Gramophone's guide to computer-stored music, from downloading and ripping to streaming and playback
The way we listen to music, and the way we buy and store it, has changed radically in the past decade. Devices and techniques that were cutting-edge just a few years ago are now mainstream (or even obsolete in some cases!).
It may seem hard to keep up, but for those prepared to spend the time (but not necessarily money – much of the equipment discussed is surprisingly inexpensive, or you may already own it), the increased ways of accessing music can make for an rewardingly rich listening experience.
The features below offer a 'how to' guide to listening to music stored digitally, whether through your computer, or streamed over a network. Some of the basic concepts are explained and explored – and if there are any terms that seem unfamiliar, then try consulting the glossary.
As the technology develops, so will this section, so please do return. And if there's anything else you'd like to know or discuss, why not join in the conversation in the audio section of the Gramophone forum?
Features - click the highlighted links below
NEW Music in high-resolution surround There's more to downloads and Blu-rays than just better quality: add more channels and things get spectacular
Is network storage a missed retail opportunity? Why shops should be adding value by supplying not just a music player, but a complete computer music solution...
How to build your own NAS device The Gramophone guide to setting up and configuring network storage for your entire music library
Do you need a DAC? Are the latest digital-to-analogue converters hi-fi must-haves, or just a case of audio fashion coming around again?
Onkyo's high-resolution audio ambitions
How one audio company wants to make beyond-CD-quality music more widely available
Mind the gap!
Whether it's the St Matthew Passion or the Ministry of Sound, you need gapless playback
An ever-growing range of formats
MP3, FLAC, ALAC, lossy, lossless or studio master quality – the choice is yours
The end of the CD?
Despite occasional press panics, it may not be nigh – well, not just yet, anyway...
Could open-source Apple Lossless herald a bright audio future?
Maybe – but then the global giant didn't get where it is today by 'doing freebies'...
Computer audio: a solitary pleasure?
Music stored on a computer is convenient: but is it turning us into anti-social listeners?
Apple's iPod, a decade on
It may have taken over the world, but a movement of a symphony is still a 'song'
Apple’s AirPlay: the future of wireless audio?
Will this latest Apple add-on take the company one step closer to hi-fi domination?
More ways to stream the Gramophone Player – and all your other music, too
The options for music streaming just keep on growing: we explain some of the most recent arrivals
The latest wireless music developments
The way we connect our systems is changing: slowly, but it’s happening
Connecting your computer to your audio system
The case for feeding audio from computer to hi-fi is ever more compelling
Digital music storage formats
There’s a bewildering range of formats in which music can be stored - we make sense of them
Ripping and streaming
Computer-stored music has gone way beyond dodgy downloads from suspect websites: here's how to store your music
You've stored your music on computer hard-drives – now find out more about playback options
The changing face of system connectivity
The latest equipment has a range of unfamiliar socketry - here's how to make sense of it all
NEW Naim UnitiLite A more affordable Uniti streaming system for wider appeal
NEW Denon D-F109DAB This flexible system offers a choice of sources and-a sound to delight
NEW AVA Media Zara Premium A sleek, slimline solution for music ripping and storage from an innovative British manufacturer
Linn Kiko High quality sound meets lifestyle appeal
Naim NAC-N 172 XS A new twist on streaming – a network-music-playing preamplifier
Audioquest DragonFly A high-quality DAC in a USB stick, to connect computer to hi-fi
T+A Cala A compact, simple and effective streaming system
Onkyo TX-NR818 It may have all the bells and whistles, but this heavyweight network AV receiver is also a seriously musical amplifier
Audio Pro Living LV2e Wireless music doesnt get much simpler than these leather-clad active speakers
Pro-ject Box Design Stream Box DS A big name for a compact, high-quality streamer
Audyssey LES Media Speakers Not quite wireless, but fine desktop companions
Denon DNP-720AE Streaming made simple – and very affordable
Onkyo TX-8050 A novel spin on streaming systems
Naim ND5 XS Almost – but not quite – as good as the NDX. Unless...
Primare BD32 High-quality streaming from the ultimate universal player
Focal XS Book Fine-sounding speakers designed for the desktop
Ferguson Hill FH009 A novel approach to better TV sound
Naim SuperUniti Moving the all-in-one streaming system forward
T+A Music Receiver The name may be prosaic, but this is an accomplished streamer
NAD C 446 An affordable, smooth-sounding network tuner
Musical Fidelity M1 CLiC A streamer, a DAC and a preamplifier in one small box
Cyrus Streamline A late arrival in the streaming arena – was it worth the wait?
Cambridge Audio Sonata NP30 Simple, compact and affordable network player
Naim NDX High-end network player more than justifies its price
Musical Fidelity V-Link A simple solution to a common computer audio problem
Denon CEOL An unusual name, but a perfectly sensible networked system
Marantz NA7004 Network player aims to cover all the bases
Onkyo TX-NR609 An affordable network receiver with real music-appeal
Sony SMP-N100 Clever little black box delivers music, video, live concerts and more
Revo Heritage A retro radio with very modern features
Linn Majik DS-I The start of the future of music?
Rotel RDG-1520 Streaming capability brings the radio tuner up to date
Naim UnitiQute Simplified one-box network player makes sound sense
AVI ADM9.1 Unusual active speakers prove a viable system alternative
NaimUniti Way beyond the all-in-one norm
Epoz Aktimate Maxi Powered speaker system is much more than an iPod dock
Teufel Concept B 200 USB Value for money package makes computer audio simple
Arcam Solo Neo All-in-one with wireless audio and a smooth, safe sound
Marantz M-CR603 A compact solution packed with performance
Rocketfish Wireless Music System Wire-free hi-fi made simple and affordable
Yamaha NP-S2000 High-end streaming client shows benefits of purist audiophile approach
Written by Andrew Everard