This article originally appeared in the October issue of our sister publication Sound & Vision
If you haven’t taken the dive into computer audio, you may be asking yourself a very simple question—Why should I? The very simple answer is accessibility and sound quality. Computer-based audio allows you to store all of your music in one central location on a computer network, making it accessible from virtually any network-attached device. And when your network is connected to the Internet, you have access to the largest source of free (and legal) and paid music on the planet. Unlike disc-based music, computer-based audio is not restricted to any particular format. You can have CD quality, DVD-Audio quality, SACD quality, and even music in greater resolutions than disc-based formats allow. With computer-based audio, you can have your cakes and eat them, too, in as many rooms as you’d like.
Getting DSD to work on a PC with Foobar2000 requires the installation of three drivers—your DAC Manufacturer's custom driver, the ASIO output driver, and the SACD driver. The following guide is a generic step-by-step approach for installing all three drivers.
We all know everything we need to know about music, right? I mean, we find music we like enough to buy, and we buy it. Simple. Well that was the case back when we had physical media as our only choice. More or less. If you played CDs, you bought the CD. If you spun vinyl, you bought the record and maybe made a cassette copy for the car or to share with friends. Of course audiophiles and some regular people have always been interested in getting the best sounding copy of a recording they could find so we have special formats and reissues including SACD, DVD-A, 45RPM 200 Gram vinyl, reel-to-reel tape, and so on. For file-based playback we are also presented with a variety of choices and as most things go, the most popular means of buying downloads are also the lowest quality versions you can get (sigh).
With all of this great DSD news of late, I thought a simple guide to playing back DSD files might come in handy. Since the setup process differs depending on whether you're using a PC or a Mac as well as what media player software you're using, we're going to offer separate setup guides by media player. I figured I'd start with the simplest for those of you looking for the quickest and easiest DSD implementation. We'll also assume you already have a DSD-capable DAC (if not, here's A List).
For file-based music playback there are a number of popular file formats out there and you may be wondering which is best. The answer is, it depends. It depends on your hardware and software environment since not all music file formats are supported by all file-based music playback devices. Network players typically come with a list of supported file formats and media player software may come with file formats restrictions as well. The most popular (and annoying) example being iTunes lack of support for the FLAC format.
One argument I've heard on more than one occasion against buying lossless downloads like CD-quality FLAC or AIFF files is you can't fit as many onto your portable device as compared to the lossy version. So some people buy the lossy version (say it ain't so!) and make due with its less than optimum sound quality even when listening on the hi-fi at home. After all, who wants to make and store two separate copies of every single song, one lossy version for the iPhone and one lossless version for the hi-fi? Wouldn't it be great if iTunes took care of this automatically? Well, it does.
[Since there was so much interest and thought-provoking comments on the Neil Young/MP3 post, I thought it made sense to flesh this out a bit more]
The Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) was put together by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) to figure out how to best compress audio and video for transmission. Since our focus is on music, we’ll skip over video compression and just stick to a) what’s an MP3, b) why its OK to pay to stream MP3s and finally, c) why you should not pay good money to purchase tracks or albums in any of the MP3 formats.
Here's a list of sites that offer CD-quality downloads (16/44) mostly in FLAC format, some in WAV. This list does not include sites that only offer MP3s (they're free, right?) or High Definition Downloads since those are listed on the big HD Download Sites list. If you find some are missing, and my guess is there are, please leave a comment or shoot me an email and I'll add 'em. Enjoy!
High Definition music downloads are part of the next big wave in the evolution/revolution that is computer audio. As with most things computer audio, there’s some confusion, disagreement and dissension regarding exactly what a High Definition audio file is.
In the coming weeks and months (and years), we'll be looking at various aspects of the How To's of computer audio. Today, if you look at any computer setup and optimization guide whose focus is music playback, the word you're likely to see as much if not more than any other is "disable". My point brings us back to something Charles Hanson of Ayre Acoustics said in our The Future of Computer Audio article, "The biggest problem with computer audio is the computer."
As Wes Phillips recently reported on this website, CD sales are down and legal downloads of audio files are up. Stereophile has been criticized more than once for not paying enough attention to the subjects of MP3 and other compressed file formats, such as AAC, and for offering no guidance at all to readers about how to get the best sound quality from compressed downloads.