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.

Rip Some Tracks

Most of the work involved with using Exact Audio Copy to rip CDs occurs during the setup process. The actual ripping process is amazingly simple: Drop your disc of choice in the drive tray, click the Action menu, and select Test and Copy Selected Tracks (using the Compressed option from the submenu). EAC will sequentially test, rip, and then compress each of the CD's tracks to a FLAC file. The program will delete each .wav file after each compression step.

EAC will generate a 'Status and Error Messages' report at the end of the ripping process. The most important information in this report is whether each track was accurately ripped, based on findings from the AccurateRip database. You might want to save the log in the folder with the ripped tracks for future reference. Repeat this step with your entire CD library (or as much of it as you think you'll want to stream).

Calibrate Your Speakers

Once you've painstakingly made perfect rips of your audio CDs, you'll want to calibrate your speakers to ensure that you hear every note. You'll need a sound meter to accomplish the task. Radio Shack has a digital one (model number 33-2055) that sells for US$50. It has a convenient thread mount on the bottom, so that you can attach it to a camera tripod (taking measurements while you hold the device will result in inaccurate readings).

You might also want to pick up some calibration software. Although even most midrange A/V receivers are capable of generating calibration test tones, you'll get more accurate results with something like Ovation Multimedia's Avia II ($50) or Joe Kane Productions' DVE HDBasics ($30). Both programs can help you calibrate your HDTV as well as your audio system.

Set the sound meter to slow response and the meter's weighting to the value that the calibration software you're using recommends (it's typically "C," and that is what you should use if you're calibrating to your A/V receiver's built-in tone generator). Mount the meter to a tripod and place it where you usually listen to music. The meter should be at ear level, aimed at the center point of your two front speakers and tilted slightly toward the ceiling. Don't move the meter once you've placed it and started the calibration process.

Your A/V receiver should allow level adjustments for each individual speaker, ranging from -10dB to +10 dB, with 0dB being the default. Before you proceed, make sure each speaker is set to the default value. Your calibration disc (or your A/V receiver, if you're going that route) will play a test tone on one speaker at a time. While the first tone is playing, increase your A/V receiver's master volume until the sound meter reads 75dB (or whatever level the software specifies). Once you've finished this step, do not change the master volume until you've finished calibrating the remaining speakers.

As the calibration disc's test tones cycle to each of the other speakers in your setup, use the A/V receiver's individual speaker adjustments (not the master volume) to cut or boost that speaker's output until the sound meter reads 75dB. When you're finished, every speaker should deliver the same volume to your listening position.

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