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CAPS v4 Hardware suggestions


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Having rules out a mac mini as a media server I have been reading with great interest about the CAPS designs and looking at the hardware list list made for the Topanga, which is now several years old, I was wondering if Chris is planning to produce a CAPS v4 designing using some newer hardware. It seems harder in the UK to get hold of some of the hardware he has suggested and the world of computers moves so fast that it would be good to build something which will last a good long time.

I have struggled to find anywhere in the forums much detail from anyone who has build an updated version of a CAPS.

 

I would love to hear peoples hardware suggestions or links to threads for a CAPS for 2014.

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I had suggested in another thread (but no one seemed interested) that we build a data base of what people have used in their custom builds, post v3. A bunch of us have done builds with different hardware which could be used by others to design their own build.

Speakers: Vandersteen Model 7s, 4 M&K ST-150Ts, 1 VCC-5; Amplification: 2 Vandersteen M7-HPAs, CI Audio D200 MKII, Ayre V-6xe; Preamp: Doshi Audio Line Stage v3.0; Phono Pre: Doshi Audio Phono Pre; Analog: Wave Kinetics NVS with Durand Telos composite arm; SME 3012R arm, Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement v2; Reel to Reel:  Technics RS-1500; Doshi Tape Pre-Amp; Studer A810, Studer A812, Tascam BR-20; Multi-channel: Bryston SP-3; Digital: Custom PC (Sean Jacobs DC4/Euphony/Stylus)> Lampizator Pacific

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That sounds really useful, I was looking for the more budget end but if people would share the hardware specs that would be be great. There is no one easy place to find them without spending hours looking through lots of other treads.

 

Would anyone like to share the more recent CAPS hardware list?

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I think NUC is a good candidate as it is a low TDP processor and thus easily built up in a fanless configuration. I have built one using the Akasa Newtown case which was very easy to do. I am not as aware about power source noise as others here on CA but the NUC is easily powered from a DC source which means it should be easily battery powered.

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I like the look of the nuc but it seems like it would be very difficult to upgrade to a higher quality dedicated USB card on this motherboard. I have been unable to find a high end USB card similar to the SOtM USB card which would work with a NUC motherboard and case. Has anyone worked this out yet? If this were possible inside a slightly bigger case this could be a great solution couldn't it? I am now torn between building a NUC based or mini itx system.

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This is a very complex issue as there are limitless combinations that will likely work great, but finding the ideal combination is almost impossible. I've had a CAPS v2, v3 Lagoon, and now a custom build. I've been tweaking on these designs (with a limited budget) with all kinds of software tweaks, different OS's, and many different power supplies (SMPS, linear, and battery). What I run now is the best I've ever had, or ever heard.

 

I think you just need to follow a general guide. It is my opinion that great sound from a computer based server needs to include a dedicated USB output card (if using USB for your DAC). The PPA Studio USB v2 card is an absolute steal for $129 shipped. IMO, it performs slightly better than the SOtM USB cards (I've had the PCI and PCIe versions), and it is WAY cheaper.

 

Windows Server 2012 R2 is an absolute must as the OS. Windows 7 and 8, no matter how much you tweak them, don't sound anywhere near as good. You will never get the clarity and tone with them as you will with WS2012. And WS2012, even in full GUI mode, runs much better even on slower Atom based systems. WS2012, runs faster, and far more stable as well.

 

The next must is Highend-AudioPC's Optimizer software for WS2012. This software is amazingly simple to use, and worth far more than the asking price. The customer support from Phil is amazing. Running WS2012 in Core mode with the Optimizer software is where the real magic starts. This is where you really get a level of clarity, tone, and analog smooth detailed sound.

 

Then comes JPLAY. This is where things get messy for me. I've had a hard time with JPLAY. Over the years, I only thought JPLAY sounded good once before. Every other time, it made the sound worse for me. I never liked it on my CAPS v2 running Windows 8 Pro. I never liked it on my CAPS v3 Lagoon with Windows 8 Pro either. But when I tried JPLAY 5.1 with WS2012, JPLAY became a necessity. It added a level of clarity and tone I had to have. However, this is where you start to understand that JPLAY needs more PC computing power to sound its best. So I set out to do just that.

 

I built a new server just a few months ago based on an Intel S1200KPR mini-ITX server motherboard. It runs a XEON processor, 4GB RAM (you don't *need* any more than that), PPA v2 USB card, WS2012 R2 in Core mode, Optimizer, and a wide-input picoPSU. The funny thing is that I could not get JPLAY to sound better than without. Now that I had enough computing power to optimize JPLAY's buffers to the max, it sounded basically the same as without it. Since I didn't yet own JPLAY, I thought "GREAT!"

 

That's when I started testing various linear power supplies. I cannot find a linear power supply that I think improves the sound. This was true with both the CAPS v2 and v3, and it's true again with my custom build. However, through some experimentation trying to find a power solution for my PPA USB card (said to improve the sound the most of any component), I tried an Anker E4 battery powering my OS SSD. There is a thread here on CA outlining this. The change in sound quality was by far the most revolutionary improvement I've ever heard from any linear power supply powering any part or the whole PC. To this day, it is one of the best tweaks I've ever done to a PC based music server. I'm now wondering how much of an improvement this would have been on my Intel Atom based servers. I imagine it could have been amazing.

 

Then JPLAY 5.2 came out, I tried it, and now I think it is now an absolute must for me. I run the Extreme engine, all buffers set to "DL", and Ultrastream set to "160" (the lowest my DAC's USB driver will allow). It is such an improvement in clarity, depth, imagining, tone, and transparency, I finally had to buy JPLAY.

 

Since this post is getting long, I'm going to try to sum things up. I think you can get great sound from an inexpensive Atom based PC server *IF* you use a dedicated USB output card, WS 2012 in Core mode, Optimizer, a battery powering the OS SSD, and possibly JPLAY 5.2. You will likely get better sound quality from a more powerful Intel Core based PC server doing all of the above, and likely JPLAY with optimized settings.

 

As far as hardware goes. The JPLAY engineers have found that it is not only the speed of the hardware you use, but the quality of those components. They have found that XEON processors and ECC RAM can sound best. A motherboard without a bunch of unused features like on-board sound, wifi, HDMI, etc, might also sound better. But I have a friend who runs a fairly full-featured ASUS motherboard with an i5 processor that seems to sound every bit as good as my more "ideal" server motherboard.

 

So based upon everything I have experimented with, here is what you should consider:

 

1. Get a quality motherboard that is as simplistic as possible.

 

2. Get a low TDP Intel Core i5, i7, or XEON to be able to max out JPLAY settings and be able to do anything like play DSD anything and remain fanless. On a budget, an Atom based motherboard can be VERY good, but it will have it's limits.

 

3. Get quality, low latency RAM. Opinions vary, but 4GB of RAM is enough. I've read less memory can also free up the processor's duties which may actually improve the sound. ECC may have a sound quality advantage.

 

4. Get a low power SSD like the Samsung's for the OS. Low power will work best when you power it with a USB battery pack.

 

5. Get a PPA USB output card (if using a USB DAC). The PPA v2 card is one of the best deals in PC audio.

 

6. Power for the motherboard, USB card, and CPU are all very tweakable and it far too complex to simplify into a list.

 

Combine the above in a fanless case of your choice, use WS2012 in Core mode, Optimizer, possibly JPLAY, and I think you will have a very impressive PC based music server.

 

My server:

 

Intel S1200KPR mini-ITX server motherboard

Intel XEON (1265L v2 45W TDP) processor

Crucial 4GB CL7 ECC RAM

Samsung 120GB SSD

PPA v2 USB card

Streacom FC8 case

6" shielded SATA cable

wide-input picoPSU with FSP SMPS (19V, 6A)

Anker E4 USB battery pack powering SSD

Window Server 2012 R2 (Core mode)

Highend-AudioPC Optimizer

J.River 19

JPLAY 5.2

 

NOTE: On top of all that, there the option of a dual-PC JPLAY setup. This brings even more complexity to things.

 

As always, YMMV. ;)

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Wow thank you so much for detailing your experience and what sounds like a great possible solution. The PPA USB card, looks great, and a really great price. How do you have the USB card powered?

 

I'm now going to start costing up the above spec and see where it goes. This type of system would certainly give much more flexibilty in terms of upgrades than a NUC.

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I've tried 3 different linear power supplies and the Anker battery pack on the PPA card, and nothing comes close to the sound of powering it with the picoPSU. This is NOT the general consensus of others. I can't explain why, but it's not even close. It seems anything other than the pico powering my PPA card sounds awful.

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  • 4 months later...

Would the iFi Micro iUSBPower (Micro – iUSBPower) negate the need for a dedicated USB output card? Can anyone confirm or guess that it would be a better solution than a dedicated USB output card and why or why not? Seems that it addresses the same problem and is external (doesn't use up space in the box).

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Would the iFi Micro iUSBPower (Micro – iUSBPower) negate the need for a dedicated USB output card? Can anyone confirm or guess that it would be a better solution than a dedicated USB output card and why or why not? Seems that it addresses the same problem and is external (doesn't use up space in the box).

 

From what I have read but not experienced as I am still trying the Mac CAPS, it still helps. I have the IFI iUSB and I can clearly see the impact on a scope on the 5v pin. The D+ and D- still show noise coming through however. The SoTM and JCAt when supplied with a quality linear PSU will also lower noise on the D+ and D- pins so I have read but have not tested.

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TJHUB - Thanks for summaring the latest info!

 

I have been trying to read as much as I can, and beside what you had listed there were a few more potential elements of CAPS audio improvement:

 

1. Linear PSU for the memory

 

2. Turn off or take out the graphics card after setup is complete

 

3. Underclock the CPU

 

4. Use 3M AB5100S sheets to absorb high frequency noise

 

5. Related to #1, avoid the DC-to-DC converters (incl. Pico - understand your differing experience), which use high frequency pulses to monitor and change voltages. Individual or multi-rail linear PSUs for everything. As little electrical fluctuations as possible.

 

6. No fan - you had already mentioned it, but important to stress

 

7. Separate enclosure and/or proper shielding ( EMI and vibration) of harddrives

 

8. Short, shielded SATA cable with careful attention on placement. Keep away from EMI sources.

 

9. Don't forget to isolate and filter your power. A tv, dvr, receiver, essentially anything with a processor in it, will throw back noise into the A/C circuit.

 

10. Get rid of switching power supplies on the A/C circuit used for audio as much as possible.

 

 

Cheers

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  • 3 weeks later...

Hello

 

The philosophy is as usual : low TDP but keep power.

As stated I would go for i5, i7 or Xeon, best would be "T" models with 35W max TDP.

Motherboard, I would go for one that can be handle new SSD M.2 onboard (ex : H97 & Z97 chipset).

If HDD (for streamer), my prefered choice is "red" series (for NAS) from Western Digital.

If USB output : PPA or Sotm USB card

Case : Fanless, from Streacom or HFX

PSU : ideal is ATX linear PSU, otherwise linear one with pico PSU.

Soft : Prefered choice is Daphile over Windows + Jplay

Overall setup : 2 PC's : "streamer" + "audio"

 

Rgds

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  • 2 weeks later...
ASRock Q1900 ?

Is it such necessary to have the Quad-Core or is the some cheaper but presumably same good Dual-Core J1800 just enough for CAPS?

ASRock > D1800M

Same users said that Quad Core sounds better, but I never tried...

 

If with DN2800MT you can play everything (at least PCM, DXD and DSD128), with J1800 will be also possible.

 

ASRock Q1900TM-ITX uses Atheros LAN Chip, and could have some issues with JPLAY ULTRAStream engine.

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ASRock Q1900TM-ITX uses Atheros LAN Chip, and could have some issues with JPLAY ULTRAStream engine.

Guessed it's the same Realtek RTL8111GR at least as per specification, or is there Atheros chip onboard ?

 

You speak of the Q1900TM-ITX but what form-factor is generally to be preferred soundwise? The ATX boards are some large, using longer memory slots etc. The ASRock Q1900DC-ITX has 9~19V DC-In jack on board which is great by itself but is it better for sound than using a Pico-PSU in ATX?

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Guessed it's the same Realtek RTL8111GR at least as per specification, or is there Atheros chip onboard ?

It use the Qualcomm Atheros AR8171: ASRock > Q1900TM-ITX

 

You speak of the Q1900TM-ITX but what form-factor is generally to be preferred soundwise? The ATX boards are some large, using longer memory slots etc. The ASRock Q1900DC-ITX has 9~19V DC-In jack on board which is great by itself but is it better for sound than using a Pico-PSU in ATX?

I'm not sure, but from what I read, it seems that Pico-PSU is more difficult to filter the noise.

In both cases is advised to filter the noise coming from the SSD and to USB Card, if you have it...

 

I suggested this ASROCK Q1900DC-IT because it seems to be a very good upgrade to DN2800MT, for audio and/or multimedia, that is also a Mini-ITX, have DC-Input, and have low TDP...

 

For example, in JPLAY forum the people are advised to use a Intel Server Board S1200KPR (Mini-ITX) with Intel Xeon Processor E3-1265L v2, so you can have a better idea, but with this new motherboards that could change...

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I suggested this ASROCK Q1900DC-IT because it seems to be a very good upgrade to DN2800MT, for audio and/or multimedia, that is also a Mini-ITX, have DC-Input, and have low TDP...

 

ASRock Q1900TM-ITX is a Thin Mini-ITX with only 20 mm height (just like DN2800MT) and has all solid japanese made capacitors...

 

 

I like ASROCK Q1900DC-ITX but worry if it fits the low profile wesena e4 v3 chassis which I got with DN2800MT: Ultra low profile HTPC chassis.

 

Do you know btw what's the height of Q1900DC-ITX ?

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ASRock Q1900TM-ITX is a Thin Mini-ITX with only 20 mm height (just like DN2800MT) and has all solid japanese made capacitors...

 

 

I like ASROCK Q1900DC-ITX but worry if it fits the low profile wesena e4 v3 chassis which I got with DN2800MT: Ultra low profile HTPC chassis.

 

Do you know btw what's the height of Q1900DC-ITX ?

It seems to be 3.15cm:

http://forums.tweaktown.com/asrock/57404-questions-about-q1900dc-itx-board-bay-trail.html#post482264

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