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aps

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So, I’ve entered the world of computer-based music with a DIY PC based on Vista 64-bit with a Lynx L22 sound card and Foobar2000 as the media player. The main attraction is the smoothness of high-resolution recordings and the ability to do room equalisation at the source. I’m now wondering, however, how to put together a great set-up that provides these benefits while addressing the noise from my “quiet” PC. The options include:

 

1. Reduce the noise from the existing Music PC: The original build was done with low noise a requirement but, I guess, that I could migrate to a passively cooled CPU and put the hard-drives into some kind of silent hard disk caddy. My concern is that this is a losing battle.

 

2. Remove the Music PC from the listening room:

 

a. Stream to a simple device such as the Apple Airport Express. The issue is that whilst this will allow me to use the room equalisation from the PC it won’t allow me to playback high-resolution music (which is a core requirement).

 

b. Use a dedicated music player (e.g., Squeezebox Transporter) located in the listening room but connected via wireless / Ethernet cable. Similar to option 1a in that I should be able to do room equalisation but, again, it doesn’t look as though 176/24 or 196/24 will work.

 

c. Use an existing laptop in the listening room to “remote desktop” to the Music PC with, then, an external DAC attached to the laptop via fire-wire or USB. This solution, while a little clunky, seems to meet the requirements?

 

d. Run a long coax cable from the Music PC to the listening room carrying either a digital to a DAC or analogue to the pre-amp. The issue seems to be that the distance would be about 20m which seems to be too long.

 

3. Start again with a view to dedicated machine:

 

a. Migrate existing set-up into a Zalman TNN 500AF case (using ATX MOBO) or, potentially, a ground-level build based on either Zalman TNN300 or mCubed hFX cases. A bit of a pain but might be the best overall answer.

 

b. Purchase a commercial music server (e.g., Cambridge Audio, McIntosh). All these options seem too expensive and lose the ability to tinker with room equalisation. So, all in all, I’m not sure that this is the right path for me.

 

Wow, I didn’t intend this to be such a long first post but it’s turned into a laundry list of options. My take is that the right option is 3a (build a new machine as a dedicated Music PC) but that options 1c (remote desktop) and 3a(silence current machine) are worthwhile. It’d be great to any input on the topic keeping.

 

Regards

APS

 

 

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Would be my vote. It's not a losing battle.

 

Good resource: Silent PC Review.

 

Your machine's noise sources are: PSU fan, CPU fan, other case fans, hard drive noise. AKA "moving parts".

 

The first step is to develop a machine that uses minimal power, which reduces the amount of heat you need to remove from the case. Find the lowest power consumption CPU that you can get by with. There will probably be a passive cooling solution, or a very quiet fan. If your motherboard supports Core 2 CPUs, try the E7200, which is cheap and very low power consumption (I have a 7300 in this machine, and it is overkill on performance).

 

There are fanless PSUs, and PSUs with essentially silent fans.

 

Stock case fans are noisy. Upgraded fans are pretty cheap, like $15. A larger (120mm) fan will move the same amount of air at a slow speed (quieter) as a smaller fan at a higher speed. A low-power-consumption machine will not require any case fan beyond the one in the PSU, which itself may be controlled by a thermostat.

 

Some drives are quieter than others, and some review sites will measure noise. You can use rubber grommets on the mounting screws to absorb some vibration, some people suspend them with rubber bands, etc.

 

Actually silent can't be done without eliminating moving parts, but very quiet is readily available.

 

Since you seem to be comfortable spending some money to address this problem (if you are considering getting a Transport), consider a NAS (discussed in various places on this site), which moves the noisy disk drive stack elsewhere, and use a modest SSD (solid state drive) to hold your OS and applications in your PC. With a silent drive, quieting the rest of the PC is a viable option.

 

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

 

Thanks for the advice. I've done the upgrade to quiet case fans and power supply but am struggling with the CPU cooling. My case (a Silverstone LC17) is quite tall but I'm yet to find a passive cooling unit that will fit so, right now, there is a "quiet" Zalman fan whirring away in the background with, unfortunately, Intel's QST meaning that it's not possible to reduce the fanspeed via software.

 

Your message has, though, made me think that perhaps the right answer is to migrate the current PC into a TV-based media centre and build another machine which is designed for low power / sound from the outset. I like the idea of a removing the h/d stack to a NAS located elsewhere seems right as it also addresses my concern regarding security of the data.

 

Cheers,

APS

 

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Silverstone mentions the NT01 as a heatsink for that case.

 

I think you would still need a system fan, but your Zalman 120mm would probably be sufficient and pretty quiet.

 

 

 

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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  • 1 month later...

Well, since the earlier posts I've made huge progress on reducing the PC noise. The main reduction came from replacing a cooled graphics card with a fanless card. I've also wound back on the CPU / case fan speads via the controller devices. The main noise is, now, from the two 7200rpm WD hard-disks. Thanks for the motivation / assistance.

 

Regards,

APS

 

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Having got rid of the noise and heat of the GPU which is good, consider next

 

1.Externalise the ATX power supply (Takes heat out of the case, XG Magnum 600 for example )

2.ITX industrial PC mainboard with fanless CPU or AGP AMD board that can take Turion notebook CPU. ITX mainboards typically have onboard video eliminating the need for even passively cooled GPU which are usually overkill for audio server.

3.Solid State disks or Compact Flash bootable from IDE/SATA adapters or use Notebook harddrive instead of 3.5" heat and vibration disks for OS.

 

Coolling jackets of HDD inside a case are of marginal use. External RAID NAS is best solution or at lesser cost direct attached RAID array like the Silverstone DS351 Raid (eSata) however these do not power manage the drives properly and they will run continously although they can be passively cooled also. AT least keep themusic drives also external to the music server as they will generate heat as well.

 

Slimline cases look better because they are similar to consumer audio form factor but they are even more challenging to keep cool and a lot fiddlier to work on. You will mostly need to go to ITX route (Less case choice) or externalise the PSU or both.

 

Be open to doing various versions as you gain experience with managing heat and quiet and capability. i.e Plan for a mark II and maybe mark III. As you have discovered, different techniques for multimedia "HTPC" server as opposed to dedicated music server.

 

With desktops you also need to watch hardware interrupts especially when devices shared with a sound card. These can induce noise and playback failure when using high bit rate data sources i.e . > 96/24.

 

I would like to see mainboard manufacturers come up with motherboards optimised for audio servers i.e multiple sound cards, DAC rolling, OPAMP rolling, I2S bus connections and cases with better shielding , copper bases and so on. There used to be motherboards (AOpen AX4B-533) with tube based audio maybe we will see that sort of thing re-emerge.

 

Music Interests: http://www.onebitaudio.com

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pacwin

 

Thanks for taking the time to put together such a comprehensive responsive. You suggestion about Mark II, III has, I guess, been in the make of my mind as the best approach. Also, you menitoned ITX cases. Did you mean the small mini-ITX cases or standard ATX cases?

 

Thanks

APS

 

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Well, I'm listening in 24/192 to Kent Poon's Audiophile Jazz Prologue III and it sounds fabulous. The issue, though, is that occasionally I'm getting "clicks" through the speakers. It seems that this happens when the PC is under load. I am running Vista 64-bit SP1. Any ideas as to the cause and solution? I'm rather concerned that it'll blow my tweeters (active speaker).

 

Thanks

APS

 

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This in my experience is due to shared interrupts (IRQ). Using the Vista Device Manager, change the View to Resources by type and select Interrupt Request. See which devices are sharing IRQ's with your sound card/device. If possible disable them in the device manager or if not needed disable in the BIOS. Basically disable any device you don't need operational for playback (dual LAN, onboard sound, Firewire, SD card readers etc etc) Ideally a sound card needs to be hogging its own interupt request line in order to do 192/24 reliably without pops or clicks and this is even more likely if its a PCI device which many still are. If its not sharing an IRQ reposition/juggle the card in another slot.

 

The worst offenders seem to be devices that manage disk devices i.e SATA controllers and USB controllers. In some cases you can rearrange the cards in their slots to get a free IRQ or move the card furtherest from the one that eliminates clicks and pops when disabled, if its needed for day to day operations. In my music playback system which has a low power notebook CPU I have to disable a 4 port e-sata controller card because it is shared IRQ with the sound card and causes artifacts and timing issues on playback. I could probably reposition/reorder the cards but disabling the device in Device Manager is enough to eliminate the pops and clicks. I can re-enable it when I need to use it.

 

Another option is to not run your CPU in power managed mode but run at unlimited or a higher power threshold(balanced). The down side is that it increases heat and noise but is could improve interrupt servicing.

 

Less effective option is to reduce the numbers of services running on your playback system. This ends up being trial and error but its surprising what you don't need to have running in order to just get digital data to your output connector. Also If possible run with out antivirus and other scanners and other memory resident junk (or enable them when connected to the Internet). Windows Search is another cursed CPU hog. I would disable that service as well. There are tools or guides for minimising services needed to be running for basic tasks out there on the Net but I dont have any URL's handy.

 

If you are using foobar for playback and have plenty of memory (2-4GB recommended for x64) then up the size of the file read ahead cache in the preferences of Foobar.

 

Cheers,

Steve Cooney

 

Music Interests: http://www.onebitaudio.com

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Well I haven't seen too many aesthetically pleasing ITX form factor cases. They tend to be functional/industrial etc. Some low profile cases and the standard audio/HTPC case will take the ITX FF boards . While they can be a bit clunky compared to a standard consumer audio device, the bigger cases, I prefer room to get my hands in the case without scarring or finger mangling and a roomier case has better airflow and heat dissipation.

 

The ideal audio case for me would be some kind of hybrid between a laptop and a HTPC Case. Laptop keyboard/touchpad and flip up touch screen on the top surface of the ccase connected/bonded to an audio/HTPC case. I would prefer that to a small front mounted screen. But like the perfect women, the perfect case is hard to find also.

 

You'll just have to spend a few days trawling Google doing your R&D.

 

It somewhat depends on your layout. In my lounge I have all my geear shelved or rack mounted vertically. In my workspace/man cave I have it layed out horizontally.

 

My Mark III audio optimised HTPC will be a low profile ITX/passively cooled number that will look the part in a bedroom. Small nifty, quiet, unobtrusive etc but no time at present to assemble the pieces.

 

Cheers,

Steve Cooney

 

 

 

Music Interests: http://www.onebitaudio.com

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