Believe it or not, stepping up your audio game to get into high-resolution music is not that hard. It doesn't even have to be very expensive, either. Now more than ever, there are hundreds of great hi-res titles available, a multitude of high-quality players to fit every budget, and ample storage to make all of this a feasible reality in your life. If you're ready to step into hi-res, here are seven things you'll need to get you on your way.
1. Invest in a Good Audio System
Think of your audio system as the race car that you will be fueling with HD music files. You're going to want to do your listening over a decent -- if not excellent -- home audio system. Given that you are here reading HomeTheaterReview.com, it's likely that you already have some sort of higher-quality home audio playback system up and running. However, if all you have is a boombox, an iPod dock with speakers built in, or even one of those decent all-in-one Bose units, you'll want to get something more robust. Explore the Bookshelf and Floorstanding Loudspeaker categories at HomeTheaterReview.com, as well as the Preamps and Receivers categories, for the latest and greatest in high-fidelity products in your price range. These days, you don't need to break the bank to get some good-quality products.
2. You Likely Need a Nice Computer
Your computer is likely going to be the hub through which you download and play back your new collection of high-resolution digital audio files. So make sure you have a decent, modern computer -- something from the last few years will serve you best. If you haven't maxed out your memory (RAM) capabilities, that is probably a wise thing to do, as it will help make your high-resolution digital audio experience smoother and more hassle-free. If you are buying a new computer, get one with a sizable hard drive and the speediest processors you can afford -- this will not only make your high-resolution audio experience better, but it will help to future-proof your computer for some time. Your choice of PC or Apple Macintosh computers is a personal one. I am a Mac enthusiast, but I know people who prefer and use PCs very successfully for hi-res audio storage and/or playback.
Alternately, if you are a computer techie and want to repurpose an older computer into a "music server," you can do that, as well. It's your call, but that is a whole other can of worms that's well outside the scope of this article (we may tackle it in the future, though).
3. Get Some Backup Hard Drives
You will be buying and downloading a lot of high-resolution audio files, so you'll need some place to store them safely. These files are much bigger than your MP3s or even the files you ripped at full resolution from your CDs.
Let's talk bluntly for a moment about the logic behind bigger files because I know a lot of people find MP3s adequate for most needs, thus the notion of buying bigger files may sound counter-intuitive. Now, I'll admit that what I'm about to write here is a crude approximation, but I am doing so to make a point: size does matter (wink wink, nudge nudge)! Really folks, the bigger files can hold (potentially) much much MUCH more sonic information than the smaller compressed files found on CDs and MP3s. More data captured per song (especially for those albums being transferred from analog sources) roughly translates into a better listening experience.
So, if you are accustomed to having 10,000 songs stashed away on a one-gigabyte thumb drive, you will need to make new accommodations for your sizable new digital music collection. Fortunately, hearty terabyte hard drives are commonly available for reasonable prices these days, so you shouldn't have to panic here. And, while you are out shopping for a hard drive, you might as well buy two. Yes, two backup drives are better than one. Here is why: if one drive crashes, you will always have a safety backup. Drives DO crash, so it is best to do some research on hard drives that are designed for handling lots of music. I keep a certain amount of music on my main computer hard drive, then I have two redundant backup drives (each is one terabyte in size) for stuff that is not in regular circulation. Everyone is different, so you may want to design your playback and storage process differently. I use drives by Western Digital, but you may find others you prefer.
4. Consider the Cloud
An alternative to using your own hard drives is to purchase storage space on a cloud-based storage service. Basically, these companies manage enormous computer "server farms" that lease out (and maintain) storage space far away from your home, accessible via the Internet. There are numerous advantages to this process, but I admit it's something that I am only now growing more comfortable with. Options abound, and your computer manufacturer may even offer you very usable storage space for a reasonable fee. For you Apple fans, the iCloud service may be a no-brainer choice since your computer, iPhone, and iPad are all likely synced up to it already (whether you even know it or not). Do your research and find one that suits your needs and budget.
Click over to Page Two for information on software players, DACs, and other hi-res devices, as well as a few music recommendations...