Abingdon Music Research AMR Audio have produced some useful White Papers on understanding the basics of a computer based music system. These have been recently published in HiFi Plus magazine, but if you missed them, you will find them reproduced below.
Please let me know if I can assist further.
Why would I want to listen to music via a computer?
• Improved Sound Quality:
◦ The ability to copy (“rip”) your current CD collection to your computer and achieve a level of sound quality superior to that of a CD transport. Standard “red book” ripped CD’s played through the Computer Audio Design DAC have a sound quality that must be heard to be believed.
◦ The only method to listen to the new higher resolution audio formats is via a computer. Almost all of the high resolution audio is only available by download.
• The first CD’s were sold in 1982. Nothing has successfully replaced the CD with a higher level of sound quality. Technology has improved by unimaginable amounts since 1982 except we are still listening to CD quality until just very recently. Higher resolution audio formats are now available to those that listen to computer based audio.
• There is no current movement to replace CD disks. CD disks as a music medium are slowly disappearing. The logical next step is for higher quality audio to be downloaded.
• Over 250 million Apple I-pods have been sold to date. The convenience of the I-pod is one of the main reasons why audio sound quality has not improved, but it has shown that convenience and portability of computer based audio is highly desirable.
• Due to memory constraints and limited internet download speeds the easiest option in the past was to “compress” our music into formats such as MP3. But today memory is economical and the cost of internet access is plummeting while download speeds are rocketing. We no longer have these constraints. We do not have to compress our music anymore.
• CD Audio has 16-bit resolution and a sampling rate of 44.1 KHz for each channel. These are two independent variables. Resolution is basically how many different voltage “steps” that are available and sampling rate is how many times per second the audio data was sampled.
What this means is:
• The resolution of a 16 bit system can be calculated by computing 2 to the 16th power which equals 65,536. So in a 16 bit system the audio signal can have 65,536 different voltage “steps”.
• A sampling rate of 44.1KHz means the analog audio data was sampled at 44,100 times each second when it was converted to digital format.
• There are now audio formats available that have 24 bit and even 32 bit resolution. 2 to the 24th power = 16,777,216 voltage steps compared to 65,536 voltage steps of CD Audio.
• There is now audio available that has 48KHz, 96KHz and 192KHz sampling rates (amongst others). At 96KHz the music gets sampled 96,000 times per second compared to CD technology of 44,100 times per second.
• As mentioned above, if you want to hear these new higher resolution formats the only method is via a computer – there is no other option!
Why don’t we all listen to music via a computer?
• Any device that stores music and allows you to listen to it via headphones or speakers has a processor and operating system to manage the audio data. All “I-pod” devices have these so in reality we have been listening to music via a “computer”.
• High quality Computer Based Audio is in its infancy. A Digital to Analog Convertor (DAC) is what is used to convert music from the digital format (“zero’s and one’s”) to analog format (what we listen to). The idea of having a separate audio component for doing just Digital to Analog Conversion was only something seen in esoteric audio systems until recently.
• We have had computers for a long time now but computer hardware and software for the sole purpose of reproducing high quality audio has just recently been developed.
• Complexity. Most of us want a simple non-technical way to listen to our music. This is one of the reasons why Ipod devices are so popular. They are simple and convenient. High quality audio is now available with the convenience of the Ipod.
• No idea how to do it. This is where CAD and its dealers can help. We have done an enormous amount of testing and research and we will assist you to set up your system.
• Computer specifications are all but useless for determining how something will sound. CAD understands the important factors in DAC design and computer setup for optimum sound quality. We have worked closely with our dealers to ensure that they can set up your system to achieve the best sound quality possible.
• “I don’t want a computer in my living room” With modern hardware the computer can be out of sight and all communications can be done via Wi-Fi. But you might be surprised at what some companies are doing to make their computers fit into the living area. This area is changing rapidly and some of the computers look pretty cool in our opinion!