|Full circle! If in doubt about your digital system you can't go wrong by adding a good old-fashioned, analogue, record player and buying a few LPs. The sounds is really great and they look fantastic.|
1. Copy music in the highest resolution format that you can. This is the cardinal rule! I suggest AIFF as it's not only lossless but the most generally compatible with different players, supports meta-data (such as track titles and album covers) and works with iTunes.
2. The corollary to Point 1 is: avoid collecting low definition downloads in MP3 and related compressed formats: you'll hate it later on.
3. Don't use file sharing sites/torrents and the like. Not only are they illegal but you have no control of the file quality.
4. Remember that CDs, especially used ones, are absolute bargains and are of genuine high fidelity quality: they are currently the best way to acquire a collection of high definition digital music.
5. Put your music on a quality hard drive (preferably solid state) -once it's there it can easily be transferred to any other digital system. A dedicated system is best: you don't want to be carrying around your lifetime's collection of music on your everyday laptop! Oh, and don't forget to back it up!
6. Put a good quality DAC between your hard drive and a your amplifier.
7. Experiment with different music players (apps): they make a big difference and are evolving continuously. Also remember that iTunes is not the only music app out there...
8. Purchase a good quality amp and speakers. You can get a lot of bang for the buck these days and you don't need a budget that looks like it would fund a NASA project.
9. Once you have your digital library you can connect it to your wi-fi network and use it as a Network Associated Storage (NAS) system and stream music throughout your home. However I suggest you Keep your hi-fi system separate from your TV (A/V systems introduce too many complications and compromises) and avoid bluetooth or wireless connected speakers (which can have quite badly degraded sound quality).
10. If in doubt, don't forget good old-fashioned, analogue, vinyl! Yes I'm talking about a record player and LPs. The sound quality is quite brilliant and makes up for the lack of convenience involved with playing records. Besides they look seriously cool.
The other parts in this series can be found here:
Part 1 : The Good Old Days
Part 2 : Hardware
Part 3 : Music Files and Software
P.S. Since penning this piece I've run across this excellent article about digital music organization by Whitson Gordon and published in Lifehacker: it's well worth a read.