Nucleus for Digital Media: Windows? Mac? Other?

A recent post on digitizing LPs caught my eye and I checked out the Alesis device that records to redbook CD as well as their own proprietary (?) "CD-24" format.

But if I understand correctly, this would have to then be transcribed from CD to a computer hard drive, as it does not transfer directly.

I find this all a bit confusing and wonder how I can set up a new, hard drive based system for a variety of audio formats including redbook WAV files, MP-3 compressed files etc and be as ready for the future as possible.

Today I looked at the new metal Mac, which looks very cool, but I was disappointed to see chintzy mini jack type outputs on the back.

Is there any agreement on the state of the art for a PC based, multimedia platform?

I want to do EVERYTHING, and not be obsolete in 6 months.

Thank you.
Are you interested in using the computer as a playback device, or will it also have to convert analog signals to digital?

BTW, The G5 Apples have built in optical (Toslink) digital input/output connectors.

I am open to suggestions, but it seems that the super cool high end route would be to use the computer mainly as a transport and to store, organize, manipulate and access files.

Perhpas I could then input and output files from d/c/s converters -- A/D for turntable to computer and D/A for computer to amplifiers?

Would the G5 Toslink be up to Audiogon standards here? Are there pro audio products better suited to this multimedia "nucleus"?

Thanks for any and all suggestions.
I use an Apple Mac as a computer music server in two of my systems. One is based on a 450MHz G4 w/ an RME digital I/O card and the other is a 1.8MHz G5 using the built-in optical output to feed a Panasonic XR45 digital receiver. The G4 is a little noisy and must be put in a cabinet, but the G5 is very quiet. The big advantage to using a Mac is the supplied iTunes software and its compatibility with an iPod. It's very slick, easy to use and provides marvelous portability. The downside of iTunes is that it's limited to 16bit/44KHz digital.

My recommendation is to start with a Mac G5 and use the optical digital out to feed an external D/A. Compared to the RME using an Apogee AES/EBU cable the Toslink optical using a Monster cable is slightly more homogenized sounding. A slight loss of overall detail. The G4/RME is sonically equivalent to a high quality transport. One way around the Toslink limitation would be to use something like the Apogee MiniDac which is a very high quality D/A with a USB computer connection. There are other pro oriented options, but they are not 2 channel specific and provide 8 or more I/O, plus numerous other options that most audiophiles won't need.

Overall, using a computer as a hard disk music server is outstanding. It allows near instant access to your music and permits you to organize it into playlist based upon how you really want to listen.
I've been researching information on PC audio hardware, and it seems that there is an agreement that some PCI sound cards complete with AD/DA converters are available for obtaining hi-fi quality audio from either PCs or Macs. I am an ex-Mac person and have switched to PCs in the last few years. I have no intentions of going back to Macs either as I believe PCs are a better platform for music, and for developing a high quality, quiet PC system as a music server.

Sound cards:

These PCI-bus cards are available for Mac and PC use:

Lynx Studio Technology 22
Lynx Studio Technology 2 (Versions A, B or C)

Echo Mia

Digital Audio Labs Card Deluxe (Stereophile Magazine recommended)

RME DigiPad

All of these cards have received excellent reviews with the Lynx cards at the top of the range in terms of cost and performance. The Echo Mia is about as low (approx. $200 street) as you will want to go and still get very satisfying sound. I'm sure there are those who really like Terratec cards, but I don't know too much about them. They are all capable of providing 24-bit/96 kHz digital audio for quality, uncompressed stereophonic reproduction (16-bit/44.1 kHz for CDs). The Lynx 2 has an internal clock that definitely reduces jitter and improves imaging. It not only offers balanced analog input/output, but also digital S/PDIF input/output. The Lynx 2 was really developed for quality audio mastering purposes, which make it suitable as a PC audio playback device.

You'll have an easier time getting driver updates for Windows PCs than for Mac OS X machines. There are more PC users, so hardware manufacturers will often place more resources in developing Windows driver updates first.

Chassis and Hardware:

This is what really makes PCs a better platform for PC audio. You can purchase a high quality, aesthetically appealing and thermally conductive Aluminum case that will fit in with the rest of your hi-fi gear. Some even have heat sinks and no fans for ultra-quiet operation (like Hush Technologies ATX case). If you search Google under "htpc case," you will find some wonderfully designed and well-constructed full-sized ATX motherboard compatible chassis. With PCs, you have the option of specifying your motherboard (Intel chip set motherboards are highly recommended for stability), processors (single or dual), media drives (CD, CD-R/RW, DVD, DVD+/-RW), quiet PC power supplies and cooling devices (fans, heat sinks, heat pipes), quiet and fast hard drives (SCSI in any flavor if you want freedom from possible hardware conflicts), sound absorption materials, quality connection cables to improve internal air flow and signal quality, and an infrared remote for the bon vivant. The combinations and possibilities are endless to come up with a hi-fi PC system that not only sounds good, but looks good as well.


At one time, the Mac was the only platform for iTunes. Apple got smart and developed iTunes for Windows. MP3 audio stinks, but if you want it, you can get the best of it from Apple for both the Mac and PC now. Windows Media Player is also available for both platforms, but I suspect Microsoft will always take better care of Windows users (remember Internet Explorer for the Mac?). The PC platform also has Musicmatch Jukebox, which is a great media jukebox for organizing and playing PC music files.

The PC has more software titles for uncompressed, high resolution audio file editing (reducing noise from analog transfers, digital amplification/normalization, signal compression/expansion). Three excellent editors are Sony's Sound Forge, Adobe's Audition and Cubase's Wave Lab. Audition is a bit more complete with noise reduction and Red Book CD burning, but Sony does offer additional professional-grade software for noise reduction and Red Book CD burning applications that can be used in conjunction with Sound Forge. Even the freebie open source application, Audacity, is capable of basic audio editing and it accomodates freebie VST add-on applets for sound editing. The Mac has incredible applications like Peak Bias and Logic Audio, but they are more expensive than their PC counterparts. Add-in options are very limited as well.

Basically, Windows-powered PCs offer more options to get you to hi-fi PC audio nirvana. As with anything, you get what you pay for. A high quality PC audio system with an audiophile enclosure with quiet components will run over $2,000 (a lot more if you go with dual Intel Xeon processors, two SCSI drives--one for Windows and applications, the other for strictly holding your valuable music collection, and a quality sound card like the Lynx 2), but you'll have a system that will not be obsolete, but upgradable.

One thing to keep in mind is that there might not be hardware and software available with Windows or Mac OS X for processing SA-CD data at this time. If you have a large collection of SA-CDs, you may want to keep your SA-CD unit around for playback purposes.