IF YOUR home conforms to anything like the British norm, you will have a computer in one place and a hi-fi in another. They may be at opposite ends of the same room, but the chances are they’ll never talk to each other. If that’s the case, you’re missing a trick – because in a world that has abandoned CDs in favour of digital files, your PC makes a better front-end for your collection than any audio component.
A simple connection from your sound card to an input on your stereo will let you play your MP3s through your regular speakers without sacrificing any of the quality you expect from your stereo system.
You can manage your music library using your existing iTunes or Windows Media player software – or install a more intuitive alternative like the free Musicbee program, which searches the internet for information about your albums and artists, and serves it all up in an attractive interface you can customize to your heart’s content.
The physical connection between the computer and hi-fi will be a standard audio cable with a 3.5mm plug going into the green socket at the back of your PC, and either the same again or a pair of RCA plugs at the other end, depending on the sockets on your stereo. The new arrangement will replace your existing PC speakers – but bear in mind that your hi-fi speakers alone won’t work: they still need to be hooked up through your amplifier or receiver.
The one drawback with this kind of hook-up is that you won’t have a remote control to flick through music tracks. You can work around this by plugging a Media Centre Remote into a spare USB socket on your PC. But for a full-on audio-visual experience, consider factoring your TV into the equation.
You can do this by installing a set-top box like Amazon’s Fire TV unit running a media centre application such as the free Kodi or Plex programs, and then cabling your TV’s audio output to an input on your hi-fi.
A direct connection between the PC and set-top box is unnecessary because the files can be passed over your wi-fi network – but you will need to make sure that your TV and hi-fi have a matching pair of either analogue or digital connectors. If they don’t, a converter cable will be needed.
Once configured, you can use your normal remote to browse your music collection in high definition on the TV screen and hear the output through your best stereo speakers.
In many ways, this is the holy grail for home entertainment – because it doesn’t just work for music but for any sound that will benefit from bigger speakers than the ones built into your TV.