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Bluetooth speakers are convenient. But old-school audio components sound much better and give us a stronger connection to the emotional content of our music.
The surest way to reconnect with the music and artists we love is to include at least one high-fidelity audio component in our stereo systems.
Below you'll find tips on how to choose audio components. For more info, check out our complete buying guides.
A CD player has two main parts. The transport is the part that holds, spins, and reads the disc. The digital-to-analog converter, or DAC for short, converts the disc's digital data to an analog audio signal.
Usually these two parts are housed in a single chassis. But separate CD transports are also available. If you buy a transport, you'll need a separate DAC for the digital decoding. Or you can connect the transport digitally to a receiver or amp with a built-in DAC.
A DAC (or digital-to-analog converter) transforms digital music files into analog signals that can be amplified and played through your speakers or headphones. An outboard DAC decodes your music files with greater precision than the DAC in your phone or computer. What's more, when you use an outboard DAC, you bypass the crummy audio output circuitry in your device.
A portable USB DAC primarily serves as a compact headphone amplifier for your computer. Desktop USB DACs also connect to your computer through USB. Wireless DACs send digital content to an audio system in another location.
Component Hi-Fi DACs are designed to connect to your full-fledged home audio system.
A network music player is a home stereo component that plays digital music from computers, networked hard drives, and online services. Music servers are network music players with built-in hard drives to store your digital music files. Some servers include CD drives that let you easily rip your CDs without involving a computer.
Simply put, a turntable is a record player. It spins vinyl records while its stylus (aka needle) picks up the waveforms pressed in the grooves. The phono cartridge from which the stylus protrudes transforms the movement of the stylus into an electrical signal that can be amplified by your stereo system and played through your speakers or headphones.
The electrical signal generated by the cartridge requires a phono preamp, which can be built into your receiver or amplifier. In some cases, the preamp is built into the turntable itself. You can also buy an outboard phono preamp, which is usually better than the one built into your turntable or receiver.
Even in this age of online music services, we still offer a few AM/FM radio tuners for use with integrated amplifiers or hi-fi systems that use a separate amplifier and preamp.
Want to use headphones with your CD player, DAC, or network music player? Make sure you get one that has a headphone jack.
There are a lot of different high-res audio formats. Make sure the DAC or network music player you choose can play the types of files you have on hand.
Most audio components have standard stereo RCA analog outputs. They may also have XLR outputs, minijack outputs, optical digital audio outputs, and coaxial digital audio outputs. Check out our audio cable selection.