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One Person's Journey: The Beginning

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This is my first post. I have been reading Computer Audiophile, however, for about a year. Congratulations to Chris and the many users who have made this a premier site. I have learned a lot and although I do not intend to become a regular poster on this or any other site, I thought it was time to give back a little. So I’ve written a series of four posts (this is the first) where I describe my journey into the computer music world; in the process, perhaps I can help a few others on their own journeys.


Since plunging into the audiophile world about five years ago, I have always assumed I would move one day to a computer-based digital music system. The question was when. Over the last year, I felt that critical mass had been reached with respect to options in audio gear, high resolution music, and information sources on the web.


The part of my stereo system that has not changed is this: Shindo Monbrison preamp; Shindo Cortese amp; Devore Super 8 speakers; Shindo interconnects; Auditorium 23 speaker cables; Yamamoto HA-02 headphone amp and Audio Technica ATH-W1000 headphones. Vinyl plays on an Avid Volvere turntable with SME 309 tonearm and Van den Hul MC-10 Special cartridge.


Most of the gear sits on a Finite Elemente rack with vibration-diminishing footers. Power is supplied through a dedicated circuit with FIM outlets. Most power cords are Shindo. The turntable sits on a wall-mounted rack that isolates it from footfalls on my oak sprung-wood floor. Tweaks are minimal; I have a DAAD bass trap/diffusor, Z-Sleeves in various places to minimize EMI and RFI, and natural fibers like cotton and wool in the rugs and furnishings to absorb reflections in my fairly live room.


For the last four plus years, I have played digital through an Exemplar-modified Denon 2900 universal disk player. In addition to the Exemplar, I have listened to the following disk players in my system: Marantz SA-11S1, LessLoss DAC 2004, Naim CD5X, and Meridian GO8. I preferred the Exemplar to all of these.


My goals and parameters for a new digital front-end were straightforward:

• Sonic quality had to be at least as good as what I already had

• The software user interface had to be elegant, friendly, and stable

• High-resolution playback was a must

• Whatever new gear I acquired had to be quiet as it would reside in my listening room

• The gear had to work from an aesthetic perspective; my listening room is also my living room

• I had to have confidence that the gear I purchased would be supported well into the future

• I didn’t want to pay more than US $5000 for everything


A side-note: I had already ripped most of my CD collection to iTunes (using iTunes) in Apple Lossless format. I had burned quite a few disks for use in my CD player. So I was already familiar with iTunes and the ripping process and would not be facing the task of ripping anew my roughly 1600-album collection.


I began with what I still think is perhaps the most critical link in the system: the music-playing software. Because I love and own quite a bit of classical music, I assumed that iTunes would not be ideal since it is really designed for popular music. J River Media Center has received many good reviews by classical music enthusiasts due to its functionality and flexibility in tagging and organizing music. I decided I would give it a go.


I was also partial to Macs in the endless Mac/PC debate. The Mac Mini seemed to fit the bill: I loved the form factor, it was quiet, and with its Intel processor and the ability to create a Windows partition with Boot Camp, it would work with J River.


So I bought a Mac Mini, a copy of Windows Vista, J River, and a ViewSonic monitor that I set up about 20 feet away from the Mini with Apple’s wireless keyboard and mouse. I connected the Mini to the monitor with a 25 foot cable that is essentially hidden along a wall and behind a sofa. I bought a beautiful 1930s vintage desk through Craig’s List and plopped the monitor on top of it. Now I was ready to choose a DAC.


Next post: choosing the DAC.



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