To achieve my plan, I needed several things:
- Vista/WASAPI instead of XP/ASIO4ALL
- Coax/Optical output instead of USB
- FLAC instead of Apple Lossless
- A better player (FLAC-compatible) than iTunes
- A much bigger hard drive (1TB should do it)
My original plan was to use J. River Media Jukebox. It is outstanding as a library manager, but the player did not work well with Vista 64-bit. I had problems with skips/dropouts using ASIO4ALL to USB, and there is no WASAPI driver for 64-bit. I was determined to make no compromise in search of digital nirvana so I took a deep breath, blocked out an evening on my schedule, and dived into Foobar2000.
Foobar was quite a challenge to configure and one evening was not enough. Getting it to sound good was really no problem, but making it functional as a library manager was not so simple. I finally managed to configure an interface, using ColumnsUI, that looks a lot like iTunes and does what I want with some manual intervention. I have downloaded enough plug-ins to give me artwork, ratings, playcounts, and the ability to edit tags. Good enough.
I wanted to use the Realtek on-board sound output directly to my Paradisea+ instead of USB. I chose optical over my Zu Firemine coax only because I wanted the cable to hang loosely behind my desk and not be visible. I am very happy with the over-priced Monster optical cable that I got at Fry's (only thing they had and I was impatient ). I will keep it even though I could probably do just as well with another brand for less money. The Zu sounds just as good (the same actually) but it isn't as functional for my current setup.
Ahhh, but the sound? It is absolutely as good as my CD transport. I don't know how to describe this last 10% exactly... some people call it "air around the notes"... I call it the "magic". I never got the magic experimenting with FLAC via USB on my old system. But I have it now!
I am really happy with how this setup performs. So happy in fact, that I am considering moving the CD player out of the room. I don't see myself using it anymore as a source, but there is always the possibility that someone will bring their own music to audition and I would not want to waste time ripping it to FLAC for that purpose. So for now, it stays but it does take up a lot of space... and my DAC would look so much sexier alone...
Now it is time to build the FLAC library. I have ripped about 75 CD's so far out of about 200 that I plan to rip immediately. It's a labor of love.