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Advice for a (sort of) Beginner

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'Sort of' - in the sense that I'm not new to computers (I was a computer consultant (PCs) for some years - but changed direction 2 years ago - decided to get a life!!), and I'm not new to audio ( I owned a hi fi store in the 80's). However - I am completely new to computer audio!! Don't even own an IPod!!


My tastes run to hi fi that sounds 'musical' - warm, involving, having presence etc. I have a system that provides all these things: IMF Reference Standard Professional Monitor MkIV transmission line speakers - purchased in 1982, and extensively rebuilt with high grade crossovers, and Space and Time internal wiring; Linx Audio hand built pre- and power-amps - top-grade components and Van den Hul internal wiring (built in NZ in 1986); Denon DCD 3560 cd player - purchased in 1996.


It's probably obvious from the above that I'm not a great believer in changing my audio gear for the sake of it, so a move into computer audio will be a radical one for me. I'm hoping to assemble a system that will allow me to create asound that's similar to what I have now - using my existing speakers and amps initially, and possibly changing these later (if I can bear to part with them - they really are part of my family!!).


I am interested at this stage in the comments on your site on the more budget-oriented components - I don't feel that it's necessary to spend a fortune to achieve a the type of sound that I'm looking for. Also - my buying decisions will also be governed to some extent by the fact that I live in Australia, and the range of products available here is somewhat narrow, and the prices are higher.


Now to the business end of my first post. I've spent 3 days or so reading the posts on the site, and have found myself thoroughly confused!! But I'll clarify my thoughts, and hopefully pose some highly detailed questions for you all down the track!!


My first question, though, is related to the on-going one of PC or Mac. I'm a PC expert, and I've never used a Mac, but I love their design, and could easily be seduced for audio purposes. I don't have to make this decision right now, but I do want to start ripping my 1200+ CD collection as soon as possible. I have more or less decided to rip in an uncompressed format - WAV or AIFF (although Chris does appear to like the Apple lossless format, and this might be worth a look). Is there any inherent benefits or otherwise to either of these formats, and could I use either of them without it impacting on my future PC/MAC decision? That is - if I decide to rip in WAV could I use the files easily on a MAC, or if I rip in AIFF could I use these on a PC??


What a fantastic site this is, with a great group of members! Congratulations Chris. I work from home, and discovered the site only late last week, and it's already proving to be a great distraction from my business activities!!


Incidentally - are there any other members from Australia? If there are I would love to hear from you. We could have a whinge about equipment availability and prices (and anything else that's relevant, or irrelevant, or irreverent.)


Edward CR


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Hi Edward,

I'm also from Australia and would be happy to join in a whinge about equipment availability and prices! It's frustrating, isn't it! I'm completely new to computer audio, so won't proffer any advice, but I'm sure you'll find this site an absolute treasure trove, as I have.


I'm going to go down the Mac path as my partner and I are confirmed Mac users and I'm currently trying to make a decision about purchasing an inexpensive USB DAC. Chris' post on the homepage about the Cambridge Audio DACMagic has piqued my interest, as there's a Cambridge audio dealer near me in Melbourne and it looks as though it's reasonably priced (although I'll have to wait to see what it translates to in A$!).


I'll be interested to hear what decisions you come to.




Melbourne, Australia

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Hi Edward - Welcome to Computer Audiophile. While some people around here will be able to offer you help with computer audio questions, I am sure you'll be able to help with a good historical perspective on everything since your experience goes back at least to the 80's.


The PC or Mac question is a popular one. I have both and think Macs are much easier to obtain bit perfect sound with and the user interface is fabulous. Plus with a new Mac you can run Windows and OS X on the same hardware. Both platforms are fully capable of great sound.


I rip all my music to uncompressed AIFF. Not sure where you read that I prefer ALAC, but it doesn't really matter. It's laid back around here :-)


Here is a quote from Wikipedia. It covers one reason I use AIFF.


"There are hundreds or even thousands of codecs ranging from those downloadable for free to ones costing hundreds of dollars or more. This variety of codecs can create compatibility and obsolescence issues. By contrast, raw uncompressed PCM audio (44.1 kHz, 16 bit stereo, as represented on an audio CD or in a .wav or .aiff file) offers more of a persistent standard across multiple platforms and over time."


If your going to use WAV or AIFF, I highly recommend AIFF for the cover art and meta data support.


Anyway, I hope to keep you from as much of your daily business activities as possible :-) Thanks for the kind words about the site. You'll find more than a few readers around here from OZ and NZ.


Founder of Audiophile Style | My Audio Systems

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Hi Chris

Thanks for your welcome to the site.

Could you please clarify one thing for me?

I think I have made my decision regarding ripping my existing cd collection - I'll probably go with AIFF (especially as I've decided to use I-Tunes, even if I stick with a PC).

However, what's the situation with downloaded music, for example, from HD Tracks or Gimell Records? If I download CDs in FLAC format, would I gain anything by converting them to AIFF? Surely it would be sufficient to convert these to ALAC?

On the HD Track site I found the following comments regarding their CDs:

"AIFF: CD-quality uncompressed music files offering seamless integration with iTunes.

FLAC: CD-quality "lossless" compressed music files that sound as good as AIFFs, but can be downloaded faster; compatible with Media Monkey, VLC, Songbird, Mac Flac, Toast, and Winamp, but not compatible with iTunes or iPod."

Is FLAC truly "lossless", and does the result sound as good as an uncompressed AIFF file? If not - surely there would be no point in converting from FLAC to AIFF once the original CD has been compressed to FLAC for downloading purposes. Why not save space and use ALAC?

Or am I missing something here?



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Hi Julienne


I seem to be narrowing my DAC choice down to either the DACMagic or the Stello DA100, both of which get great reviews. Amazingly, I've found local retailers for both products this morning - and by local I mean less than 2 klm from where I live!!


Although I don't know what your price limit is for a DAC, you might be interested in the prices for both.


The DACMagic - $AU599 retail (which compares quite well with the US retail price of $399). But I've been told it won't be available here until November.


The Stello DA100- $AU895 (only $200 more than the US price!). This looks like really good value! If you're interested in finding out more, it's available in Melbourne from Caxton Audio, 38a Johnston St Fitzroy, phone 03 9495 6500.


And now, to complicate the whole thing, I've just had a call from yet another local hi fi store - and in the course of this conversation I discovered that they sell the Benchmark DAC10, which everyone seems to rave about. US price - $1575. Price in Oz - $1875 - a surprisingly small price difference. This is way above my proposed DAC price limit of $AU1000 (which is why I hadn't even put it on my list of possibles) - BUT it's also a pre-amp, so when I upgrade the rest of my system, I wouldn't have to buy a new pre-amp!! So economically it would make lots of sense (or so I could tell myself)!


Re the PC vs Mac dilemma - although I've never used a Mac in my life, I am very computer literate, so I don't think I would have too many problems if I went with a Mac system. And I love the design!! The only problem will be ascertaining exactly what I need!






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I've recently made a couple of purchases from Caxton audio/Sound reference - an Arcam amp & CD player and a pair of Quad L2 speakers. I knew they had the more expensive Stello DA220MKII, but didn't realise they had the cheaper ones - although now I check their website I see them listed there (either I was blind or they've been added since I last looked!).

I spoke to Carlton audio visual about the DACMagic and received the same information you did and given my recent expenditure if I want to stay married I think it's my better option!. I think you've been quoted a good price on the Benchmark too - I've seen it listed at a higher price.


I'm going to hook up one of our powerbooks in the meantime, however what I'd really like is if Apple merged the Mac Mini and the Apple TV which I"d control with the iPod touch that I will probably be very tempted to buy after tomorrow's Apple event!




Melbourne, Australia

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Hi Edward,


"If I download CDs in FLAC format, would I gain anything by converting them to AIFF?"

No, you would simply double the file size.


"Surely it would be sufficient to convert these to ALAC?"



"Is FLAC truly "lossless", and does the result sound as good as an uncompressed AIFF file?"

Yes it does. ALAC and FLAC are the audio equivalents of a Zip file. They just remove redundancy from the data, but don't actually lose any information. The reconstructed file played back is bit-for-bit identical to the original.


"Why not save space and use ALAC?"

Indeed !




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