just starting - mac vs. windows computer source?

Hello all. I don't know much about the specifics of a computer based audio source, except what I have learned looking thorough the archives. I am still hoping you guys can help me with suggestions that are specific to my situation and considering the current and potential future advantages of using either a windows or mac based system as a music source.

I have a fairly dialed in audio system (see my virtual system under mitch2) but want to now include a computer based source (I know, I am quite late to the party). I currently use a new(ish) windows based laptop for home computing, have external hard drives, and also have a windows based laptop for work. My only mac exposure is the company i-phones we recently adopted, my wife's ipad, and looking at my daughter's macbook pro. I have hundreds of CD's and a very high quality hi-rez player, but none of my music is yet digitized.

I want to add a high quality, great sounding computer based audio source that is at a similar sound quality level as my current player (or better), and I have heard using the ipad as a control and visual display, and the mac mini as a server, is a good way to go. I like the idea of having the mac mini near my gear, so shorter cables to the dac, and I like the idea of controlling everything wirelessly from the ipad, but this means I will need to buy more stuff and will not be able to use my windows based laptop for that function. I am okay with that as long as the ipad/mac mini is really a superior solution.

I have four questions regarding my decision to adopt a mac based or windows based music solution. At this point, I want to focus only on which computing system is best for me and handle dacs, cables, etc. later.
My questions;
1. is the overall consensus that the mac based system is better for hi-rez music playback, considering my goals are very high quality playback, wide bandwidth, low noise, and ease of operation,
2. is there a windows based system that could sound as good and be operated similarly to the ipad/mac mini option, perhaps using my windows based laptop as a control,
3. if I go the mac route, is there any advantage to purchasing a macbook pro over the ipad to control things, assuming I still plan on using the mac mini as the server, and
4. what other questions should I be asking that I haven't asked?

Thanks for any solutions or suggestions you guys care to provide.
The integration of the IOS, Macbook, iPad with iTunes is a big advantage and makes the system operation more seamless. I made the switch to a computer based sound system about 5 years ago and it has revolutionized my listening habits and reignited my passion for music.

BTW - if you can use your CDP as a DAC, you can achieve the level of reference you are looking for....

Enjoy the ride, job
Thanks for the response Job. I also asked this over on Computer Asylum and have received a variety of responses that seem to conclude that either windows or mac can provide great sounding computer based audio. Most have indicated the devil is in the details and there can be significant gains by optimizing whichever system is selected. I have some reading to do before making a decision although I believe the world is heading toward more ipad type devices, and perhaps away from laptops, so it seems the mac approach may be more convenient going forward.

Answering your questions:

1) no, there is no consensus (what did you expect? ja!!). Both Apple and Windows-based systems can achieve very high levels. Maybe a Windows system can be said to allow people to go the furthest by allowing people to switch more parts, but at that point you really need to understand computers.

2) Many examples around. Have you checked computeraudiophile.com? Good source for this. Check out their CAPS 2.0, which are DIY proyects, but can also by purchased from Green Computers. More relevant to your questions, I think, is you can use JRiver for Windows and JRemote that is an application for iPad to use as remote for JRiver. So you can run JRiver in your existing laptop and JRemote in your iPad.

3) I don't see an advantage from this option, especially since you need to buy the MacBook.

4) I think you should focus more on the USB to SPDIF converter than the computer. And the DAC, if your Erato doesn't have an input to the DAC. Nice system, BTW! The USB converter will have async USB and a great clock, so this clock will command the stream, reducing jitter. An Audiophilleo is a good example (I'm considering one) of such converters. Some DACs have converters within, but even many of those benefit from an external source. After DAC and USB converter are dealt with, you will likely hear upgrades at the computer.

Also, ripping music is non trivial - as everything in this hobby! I suggest you follow computeraudiophile's guide to ripping music, that recommends how to set up dBpoweramp. I do this and I'm very happy.

Maybe you get your feet wet using the existing iPad and Windows laptop in the house and getting a USB converter and DAC, and go from there. FWIW, that's the approach I am taking too. I haven't decided between Mac mini and PC for the future, but if I were going Mac I would probably take the Audionirvana+ route (software) to achieve the best sound (bit perfect). Like you, I'm more familiar with the Windows environment, but I'm also enticed by the seamlessness of an iPad/mini interface. Will cross that bridge when I get there. For now my focus is the USB converter.

Sorry for the long message. I hope it helps.
Great advice from Lewinskih01. I absolutely agree.

A good USB to S/PDIF converter, IMO, is required to get the best sound. There are many great options available (April Music Stello U3, a few from Bel Canto, KingRex, etc) are just a number of good ones. Disclosure, I'm a dealer for these. They really do make a difference.

I use a PC with JRiver as my media software and Jremote on an iPod Touch to control it. As a side note, I've used both an iPad and an iPod touch with Jremote and I personally much prefer the smaller size of the iPod Touch. It is plenty big enough to control your music very well and fits nicely in one hand.
If you want a really good ripping solution, I would urge you to try a free program called EAC. Many consider it to be the best ripping software out there. I believe its only made for Windows. Also, as good as it is, a lot of people stay away from it because it can be very difficult to set up properly. It is. Heres a link: http://blowfish.be/eac/Setup/setup1.html. Its a complete, step by step, setup guide for EAC to get the best sounding rips possible. You'll definitely need it. It takes about an hour to go through but its worth it. As far as I know, there is nothing better than EAC.

Lewinskih01 mentions computeraudiophile.com as a resource. I know the site fairly well. It is a good resource but I would recommend some caution. For technical, computer type advice, its OK. For matters of sound quality, however, its a complete disaster. Its all computer and no audiophile. The problem with the site is fairly simple. Since its primary focus is on computer related topics, most of the people it attracts have little to no experience with high end audio. When they see people talking about thing like vinyl, cables and tubes, they flip our; espically when they see the prices that some of these products sell for. As a result, its a never ending war between the people who know audio and the people who think they know audio because they can read a spec sheet. Some of these people are so nuts, they dedicate a serious portion of their lives to try and come up with new ways to not listen to music and that if you hear differences in equipment, its nothing more than a psychological disorder. I could go on, but its just one of those things you have to see for yourself to believe.

One last thing I will mention is that opinions on how to set up a computer based source do vary greatly. I know you want to get the best possible sound quality, but if it were me, I wouldn't go for anything too expensive until you try a few things first so you can compare it to what you already have and know. Its likely that you may make an error or two because there will probably be some experimenting done on your part.