I'm an amateur musician. I've played the trombone since fifth grade (1966). I've sung in choirs since Junior High School. I leave my trombone out on a stand, to encourage picking it up and playing along with the music.
My musicianship mostly shows, however, in that there's always recorded music playing while I work, and, since that became easy with my Apple Airpods, while walking and bicycling around town.
I had very good stereo equipment before the computer age, initially a Bryston Amp with B&W DM7 speakers, then, some smaller, but still really good components, including a top-of-the-line Sony CD player.
When I got a computer on my desk, I initially used cheap computer speakers and compressed music. Then I discovered that adding an external DAC (Digital-to-Analog converter), powered near-field monitor speakers, and CD-quality digitized music, got me back to the old component quality, but cheaper, smaller, and without the need to handle vinyl or CDs.
I played for a while with HD music, 96Khz/24-bit, but decided that I can't hear the difference between that and standard CD quality (44Khz/16-bit), so I save the money and disk space. Nowadays, I'm not convinced that 256K compressed music sounds any different to my aging ears than CD quality, so I'm buying a lot of new music from iTunes, instead of ripping Amazon CDs. I CAN hear the difference between the older 128K compression and CDs.
My setup today is ripped bits on my 27" iMac, driving a Geek Pulse DAC, going through a Schiit SYS switch (so that I can easily turn off the speakers when I want to listen through headphones), and a splitter cable to Swan M200MkIII powered monitors and a bottom-of-the-line Klipsch KW-100 sub-woofer.
Below is a photo of the wiring. The yellow cable is a fancy USB cable from Geek Pulse. I find it hard to believe that a fancy digital cable has an effect on sound quality, but they sent it to me for free with my DAC, so I use it. The black box to which the yellow cable connects is the DAC. The silver box on top of that is the Schiit switch. The fat red cables connect the DAC to the switch. The thin red cables connect the switch to the splitter, the RCA connectors for which are in the left foreground. The fat black cables out of the splitter go to the powered Swan speaker, and to the sub-woofer, which is under a table to the left of the white desk lamp. The black cable with the circular connector goes from the speaker in the photo to the other one, not pictured.
The little white plastic box is an Omron BP652 wrist blood pressure monitor.
The desk chair is a Herman Miller Aeron chair. I can sit in it for 10 hours straight, and never get even slightly uncomfortable because of the chair (though I badly need to move every couple of hours). Worth every dollar.
Click on the photo for a high-resolution version (3023x4031 pixels, 1.7 megabytes).
billstclair.com/hd598 has unboxing photos for my glorious new headphones. I splurged on them on discovering that instead of having to pay Uncle Sam $1K more for the yearly extortion, I can likely convince them to give me back $2k or $3K. Yay! Initial impression is that the new headphones are amazing.
My Swan M200MkIII powered speakers, the upgrade I mentioned twelve days back, arrived on Thursday. And how fine they are! Nothing short of amazing. And I won't know the full story until they're broken in, a month or so from now. Click the link, or the photo below, for unboxing pr0n.
My M-Audio AV40 monitors have served me well, but it's time for an upgrade. Just ordered these. More when they arrive. Click on image for full-size.
Yesterday, I received the third, and final (for now) component of my computer music upgrade, a pair of Grado SR60i headphones. This is the bottom-of-the-line model from Grado, but boy are they nice! Reminds me of my amazement back in the eighties at the sound I got from a $40 Grado phono cartridge. More text and photos here.
I got a NuForce Icon uDAC USB Digital-to-Analog converter. Coupled with my new speakers and lossless CD rips and downloads, I now have a computer stereo that approaches the quality of the $3,000 system I bought in 1984. More details and unboxing pr0n at billstclair.com/udac.
The golden posts sticking out of the right of the red box below are RCA jacks. It's just big enough for a standard printer USB jack and three RCA jacks. And boy does it sound sweet!
One of the problems of converting your computer music to Audiophile quality is that compressed music no longer cuts the mustard. You need full CD quality, or better. Enter HDTracks.com. A sizable music library, with an artist and audiophile focus. Every album is at least CD quality, and they have a selection of 24-bit audio at 96Khz, if you've got a DAC that can handle that. You can download as FLAC, AIFF, or 320K MP3. Why anyone would pay a premium for pretty-good MP3, I don't know, but it's there. They charge $12 for CD-quality albums, or $1.49 per track (but not all tracks are available individually), and $18 for Audiophile 96khz/24bit albums, or $2.49 per track.
HDTracks doesn't have all the latest pop albums, but they have a large enough library to keep you discovering new gems for a good long time. And the recordings are amazing.
I download in FLAC format, that being nearly half the size of AIFF, so half the time to download. But iTunes doesn't handle FLAC, so I use XLD (X Lossless Decoder) to convert to Apple Lossless format, which iTunes does handle. On Windows, most of the audiophiles I've encountered (at head-fi.org), use the Fubar2000 player. I'm sure Google will lead you to plenty of FLAC players for Linux.
I got some M-Audio Studiophile AV 40 Powered Speakers from Amazon. They're a big step up from my $40 Logitechs. I also ordered a USB DAC, but I'll make another post of that, after it arrives. And some new headphones; yet another post.
The new speakers are on the low end of Hifi equipment, but they sound good to me, have some sound stage, and get very loud (20 watts per channel). In preparation for their arrival, I re-imported about 120 of my CDs, in Apple Lossless format.
Choosing speakers is hard. So many choices. The Audioengine A2 speakers are similar. I chose the M-Audio because it has a volume knob, Aux In, and Phono jack on the front. I was tempted by the Audioengine A5 and M-Audio BX5A, but didn't want to spring that many bucks right away. Will likely upgrade in a year or so.
Unboxing pr0n at billstclair.com/maudio.