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    CAPS Twenty | Part Two

    The CAPS Twenty project is finally complete! In Part One I covered the lower powered audio endpoint called CAPS Twenty.One. Now, the high power music server, called CAPS Twenty is ready for its public debut. This has been quite the journey, working with people from all over the world, just as I did on CAPS Twenty.One. It was the most challenging build I've ever completed, by a long shot. There are zero step by steps guides on how to create something like this. One just has to dig in, call on friends for help when stuck, and find creative solutions to the challenges that pop up. Building CAPS Twenty was nerve wracking, but in the end it was totally worth it. I love doing this stuff and hope the Audiophile Style Community gets as much enjoyment out of reading about the project as I did putting it together. 

     

    Just like in Part One, CAPS Twenty information will be in both written and video form. The written articles will cover much more ground than the videos and will be open for discussions. There may be a tidbit or two from off the cuff comments in the videos that don't make the written text, but I will do my best to include it all right here. 

     

    I would love nothing more than for readers to sit back, adjust the volume on their stereos or headphones, tune out the world for a few minutes, and enjoy this article. 

     

    And away we go

     

     

    First A Note of Thanks
     

    This CAPS project is like no previous CAPS project in that it has been a global effort. Individuals and companies from around the world have provided expertise, hardware, software, and monetary contributions to support the project. Without this global support CAPS Twenty wouldn't exist. 

     

    When I contacted each of these companies, they completely got it. What I mean is that they understood the CAPS project, saw how they could help, realized that this project is something quite different from the norm, and jumped at the chance. I'm immensely grateful for their support.

     

    Please consider each of these supporters / sponsors as you think about your next purchases. 

     

     

    APL HiFi ASUS EMM Labs

    EVGA HDPlex Signalyst

    JCAT Kingston Streacom

    Intel.pngSasa Karanovic Logo

     

     

     

     

    CAPS Twenty Full Video

     

     

     

     

     


    What's in a Name - CAPS

     

    In late 2009 / early 2010 I developed a "tiny" music server. I showed the original design to an industry friend and he responded by saying it was so small it could fit in one's pocket. "It's a pocket server." He said. Thus, the name Computer Audiophile Pocket Server (CAPS) was born. We are no longer Computer Audiophile and the sever isn't pocket sized, but the name isn't going anywhere.

     

     

    Why Build It?

     

    Understanding why I came up with a new CAPS design may help some members of this community either avoid the project or jump in with both feet. It all started with me dipping my toes back into the world of Jussi Laako's HQPlayer, the incredibly advanced digital signal processing (DSP) application. I was evaluating a couple DACs that could handle very high rates of native DSD content, but I couldn't get any of my existing audio endpoints to work perfectly with the DACs. I often heard loud noises, pops, and much of the time the DACs were just not recognized by the audio devices. I also needed a server powerful enough to run whichever HQPlayer filters and modulators I wanted to use at the time. I needed a solution to these issues, so I decided it was time for a new CAPS, two PC design. 

     

    This is the crux of CAPS designs. Filling a void in the marketplace. The original CAPS servers were built because we had very few options from HiFi manufacturers at the time. I'm 100% uninterested in producing a CAPS design that competes with existing products from HiFi manufacturers. Those guys do this day-in/day-out and build amazing products that we could've only dreamt of back in the day. 

     

    As you will see in this CAPS design, buying an off the shelf product from a HiFi manufacturer will be much easier and may sound much better to your ears. I make no claims that CAPS Twenty is the best sounding system. In fact, if there was more Linux support for native DSD playback with HiFi DACs, and more very high power music server options, I would've never gone down this path.  

     

    The other factor that pushed me to do another CAPS design was the thriving community of people who like to put music servers together from scratch. This group of people knows more than I ever will about chipsets, processors, PCIe lanes, and much more. There are also less savvy members of the community who want a little more direction and help selecting which parts to use in such a server. Both of these groups will enjoy the CAPS Twenty project.


    A couple last notes. 

     

    One - Over the years I've discovered that CAPS designs push people in two directions. One group of people reads about it and enjoys putting the server together. The other group reads about it and solidifies their belief that this is the farthest thing from having fun or enjoying music. Either way, I completely understand the points of view and enjoy seeing both groups of people around here daily. Heck, I fall into both camps from time to time. I use everything from ground up PC builds to turnkey music servers. It's all good and there are many roads leading to Rome. 

     

    Two - The CAPS Twenty system will work exactly as described as long as it's built exactly as described. One of the things I want to do with CAPS is show a proven design that can guarantee a specific outcome. HQPlayer can require a powerful PC for some of its DSP options. I know many people want to know if filter ABC works with modulator XYZ, before they purchase new hardware, etc... There are tons of options that could be used and I'm sure most are wonderful. I just can't give a thumbs up or down to design changes because I haven't tested them. Feel free to copy this design word for word or chart your own course. Just make sure to have fun doing it and share the outcome with everyone else who may learn from your experience or trial and error.

     


    CAPS Twenty, What is it?

     

    CAPS Twenty is a two PC system. One PC is the server and the other is the audio endpoint. The official names are as follows.

     

    CAPS Twenty - The high horsepower server covered int his article.

     

    CAPS Twenty.One - Pronounced twenty point one like a 5.1 multi-channel audio system, this is the audio endpoint covered in Part One.

     

     


    Hardware

     

    Case - The foundation of the CAPS Twenty build is the limited edition XFORMA MBX MKII computer case. It's a case like nothing else on the market, designed by master craftsmen with incredible attention to detail. This case is truly in a class with the highest of high end audio components for which Audiophile Style readers are familiar. I wanted to build a PC using this case since I first heard about it in 2014. Unfortunately life got in the way and I'd forgotten about the MBX MKII until something sparked my memory while researching which case to use for the CAPS Twenty build. 

     

    xforma mbx mkii.jpgThe MBX MKII features an all aluminum design with custom everything. Yes, I mean custom everything, like HiFi components from Nagra, Constellation Audio, or EMM Labs among many others. I'm not sure how many readers have investigated PC cases over the years, but trust me when I say that almost all are made from fairly cheap plastic or contain many plastic parts. The MBX MKII case by itself weighs 37.5 lbs and the 134 page owners guide "weighs" 55MB! Also in true audiophile style, the MBX MKII ships with three pairs of white gloves, to be worn during installation, to avoid finger prints. 

     

    Everything about the MBX MKII is over the top, but in a good way. It's all about form meeting function as opposed to a design that looks stunning but is unusable in the real world. The designers of this case thought through everything. During the build process I found holes, slots, and ports in perfect places for routing cables and for eliminating cables entirely. The 8mm solid aluminum sliding motherboard tray made the initial setup a breeze. This tray has machined out areas for the limited edition logo plate (mine is number 124), and vertically adjustable floating reservoir holder mounts. That may not mean much to people right now, but those who proceed with this build will understand just how handy and cool this is, as soon as they start working on it. 

     

    cd slot.jpgThe modular internal front structure of the MBX MKII is pure genius. Printed circuit boards enable one to connect six hard drives without cables and the optical drive with hidden cabling. Connecting these drives to the motherboard is done with a direct path from the printed boards to the MB ports in an absolutely beautiful design for cable management. As you can see in the CAPS Twenty build, there are two SATA cables, one for optical and one for a spinning drive, that are nearly invisible. Once spotted, the cables look like a work of art rather than a rats nest. I must also mention the solid aluminum HDD and SSD drive sleds. These things are heavy and feel like they come from an M4 Sherman Tank. 

     

    The optical drive. There isn't a cooler drive setup anywhere. Once mounted inside the modular front structure, it's never seen again. Discs are fed through what looks like illuminated aesthetic slots on the top of the case, but they also function as the disc slot. Discs just disappear into the case when loaded. This feature is so cool that I ordered an optical drive even though I don't really need one. I just had to have it and I'm glad I got it. 

     

    The rest of this case almost needs to be experienced in person to fully grasp the fine details. The water cooling radiator mount features rails on which radiators slide and lock into place. I opted for the laser cut 4mm acrylic serpentine top grill as well. It mounts flush with the top of the case and looks amazing. The other aesthetic option I added is the luminous panel with 12mm pre-drilled hole for the liquid cooling tube (which lines up perfectly with a liquid pump that mounts below the panel). When this thing lights up, the inside of CAPS Twenty looks just beautiful. 

     

    I could seriously go on and on for pages about this limited edition case. It's that impressive. If you can afford it, buy it. Even if you aren't going to build a CAPS Twenty, get the limited edition MBX MKII and build something. 

     

     

    Motherboard - Starting with the motherboard, I considered longevity, availability, and support as important factors when deciding which board to select. Longevity in this instance means the length of time this board will be available for purchase. There are many board from several years ago that are great, but given the pace of obsolescence in technology I didn't want to select a board that may receive its end of life pink slip shortly after publication. Availability is important to me because the Audiophile Style Community is truly global, with 50% of our readers in the US and 50% spread amongst the other great countries of the world (see our latest Meet The Audiophile Style Community article as an example. I had to select a motherboard that will be available throughout the world without jumping through crazy import/export hoops. Support is also very important to me. I like companies that support their products in numerous ways and make it easy for consumers to reach out for help when needed. 
     

    P_setting_fff_1_90_end_500.jpgWith these factors in mind, I worked with ASUS to select the ProArt Z490-CREATOR 10G motherboard. This is a newly released motherboard with support for the newest LGA1200 CPUs, and will be around for quite a while. ASUS products are available in almost every country in which Audiophile Style is read. The company also has really good support. For example, in 2004, a few years before I started Audiophile Style (named computer Audiophile back then), I built a silent PC based on the Zalman TNN 500AF chassis, with an ASUS motherboard and GPU. I had an issue with the BIOS on the motherboard that made the PC un-bootable. I called ASUS, spoke to a knowledgable person who sent me a new BIOS chip, and all was right in a couple days. It was a painless process and long before personally met a couple guys from the ASUS team who attended the Computer Audiophile Symposium at Fantasy Studios. 

     

    A couple technical features were very important to me for the CAPS Twenty build, and the ProArt Z490-CREATOR 10G motherboard meet the requirements with ease. The LGA1200 CPU socket support, M.2 slots with PCIe 3 x4 mode for NVMe, solid support for a PCIe x16 GPU (not ubiquitous now, but close), great build quality, and an aesthetically pleasing design were all important to me. In order to use the latest 10th generation Intel CPUs, I needed LGA1200 support. M.2 slots with PCIe 3 x4 mode for NVMe are incredibly fast and absolutely required for running a 22GB Roon database with 300,000 local tracks (stored on a spinning drive) in the library. The ProArt Z490's PCIe slots are fully capable of running the single x16 GPU needed for the CAPS Twenty build. 

     

    The ASUS ProArt Z490-CREATOR 10G also ships with a 10Gb Ethernet card that's optional. I used it when transferring 10TB of data to CAPS Twenty, through my Ubiquiti 10Gb network, and found it to be fast than 1Gb speeds. Here's the thing though, the limitation was the speed at which my hard drive could write data coming in on the wire. Also note that the onboard NIC is a model that can operate at 1Gb or 2.5Gb. The only issue is that my switched work at 1 Gb or 10Gb, not 2.5Gb. I assume many peoples' switches are the same way, so be careful when thinking about network speeds and realize the issues that can arise in a real world system.

     

    When it comes to build quality and aesthetics, ASUS is right up there at the top of the list. The company build very high quality products and manages to make geeky products look really good at the same time. If you haven't looked at motherboards for custom PCs, you may be unaware that they aren't all up to the high standards ASUS has set. I've used ASUS boards forever and tried many other brands over the years. I didn't even think twice about who I would contact for a CAPS Twenty custom build. It was ASUS all the way, hands down.

     

     

    CPU - The CPU is absolutely critical in a PC designed to run high end digital signal processing (DSP). HQPlayer features filters and modulators that range from easy to run on fairly weak processors to impossible to run in realtime on any processor currently made. Thus, I wanted to give CAPS Twenty the best chance at running the most configurations and give myself freedom to run as many different combinations within HQPlayer as possible. The thought about using an AMD processor because the benchmark scores for those have been really outstanding lately. However, based on personal experience and research, I don't believe an AMD processor can equal the performance and stability of those from Intel, when it comes to the CAPS Twenty server. 

     

    CPU 01.jpgIntel's latest processors are its 10th Generation Intel Core CPUs. This includes i3, i5, i7, and i9 variants. I selected the Intel Core i9-10900K processor for the CAPS Twenty build because it's the best 10th gen CPU available and it isn't outrageously priced. Processor speed is critical to the performance of HQPlayer, and the i9-10900K's 3.7 GHz base frequency / 5.3 GHz max turbo frequency are fantastic for this purpose. The i9-10900K can be throttled down to 3.3 GHz and a to a TDP of 95 watts, from 125 watts, if heat dissipation is an issue for those passively cooling this CPU. Given that CAPS Twenty is a liquid cooled design, I had no need to reduce the i9-10900K's performance. 

     

    In addition to the i9-10900K, Intel kindly sent me the i5-10600K processor. I haven't had time to test this CPU with HQPlayer's DSP, but the specs look very promising. A slightly higher base frequency of 4.1 GHz, but a lower max turbo frequency and fewer number of cores. Given that HQPlayer doesn't require many cores, this CPU could be a great option. The TDP of this processor is identical to that of the i9-10900K, but the price is nearly half. 

     

     

    GPU - In addition to a powerful CPU, the GPU can also be critical for running convolution and the offloading of filter processing HQPlayer. For the CAPS Twenty build I went with what I consider the best of both worlds in a GPU. A GeForce 2080 Ti and one that's built for liquid cooling. When researching manufacturers for this graphics card I noticed that a representative from EVGA had recently posted in an Audiophile Style forum thread about the EVGA  NU audio card. I knew EVGA made great components for computer, so I reach out to them. The response from EVGA was wonderful, with the caveat that stock was very low due to the global health pandemic. I asked for the EVGA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti XC HYDRO COPPER GAMING, 11G-P4-2389-KR GPU and the team at EVGA made it happen. The guys at EVGA made my day because the GPU was the last piece of the CAPS twenty puzzle and global stock was, and is currently, extremely constricted. 

     

    This GPU features a boost clock speed of 1545 MHz, 11GB of GDDR6 memory, NVIDIA Touring architecture, and 4352 coda cores for HQPlayer's CUDA offloading. The "funny" thing about high end graphics cards for music servers is that monitors aren't even required. In fact, I have no monitor connected to CAPS twenty. All the GPU horsepower is used for digital signal processing. 

     

    EVGA also manufactures a HYDRO liquid cooling kit that can be retrofitted to its existing graphics cards, however I highly recommend selecting the card I use in CAPS Twenty because it just works without leaks, anxiety, and the hassle of installing the hydro kit. 

     

     

    GPU.jpgGPU bottom.jpg

     

     

     

     

    Memory - Memory in CAPS Twenty isn't as critical as the aforementioned components, but it certainly needs to be good. HQPlayer doesn't require a lot of RAM, but its developer Jussi Laako recommends RAM with low CAS Latency (CL). I'm also running Roon Server on CAPS Twenty and JRiver Media Center (although not simultaneously, I just like to have options). Roon can use a hefty amount of memory with my family large library. On my QNAP NAS it can consumer 6GB. With these requirements, I communicated with the team at Kingston Technology. These guys have manufactured memory since John Tu designed a new single in-line memory module (SIMM) in 1987! The memory available to me at the time from Kingston was its standard 8Gb modules with a latency of CL19 (KVR26N19S8/8). I received two of these for a total of 16GB for CAPS Twenty. 

     

    As I put together the server and wondered what kind of performance boost I'd get with lower latency RAM and the fact that four RAM modules would look really nice in CAPS Twenty as well , opted for the Kingston HyperX Predator Black CL13 RAM (HX426C13PB3K4/32). I went for 32GB just because I could and filling all four RAM slots looked really nice. I haven't used that much RAM on CAPS Twenty, but I was up to 14GB utilized earlier this afternoon. I think 32Gb was a good move. 

     

    The question I had to answer though was if the lower latency speed of the HyperX (CL13) RAM made a difference in CAPS Twenty over the CL13 modules I originally received. Based on using CAPS Twenty for its stated design of DSP and serving music files via Roon or JRiver, I can say I noticed zero difference between the two types of memory. I'm guessing I'd see a difference if I used the PC for other purposes or ran some benchmarking, but that's neither here nor there. I use the PC for DSP and music, and latency didn't seem to matter for my every day use. 

     

    The Kingston KVR26N19S8/8 ValueRAM costs roughly $38 for each 8GB module, while the HyperX I used costs $174 for four 8GB modules. 

     

     

    ram.jpg

     

     

     

    Storage - As previously noted, fast M.2 storage is very important for running a Roon database but not that critical for HQPlayer. I worked again with Kingston for the M.2 storage requirements. I told them that I didn't need a lot of storage for jus the operating system and the Roon database. However, Kingston said it's 1TB M.2 NVMe drive perform better than the lower capacity drives and highly recommend I use the 1TB version. I happily accepted the recommendation. I could probably get by with a 256GB M.2 drive if needed. A nice part of the ASUS motherboard is that it supports two M.2 slots that could be configured as a RAID0 array. This would increase drive performance quite a bit but also increase the chances of drive failure. I opted for a single Kingston KC2000 NVMe PCIe SSD M.2 drive. 

     

    kingston kc2000.jpg

     

     

    ultrastar disk.jpgI also decided to try storing my 10TB music library on CAPS Twenty. I've used NAS units for many years and always recommend them, but I wanted to try something different. In my experience with a large library, Roon runs best on Windows. It runs good on Linux as well, but it runs best on Windows. So, I installed a single Western Digital 14TB Ultrastar DC HC530 (WUH721414ALE6L4) spinning hard drive. I did a fair amount of research, looked at the current prices, and made a disk decision without laboring over it too much. There are surely drives that will last longer, are faster, are cheaper, etc... but this drive was a solid choice that's no slouch for performance and only cost me $350. Even that I have all my music also stored on a QNAP NAS and Aurender ACS10, I have no need for a RAID array or backup drive inside CAPS Twenty. 

     

     

    corsair hx1200.pngPower - A good power supply is always critical to good performance. In CAPS Twenty.One I used linear supplies but that's out of the question for CAPS Twenty because of much higher power requirements. Another factor that I had to consider was that the XFORMA MBX MKII case ships with a couple cables created specifically for certain power supplies. There are a good number of them for which cables can be made, but once I started looking at the options I realized I was in trouble. Obtaining a power supply during the middle of a global health pandemic was extremely difficult. I finally found a Corsair HX1200 1200W 80 PLUS PLATINUM Certified Full Modular Power Supply (CP-9020140-NA) and purchased it within seconds. There are many other options for PSUs with less power, or even more if one wants it for some reason, and I'm sure they work very well. But, the HX1200 is the PSU I could obtain and it has worked very well. 

     

    The HX1200 has a fan, but I've never seen or heard the fan turn on. It's very well constructed, just like the previous Corsair PSUs I've used over the years. Corsair makes really good products for PCs like CAPS twenty and I'd likely get the same one or something slightly less powerful if I were to do it over again. 

     

     

    Cooling - I've built many passively cooled PCs over the years, but had never dipped my toes into custom liquid cooling. The CAPS Twenty project seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to bend some tubes and get the coolant flowing. 

     

    There are different methods of liquid cooling available. One is a pre-built, closed loop design that's plug and play. These closed loops are dead simple and only require the PC builder to understand how to operate a screw driver. The downside of these contained systems is rigidity. There are many options available, but there's no straying from these designs. Some people will love instruction based designs because there's little chance of messing up the build. However, I wanted more creative freedom for the CAPS Twenty build and went with the blank sheet of paper method, a custom cooling loop. This method has almost no rules and certainly no step by step instructions. One can create a custom liquid cooling loop any way s/he wishes. Some work better than others and there are recommendations, but these loops are really up to the builder's imagination. That's the part I loved. 

     

    The pieces of my custom liquid cooling loop puzzle are, a reservoir, CPU water block, liquid pump, radiator, fans, fittings, coolant, and tubing. These are just the pieces one sees in the final build, but creating a custom loop requires items such as a hacksaw, heat gun, sandpaper, tube reamer, silicon cords, hard tube bending tool, and a 24 pin ATX bridging plug among others. As readers can see, this isn't for the novice, first time PC builder. It's also not the only way to create a custom liquid cooling loop. Methods using soft tubing are easier and less stressful to build, but I'm not a fan of the look of soft tube builds compared to hard tube builds. 

     

    There are endless options for custom loop builders, making the research somewhat paralyzing. Readers who'd like to skip to the front of the line, saving endless hours of time, should select components from EKWB. Edvard König Water Blocks, called EKWB, creates what I consider to be the best and highest quality liquid cooling components on the market. EKWB has several different levels of components along a wide continuum of prices. 

     

    cpu 02.jpgCAPS Twenty contains EK-Quantum Magnitude - 115x Full Nickel CPU water block. Fortunately the new LGA1200 CPUs, such as the Intel Core i9-10900K, use the same mounting holes as previous LGA115X components. This water block is a true work of art and fine craftsmanship. Made by hand in Slovenia, every piece of this block is CNC machined separately, out of a solid block. The EK-Quantum Magnitude water block features a nickel-plated copper cold plate with a nickel-plated top, CNC machined out of hard-wearing brass. EK offers a few versions of this water block, including one with RGB lighting and one that's anodized black. 

     

    I selected the EKWB EK-CoolStream XE 480 Radiator for this build because the MBX MKII has room for it and both the CPU and GPU can require serious heat dissipation. Other radiator options use less fans and have less surface area for removing heat from the liquid cooling loop. If one is using two GPUs, a second radiator can be added to the MBX MKII. 

     

    Fans are a requirement for CAPS Twenty in order to remove push air through the radiator. I started with the EK-Meltemi 120ER extreme high-static pressure computer cooling fans, designed for liquid cooling PCs like CAPS Twenty. These fans have a noise level of 31.3dBA and feature excellent build quality. However, I didn't notice that these fans are 38mm thick until I installed them and tried to put the side panel on the MBX MKII case. I switched from a push to a pull method, by placing the fans on the inside side of the radiator, but this made the rest of the installation extremely difficult and impractical.

     

    After admitting defeat with these fans, I purchased the EK-Vardar EVO 120ER Black BB fans with a 3fans.jpg3.5 dBA noise level and similar build quality. The EK-Vardar and the EK-Meltemi fans are very similar, but the 25mm width of the Vardar made the CAPS Twenty build possible. 

     

    The last liquid cooling topic I'll touch on is tubing. There are several different tube options for liquid cooling. Soft tubes, hard tubes, acrylic tubes, PETG tubes, and even steel or copper tubes. Within these categories there are also different sizes of tubing. It's all very confusing for first-timers. I selected PETG tubing because it's fairly easy to bend at somewhat low temperature with a heat gun and in general is easier to work with than the other options. I ruled out using metal tubes because I don't have the tools to do it and I don't have the patience or skill required to craft a custom loop from these materials. 

     

    The PETG tubing in CAPS Twenty has a 10mm inner diameter and 12mm outer diameter. These numbers are critical when selecting fittings and bending tools. Also important is the fact that the luminous panel in the MBX MKII case has a 12mm pre-drilled hole for tubing with an outer diameter of 12mm. Luminous panels without hols are also available, but a panel with larger 18mm hole has been out of stock for some time. 

    I'll list specific fittings, coolant, etc... below this article for those interested in the fine details. 

     

     

     

     


    ANALOG GAUGES!

     

    As I was putting together CAPS Twenty I had an idea that was inspired by Dan D'Agostino's products. I thought, what if I could use analog gauges to display items such as CPU and network utilization and make it look cool? I looked into creating it myself, then quickly realized it was way beyond my skill set. 

     

    Fortunately I found Toronto based engineer Sasa Karanovic who had done this exact thing in late 2019. Sasa created analog gauges for CPU, RAM, network, and GPU utilization. The exact four resources I wanted to monitor in CAPS Twenty. He even provided all the information needed for someone with the requisite skills to recreate on his/her own. I spent about 30 minutes looking at Sasa's design and soon realized it was over my head, even with all the instructions. 

     

    I sent an email to Sasa asking if I could hire him to create the gauges for me, so I could use them in CAPS twenty. The response I received was over the top terrific. Sasa said that he would use two sets of gauges he already had on hand, build two PCB boards, wire and test the gauges, and help me get the small bit of software running on my computer. All for the price of .... FREE. Sasa was so helpful during this process. I couldn't have done it without him. 

     

    For all the details about how he turned galvanometers into analog PC resources gauges, have a look at his website and videos. Much of it is over my head, but I'm sure many readers will enjoy seeing the details even without an understanding of what's going on. 

    I must thank Sasa for connecting to CAPS Twenty to last week, to troubleshoot the GPU gauge. He found they issue and had it working in no time.

     

    Thanks Sasa!

     

    Mounting the gauges for CAPS Twenty was much more difficult than the CAPS Twenty.One audio endpoint. On CAPS Twenty.One I had plenty of space and easy materials with which to work. A custom wood cutout for the top and a few holes in it and it's done. CAPS Twenty was a different animal. I originally sealed on mounting the gauges through a mesh wire panel on the top of the MBX MKII. I figured it would look al little funny, but it was doable and I had the XFORMA serpentine top grill I could put in place of this mesh, if I totally screwed it up. The risk was low and the reward was high. So, I purchased a hole saw and cut some holes. I hated the outcome. I let the guy at the hardware store talk me into using a 2 inch hole saw rather than a 1 3/4 unit that matched the outer diameter of the gauges. The 2 inch hole was just too big and the gauges looked bad with a 1/4 inch gap around them. 

     

    analog gauges top.jpg

     

     

     

    I removed the mesh panel and replaced it with the nice looking serpentine top grill. The build looked great again, but I had no gauges. I stared at the MBX MKII for a long time, trying to figure out where I could mount the gauges. With the side panels on the case, I noticed a nice visual gap between the GPU and the top of one side panel's window. I measured three or four times and determined  the gauges would fit in that spot. However, there are no replacement side panels on a limited edition case if I royally screwed this up. I'd never cut acrylic before and I had no clue if the window would crack or break into pieces when pressure was applied. The unknowns were plentiful and my confidence was shaky, but I had no choice. The gauges had to go in the side panel's window and there was no second chance to get it right. I purchased a 1 3/4 hole saw, penciled-in my center points for each gauge, and let it rip. 

     

    I love the way the gauges turned out.

     

     

     

     

     


    Software

     

    Operating System - CAPS Twenty runs on Windows 10 Pro. I selected Windows 10 Pro because I wanted to give myself as many options as possible with respect to hardware and applications. Linux is wonderful for many purposes, but not for CAPS Twenty. I also thought about running HQPlayer Embedded. That's a Linux OS with HQPlayer configured to run without any user intervention on the physical machine it's installed. This is a double edged sword though because it's great for people who want it to work like an appliance, but not so great for CAPS Twenty when I want to instal Roon, JRiver, or anything else. 

     

    Windows 10 Pro is annoying though. Microsoft has made it very difficult or impossible to remove unwanted items such as Xbox functionality and links, and Cortana. I talked to Phil, developer of Audiophile Optimizer, about removing all the junk. He said it's entirely possible with his software. This is something I would like to test, but I just don't have time at the moment. Perfection can be the enemy of progress, meaning I'll never complete this build if I keep perfecting it. 

     

    Audio Apps - CAPS Twenty is built mainly to run HQPlayer, and it also runs Roon and JRiver very well. As I have it configured now, it's a Roon server that outputs audio to HQPlayer and. JRiver DLNA server. 

     


    Performance

     

    The main reason for building CAPS Twenty as an HQPlayer server is performance. I want to give myself the most options for filters, modulators, and sample rates, and some options require quite a bit of processing power. Here are some example of resource utilization when using different options in HQPlayer, with Roon as a front end. Keep in mind that no current PC is capable of regular playback while running the ASDM7EC modulator at DSD512 or above. 

     

    The first screenshot below is a baseline with CAPS Twenty sitting idle. The other screenshots show the filters and modulators in the HQPlayer window.

     

    Baseline No Audio.jpg

     

    24-96 PCM to DSD256 poly short 2s ADSM7EC.jpg24-96 PCM to DSD512 xtr mp asdm7.jpg24-96 PCM to DSD1024 poly short 2s ADSM7.jpg24-96 PCM to DSD1024 sinc-M ASDM7 .jpg

     

     


    Roon performance on CAPS Twenty is better than I've ever experienced. Navigating my 300,000 track library from my iPad Pro is faster on CAPS Twenty than any other hardware and I have no issues that require weekly or daily reboots. Roon runs fantastic on Windows. 

     

    JRiver performance is also stellar. I've used JRiver on numerous PCs over the years and never had performance issues. CAPS Twenty isn't required for JRiver, but I can say it runs wonderfully. 

     

    JRiver Benchmark Scores:

    Running 'Math' benchmark... Score: 3420

    Running 'Image' benchmark... Score: 12539

    Running 'Database' benchmark... Score: 8436

    JRMark (version 26.0.100 64 bit): 8131

     


    Conclusions


    That's CAPS Twenty, a high power HQPlayer, Roon, and JRiver server. I had a blast putting this together and welcome any and all comments, concerns, and questions about the design. There are fine details for each of the items mentioned in the article above. I had to leave some on the editing room floor, but I'll happily go into as much detail as readers wish in the comments below. Just keep asking questions :~)

     

    Below I've included links to purchase many of the items discussed in this article. 

     

    I also want to thank all the sponsors and contributors who helped make CAPS Twenty happen. Without them, this would still be a bunch of ideas jotted down on a virtual piece of paper.

     

     

    APL HiFi ASUS EMM Labs

    EVGA HDPlex Signalyst

    JCAT Kingston Streacom

    Intel.pngSasa Karanovic Logo

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Photo Gallery

     

    caps 20 boxes.jpgnumber 124.jpgCAPS 20 Half Done.jpgCPU 01.jpgcpu 02.jpgcpu ram 01.jpgcpu ram 02.jpgcpu ram 03.jpgcpu ram 04.jpgfans.jpgfront lights.jpgGPU.jpgGPU bottom.jpgradiator pump rear.jpgram.jpgsata connectors.jpgtop grill.jpgwhole pc and front external.jpgwhole pc external.jpgwhole pc external angle.jpgwhole pc external dark.jpgwhole pc external dark angle.jpgwhole pc external dark straight.jpgwhole pc external dark straight top light.jpgwhole pc external lighted.jpgwhole pc external with gauges.jpgwhole pc external with gauges 02.jpganalog gauges close up 01.jpganalog gauges close up 02.jpganalog gauges top.jpg

    analog gauges top whole pc.jpgcd slot.jpg

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Components and Where To Purchase 

     

    Case: XFORMA MBX MKII $1,299
    Motherboard: ASUS ProArt Z490-CREATOR 10G $299
    CPU: Intel Core i9-10900K $500
    GPU: EVGA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti XC HYDRO COPPER GAMING, 11G-P4-2389-KR $1,299
    RAM: HyperX Predator Black 32GB (HX426C13PB3K4/32) $174
    SSD: Kingston KC2000 NVMe PCIe SSD $200
    HDD: Western Digital 14TB Ultrastar (WUH721414ALE6L4) $320
    Power Supply: Corsair HX1200 (CP-9020140-NA) $240
    Optical Drive: XForma Slot-Load Optical Disc Drive (ODD) - CD/DVD $30
    Luminous Panel: XForma Luminous Panel, 12mm Pre-Drilled Hole, White $140
    Reservoir: XForma EK-X3 EVO.2 250mm Reservoir $60
    Reservoir Holder: XForma EVO.2 Floating Reservoir Holder $53
    Radiator Mount: XForma Quad Radiator Mount $90
    Top Grill: XForma Serpentine Topgrill $47
    Cables: Micro Connectors Premium Sleeved PSU Cable Extension Kit $30

     

    Liquid Cooling Components: https://www.titanrig.com/
    EKWB EK-CoolStream XE 480 Radiator $140 
    EKWB EK-XTOP DDC 3.2 PWM Elite Pump $ 125 
    EKWB EK-Quantum Magnitude CPU Water Block $270 
    EKWB EK-Torque HTC-12 Compression Fitting $5 (x14)
    EKWB EK-AF G1/4" 2x45° Angled Fitting $8
    EKWB EK-AF G1/4" Female to Female 90° Angled Fitting $6
    EKWB EK-AF G1/4" 90° Angled Fitting $9 (x7)
    EKWB EK-CSQ G1/4" Plug $5
    EKWB G 1/4" EK-AF Ball Valve $17
    EKWB EK-HD PETG Tube, 10/12mm, 1000mm $11
    EKWB EK-CryoFuel Solid Premix Coolant, 1000mL $20 (x2)
    EKWB EK-ATX Bridging Plug (24 pin) $2
    EKWB EK-Cable Splitter 4-Fan PWM Extended $6
    EKWB EK-HD Tube D.I.Y. Kit $20
    EKWB EK-Vardar EVO 120ER Black BB 120mm Fan $20 (x4)
    EKWB Modulus Hard Tube Bending Tool - 12mm $40


     

    * Using some of our links gives us a tiny kickback and doesn't cost you anything. We're experimenting with this, so please no phone calls, letters, or telegrams just yet. 

     

     



    User Feedback

    Recommended Comments



    I’m simply blown away, Chris!  I think you’ve inspired me to design and build a pair of audiophile SBCs to this level of quality with all the capability I can squeeze into them. Great write-up of a great project!

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    2 minutes ago, bluesman said:

    I’m simply blown away, Chris!  I think you’ve inspired me to design and build a pair of audiophile SBCs to this level of quality with all the capability I can squeeze into them. Great write-up of a great project!

    Thanks so much @bluesman. It's really a passion of mine and I'm so grateful that members of this community see value in it and find some enjoyment in this. 

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    Love it! Now I want one!

     

    Does it put out too much heat to live in a listening room? Same with sound?

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    Wow, Chris,  that looks amazing. Your investment in all aspects of this, including the aesthetics, is impressive. And the low CPU load is also amazing. 
    I just ordered a new server based on the same motherboard. But "only" an i7 10700k. And Fan cooled, but quiet fans. It should be effectively silent, unless you are right near it. I'm only looking to do a max of 256 DSD which I think it will do fine. 

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    Amazing work Chris!

     

    The build looks so clean and polished, not to mention how much power it has! :)

     

    When someone mentions "server" usually I think of a piece of hardware that sits in a dark room and

    you never look at it. But this, you want to have it in your living room and put your TV in the server room. :D

     

    And on top of that, pulling all of this during a global health pandemic... it's beyond amazing!

     

    Thank you for sharing and keep these coming!

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    11 minutes ago, SasaKaranovic said:

    Amazing work Chris!

     

    The build looks so clean and polished, not to mention how much power it has! :)

     

    When someone mentions "server" usually I think of a piece of hardware that sits in a dark room and

    you never look at it. But this, you want to have it in your living room and put your TV in the server room. :D

     

    And on top of that, pulling all of this during a global health pandemic... it's beyond amazing!

     

    Thank you for sharing and keep these coming!

    Thanks so much Sasa!  Your gauges and support played a big role in this project. 

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    That's a heck of a build, for sure! 

     

    We were more than happy to help out for this ambitious project, and I'm happy to see that the final result turned out as amazing as it did.  Kudos!

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    Very cool, Chris.  Would undoubtedly solve my current HQP upscaling limitations.  @EVGA_Lee, I note that Chris’s link to your graphics card has no buy link. Who carries the specified product for sale?  I did not find online when searching. Thanks. JCR 

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    9 minutes ago, bobflood said:

    Hi Chris, Suggestion:

     

    Put another 256 SSD in the open second slot and use it for dual boot capability so you can test some of the things you mentioned (like HQP OS or other Linux options for example) against your Win 10 primary OS. ASUS UEFI/BIOS has pretty easy boot order options and you would not disturb your main OS. Great fodder for future articles.

    Good idea. 

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    Chris,

     

    Thank you for the nicely articualted view into your vision for a server.  Clearly a few steps beyond the "normal" PC build.  Very carefully thought out. Beautifully implemented.  

     

    I am sure the trials of the build were many!  

     

    You make me want to try HQPlayer now!

     

    RJF

     

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    1 minute ago, bobfa said:

    Chris,

     

    Thank you for the nicely articualted view into your vision for a server.  Clearly a few steps beyond the "normal" PC build.  Very carefully thought out. Beautifully implemented.  

     

    I am sure the trials of the build were many!  

     

    You make me want to try HQPlayer now!

     

    RJF

     

    Thanks Bob. Yes, I have a desktop full of parts that didn’t work, are extra, or were completely unneeded. Such is life when there are no step by step guides :~)

     

    HQPlayer is a must have for those who like options / choices. @Miska is an incredibly talented individual. 

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    Chris,

     

    I started building a server and an endpoint using AMD Ryzen 7300 CPUs and ASUS motherboards a couple of months ago.  I have also had trouble getting graphics cards and power supplies.  I have been running one of them as a single box Roon Server and endpoint.  You have inspired me to play a little bit further and in a slightly different direction.  I will update my threads with what I am doing.  

     

    I do have a couple of CAPS related questions.

     

    How do you sync your music files between your NAS and your Server?  I am using Qsync with my QNAP because it is free.

     

    As I had indicated before I am interested in HQPlayer.  It looks like the HQPlayer thread is  721 pages deep....  I am kind of looking for a two direction quick start.  One for HQPlayer desktop on the main server and maybe one with HQPlayer for Roon.    Might this be a time for some sort of Quickstart/cookie cutter starting point?

     

    My endpoint is running Gentoo Player right now so that may create some interesting things to deal with.  I can always add another M.2 drive and dual boot!

     

     

    Bob

     

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    19 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    No need so far but I will if necessary. 

    You probably will end up overclocking. Also, running Roon and HQP together on the same machine can lead to problems. PM me if you want to know how I solved it on my machine.

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    I’ve been running RoonServer and HQP on my i7 server and so long as I don’t upscale past DSD128, it has been fine. I want to build Chris’s server to go up from there, but what incompatibility on the same server have you encountered?

     

    Also, given the shortage of the specified GPU card, I will advise that if anyone is in the Minneapolis metro area and is planning to build, Microcenter in St. Louis Park has one remaining of the specified GPU available only for pickup and not online purchase. I got mine there earlier today. JCR 

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    59 minutes ago, jrobbins50 said:

    I’ve been running RoonServer and HQP on my i7 server and so long as I don’t upscale past DSD128, it has been fine. I want to build Chris’s server to go up from there, but what incompatibility on the same server have you encountered?

     

    Also, given the shortage of the specified GPU card, I will advise that if anyone is in the Minneapolis metro area and is planning to build, Microcenter in St. Louis Park has one remaining of the specified GPU available only for pickup and not online purchase. I got mine there earlier today. JCR 

    A server with this amount of computing power probably won't have any problem running Roon and HQP together. I do not have a GPU and am running an i5 8400 passively cooled so resources are tighter. I found that I would get a short pause at the beginning of many tracks streaming from Tidal or Qobuz. This would only happen when running  ASDM7EC @ DSD 256 and especially with the more demanding filters even if they were the 2s variant (the 2s filters are all I can run without pushing the core temps too high).  When I analyzed what was happening it coincided with Roon downloading the track. What I had to do to solve this is not really an appropriate discussion here in this article. I will say that it involved several UEFI/BIOS changes and some core and priority tuning and load lightening in Win 10. I can now run poly-sinc mp 2s/ASDM7EC @ DSD 256 from Roon streaming (I don't have any local files anymore) without any issue and core temps are in the 65-75 degree range which for passive cooling is pretty good. The two modulator cores are of course the highest as they are running at 100% all the time. I realize that I am pushing it and many think it shouldn't work at all but the i5 8400 overclocks well to a point and for me that point just happens to be far enough.

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    Gorgeous computer, Chris; and well done. If one was doing video editing, 3D animation, or high-end CAD, this would be the computer to have. But, isn’t it rather overkill for a music server? I use a 2010 MacBook Pro with an Intel Core-2 Duo, a 1-Tb SSD and 8-Gigs of RAM, and even with just that, I feel that I’m wasting most of the computer’s capability running only Audirvana, Amazon Music, Audacity, and Audio Hijack (an app for capturing and recording audio from a web page; useful for capturing BBC PROMS concerts (in years when the BBC has PROMs - unlike this one). 
    Too bad you’re lumbered with Windows, though. I don’t envy you that! If I had that hardware, I think I would turn it into a HackIntosh. 😉

     

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