Confused With Options To Obtain BestQuality iTunes

I have been reading a lot these days and still confused on the plethora of options available in hooking up a computer based digital system and the pros and cons to each and every selection. I am quite new in this so please bear with me.

I have friends who stream wireless music(Itunes) via an Apple Airport Express that supported this idea and do know many folks are using this setup in their homes. Others who are into Logitech stuff advocated the Squeezebox Classic and Touch. However, another group who uses top-flight gears in their systems(upper range MBL and Revels) advised that wireless degrades sound quality, and the best option is to hook it all up with wires.

Suggested options to play Itunes in WAV or AIFF format are as follows.

1) iTunes in 1TB/2TB External Hard Drive => Mac Mini/Macbook => DAC (iPad to control music selection)

2) iTunes in 1TB/2TB External Hard Drive => Logitech Squeezebox Classic/Touch => DAC (iPad to control music selection)

3) iTunes in 1TB/2TB External Hard Drive => PC => Apple Airport Express => wireless => DAC (iPad to control music selection)

4) iTunes in 1TB/2TB External Hard Drives => wireless => Apple TV => DAC

Out of the four options above, is it a general consensus that option 1 will yield the best sound reproduction from iTunes followed by option 2? Will options 3 and 4 come close to options 1 and 2? Are there any other alternatives to do all this?

Basically my priority is to use an iPad to control playback from iTunes stored in 1TB/2TB external hard drives WITHOUT using a Mac/PC. Apple Airport Express and Apple TV were said to degrade sound quality. What other cost-efficient options do I have?

An advice would be most appreciated.
I'll throw another wrench into the works: Using iTunes as your software to deliver the music is going to limit the sampling rate to the conventional 16/44 no matter which hardware you deliver it with. Also, if you output via any USB 1.0 / 1.1 device it will limit throughput to 16/44. If you do utilize USB at all to interface with a DAC you want to use the better implementation of that interface, which means Asynchronous or some variation on that theme. Suggestions there: Empirical, Wavelength, Wyred4Sound, Ayre, Zodiac...there are more. Cheap implementation of USB can really make an otherwise good DAC sound very poor in comparison to feeding the same DAC through SPDIF.

Wireless is an excellent way to go. Your friend is right though, for the ultimate you'd want to go with a wired Ethernet connection to get the most from a network based server that feeds a DAC (like a Touch or Transporter). I don't think that particular difference is huge though and wireless is awfully convenient. You can easily experiment and see if the difference is audible and significant to you. The Apple Express and Apple TV are not optimal for getting the best sound - I would steer clear of them. Lots of jitter there. Go with a modestly priced Squeezebox Touch for a much better alternative in the same (just a bit more) price bracket.

My suggestion is to rip and store your files as FLAC using MAXX software if you are on a Mac, using the "CD Paranoia" setting for error correction (plenty of other options for various ripping software on PC, EAC and MediaMonkey are good ones). Use Squeezeserver to organize your library. Feed the files to a Squeezebox Touch. Digital SPDIF out from the touch to an (optional) de-jitter device like a Monarchy DIP or Genesis Digital Lens, then digital-out to a good DAC. You can control this setup remotely from your laptop using Squeezeserver, from a Sqeezebox controller or remote, or from an iPhone or iTouch using the iPeng app. Do this right and it will rival most high-end players, but with tremendous convenience and your entire music library at your fingertips.

A simpler version would be to get one of the better USB DACs that have that interface down pat as a non-issue. Fewer boxes, but you'd be hard-wired to your computer. You could also use an Empirical Pacecar to improve a USB>DAC connection if the DAC in question were not up to snuff in the USB department.

Much of this, which path is the best one, is splitting hairs and really needs to take into account how resolving your system is, how resolving your own ears are, your expectations and thresholds, budget, and finally personal preferences. Some factors do make a significant difference though so it is good to research. You can find plenty online, here and elsewhere (Computer Asylum, Computer Audiophile, Empirical Audio, Wavelength Audio, etc.).

Hope there's some help in there for you.
Thank you for the useful information Jax2. It was truly of great help and much appreciated. Very sensible advice and I pretty much agree with your views in that the best path to take is dependent on one's priorities apart from factors such as system's resolution, budget and expectations. In my case, I will have to strike the right balance between good sound(to my expectations) and system's resolution. Since my system is not too resolving, a Squeezebox Touch might be a good idea. I think I'll shortlist the Squeezebox Touch and the Mac Mini+iPad as my main choices.

I'll do more research on both Squeezebox and Mac Mini to see which will suit my priorities better.

Thanks again for the help.
Everyone of your choices requires a PC/Mac. However, if your music library is small, and in a supported format, you can use the Squeezebox Touch and it's internal server software. There's a Squeezebox app for the iPad.
I would not use FLAC if you are going to run Mac. Use the Mac's version which is ALAC. Furthermore, iTunes is not limited to 16/44, but the AE or Apple TV may be. If you run PC, do not use iTunes at all, but some other player such as J River. With a Mac, you will get better sound using a different player as well, but the integration of iTunes with Mac is hard to beat. There are better players that use the iTunes database (Pure Music, Amarra)

FWIW, it do not trust wireless, moreover as thee previous poster stated, the direct connections are better. You are not indicating what DAC you will use or what type of comp (PC/Mac). I think your best bet would be to use an iPad to control a Mac mini that is directly connected to your DAC, preferably with a good wired connection.

Nice system and beautiful home BTW.
Itunes does support 24/192 files via the USB output, just have to change audio midi settings in the system preferences. You can also output up to 96k I believe on the toslink output of a mac as well. If you decide to go the streaming route you will be limited to standard redbook as the AE does not handle higher than CD quality. If you are not going to have multiple systems using the same hard drive for music I would go with a mac mini wired directly to the DAC and Channel D's Pure Music program to playback the files. The original purpose for using the AE was to have use a laptop for playback so you could have your music at your fingertips. Now that the ipad and iphone have remote apps this is no longer necessary. I store everything in AIFF, larger than flac but natively supported by Itunes. Storage is so cheap I don't really worry about the loss of space. You can configure your mac mini to automatically open itunes on start up so you do no need a monitor. You can also install iteleport which will let you use your iphone or ipad as you monitor and control your mini from either device, useful if you need to restart or change some settings.
4est, Bwp, thanks for the useful advice. I'm slowly moving in the direction of the Mac Mini + iPad now. It is certainly good to read similar opinions supporting the Mac Mini's choice which surely make things easier for me.


Might I suggest upping the RAM on your mini. Memory play is the ticket. For whatever reasons, lots of RAM and a solid state internal disk drive for the OS makes a difference. You may want to check out the "computer audiophile" site, there is lots of info there. I find it a little easier to understand than say audio asylum and such.
I am no expert in this field but having just completed the process, after much research, I'll share what I learned. BTW, when I say just completed I mean I finished ripping cds yesterday and hooked everything into my system last night. I can tell already that my cdp won't see as much use as it did.
All of my research pointed to a Mac Mini with external HD feeding a dac as the best way to implement the system. I ended up with:
Mac Mini (latest version)
ipod touch for remote control
Western Gigital HD
PS Audio DLIII dac
Choosing equipment was easy, it was deciding how to rip that gave me the most trouble. Trouble because after deciding which way to go I would read some contradictory information.
Cds were ripped to itunes with AIFF. I downloaded EAC software mentioned above to my pc and ripped some cds that way. If I were using a pc instead of Mac I'd go with EAC as you are assured of an exact duplicate.
I also downloaded the MAX software mentioned above but found it difficult to use. If I were to do it over I might chose WAV files instead of the AIFF, not for quality but because they seem to be used more readily by the other programs.
The ipod touch was chosen as remote because I had one. It works great.
The HD I purchased is only 500gb, may be a problem but my intention was not to rip all of my cds, only those I listen to. I ended up loading 453 albums, according to itunes, which is about half of my cds and I used 200gb. I don't know about you but I have cds that will never get listened to. If I really want to hear one I'll use the cdp.
At this point I have no intention of streaming music throughout the house so can't help there.
Could someone clarify if iTunes will stream high rez files to a Squeezebox Touch? And what the best way to get high Rez downloads into (and out o_ iTunes on a Mac?

I too am going through the learning process this week and downloaded the HDtracks free sampler to see if I can get it to work before buying some other interesting high rez downloads they have. I converted from flac to wave with XLD. and that would play through iTunes on my computer but not stream to the SQbox. Then I converted them to AIFF and they stream fine and sound noticeably better than 16 bit, but there is drop out when playing, as if the streaming is not keeping up with the music.

Any suggestions?
iTunes will output hi-res files via FireWire to my Apogee Duet, up to a max of 24/96. The resolution switching has to be done manually using Audio MIDI Setup.

Same for my Apogee Mini-DAC but the resolution goes up to 24/192.

However if you use Pure Music for $129, you get not only resolution switching on-the-fly but also much cleaner sound. iTunes alone seems to add nasties. Pure Music latches on to your iTunes Library and playlists so you don't have to do any configuring.

Free AyrePlay software from will also bypass iTunes' "contribution" and switch on-the-fly but unlike Pure Music, it needs OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard. (I'm stuck at 10.5.)
Thanks Tobias. To my surprise I've got Snow Leopard 10.6.5. Is there any advantage of Pure Music over AyrePlay? I'm not very savvy about setting these things up. Is it just a matter of downloading and installing and the program does all else?

Any thoughts about why I'm having music drop out on hig rez (but not other) files (I'm using wireless)?

This thing is pretty amazing but I'm anxious to see what it will sound like in high rez/
Sorry for the confusion (my own) on the iTunes interface. It was auto-switching of the sample rate that it does not support. As has been pointed out you need to go into the Audio Midi setup and switch the sampling rate manually, which personally I feel is a PITA, especially when there are options to do it on the fly automatically.

I was not suggesting that iTunes handles FLAC files - it certainly does not (one of the reasons I prefer not to use it). I specified to use Squeezeserver to handle your library which will automatically adjust sample rate on the fly. If you really like iTunes you can still use it to organize your music and just point squeezeserver to it and it will still deliver, but I personally would not recommend using iTunes because of these two drawbacks:

1. No auto-switching of sampling rates.
2. Poor error-correction on ripping CD's (compared to software like MAXX using Full Paranoia, or EAC. I have heard audible differences in files ripped via iTunes vs EAC so prefer to go with better ripping software.

Squeezeserver can use iTunes, and one other music folder to create a library from, so you could conceivably store your FLAC files in a separate folder and all others you want to catalogue in iTunes. I have to say I actually do like the iTunes interface - Apple has user-friendly down!

FLAC is a universal, full resolution format that makes storing and converting files very easy. It is cross platform and very versatile. Software like MAXX can do bulk conversions from FLAC files to several alternate formats in basically two steps. With iTunes such conversions have to be done manually format by format. As said earlier, itunes will not support FLAC at all.
I appreciate you're patience -- I'm obviously very new at this.

I like using iTunes because it's familiar, and have tried a few others and often have trouble figuring out how to get them to work. So far, I've tried Max without really getting it to work, used XLD to convert flac24 or other flac files, and then get them to play on iTunes, but for some reason they wouldn't get through the squeezebox software to my touch until I converted them to AIFF.

I've just downloaded Air from, which I've heard is very good and does format switching automatically. My questions are:

1. I have squeezebox set up to read my iTunes files. But it won't read them unless I first convert from hi rez flac to wav and then to AIFF. Weird. Is there a simpler way?

2. I've loaded my iTunes library onto Play and Squeezebox. Is there a way to get my Squeezebox unit to take in both the Apple and the Play sets of music files so I can just choose between the 2? How would I do that.

Again, many thanks for your patience and my newbieness
One further detail that I think I need clarification on myself is the limitations of bandwidth / sampling rates on the USB interface. I know the older 1.0 interface was pretty limited and cannot stream high-rez. 1.1 improved a bit (high-rez capable?), and 2.0 is fully capable of streaming high-rez files as is the newly introduced 3.0. Can someone educate me further on this?

One other note on USB - beware of plugging your USB DAC into a hub or a keyboard, or in tandem with any slower USB devices as that will slow down the performance of the shared USB port as I understand it.
Forgot to mention, I have had not been able to get album art on WAV files in Itunes. That is another reason I use AIFF files. I believe there is a script or some other work around but I have not looked into that much since AIFF is an easier solution.
WAV does not support metatagging IIRC, as noted there are workarounds.

Wireless will(may) have difficulty streaming hi Rez due to bandwidth limitations.

So far for me AireWave is the best sounding Mac player. There is an open source OSX player Audirvana that is getting praise too. I am ever so glad that I did not bust out and purchase Amarra.

As noted, not all USB is created equal. Look into "About this Mac", it will note what ports are what...

Once again, if you are using a Mac, stay away from FLAC and use ALAC, WAV or AIFF. Some claim that WAV is the best sounding, and I think I agree, but the tagging is too much for me to pursue at the moment. I like XLD, but that Max and iTunes can batch convert files.

USB 1 or 2 cannot go past 24/96 without special drivers usedby some DACs IIRC.
I would avoid WAV too. The metatagging issue is a royal PITA and will come up to bite you if you ever need to move files around outside of iTunes, or need to restore your library. I also have found no difference between WAV and FLAC that I can hear. I have heard differences between WAV and ALAC that I could hear, and I've also heard differences between files ripped by iTunes vs same file via EAC. If you are sticking with iTunes I'd personally go with AIFF (basically a Mac version of WAV)

I've had no problem at all streaming 24/96 via wireless using Squeezeserver to a Touch>24/96 DAC. The only hiccup is a brief initial buffering dropout, but once past that it streams without a problem.

USB 1.0 is more limited, and I'm pretty sure cannot stream 24/96...or at least that was the impression I was under. I was wondering about USB 1.1 myself - I think it has the bandwidth for 24/96.

I'm on a Mac using FLAC and have not had any problems at all using Squeezeserver. iTunes will only batch convert to one-format at a time. MAXX will convert to many different formats in one batch process. 4est - what problems are you suggesting that Mac has with FLAC files?
Free AyrePlay software from will also bypass iTunes' "contribution" and switch on-the-fly but unlike Pure Music, it needs OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard. (I'm stuck at 10.5.)
Can you provide more info here? I looked at the referenced web site and did not find ayreplay. Also googled it and found nothing. Although I have finished ripping files as AIFF with itunes, if there is a way to insure bit perfect copies I'd like to test it.
I understood ripping with itunes to AIFF would render bit perfect files but I'm hearing otherwise. What I'm wondering really is if this is just audionervosa setting in?
OK I am a real NEWBIE on this one. So, I use Itunes to manage the music for my and the wifes Ipods. Other than that I dont care if I use it or not. I want to move towards pc based audio and have just started reading about today actually. SO, given the constraint of the need for Itunes for Ipod mgt....can I still use one of these other SW pkgs to manage the issue of controlling pc audio or is there something which will mge my IPOD AND be useful for pc audio? BTW, I figure I will run this thru a stereo system both my main system and the office 2nd.

Jax2- I guess it runs FLAC now, it didn't used to. ALAC is the Mac version of FLAC. If you can hear the dif between FLAC and ALAC it makes some sense. I've been running AIFF for awhile now. It might explain why I heard a dif with ALAC vs AIFF.
Joekapahulu - You can continue to use iTunes and use Squeezeserver to access and catalogue your iTunes library, as well as one additional folder that contains music files. I don't know about other SW - perhaps someone else can comment.
Here's the link for the AyreWave software :

(I’m afraid you’ll have to copy and paste that into your browser. Agon keeps telling me my url tags don’t match, even though I’ve copied and pasted them from their guide page.)

Tim, if you're hearing less than bit-perfect Redbook from iTunes, it may be the playback. Pure Music sounds much better, and I am told AyreWave sounds better still. Unfortunately I can't test it myself without buying a new computer >:o[

Anyone who wants to find out about this for themselves should download either AyreWave or the free Pure Music demo.

Marco, USB 2.0 is limited to 16/48 in stock form. Specially-written drivers can take it up to 24/96, as was the case with my old M-Audio Audiophile's playback software, for example. USB 3.0 is probably more capable but note that both devices have to have the USB 3.0 connector. If there's a 2.0 bottleneck anywhere, the link drops down to 2.0 performance.

One think I've found with USB (and FireWire) is that cable quality makes a difference to sound quality.

Another thing--if you have 5 MHz capacity on your WiFi network, use it instead of 2.4 MHz, for better sound.

Tpy, Pure Music is simplicity itself. You download the demo and the first time you launch it, it will find your iTunes library. Thenceforth you can either launch iTunes or Pure Music, but you will want the latter.

However AyreWave has the advantage of being free. Pure Music is free for only two weeks.
Tobias - thanks for the clarification on USB. So the Squeezebox Touch must be using those drivers because it allegedly can do 24/96 via USB 2.0? I have not tried it though - I've tried both wireless and via SPDIF. Good tip too to run with 5mhz wireless. Thanks!
Don't get too excited about AyreWave being free. It is only for another month. This is a beta, price to be announced.

USB 2 is good to 24/96 w/o drivers. The DAC may or may not be able to do 24/96 through its USB though.
Thanks Tobias. Apparently sbooth has both a Play and an AyreWave software. I had downloaded Play first but I take it that AyreWave is better, so downloaded that too. I've loaded both with my iTunes playlist and would like to use AyreWave as my primary source for my SqueezeTough, but keep iTunes for my iPod.

What I can't quite figure out is how to tell the Squeezebox to get my music files from AyreWave, or maybe better yet, from both AyreWave and iTunes. From the Logitech site,

I read that you can run multiple folders (right term?) by saving one into the other. So I take it the easiest thing would be to save the AvreWave directory in ITunes as a folder -- which would make it a subdirectory. Is that right?

I'm no sure how to do that. How do I set up SqBox to read music stored in my AyreWave directory -- not sure where to find the AyreWave directory. When I find in my Mac's Finder, and click on it, it opens up but I'm not sure how to enter it into SqBox.

Part of my problem is I fairly recently switch to my Mac from PCs and am still not quite up to speed on it.

Many, many thanks.
Part of my problem is I fairly recently switch to my Mac from PCs and am still not quite up to speed on it.

Consider yourself lucky you didn't go the opposite way...then you'd really have a steep learning curve!

What I can't quite figure out is how to tell the Squeezebox to get my music files from AyreWave, or maybe better yet, from both AyreWave and iTunes. From the Logitech site,

I read that you can run multiple folders (right term?) by saving one into the other. So I take it the easiest thing would be to save the AvreWave directory in ITunes as a folder -- which would make it a subdirectory. Is that right?

Squeezeserver has a toggle box among the various "Settings" screens (access from lower right corner of the finder window) that dictates it to "Use iTunes". It is under the tab that reads "iTunes" and is the top box. Click that box and direct it to your iTunes folder. In addition to this there is another setting right there under the "Basic Settings" tab that asks you to direct it to the music folder you want it to use. In the case that you were using AyreWave to store some music separately from iTunes you would find that file that that software stores the music in and point it to it. I'm not at all familiar with AyreWave though - isn't it a player of sorts? Anyway, that's how you'd get Squeezeserver to access both libraries. If AyreWave is just accessing your iTunes library anyway, then you don't need to do any of this - just tell Squeezeserver to use iTunes. Squeezeserver will deliver full res to 24/96 via Touch or Transporter. Lower to previously available devices (Duet, SB3, etc)
4est, thanks for setting me straight on the built-in limit of USB 2.0. Both the Cambridge DACMagic and the USB version of the Apogee Mini-DAC stop at 16/48. This is a limitation of their USB implementation, I take it.
Jax2 -- Many thanks One question though.. You say "If AyreWave is just accessing your iTunes library anyway, then you don't need to do any of this - just tell Squeezeserver to use iTunes. Squeezeserver will deliver full res to 24/96 via Touch or Transporter."

Wouldn't doing it this way bypass AyreWave, which has my iTunes folder saved into it, and just take it directly from iTunes, without the sonic benefits I'd get from running AyreWave? How would it know to run it through AyreWave this way?

Tpy - I'm not familiar with AyreWave. If it is a media player then you will be bypassing both iTunes AND Squeezeserver I imagine. If it uses your iTunes library then you'd just point it at the folder and continue using iTunes to catalogue your music. Sorry to add confusion to the mix. I'm not sure how you'd utilize AyreWave to play Squeezebox devices though since they do require Sqeezeserver otherwise. Someone more familiar with the new software would have to say.
My guess is that everything from the computer goes through Squeezeserver to the Touch. Or can other software directly interface with the Touch? So the question is, if my music library is loaded into both iTunes and AyreWave, how do I set this up so that I can play the files on the Touch through EITHER of these two librarires (iTuens or AyreWave)? It would be nice to be able to compare the two to see which sounds best.
I would first try launching both programs ( iTunes and AyreWave ) and see if they could simultaneously be running and both pointed at the same music library. If so, a comparison would be matter of three clicks.

If that didn't work, I would try a consecutive launch. The number of clicks involved ( and the wait ) would be greater but not, I think, unworkable.

Tpy, if you got a chance to try it and report, I would be very interested :D
What I don't get, though, is how to access both programs through the SqTouch. The screen there just says owner's library (or something like that). I actually have had both programs running and one of them is sending music to the Touch, but I'm not sure which one the SQserver has iTunes selected so I'm assuming its getting its feed from iTunes. How do I get the SQserver to send the AyreWave to the Touch, though? As you can tell, I've got alot to learn about this stuff. But I'm getting there, thanks to your advice and the other folks on this forum.
Can't help with Squeeze stuff unfortunately, I don't have it. At the worst, I suppose one could backup, then trash either AyreWave or iTunes, listen to a suite of test pieces ( with a notepad handy ), then trash the other, reinstall the first and repeat. This would be the brute force option.
The Squeezebox Touch will only work with the Squeezebox server software. It will not work with any other software running on your computer. The SBS (squeezebox server) software accesses the music files in the directory you point it at, converts them to FLAC, and sends them to the Squeezebox. It can't play sounds from your computer, it can't run software from your computer, it can't access other software on your computer. Basically, it's a dumb device that just streams music files from your computer to the Squeezebox.
Since we are talking iTunes here, I am curious why there has been no mention of the Wadia 170i combined with say the Monarchy DIP to a good quality DAC. It would be great to get an informed opinion on why this would not be as good of an alternative compared the Squeezebox Touch, keeping in mind that iTunes is not FLAC capable.
Hello all, apologies for asking this here but it seems most of the people who know have participated on this thread.

I have set up an Imac server, using time capsule for backup and wireless out. I have 3 appletv in different locations and all can play out of the same library in the Imac at the same time whichever song is chosen. So I can run three different tunes at the same time.

This brings me to my question, I like the sound of Pure Music when I demoed it on the computer, but how do I get the same sound out in my appletv's. I guess I am not quite sure what the apple tv is doing to downstream the sound. I would appreciate a note if anyone knows, thanks, Gordon.
Gordon: I am not very knowledgeable about the details, but I have a similar system as yours (two AppleTV's, one Airport Express) connected wirelessly to my iMac. I have about 450 gigs of Apple Lossless music stored on a 1 TB HD.

Most of the time I just listen to the lossless files directed directly to my various Apple "speakers' via iTunes. When I sit down to listen critically, I will use Pure Music and "broadcast" to my various locales using Airfoil. I understand that I am limited to standard "Red Book" CD specifications, but to my ears the Pure Music enhances space, detail, imaging and sense of presense. Others probably will disagree.

Give it a try. It is not expensive, and you may like it.
To my ear the Pure Music program makes a worthwhile improvement in Redbook sound from iTunes. I'm gad to know it makes a similar difference when streamed over a wireless connection. A wireless connection can't send any higher resolution than 16/44.1 as of this date -- do I have that right?
Gordon - there is minimal or no audio stack involved with the AppleTV sinc it is networked, so any sound quality issues are probably jitter related in the ATV itself.

A reclocker between the ATV and the DAC can reduce this so it should be similar to Pure Music. BTW, I prefer Amarra 1.2 to all of the other players.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
The only advice I can provide after extensive research is where I landed. Mac Mini> (2)1 TB Iomega External Hard Drives {Playback and back up)- Daisy chained w/firewire interface > i Tunes for ripping (AIFF/Error corrrection) > The new Ayre QB9 USB DAC > Transparent USB Cable > Transparent Reference XLR Interconnects > Synergy IIi Pre Amp. I use the Amarra Mini Music Player for playback. The results exceed my expectations. My CD's will be going into storage....Anyone interested in an Esoteric DV50S? lol
I forgot to mention that I added the i Pad with the i Teleport App ($25) and Apple Row Mote (Free). The i Teleport allows the i Pad to communicate with the Mac Mini, essentially allowing the i Pad to become the monitor, keypad and mouse. This prevents you from having to deal with the added cost and room of a 27in. monitor and wireless key pad and mouse. The Row Mote App is vanilla, but; it gets the job done. Hope this helps.