The audiophile’s guide to streaming music

Don't sacrifice sound quality in the name of convenience. With a lossless codec, a well-optimized streaming setup, and a few easy tricks, you can push phenomenal audio to every room in your house.

Set Up a Music Streaming System

Sonos and Slim Devices both use very good analog-to-digital converters in their products, which means you can connect their analog outputs to a high-quality self-amplified speaker system and get great results. If you're connecting the system to a midrange or high-end A/V receiver, on the other hand, you might get better sound quality using the streamer's digital output and relying on the A/V receiver's DACs instead. If you have both options, audition each of them in your home and let your ears be the judge.

To set up the Sonos system for streaming, use the Sonos setup wizard to point the software to the locations where your music is stored. Launch Sonos Desktop Controller, click on the Music menu, and select Setup Music Library. Click on the Add a Share button and choose to add either music stored on your PC or music stored in a shared folder on your network.

Once the Sonos Desktop Controller has indexed your library, you'll be able to access those tunes on your Sonos system using your PC or the system's handheld controller. The process for setting up the Squeezebox's SqueezeNetwork is very similar.

Install Exact Audio Copy

You'll need to download and install the free program Exact Audio Copy (EAC) for this step. EAC is powerful and flexible, and it delivers extremely accurate results. Did I mention that it's free?

The FLAC codec is included in the EAC download; the EAC installation will install it automatically unless you tell the program otherwise. FLAC is also free, and--equally as important--you'll find support for it in some of the best music-streaming devices on the market, including the Sonos Digital Music System, Logitech's Transporter and Squeezebox series, and Olive's Opus No. 4. Finding FLAC support on portable music players is a little more difficult, although nearly every player that Cowon America manufactures can handle it. If you'd prefer to not replace the player you already have with one that supports FLAC, you can reencode or transcode FLAC files to another format, such as MP3, that your player does support.

Accept the EAC installation wizard's default choices by clicking the Next button at each prompt, and then allow the program to test your CD drive's features. You don't need to make any decisions until the installation wizard reaches its encoder selection step, at which point you should select FLAC.

If you'd like to use the free online database service Freedb to download details about the CDs you're ripping (album and song titles, for instance), enter your e-mail address when prompted (this won't lead to spam, but feel free to use a fake address if you're paranoid). This information will be used to create ID3 tags for the files you'll be creating. Use the default file name value in the next step (you'll change it later), but choose the expert option in the next step and then click Finish.

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