How to archive hifi sound on Pc



 

Any of the readers of this article can always download several MP3 songs and listen to them by simply connecting a pair of multimedia speakers to the computer. There is nothing wrong with this, but you should always be aware that you can get higher quality sound on a computer. We have spent a considerable amount of time researching this issue, and the result is high-quality music reproduction on a computer that is as good as sound from a CD player.


What are the benefits of using a computer to play music?


Comfort


- On a computer, you can create a well-structured collection of music.
- Thanks to tags, you can search and sort music by artist, album title, genre, etc.
- Create playlists to listen to your favorite songs.
- Synchronize with portable players
- Simultaneously use in multiple rooms thanks to DLNA technology


DLNA


DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) is a standard for data exchange between any AV devices connected to a home computer network. It allows the operation of one device with the help of another, to transmit video or audio streams over the network. It is possible that DLNA will become the same standard for AV devices that TCP/IP has become for the World Wide Web.
In order to receive the "DLNA" logo, a product must pass the necessary certification, which ensures that devices from different manufacturers can work together.
DLNA terminology
1. DMS -- Digital Media Server - a digital media server, a device that contains music and video
2. DMP -- Digital Media Player - a digital media player - a device that plays music or video
3. DMR - Digital Media Renderer - a digital media renderer - a device that plays music or video that can be controlled by a remote controller.
4. DMC -- Digital Media Controller - digital media controller - software control of the renderer, works like a remote control


Resolution
Recordings on Audio CDs are 16 bits wide and sampled at 44.1 kHz, which complies with the Redbook audio standard. Modern sound recording is performed with a bit depth of 24 bits and a sampling frequency from 44.1 to 192 kHz. But, even a 24-bit/96 kHz recording cannot be played with a CD player, since this bit rate is not supported by the Redbook standard. Before recording high resolution soundtracks on CD, downsampling with dithering up to 16 bits/44.1 kHz should be done.
You can play Hi-Res audio on PC if your audio system (DAC) supports it. If not, the audio files can usually be played back automatically downsampled to a bitrate supported by your audio system.
If you are planning to buy new Hi-Res audio equipment, then keep in mind that it must support at least 24/96 format.
The catalog of high-resolution phonograms available for download via the Internet is not yet very large, but it is constantly growing.

 





Downloading files from the Internet
CDs are slowly disappearing. People buy CDs less and less, they download music files. Most websites offer MP3s. Gradually, the bitrate of music files is growing, as the speeds on the Internet are growing and the cost of network storage is falling (in terms of one storage unit). Lossless music formats are still not ubiquitous, but their availability is growing every day.


Backup
For real collectors who have a large collection of music, this collection is of great value, both tangible and intangible. Sadly, in the event of a fire, you can lose all your music discs. However, in the case of music files, you can play it safe and store a copy on another server away from home.


Sound quality
This aspect is very important for music lovers.
For example, the laptop itself is not designed for high quality sound reproduction. You can see for yourself, just take the headphones and connect them to the appropriate output of the laptop. In very rare cases, the sound quality can reach the average level.
When organizing a modern computer-based audio system, you can use a decent sound card or USB-to-SPDIF converter and connect your trusted DAC digitally, or connect the USB DAC directly to your laptop. The sound quality can reach a very high level. Your computer will be able to play as well as a CD player.


Choice

In general, when creating a modern audio system based on computer technology, you can choose one of three options. This is a PC audio, music server or network audio player.


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Music server .

If you like the convenience of using computer technology when listening to music, but you do not want to install a computer in the listening room, then you should pay attention to the music server .

Such devices look exactly like audio equipment, some manufacturers in their advertising texts also emphasize that these devices are not computers.





Indeed, a good marketer should not lie. On a music server , you won't be able to send e-mail, open a browser, or do anything other than listen to music.

If you open the lid of these devices, then inside you will invariably find a computer stuffing with a sound card and an operating system. Without these components, we cannot work with digital sound.

You need to understand that a music server is a tool for storing and managing your music collection. It makes working with your collection much easier, which is almost as important as the sound quality of the system.

What you should pay attention to when choosing a music server 

- Backup (backup). Check if it is possible to backup and transfer your music collection to another server.
- Access via network. Check if you can access audio files over the network. For example, in order to transfer music files to NAS (Network Attached Storage). In some models, network access to the music folder is blocked.
- Working with tags. Tags allow you to quickly sort music by artist name, genre, etc. What to look for: is it possible to manually enter and edit tags. In some cases, you may come across files without tags or with tag errors. It is also worth paying attention to the support for cover art (album cover image). For classical music, the presence of the "Composer" tag is also important.
- Work stability. Before buying, you should read user reviews in the forums. Since the device usually uses proprietary software, it can contain many bugs, which leads to instability in operation.
- Performance. Any device will work fine if only a couple of CDs are loaded into it. And what can happen if a collection of 20,000 tracks or more is uploaded to the server. Some devices from a heavy load may “freeze” or start to “slow down”.
- Iron. Check out what's inside. This may not be easy to do, but if you have a normal computer inside, you can compare the price with a good low-noise PC equipped with a high-quality sound card or an external DAC.
- Noise level. The device will be in the listening room. Fans and hard drives make quite a lot of noise. The design without fans and good sound insulation of hard drives are welcome.
- Digital output. If you are not satisfied with the sound quality of the analog outputs, you can connect an external DAC of your choice to the digital output.


Audio transmission over the network (streaming)


As an alternative to a PC, network players can be considered.
In fact, a network player is a simplified computer connected to a home network. One of the essential advantages of the network player is the lack of moving parts, fan and hard drive, which guarantees silent operation.
Most detailed devices have both analog (RCA) and digital outputs. Thanks to this, connecting to the audio system is not difficult.
Most network players support UPnP/DLNA standards.
Take a look around, you may already have a couple of devices at home that support network streaming. For example, Vista/Win7 operating systems support the UPnP standard. NAS often have a built-in UPnP server. New TVs are often network capable and support the UPnP standard. If desired, you can set up network streaming between these devices.


PC

You can directly play music on your PC. You can use your computer to play music over the network. Also, a PC is often used to store and catalog your music collection.
For a quick start, you can use the computer that you already have. While you can not worry much about the sound quality. First, you should learn about many things that affect the quality of music playback on a PC.


Where to start


In audiophile forums, it is suggested to start by creating a computer copy (rip) of an audio CD using an optical drive. For this, it is recommended to use the EAC program. To listen to music on a PC, it is recommended to use the Foobar player. The basic setup of the Foobar software player is not difficult. However, achieving high-quality Hi-Fi sound on a computer is not always easy. If you are not deeply computer savvy, then you'd better take a different path into digital music.


Operating Systems


It should be noted that the three main operating systems used in personal computers are Windows, Apple OS X and Linux. You shouldn't be learning about computer audio and switching to a new operating system at the same time. Use the OS you are already used to.
On the forum pages, you can find numerous fights between Mac and Windows fans (people who use Linux are usually busy working to join them). But so far no serious arguments have been found for choosing one or another OS, in terms of sound they are approximately the same. When properly configured, each of them is capable of providing sound output in bit perfect mode. The "hardware" required for the operation of these operating systems is also no different. Of these three systems, Windows is the most omnivorous in terms of hardware.


Music collection

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It is worth starting work with music with a small collection (30-40 CDs). If you have downloaded MP3 or FLAC files, you can add them as well.



If you immediately use your real collection of considerable size, then everything will slow down, which will interfere with experiments comparing the quality of work of different players or when adding tags. Also, if you accidentally do something by mistake, it will be easy to fix for a small number of files.
Working with the collection will help you formulate software requirements.
Rip multiple lossless audio CDs.
Check that the disk information that is automatically populated from the Internet is correct. Listen as the media player plays these rips.
Try to rip a music album that consists of several CDs.
If you have a lot of classical music in your collection, you can also check if there is a tag for adding a composer and how easy it is to split CDs into individual pieces.


Player


If you plan to use a computer as a source, you will need a software media player. If you will only use it to store your collection, then you will need software to create rips and tag audio files.
The two main players Windows Media Player and iTunes have a clear interface and cover all basic needs.
Ripping
Most software media players do a good job of ripping audio CDs. But there are also specialized programs for creating disk images, such as dBpoweramp and EAC. For example, we really like dBpoweramp. It's fast, supports AccurateRip, offers accurate metadata for tags, and has a quality format converter.
Do software audio players differ in sound?
We will consider this issue in more detail in a separate article. In our experience, the effect on the sound of the player is much less than that of the driver that works in conjunction with it. In JRiver and Foobar players you can choose different drivers to work with. This allows you to fine-tune your system and find the sound that you like best.


Our recommendations


We advise you to choose a player that meets the following criteria:
- Support for major lossless formats, including FLAC
- Ability to select an audio driver, such as ASIO or WASAPI
- Saving and adding tags to audio files
Unfortunately, iTunes and WMP do not fully meet these requirements . We suggest you take a look at JRiver Media Center (our choice), Foobar or a more elegant version of freeware - MusicBee. If you are a classical music lover, then take a look at MusiCHI.


Connection


The easiest way to connect a computer with a sound card is to connect using a mini jack cable - 2xRCA. It's an easy and cheap way to get started, but don't expect serious sound quality from it.
To connect a desktop computer with a discrete audio card installed, use the audio line-out.
DACs and amplifiers/receivers can be connected via the SPDIF digital interface, via an electrical coaxial or optical channel, but, unfortunately, many computers do not have an SPDIF output. In this case, you can use a USB to SPDIF converter.
Now on sale you can find a large number of USB-DACs. New models support bitrates up to 24/192, and also use asynchronous connection. DACs have a USB input and an analog output, so they act as a bridge between the computer and the analog amplifier. Some models have volume control and a headphone output.
Choosing the Right Configuration
Quite decent sound can be obtained immediately after unpacking the device from the box. However, it is recommended that you make a few additional settings in the sound control panel on your computer.
In digital processing, almost any DSP signal processor makes changes with the digital stream. In the audiophile purist circle, any change to the digital audio stream is considered to be detrimental to the sound and "bit perfect" is their Holy Grail.
However, DSP can be useful when working in active crossover mode or when adjusting the sound to room acoustics.
All operating systems are capable of converting the sample rate in the audio stream. In most cases, such a conversion does not improve the sound quality, since writing such a conversion software is not an easy task. K-mixer from Windows XP is one such infamous example. In subsequent articles, we will give recommendations for the correct settings for all operating systems and USB DACs.

RIPing discs


According to our observation, creating copies of discs occurs in two stages:
1. Creating images of audio discs for the entire collection
2. Re-ripping discs using the correct technique Ripping an
audio disc is a little different from simple copying.
The contents of the disc are not just copied, but also converted into an audio format that is used in computers.
Often, when creating a rip, tags are immediately filled in using online databases.


Audio Format


When you rip your discs, you must decide which audio format to choose.








Since the volume of modern data storages is calculated in terabytes, you should not save disk space and you can safely choose a lossless format. The choice of implementing a lossless format is not very important, since you can find many programs for converting from one format to another. Proprietary audio formats can be found on specific operating systems. But since your computer is most likely running Windows, your NAS server is running Linux, and your smartphone is running Android, it's best to choose one of the common formats that can be used on all operating systems.
Audio players use tags to display information such as artist, album name, etc., so you need a format with good tag support. In this case, for example, the WAV format will not work.
It is also desirable that the audio file format also supports the ability to add tags. Otherwise, there is a danger of losing a significant part of meta-information when migrating from one system to another.
Media players usually store information with metadata of music files in a separate library (database) and write it to audio files in the form of tags, if the format allows it. If the audio file does not support recording tags, then working in one media player, you will encounter no problems. But, when you transfer audio files to another player or other device, you may find that some of the information has disappeared. Most often this happens with the WAV format and with added tags that have a proprietary format.


Filling in tags


When creating a rip of an optical audio disc, the tags are often filled with meta-information received from the Internet. We will talk about this in more detail later.
The most popular sources of meta information are FreeDB and Amazon. If you are a fan of classical music, then it is better to use the AMG base.
Rip programs like dBpoweramp can extract metadata from AMG, SonataDB, Music Brains and FreeDB. You can examine the quality of each source and choose the one that suits you best before you start copying your CDs to your computer.


Creating accurate rips with AccurateRip


The idea that errors can occur when ripping an audio CD can be a big concern for audiophiles. Many ripping programs provide the AccurateRip function, which provides a comparison of the files received after the rip with a database of files received by other users. The coincidence of files usually indicates that the rip was carried out without errors.
To create disc rips, you can choose well-known programs such as EAC or dBpoweramp, which provide AccurateRip support. But WMP or iTunes players can also rip.


Audio formats


On the net you can find a lot of controversy around the formats and their differences in sound quality.
Here are typical topics of such disputes:
- The WAV format is superior in sound quality to any lossless formats with compression
- Apple's lossless format has sound defects
- MP3 files with a high bitrate are indistinguishable from a CD
- AAC format sounds much better than MP3
- True high-res must be in 24/176 format
You can participate in the comparison of formats yourself. To do this, rip several tracks and blindly test them. Modern lossy codecs (codecs with lossy quality) are good enough that you can also include them in testing.
Once again, let's recall the WAV format: despite what it considers the most “honest”, sooner or later you may encounter an unpleasant surprise when working with it.
Our recommendations for choosing an audio format:
- Lossless
- Supported by your media player
- Supports the tagging system

Synchronization


Having created a music collection on a computer, you most likely want to use it on portable equipment. Often people create two music libraries, one in lossless format and the other in MP3.
One of the interesting solutions for portable support is a media player with a transcoding function. Regardless of the format in which the music is stored, when a portable player is connected, all music is converted on the fly into a format understandable to him. Transcoding frees you from creating a second library of audio files.


Experimenting


Once you've become familiar with the basic principles of computer audio, you can start experimenting. You can use various media players, change drivers, select bit perfect mode, etc. You can also download a huge amount of music from the Internet. This is one of the significant advantages of computer sound.


Based on materials from The Well-Tempered Computer

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