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tomE
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Are all PCs/Macs mass produced pieces of crap? I got thinking about this after reading another thread where someone considered the practicality of hanging a heavy upscale aftermarket USB cable from the flimsy jacks found on computer gear. One reason I was happy after moving up to "audiophile quality" gear from "mass market" audio gear was that they were much better built and had RCA jacks mounted on the back panel NOT PCB mounted and protruding through the back panel. Much more secure considering the wildly varying construction of RCA plugs and jacks where you sometime get plugs you have to push hard to get into some jacks. I have broken more than one jack from its PCB attachment! I guess there is no standard for RCA. Which brings me to my question: Are all PC/Macs mass produced pieces of crap?

I am not terribly computer saavy but I am constantly amazed these things work at all considering the construction quality employed. I guess the same could be said for automotive electrical systems as well. I am used to Cannon or other heavy duty mil spec connectors for a lot of equipment used in my job (Nuclear

waste Management). I realize that it would cost quite a bit to include this kind of secure connection in the commoditized world of computers. But is there any alternative?

 

 

tomE[br]Bryston BDP-1, Bryston BDA-1, Oppo BDP-95, Rogue Audio Sphinx, Montor Audio Silver RX8s. [br]Analog: LP12, Alphason HR100S, Benz Micro LO04 and Rogue audio Triton phono pre

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Yes.

 

They are extremely price-sensitive, consumer-grade POS with a very short (2-5 year) design life. In the good old days, when a VAX was a few hundred thousand dollars and a decent house was 50 thousand, you got a really good-quality power supply. Power supplies in most computers are designed with an acceptable (to the manufacturer) rate of failure. You don't get what you don't pay for.

 

I don't buy any brand-name systems, since they are always looking to shave a few pennies off the cost by using cheaper parts. Yes, Dell, I'm looking at you.

 

I have owned two Macs in the past, and may buy a MacBook someday, but I got disgusted with my inability to buy spare parts or build one from scratch.

 

You can, to some extent, buy better parts if you build your own. Power supplies are a good example, a $150 power supply is much more reliable than a $30 power supply. A $200 case is an order of magnitude better than a $50 case (perhaps more for building the system than for using it). An add-in audio card is much better than the motherboard sound chip. You can build a silent, or nearly silent, system with proper component selection. Etc.

 

In terms of USB connectors, there are always free headers on the motherboard, and you can find brackets which attach to the expansion slots on the back of the case and simply have a wire with a plug that goes into the jack on the motherboard. The connection isn't any better electrically, but you aren't going to physically snap the traces from mechanical forces.

 

16/44.1 source material, ripped via EAC to WAV. Linux (Fedora 10) machine -> USB -> Headroom Desktop Headphone Amp (Max DAC, Max module) -> Sennheiser HD650

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There is a long thread going on at the forums at stereophile about music servers. One of the things I picked up on was the expectation of people who are not necessarily computer people regarding a computer as an audio component.

 

If you bought an LP in 1959, you are still able to buy a turntable to play it 50 years later, and the LP will still play. My turntable has been in a box in the basement for 14 years, but I expect that if I were to pull it out and plug it in it would still work.

 

If you commit your music collection to a computer music server, say something made by a traditional audio component manufacturer, then put it in the basement for 14 years, are you going to expect that it will just boot up and play? I wouldn't, since running even a 10 year old computer is problematic, but someone who is an audio person, rather than a computer person, may be surprised (in a bad way) to hear that.

 

There are other longevity considerations, such as music formats, DRM, operating systems, etc.

 

Computer components simply aren't very good. The pace of technological obsolescence has driven the idea that components will be replaced within a very few years, so reliability has not been a major criteria. Also price - cheap, cheap, cheap. You don't get what you don't pay for. Reliability is achieved by redundancy, even to the point of hot-swappability. Data reliability is accomplished via multiple backups. Data is migrated to new storage media rather than continually preserving older media (for example, 9 track computer tape is no longer manufactured).

 

All these things are familiar to the computer-savvy, but may be strange and scary to the traditional audiophile.

 

16/44.1 source material, ripped via EAC to WAV. Linux (Fedora 10) machine -> USB -> Headroom Desktop Headphone Amp (Max DAC, Max module) -> Sennheiser HD650

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WoodsDweller,

 

Where are you headed with this?.

 

I can see us getting into a 'computer components affect audio quality' type discussion here. Which of course depends on how you're outputting your data (optical, USB, via soundcard, reclockin etc) and whether that stuff actually makes much of a difference.

 

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

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Computer components, other than mechanical (fan, drive) ambient noise levels and maybe sound cards (if you are using their analog aspects), should not really affect the music quality. Which is a good thing. Bits is bits.

 

The original comment was about cheesy jacks. Yes, the jacks are cheesy. Construction quality of computers is generally poor compared to high-end audio equipment. Some good work is being done with cases - some of the HTPC cases actually look quite nice.

 

There are two other issues I think are interesting, though:

 

1) Durability/build quality/reliability of a computer music server as compared to the expectation of audiophiles.

 

2) Longevity/life cycle of the stored music data, and will it meet the expectation of audiophiles

 

My general point being, a computer music server is a consumer-grade computer that happens to be used for music, not a high-end audio component that happens to be implemented with a computer. I don't really see that changing much.

 

16/44.1 source material, ripped via EAC to WAV. Linux (Fedora 10) machine -> USB -> Headroom Desktop Headphone Amp (Max DAC, Max module) -> Sennheiser HD650

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Thanks WoodsDweller, this is as I suspected. Since I don't read much about computers or hang out on their forums I didn't know if I was ignorant of an alternative. I can identify with the obsolescence point. The nuke plant I work at is about halfway through its operational lifespan and we already have spare parts issues. It can take 20 years from beginning the design of a facility until it is commissioned. While the equipment is VERY well built to extremely tough specs some of the manufacturers no longer exist and some of the technologies employed are now considered archaic. We spend a lot of time identifying these problems to try and stay ahead of things that could bring 4 1000 mW generators to a halt!

Chris, thanks for the video. I have been Mac curious for some time because I have friends in publishing/marketing who swear by them. It's good to know some of their expense comes from build quality and not just lesser economies of scale. I also like iTunes and checked out the Amarra solution. $6k USD! I could afford this but I do have other hobbies. I was just notified by Astro-Physics (high end manufacturer of telescopes and mounts) that my name has come up on the waiting list for the privilege of purchasing their Mach 1 mount. $5950 USD! It only took a little over 2 years but the waiting lists for the telescopes go over 8 years! I guess I'll never have to worry about that in the computer scene.

 

tomE[br]Bryston BDP-1, Bryston BDA-1, Oppo BDP-95, Rogue Audio Sphinx, Montor Audio Silver RX8s. [br]Analog: LP12, Alphason HR100S, Benz Micro LO04 and Rogue audio Triton phono pre

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Build you own and you can get there though I think, well, certainly in terms of cases and perhaps even power supplies too.

 

A-Tech fabrication make some stunning cases; sure you've got to pay for them but if a high-end look is what you're after and high end build, etc etc.

 

http://www.atechfabrication.com/products/mini_client_2500.htm

 

What you put in there though may not be up to the same standards, you're right. If it doesn't affect audio quality I'm not really too concerned though I did buy a decent, (near) silent power supply for my HTPC build.

 

 

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

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Very nice case there, BEEMB, I bookmarked it.

 

I've got two Silverstone cases, neither of them HTPC, but they make a very fine case in general and have lots of HTPC models.

 

Edit: Oh, and I love the way they show the interior of the case with no cables connected. Makes it look much nicer!

 

16/44.1 source material, ripped via EAC to WAV. Linux (Fedora 10) machine -> USB -> Headroom Desktop Headphone Amp (Max DAC, Max module) -> Sennheiser HD650

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Nice stuff guys. Keep 'em coming! Looks aren't that important to me but my SO has certain tastes and generally out ranks me! What are the quietest power supplies....electrically and otherwise? Any other goodies I should know about?

 

tomE[br]Bryston BDP-1, Bryston BDA-1, Oppo BDP-95, Rogue Audio Sphinx, Montor Audio Silver RX8s. [br]Analog: LP12, Alphason HR100S, Benz Micro LO04 and Rogue audio Triton phono pre

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The Origen cases are great too. Touch screen or not. I quite like the smaller ones.

Might chuck my current HTPC's innards into one of those sometime soon.

 

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

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Thanx again WoodsDweller for the power supply list. I assume a dedicated server doesn't need a huge power supply. Or does it? I was contemplating the use of one of the Lynx cards via AES/EBU in my server project. Do these use a lot of juice? How does this fairly expensive card compare in build quality to typical computer cards? Is the PCB itself high quality and what about the quality of the individual parts? The robustness of the connections is also unknown to me. Is it better than average? I assume it uses some kind of breakout box or something as a strain relief. I hate paying for stuff that breaks easily.

Well, I have lots of reading to do. Thanks Chris and BEEMB for the case links. I read the entire article on solid state drives too on another thread. Thanks again WoodsDweller, more stuff to be insecure about!

 

tomE[br]Bryston BDP-1, Bryston BDA-1, Oppo BDP-95, Rogue Audio Sphinx, Montor Audio Silver RX8s. [br]Analog: LP12, Alphason HR100S, Benz Micro LO04 and Rogue audio Triton phono pre

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The short answer is no, you don't need a very big power supply unit (PSU).

 

The trend in PSUs is BIG. That's because they can get more money for them. There are PSUs that are over a kilowatt. That is justifiable if you have a multi-cpu, multi graphics card setup, maybe with a bunch of raided drives. Maybe.

 

The PSU manufacturers basically start their pricing structure there and work their way down until they can't make any money, and stop. That's around 400 to 500 watts these days. Unfortunately, that's huge.

 

The machine I'm typing this on (my everyday desktop Linux box) draws 46 watts from the wall under normal load, up to 95 watts during a 3D graphics benchmark. It has a Core 2 Duo 7300 CPU, 2 gigs of ram, and one hard drive. That doesn't include the monitor, router, or the headphone amp (which BTW draws 10 watts). PSUs are generally efficiency rated from 20% to 80% of load. I'm estimating that the PSU is only running at 70% at that low an output, so the internals probably only draw around 35 watts.

 

I had a two-month head-scratcher with this new (end of last year) machine that would not boot, except sometimes it would. Once. It would run, but not boot again. I finally ran across two references on the net to the effect that if the draw on a PSU is too low, it won't start up properly. I got a 300 watt PSU (down from 380) and it runs like a dream. I can't say for certain that was the problem, but a smaller PSU solved it. The 380 watt unit is in another machine, running flawlessly.

 

An audio server needs (by today's standards) very little CPU power. I'm thinking those little Atom-based mini-itx boards from Intel would be plenty, and they're cheap (like $80 including CPU, RAM is extra). The Intel sourced ones have a CPU fan. There is an MSI board announced but I don't think available yet that has a big heat sink, or you could go with an aftermarket passive heat sink (like the beautiful one with heat pipes pictured inside that A-Tech case).

 

If you keep the power low, there are actually tiny little boards that provide ATX power and run from a wall wart power block in the 60 or 80 watt range. No fans.

 

I have absolutely no idea what a good audio card draws in terms of power.

 

Drives can consume up to 10 watts each, but with fewer platters and slower speeds they use less, and 2.5 inch drives use less still. No hard drive is silent, but some aren't bad. Silent PC Review has many details on that.

 

If you use NAS to store your actual music files, and the "server" machine to simply run a server like MPD and an audio card to get your digital output of choice, you could get a fairly small, fairly inexpensive SSD (or even a flash drive) to run your OS and server.

 

That gives you silent PSU, silent CPU, silent drive. In other words, silent. Also very compact. Spend all your money on a pretty case and an iPod Touch for a remote control.

 

16/44.1 source material, ripped via EAC to WAV. Linux (Fedora 10) machine -> USB -> Headroom Desktop Headphone Amp (Max DAC, Max module) -> Sennheiser HD650

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Macs are overpriced and contain the same parts as found in PC's, in essence they are PC's apart from the OS.

 

The reality is customer service, design and looks, and most of all preference. The new Mac book is superb, and has a nice well constructed body, but in essence is not that far from what other manufacturers are addressing, and is quite a bit more expensive than a similar PC/laptop with Windows.

 

This year for me I could not justify paying over a grand for convenience, and again put computers on a back burner for home audio.

 

I personally think it is far better building your own, and that all required bases can be covered very easilly.

 

You can buy a Lian Li HTPC case with a 300w PSU for £150, or any case that takes your fancy from £30 upward. A quiet high quality modular PSU costs £70.

AMD or Intel, both have suitable small motherboards with HDMI output from £60 upward, a suitable processor can be bought for £60 either the E5200 or AMD 5050e, you will only require 2gb or DDR2 which is £20.

A hard drive will cost £36 to £80 depending on your requirement, a 320gb for the OS is simple to maintain, reasonably quiet and ony £35, you can always add an external HD for music. Or if you want a simple one box sollution the WD green 1tb internal drive is very quet and only £90. Soundcard, well it may depend on your DAC, if yours is standard Co-ax + optic, your choice motherboard may cover this, or you may want something better and such can be had from £50 to £700 to cover any output you want.

Monitor, your TV, keyboard and mouse, cheap or expensive depending on your requirement.

 

Most of all it's fun and you can start at the bottom with the basic kit and add to it later, at the moment there are plenty of free OS's available to play with too.

 

 

 

 

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Having owned and worked with macs for many years, I'm not convinced by the often repeated overpriced mac mantra. As you say, they mostly use the same components, but I have macs at my work that are over ten years old and still doing a job. I suspect that their hardware will still be working when their software can no longer stay compatible enough to be useful. I doubt if there are many pcs with that longevity.

 

Having said that - as is my duty as a mac fanboy :) - I think you have a good point about building your own. More fun and less money, assuming you're interested and have suitable skills.

 

The other point I wanted to make was that one of the great things that computers bring to enjoying music is not just about the convenience of access to your own collection, it's also about the huge amount of new music out there for you to discover via the internet. Which requires you to be able to keep up with the latest standards. Wheras great hifi equipment will go on being great for decades - I don't think I've even switched my amp & cdp off in well over two years - a twenty year old computer that still works would be interesting but not very useful. For that reason I feel that the canned music servers some of the hifi companies have coming out with are an evolutionary dead end, no matter how well made.

 

And on that mess of self contradictory waffle I'd better take a break before I start flaming myself.

 

edit: "canned music servers" *looks at own avatar* heehee

 

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Looks like I'll have to cheap out on the server construction as I just put down the required 50% deposit on this:

 

www.astro-physics.com/products/mounts/mach1gto/mach1gto.htm

 

 

 

tomE[br]Bryston BDP-1, Bryston BDA-1, Oppo BDP-95, Rogue Audio Sphinx, Montor Audio Silver RX8s. [br]Analog: LP12, Alphason HR100S, Benz Micro LO04 and Rogue audio Triton phono pre

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But it DOES have a computer! I'll have to use 'phones and my Headroom Cosmic and figure a way to connect a hard drive and load iTunes..........

 

tomE[br]Bryston BDP-1, Bryston BDA-1, Oppo BDP-95, Rogue Audio Sphinx, Montor Audio Silver RX8s. [br]Analog: LP12, Alphason HR100S, Benz Micro LO04 and Rogue audio Triton phono pre

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In regards to: "As you say, they mostly use the same components, but I have macs at my work that are over ten years old and still doing a job. I suspect that their hardware will still be working when their software can no longer stay compatible enough to be useful. I doubt if there are many pcs with that longevity."

 

The real problem with discussions like these is that people compare $6000 Macs to $600 PCs. This isn't any more fair than comparing lap times between a Kia Sonata and a Formula One car. Quality costs money, and most computer users aren't willing to spend thousands of dollars on a computer, which is one reason why Macs are a small portion of the global computing platform (although growing). A large chunk of the world's business systems are Windows-based. These networks have been online for a very long time and continue to perform, and will continue to do so until the hardware or software becomes too outdated to be of use.

 

Yes, you're paying a HUGE premium for an Apple. Some goes into the name of course, but much of it goes into high end components and good build quality, but those same parts are used in PCs of equal or often lesser cost. Spend $6000 on a PC and it will last as long and be built as well as a $6000 Mac. The difference is that Apple chooses to not release low-budget Macs. I don't disagree with this decision since it makes things far easier on them as a company, and it's nice for those looking to spend a bit more to have the knowledge that they can't buy a "bad" Mac.

 

 

It wasn't long ago that most Mac users bashed Intel as being junk, and they now lust over an Intel-equipped Mac because it's the "latest thing" in the Mac world. This was a typical situation where the average user (Mac in this case) had no understanding of the hardware, but simply knows only "Mac" and "PC". Hardware and software are two completely different animals, and can be controlled by an infinite number of means. It all boils down to understanding how it all works and deciding what hardware you need, and what operating system will best control that hardware in the way you require. For some it's a custom-built Windows box. For others it's a box with a Mac inside. Either way is great but an understanding of the underlying hardware is the key to taking the next step in computing prowess. :)

 

To answer the original poster's question... yes, I agree that all home-based personal computers are garbage quality compared to what they could, or arguably should be. You can build a laptop out of a titanium unibody, but it still has the same low-grade capacitors on the motherboard as one built from plastic and steel. Unfortunately we will never see a truly top-end home computer because no one would ever pay the price it would command! Additionally, you would still have the same software driving the thing so I suspect that the advantages in performance, power efficiency and the like would be unworthy of the premium.

 

Just my 2.34 cents USD!

 

Ah, nuts! sys64738

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Lots of good info in these posts. I guess it comes down to the rapid obsolesence of the hardware/software. If one were to build premium computers the cost probably couldn't be amortized over a long period as your unit would be obsolete in just a few years. I might spring for a nicer case to keep my wife happy and just accept that any server I might build could fail or just become obsolete in a relatively short time. So my strategy is shaping up to build as cheap and quiet a server as I can and utilize a premium sound card that works in a PCI-e slot that can output AES to my BDA-1. 24/96 (LPs recorded in DSD through my Korg recorder and converted to wav) through my Xonar card (and iTunes) output by Toslink to the BDA-1 sounds surprisingly good so far and this is a Vista system. Can't wait to get a proper dedicated server up and running to check out even higher res formats.

 

tomE[br]Bryston BDP-1, Bryston BDA-1, Oppo BDP-95, Rogue Audio Sphinx, Montor Audio Silver RX8s. [br]Analog: LP12, Alphason HR100S, Benz Micro LO04 and Rogue audio Triton phono pre

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Good point about computers being short-term investments. I also agree with you on the case issue. I'm still using the same Lian-Li PC-60 case for my main workstation that I purchased eight years ago. It's housed several variations of computers as I upgraded parts, and has been a real joy every time I had to open it up and stick my fingers in there. It was worth every penny, but it's a 10 to 15-year investment.

 

Ah, nuts! sys64738

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