The Theory

The two devices that set me off on this quest were Sonos’ ZP80 player and Slim Devices’ Squeezebox 3. Both are wireless music systems and both are equipped, alongside the usual analogue outputs, with digital outputs. That might not sound significant on the face of it, but the digital outputs mean that you can cut the PC-related hardware almost completely out of the picture, leaving the music reproduction to proper hi-fi equipment at the end of the signal chain.

In theory, you can stream the digital signal, via S/PDIF, all the way from those files on your PC directly to a high-end DAC (digital to analogue converter) or home theatre receiver, without having to involve the PC in the decoding process at all. And if you combine this with lossless music file compression systems, such as FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec), WMA Lossless and Apple Lossless, which allow you to store bit-for-bit identical copies of your music on your computer in less space than standard CDA files, the result should be just the same as plugging a CD transport into that DAC or home theatre system.

Even storage isn't too much of a problem. Though compressed lossless albums still take up 200MB to 300MB per album, with mass storage so cheap these days you can encode and store even a large CD collection for not much cash. You can buy a 300GB hard drive, for instance, for around £75 inc VAT now, and one of these will store a whopping 1,228 albums at 250MB in size.

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