In the first case we'll have to rely on software to reproduce the tracks; there are several of them, and we'll probably deepen the discussion with a separate article, but for now we'll just report the most widespread (as well as free): Foobar2000. Using a PC as a source is, without discussion, the best technical solution. But it is one of the least immediate that you can use, both hardware and software side. The first aspect is related to the fact that, if you want a PC designed specifically for listening to music, you will have to fold on specific houses able to contain the noise and vibrations emitted by ventilation. As for the software side, instead, you will need to remove everything that is not necessary for listening to music in order to have optimal performance.
Once this is done, the essential next step is to purchase a DAC level. The one installed in the vast majority of PCs is very bad and risks being a heavy bottleneck for the rest of the system. There are, however, level sound cards that can avoid having an external DAC. They tend to be used less for two reasons: the first is that these cards can only be used with the PC, while the external DAC allows use with other sources; the second is that they are poorly shielded from interference generated inside the PC. So if we opt for the DAC, it will have to be connected, via USB cable (which we are working on for its introduction in the catalogue), between source and amplifier.
Another component that is not fundamental but certainly of interest is the DSP. DSP stands for digital signal processing; with these three words we indicate the processing of signals represented in real time numbers. The DSP is therefore a microprocessor dedicated exclusively to process a continuous signal after its sampling, which therefore does not replace the sound card, but is placed side by side with it. The first advantage of having this component in your system is the reduction of the load on the computer CPU. This is an aspect that, however, given the computing power reached today even by a mid-range PC, is disappearing.
Secondly, we assume that the analog signal is converted into a stream of numbers. The computing power for processing the digital signal allows many advantages over analog processing, such as the detection and correction of transmission errors, and also data compression. All these operations, aimed at improving dynamics, reducing distortion and improving the signal-to-noise ratio, are therefore carried out before passing through the DAC, which converts the signal back into analogue format.
A DSP therefore brings undeniable benefits to our listening. But its application is even more interesting when combined with a microphone. With this combo, through some DSPs, it is possible to "probe" the listening environment so that the changes made to the track by the processor make high, medium and low frequencies equalized according to the context in which they are emitted.