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Article: Audiophile Reference Music Server For A Song

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Chris, thanks for all your research and help.<br />

<br />

Needless to say, I will be building the recommended ‘Audiophile Reference Music Server For A Song’.<br />

<br />

I too will not abandon Mac system. I have a MacBook Pro laptop for portability and convenience and I can’t afford a $4K Mac Pro anytime soon. <br />

<br />

I also like the fact that I can use my AIFF music files on both systems.<br />

<br />

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Greetings,<br />

First, thanks for your work in amassing computer audio knowledge in one (nice) site; I've read it for a while, and always enjoy my visits.<br />

I have circled around computer audio for a while (cat around hot milk), but have hesitated due to the dizzying pace of developments in this nascent field. There is little consensus as to what sounds best (i.e. players, platforms, OSes) as the technology is immature, although this is improving a bit on a daily basis. Then, there's the issue of USB/SPDIF connectivity, which seems to counter many of the advantages of HDD-based audio due to poor jitter figures, and just generally seems to be a second-rate transfer method that requires lots of workarounds. Thankfully, the Lynx cards address this to an extent--XLR out to XLR in on a dac. Finally, solid-state HDDs are here, with all that entails.<br />

My questions are:<br />

1) What would you need to add to the Dell to get RAID 1 backup? <br />

2) Am I correct in my assumption that AES out from a Lynx is a better, lower-jitter interface than USB, or is it 6 of one, 1/2 dozen of another? <br />

3) I think I'd rather have my HDDs in one case going directly to a Lynx card as opposed to, e.g., using a Mac Mini with a large library HDD connected via USB, as that signal would seem to have to go through USB cable to the Mini, then out again to a DAC. True? False?<br />

4) Do you still have to carefully configure XP for best sound, e.g. work around KMixer, etc.?<br />

<br />

Thanks!<br />

<br />

Kristian<br />

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I've been reading your web site with much interest for quite a while now. Thanks for your work and for your getting me to think on this subject.<br />

<br />

One thing that came to mind about your new low-cost reference system would be how does the analog output of the Lynx card sound? I think some posters over at the Audio Asylum run their Lynx cards strait to a preamp or an amp. I understand that the inside of a PC can be very bad for RFI, EMI, noise, etc., etc,....but maybe it's worth a listen.

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Hi clar2391 - Welcome to Computer Audiophile. The Lynx AES16 cards don't have any analog output features and do digital up to 24/192. The Lynx 22 does offer analog ouput at up to 24/192, but only offers digital output up to 24/96. I'm sticking with the AES16 for now. Maybe I can get an L22 in here for review and give the analog out a shot. Thanks for the post.


Founder of Audiophile Style

Announcing Polestar | Quick Community Reviews and Ratings

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Foregoing a pre-assembled system from Dell or similar I think you can get something more appropriate to a stereo rack for about the same price from other vendors. I just priced a system out from http://www.mini-box.com/. It's based around the Intel D945GCLF2 mini-ITX motherboard. Specc'd with 2GB RAM, a 1.6GH Atom Dual Core CPU, DC power brick (gets rid of the PSU fan). Includes 1PCI slot, case includes a riser card, so full height should work. Price looks like $227.90 sans shipping.<br />

<br />

The only thing missing is an HD which can be picked up for a song, or recycled from an old system.<br />

<br />

There are numerous other embedded options out there. I put that together with about 5 minutes of research. Would love to hear about some options which would look/fit even more efficiently into a stereo rack.


 

mpdPup maintainer

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Hi kristian - Welcome to Computer Audiophile as well. Good questions.<br />

<br />

<br />

<i>"1) What would you need to add to the Dell to get RAID 1 backup?"</i><br />

<br />

The concepts of RAID1 and backup are mutually exclusive. RAID1 is not a backup, it is a mirror that copies good and bad data. Backup can be any number of methods including tape or another hard drive. I'm not positive what you're looking to do so I'll take a guess. If you want a copy of your hard drive for backup purposes the cheapest thing to do is get an external USB or FireWire drive and copy your data over to this drive when you see fit. If you really want RAID1 you'll need a RAID card ~$500 and another hard drive. Remember RAID1 will only protect you from a disk failure. If you delete all your music on one drive the same deletions take place on the mirror. Let me know if you want to discuss this one in more detail.<br />

<br />

<i>"2) Am I correct in my assumption that AES out from a Lynx is a better, lower-jitter interface than USB, or is it 6 of one, 1/2 dozen of another?"</i><br />

<br />

I can say the AES output from a Lynx AES16 card has about 20 picoseconds of jitter and is rock solid. It's been tested for a while in the pro audio industry and is commonly used today. There are also some very good USB interfaces available from Gordon Rankin's Wavelength Audio and Steve Nugent's Empirical Audio.<br />

<br />

<i>"3) I think I'd rather have my HDDs in one case going directly to a Lynx card as opposed to, e.g., using a Mac Mini with a large library HDD connected via USB, as that signal would seem to have to go through USB cable to the Mini, then out again to a DAC. True? False?"</i><br />

<br />

This is only a concern if you use a USB DAC and the DAC is on the same USB Bus as the hard drive. This can cause dropouts. If you use a FireWire hard drive this is not an issue. Don't worry about using an external disk v. internal for a music server. It's not an issue. <br />

<br />

<i>"4) Do you still have to carefully configure XP for best sound, e.g. work around KMixer, etc.?"</i><br />

<br />

YES. I wold never use a straight-up XP install without any configuration. Many people do and enjoy the sound tremendously. Not me.


Founder of Audiophile Style

Announcing Polestar | Quick Community Reviews and Ratings

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Hi ldolse - Thanks for the post. I checked out the embedded systems and they look pretty cool. The PCI riser card gave me an idea about installing one into a Dell 530s model or a similar small form factor. I'd forgot about riser cards or even riser cables. I do think these embedded systems require a little more knowledge on the users part because of the OS options and the installation of Windows on one can be a bit different fro people who usually click Next >> Next >> Finish.<br />

<br />

Great ideas and link!


Founder of Audiophile Style

Announcing Polestar | Quick Community Reviews and Ratings

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I just realized the true implications of this article. Sonically, the cheap Dell is the same as the Mac Pro. This means that the computer part of the equation is pretty much irrelevant in that any system marketed nowadays will work as well as one of the highest end computer systems. This only leaves the interface as the main cost and factor when it comes to a music server. So, are there any other digital interfaces that will output with similar low levels of jitter to the Lynx? Is the L22 equivalent in terms of jitter (you mentioned it only doing 24/96)? Do any I2S interfaces exist except for the off-ramp? How about a motherboard with I2S output?<br />

It will be interesting to see where this technology evolves.

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<br />

"I just realized the true implications of this article. Sonically, the cheap Dell is the same as the Mac Pro. This means that the computer part of the equation is pretty much irrelevant in that any system marketed nowadays will work as well as one of the highest end computer systems."<br />

<br />

I didn't read it that way. The first question in this thread was mine - asking Chris if he tried the Lynx with a Macintosh. His answer was no. So we don't know if the 'cheap Dell' is the sonic equal of a Mac.<br />

<br />

Since PCI has been usurped not once, but twice (PCIe and PCI-X), the PCI version of the Lynx cannot be installed in the latest multi-$K Mac. To test it, you'd need to buy an older version of Mac desktop - currently available on ebay for $500 or less. :-0<br />

<br />

We also don't know if the extra resolution is of much value unless the signal is running through a $5k DAC. A $500 computer seems like an odd combination with a $5k DAC. That's only my opinion but I can tell you, if I was spending $5k on a DAC, I wouldn't use a cheap Dell as front end.<br />

<br />

And finally, while the reason is still not understandable by yours truly, the leading edge of Computer Audio seems to point towards computers having a definite impact on the sound, irrespective of the bit-perfect is all that matters theory.<br />

<br />

Who knows, perhaps 'bit-perfect' will soon be discovered to be analogous to the original CD marketing hype - it's all 0s ans 1s so it has to be perfect.<br />

<br />

Thanks much to Chris for stirring the pot here. I, for one, had never imagined that I might want to stick an audio card into a retired Mac. Unfortunately, my old Mac Cube does not have a PCI slot, as I just discovered via Google.<br />

<br />

Let 1000 opinions bloom! <br />

<br />

Enjoy,<br />

clay<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

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Yeah, definitely not for the point and click crowd, but for guys willing to get their hands a bit dirty it's not really that much more complicated. Not sure if the riser card would work in the smaller Dell's - sometimes they get so proprietary that that sort of stuff won't work.<br />

<br />

I found some ITX cases which are much more deserving to sit in the stereo rack as well:<br />

http://www.thermaltakeusa.com/Product.aspx?C=1328&ID=1433<br />

http://www.thermaltakeusa.com/Product.aspx?C=1328&ID=1434<br />

<br />

I think I may have a Christmas project on my hands when I head back to the states...


 

mpdPup maintainer

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Hi Clay<br />

<br />

The Cube would make rather a stylish music server for the living room. <br />

<br />

An external DAC might be better anyway, in case you upgrade computers any time. Chris's Devilsound recommendation looks good and Ashley has recommended going the pro route with the likes of Edirol. Something I intend to try with my elderly G4 Powerbook. But first ... more memory!

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<br />

Clay,<br />

<br />

Why does a $500 computer seem an odd combination with a $5k DAC.? All you need the computer to do is to RIP, manage and store your files - and of course have enough power to get the audio from the RAM to the audiocard. Most computers of ANY value, even a few years old, can do this without even a blink. So Chris has simply tried to get the best audio output from a computer based server for a little as possible. It does exactly what he set out to achieve.<br />

<br />

As for your question re bit perfect I believe jitter is the problem here. Low cost audio cards are known to produce loads of jitter whereas Chris has used a card that is well respected within the industry. <br />

<br />

I read on and see that Ashley has recommended the Edirol range of cards - external USB/Firewire devices. I'm sure they'd do a great job too, and if I feel the need to playback hi resolution audio I'll probably buy one of those.<br />

<br />

If you wish to have a nice expensive Mac Pro sat alongside your expensive DAC then great... I took the far cheaper DIY route and whacked some decent quality audio components into an HTPC case. The fanless heatsink, upgraded silent power supply and rubber grommets around the hard drive mean its super silent. <br />

<br />

MAtt.<br />

<br />

<br />


HTPC: AMD Athlon 4850e, 4GB, Vista, BD/HD-DVD into -> ADM9.1

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<br />

Kristian,<br />

<br />

Configuring either Vista or XP for quality audio output really isn't that difficult, even without any computer knowledge. A little bit of fiddling is all you need - adding the wave out dll file to Media Monkey is straight forward, selecting it easier still ... just make sure you've installed your audio card correctly.<br />

<br />

I can see how it may scare some - but my brother set his up with a new firewire interface in minutes without asking me any questions. I felt left out ;;; I wasn't needed :-( <br />

<br />

Matt.


HTPC: AMD Athlon 4850e, 4GB, Vista, BD/HD-DVD into -> ADM9.1

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<br />

<br />

Thanks for your response Matt.<br />

<br />

To your question about my odd comment:<br />

<br />

Yes, Chris achieved what he set out to achieve - an inexpensive PC as the base of a computer audio system - and for that he should be lauded.<br />

<br />

I still could/would not but the cheapest Dell I could find to source a $5k DAC.<br />

<br />

Regarding the path you took, bravo - and I think it would make LOADS of sense to 'build' a stripped down PC with upgraded parts in all the right places as a Music server.<br />

<br />

My comment re $500 seeming 'odd' was related to consumer-available products in general, and to any Dell (one of the worst), in particular.<br />

<br />

As for 'jitter' being the 'unexplainable' impact of the computer, I was thinking of factors less well known than 'jitter'. Jitter is understood to be a significant problem - we can even measure it. Some believe that the actual software 'playing the bits' makes a difference in the sound.<br />

<br />

The guys who collaborated on the Amarra solution are definitely in that camp.<br />

I anxiously await Chris' writeup on his experience with the Amarra.<br />

<br />

I will not likely be able to afford to buy Amarra soon, but am very interested in it's impact on the state of computer audio. I know the DAC in their 'solution' is excellent, I currently use the pro audio Metric Halo ULN-2 via Firewire when I don't just 'point & click' the Apple TV button in iTunes - in which case the signal travels wirelessly to the ATV, and then via Toslink on to the Metric Halo.<br />

<br />

enjoy,<br />

clay<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

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The Origen stuff looks pretty sweet. Too bad the smallest form factor doesn't look like it's ready for full PCI on a riser. Next question is if one was going to go about spending the extra coin on a case like that, can Media Monkey drive the LCD?


 

mpdPup maintainer

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Good to see your newest reference music server. Great to know XP can deliver a great sytem at a bargain price.<br />

<br />

I note that the system you constructed does not include a DAC but at the end of your article you note that you can use the DAC of your choice. What is the advantage of using the DAC with the Lynx card in this system? Any improvement in sound? Or vice versa, if you plan to use a DAC without the Lynx card what are the pro's and con's. <br />

<br />

I plan to set up a system using a sony vaio (laptop or desktop, whichever my wife will tolerate) running to a Cambridge DacMagic using Kimber USB cables and Kimber 1020 interconnects to the pre-amp. Storage will be a 2 terrabyte Western Digital Studio Drive with uncompressed wave files. Would a Lynx pci card add audio quality to this configuration? <br />

<br />

Last issue for now. I have installed Media Monkey Gold. Is their anything special I need to do to configure this for windows xp? It has the wave_out.dll which I have selected by pressing the configure button. Doe this step eliminate the k-mixer from the chain or is there something else I need to do to optimize Media Monkey?

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Chris this is a nice surprise from MediaMonkey. Have you tried to run your Windows XP Server headless?<br />

<br />

Apple iPhones and iPod Touches can be used as remotes to control MediaMonkey as well, though unlike traditional remote controls these devices will send commands to MediaMonkey through a WiFi signal instead of Infrared transmission. With the iMonkey application available <br />

from the iPhone app store, you can control MediaMonkey on your PC from your iPhone or iPod touch! <br />

<br />

After you purchase the iMonkey application from the Apple AppStore, all that's needed is to make a quick download of the iMonkey server from: http://melloware.com/products/imonkey/<br />

<br />

You'll have to start MediaMonkey with this modified MediaMonkey.exe file so that the iPhone or Touch can access MediaMonkey (no installation needed, just extract and double click the downloaded MediaMonkey.exe file).<br />

<br />

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Chris:<br />

<br />

Perhaps this is crazy, but do you think that the reason that the Windows XP music server may sound better is that it is using the Lynx PCI AES16 card verses the PCI Express AES16e version? Your review mentioned that the word on the street favored the PCI AES16 version. Just curious. <br />

<br />

This may be harder to answer, but by saying the XP version sounds better, is it a night and day difference, or something that is only noticeable through extended listening?<br />

<br />

Thanks for the review. I always enjoy reading your reviews!


Alan B

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Lynx is worth giving a try. As Chris says it is really audiophile quality but not audiophile prices. <br />

<br />

Also it is without the hassles of USB/Firewire connections. For the people who want volume control, have power amp and one source only, should have a look at the "volume 2" module from "Sound Performance Lab". <br />

<br />

It is sold for approx. 300€ in Europe and does a very decent job.<br />

<br />

http://www.soundperformancelab.com/index.php?id=127&L=1<br />


M2Tech Young DAC - Graham Slee Solo SRGII - PSU1 Power Supply - Grado GS 1000i

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First, I agree with Gordon, avoid the Dell like the plague.<br />

<br />

Second: Chris - have you tried unmapping the device in XP rather than using ASIO?<br />

<br />

I have found this to be superior - it works with Jriver and Foobar and the Lynx card. Not sure about Media Monkey though.<br />

<br />

Third: I find the jitter from the Lynx AES16 card to be unacceptable. The oscillator is nothing special and is actually a VCO of some sort in order to track the word-clock input. I am using the word-clock input driven from a Pace-Car reclocker and then I can get I2S, AES or S/PDIF output with low jitter. It takes about a minute for the Lynx AES16 to sync to the word-clock from the Pace-Car, but then it runs fine indefinitely.<br />

<br />

Steve N.<br />

Empirical Audio

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Steve, I have several Dell computers and I see nothing wrong with them. My oldest computer is a Dell Dimension XPS D300 computer Pentium II 300 MHz computer that has worked well over 10 years. The newest Dell computers are obviously much faster and more capable, but I was really surprised at just how quiet they are. I have several other brand name and custom computers and I would probably never buy the cheapest Dell computer but I assume Chris was demonstrating that one could assemble an excellent music server using it.<br />

<br />

“I find the jitter from the Lynx AES16 card to be unacceptable”.<br />

<br />

I thougt the data provided on this site showed that the jitter for the Lynx AES16 card was very low. Do you also find the jitter from the Lynx AES16e card to be unacceptable?<br />

<br />

“I am using the word-clock input driven from a Pace-Car reclocker and then I can get I2S, AES or S/PDIF output with low jitter. It takes about a minute for the Lynx AES16 to sync to the word-clock from the Pace-Car, but then it runs fine indefinitely”.<br />

<br />

What is the additional cost to the suggested CA Windows XP Reference Music Server and in your opinion what sonic benefits will be gained? Will this do anything to diminish or increase the problems reported of blown tweeters with Windows XP?<br />

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Chris. Over on another topic in music servers, some guy managed to get 24/192 out of Vista 64 running on a Mac Pro. Can Vista 64 run on your "cheap Dell"? Also is the fact that the MAC PRO running OSX can only output 24/96, a software issue then with OSX? I find this amazing. For years Apple has been THE software for music...am I right on this? Now we find Apple has been one up'd by Microsoft. Hey guys what is goin' on? I mean how long before OSX is upgraded to 24/192?<br />

<br />

It's also important news in planning the best way to get audio out of a MacPro. Why get the Lynx card now, if you can run optical or USB out say straight from the midi into one of Empirical's computer interfaces @ 24/192? Why get a firewire interface for something like Amarra if this solution becomes available using the MacPro midi?<br />

<br />

I get the feeling a punter like me could save potential hundreds on more wasted computer soundcards and "CFAT" by waiting just a couple more months till the dust settles on all this...<br />

<br />

Your cheap "dell server" might be cheap, then again, if it is a darn noisy beast, runs an outdated version of Windows and the soundcard becomes obsolete with the stroke of an overnight "Apple software" upgrade, it doesn't seem so "cheap" after all....<br />

<br />

AB


New simplified setup: STEREO- Primary listening Area: Cullen Circuits Mod ZP90> Benchmark DAC1>RotelRKB250 Power amp>KEF Q Series. Secondary listening areas: 1/ QNAP 119P II(running MinimServer)>UPnP>Linn Majik DSI>Linn Majik 140's. 2/ (Source awaiting)>Invicta DAC>RotelRKB2100 Power amp>Rega's. Tertiary multiroom areas: Same QNAP>SMB>Sonos>Various. MULTICHANNEL- MacMini>A+(Standalone mode)>Exasound e28 >5.1 analog out>Yamaha Avantage Receiver>Pre-outs>Linn Chakra power amps>Linn Katan front and sides. Linn Trikan Centre. Velodyne SPL1000 Ultra

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If the highest audio fidelity solution (in this case the CA Windows XP Music Server) gets outclassed overnight, great. But if we believe that this is the best digital playback system to date, it’s still a great place to start. If the CA Reference Music Server is better than any CD player, DVD player, SACD player, Universal player, transport and DAC combination or computer music server, who can complain. I happen to believe that certain mods or improvements will always be possible to the best of systems.<br />

<br />

BTW I have been able to get 24/192 playback from my MacBook Pro using firewire connections to the TC Electronics Konnekt 8 or Apogee Mini DAC for some time. These solutions were easily bested by other DACs solutions only capable of 24/96 through coaxial, toslink or USB. And I have to assume that these solutions would have been surpassed if I was able to get the firewire Minerva DAC.<br />

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'BTW I have been able to get 24/192 playback from my MacBook Pro using firewire connections to the TC Electronics Konnekt 8 or Apogee Mini DAC for some time. These solutions were easily bested by other DACs solutions only capable of 24/96 through coaxial, toslink or USB. And I have to assume that these solutions would have been surpassed if I was able to get the firewire Minerva DAC.<br />

<br />

Zorro just to be clear, your firewire solutions were bested by another dac which was only capable of 24/96 is that correct? What ws that dac ? But you think that the Weiss might be better through firewire than the other dac through AES? Thanks Keith.

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