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A novel way to massively improve the SQ of computer audio streaming


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Most important: please realize this thread is about bleeding edge experimentation and discovery. No one has The Answer™. If you are not into tweaking, just know that you can have a musically satisfying system without doing any of the nutty things we do here.

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On 6/20/2019 at 1:51 PM, austinpop said:

 

It's not a case of moving on. The NUC7i7DNBE remains an outstanding endpoint option, so your moniker of "near end-game" is very apt.

 

However, we only evolve when we absorb the lessons learned.

 

I now see how it's possible to improve much further than the i7DNBE NUC, but it's not easy, and it's not for everyone. To understand why, let's talk about the lessons learned:

  1. PSU quality is paramount. This appears to be the one constant in this journey! But while there are excellent PSU options for single rail, low current (<3A), the options dwindle for multi-rail high current, especially ATX.
  2. Assuming a high-quality, high-current PSU, the more powerful the CPU (in terms of #cores, peak frequency, cache size), the more space, dynamics and body the music has.
  3. PSU quality is the limiting factor, and low PSU quality yields harshness as CPU power rises.

Right now, the NUC7i7DNBE is a widely achievable high-water mark in terms of SQ, as its 15W TDP means it can easily be powered with something like an SR-4 and still yield outstandingly clean SQ, with very respectable dynamics. Certainly head and shoulders better than we have experienced with the underpowered Atom/Celeron/Pentium based commercial streamers of past and present.

 

For people looking past NUCs, achieving #2 is the big challenge. I can clearly hear how much bigger and more dynamic my i7-8700T server sounds when directly connected to my DAC (through the tX-USBultra, of course). And this is not even with the i7-8700K or i9-9900 CPUs @romaz and others have tried. The challenge, of course, is that my HDPlex 400W ATX Linear PSU, while very good, is not in the same league as an SR7 and cannot completely tame the harshness. So I am currently in this state of flux, where I can choose more dynamics, but pay for it with more harshness. Yes, as I've explained in earlier posts, I can tune this somewhat using the max frequency control in Euphony.

 

Now, if you have the luxury of multiple SR7 DR rails like Roy does, where he is using a 19V/6A DR rail to power an HDPlex DC-ATX converter for ATX, and another SR7 DR 12V/6A rail for EPS, you can truly reap the benefits of greater dynamics, with no harshness. This is the context of Roy's comment of his NUC being "retired." If I had those rails, I would too! In my case, this is achievable, as I do have a 3-rail SR7DR on order, and based on my queue position I should hopefully receive it this summer.

 

Can this be improved even further? It remains to be tried, but I am very hopeful it can be. Here are some thoughts:

  • If a PSU vendor like Paul Hynes (unlikely), Sean Jacobs, or Mattijs at Farad were to deliver a truly audiophile DC-ATX converter, then that would be a game changer
  • Extrapolating from the improved dynamics observed going from i7-8650U (i7DNBE NUC) to i7-8700T to i7-8700K to i9-9900, would the Ryzen 3900x (12 cores, 4.6GHz peak, 64MB L3 cache) be the next logical step?
  • Of course, each step, raises the TDP, and the demands on the PSU.
  • ideally we need dual PCie card slots, without risers, one for Ethernet (JCAT or the upcoming SOtM), and one for USB (JCAT or SOtM). Each of these need PSUs too!
  • It's possible that with an SR7 powering the ATX input, then "bus" power may in fact be cleaner for these PCIe cards than external PSUs. This needs to be validated. I know Roy is playing with this.

One final thought. If you look at commercial systems based on these CPUs like the i9-9900K, you'll see they're provisioned with PSUs often in excess of 1000W. Our custom builds work with much lower power PSUs (even a 19V/10 SR7 rail for ATX, and a 12V/6A rail for EPS adds up to less than 300W) because we are running these systems mostly idle. Roon, Stylus etc. without upsampling, room correction, or other DSP, barely run at 1-2% utilization. This allows us to use these lower powered PSUs with impunity.

 

But once you crank this server up to high utilizations with DSP, all bets are off. This is also the reason why commercial music servers built to this principle are going to a while coming. A manufacturer cannot just assume a customer will never run high CPU workloads. Thus, they have to build for the worst case. This explains the extraordinary lengths the Innuos, the Taiko and the Pink Faun servers have to go to for power supplies, and why they are so expensive.

 

That is why my advice to people who ask me if it's time to move past the NUCs is to focus first on improving the PSU on the NUC and the rest of the chain. Only if you have multi-rail, high current, and high-quality PSUs should you venture further, or otherwise be prepared to ride the "dynamics vs. harshness" wave!

 

 

Rajiv,

 

I was just lamenting that our world seems to be splitting into SR7 haves and have-nots. Perhaps we should start a new thread for the have-nots. Too bad you did not see the humour in my expression of this lament.

 

Larry

 

The original promoter of "one-box" solutions.

Pareto Audio aka nuckleheadaudio

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18 minutes ago, lmitche said:

Rajiv,

 

I was just lamenting that our world seems to be splitting into SR7 haves and have-nots. Perhaps we should start a new thread for the have-nots. Too bad you did not see the humour in my expression of this lament.

 

Larry

Honestly Larry I get that from the  comments the SR7 "seems" to be the pinnacle of the SQ (which not necessarily means it is) but that doesn't mean there is a split between haves and have nots, Rajiv and Romaz are establishing reference systems which most of us we cannot try (now I kind of see your point) but there are things in between which are completely within reach, and I personally I'm perfectly happy with it, like for example AL, it has made a big difference on my system. 

My point is Rajiv have been part of the community and very valuable like yourself and your comment although kind of understandable don't really apply, it started like a joke but then you went into assumptions

My apologies for trying even to provide opinions between you two but I appreciate you both contribution. 

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2 hours ago, rickca said:

On the Pink Faun website, I read the statement

We only use motherboards with the an external CPU clock, not with an integrated CPU clock.

Which motherboards would have an integrated CPU clock?

 

NOt sure, I don't even know how their new super OCXO clocks can be used with the motherboard. I presume using it somehow would bypass the original integrated CPU clock on the motherboard.                    

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12 minutes ago, numlog said:

The pink faun is not a soundcard if thats what you mean, its its own thing, an ''I2S bridge''. Soundcards are an interface and a DAC, usually an ADC too, in the form of PCI card. Im talking the general market for a new PCIe to I2S chip, not computer audiophiles, an even smaller subset of audiophiles.  

ok, sorry, got confused when you mentioned soundcard. I am mainly referring to the audio bridges. I suppose PCle to I2S market is not large. Most DACs do not even have I2S, at least not the mainstream ones. Only boutique DACs that are normally not on sale in the general markets have these inputs, many from China/Asia. PS audio may be the main western more commercial product with I2S input.  

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8 minutes ago, Chopin75 said:

NOt sure, I don't even know how their new super OCXO clocks can be used with the motherboard. I presume using it somehow would bypass the original integrated CPU clock on the motherboard.                    

That seems like the answer.

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2 hours ago, vortecjr said:

Not to argue the point, but according to Wikipedia it is:

 

sound card (also known as an audio card) is an internal expansion card that provides input and output of audio signals to and from a computer under control of computer programs.”

My understanding is the internal sound card is the card in the PC itself to convert digital signal to Analogue, like the Sound blaster stuck in my mothernboard ?? It has a small signal delta DAC chip I suppose ? It is mainly for gaming and cheap music listening I guess?  

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35 minutes ago, luisma said:

Honestly Larry I get that from the  comments the SR7 "seems" to be the pinnacle of the SQ (which not necessarily means it is) but that doesn't mean there is a split between haves and have nots, Rajiv and Romaz are establishing reference systems which most of us we cannot try (now I kind of see your point) but there are things in between which are completely within reach, and I personally I'm perfectly happy with it, like for example AL, it has made a big difference on my system. 

My point is Rajiv have been part of the community and very valuable like yourself and your comment although kind of understandable don't really apply, it started like a joke but then you went into assumptions

My apologies for trying even to provide opinions between you two but I appreciate you both contribution. 

Luisma,

 

The whole point of the NUC direction, and the reason I have been promoting it, is recognition that as a low current device a NUC can use an obtainable, high quality, low current power supplies to get SQ that is superior to prior one-box solutions.  Supplies like the LPS1.2 and Hdplex 200 are examples. On top of that with galvanic isolation on the network and USB connections ground loops are gone. This is easily accomplished with a 5ghz WIFI card and an ISO Regen with any NUC.

 

Maybe someday we can find an obtainable and affordable high current power supply as good as the SR7. In the meantime, I will be recommending NUCs, if they are available.

 

As far as I know, the only DIY one-box solutions rumored to beat the NUC approach are powered by SR7s.

 

Larry

Pareto Audio aka nuckleheadaudio

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1 hour ago, Chopin75 said:

My understanding is the internal sound card is the card in the PC itself to convert digital signal to Analogue, like the Sound blaster stuck in my mothernboard ?? It has a small signal delta DAC chip I suppose ? It is mainly for gaming and cheap music listening I guess?  

That is a sound card as well. There are high end cards Lynxs, RME, even Asus makes a nice one.

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1 hour ago, lmitche said:

Luisma,

 

The whole point of the NUC direction, and the reason I have been promoting it, is recognition that as a low current device a NUC can use an obtainable, high quality, low current power supplies to get SQ that is superior to prior one-box solutions.  Supplies like the LPS1.2 and Hdplex 200 are examples. On top of that with galvanic isolation on the network and USB connections ground loops are gone. This is easily accomplished with a 5ghz WIFI card and an ISO Regen with any NUC.

 

Maybe someday we can find an obtainable and affordable high current power supply as good as the SR7. In the meantime, I will be recommending NUCs, if they are available.

 

As far as I know, the only DIY one-box solutions rumored to beat the NUC approach are powered by SR7s.

 

Larry

And I agree with everything you just said, following this thread I have been able to improve my system at great lengths with the use of low cost NUC's and LPSs, very affordable and great SQ.

 

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2 hours ago, lmitche said:

As far as I know, the only DIY one-box solutions rumored to beat the NUC approach are powered by SR7s.

 

Gotta call BS on that, some of us would simply like to have a VERY special take on Roy's impressions while pretending to have a sense of humor IMHO. Though that's understandable since we're talking about a threat to someone's profit

 

https://audiophilestyle.com/forums/topic/55873-shootout-at-the-linux-corral-audiolinux-vs-euphony/page/8/?tab=comments#comment-960794

On 5/25/2019 at 3:43 AM, romaz said:

Even with the 8700K server powered by an HDPlex 400W ATX LPSU and with no special clocking outside of my tX-USBultra, I prefer the big server to the i7 NUC

 

And then it's all about the context once we're actually reading what Roy was writing without an agenda, the specific thing that's able to reap the benefits of processors with relatively high TDP (while still good for a fanless setup) turned out to be Euphony / Stylus but NOT AudioLinux / Roon at least in Roy's setup.

 

Hey @The Computer Audiophile just wondering if you're gonna keep turning a blind eye on vested interest that's poisoning the well, even though no sponsor's card could be played in this particular case?

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1 hour ago, seeteeyou said:

Hi CTU,

 

Funny, when I am asked to quote/build a custom machine,  an Intel 8 core processor and a Hdplex ATX 400 watt power supply is the recommended solution. Running AL of course.

 

I did once build a Euphony machine but it didn't sound as good as AL. Maybe I did something wrong.

 

Thanks,

 

Larry

 

 

Pareto Audio aka nuckleheadaudio

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1 hour ago, vortecjr said:

That is a sound card as well. There are high end cards Lynxs, RME, even Asus makes a nice one.

If anyone is interested EVGA have released an internal sound card with headphone amp based on an AKM AK4493EQ dac. Granted the nu audio is a pcie to USB architecture but the noise suppression and sq are quite remarkable.

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7 hours ago, vortecjr said:

A long time ago I looked at and utilized the Julia cards for i2s output on music servers we produced.  In order to utilize them we made up daughter boards that connected to the headers of the card.  It worked very well but the card itself was the limiting factor in terms of sound quality. For example the card utilizes bus power from the computer, it does not have isolation from the computer, and it’s oscillators we’re not high quality.  Still feedback on these was very good and customer really seemed to enjoy them. I still have some of those daughter boards in the boneyard. 

 

I also research the Pink Faun board as an alternative and contacted them about their single oscillator design. I was advised by Pink Faun that they are engineers did not see an issue with that design. I took this on face value and never got around to measuring it. In the end, we decided to do something different.

 

Which vt1721 based PCI cards are you referring to?

 

 

good to hear. I have plans to add external power and upgrade oscillators, as was done before successfully with generic USB3.1 and SATA cards, then some fair comparison can be done to the modded USB3.1 card + XMOS interface and see if its worth the trouble. The DAC will be required to be very close to the raw I2S output of the card,  difficult to accommodate but hopefully another potential advantage over PF. LVDS seems to be standard in commercial DACs, is that what was used on your daughterboard?

 

Not referring to any vt1721 cards specifically, only noticed some old, generic PCI soundcards used the chip

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31 minutes ago, Triplefun said:

If anyone is interested EVGA have released an internal sound card with headphone amp based on an AKM AK4493EQ dac. Granted the nu audio is a pcie to USB architecture but the noise suppression and sq are quite remarkable.

 

And seems to be totally impossible device to obtain... :D

 

Signalyst - Developer of HQPlayer

Pulse & Fidelity - Software Defined Amplifiers

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2 hours ago, seeteeyou said:

Hey @The Computer Audiophile just wondering if you're gonna keep turning a blind eye on vested interest that's poisoning the well, even though no sponsor's card could be played in this particular case?

I don’t read every post, so please keep the accusations to yourself. 

 

Have you used the report post function ?

Founder of Audiophile Style

Announcing The Audiophile Style Podcast

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51 minutes ago, numlog said:

good to hear. I have plans to add external power and upgrade oscillators, as was done before successfully with generic USB3.1 and SATA cards, then some fair comparison can be done to the modded USB3.1 card + XMOS interface and see if its worth the trouble. The DAC will be required to be very close to the raw I2S output of the card,  difficult to accommodate but hopefully another potential advantage over PF. LVDS seems to be standard in commercial DACs, is that what was used on your daughterboard?

 

Not referring to any vt1721 cards specifically, only noticed some old, generic PCI soundcards used the chip

I get what you are trying to do and it sounds like a fun project. We used LVSD i2s because we were connecting to PS Audio DACs and W4S DACs externally. 

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1 hour ago, Triplefun said:

If anyone is interested EVGA have released an internal sound card with headphone amp based on an AKM AK4493EQ dac. Granted the nu audio is a pcie to USB architecture but the noise suppression and sq are quite remarkable.

The EVGA uses a PCIe to USB bridge chip called the ASMedia...clever design. NDK oscillators as well. Very interesting.

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12 hours ago, Ricardo007 said:

Any recommendation for a good quality router (can be commercial) havinglike the netgear switch gs105 high quality ethernet ports?

I’m using an edgerouter 6p with great succes. This router is connected to the main switch using fiber sfp. This way you’re isolated from the modem and  in the cabling outside your house. As the edgerouter doesn’t include WiFi you will need separate WiFi access points. Keep these AP far enough away from your stereo rig.

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1 hour ago, Miska said:

 

And seems to be totally impossible device to obtain... :D

 

No problem getting EVGA Nu Audio in the USA.  

NUC7PJYH/AL --> Berkeley Alpha USB --> Jeff Rowland Aeris --> Jeff Rowland 625 S2 --> Focal Utopia 3 Diablos with 2 x Focal Electra SW 1000 BE subs

 

i7-6700K/Windows 10 Version 2004/HDPLEX 300W/HDPLEX 400W DC-ATX --> EVGA Nu Audio Card --> Focal CMS50's 

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Just now, rickca said:

No problem getting EVGA Nu Audio in the USA.  

 

OK, good, because seems to be unobtainable here in EU... Nobody lists it in Finland and the German shop I ordered it from gave up trying to get one after several months of attempts.

 

Signalyst - Developer of HQPlayer

Pulse & Fidelity - Software Defined Amplifiers

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