I have owned many music players over the 50 or so years that I have been buying records, tapes and then CDs. I no longer have any records, my few remaining cassette tapes have been consigned to a box in storage in the garage, and I have replaced almost everything track or album ever owned with a CD or a directly purchased download from Apple or other sources. When music players would only hold so much music, I converted tracks to MP3 format and sent them to various music players over USB cables, sometimes directly and sometimes using iTunes. I have owned more than 10 portable devices over the years, including a player once holding a whopping 20 MB of MP3 files and an iPod classic holding 160 GB of files (a 30 GB version sits in my office at work hooked to a Radio Shack amplifier/speakers).
As hard drive capacities went up and prices down, I couldn’t resist exploring alternatives. Simply put, although many believe most humans can’t hear the difference between a 3MB track saved as an MP3 file and one ripped to a different—and lossless—format with vastly larger file size, my experience says otherwise. There’s something about the ambient quality of the music when played back using a computer with a decent sound card and sent through a mostly priced stereo speakers (not ones designed for computers though the quality of some brands has dramatically improved).
So last year, I spent many evenings re-ripping my CD collection and saving the files in FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) format; Apple has its own lossless format, so I could have used that, but chose not to. Having read many reviews about error recovery from often-played CDs (even though my collection is relatively pristine), I decided to use the dBpoweramp software suite to recreate digital tracks in my music library, and I use MediaMonkey as my music manager of choice (though I still use iTunes to store/sync tracks on my iPods and iPad). Because I use network storage at home, I can also play the music from my desktop PC, another one my grandkids use, or my laptop (equipped with an add-on headphone amplifier that connects via USB).
Using an application called Audiogalaxy, as long as I am in range of a wi-fi network (you can do it over a 3G cellular connection but the speed is generally too slow) I can also play music from my library on my Android phone, on a Color Nook converted to an Android tablet, and on my iPad. My music, my way, as they say.
Having accomplished the goal to play high quality tracks on my portable devices, I decided one more change was in order. I bought a new sound card for my desktop PC (bypassing the motherboard’s built-in sound card that uses Realtek drivers that many music enthusiasts and most audiophiles find simply unsatisfactory). The modestly priced Juli@ card’s installation took less than 5 minutes, and another 3 to install the software drivers. Initially, I sent the output through two RCA jacks (via an adapter) to a Logitech 5.1 computer speaker system that has relatively good sound reproduction capabilities. But a better solution was to connect the card to an older (and faithfully used) Pioneer receiver driving two Polk Audio bookshelf speakers. I am very satisfied with the sound, which rivals a higher end stereo sound system.
Here are links to the resources used in this project if you want to explore as I did:
iTunes – www.apple.com/itunes/
FLAC – en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FLAC
dBpoweramp - www.dbpoweramp.com/
MediaMonkey – www.mediamonkey.com/
Audiogalaxy – www.audiogalaxy.com/
Juli@ – www.esi-audio.com