Computer Audio Playback Overview:

Introduction

As use of the personal computer (PC) has become more prevalent, it is no surprise that their use for music servers has become as popular as it is now. A music collection can easily consist of thousands of songs which can then be organized and played back all without having to change a single record, tape, or disc. With the introduction of the Ayre USB digital to analog (D/A) converter, now these collections can be played back with unprecedented fidelity and realism.

Connected via a USB port and using the Streamlength asynchronous USB transfer mode software licensed from Wavelength Audio, an Ayre USB D/A converter generates a fixed-frequency master audio clock for jitter-free playback of your music. Now the D/A converter is in control and provides the critical master audio clock; the computer simply stores the music files. Ayre USB D/A converters also utilize techniques to provide total electrical isolation between your computer and music system.

For playback of files up to 96 kHz this is all done using the standard device drivers supplied with all recent operating systems, allowing simple installation and operation with most computers. (Going beyond 96 kHz has special requirements as noted below.)

Important Reminder - Back Up Your Music Files!

No matter what your choice of computer, operating system, and music playing software, please remember one important fact—all hard drives will eventually develop problems and you may lose precious data. Be sure to back up your music files! You will likely end up with hundreds of hours and/or thousands of dollars invested in these files. Taking a few minutes to back them up can save a lot of heartache down the road.

Class 1 or Class 2

The vast majority of currently available music files are at sample rates of 96 kHz or below. As computer audio continues to mature there will be an increasing number of files available at 176.4 kHz and 192 kHz. Standard computer audio with files up to 96 kHz typically operate under what is called "Class 1 Audio" which is a subset of USB 1.1. The transmission rate for Class 1 Audio is 12 MHz. To go beyond 96 kHz requires the use of a protocol called "Class 2 Audio", which operates in conjunction with USB 2.0. Class 2 Audio uses a transmission rate of 480 MHz, or forty times faster than standard USB computer audio. This means that there is forty times less margin for timing error, and that everything in the signal path must be essentially perfect to achieve good results.

The easiest way to determine whether Class 1 or Class 2 audio is right for you is to simply look at the sample rate of your music collection. As it is important to play your audio at the same sample rate as it was recorded, there is no reason to meet the more strict requirements of Class 2 audio if none of your music is over a 96 kHz sample rate. If you do intend to play files up to 192 kHz, please refer to the Going Beyond 96 kHz section below to ensure you've met all necessary requirements before attempting to play back your collection in this mode.

Before you attempt to work with files beyond 96 kHz, please go through the normal setup instructions for your Operating System. Make sure that everything is working properly and you are familiar with your system and its software. Only then should you attempt to work with files beyond 96 kHz.

Requirements

Software Overview

No matter what operating system (OS) your computer uses—Apple, Windows, or Linux—you'll need to set up your computer for performing several different tasks:

1. Transferring music to your computer's hard drive, either by converting the files from your CD collection, commonly called “ripping”, or by purchasing files that are available for downloaded via the internet.

2. Labeling the files you have transferred with the names of the song, artist, album, et cetera, commonly called “tagging”. (Downloaded files will normally already have the tags included.)

3. Using a music player program to organize your music collection and play it back.

4. Optionally recording music selections back onto CDs for playback in your car or other places, commonly called “burning”.

5. Optionally transferring part of your music collection to a portable music player, commonly called “syncing”.

A few programs can perform all of these functions, for example iTunes (Apple and Windows), J.River Media Center (Windows), and Foobar (Windows). Some users will prefer to use other software packages or even a combination of other specialized programs to perform these functions, but for most users we recommend using one of these all-in-one software packages.

Apple or Windows?

If you are setting up a music server for the first time, possibly the simplest route is to purchase a new Mac Mini or other Apple computer. It will come pre-loaded with a variety of software (including iTunes) and works especially well with other Apple products such as the iPod. While it is very easy to set up one of these systems, music player software choices other than iTunes may be limited.

Apple Setup Instructions

There are many valid reasons for using a Windows computer as your music server. You may already be using a Windows computer, or you may be more familiar with the Windows operating system. The music player software applications available for Windows may offer more flexibility or customization than is available with iTunes. However, there are typically more choices and steps when setting up a Windows computer as a music server.

Windows Setup Instructions

If you are still unsure of which way to go, read the music player setup instructions for each OS on these pages. You will find additional information that will help guide your decision.

Going Beyond 96 kHz

Before you attempt to work with files beyond 96 kHz, please go through the normal setup instructions with your player set in Class 1 mode. Make sure that everything is working properly and you are familiar with your system and its software. Only then should you attempt to work with files beyond 96 kHz.

Links to Other Useful Computer Audio Websites


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