(These charts use a notebook to illustrate our point, but obviously any acceptable computer will do the job. The USB hub is only needed if your PC has too few USB ports. And for serious sound, you'll want to connect your stereo-link to a quality stereo system!)

The Hi-Fi Jukebox

Everywhere you look, someone is announcing a new Jukebox product for your digital music. But when you cut through the hype, what is it they're really offering? And more importantly, do you really NEED one?

If you CARE about SOUND QUALITY and are interested in playing all formats, from mp3s to audio CDs to streaming, and whatever else might come along - like the new MP3Pro or lossless compression, and want unlimited storage, then keep on reading.

So what about these new Jukeboxes?

Look closely, and you'll realize most products being offered are nothing more than hard drives packaged to look like audio equipment. But for some reason they don't talk much about the audio quality (maybe it's that harmonic distortion of <1% spec).

The Jukebox you (almost) already own.

So what should you do? Well quality audio products have always been sold as separate components - amplifiers, CD players, and speakers. The rationale for the component approach is that you can select individual pieces that are best at doing certain things, and upgrade them when you want. So why not take that approach now?

First you need a computer. If you're reading this, you probably already have one. It should have at least one USB port, and be running Windows 98SE, ME, 2000, Mac OS9.0.4, Mac OS X, or the new Linux kernel release 2.4. If it's a notebook, then you have even more flexibility.

Next, get a stereo-link SL1200 USB DAC, which we'll be happy to sell you! This is the step that converts your computer into a serious audio component - not a "personal stereo" with "near CD" quality. For technical details, check out our 1200 page, or download the spec sheet.

Just plug the 1200 into your computer and it's ready to go to work - no special software to load. Connect it to your home stereo system (or powered loudspeakers), or use headphones. If your computer has a CD drive that supports Digital Audio Extraction (most do), you now have a high quality CD player.

Finally, get a good jukebox program (which you probably also already have). The basic version of the highly rated MusicMatch is free, and available for both Windows and Mac. Apple's iTunes is also free and available for both Mac Os 9 and OS X. Real Jukebox and Winamp are also good. Besides being good players, they allow the computer to do what it's really good at - organizing and keeping track of information. So you can catalog and make playlists, and access them easily - not through layers of menus on a tiny LCD display.

Creating the Ultimate Jukebox

So maybe you don't want to clutter your hard drive with all those files. This is where the beauty of USB comes in. Just get a USB hard drive and keep only your music on it. You can get them in all sizes up to 75 GB! A 20 GB hard drive AND a stereo-link can cost less than one of the popular stand-alone Jukeboxes - but gives you over 3 times the storage AND better quality sound. That's nearly 32 hours of UNCOMPRESSED audio, or 182 hours (7.5 days) of 256k High Quality mp3. And when you fill it up - just get another one (or start with a 30 GB).

If your computer has only one USB port available, as many notebooks do, you'll need to get a USB hub to do this.

You may already have a Recordable CD drive, but, if not, it's easy to add. Now you can move some of those music files onto CDs, and never worry about running out of space.


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