made tube integrated amplifier, CD player, tape player and turntable.  

Not necessarily relevant, but I also have three other full featured stereo systems in my house and, like you, good quality of audio is important.  For example, I’ve never used iTunes because it’s all as far as I know in degraded MP3 sound.  I had hoped to get them all playing my streamed music.

My nephew helped me get started and recommended I purchase a Naim Uniti Core which has a reputation for very good audio.  It also has the capability to rip all my CDs, contains a pocket for storing an internal hard drive which holds all the ripped music in its new digitized format, including the all important metadata.  Lastly, the Naim device also acts as a streamer when activated by a corresponding Naim app for my iPad.  Sounded pretty simple and straightforward.

 When my nephew told me I needed a DAC to connect the Naim streamer to my audio system to convert the digital stream from the Naim to the analog format expected by my stereo system I realized I had a concept problem and that’s when I started to realize I was in a complicated new environment.  Never having the need of a DAC before,  I didn’t really understand why I needed a DAC.  It seems dead simple now but my point is that when you dip your toes into the digital world that you are asking about, you will find it chock full of potentially bewildering options and a bazillion acronyms,  It took me a long time to get reasonably conversant in this new environment.  In hindsight I think a picture would have been worth a thousand words.  In other words,  I think what would have most helped me would be visiting a dealer or a friend who has something set up reasonably close to what I  wanted to achieve.  I tried to get educated by reading and it seemed to take me  forever. But you need to do both or you won’t likely understand what a dealer will be telling you!

Just deciding on a starting point is potentially difficult because there are a lot of different equipment makers out there for both streamers and DACs.  DACs can be particularly complicated because there are many competing ideas on how to achieve the all important digital to analog conversion. Some can decode only PCM, others add MQA and a few can do pure DSD. And you’ll want something that can decode the highest resolution music stream.   See, already those acronyms crop up and initially I didn’t have a clue what they meant.   And there’s a lot more to it than that.  So buying a DAC can be complicated.  And they can get very pricey.

There are also all sorts of options for ripping and storing your own music.  The Naim made it really simple for me, though I’ve since discovered it has limitations.  I don’t think I’d choose it again.    Someone mentioned  Bluesound.  It has a lot more features than my Naim Uniti Core making it a good starting point because it greatly simplifies getting started.  Like the Naim, it has a ripper and internal storage and unlike the Naim, I believe it acts as both a streamer and a DAC. It is at the very cheap end of the equipment possibilities, so if your budget is more flexible, keep looking.  But my point is, keeping it simple in the beginning is not a bad idea.  Otherwise you get into more complicated software choices and storage issues,  like investing in a NAS for example..  (There’s yet another potentially mysterious acronym).

I hope this helps get you started and good luck.
Start with a Tidal subscription and your smartphone. There are a number of ways to get the files to your hifi, the easiest being wireless internet. If you have an iPhone, an old Airport Express works great, if android, buy a used Chromecast audio. Both well under $100 and can stream CD quality. You can always use a cord.
The older Airport Expresses, older Apple TVs, and Chromecast devices have digital out, which you can hook up to a better DAC. A Schiit "Modi" for $100 would be a fine place to start, but there are hundreds of options, and a google search will quickly have you tunneling down the rabbit hole. I say get the Modi and enjoy it while you are sorting all this out. Most likely, as the designer of the Modi says, it will end up being all you need.
Forums like this one will drive you to audio-nervosa in short order. For what it’s worth, an Airport Express and a Schiit Modi will get you better digital than most anything that was available 10 years ago; any reasonable person should be quite content with that. Move on from there.
As far as your collection of media, you may well find that 95% of it is available on Tidal (Idagio if you are a classical buff; I have both). I have a collection about the same size as yours, and I hardly ever touch it. If you have a lot of rare and esoteric recordings, you might digitize those, but from where I stand why digitize, store, and fret over something when I can just pop it up on Tidal.
Now if you want to go "better than CD" Hi-Res, MQA, DSD or have $tens of thousands to spend, don’t listen to me. If you are a vinyl record enthusiast, I’m guessing you already know how to make that work.
Most important, have fun and enjoy the music!

Thanks again for everyone's input here.  Its now 2 years later since I started this thread, I'm now 58 and still haven't done a thing towards digitizing my collection.  Instead, I've been playing around with some different setups, buying, selling, trading gear, enjoying the hunt of finding stuff and hating it the next day.  The summer always seems to be a buyer's market as lots of people put away the hobby over the warm summer months, wanting to be outside and active while the weather is nice as opposed to inside listening. 

The Spotify on my old Iphone actually sounds pretty darn good when it goes thru nice electronics (Muse Model 100 amp and Model 1 preamp & a Gemtune GS-01 EL34 SE int amp) and I find myself wanting to sell or trade my gear for other things as opposed to all the learning and time it will take to digitize my collection.