How to Configure iTunes for Optimal Sound Quality
With the proper set-up, a home computer system can offer quality audio for even the most picky listeners.
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Steve Silberman, vice president of marketing for AudioQuest, says there are many hardware and software upgrades that installers can offer their clients to improve the sound quality of their computer audio systems.
June 03, 2011 by Robert Archer

Audio purists often insist that that PC-based music isn’t good enough for their clients. But it can be.

iTunes can provide an audiophile-grade experience if you follow these often-overlooked steps.

Choose Correct Import Format
One of the leading advocates in the field of computer-based sound systems is Steve Silberman, vice president of marketing for AudioQuest. He says a good place to start tuning your iTunes collection is by choosing the correct import format.

“If the encoder is set to AIFF and error correction is selected, then the ripped files will be 100 percent identical to what is on the compact discs. There seems to be an assumption that iTunes equals MP3 and nothing else. I think much of that has to do with the fact that Apple doesn’t do a very good of explaining iTune’s capability or an obvious link to the setup preferences anywhere. iTunes can handle files as large as 32 bit at 384khz sample rates.”

Silberman recommends that Windows users who are running iTunes select AIFF or Apple Lossless in the iTunes Preferences settings; Apple users should select AIFF or Apple Lossless format. If you need to preserve hard drive space, Apple Lossless is a good alternative that sounds nearly as good as the uncompressed AIFF format.

Verify MIDI Setting
Apple users should verify that the MIDI setting is correct (Open the MIDI and select the source format of 44100.0hz). Some of the things to look for in these options include the adjustment the native sample rate output. Silberman advises Windows users run Windows Audio Session API (WASAPI) and select 44.1khz in the “sound out” setting. These settings can be found in Quick Time.

Helpful Hardware Upgrades
Once some of the software parameters are optimized, music listeners should consider updating their computer hardware, specifically, boosting the amount of RAM. Silberman relates his hardware upgrade path: “I currently have 8GB of RAM in my computer. A few years ago a fellow named Gordon Rankin, owner of Wavelength Audio, recommended that I upgrade my former computer’s RAM from 2GBs to 4GBs.

“At the time I was very familiar with the sound of my system as the computer/DAC had been running for six months. The improvement was similar to the time I upgraded from a 60-watt integrated amp to 300-watt monoblock amps. [The difference] was huge … now I have a Macbook Pro and run 8GBs of RAM. It’s again another big jump in sound over 4GBs. The next thing I did was upgrade my computer from a spinning disc hard drive to a SSD [solid-state drive] and that made an additional improvement in sound.”

Silberman also recommends adding surge protection/power conditioning devices to a computer-based sound system.

Additional Tweaks are Available
Computer-based music systems have morphed overnight from a geeky hobby of DIYers to a cool entertainment option adopted by mainstream music listeners. Here are a few more steps you can take to make your music sound its very best, Silberman says:

    Benchmark media is a Wiki about configuring Windows-based media. This is an excellent resource for Windows/QuickTime/iTunes suggestions
    Pure Music is a $129 add-on that uses iTunes as the browser while running as the player. This program sounds significantly better than iTunes on its own.
    Decibel is a simple-to-use music player that costs $33 and sounds incredible. The downside is that it does not use the GUI from iTunes.
    For Windows users, JRiver’s sound quality and user interface are as good as it gets, according to Silberman.
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Robert Archer - Senior Editor, CE Pro
Bob is a dedicated audiophile who has been writing about A/V for Electronic House sister publication CE Pro since 2000.

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