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    Reality Quest: Going to Extremes with the Taiko Audio SGM Extreme (Part 3 of 5)

    • Part 1 - Introduction and Digital Audio Optimization Foundations (Link)
    • Part 2 - Enter the Extreme (Link)
    • Part 3 - First Impressions and Basic Configuration
    • Part 4 - Tweaking Up the Extreme (Link)
    • Part 5 - Extended Listening Impressions, Learnings, and Conclusions (Link)

     

     

    In Part 1 I shared some of my experiences and learnings in digital audio optimization and how that foundation brought me to the Taiko Audio SGM Extreme, a true Summit-Fi digital music server from Taiko Guru Emile Bok.

     

    In Part 2, I reviewed in detail the very impressive specifications, build quality, and design details for the Extreme, and how all the pieces come together for a world class digital music server.

     

    In this Part 3 of my review of the Taiko Audio SGM Extreme, I fire the beast up for a first listen, and look at the impact of various out of the box system configurations and settings.

     


    Listening Impressions


    Out of the gate, I wanted to see what the Extreme could do with no special tweaks or advantages (generic USB cable, cheap ethernet cable going through a couple cheap switches to my router, plugged into a power strip and a random power outlet with all my other AV equipment, no vibration isolation, etc). I wanted to establish a baseline, then incrementally introduce system optimizations to see what impact they have. I was also keen on hearing how a “stock” Extreme with no OCD advantages compares with my reference NUC music server setup.

     

    After cajoling my daughter and partner out of their rooms with chocolate, I imposed on them to help me lift the Extreme into its initial home:

     

    Taiko Audio SGM Extreme System.jpg


    From left to right: 

     

    • Voxativ 9.87 speakers with 4D drivers (104dB sensitivity) sitting on a Voxativ Pi bass units
    • A stock NUC7i7DNKE in standard case with consumer RAM running Audiolinux in RAM, with Roon server on an Optane drive
    • Paul Hynes SR4 power supply powering a SOtM tX-USBultra Special Edition USB regenerator at 12V
    • An Uptone Audio UltraCap LPS 1.2 power supply powering an (not pictured) Uptone Audio EtherREGEN ethernet regenerator, with Cat 8 cables to the server and endpoint NUCs
    • A battery powered (PowerAdd Pilot Pro2) NUC7i7DNKE in a fanless Akasa case with wide temperature industrial Apacer RAM running Euphony in RAM (sometimes running HQPlayer Embedded connecting to my NUC Roon server, and sometimes Stylus + HQPlayer in a one box solution), booted from an Optane drive
    • A Monoprice USB SlimRun optical USB extender cable and Uptone Audio USPCB connecting my endpoint NUC to a SOtM tX-USBultra Special Edition, and a Sablon Audio 2020 USB cable connecting the SOtM tX-USBultra Special Edition to my Chord DAVE DAC
    • A Chord DAVE DAC on a Taiko Audio Daiza panzerholz vibration isolation base (more on those later)
    • A very intimidating and imposing Taiko Audio SGM Extreme (on a Pottery Barn towel) with generic power, USB, and cheap Cat 5 network connectivity to the generic switch and wall ethernet for my media console
    • My audio equipment is powered by a pair of dedicated 30A circuits (one for DAC and Voxativ bass units, one for NUC digital chain), each with their own Topaz ultra low capacitance isolation transformers, with Pangea AC-9 and AC-14 power cords (the LPS 1.2 is always mains disconnected, so I have its SMPS charging supply plugged into the normal house power outlet)
    • Back and forth between Voxativ Ampeggio speaker cables and Iconoclast SPTPC speaker cables directly connecting the Chord DAVE to the Voxativ 9.87’s
    • In my bedroom closet, I have AT&T fiber to my home (TIDAL for streaming), and a Mac Mini (stock) as a file server with my music library

     

     

    My Roon server NUC has some local content on the Optane drive, and mounts my music library from my Mac Mini file server. I configured HQPlayer with the sinc-M filter, upsampling to PCM to 16fs (705/768kHz), mimicking what I had when I had a Chord Blu2 then a Chord Hugo mScaler.

     


    First Impressions – Straight out of the box


    After powering on the unit for a couple hours, I connected it to my DAC and quickly set up Roon for TIDAL (no music library, no HQPlayer, Redbook quality lossless direct to DAVE) just to do a quick test of whether things were working.

     

    Right off the bat, I was struck by the remarkable presence and clarity I was hearing, even without the benefit of 1M tap upscaling. This is by far the best I’ve ever heard DAVE without mScaler, and is in many ways superior to what I’m used to hearing even with 1M tap upscaling (for background on Chord’s Hugo mScaler upsampler, see Rajiv’s excellent review of the Chord TT2 and Hugo mScaler combo).

     

    The sense of speed and precision is unbelievable, even without the timing and transient benefits I’m accustomed to with 1M taps upsampling. There is a tangible physicality to music, particularly from voices and string instruments. Edges are just faster and much more controlled than I’m accustomed to, which is making everything feel so present and in the room.

     

    Thankfully, this isn’t some sort of false sense of detail. In the past I’ve noted that certain kinds of RF and digital noise can cause a false sense of detail at first list, but that quickly gives way to fatigue. That’s definitely not the case here. Music reproduction is so neutral and unencumbered, hyper hyper clean, and without that characteristic sense of digital haze or stress that I associate with RF or digital noise. Soundstage imaging is similarly unstressed, compelling, and comfortably present. Speed and control of the thwack on percussion is quite remarkable. 

     

    Shifting to some favorite performances on shoddy recordings, Shamas-Ud-Doha Bader-Ud-Doja (from “Shahen-Shah” by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan) is absolutely vivid and present and (incredibly) real! Dynamics off the chart, making any noise in the recording just not matter any more. A glorious performance channeling the angels, brought to vivid tangible life...wow!

     

    Going to some test tracks that I’ve leaned into in the past when doing network optimizations, there is a visceral physical bass sensation on Diana Krall’s The Boulevard of Broken Dreams that I’ve only heard in my NUC reference system with the Uptone Audio EtherREGEN in the chain. Hearing it with no network optimizations at all is a first for me, and makes me wonder how far the Extreme can go with some TLC on the network side.

     

    Hearing how remarkable “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” sounded, I just had to revisit some old favorites. So What on Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” brought Bill Evans into the room! From what I’m hearing, I will need to spend a lot of time getting to know Bill Evans all over again. Well no time like the present...it’s Waltz for Debby time! (from the Village Vanguard sessions) Scott LaFaro’s bass is incredibly present, subtle, and confident. I’m almost teary hearing LaFaro play in this way.

     

    Back to another favorite recording, but one where I’m always on edge waiting for playback to break – Fields of Gold by Eva Cassidy (“Nightbird”). Wonderful stuff - that sense of dynamic compression or approaching clipping is WAY diminished. Stressful passages are relaxed and natural. I keep waiting for the recording to break, but it just doesn’t.

     

    Alas, what was going to be a quick 10 minute sound check quickly turned into 2 hours of kid-in-the-candy-store time. Alas2, it is a weeknight and school night, so time to call it a night.

     


    Basic Configuration


    With the weekend upon us, the first order of business was to get the Extreme properly configured. 

     

    After brushing off some Windows command line cobwebs that I thought I would never have to revisit, I kicked off a robocopy (robocopy \\SERVERNAME\media\music d: /MIR) of my music directory on my Mac Mini media server to the local D drive. 6 hours and 4TB and 40,000 songs later, it was time to do a restore of my Roon backup. A quick redirection of audio storage in my restored Roon backup to point at the D drive on the Extreme, and I was ready to move on to HQPlayer Desktop setup.

     


    Upsampling with HQPlayer Desktop


    HQPlayer Desktop installation was straight forward (Taiko does offer to install and configure HQPlayer for you if requested). I installed my license and brought over my favorite settings from my NUC (sinc-M with LNS15 and 16fs target for PCM, sinc-M with DSD7 256+fs with DSD256 target for DSD), and selected the Chord ASIO driver for HQPlayer. I configured an HQPlayer audio device in Roon Server on the Extreme for “localhost” and I was cooking with gas. My final HQPlayer settings on my Extreme are below (more on the HQPlayer tweaking later).

     

    Taiko Audio SGM Extreme System HQPlayer Settings.jpg Taiko Audio SGM Extreme System DSD Source Settings.png

     

     

    As expected, HQPlayer took an already glorious sound and brought back all that mScaled goodness I was missing. For those not familiar with HQPlayer filters, my preference is for the sinc-M filter as being closest to the million tap sinc reconstruction filter in the Hugo mScaler. The 15th order noise shaper to my ear is not quite as engaging as the proprietary WTA filter in the Hugo mScaler, but it is pretty close and very high quality. 

     

    I listen almost exclusively to PCM content (I have found that Chord DACs are able to do much more magic with PCM than DSD). The vast majority of my music is PCM, but when possible, I always try to purchase music in the format it was originally recorded to, so I do have a smattering of DSD in my library. Rather than convert DSD content to PCM in Roon or HQPlayer, I have a preference for DSD content being upsampled to DSD256 in HQPlayer, and letting my Chord DAVE do the DSD to PCM conversion internally. My preferred HQPlayer DSD upsampling settings are pictured above.

     

    warning.jpg

     

     

    One thing to note: when HQPlayer Desktop starts on the Extreme, a page pops up showing that it doesn’t seem to see one of the Extreme CPUs (see above). In checking with Jussi Laako, developer of HQPlayer, apparently this is a Windows-specific restriction with multi-socket logical processors and HQPlayer. As a practical matter, this has been a non-issue for me. There is so much horsepower in the one Xeon CPU that I haven’t had an issue with any of the upsampling I’m doing (<1% CPU utilization for PCM upsampling, and <10% CPU utilization for DSD upsampling).

     

    Sound quality with HQPlayer has been outstanding. Except where indicated below, all my listening tests were done with the above HQPlayer settings.

     


    JPLAY ASIO vs Chord ASIO vs WASAPI Driver


    As I mentioned earlier, the Extreme comes with the standard Windows WASAPI USB driver, as well as a pre-installed and configured JPLAY ASIO driver. In addition, Emile installed the Chord ASIO driver for my Chord DAVE. So which of these drivers sound best?

     

    Each of these drivers have intrinsic capabilities and a characteristic sound. The WASAPI driver is limited to 24/192 output, so not the best match for PCM content being upscaled to 24/768 by HQPlayer, but perfectly good for standard 16/44 content. JPLAY has no limits on PCM output, but is limited to DSD128 for DSD. The Chord ASIO driver has no limits for PCM or DSD to my Chord DAC.

     

    Taiko Audio SGM Extreme JPLAY Settings.jpg

     

     

    JPLAY is interesting in that it has a settings screen with a lot of configurable parameters (the default I received with my Extreme is shown above). For my listening tests, I did not adjust any of these settings (just don’t have confidence that I understand the OS-level tunings that Emile has implemented).

     

    For my initial driver test, I exited HQPlayer to go direct Extreme to Chord DAVE (no upsampling) so I could give the WASAPI driver a fair shake vs JPLAY ASIO and Chord ASIO drivers. To eliminate network influences, I listened to local copies of music on the Extreme (FLAC or ALAC 16/44 content, with some FLAC 24/192 content).

     

    The WASAPI driver was extremely nice, especially compared to what I’m accustomed to pre Extreme (even non-upsampled, this is the best music I’ve ever heard from my system). However the WASAPI driver was consistently slower and flatter and less dynamic than the JPLAY and Chord ASIO drivers.

     

    For example, on the remarkable violin solo at the beginning of movement 4 of Reiner’s Scheherazade, there is a presence and physicality to the violin that is simply next level with the Chord and JPLAY drivers (JPLAY more so than Chord). Each start and stop of the bow is tangible, and the subtlety and intonation of the performance is incredibly vivid and real. When the rest of the orchestra joins in, the Chord ASIO driver gives remarkable detail and transparency to each of the sections and even individual players, but with the JPLAY driver, I am able to hear for the first time individual performances in the orchestra sections. 

     

    That remarkable sense of standing next to Maestro Reiner with the orchestra before you is absolutely intoxicating. I thought I had heard all this remarkable recording and performance could give, but there is so much more beauty and subtlety in these performances to explore and absorb (and to be absorbed by).

     

    With recordings like Organ Prelude (“JS Bach Magnificat” by Dunedin Consort) and O thou tellest good tidings (“Handel: Messiah” by Dunedin Consort) and Fecit potentiam (“Arnesen: Magnificat” by TrondheimSolistene), the sense of the space and depth is remarkable. The cathedral is an integral part of the performance, and the sense of space and being within it is intoxicating. 

     

    Switching to my favorite depth test Four Surround Voices (“The Ultimate Headphone Demonstration Disk” by Chesky), the Chord and JPLAY drivers both have a significantly better sense of depth (including well behind the listener...this is true holographic surround sound), but with the JPLAY driver that sense of space was a touch more relaxed and real.

     

    While transparency is extraordinary with the WASAPI driver, the Chord and JPLAY drivers just take things to a completely different level. I’ve never heard this level of transparency and physicality, especially for complex performances. The WASAPI driver is the best I’ve ever heard (pre Extreme), but it is outclassed by the Chord ASIO and JPLAY ASIO drivers in every possible way (absolutely no contest).

     

    If I were to reflect on what I am hearing, my impression of the change is very similar to what I experienced with my NUC music servers as I introduced RAM boot, and significantly increased the size of the memory buffers for Squeezelite and the ALSA sound driver. Even the WASAPI driver on the Extreme is well beyond what I heard on my NUC, but the sound improvements have a strikingly similar character as I go from WASAPI to Chord to JPLAY. If WASAPI is a 3 (on a scale of 1-10), I would put Chord at 8 and JPLAY at 9. Both significantly better than the WASPI driver, but the JPLAY slightly outpacing the Chord to my ear (mainly in  transparency). Consistently, the Chord ASIO driver opened up the dimensionality of the recording (holographic) with remarkable spatial resolution and subtlety, and the JPLAY driver taking things to simply the next level (just effortless to be in the space of the performance). 

     

    Putting away the WASAPI driver for the remainder of my testing, I then switched to Chord ASIO vs JPLAY ASIO with HQPlayer running (you can select the driver from the Device drop down in the Out Device Settings section of the HQPlayer settings above).

     

    With HQPlayer, the overall level of detail and sense of space is taken up another order of magnitude. All that amazing sense of speed and coherence and detail that those of us that have been addicted to mScaled music on Chord DACs have come to love is now elevating what I’m hearing to an incredible place. Even what I was hearing with no upsampling was well beyond anything I’ve ever heard in my system, but now things are elevated even more still.

     

    The JPLAY advantage for transparency, more relaxed detail, and naturalness is amplified even more with HQPlayer in the chain, at least with PCM content. Switching to some DSD test tracks, I have a slight preference for the HQPlayer with the Chord ASIO driver as output. I can’t say for sure, but I suspect this is due to the limitation of the JPLAY ASIO driver to DSD128 output.

     

    For those that are doing similar tinkering with their Extreme, please remember that these are three drivers talking to the same device (WASAPI, JPLAY ASIO, Chord ASIO), and two applications talking to these drivers (Roon and HQPlayer). There are lots of opportunities when rapidly swapping back and forth to get into a state where you have conflicts that block being able to connect to your DAC. If you get stuck, disable audio devices in Roon, quit HQPlayer, quit Roon Server, and bring things back up. 

     

    Based on what I’m hearing, I’ve settled on JPLAY in HQPlayer as my primary listening audio device in Roon for PCM content. When listening to DSD content, I switch HQPlayer to use the Chord ASIO driver. In this configuration, I play music exclusively through Roon to HQPlayer, but change the settings in HQPlayer between JPLAY (PCM content) and the Chord ASIO driver (DSD content) as needed, although I’m delighted to listen to either JPLAY or Chord ASIO drivers in HQPlayer for either PCM or DSD content (differences are small).

     


    Choice of Music Location


    So how about the choice of where to put your music library? As I mentioned previously, my Extreme has 8TB of local PCIe M.2 storage, so I was able to copy my entire 4TB music library from my Mac Mini media server to the Extreme. This allows me to compare the exact same source files local on the Extreme, vs via an SMB share on my home network from my Mac Mini, vs (what I hope is) the same content streaming from Tidal (unoptimized network configuration in all cases).

     

    With PCM content, HQPlayer, the JPLAY driver, and an unoptimized copper ethernet connection, I found that local content on the Extreme had consistently and notably better dynamics and speed than the exact same content over the network from my Mac Mini server. 

     

    Where I could find Tidal content that I was confident was from the same mastering as my redbook content (my content was typically ripped from CD for these tests), TIDAL was consistently a significant step down in dynamics and speed vs what I was hearing locally or over my LAN. That being said, I obviously can’t control for different masterings on TIDAL vs what I have locally on my systems, but the impact was consistent across the tracks that I auditioned.

     

    A reminder that the above impressions were using a completely unoptimized network. I will revisit these tests in the context of a highly optimized network and internet connection in Part 4 of this review.

     


    One Box Extreme Solution vs Extreme as Roon Endpoint


    For this test, I closed HQPlayer on the Extreme and played local content using the Extreme Roon Server (one box solution), and compared Extreme as the world’s most expensive Roon endpoint, with music being played with local content from my NUC Roon Server (generic NUC running Audiolinux in memory).

     

    The network path between the NUC and the Extreme for these tests was: NUC -> Cable Matters Cat 8 ethernet cable -> EtherREGEN (LPS 1.2 powered) -> generic Cat 5 -> generic switch (SMPS powered) -> generic Cat 5 -> Extreme.

     

    Interestingly, the one box solution on the Extreme had notably better dynamics and speed than the same content being played from a NUC-based Roon server to the Extreme as a Roon endpoint (the Extreme advantage isn’t just an endpoint phenomenon). Compared to the one box Extreme solution playing content from my Mac Mini over the network to the Extreme, using the NUC as the Roon server with local content did have better dynamics and speed. Clearly, the Mac Mini in my test setup can not keep up with local content, whether directly to the Extreme, or indirectly through a NUC Roon server to the Extreme. This test was interesting though to give a qualitative sense how much music storage vs Roon server vs Roon endpoint contributes to the aggregate performance of the one box solution on the Extreme.

     

    Note: If you do try this at home, a reminder to disable the audio endpoint on your non-Extreme Roon server when you are done. As I was experimenting with this configuration, I created some instabilities where I intermittently couldn’t use the JPLAY driver on the Extreme (“Unable to connect to audio device”). It turned out that on my NUC Roon server, I still had the JPLAY driver Roon endpoint on the Extreme selected (but not being used). Apparently, that was enough to occasionally lock up the JPLAY driver on my Extreme and prevent me from connecting to the audio device via JPLAY. Disabling the endpoint on the NUC Roon server cleaned everything up.

     


    Stock Extreme vs Reference NUCs


    When I first started this evaluation of the Extreme, I had anticipated spending considerable time doing a detailed comparison between the Extreme and my reference NUC system. Alas, that plan only lasted a couple minutes before I realized how meaningless it would be. 

     

    There is simply no comparison to be drawn. As much as I adore my NUC setup and as much joy and true wonder it has given me, there is simply no aspect of it (other than size and price) that is notable when compared to the Extreme. The Extreme, in all audio aspects, is orders of magnitude beyond what I had thought was a pretty damn good system. 

    The Extreme is quite simply a Next Gen Tesla Roadster in a Gen 1 Prius world.

     

    So all this goodness and wonder is straight out of the box. How does the Extreme scale as you give attention to power and network and USB and other ins and outs? It turns out it scales remarkably well, which I will dive into in Part 4 (LINK) of this review.
     

     

     

     

    Community Star Ratings and Reviews

     

    I encourage those who have experience with the Taiko Audio SGM Extreme to leave a star rating and quick review on our new Polestar platform.

     

     



    User Feedback

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    @ray-dude what a great and comprehensive report! And great to read that you're enjoying  JPLAY :) Looking forward to the next part. 

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    @ray-dude

    Very nice review 🙂

     

    Maybe I missed it, but anyway:

     

    Did you compare directly bit-perfect (no upsampling) with vs. without HQPlayer with the Extreme as a single-box solution (not as endpoint)?

     

    Thanks

     

    Matt

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    13 minutes ago, matthias said:

    @ray-dude

    Very nice review 🙂

     

    Maybe I missed it, but anyway:

     

    Did you compare directly bit-perfect (no upsampling) with vs. without HQPlayer with the Extreme as a single-box solution (not as endpoint)?

     

    Thanks

     

    Matt

     

    Very much so!  HQPlayer does all the good things that we love about HQPlayer. At least for my prefered settings (detailed in the HQPlayer section), Extreme barely breaks a sweat.  My demands on HQP are pretty modest though

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    I'm worn out just reading it. You must be exhausted after doing it.

     

    You mention the Hugo Upscaler but I don't see it in your Part 1 diagram. Are you not using it or does that come in later?

     

    I'm curious why you would choose a Monoprice USB extender to connect the Extreme to the Dave, and more fundamentally why USB at all? Since both devices will handle digital via BNC or AES, or at least the Extreme will if you add that option,  it seems to me doing the digital conversion to USB out of the Extreme and back in the DAVE can't improve anything? In my mind, the use of USB is for when you have to, not the first choice when you do have choices. Eager to get your  and anyone else's take on it.

     

    While we are at it... a shout out for Milcho Leviev on MA recordings. As a huge Art pepper fan I discovered him on the Live at Ronnie Scott's "Blues for the Fisherman" sets and was excited to see him on MA. I only have the one available to download with the other 2 set to arrive in a few days. 

     

    BTW the Ronnie Scott stuff is superb with the Pure Pleasure vinyl box set a delight.

     

    https://www.analogplanet.com/content/art-pepper-ronnie-scott-stand-issued-complete-0

     

     

     

     

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    3 minutes ago, bbosler said:

    it seems to me doing the digital conversion to USB out of the Extreme and back in the DAVE can't improve anything?

     

    What do you mean conversion? It's data going from the Extreme to the DAVE. There is no intermediate conversion to an audio format then back to USB data. 

     

     

    3 minutes ago, bbosler said:

    In my mind, the use of USB is for when you have to, not the first choice when you do have choices.

     

    Why do you feel that way? I'm usually the opposite. 

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    1 minute ago, bbosler said:

    You mention the Hugo Upscaler but I don't see it in your Part 1 diagram. Are you not using it or does that come in later?

     

    I used to have both a Chord Blu2 and a Hugo mScaler (both do upsampling to 1M taps).  I've since moved to HQPlayer for upsampling.  I use the sinc-M filter (1M taps linear phase) with the 15th order noise shaper (close to what is implemented in the Hugo mScaler), but I continue to experiment with upsampling parameters with HQPlayer (esp. as Jussi keeps adding new goodies).  At this point, I'm fully on addicted to the clarity and reality that comes from 1M since filters, so they're going away any time soon.

     

    4 minutes ago, bbosler said:

    I'm curious why you would choose a Monoprice USB extender to connect the Extreme to the Dave, and more fundamentally why USB at all? Since both devices will handle digital via BNC or AES, or at least the Extreme will if you add that option,  it seems to me doing the digital conversion to USB out of the Extreme and back in the DAVE can't improve anything? In my mind, the use of USB is for when you have to, not the first choice when you do have choices. Eager to get your  and anyone else's take on it.

     

    DAVE does support 384kHz on a single BNC input, but needs dual BNC connections for 768kHz input.  The Chord upsamplers (Blu2 and HMS) both have dual BNC outputs, but that is not a broadly adopted standard (at least I'm not aware of it if it is).  USB is the best way I've found to deliver 768kHz 16fs audio to DAVE, although I'm sure we will all be dancing in the street when a new standard for digital audio emerges.

     

    7 minutes ago, bbosler said:

    While we are at it... a shout out for Milcho Leviev on MA recordings. As a huge Art pepper fan I discovered him on the Live at Ronnie Scott's "Blues for the Fisherman" sets and was excited to see him on MA. I only have the one available to download with the other 2 set to arrive in a few days. 

     

     

    Milcho's "Man From Plovdiv" is one of those very special albums that everyone should experience...incredible performance and artistry, other worldly recording.

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    43 minutes ago, bbosler said:

    In my mind, the use of USB is for when you have to, not the first choice when you do have choices. Eager to get your  and anyone else's take on it.

     

    Please have a look at Mike Moffats post here:

     

    Matt

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    3 hours ago, ray-dude said:

     

    Very much so!  HQPlayer does all the good things that we love about HQPlayer. At least for my prefered settings (detailed in the HQPlayer section), Extreme barely breaks a sweat.  My demands on HQP are pretty modest though

    HQPlayer does have very modest system demands for PCM but for SDM (DSD) the demands are much greater especially if one wishes to use the EC modulators. At DSD 256 using ASDM7EC there has to be at least two cores capable of running at 4.0 Ghz continuously. The filters can be distributed among multiple cores but the modulation needs to run on a single core per channel (all according to Jussi's posts that I have followed). I have not looked at the specs for the CPUs running here but if one wishes to use EC modulation at DSD 256 (anything higher like 512 EC is not possible right now as there is no CPU that can run at 8 Ghz) then it would be necessary to verify this capability.

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    3 hours ago, ray-dude said:

     

    Very much so!  HQPlayer does all the good things that we love about HQPlayer. At least for my prefered settings (detailed in the HQPlayer section), Extreme barely breaks a sweat.  My demands on HQP are pretty modest though

     

    I asked because the Extreme has been designed particularly for bitperfect playback and not primarily for use with HQPlayer.

     

    Matt

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    26 minutes ago, bobflood said:

    HQPlayer does have very modest system demands for PCM but for SDM (DSD) the demands are much greater especially if one wishes to use the EC modulators. At DSD 256 using ASDM7EC there has to be at least two cores capable of running at 4.0 Ghz continuously. The filters can be distributed among multiple cores but the modulation needs to run on a single core per channel (all according to Jussi's posts that I have followed). I have not looked at the specs for the CPUs running here but if one wishes to use EC modulation at DSD 256 (anything higher like 512 EC is not possible right now as there is no CPU that can run at 8 Ghz) then it would be necessary to verify this capability.

     

    Absolutely Bob, and an important consideration for folks that lean into DSD.  I'm a 98% PCM to PCM guy, but I've been happy with sinc-M and DSD7 256+fs for DSD content (I upsample to DSD256).  I'll give the ASDM7EC modulator a go but I haven't played with the EC modulators.  The Extreme has a pair of Xeon Silver 4210 processors (40 logical cores, base speed of 2.2GHz, burst of 3.2Ghz)

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    1 hour ago, The Computer Audiophile said:
    1 hour ago, bbosler said:

    In my mind, the use of USB is for when you have to, not the first choice when you do have choices.

     

    Why do you feel that way? I'm usually the opposite. 

     

    That is my next experiment. I am using an Antelope Eclipse 384 for my DAC which is superb. Currently USB with an ISOregen. I have a Mutec 3+ USB coming that will take the USB and reclock it into an AES stream for the DAC. I'm hoping that with my REF10 also feeding the Mutec reclocker it will be even better... we'll see. Still starting with USB but my Mac Mini server has no other options. 

     

     

     

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    24 minutes ago, matthias said:

     

    I asked because the Extreme has been designed particularly for bitperfect playback and not primarily for use with HQPlayer.

     

    Matt

     

    Thank you Matt, this is an important point.  Things are obviously not bit perfect after going through HQP (although with the sinc-M filters, there is a case to be made that it is bit perfect ++...see Whittaker-Shannon https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whittaker–Shannon_interpolation_formula )  There are enough cores on the Extreme that you can segregate the HQP processing away from the rest of the system.

     

    Difficult to asses SQ impact though.  HQP is improving SQ through upsampling, but it may be stressing other processes with the extra compute, adversely impacting SQ.  I can say that as one gives higher priority to the HQP process, SQ (dynamics, etc) improve.  I think there is still opportunity to improve OS tuning when running HQP (and I've been iterating on this), but on an absolute basis, I prefer to have HQP running to not running (and my gut telling me there is room to improve more still)

     

     

    Edited by ray-dude
    Add link for Whittaker-Shannon interpolation

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    21 minutes ago, bbosler said:

    I now see the Dave will do 384K on BNC but only 96K on AES which is a bit odd, but realistically... is there any performance difference from upscaling to 768 you can transfer via USB vs  384 via BNC? That's a question, not a statement of fact,

     

     

    I only did this experimentation with the Chord mScaler products (Blu2 and HMS).  When using the 500k upsampling filter, output is 8fs (384kHz) and can connect via a single BNC.  Jumping up to 1M taps (16fs, 769kHz) required the dual BNC connection.  The extra 500k taps had a huge impact for me (although admittedly, I'm definitely all in for upsampling with sinc filters for reconstruction)

     

    I have not played with HQP with different length sinc filters and different output frequencies.  I can't speak to 1M taps at 8fs vs 1M taps at 16fs

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    14 minutes ago, bobflood said:

    everything in audio is a compromise.

     

    and there you have it... well said

     

    so with everything needing a Band-Aid,  we have all of these companies jumping in to sell us the next, best Band-Aid. You have to love capitalists preying on the phobias of audiophiles

     

    Alas, I can't afford any $26K Taiko Band-Aids so I'll play at a lower level

     

    Disclaimer: As a Johnson and Johnson employee this was a shameless plug for Band-Aids.

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    Ahh, I know what you mean about $26K Band-Aids. This has reminded me of English Lit class many many years ago (in a place far far away) and a book I had to read called "A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens. I know that this is cutting edge technology but I don't want to lose my head over it. I don't know what I would have to put on the chopping block to get one. But, it is a far better thing I will do today by ending this post.

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    2 hours ago, Archimago said:

    Perhaps one concrete example of concerns that can be repeated and confirmed to be a problem might be helpful here to cut through the vague speculations?

     

    Ok, my concern is very concrete and not at all vague. If you believe what you read in these reviews, one needs to spend many thousands if not 10's of thousands of dollars to overcome the limitations inherent in music servers with a USB output. The USB data stream coming from a 10 year old Mac Mini you can buy for a few hundred dollars contains the exact same data as the stream coming from this $26K server. So if asynchronous is the answer, and that is all controlled by the receiver, our friend Ray-Dude is wasting a tremendous amount of money (and time), and everyone investing in any type of USB re-clocker/buffer/ whatever you want to call it, high dollar audiophile ethernet switch, etc.  is also wasting their money.

     

    If they are not wasting their money then there is something these $$$ devices are doing to overcome whatever problems these data schemes inherently have.

     

    That said, I don't have a concrete example of what that problem is. Just saying if a $26K server sounds better than the Mac Mini, there must be some problem with USB that it is addressing.

     

    So my question to you... are they wasting their money ?

     

     

     

     

     

     

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    26 minutes ago, bbosler said:

     

    Ok, my concern is very concrete and not at all vague. If you believe what you read in these reviews, one needs to spend many thousands if not 10's of thousands of dollars to overcome the limitations inherent in music servers with a USB output. The USB data stream coming from a 10 year old Mac Mini you can buy for a few hundred dollars contains the exact same data as the stream coming from this $26K server. So if asynchronous is the answer, and that is all controlled by the receiver, our friend Ray-Dude is wasting a tremendous amount of money (and time), and everyone investing in any type of USB re-clocker/buffer/ whatever you want to call it, high dollar audiophile ethernet switch, etc.  is also wasting their money.

     

    If they are not wasting their money then there is something these $$$ devices are doing to overcome whatever problems these data schemes inherently have.

     

    That said, I don't have a concrete example of what that problem is. Just saying if a $26K server sounds better than the Mac Mini, there must be some problem with USB that it is addressing.

     

    So my question to you... are they wasting their money ?

     

     

    Let's not detract from this series of interesting "extreme" posts on a rather unique piece of hardware by asking if I think anyone is "wasting" money. That can ultimately only be determined by the buyer. My wife thinks I "waste" money all the time :-).

     

    Dual Xeon computers are cool as is and I'm glad that @ray-dude is having fun with his system and writing about it. Arguments can be had another place, another time.

     

    Through the years, that idea of USB being "bad for audio" has been repeated countless times. How do we know it's true in 2020? Sure, back in the day when USB first came out it wasn't all that great. I ran into compatibility issues with USB 2.0 in 2000 and my first USB 3 card I bought in Japan back in 2009 was very finicky and could barely maintain anything close to advertised speed.

     

    I honestly don't see an issue now with USB after all these years. Except for very cheap DACs, certainly by 2013, reputable USB devices have been reliable and the interface has provided designers/developers with the ability to extend hi-res bitrates, DSD, both ADC/DAC function through a single cable.

     

    I was mainly responding to your post suggesting that "Audio is not big enough to get teams of highly paid engineers working on on an interface just for high quality audio data transfer". Not sure what engineering interface issue you're referring to here... If there is an engineering issue, then what concrete concerns do you think engineers should fix?

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    8 minutes ago, Archimago said:

    I was mainly responding to your post suggesting that "Audio is not big enough to get teams of highly paid engineers working on on an interface just for high quality audio data transfer". Not sure what engineering interface issue you're referring to here... If there is an engineering issue, then what concrete concerns do you think engineers should fix?

     

    that was Bob

     

    9 minutes ago, Archimago said:

    honestly don't see an issue now with USB after all these years. 

     

    So that answers the question.. which despite all of the fun we all may be having playing around with this stuff and the idea of "wasted money" may not be the exact way to say it, if USB has no issues as you say then anybody spending money to solve a non-existent issue is by definition,  spending money they don't have to to achieve the same result. If USB has no issues, then one way to say it would be they are wasting money to solve this non-existent issue. If there isn't an engineering issue, then this highly engineered product is not needed.

     

    BTW I'm not arguing. I'm asking legitimate questions that I obviously can't answer or I would be making statements, not asking. 

     

     

     

     

     

     

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    @Archimago has done tremendous work to measure and identify any differences (to say the least). I read and learn from everything he posts on his blog, and always have much to reflect on and reconcile.  Yet, I clearly hear differences (and much more importantly for me, I react differently to the music).

     

    I accept all of @Archimago's findings 100% at face value.  The biggest challenge for me during all this whole journey on digital optimization (which actually started with a Raspberry Pi built with his recipe!) is "how the hell can I be hearing any of this?"  At best I have the smallest shred of a hypothesis, based on inference and loose correlation and desperation, but it has been helpful to me to at least have something as I've stumbled Mr Magoo like across this digital optimization minefield. 

     

    My sincere thanks and respect to folks like @Archimago who state the obvious plain truth ("there is no possible difference") in a way that informs the conversation, and do incredible work to understand why that is or why it may not be.  

     

    (as an aside, the network tweak impact I describe in part 4 is even more maddening to my engineer brain than USB stuff)

     

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