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Computer AudioNewbie


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Hi everyone. I am a complete novice when it comes to computer audio who has, for the past month or so, caught the bug and have been learning about this new area. While I have learned a significant amount from this site and others, I have questions that I still am unclear about and wanted to seek some help. I am not sure I know enough to even ask intelligent questions, so please bear with me.


Backgroud - I have 2 audio set ups - I have an AV room with an old Onkyo 989 receiver running a surround set up with Triangle Celius Speakers and I have a IMAC in the same room. Having been exposed to information learned from this site, I experimented by adding a MF Vdac and Airport Express to this area and am streaming Apple Lossless files from my IMAC (ashamed to say that a couple of months ago, I did not know what Apple Lossless was... I thought all computer music was variations of MP3).


Separately, I have a HIfi set up in our main living space - 300B Tube pwr, Tube pre, Marantz SACD SA11, VPI Scout and AvantGarde speakers. All set up a few years back... This is where I would like to add a computer source and DAC. For the DAC, again based on info from this site, I will probably go with a Bryston BDA1 or Berkelery Alpha. With regards to the source, I have a number of questions.


1. Apple Express/Apple TV.

The distance from my AV room to my living area is such that Apple Express offers a weak connection, I assume Apple TV will only offer a similar range?


I understand that even though Itunes now processes 24bit info, Apple Express can only output digitally Redbook info - is this still correct? Is the Apple TV similarly limited and is it so even if it is not streaming but playing music from its drive? (Apple TV with extended range and 24/96 output capability would seem to have been perfect for me...)


2. Mac Mini

It seems this is an often considered option - which I also like for its size and convenience.


Digitial Output - What is the maximum digitial output from the Mac mini - Redbook? 24-96? 24/176.4? Assuming it can output 24/96, is this seen as a limiting factor going into the future or is it already so much more into than Redbook that it should be enough for the next few years? If a file is 24/176.4 (or some other high res) bit the mac mini is more limited in output, will it downsample the file automatically an output an appropriate digital signal?


Control - I would like to use the Mac mini without a screen or keyboard, after initially setting it up. I own an Ipod touch) - I know of Apple remote. But does it only control Itunes or can it be used for control some of the computer - mainly I am concerned about how to turn the machine off after listening, for example. I also know there is a screen sharing function that might work, perhaps with my IMAC. But is this a wireless network type function? Since the range from the living area to my IMAC is such that Airport Express has problems, I am not sure this would work. Any solutions to avoid use of a screen? It seems pwr on and off and getting Itunes to open would be the main issues everytime I want to listen to music?


3. MacBook - Other Options?


I am not keen on having a note book hooked up everytime to my audio for listening - seems as if it may be a bit of a mistmatch (cosmetics...), but also because I already own a PC based notebook and would not otherwise be thinking of upgrading it right now. But I would like to hear any thoughts on this option from others who have used/considered it. I do see the convenience of having a screen and keypad right there... Are there other appropriate options that I am completely missing? I assume the digital output of the Macbook via Toslink would be the same as that of the Mac Mini and the IMac?


Also, I have seen the Wadia Idock - I do not like the fact that I may have to control it though the Ipod connected to the dock - but I understand it is a nice piece of equipment with Coaxial Digital Out. What is by the way the max digital output from the Ipod Touch (24/96?) Are there other benefits to the dock setup that I might be missing?


Sorry for the long winded questions. I would very much appreciate any info or suggestions you might offer, before taking the plunge deep into this new area.








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Is the airport express your only wireless connection, or do you have another wireless router that connects to the express? You may want to try using a regular airport extreme router as it may have better range, and then you could connect an apple TV, mini or whatever to the extreme.


From the sound of your budget, I think a mini would fit your needs better in the second room, headless, and indeed screen sharing would work with both the iMac and an ipod touch for remote control. You may also want to hold off a bit to see if the iPad would fit as a remote too, albeit much larger. You leave the mini on all the time, turn off the sleep mode, and you can open up multiple apps, including iTunes, and any other app that you would want to run on it, or control it from the iMAC or a macbook.


You may want to keep your eye on the refurb section of the apple store--minis pop up there every so often, and macbooks are almost always there. the refurbs have the same warranty as new, and you can add applecare for an extended warranty.


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I am not sure if the Airport Extreme base station has more range, but I would believe its antenna would be more effective than the express. Again, they have the base stations as refurbs at the apple store web site. You may prefer to find a cheaper "N" router from another brand ( I have used netgears and others for example) but the apple base stations have been very reliable. Another suggestion with regard to your current range--you may want to move the express around a bit, or perhaps change the channel in case of interference.


The base station has a USB port, but it is only for printers or hard drives. You may want to connect a usb hard drive to the base station to house your iTunes library, or be a backup to your iTunes library. I have a hard drive connected to mine, and use Time Machine for backups of my multiple macs.


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