Music servers seem to be gaining mainstream audiophile traction over physical media - even for high resolution files. I've started reading articles and posts on the subject and I'm becomming very interested in the concept though I have no desire to become an early adopter. I currently have about 150 RBCD's in my library that I would like to preserve, but I'm mainly interested in high resolution content. I've been enthusiastic about SACD and have about 200 in my library. But many SACD's are expensive or out of distribution, and of course much music material is simply not currently available in any high resolution format. Music downloads seem to offer the promise of making all music much more available in formats ranging from highly compressed MP3 to uncompressed high resolution files having the potential to rival the master recording.
Based on material I’ve read there also seems to be a general consensus well assembled music servers can outperform physical media because music servers can remove much of the noise generated by physical disc players reading mechanisms. I’ve also noticed with interest that some download websites such as Hdtracks are offering some very well recorded music albums (e.g.; Patricia Barber’s “Nightclub” and “Verse”). I have the “Verse” album on SACD and it is indeed a spectacular recording both in terms of music and sound. And the price to download a high resolution file of the full album is pretty inexpensive at $11.98 compared with prices of $60 and up for this out of print album. If there was a straightforward way to optimize the play of well recorded high resolution downloads, I could be motivated to pursue it.
But currently there doesn’t seem to be any consensus how to achieve optimum high resolution downloads and the area seems to be trying to find its way, or spinning out of control, depending on your perspective. As far as I can determine there seems to be four cabling methods of getting the music into your audio system: firewire, USB, Toslink, and coaxial cable. I believe the coax option requires a really high quality PC sound card introducing yet another component in the audio chain. Whereas a PC with a Toslink connection can carry data directly from the PC hard drive to the audio DAC without going through any potentially audio limiting devices. Why doesn’t that make Toslink the preferred method hands down? An audio friend just bought a Toshiba PC laptop with a Toslink output and my Cary 306 SACD player has a Toslink input to the DAC which I believe is fairly high quality. With that type of setup couldn’t I simply load the music files I wish to listen to on my laptop, connect the Toslink cable to my Cary, sit back and listen to high resolution music rivaling audio masters?