After publishing Wojciech Pacuła's reviews on the $10.500 Bladelius Embla and £10.450 Linn Klimax DS machines this month, I decided to grab this particular bull by the horns myself. And squeeze it. Hard. To that end, I landed a nicely discounted 1TB iMac from our local Vevey Manor dealer (ca $1.300) and ordered a $2.995 Swiss DAC2 Firewire converter from Daniel Weiss' professional line.

My rationale was simple. Money, convenience, performance. In that sequence. Initially. Actually, living with this system might soon reshuffle that hierarchy. Performance might make the N°. 2 if not top spot. Time will tell. That's my rationale in brief. The long form points a finger at the silly stickers hi-end manufacturers charge for so-called music servers—file players as Wojciech calls them—whose displays don't hold a candle to a 13-inch MacBook or 21" iMac; which often require external mass storage; and a wired connection to the Internet router. The Linn Klimax DS for example lacks even a CD/ROM drive. Its screen is a sad joke. Ditto the one on the PS Audio Perfect Wave. There's no way I'd go there.

To me, music servers are foremost about convenience. 10,000s of songs later, you want to get at specific tracks easily. That requires a big monitor for quick scrolling while seeing as many lines of text entries per screen view as possible. Besides a big hi-rez monitor, the iMac gives me a WiFi connection for CD rips or download acquisitions with the required track listings and album art. Afterwards, I simply turn off the wireless function on my Internet router (my work computer on the same floor runs a wired Ethernet connection and I prefer less ultrasonic radiation to more). Apple's cheap remote already gives me convenient access to the entire iTunes library. Or I can use the wireless mouse and keyboard which are essential for manual entries of many ethnic albums which elude most meta data engines. Syncing my iPod is child's play of course as are compilation CD burns for the car. All the functionality of access and storage is bundled into one super elegant affordable integrated package. It's not kludged together with a NAS, add-on screen and overpriced file player.

1TB of onboard storage will last a while (my iPod currently carries 1500+ songs as WAV files which hasn't exceeded 40% of its 160GB memory). Apple's Firewire output is the interface of choice for most mastering engineers. There also are solid technical reasons why it would be preferable over USB. The Weiss DAC2 meanwhile is sonically identical to the far more expensive but highly accoladed Minerva DAC. For the money and beyond, it could actually be bona fide SOTA, period. I can enter it Firewire off the iMac and exit RCA or XLR analog out into my Esoteric C-03 preamp. Or I can run RCA S/PDIF into my Yamamoto YDA-01 converter. In short, audiophilia centers solely on sound—the D/A conversion—whilst the Apple computer company as the dominant force in this sector handles everything else.

Then there's the Amarra software suite for Mac as recommended by Daniel Weiss whose DAC has its own driver software for Apple's Firewire output. Amarra will be an après experiment - after I've ripped a fair amount of my disc-based library to hard-drive. After I've experimented between the Weiss and Yamamoto DACs. After I've compared streaming off the iMac's hard drive to using an SD card in its slot instead to using the Philips CD-PRO2-based Ancient Audio Lektor Prime top-loader as transport. After I've compared different Firewire cables. And after whatever other variables I encounter along the way have gotten sorted.

By the way, the Mac/Firewire platform lends itself to very affordable pro-arena DACs starting with Apogee's £350 Duet and many others. With the Weiss, I'm aiming higher from the start. I'm hoping to meet or exceed my traditional setup. Regardless, the $4.300 combo price of iMac/Weiss remains far below most so-called servers from many specialist hifi firms that don't offer half the Apple's front-end features. Actually, the sticker is the same as Raysonic's CD228 one-disc-at-a-time machine. And I'm a Windows man. I learned on a Windows computer and never migrated. My work computer is a Windows machine. My MacBook Pro laptop is loaded with Windows XP for back-up and on-the-go web work.

Adopting the iMac for audio was dictated by iTunes and PC hardware. It's the default interface format of the younger vast majority. As a publisher, it makes sense to work a context which more rather than less readers can relate to from personal experience. But it's clearly not the only way to approach the subject. Mac or Windows, Nikon or Canon, Ford or Chevy. The iMac best met my particular needs and budget. Until the Weiss DAC2 arrives, I run USB from the iMac into April Music's $350 U2 USB/S-PDIF converter. Then my usual Yamamoto YDA-01 DAC takes over. For the next few months, I'll be transferring my library. As first impressions of the new front end solidify, I'll be reporting on findings, questions and complaints. Others faced with similar decisions can then add my data points to their process.

Readers ahead of me on the Apple-for-tunes path are encouraged to submit suggestions, tips, warnings and other goodies. It'll beef up this project to add relevance. I'm particularly interested in learning how to optimize the iMac platform for 'just audio' by disabling or uninstalling everything that's not supporting my intentionally limited application. I'm not a computer geek or even Mac man. That's terra incognita. But doing it and making mistakes are the only ways to learn. I'm sure the first mistakes are already waiting around the bend. Now I'm ready to get bit on the arse while quickly killing any waning excitement over CD playback's antiquated functionality. As iPod ownership has made abundantly clear, convenience means doing more of it. When music listening is intrinsic to your lifestyle, more is merrier. The particular goal here is simply to discover whether streaming performance can approach, equal or exceed my current digital standards which were set by AMR, Ancient Audio, April Music, Esoteric, Yamamoto, Zanden and their lot. If I can meet them, I'll be off CD players for good. If not, I'll retain a CD playback system for 'serious' mode listening while the iMac will handle everything else. To me it's a win/win no matter what the final verdict might be...