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What's better? Mini computer or commercial made streamer


Todd R
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I'm currently using a PS Audio Direct Stream DAC with the Bridge II card and controlled by JRiver. The Bridge card sounded slightly better than feeding it with the Auralic Aires through the USB.

 

The Audio system is fed by a Ethernet cable that is connected to the router/modem at my desktop computer that is located in a spare room.

 

What I would like to accomplish is to make my music system independent from the desktop computer, so I'm looking for either a mini computer like a NUC or Mac Mini, or a purpose built music streamer similar to the Aurender products. I would still like to be able to connect to the desktop in some way for backups and streaming.

 

I would prefer something with an Ethernet output so I can continue to use the Bridge card (but it's not a deal breaker).

 

I realize a purpose built streamer like Aurender would be the easiest to connect and configure, but do they sound better than a mini computer? There is quite a price difference.

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I've tried several mini-PCs in my system and my feeling is that a custom-built PC is much cleaner and and sweeter, as well as being upgradable.  Short of building your own (which is actually remarkably easy) you might look at some of the entry-level Innuos products.  They seem to be carefully made.  But generally speaking, yes, I think it's worth the extra money for an audiophile-grade product.  Just my .02. :-)

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Agreed, zackthedog,

 

I would not buy the Mini again given what I know today and all the stuff I have  had to disable and customize to make it sound more acceptable which is stuff I realize I had to pay for to begin with (internal HD, Blutooth, IR, internal PSU) and stuff I had to add for a good amount of money (MMK, SD Card, external audio storage, USB tweaks).

 

On top of that mine was brand new, maybe a pre-owned for a fee hundred would be (or have been) more in the game than what I have got but I would certainly look for alternative solution now as we are in 2018 and the market is full of them.

 

Chris

 

 

Software > Roon Server & HQ Player4 on Windows 2019/AO & MacMini MMK (plus Audirvana 3.5)  > Netgear GS105EV2 > Meicord Opal > Naim NDX 2 > Naim SN2 + Lyngdorf CD-2 + Rega RP8/Aria >  > Harbeth SHL5 plus

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29 minutes ago, HardrockInMiniMac said:

Agreed, zackthedog,

 

I would not buy the Mini again given what I know today and all the stuff I have  had to disable and customize to make it sound more acceptable which is stuff I realize I had to pay for to begin with (internal HD, Blutooth, IR, internal PSU) and stuff I had to add for a good amount of money (MMK, SD Card, external audio storage, USB tweaks).

 

On top of that mine was brand new, maybe a pre-owned for a fee hundred would be (or have been) more in the game than what I have got but I would certainly look for alternative solution now as we are in 2018 and the market is full of them.

 

Chris

 

 

 

I agree.  My Mini serves as the all-around media workhorse for movies and downloading and stuff.  But I get better sound out of a custom-built PC.  

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There is no univocal answer to the question.

 

When you build ready-to-use device, you get ready hardware+software+remote control.

 

If you "know how", you can assemble, configure and adjust own device. There is no magic. But it consume more time. Also you measurement equipment is very recommended. Becauise replacement of modules and noise cancelling actions may be need. Etc.

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On 1/25/2018 at 5:00 AM, zackthedog said:

I think a custom PC or streamer sounds better because the components are more carefully chosen for audio, and you can leave out a lot of things that aren't needed that tend to generate noise.

 

On a custom pc, how do you handle the higher end clock that has proven to be a major factor...i would like the idea of a pc, if you didn't have to send the pc off to have some special clock put in it.

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2 hours ago, Todd R said:

Not sure if I'm capable of "building" my own successfully. Any suggestions on a ready to play purpose built unit with built in storage? The Aurender units look like what I'm after, but are really expensive.

Look at Lumin products...they also include a dac...you can also get used ones on hifi heaven.

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9 hours ago, beerandmusic said:

 

On a custom pc, how do you handle the higher end clock that has proven to be a major factor...i would like the idea of a pc, if you didn't have to send the pc off to have some special clock put in it.

 

Let's be clear, you don't *have* to send a motherboard off to Korea for $1500 worth of upgrades.  I haven't heard such mods, and while I don't doubt they can make an improvement, some simple BIOS and OS tweaks and John Swenson's $10 grounding trick for switch-mode power supplies can produce some pretty good results.

 

I have the $350 SOtM USB card and it's a nice upgrade, even running off the motherboard's SATA supply.  I just ordered the $150 Matrix Hi X USB card from eBay and I'm very interested to hear how it compares with the SOtM.

 

I mention a custom PC because you *can't* do much with a Mac Mini, whereas a DC-powered motherboard, an SSD, 4GB of memory and dandy little case with expansion slots can cost less than $250, and you have an eminently upgradeable server.

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3 minutes ago, zackthedog said:

 

Let's be clear, you don't *have* to send a motherboard off to Korea for $1500 worth of upgrades.  I haven't heard such mods, and while I don't doubt they can make an improvement, some simple BIOS and OS tweaks and John Swenson's $10 grounding trick for switch-mode power supplies can produce some pretty good results.

 

I have the $350 SOtM USB card and it's a nice upgrade, even running off the motherboard's SATA supply.  I just ordered the $150 Matrix Hi X USB card from eBay and I'm very interested to hear how it compares with the SOtM.

 

I mention a custom PC because you *can't* do much with a Mac Mini, whereas a DC-powered motherboard, an SSD, 4GB of memory and dandy little case with expansion slots can cost less than $250, and you have an eminently upgradeable server.

 

Thanks for this info.  Just curious...if you have the $350 SOTM usb card why do you want to try this $150 Matrix HI X USB card?  Is it supposed to be better, or you are hoping it sounds as good and then you can sell the sotm?  Or did you just want a 2nd system....just curious.

 

Are you using a generic computer with stock PS? 

I might be interested in going down this route, if you don't need to get to elaborate...

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Apart from my own explorations, I'm in the process of building a server/ripper for a friend.  He has a very nice system and is curious about this "computer audio" thing. ;-)  He is tired of wading through boxes of CDs.  However, he's retiring this month and the price of something like the Zenith is out of the question for now.  I'm assembling this for him so he can try it out.  It will have a coax output for his Border Patrol DAC, but also a decent USB output as well.  If he doesn't like it he can send it back and I can repurpose the parts.  I've always been curious about the Matrix card so I ordered one from eBay and if it sounds good I'll drop it in.

 

The other issue is that his classical CD collection is very similar to mine, in that he has loads of imports and rare historical stuff.  A sizeable percentage of these discs will NOT be recognized by CDDB, FreeDB, MusicBrainz or any of the other free online databases used by these Logitech-based devices.  This renders such a device useless for his purposes.  Trust me, I know this from experience.  Others on this board have scoffed at the idea, but really this is a very big deal for collectors like myself.  So I think his best shot is Windows 10 with iTunes to rip to lossless and Jriver to track and play the files.  It's a rare disc that iTunes doesn't produce some kind of data for.  

 

He also wants to be able to listen to Tidal (which he loves), AND view YouTube concerts and MediciTV in decent sound and video quality.  None of the server/ripper options I know of allow for this.

 

So I've been testing basic setups.  The whole thing is designed with the idea that 1) it's a no-brainer operation, 2) it does everything he wants and 3) with a little help he can easily upgrade it himself as he sees fit.  It will have an SSD for the OS and a 2TB HDD for music storage.  The case has a number of expansion slots.  As a start, I'm trying to get the best possible sound for the least amount of money.  A lot of it is spare parts I have lying around.

 

He sent me the Border Patrol a couple of months ago so I know what it sounds like.  It's a really nice R2R DAC that sounds very natural and analogue, but it's limited to RedBook with upsampling to 96.  For his purposes this is just fine.  He currently feeds it with a high-end CD player.  Personally I think his best bet will be to add a SOtM dx-USB HD to convert USB to coax, then add a SOtM LPS for that.  I suspect that for the money he'd be more than satisfied.  There aren't going to be any re-clocked Trifectas or anything like that.  He would never, ever be able to cope with that.  

 

I personally am using right now:

 

A 16TB home-made server based on an ASRock J3160DC-ITX motherboard ($103) running Openmediavault in a very compact fanless case.  It's a basic folder sharing setup with USB back-ups and no NAS configuration because it just isn't necessary and adds complications. (I am mindful of a CA participant who recently lost 16TB of music when two drives on his NAS failed at once.) 

 

My server is an inexpensive mini-TX expansion enclosure ($25) with another ASRock J3160DC-ITX board, a small SSD, an ASUS DVD drive for playing CDs and the tx-USBexp card.  It's running stock W10 and JRiver 64-bit feeding my ARCAM irDAC.  I'm content with it and my wife, who has very sharp ears, has made it clear that it sounds like music to her and that this is something we can both listen to and enjoy.  She does not like overly tweaked sound.  I did buy an HDPlex 200W LPS to feed the motherboard and the USB card, and it sounds pretty nice, but I think I could do better.  But that will have to wait.  If I had to run it off a stock SMPS, frankly, it wouldn't be the end of the world AFAIC.

 

I'm sure this sounds elementary to a lot of people here.  My Mac Mini is relegated to download and multi-media duty.  I've tried a number of mini-PCs and they're okay but what I've assembled is better, IMO, at least for now.  

 

Hope this helps.:-)

 

 

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3 hours ago, Todd R said:

LOL! You just went so far over my head :-)

 

Hah!  Sorry. :-)  I was responding to beerandmusic who, along with myself, has been following the very long and complex thread about "massive improvements" to computer audio.  Much of that thread is well beyond my own means and capabilities. ;-)

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  • 1 month later...

My 2p worth, how about  a used Bryston BDP1.  In the UK at least too expensive when new, but very good value s/h now at around a third of  RRP, and Bryston continue to support and develop the MM firmware.  USB, BNC and AES out, 24/384 and DSD256 (DoP) depending on DAC used,  Tidal, Roon (maybe?).  To my ears certainly sounds better than an off the shelf PC with a LPSU.

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Well, the Bryston is just a Raspberry Pi computer on the inside. Many of the dedicated streamers are similar to phones (meaning using the same processors, etc.). Digital data is digital data. There is no magic sauce for music. I believe that a well built mini PC will be better than a dedicated steamer and more upgradable too.

Current:  Daphile on an AMD A10-9500 with 16 GB RAM

DAC - TEAC UD-501 DAC 

Pre-amp - Rotel RC-1590

Amplification - Benchmark AHB2 amplifier

Speakers - Revel M126Be with 2 REL 7/ti subwoofers

Cables - Tara Labs RSC Reference and Blue Jean Cable Balanced Interconnects

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Small Green Computer will probably agree to make you a fanless server/player with with 2 ethernet ports so you can use it the way you want. 

Write them and tell them what you are looking for. 

Main listening (small home office):

Main setup: Surge protector +_iFi  AC iPurifiers >Isol-8 Mini sub Axis Power Conditioning+Isolation>QuietPC Low Noise Server>Roon (Audiolense DRC)>Stack Audio Link II>Kii Control>Kii Three >GIK Room Treatments.

Secondary Listening: Server with Audiolense RC>RPi4 or analog>Matrix Element i Streamer/DAC (XLR)+Schiit Freya>Kii Three .

Bedroom: SBTouch to Cambridge Soundworks Desktop Setup.
Living Room/Kitchen: RPi 3B+ running RoPieee to a pair of Morel Hogtalare. 

All absolute statements about audio are false :)

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2 hours ago, Norton said:

 

No connection between BDP1/2/3 and Raspberry PI.

 

Sorry, I mean this - http://www.bryston.com/products/digital_audio/BDP-Pi.html

 

1500 USD for a Raspberry Pi.

Current:  Daphile on an AMD A10-9500 with 16 GB RAM

DAC - TEAC UD-501 DAC 

Pre-amp - Rotel RC-1590

Amplification - Benchmark AHB2 amplifier

Speakers - Revel M126Be with 2 REL 7/ti subwoofers

Cables - Tara Labs RSC Reference and Blue Jean Cable Balanced Interconnects

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Just now, Ralf11 said:

I'd bet the Bryston is not just a Raspberry Pi...

 

I bet it is. If you look at most of the streamers, besides a linear PS, they are just very simple computers, most using cellphone CPU's.

 

As I said, digital data is just that, digital data. There is nothing special/magical about digital music.

Current:  Daphile on an AMD A10-9500 with 16 GB RAM

DAC - TEAC UD-501 DAC 

Pre-amp - Rotel RC-1590

Amplification - Benchmark AHB2 amplifier

Speakers - Revel M126Be with 2 REL 7/ti subwoofers

Cables - Tara Labs RSC Reference and Blue Jean Cable Balanced Interconnects

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My experience with Roon is that if you use a streamer-like DAC - either via a microRendu or similar device or built into the DAC - it doesn't really matter what your source is. This assumes your source is not polluting your system some other way (either via electrical noise or similar).

 

One more interesting bit pointed out to me by dCS's John Quick: It is best to use a non-shielded ethernet cable to your DAC than a fully shielded one because the latter can drive electrical noise through the shield. Ethernet is a diferential signal so it is relatively immune to common noise so shielding is not that useful anyway. Given the connections always have coupling transfomers, no ground loops can be created via the ethernet signal cables either. A pretty good interface.

mini+Roon > dCS Rossini DAC + Rossini Master Clock 

SME 20/3 + SME V + Dynavector XV-1s > vdH The Grail

Audio Note Kondo Ongaku > Avantgarde Duo Mezzo G2

system pics

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