Computer Audio Recording Overview:

Introduction

Many enthusiasts of analog recordings have amassed large personal collections. There are a variety of reasons people enjoy vinyl recordings — for some it is for how the record sounds compared to the CD, for others there may not even be a CD or digital copy of some recordings available, leaving vinyl or tapes as the only way to hear some performances.

Regardless of the reason for collecting vinyl, it does possess some drawbacks. Vinyl needs to be stored and handled very carefully as it is very easy to damage and ruin your recording. The record must also be cleaned regularly as surface noise from contaminants will affect playback. Even handled properly, every playback of the record or tape slowly degrades the recording, and a misaligned or worn cartridge can quickly destroy a recording. Vinyl collections also take a good deal of space to store large catalogs of material. With the introduction of the Ayre USB analog to digital (A/D) converter, now these recordings can be easily stored and played back without the drawbacks of the physical media whilst maintaining all the warmth and sound analog collections are enjoyed for.

Connected via the USB port and using Streamlength® asynchronous USB transfer mode software licensed from Wavelength Audio, an Ayre USB A/D converter generates a fixed-frequency master audio clock for jitter-free storage of your music. Ayre USB A/D converters also utilize techniques to provide total electrical isolation between your computer and music system. Whether converting a collection of vinyl records into the digital domain or used for professional applications, the Ayre A/D converter delivers unprecedented levels of fidelity and realism.

Important Reminder - Back Up Your Music Files!

No matter what your choice of computer, operating system, and music playing software, please remember one important fact—all hard drives will eventually develop problems and you may lose precious data. Be sure to back up your music files! You will likely end up with hundreds of hours and/or thousands of dollars and hours invested in these files. Taking a few minutes to back them up can save a lot of heartache down the road.

Class 1 and Class 2

All computer systems manufactured today have a USB 2.0 or later USB port. The Ayre A/D converter will automatically connect to a USB 2.0 port in Class 2 mode. Connected to a USB 1.1 port found on older systems, the A/D converter will instead operate in Class 1 mode. In Class 1, recording will be limited to 96 kHz sampling rates while Class 2 allows up to the full 192 kHz capabilities of the Ayre A/D converter.

It is important to remember that the transmission rate for Class 1 Audio is 12 MHz while Class 2 Audio uses a transmission rate of 480 MHz, or forty times faster than standard USB computer audio. This means that there is forty times less margin for timing error, and that everything in the signal path must be essentially perfect to achieve good results, paying particular attention to the cable and USB Host Controller requirements detailed in the requirements below.

Computer Requirements

Your computer must have at least one available USB port. You will want plenty of hard drive space for storing your music files. The size of each recording varies according to sampling rate, but as a rough estimate, a 1 hour recording with no compression at 192 kHz can require around 1.5 GB of hard drive space. Therefore a library of 1,000 albums can occupy well over 1 TB (1000 GB) of disk space. Lossless compression (e.g., FLAC or ALAC) can save around 40% on the storage space required, so that same 1 TB could store over 1400 CD's. Lossy compression (e.g., MP3, AAC) is not recommended as it permanently reduces the sound quality of the music file.

Operating System Requirements

Windows XP Service Pack 2, or newer. (The driver model used in earlier versions of Windows will not give reliable results with asynchronous USB transfers.)

Apple OS X 10.4.x, or newer.

Linux (If you know enough about computers to use Linux, you'll know enough how to figure out what is required.)

USB Cable Requirements

Perhaps the one weakness of USB is that the maximum cable length is somewhat limited, typically 3 meters (~10') to 5 meters (~16'). We have found that one of the most common problems encountered when setting up a USB-based music system is the cable itself. Regardless of any claims from the cable manufacturer, we have found that performance can degrade when exceeding 3 meters. Ayre cannot guarantee the operation or performance of any system utilizing a USB cable longer than 3 meters.

In the case when it is not possible to locate the Ayre A/D converter within 3 meters of the computer, Ayre has found that the Icron USB extender works well. It is claimed to work up to 100 meters. We have tested it up to 100' and have no reason to doubt their claim. It also operates reliably at speeds up to 192 kHz, even with the asynchronous operation used in the Ayre A/D converters which requires concurrent signal transmission in both directions. It is not inexpensive, at around $325 in the US, but a low-cost ($50) USB extender we tested did not function at all with an Ayre USB A/D converter. There may be other similar products that work well, but we have not tested them and cannot verify their performance.

Software Overview

No matter what operating system (OS) your computer uses—Apple, Windows, or Linux—you'll need to set up your computer for performing several different tasks:

1. Transferring music to your computer's hard drive, either by using the Ayre A/D converter to record analog recordings to your computer, converting the files from your CD collection (commonly called “ripping”) or by purchasing files that are downloaded via the internet.

2. Labeling the files you have transferred with the names of the song, artist, album, et cetera, commonly called “tagging”. (Downloaded files will normally already have the tags included.) Some recording programs also offer ways to tag your album conversions by looking up the metadata on databases via the internet.

3. Using a music player program to organize your music collection and play it back.

4. Optionally recording music selections back onto CDs for playback in your car or other places, commonly called “burning”.

5. Optionally transferring part of your music collection to a portable music player, commonly called “syncing”.

A few programs can perform many of these functions, such as VinylStudio for recording and iTunes (Apple and Windows), J.River Media Center (Windows), or Foobar (Windows) for playback. Some users will prefer to use other software packages or even a combination of other specialized programs to perform these functions, but for most users we recommend using one of these all-in-one software packages.

Apple or Windows?

If you are setting up a music server for the first time, possibly the simplest route is to purchase a new Mac Mini or other Apple computer. It will come pre-loaded with a variety of software (including iTunes) and works especially well with other Apple products such as the iPod. While it is very easy to set up one of these systems, music player software choices other than iTunes may be limited.

Apple Setup Instructions

There are many valid reasons for using a Windows computer as your music server. You may already be using a Windows computer, or you may be more familiar with the Windows operating system. The music player software applications available for Windows may offer more flexibility or customization than is available with iTunes. However, there are typically more choices and steps when setting up a Windows computer as a music server.

Windows Setup Instructions

If you are still unsure of which way to go, read the music player setup instructions for each OS on these pages. You will find additional information that will help guide your decision.

Links to Other Useful Computer Audio Websites


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