Addition to my earlier reply, which has not posted yet. Assume it will before this does. Sorry, for split, should not try to do this stuff on my iphone. Takes forever to type- am I showing my age?
Anyway, I could sell everything I have and start over, but suspect that all of it together would only bring a few hundred dollars and not sure that is enough to get anything of decent quality. I've listened to many compact systems in my time and those at the lower price ranges tend to sound tinny or fall apart. Plus, I hate to admit, I have a sentimental attachment to my 5,000 pound Adcoms and pretty speakers. I know it's nuts, but all the reviews online sure indicate that lots of people buy equipment because it looks "cool". I know that when I bought the speakers in about 1990 I could definitely hear the difference between these and cheaper ones and even much more expensive ones, so assume I at least used to have a bit of an ear but - again- limited funds. Years of ballet classes with live music and high school band gave me some idea what to listen for, but have not clue what most of those reviewers are talking about.
I can return the laptop (a Lenovo still in its box, bought because it was cheapest decent quality could find at $200). I have no idea what quality of analog out it has but suspect it has a pretty cheap soundcard at that price. All I need it for is to hold the music. Wish I had not recycled my old desktop a few months ago, could have set it up in cabinet and been done with it!
I thought about a household server hooked to our modem/router, but that would still require something to retrieve the music and the idea is to NOT have to haul my laptop out of my office every time I want to listen to music. I could replace the laptop with an Ipod classic, but know that the analog output on my iphone is rather lacking in oomph. At least it is with my headphones. Fine for running errands and listening to lectures, not for really listening to music. I can set my CD player back up (an old Sony 5 disc player), but seems silly if everything is burned onto hard disk.
I know they make music servers that can hold all your digital stuff, but they cost lots more than I have or can raise quickly. And as far as I can tell there is nothing that could just hook a freestanding hard drive up to that will work. My local Guitar Center and other music stores say that a $150 DAC will suit my needs just fine, but theirs are really designed for recording so they suggested looking online. Are they right or do you really get anything with added expense (please, no flame war, remember I am Newbie to all this and probably can't hear tiny differences)
Feel free to tell me I am clueless, as I am. But I can learn if can find good sources for info. The magazines are interesting,but even if I win the lottery, I am not interested in a $15,000 DAC, so they are off limited use. I am willing to call and talk with people at Sounds Direct, Crutchfields, etc. if that would help, but know they have a perfectly reasonable agenda to sell me stuff.
Thanks for your help.