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Positive Feedback ISSUE 41
january/february 2009


Ten Questions about Computer Audio
by Dave Clark


Computer Audio has become the new rage in audio and for good reason: one has an easy and instant access to all their music as well the ability to search out countless other titles via the internet.  The issue is simply where to start, though the answer is quite obvious: get a computer, rip and store the files, and then play them back to some DAC. Of course being audiophiles …err the nuts we are… the questions start to pile up rather quickly.

Mac or PC, and then once you got that settled, there is all the minutiae related to just setting-up that computer’s OS and configuration. Then comes how best to rip and how best to save the files, and then to where? Okay, so now that I have my files, how best to play them back and how best to get the files out of the computer and to what DAC? Yadda, yadda, yadda… each question leads to further questions to clarify the previous that then lead to other questions that suggests another question and …a downward spiral down into the rabbit hole we go.

So I went to the 2009 CES and found not only a wealth of information, but a wealth of confusion or at the very least, a wealth of disagreement among those that are either in the recording/software side, the hardware-side, and/or the "expert" sides of computer audio. Now CES is not the best place to get all the answers… time is an issue as is finding all the people to ask, so I came up with 10 ‘key" questions (these are my 10, you may have others or perhaps might not find these of any benefit to you, but I chose them because they are of interest to me and besides they reflect the most common or important areas that seem to pop-up whenever one talks about computer-based audio, so go pound silicon if they don’t work for you.) and emailed them to 12 people in the industry to answer. Their responses are here:

Larry Moore and Eric Hider of Ultra Fi Audio Designs

Andreas Koch of Playback Designs

Tony Lauck

Steve Nugent of Empirical Audio

Gordon Rankin of Wavelength Audio

Jon Reichbach of Sonic Studio/Amarra

Vinnie Rossi of Red Wine Audio

John Stronczer of Bel Canto Designs

Daniel Weiss of Weiss Digital Audio

Vincent Sanders and John Hughes of VRS Audio Solutions

Kent Poon of Design w Sound

Charles Hansen of Ayre Acoustics

Pete Davey of Positive Feedback Online

My computer is a Mac Book (2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 2GB DDR3 Memory) and files are saved on a Raid 5 NAS (1.5TB) drive on its own AC line (housed in another room). Files are ripped and played back via iTunes 8 (error correction on) as Lossless files. The Mac sends the bits out via van den Hul Optocoupler II Toslink cable to an Empirical Audio Pace Car which then sends them out via Purist Audio Contego XLR digital cables or DH Labs D-75 XLR digital cable to the digital inputs on the Cary Professional 306. For USB, I have the Locus Design Nucleus USB cable here to feed whatever USB DAC is in house (RedWine, Bel Canto, etc.) either directly or through either the Bel Canto 24/96 or the Empirical Audio Off-Ramp 3 USB convertors/re-clockers. I feed AC to all via the Audio-Magic Transcendence AC conditioner. I also use Shakti Stones and On-lines, and Audio-Magic Gen ZX and Noise Disruptors where needed. The Mac Book sits upon a special shelf built to address EMI/RFI by AudiAV. All un-used digital RCA inputs/outputs are capped off with 75-ohm digital-terminators from HighEndElectronics.

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