I'm really interested, for a comparison, in which components do you use in your high-end system for streaming. Do you use USB audio which I consider a mess?
Your Airport limits bit/freq to 16/48 max, even if you can playback 24/96 files they're downsampled before the DAC.
I only care about what humans can hear. I don't waste my time chasing numbers for the sake of numbers. Before I set up my music server, I spent the better part of a week auditioning and testing codecs with a wide variety of music, from 78 era recordings all the way up to modern- classical, opera, jazz, big band, vocals, country- everything. I can tell you the strengths and weaknesses of each codec I tested. I can tell you which ones and bitrates artifact with specific sounds, and which ones are audibly transparent.
My main system would blow you away from every aspect- soundstage, dynamics, response, clarity and accuracy. I've worked with production sound in TV for many years, and I know what good sound is. I'm happy to share with you how to achieve that, and how to not waste your time on things that are more in your head than in your ears.
But you have to listen, and you have to not have your mind snapped shut with all of your preexisting conclusions.
To answer your question...
My iTunes library which contains over a year and a half of music in AAC 256 VBR format is on a Drobo which consists of four 2 TB hard drives in a sort of a RAID system. The data is protected, so if a drive fails, it can recreate the lost data. The drive is connected to a Mac Mini using Firewire 800. The server streams music 24/7 throughout my house using an Apple Airport wifi network. i can control every component from anywhere by using my iPhone and a Harmony Link. The Mini is the main source for my screening room. It plays music files, hidef video, 5:1 audio, etc. I also have a Sony bluray player for physical media connected using HDMI. The Mini is connected to my Yamaha AV receiver using optical. The Yamaha decodes everything I throw at it flawlessly. The receiver powers a set of custom made 12 inch five way studio monitors and a set of JBL towers as the mains. I have a top of the line Sunfire 12 inch subwoofer, a Klipsch center channel, and Klipsch bookshelves in the rear. The whole system is carefully equalized and tweaked to the room which doubles as a listening room and screening room with a ten foot hidef projection system. The projector is connected by HDMI- it's a high end Epson UB model.
My system is capable of both 5:1 movies with wall shaking bass and well meshed surround and totally realistic presentation of chamber music or acoustic jazz with a wide, clearly defined soundstage. It sounds as good whisper quiet as it does at volumes you can hear a block away. The sound of orchestral music is extremely realistic. You can close your eyes and pinpoint the individual instruments in space. I've been working on this system for nearly 30 years and I've just gotten to the place where I'm satisfied. There is only one more change I plan to make. I'm going to replace the rear channel speakers with studio monitors to tighten up the 5:1 soundfield a bit.
i got to the place I am with sound by studying the basic physics of acoustics and by testing each component by ear to determine exactly what it added to the chain. All elements of a system aren't equal. Some things really don't matter. Other things are VERY important to get right. Having the experience to know which is which is the key to getting great sound.
Edited by bigshot - 2/6/13 at 10:12am