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The New Frontier: High End Computer Audio, and USB DACs Print E-mail
Wednesday, 02 March 2011
Article Index
The New Frontier: High End Computer Audio, and USB DACs
Page 2

Besides having your entire music library at your finger tips, those who strongly recommend this set up also claims that it out performs optical disc playback, even on top flight disc players and by a large margin. Technically, hard drive play back is said to reduce jitter and other anomalies introduced by the demands of a spinning disc and laser. Add to that the convenience of being able to customize playback, download music, and to set up multi room systems and you have many reasons to explore this set up. As noted, being able to, use an Apple iPod Touch or iPad as your remote control, with all library information in the palm of your hand is indeed amazing.

At many recent high end audio trade shows, computer based playback systems were very much in vogue. Many were using customized PCs or Mac computers, modified for the singular task of high quality audio. There are companies, including Mach2Muisc, that are modifying Mac Mini's. Some of the mods include removing the hard drive and putting in an external enclosure for music storage, and installing a solid state drive to run the operating system and software. They also put in at least 8GB of RAM, and load up Pure Music, or Amarra. Another relatively new development is the proliferation of USB cables produced by high end audiophile cable companies that can run as much as a hundred time the cost of generic USB cable. They claim to be made with the same exacting standards as high end analog cables. High quality connectors and conductors,  and careful attention to jitter reduction seem to be the major selling points.  On the lower end, Belkin Gold cables seem to have gotten a thumbs up from the price to performance ratio camp.


usb audio 4


For several years now, some in the mainstream press, and a chorus of high end audio journalists and designers have been talking about the demise of CD players, and disc spinners in general.  Hard drive playback is the path forward, they say. No one knows for sure, but new models of CD players seem to keep appearing every year from various high end companies, albeit some with new, cutting edge features, like digital inputs, internet connections, and even touch screen interfaces. That being said, companies known for classic, tried and true hifi gear are introducing music servers and related products. Cary Audio, Bryston, PS Audio, the previously mentioned McIntosh, Naim, and more, have come to market with hard disc, sophisticated music servers, network players, and other products designed to push the hobby into the future. Even Conrad Johnson, known for classic tube gear, now has a USB DAC, with technology licensed from HRT.

I for one am fascinated by this new direction, and will be looking to explore it in the future, when resources allow. Others have already jumped in, and the numbers will only grow.  I also think that as infrastructures are put into place, downloading CD quality and high resolution music will be the normal way to purchase media. It won’t happen tomorrow or next year, but there is no doubt that road is being paved.  To explore further, check out some of the links below and consult with your local dealer, and as mentioned above, check out .

FOOTNOTE 1: Per Gordon Rankin, Wavelength Audio.    

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