what is a lazy old audiophile to do?

I am an old audiophile. Left behind by technology. I'm tired of replacing tubes, want convenience, if not simplicity (maybe simplicity). I decided to put my CD's on a computer hard drive and play from there. I have a new Pioneer SC-07 ( I know, not audiophile), new Imac with all the latest, Kef 205/2 speakers. The only connection from the Imac to the receiver is the headphones out from the Imac - (tiny). I have no idea why Apple is so uninterested in audio. I may send back the Imac and get a Dell with sound card and HDMI out, which I can connect to the Pioneer. My question: is this stupid? That is, am I trying to do something that will never satisfy my ear? I care a lot about the sound (have a thirty year old pair of Snell Type A's in the other room that I love). Can I get decent sound with the convenience of the computer? How? I don't really care about surround sound or movie crashes; I just want really good audio through my computer.
A DAC is gonna be your best bet here. imo

One with USB input perhaps, though not necessarily. One can go either way... out from a sound card into a receiver, or int, or preamp via analog.

From the card into a receiver or processor/controler or DAC via optical or coax cables.

Or via USB directly from the PC then into a DAC via USB cable. There are others too.

Some even bypass the conventional stand alone DAC altogether by using the Apple Airport, Squeeze box, or Transporter. These wireless units possessing DACs that feed your audio power train via analog cables.

Lots of ways. Which is best? Don't know for a fact, but I went with a conventional stand alone DAC possessing all the digital inputs + USB for greater flexibility.

Logistics say some will have to or want to, use wireless, eg., Airport/Transporter, or a laptop and USB DAC. I understand one can even use their cell phone now with some devices.

Iv'e tried all but the Airport & Transporter as I'd still have to use a laptop to view and navigate via it's larger display.

I prefer both the sound card approach into the preamp... and the USB/laptop into the DAC. Each has it's merits. The DAC in my case is the key however... IMO.

Though there are other considerations. File types. Lossless, or compressed. media players too can improve the sound. How the files are ripped and formated as well, contribute to the outcome.

Pick your own poison. Squeeze box... Airport... Transporter... they begin at about $300 & up. The Transporter is $2K. DACs are whatefver you want to pay...

At $2k I wanted more flexibility with other digital sources so I chose to look at a few DACs.. and stayed with the Bel Canto DAC3.

Where ever the conversion from digital to analog occurs is where your bottleneck as I call it, or your limitations reside. Concentrating on getting that area as best you can will pay big dividens... along with the other items I mentioned previously... player, error free ripping, lossless files etc.

A little trouble now, perhaps, but much ease very soon there after... with as good quality as you wish to or can, afford.
Did you put the cd's on the computer at lossless resolution? If you compressed the signal at all, you compromised the sound to start with.

My solution: Get a sound card with digital out (once you've made sure you burned at full resolution). For simplicity's sake get either a Music Hall Raven receiver or Mambo integrated. Both have a built in DAC that is nice. Both will drive the Snells nicely. The Mambo is lower powered but class A rated for warmer sound.
Very easy fix if you are lazy, is buy an AppleTV. It will connect to your Pioneer via HDMI, or you could buy an outboard DAC and connect it via Toslink.
If you want lazy - take a look at my system. I buy a CD online - it arrives in the mail - I open the packet - I throw it in the changer and that is it. Done! CD stays preserved in pristine condition and no messing around with "importing" it to ITunes or some other music server. I play music from the listening position with a wireless keyboard and trackball.
Soo... no one seems to have stated some of the obvious...

Your iMac has an optical toslink out thru the same mini jack you are using as a headphone output. You can purchase a very nice glass toslink mini to std toslink connector cable from Van den hul.I am running this same configuration from a minipc.

With some configuration on the iMac you can disable any of the digital preprocessing and get a pure bitstream out to that toslink connector. Connecting that to a dac will give you very nice audio. I'm using a Bel Canto e.One Dac3. With the toslink out on your iMac... u have a ton of options for Dacs. You're not limited to Dacs that have a USB input.

btw... a headless mac mini would have given you the same solution if you are really using this as a dedicated music server.

The second thing that folks have alluded to is that you need to get the best possible copy of the disk onto your computer. The first part of that is to make a copy (with lossless compression or no compression) using software that will not just take whatever the drives hands it, but rather understands that read errors can occur, and it should try to correct for that by re-reading etc. EAC (Exact Audio Copy) is what i would recommend. Free...and easy to use after a little research. I have that setup to rip a .wav, and an ALAC (apple lossless) copy...so i can put it successfully on my ipod, and have a digital archive copy to convert to whatever other format i would ever want to. Disk is cheap... :-)

The other part of getting a good copy is to have a drive that plays well with EAC.... again to give you the best possible copy. You're pretty much locked in there with the iMac unless you choose to buy an external drive.

Overall there are companies/services as well as standalone very expensive solutions (Linn) that go out of their way to get you that bit perfect copy of the original. (just thought you should be aware of that)

Hopefully that gives u enough to be able to research what makes sense to you.
Thank you very much for this response. I didn't even know these things exist. Apparently there are also converters that can be put between the computer and the DAC. Now I need to find out which DAC ... will check out the Bel Canto and others. Sites I have seen seem to say that the stand alone DACs will produce better sound than the sound cards (ATI, Nivia) installed with some computers - maybe because the computer is a "noisy environment" or maybe because the sound cards are intended more for sound effects than for music. Apple makes an airport device that apparently can act as a DAC, but I have no idea how good it is. My sense so far (after several attempts to find anyone at Apple who is knowledgeable) is that Apple doesn't care much about this stuff. Seems kind of short-sighted.
My sense so far (after several attempts to find anyone at Apple who is knowledgeable) is that Apple doesn't care much about this stuff. Seems kind of short-sighted.

Apple is quite highly regarded in audio. iTunes has been extremely succesful for them. So has the iPod. You could not be more off the mark about Apple. If anything it is the major labels and Microsoft that are short sighted...
The lazy solution is to use a USB DAC, iTunes and stick with the Mac. The sound quality is limited only by the DAC.

As mentioned before, make sure you rip your CD's using .wav or Apple Lossless (takes less space than .wav).

Perhaps the statement exposed only the knowledge of the individuals he came into contact with at Apple.

I'm thinking of adding another mega changer. This time however, a DVD mega changer... ala Sony.

have you ever had any of your changers modded or tweaked?
have you ever had any of your changers modded or tweaked?

No as I mentioned - I am pretty lazy. My philosophy is that if it doesn't work well enough then I buy better designed gear (I don't lack funds). I use the same logic for cables and ic's - if my system ain't working well enough then I am not likely to band aid it with esoteric cables or to "mod" it to try and tweak the sound. The horror of it all is that I find the modern Sony changers are not all that bad - even raw out of the box and without an external DAC (although the most recent models sound a bit harsh (is it jitter?) compared to the early 2000's models which were good sounding out of the box - so YMMV substantially depending on the year the Sony changer was built). Speakers and room acoustics make ENORMOUS differences in my book. I'd probably be relatively happy with nearly any digital source...often sound pretty good for my tin ears (although CD recordings is another matter - many of them are crap - especially modern recordings of pop and rock). I would, however, be extremely unhappy with most speakers, which I find dreadfully deficient in most cases. Probably all because of my "tin ears".
Forget about AirPort Express unless you you willing to buy a reclocker for it. Very high jitter. Compared to even a mediocre CD player it is poor.

The only things I have found with decent jitter in stock form are:
Apple TV
Squeezebox or Duet

For ease-of use, you cannot beat the Sonos, but it really needs reclocking IMO.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
"Apple makes an airport device that apparently can act as a DAC, but I have no idea how good it is. My sense so far (after several attempts to find anyone at Apple who is knowledgeable) is that Apple doesn't care much about this stuff. Seems kind of short-sighted."

12-18-08: Twilightround

That is not true................ actually, Apple cares more about quality audio then others in the computer industry.

Back to your originally posted question.
USB DAC with upcoming Mac Mini and handy-dandy Apple remote control would satisfy even the most discriminating audiophile.

The question is:
which component(s) best suit your needs?

- DAC choice (to match your preferences, taste & budget)
- Source: PC, Mac (MacBook/Air/Mini/iPod-iWadia transporter), Sonos etc.

The easiest approach that represents the best value vs performance would be
Mac Mini (new Mini is about to hit the streets) and quality USB DAC.
Two ways to navigate your iTunes library:
1) via Apple remote control ($29)
2) via iPod Touch ($229 and up)

Both remotes work flawlessly. iPod touch gives you more control tho.

Good luck with your quest........whatever you end up choosing.

Same as this lazy old audiophile:

MacBook > iTunes > Wavelength Brick USB DAC > Preamp

I have my library ripped Apple Lossless to 3 external Lacie 500 GB drives.

Very satisfactory solution.
I you are a rich man, the best solution would be to send a blank check to Steve @ Empirical and ask him to send you a custom set up. He may ask you to download a free media player like Foobar or JRiver Jukebox.

If you are poor like me: USB out to Behringer headphone amp/DAC(16/48)for $30 on-line @ Part Express or an Edirol (24/96 DAC)for $80@ Amazon.com. Analog RCAs out to your receiver. This will beat your current set up becuase it gets the D to A conversion out of the computer.
Twilightround: A couple of years ago I went through the same mental gymnastics that you are experiencing. In the end, after hours of reading (here and elsewhere) I bought an iMac, imported all the CDs into iTunes using an AIFF format, backed up into a Cavalry mirrored external hard drive and did the following:

iMac >>Optical Digital Cable (from headset output) to a simple Pop Pulse signal converter >>"out" of the Pop Pulse via coax cable to my Krell processor. Works great!! If you do not have a processor then, without question, the DAC would be the way to go. Use the DAC to replace the Pop Pulse and go directly to your pre-amp or amplifier.

There are several great solutions offered above by other members using DACs.

It's easy, simple and effective. I love my iTunes set-up.