Hi Guys, just a quick update from my travels this week. I’m currently flying over northern California on my way home to Minneapolis. I’ve been in the Bay Area for four days working on a couple music servers. My task was to install Windows Server 2012 R2 and Audiophile Optimizer to squeeze every ounce of sound quality from a computer. The end result surprised me very much. I had some reservations about the install and the efficacy of going to such great lengths tweaking a PC. I figured the sound would improve, but I didn’t figure it would improve by so much. This week I heard the best digital playback I’ve ever heard. Period.
I’m not at liberty to divulge the entire hardware formula used this week, but I will talk about the software and the final outcome. What I found was similar to what many computer audiophiles have been saying for quit a while, the combination of Windows Server 2012 R2 and Audiophile Optimizer is fantastic.
I started the project by getting a copy of Windows Server Essentials 2012 R2 and downloading Audiophile Optimizer. I prepared the hardware with a new SSD for the operating system and a couple 1TB SSDs for music storage. Installing 2012 R2 was pretty simple and nearly identical to installing any new Windows OS. On the other hand, installing and configuring Audiophile Optimizer is a different story. This software isn’t for those who can’t or won’t read the 52 page setup guide. Fortunately the setup guide is thorough and provides enough information for users to at least get their systems up and running.
After installing AO and going through all its options a few times I got the hang of the program. One problem I ran into revolved around AO’s Core Mode. Core Mode pretty much turns the PC into an appliance with nothing but a command line or a playback application running. The issue I had was that it took about 30 minutes for AO to get the PC into core mode and another 30 minutes for AO to get the PC out of core mode. This is likely because the low horsepower of the computer I was using rather than a real issue with AO. For most people this may not be an issue because they will put their PCs into Core Mode and call it a day. However, I needed to go into Core Mode and come out of Core Mode several times while I tested different configurations and made software configurations changes that were only possible in AO’s GUI Mode. Again, this isn’t a big deal but readers should consider the speed of their hardware and try to complete all tasks (other than playing music) before setting their PCs into Core Mode.
The final configuration of the PCs I setup was AO Ultimate Mode, Core Mode, and JRiver Media Center set as the Shell. In this config the PC booted right into JRMC in an appliance-like fashion.
Once configured, the PCs were placed in a system with Berkeley Audio Design and Constellation Audio components, and Magico M Project loudspeakers. The sound I heard when the AO optimized PC was played for the first time, and throughout my stay, was stunning. We even had an identical computer setup, but running Windows 7 and without AO and its optimizations, for comparing sound quality. This enabled us to do A/B comparisons between the Windows 7 computer and fully optimized 2012 R2 / AO computer with the only difference being the optimization of software. The sonic differences were easily apparent. The optimized computer made it possible to hear the smallest details in recordings at incredibly low volume levels. For example, we had a microphone placed half way between the loudspeakers and the listening position. The microphone was connected to a small display that showed us the decibel level during our listening sessions. It wasn’t uncommon for the display to read volume levels around 60 dB (keep in mind that the listening position was at an even lower level) and for us to hear everything a recording had to offer. Turing up the volume didn’t increase our ability to hear details, it just made the music louder.
We continued to listen to all kinds of music and continued to hear incredible sound quality. Everything from soundstage to reverb trails to the ambiance of a concert hall was improved with these software optimizations. On one track the drummer struck a bell and the sound seemed to hang in the air for ever while at the same time being completely distinct from the rest of the sounds. Every instrument had its place and its space. The listening experience was truly something to behold.
I’m sure this experience will raise more questions than answers for many people. They will want such an optimized system compared to every server under the sun and I don’t blame them. Who wouldn’t want that information? However, we must be careful. Just because a system is great for one person doesn’t mean anything for someone else. The Windows Server 2012 R2 / Audiophile Optimizer system isn’t for the faint of heart. Depending on how far one optimizes the system, there may be no Ethernet connection and it may require a keyboard, mouse, and monitor for operation. Plus, installation is much more involved than purchasing a server like an Aurender and having one’s dealer visit to set it up and get everything running smooth.
Based on my experience this week, the sound quality bar has been significantly raised.