Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

To Hans Wetzel,

I'm calling on you for advice again. I am finally getting around to moving to a computer-based audio system and, of course, have lots of questions. I have started ripping my CDs using Apple's iTunes to my Dell laptop for use in my library. I have an Oppo BDP-105 that, as you know, has a USB input. The question is: What do I use with it? Maybe an Apple iPad, but the 128GB version is not cheap. Apple's 160GB iPod classic -- would that work? Or an Apple MacBook Air, which is $1000? I need to be able to use a remote to search the library so it may have to be an Apple product, as opposed to a cheaper non-Apple product. What product would you recommend to connect to and store my music library on, as well as being able to navigate in my listening chair?


Thanks for writing in again, Gerald. The Oppo BDP-105 has a wonderful reputation, and should work well to play both your CD collection, as well as your computer-based collection going forward. I wouldn't recommend the iPod or iPad -- neither would work well for the purpose you discuss.

A MacBook Air (the least-expensive laptop Apple currently sells) is still pretty expensive, and comes with a solid-state drive that won't be big enough for you. What I would suggest is grabbing a used 13" MacBook Pro -- anything made within the last couple of years will do just fine -- and just make sure that it's one with a regular hard-disk drive, and comes with all of its associated CD-based software. You could also get a used Mac Mini, though that would potentially require you to purchase a monitor as well.

A simple web search will show you how to wipe your hard drive and reinstall the system software, ensuring that the machine won't be bogged down by the detritus left over from its previous owner. You could then transfer your entire iTunes library directly from your current Dell laptop, and should have a pretty solid little setup for not too much money. Don't bother replacing your USB cable with an "audiophile" one until the rest of your system is to your liking, since it won't yield the performance dividends that other upgrades might. An audio player such as Audirvana might make a decent investment, but, bluntly, if your digital collection consists solely of your ripped CDs, iTunes should be all you need.

I'll also briefly tell you what I plan on doing in the coming months. My workhorse of a laptop, a 17" MacBook Pro from mid-2009, is due to be replaced once Apple updates their Pro line of notebooks. I plan on replacing my current laptop's hard drive with a new one at a cost of no more than $100-$125, so that I minimize the risk of a drive failure. If you're putting all your music in one place, it makes sense to play it safe, and a newer drive will certainly help your chances, while also giving you way more drive space, and, in turn, space for music going forward. For another $100, you could get a cheap external hard drive as well that can serve as a storage backup for your machine so that you won't lose your music if one of the drives fails. I plan on doing this wirelessly with an Apple AirPort Time Capsule, which is their version of a wireless router with a built-in hard drive. Check back in November or December for my editorial about building a modern-ish music server for a relatively small sum. If you do it right, the thing should last for years with no problem! Let us know how the project turns out! . . . Hans Wetzel