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Music matters

Improve your PC's audio playback

In recent reviews round-ups, we’ve put the spotlight on the visual experience of PCs and peripherals, from monitors and projectors to 3D TVs and laptops. Here, the focus moves to sound.

If you rely on your PC to serve up sound, there are plenty of opportunities to upgrade the playback quality. The first USB port of call should be the digital-to-analogue converter: the DAC turns a format such as WAV, Flac or MP3 into an analogue signal your amplifier and loudspeakers can replay.

This could be done with an outboard DAC the size of a USB thumb drive, but more often it will be a desktop box. The ADL GT40 is just such a device, while the Musical Fidelity V-Link is a great way to unite your PC with an existing DAC.

With a long tradition in designing and building audio equipment, Naim Audio was the last company we would have expected to excel in digital network technology. While many UK hi-fi companies were jumping on the compact-disc bandwagon through the 80s, Naim was still refining its turntable peripherals. Now, it has a range of network audio players, and servers too, with iPhone apps to get the most out of them. We've reviewed its cutest product, the UnitiQute.

Loudspeakers are the final link in the chain, and often overlooked. You could make a virtue out of necessity and make them eye-catchingly stylish – like the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air – or conservative and traditional.

Teufel is erring toward the latter with its piano-black 2.1 system, the Concept D500 THX, yet one that steps outside the normal comfort zone for computer speakers in its sheer size. Big cones are the winners, though, if you want a natural, unforced sound.

But if you’re going to zip your digital audio around the home, you’ll need somewhere to store it all first. Seagate has matched rivals Western Digital and Hitachi by making a capacious three-terabyte drive, the Barracuda XT. But where do you put such an empty disk?

We can’t think of anywhere better than a fully Raid-configured NAS drive for maximum performance and the piece of mind of built-in redundancy in case it should expire. The QNAP TS-419P+ is just such a modern NAS, and this one is relatively quiet and certainly efficient for all-day operation.

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