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Article: Computer Audiophile Pocket Server - C.A.P.S.

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I've been looking at what would be needed to build a Windows 7 based server and this is exactly the type of thing I was looking for. For me I would probably lean towards a Zotac IONITX board with the NVIDIA graphics card. It also has built in s/pdif optical/coax outputs to give some time to eventually put in the Lynx AES. I would also use iTunes as it is bit perfect, from my understanding, with Windows 7 32-bit.<br />

<br />

Thanks for this Chris!

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Can you expand any more on your linux OS experiences. I see Arch Linux there. How did you like it? I tried it once and got it all going, except it had trouble with mounting through fstab.

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If you haven't been able to acquire the [email protected] I'd recommend this site:<br />

http://www.djdeals.com/[email protected]<br />

Found via pricegrabber.com, and I'm almost certain I acquired my [email protected] from them a year or so ago. The North American ESI Disti is KaySound - http://www.kaysound.com/.<br />

<br />

I'm curious as to why the Linux system would fail your requirements even with the ESI card. With Voyage Linux, were you able to run that on the Intel board? I know it can be difficult to get Voyage running on systems the distribution owners didn't specifically target.<br />

<br />

This may sound like a repeat of the complaint with the Peachtree DAC, but I'd really like to hear more about how these different Operating Systems/new hardware combos sound in a shootout, since you have the luxury of listening to them side by side, something quite difficult for the majority of us to duplicate. I'm particularly interested in Linux - despite the shortcomings you highlighted it's of interest to a number of readers, and the extra effort/shortcomings may be worthwhile for some readers if the sound quality is there.


 

mpdPup maintainer

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Hi ldolse - Nice to see you commenting on this article as I know you are a big supporter of Linux and likely understand it as well or better than many readers. I did check every source in the country for [email protected] cards and nobody had them in stock. I couldn't even get one from the distributor because it didn't have them either. <br />

<br />

The Linux system with a [email protected] would fail the requirements for the C.A.P.S. because it wasn't user friendly enough. It could certainly be made user friendly enough but not by the average CA reader. I don't think the average reader can setup a NAS connection that references a stored encrypted password file and mounts at boot time without pulling their hair out. This is one of many issues that users would run into and that can't really be novice-proof because they require user specific information a user may not even know. I've been asked what an IP address is many times :~) You and I can do this stuff blind-folded but not most of the CA readers. Plus, a really tweaked Linux system is the topic of a different article. <br />

<br />

The sound quality from my Voyage Linux server outputting USB to the dCS system was truly wonderful.


Founder of Audiophile Style and Superphonica

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One of those is definitely an install link. Must have copied the wrong one. The other I have not tested (I lack a big enough USB drive at the moment) but I will try if I can dig up a drive.<br />

<br />

There is an option two, and that is boot from a VHD on the USB drive. VHD = Virtual Hard Drive. VHD's are the files used for all Microsoft virtualization from Virtual Server/PC to Hyper-V. It's a bit trickier, but I'm told it works.<br />

<br />

http://www.garrymartin.com/blog/2009/10/native-vhd-boot-windows-7-or-windows-server-2008-r2-from-an-external-usb-drive/


Whatever works.

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Very nice, Chris.<br />

My first post on this forum was to seek information on custom-built computers. regardless of operating systems.<br />

I really wanted to buy one with Linux.<br />

I did what I could (for someone who knew little about the numerous so-called Linux distributions), but ultimately could not find a Linux distribution I could work with. <br />

My notes tell me I tried Ubuntu 9.04 and several others, including at least one that was specific to media applications. (Ubuntu had been recommended to me at some online web site.)<br />

For a music player I tried acidrip, sound juicer, amarock2, audacity, rythmbox and potamus; none of them did everything I needed.<br />

I finally gave up on Linux, just as I had done about 7 years ago when I bought a Red Hat version on floppy disk; I couldn't get it to fully load.<br />

For at least one reason (related to golf) I have to keep a Windows OS computer, so I keep a Vista laptop, but I'd sure like to rid myself of it and just rely on my iMac for everything, despite iTunes' inability to keep my music library organized.


hungry for knowledge

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Hi Chris,<br />

<br />

Nice setup and thank you for sharing your experience in such detail! A quick question:<br />

I believe you control the music server using remote desktop / iphone or ipod touch, right? So you need a wireless connection. Does the motherboard have a wlan chip? If not, do you use a wlan usb stick for this purpose?<br />

<br />

When I was experimenting with my music server, I first used a single core centrino cpu. This was not satisfying, because the wlan stick / remote desktop application took up too much cpu usage when scrolling though my albums. It resulted in hickups. Then I switched to a dual core and the problem was gone. One cpu for the remote, one for the playback... Did you experience anything similar with the atom cpu??

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Chris<br />

<br />

Thanks for the excellent article. I have, to-date, assumed that my next audio computer would use eithe firewire and/or async USB to get digital audio to an external DAC. This would, seemingly, reduce cost and product great sound. What, then, was the thinking behind using AES16 sound-card (which is, undoubtably, a great piece of kit)?<br />

<br />

Regards,<br />

APS

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I have a serious question. Is there any benefit to this type of server over a Mac Mini with some tweaks like a SSD? It seems to me a Mac Mini (headless) would be cheaper and simpler and still meet all the requirements. Add in an async USB or FW DAC. Anyway, just curious what your thoughts are on the pro's and con's of a custom server like the Pocket Server verus a Mac Mini. Especially interested in sound quality differences but I understand the player software won't be the same.<br />

<br />

Bryan


Dedicated 240V balanced power, Torus RM20-BAL. Mac Mini/Ayre QB-9. LSA Group Signature integrated. Eminent Tech LFT8B speakers. Real Trap and GIK bass traps.

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Hey Chris,<br />

<br />

i am entirely of your opinion. Your how-to is perfect!<br />

<br />

There is only one question: you do not use the touchscreen, so how are you controlling the system? It is relatively easy to integrate an IR control, but useless without a screen.<br />

<br />

THX<br />

<br />

Bernhard

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Hi johniboy - The motherboard has a mini-PCIe slot that accepts a wireless card. I listed this wireless card at the bottom of the review as a component that didn't make it into the final server build. The card snaps into place right on the board. It's simple to install, but I didn't need it because I have a wired gigabit Ethernet switch close to my system. I'm glad you brought up the remote control & weak processor issue. I originally had the issues you described. Then I disabled or removed many of the programs that run in the background and eat system resources. Right now the server hiccups a tiny bit upon the initial Remote Desktop connection but after than I am able to browse my collection in a controlled manner without issues. I can reproduce the hiccups if I start clicking all over the place and scrolling really fast through all the albums lie a madman. It just takes a little usage to understand how best to operate the server via remote desktop. I don't think it's a problem now or I would never have published such a system.<br />

<br />

Hi APS - Good question about why I use an internal sound card. Right now this card allows playback of all critical sample rates into 99% of the DACs on the market. It also has advanced features that allow me to externally clock the card and use dual wire AES into a DAC like a dCS Debussy pictured in the article. I am a big fan of Async USB and FireWire DACs. Either would work great with this server. However, the FireWire DAC options are somewhat limited. I highly recommend products from Daniel Weiss and the Sonic Studio Model Four. Both have FireWire inputs. Also, the Async DACs I've review and listened to over the years are really wonderful. Right now support for 176.4 and 192 isn't widely available. If a reader wants this capability he is limited to very few DACs that may not meet his sonic quality standards or price point.<br />

<br />

Hi Bryan - Oh no a "Serious Question!" Only joking of course. Thanks for the Mac Mini related question. There are many benefits to this system over a Mac Mini, but most of them are subjective. The objective benefits are a totally fanless / no moving parts design, 100% silent from any distance, support for internal audio cards, and it doesn't set off those Mac allergies in many audiophiles :~) Also, as I touched on above a Mac Mini limits one to USB or FireWire. For many people this is totally acceptable. I wasn't satisfied with that limitation, but I did build in the ability to remove or exclude the Lynx card in favor of a PCI FireWire card. That would bring the cost down close about $600. In terms of sound quality both a Mini and the Pocket Server are capable of great sound. they both sound different that's for sure. <br />

<br />

Hi Bernhard - I am controlling via Remote Desktop from another computer. The Pocket Server does have analog DSUB and digital DVI video outputs that allow it to connect to many displays. Running J River in theater Mode with the server connected to a nice display would be a really neat and visually appealing system.<br />

<br />


Founder of Audiophile Style and Superphonica

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How does it sound compared to your reference Audiophile Computer (whatever it was you used in the symposium)? Comparisons, or it didn't happen! Schnell! Schnell!<br />

<br />

Also, I have a local dealer working on a similar design. Pretty nifty stuff, and love to see a Lynx card stuffed into such a small form factor.<br />

<br />

Based on some other conversations going on elsewhere on this site, I'm guessing that off-board power is/should be a must. But Windows 7? That's tough to take. ;-)<br />

<br />

Anyway, I'm also guessing here, but I'm assuming that a wired keyboard and wired monitor will be preferred over a wireless for those persnickety concerns over having a broadband broadcaster sitting in your rack, no?

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Hi Chris,<br />

<br />

Thanks for the awesome article on the C.A.P.S.<br />

<br />

I'm using a windows laptop and external HD as a sever. the system is pretty quiet but not silent.<br />

<br />

I've never set up a NAS before. Can Vista or Windows 7 be set up to connect directly to a NAS via wired ethernet or is a router required. I might be able to put a NAS in another room to reduce the HD noise. Can jRiver MC14 easily find my music library via the LAN connection?<br />

<br />

Thanks for the help<br />

<br />

Valvefan<br />

<br />

External HD>eSATA >Vista laptop>jRiver MC14>USB>Ayre QB9>Pass Labs X- preamp>Blue Circle BC 204 amp>Cabasse Farella 401 speakers<br />

<br />

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Hi Scott - Yeah, Windows 7 is tough to swallow for several readers, but for others it's all they want. For this server I wanted an OS that people would purchase anywhere and would be available for a while. You are right about the persnickety concerns and using wired keyboard, mouse, and monitor. The sound compared to other computers used at the Symposium is different. Windows based machines sound different than Mac based machines and XP different from Windows 7. I have confidence that Windows 7 can be made to sound better than XP. Right now my XP, G5, Mac Pro, and MacBook Pro servers are on the sideline. I've gravitated to the C.A.P.S server. <br />

<br />

Hi Valvefan - Yes, any current operating system can connect directly to a NAS without a router. J River will automatically find all the music located on the NAS as long as you map a drive to it or point J River to the right folder. The thing to do is connect the NAS directly to the computer with an Ethernet cable. Most likely your computer or NAS will automatically cross-over the cable so a special cable is not required. You will have to assign a manual IP address to the NAS and your computer so the two can talk to each other. If you only have one network port on your computer you won't be able to access the internet or anything other than the NAS drive.


Founder of Audiophile Style and Superphonica

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at the risk of sounding like a copy cat....I ordered that very Intel D945GSEJT MB, backplate and ram for an unrelated venture. I'm not ready to discuss what that venture is at the moment, but that should be enough to say I like the MB. L.S. told me about the MB and the backplate a few fews weeks ago when I asked them about new MBs with PCI and SATA and minimum 2GB of ram. I don't think that the M10 case is quite ready to except that backplate because the backplate was meant for another case. BTW that case is only $35 bucks, but you loose the cd option. I could be wrong, but the AES16 card looks a bit funny in the M10 case;) I really like the idea of the fanless design and the external power adapter or power brick as some call them. That junk does not belong inside the music server! I have something very close to this (my personal unit in the pic) with a mini-itx MB with VIA chip, OCZ ssd, fanless case, 4 GB ram, Windows 7 and firewire to my Minerva and I love it! I use M.M. because the iTouch app rocks IMO. Someday we will have WASAPI and I will be golden. <br />

A side note about Linux with all do respect to your attempt here to try it. My buddy Clay says, "it's a shame about the challenges of Linux." I say it's a shame you did not ask me to help! I understand that my input might spoil the project as a vender, but we should be able to look past that. I agree that Linux poses some challenges moving forward. However, Andrew has been working very hard with me to bridge the gap and make it accessable to anyone willing to try it. For sure you started out with some Linux software distributions that are to hard core for the average Joe. At the same time your building the Windows 7 machine from scratch so installing Andrew's Linux distribution should be on par! Andrew's Linux distribution is also 100% free to use without limitations and it is geared to rip music, store music, and most importantly play music with MPD. My install guide is posted here on CA if anyone is interested. As it stands you need to download the iso, burn the image to a cd and install the software. Then you set the dac from a web gui config page and your ready to go with the on board outputs or a usb dac. Yes, the AES16 card takes a few extra entries at command line and some configuration. The extra entries and config would be a copy and paste exercise. Firewire is still pretty hard, but we are working on it and it is supported.<br />

<br />

Jesus R<br />

www.sonore.us

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Great article chris.<br />

<br />

Question - what audio driver do you use with win7 and j river for the lynx card? I'm assuming the asio4all is out of the picture, as it was a legacy version that used to be in favor?<br />

<br />

Thanks!


out: Windows 7 > jriver mc14 > asio4all > Lynx AES16e > Redco custom Gotham AES/EBU cable (70ft) > Antelope DA Clock > Harmonic Technologies Magic Digital 1 AES/EBU cable > Berkeley Alpha DAC > AudioQuest Cheetah RCA interconnects > NuForce Ref 9 v2 SE amps > Nordost Red Dawn II speaker cables > Magnepan 3.6R speakers.[br]vinyl in: Lucid AD9624 > Redco custom Gotham AES/EBU cable > Lynx AES16e > Windows 7 > Goldwave

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Hi jbpsrca - I've had great luck with the regular ASIO driver and selecting the Lynx card via the config in J River. WASAPI has been a bit troublesome for me with bursts of distortion and some scary noises infrequently. Since you are using the AES16e card things may be a bit different.


Founder of Audiophile Style and Superphonica

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Hi IamKirk - I used Arch for a very short time. Nothing about it made me "have to have it." Whereas Voyage was awesome and I thought it beat everything else hands down. I researched distributions seemingly forever and even thought about creating my own CA Linux distribution. I couldn't find one better than Voyage for what I wanted to do. Since Voyage is based on Debian there are a lot of avenues for bouncing ideas off other people and a fair amount of documentation on the OS. nycparamedic initially got me into Voyage on the Alix boards.


Founder of Audiophile Style and Superphonica

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Chris,<br />

Five stars. Best exposition on the subject I've seen anywhere, along with the rest of your material on this site.<br />

I have two questions:<br />

1. Why J River over MediaMonkey, Foobar, or the others?<br />

2. Can you recommend an online primer on setting up a PC from scratch? Like, once you get the hardware assembled, how do you load the OS? Basic stuff for us neophytes who are willing to dip a toe in the water.<br />

<br />

Thanks so much for your efforts.<br />

Chuck

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Hi Chuck - Thanks for the nice comments. <br />

<br />

<i>"1. Why J River over MediaMonkey, Foobar, or the others?"</i><br />

I've been researching applications for a while now and concluded that J River Media Center is currently the best Windows based application available. I recently visited the J River office and was very impressed at the level of knowledge there and the willingness to work with people on getting things done right. The guys also understand audiophile sound quality and what it means not to mess with the bits. This app is extremely powerful and I will go into a lot of detail when I publish a thorough J River Media Center 14 article in the near future.<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

<i>"2. Can you recommend an online primer on setting up a PC from scratch? Like, once you get the hardware assembled, how do you load the OS? Basic stuff for us neophytes who are willing to dip a toe in the water."</i><br />

<br />

There are probably tons of them around but I can't point you to any right now. I'm sure people here are willing to help get you though any problems you may encounter or initial questions you have. Just open a topic in the forum and hopefully you'll get to where you need to be. Installing the OS is really easy :~)<br />

<br />

<br />


Founder of Audiophile Style and Superphonica

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Hi Chris!<br />

<br />

RDP is the remote control of your choice?<br />

You build a fanless mediaserver and you control it with a notebook? (which is in front of you). Do you shut down the notebook, after you have selected the track you want to hear? Because the notebook will be much louder than the mediaserver, which is far away.<br />

;-)<br />

<br />

We should find a good solution for remote control (iPod maybe) - or we should find a good touchscreen next to the mediaserver, like Meridian Sooloos.<br />

<br />

When I come home, I want to listen to music, and not work on the computer.<br />

<br />

Am I wrong?<br />

<br />

Bernhard

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