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    SOtM sMB-Q370 Motherboard Review

     

     

    The SOtM sMB-Q370 motherboard is something altogether new for the HiFi market. It's an Intel based motherboard that those of us crazy enough to build our own music servers can use as the heart of our systems. It's the first of its kind for a very good reason. Motherboards are hard and expensive to design, produce, and support. Not only that, but the traditionally low number of units sold into the HiFi market for any product, make the release of a product like the SOtM sMB-Q370 even miraculous. 

     

    Why not just buy a motherboard from ASUS and call it a day? That's certainly an option, but given that you're reading Audiophile Style, it isn't likely your preferred route. Many of us use add-on USB cards, Ethernet cards, isolators, external clocks, etc... Call us crazy, but we believe these make a difference and we enjoy taking our own music servers to new heights, leaving no stone unturned. Those looking for a double blind test of this motherboard vs a more traditional motherboard, will need to go through the time and expense to set one up.

     

    SOtM sMB-Q370 Server.jpgI've been talking to SOtM for about a year, trying to figure out the best way for me to review the sMB-Q370 motherboard and a couple other products. I received some external clocks and cards, but I won't thrilled with interrupting what I have in my CAPS Twenty server. We decided that the best option was to send me a preconfigured machine that I'll call the SOtM server. This machine has an sMB-Q370 motherboard, sNI-1G Ethernet card, tX-USBexp USB card, internal sCLK-EX clock for the cards, Intel i7-9700 CPU, 16GB DDR4-3200 memory, and 2 sPS-500 for the sCLK-OCX10(12V) and add-on cards.

     

    The overall system isn't what many would consider a "looker," form the outside. External power supplies with power cables, connected to a black box with spinning fans. That's totally fine for my testing. If the SOtM sMB-Q370 was being used in a CAPS server, I'd have put it in a nice looking finless chassis, etc... But, that isn't the point of this review. 

     

    If you read the above system component list and said, count me out, that's totally fine. There are plenty of other "canned" options available. When I started this site in 2007, the exact opposite was true. Audiophiles had to build music servers from scratch, or just go with a standard Mac or PC, that may cause audio to skip when the keyboard is used (I had one of those MacBook Pros). If you read the above and said, that's fairly pedestrian, then I kindly direct you to the forums where some incredibly skilled and dedicated members of the Audiophile Style community have been digging into all this stuff much more heavily than I can, in a front page review. 

     

    One of the most commonly discussed benefits of components such as an add-on USB card, clock, or now motherboard, is thought to be reduced noise. Because of this, I wanted to give the SOtM server with SOtM sMB-Q370 motherboard every opportunity to produce a lot of noise, or on the other hand, show me that it doesn't produce any noise. To that end, I bypassed the installed Windows installation, and booted the machine from a USB stick loaded with Jussi Laako's (@Miska) HQPlayer Embedded operating system. The server booted up perfectly, most importantly the SOtM Ethernet card was seen by the OS and pulled an IP address from my router. Once HQPlayer was running, I set it up to upsample all audio to DSD256, ASDM7ECv2, poly-sync-gauss-long, and enabled my 65,000 tap convolution filters. All this, and I connected the server to a T+A DAC 200 via USB. I figured Usb would give me the best chance of noise getting into audio system, rather than my usual NAA running on a Sonore signatureRendu SE Optical. 

     

    Because I asked SOtM to go all-in on this one, the company included its power cables and Ethernet cables. The Ethernet cables were too short for my setup, but I used the power cables for everything SOtM in the system. The system continued with USB to a T+A DAC 200, then to a Constellation Audio Inspiration Preamp and monoblock amps, and finally my new Wilson Audio Alexia V loudspeakers. 

     

    Let's dig into how it sounded with real music.

     

     

    My Subjective Take, In Three Songs 

     

    I recently saw a new deluxe edition of Janet Jackson's album The Velvet Rope released on Qobuz, and had to listen to to through the SOtM server. My favorite Janet song is Got 'Til It's Gone (Qobuz), recorded right here at Flyte Tyme studios in Minneapolis, MN with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. The track contains a sample of Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi and features hip-hop artist Q-Tip throughout. It' a great juxtaposition, hearing Joni and Q-Tip, with a great bassline and beat. 

     

    There are many parts of this song that I love, but one that came through beautifully on the SOtM server was Janet's vocal performance. I think she sounds incredibly similar to her brother Michael on the track, with a delicacy often not present in pop music. Her sweet sounding voice really stands out, above a background with a scratchy vinyl-esque effect, and an incredible beat. At roughly 0:38 into the track, when Janet starts singing, it's impossible to not be sucked in by her soft and seductive voice, when listening on an audio system capable or reproducing each element in its own space despite several competing effects and what some may consider distractions. 

     

    Another part of this song that requires a great source components and commensurate audio system to really hear all the details, is the bassline. On lesser systems this sounds like one-note bass. Whenever I listen to this track in my car, I always miss the different bottom end notes played in the background, as they sound like a single string bass. Through the SOtM server, T+A DAC 200, Constellation Audio pre and amps, and my new Wilson Audio Alexia V speakers, I could hear every note from the top of the bass range all the way down to the bottom of the bottom end. 

     

    In this situation, I definitely have to tip my cap to Mitch Barnett (@mitchco) and his convolution filters, which make the bass in my system as accurate as possible. Without room correction, I'm willing to bet that many audio systems will be incapable of reproducing the intricacies of the bass on this track. The SOtM server running HQPlayer Embedded, handled the upsampling to DSD256 (ASDM7ECv2 / poly-sinc-gauss-long) and my two channel convolution filters, without an issue. 


    Staying in the pop music realm, I listened to Taylor Swift's track Exile (Qobuz), heavily featuring Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, through the SOtM server. I like this entire album, Folklore, but this specific track is my favorite. The song writing on this one is just so good. The track was recorded in both Los Angeles and Bon Iver's Fall Creek Wisconsin studio, with Swift and Vernon remaining in separate locations for the entirety of its recording. 

     

    Vernon's opening lines, "I can see you standing, honey, With his arms around your body, Laughin', but the joke's not funny at all" are both powerful and show his storyteller's voice in a great light. Through there SOtM server there's terrific texture of Vernon's vocals. Listening to this track, I can almost feel his voice, as it's reminds me of some early mornings, right after I have a cup of tea.  My voice is terrible, but once a warm tea loosens up my vocal cords, my voice can get fairly low and resonate my entire chest cavity, when my daughter and I are messing around singing along to numerous enjoyable songs.  The SOtM / HQPlayer combination really presents this track in a way that enables me to feel it. It's realistic and full of emotion. 

     

    Of course Taylor Swift has a glossy pop voice on this track. The SOtM sMB-Q370 doesn't change that, by making it sound more authentic or realistic like Justin Vernon's vocal performance. It shouldn't change anything, and it doesn't. But, another song point of this system is on display when both Swift and Vernon are singing together, or should I say their voices were put together in Pro Tools. There is clarity and delineation in both singer's voices. They can be heard separately or together, to make the whole better than the sum of its parts. On a lesser systems the voices would be jumbled, leading to one singer's voice being audible over the others, depending on who is singing louder or specific frequencies. Through my system, Swift had her space, Vernon had his, and the two came together gracefully. 

     

    Perhaps my favorite song of late is called Living Proof (Qobuz), featured on the album I Don't Live Here Anymore, by the band the War on Drugs. There is so much to love about this band, this album, and this track. I've listened to this album in the car, every day for the last couple weeks. It always disappoints on that system because the subtleties are totally missing. Through the SOtM server on my main system, they are present in all their glory. 

     

    The track's lyrics start with the phrase, "Banging on a drum," followed by a subtle single bang on a drum. It's quite literal. However, this drum, on the right system, has serious spaciousness. It emanates from the center-left and somehow decays to the rear right, on my two channel system. There are spacial queues on the drum hit, that present a three dimensional space, but only on a capable audio system. 

     

    Adam Granofsky's lyrics, on the rest of the track, are full of emotion and and tell a story that sucks me in, even though I'm not totally sure I understand it all. Adam Granduciel's voice is also perfect for this track. It's by no means a textbook audiophile performance, but I wouldn't have it any other way. As he delivers the lyrics, there is an authenticity and a little bit of an indie feel, that makes him seem more trustworthy. The sound of his vocals on this album is very organic and unprocessed. Technically, I'm sure there is processing on his voice, but it just has this natural feel to it and the SOtM server reproduces it wonderfully. 

     

    Toward the end of the track, Adam Granduciel elegantly bends the strings of his electric guitar while playing a solo, to produce a lush and distinct War On Drugs sonic signature. I've cranked this up on my system countless times lately, because the sound is like an itch I have to scratch, in the best way possible. It's smooth, yet breaks out from the ethereal sound of the track up to this point, vacillating between vibrato and tremolo. Listening carefully at about the four minute mark, it's glorious to hear Granduciel hold on to notes for as long as he can, while they decay into noise floor. Through the SOtM server, I could hear Granduciel continue to bend the strings on the neck with his left hand, producing a vibrato effect, long after he'd strummed the six string with the pick in his right hand. It's absolutely beautiful and something listeners don't want to miss. 

     

     

    Conclusion

     

    The SOtM server, with sMB-Q370 motherboard at its heart, is a much welcomed product to the computer audiophile market. It's the first Intel based motherboard with all the audiophile bells and whistles, around which listeners can craft their own computers. Other manufacturers have certainly created their own boards for their own music servers (usually much less powerful), but nobody other than SOtM has released a product like this to the general public. 

     

    It's also not lost on me that this area of our wonderful hobby is a skosh controversial. Chances are high that if you select products based on a totem pole of objective testing results, the SOtM sMB-Q370 isn't for you. That said, I put the motherboard, and entire SOtM server, through what I consider everyday use and I also tried to break it. I like to find a new product's limits, that aren't in any specification sheet or manual. I found that running HQPlayer Embedded on the server worked perfectly, as it had all the needed drivers. I was unsure if the sMB-Q370's support for Intel 8th & 9th gen Core processors was going to enable enough processing power, so I set HQPe to upsample to DSD256 with ASDMEC7v2 and used 65,000 tap convolution filters. The server worked flawless the entire time. I ran into thermal throttling issues going to higher rates than DSD256, as playback worked for a bit then suffered dropouts. I'm willing to bet the included 65 watt TDP fanless CPU cooler could be improved a bit and could take this server to an even higher level. 

     

    If you're the type of audiophile who likes to get his/her hands on every facet of a system's performance and likes to try different configurations that just aren't possible with a canned music server, the SOtM sMB-Q370 may be perfect for you. One aspect that shouldn't be overlooked is system support. If you've tried getting motherboard support from conglomerates such as ASUS, MSI, or Gigabyte, I needn't finish this sentence. You know the endless volley of support emails leads to further frustration. Fortunately, SOtM has been providing good support for its HiFi products for many years, and completely understands the level of service us crazy audiophiles expect. I'd much rather work with SOtM on an issue, should one arise, than any of the aforementioned tech companies. Period. Based on these factors, and the performance of my system with the SOtM server as the source, I highly recommend the sMB-Q370 motherboard and any of the supplemental components one doesn't have already. 

     

     

     

     

    Where to Buy

     

    • World - Motherboard Link | Complete PC Link
    • USA - Motherboard Link

     

     

    Product Information:

     

     

     

    Associated Music:

     

     

     

    Complete Audio System Details with Measurements  - https://audiophile.style/system

     

     

     

     

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    I was hoping to read how it performs (SQ) against a standard similar setup. 
     

     

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    13 minutes ago, R1200CL said:

    I was hoping to read how it performs (SQ) against a standard similar setup. 
     

     

    What's your definition of standard?

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    19 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    What's your definition of standard?

    In this case, just any comparable motherboard. Nothing special. 

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    Just now, R1200CL said:

    Just any comparable motherboard. Nothing special. 

    Comparable, meaning something from ASUS, MSI, ASRock, etc...?

     

    That's an undertaking I wasn't ready to tackle. It's a huge task to attempt to build two computers with identical parts (except the motherboard), in order to A/B them. 

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    As Chris said in the top of the article this is not a comparison.    This is solid observation of a set of tools that has never been available to system builders before.  I worked pretty hard for several years at this process and I have no final conclusion other than I am using commercial hardware today not stuff I have built.

     

    The SOtM board is a great jumping off point for future work.  It is great to see it actually assembled and working.

     

    rjf

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    did you state a price for the unit as tested? sorry if I missed it

     

    Quote

    This machine has an sMB-Q370 motherboard, sNI-1G Ethernet card, tX-USBexp USB card, internal sCLK-EX clock for the cards, Intel i7-9700 CPU, 16GB DDR4-3200 memory, and 2 sPS-500 for the sCLK-OCX10(12V) and add-on cards

     

     

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    13 minutes ago, bbosler said:

    did you state a price for the unit as tested? sorry if I missed it

     

     

     

    I don't have a price for the server and external power supplies. Given that this is just the motherboard review, I went with that price. 

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    It did poly-sinc-gauss-long to DSD 256 with ASDM7ECv2. That's impressive imo.

     

    Did you look into the BIOS to see if it was easy to work with?

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    2 hours ago, AudioDoctor said:

    It did poly-sinc-gauss-long to DSD 256 with ASDM7ECv2. That's impressive imo.

     

    Did you look into the BIOS to see if it was easy to work with?

    Yeah, the BIOS is from AMI, so it's just like most BIOSes. Simple and effective.

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    Chris:  I think your reviw points to one of the big chalenges in building a product like this.  First, I applaud SOtM for even trying as it has the potential of moving forward the state-of-the-art.  However, it is also clear that companies the size of ASUS have enourmous budgets and sell easily thousands of times the number of motherboards, giving them preferential volume pricing and access to the latest components.  Many of us regularly enjoying HQ Player have noticed that as Jussi's filters get better (and more complex), we want faster processors (moving from i5 to i7 to i9 and adding ever more powerful GPU chips alongside them.  .  In the end it begs the question: Am I better off with a purpose built audiophile solution or with the highest powered mass produced motherboard/chipset/GPU? 

     

    In the DAC realm, I chose the former (Holo audio May KTE) over a chip-based (ES9038PRO or AK4497) solution, but the chips have come a long way and provide pretty good and far cheaper product solutions. I guess in speakers you could coose between Magico or Wilson (as you have) and KEF.  

     

    The economy we were in provided a lot of capital for those who wanted to go the former (limited production, audiophile specialty) route, the economy we are now in could force many to see just how much one can affordably optimize the lower cost mass-produced solution...

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    1 hour ago, sdolezalek said:

    Many of us regularly enjoying HQ Player have noticed that as Jussi's filters get better (and more complex), we want faster processors (moving from i5 to i7 to i9 and adding ever more powerful GPU chips alongside them.

     

    If you forgot to read the article, this did DSD 256 with poly-sinc-gauss-long and ASDM7ECv2, that's not something to sniff at.

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    2 hours ago, AudioDoctor said:

     

    If you forgot to read the article, this did DSD 256 with poly-sinc-gauss-long and ASDM7ECv2, that's not something to sniff at.

    Yes, that's exactly what I'm using (but at the very limits of my system).  I'm by no means dismissing the difficulty of what SOtM has done, I'm just pointing out how challenging it is for smaller audiophile-focused companies to pull this off (particularly if they are also trying to meet affordable price points). 

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    So what does this review tell us; that it works.  Marvellous. 

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    2 minutes ago, Iansr said:

    So what does this review tell us; that it works.  Marvellous. 

    What do you think the review should tell you?

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    8 minutes ago, romaz said:

    Excellent review as always, Chris!

     

    While at The High End Show in Munich in 2018, I had a discussion with Lee, the lead engineer at SOtM, about designing his own motherboard.  I had explored this myself with several motherboard manufacturers and I knew it was possible.  During the early summer of 2021, he wrote to me and told me he finally did and it was called the sMB-Q370.   He sent me an early prototype in June of 2021 as he wanted my opinion of it.   He gave me the option of CPUs and I asked for the most powerful CPU possible, preferably an i9, and that is what I got, a 9900K with a max TDP of 95w.

     

    image.png.5487c786aeecce7fd10e8621b6e098ff.png

     

    While there is more to it than the clock, indeed one of the special features of this motherboard was that it was now being clocked by SOtM's highly regarded sCLK-OCX10 and this clock was sent to me as well along with the necessary complement of SOtM's highly regarded clock cables.

     

    image.thumb.png.4e700e83974ef648172e1c9a6a53eb33.png

    image.thumb.png.68c87efb946dd7415065a966e3d41e51.png

     

    The unit came as a preconfigured system with SOtM's tX-USBexp PCIe USB card and sNI-1G LAN card.

     

    image.thumb.png.9edab20724cd99ef8eeae57e88560863.png

     

    These cards and the sCLK-OCX10 were powered by individual sPS-500 PSUs that SOtM provided.  The motherboard was powered by an inexpensive ATX SMPS.  Lee gave me the option of operating systems and I selected Windows 10.  I don't believe Lee optimized the OS or the BIOS in any special way.  This was after all an early prototype.

     

    I compared this turnkey setup against 3 different servers in 3 different systems:  a stock i7-based NUC powered by a Paul Hynes SR7 running Euphony OS, an InnuOS Zen Mk3 (MSRP $2900) which uses a lower power Pentium CPU, and my $25k SGM Extreme by Taiko Audio.  In each case, I used Roon for software playback.

     

    Compared against the i7 NUC which was well powered by an SR7, the SOtM server, even with the inexpensive ATX SMPS, sounded more dynamic with better transient response.  It also sounded fuller while the NUC sounded thinner and more threadbare in comparison.  The results were pretty much the same against the InnuOS server.  The signature of the SOtM setup was also very clean and clear with very high resolution but it was the bass definition that especially stood out compared to the NUC and InnuOS.  To my ears and to the ears of my entire group, the SOtM server outclassed these other servers.  In my opinion, this obviously had a lot to do with the high-level clocking that SOtM is well-known for but also the fact that this unit had a much more robust CPU.

     

    Compared against the SGM Extreme, not surprisingly, it wasn't really that close.  The Extreme sounded better in every way.  It sounded faster with even better resolution and dynamics.  There was more air with better separation and had a much lower noise floor but it's not really fair to compare an early prototype with a lowly SMPS against a server with dual Xeon CPUs and their 20 cores, a very tightly tuned OS, and a superior ultra low impedance PSU. 

     

    But if you take the core elements of this server, specifically the sMB-Q370 motherboard, tX-USBexp, and sNI-1G, tie them together with the sCLK-OCXO10 and power everything properly, I think there is wonderful potential here.  The Extreme is a tough match up for any DIY server and is probably an unrealistic benchmark but what I heard with SOtM's prototype was SERIOUSLY good!

    Wow, I had no clue you were in on this one early! Very cool. 

     

    It would be neat to see what Emile could do with the sMB-Q370 in a machine as tweaked as the Extreme.

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    18 hours ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    It would be neat to see what Emile could do with the sMB-Q370 in a machine as tweaked as the Extreme.

     

    Yes, there is considerable potential with this board.  Could be the missing piece for DIY.

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    16 hours ago, RickyV said:

    Well, 🤔, @Nenon’s unregulated power supply with the Taiko DIY ATX supply and the sMB-Q370 motherboard comes to mind. 

     

    Exactly!  I was hoping to try it with the Taiko DIY ATX but I had no ready access to it at the time I had this board.

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    @romazcool review but respectfully I don’t think this is a apple to apples comparison. There are too many variables in this equation - motherboard, external clock, different power supply, different usb card. It’s difficult to judge the potential of the sotm board itself or is it the clock that is doing it’s trick or the powerful cpu or it’s a combination of everything. How would it sound in a Asus motherboard with the same CPU and USB card but clocked with Sotm sclk ?You say the Sotm sounded more dynamic and that can really come from the powerful cpu compared to NUC or the Innuos.

     

    If there is a way to isolate just the board using same cpu, same power supply and same usb card, that would provide a better meaningful way to judge just the board itself. I am actually interested in the board myself and hence very curious. I have several 1151 socketed boards (from Asus, Supermicro, Gigabyte) and i9-9900k cpu and the Taiko DC-ATX, along with Jcat USB XE running on a highly tweaked Win Server 2019 (and currently experimenting with WinPE). If I had this board at hand, I would just change the board, keeping everything constant for comparison. The external Sotm sclk clock would be a way to get to the next level sound but not I would start with. These kind of comparisons are not very easy to do and again thanks for your review - at least it provides a good bit of info that someone can mull over. 
     

    Does anyone know if this board will support Xeon E series proc ?

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    9 hours ago, Dev said:

    @romazcool review but respectfully I don’t think this is a apple to apples comparison. There are too many variables in this equation - motherboard, external clock, different power supply, different usb card. It’s difficult to judge the potential of the sotm board itself or is it the clock that is doing it’s trick or the powerful cpu or it’s a combination of everything. How would it sound in a Asus motherboard with the same CPU and USB card but clocked with Sotm sclk ?

     

    You're absolutely correct, @Dev, and you bring up good points.  My assessment is based on the sum of the parts of this build and so I have no way of knowing how good the motherboard by itself is.  To be honest, I wasn't expecting much based on the fact that the motherboard was being powered by an inexpensive Seasonic ATX SMPS and that the OS was a standard Windows 10 installation and so based on tempered expectations, I was pleasantly surprised by how good the unit as a whole sounded.

     

    9 hours ago, Dev said:

    You say the Sotm sounded more dynamic and that can really come from the powerful cpu compared to NUC or the Innuos.


    Yes, as you know, clocking does nothing for dynamics.  When given the option, I specifically asked for the most powerful CPU that Lee could install because even for playback of NOS Redbook files, I find low-power CPUs to sound thin and lifeless in comparison (although you don't realize it until you compare).  It had been some time since I had compared a high-power CPU powered by a cheap SMPS against a low-power CPU powered by a really good LPS and so this test re-affirmed for me that you can only do so much with a low-power CPU in a music server.

     

    As for the benefits of low phase noise clocking in a music server, as you know, generally, it's a cleaner sound.  Sometimes the presentation is more expansive, sometimes more detailed, but there are times when the presentation can also sound a bit mechanical or sterile and so replacing the CPU clock has not always been a win for me.  In this particular case, would the positive impact of clocking be enough to outweigh the potential negatives along with the added noise brought forth by the SMPS?  Again, I can only comment on the presentation of the sum of the parts of this prototype but against the well-powered, well-tuned NUC and InnuOS, the SOtM prototype not only sounded clean and clear but also tonally richer and more musically satisfying.  I would not have guessed this PC was powered by a noisy high-impedance SMPS.

     

    So as you suggested, others will have to report on their own experiences with this new motherboard against an off-the-shelf ASUS or Gigabyte with the CPU, PSU, and other peripherals held constant before you truly know how good this board is but based on my brief experience with the prototype, knowing that this board can utilize a CPU with a reasonably high TDP and has multiple PCIe slots, I think this board is definitely worth exploring further.

     

    9 hours ago, Dev said:

    Does anyone know if this board will support Xeon E series proc ?

     

    The board I received had no official support for Xeons or ECC memory.  

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    I think I will need to add some more comments..

     

    IMHO, no matter how good audio systems are, if you listen to the same music in such systems, in one system, it sounds a little better, or in the other system, it sounds becoming in real which wasn’t hearable before or it sounds like completely new recordings, I believe very experienced audiophiles already experienced and knew these factors. Also, they would know for some audiophile who likes rich and powerful mid-low range sound of music, a device with smooth and detailed sound cannot impress them much.

     

    This PC reviewed by Chris uses a general ATX PC power supply and  Windows 10 without any tuning.

    If you tune windows OS or install Eunhasu OS to the PC, it will give you better sound result, and using the power supply to something better, the sound will be even better for sure. What I’m trying to say is that there are still a lot of potential options that make sound better in many ways with this PC obtained sMB-Q370, the PC settings(assembly) for this review is not the final settings, so it can’t be the final result as well. 

     

    The fact that good sound was achieved with this general sMB-Q370 PC setting shows the potential of the sMB-Q370, and I think this review pinpointed this part correctly, thanks Chris! 

     

    Currently we are developing a power supply for the sMB-Q370, but I'm sure that even this PC settings what Chris reviewed would definitely sound better than the most audio systems. :)

     

    Yup, cheers all!

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    On 10/19/2022 at 10:44 PM, MayfromSOtM said:

    Currently we are developing a power supply for the sMB-Q370, but I'm sure that even this PC settings what Chris reviewed would definitely sound better than the most audio systems. :)

     

    What I would like to see is a manufacturer offering a turnkey music server based on this motherboard, which will play HQ Player's EC modulators at DSD256. Does Sotm have any such plans?

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