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Building a DIY Music Server


Nenon

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On 2/27/2020 at 10:12 PM, Energy said:

 

Yes I have. I haven't shared the news with anyone else other than with friends but it does sound better to me. I've got some of my audiophile friends to switch over to it. Some from NUC7I7DNHE's while other's from UltraRendu. To start off, aside from the sound quality, it has some good hardware. It's CPU and GPU (it's an APU thus combined) is a little faster than the Intel while it it's memory supports ECC and has a higher limit (3200MHz vs 2400MHz). It comes with a display port in case you ever want to use it as a normal computer and wish to pair it with higher refresh rate monitors. For the same price as the Intel offering you get better performance which when running it as an endpoint, the performance affects the sound quite a lot.

 

The setup I have is Music Server > EtherRegen > Endpoint

 

The endpoint runs AudioLinux via ramboot. The memory modules are 4GB x 2, ECC enabled, Industrial Grade. The unit runs headless after the initial setup was done to disable all unnecessary services. It occupies just a little over 3.4GB. I have it powered with a linear power supply that can handle 4A (AMB Laboratories σ11 with custom cooling) and it takes a set voltage of 12V. All superfluous (excessive) partitions in BIOS is disabled such as the WIFI card since it is not used. Now... for the sound.


I had both the NUC7I7 and this unit for about nearly 2 weeks before I decided on one and sold the other one off. It was easy to tell from the begging that I liked the iBOX-V1000 much more. It wasn't a SUPER DRAMATIC difference but I would say a 10% gain is quite significant for a product that has the same price and comes in a passively cooled fan-less case. The first thing I noticed was the imaging, detail, sound stage, and void of digital artifacts. The bass was somewhat more articulate and each sonic timbre more real with the same said about the decay. There was more edge to the sound yet it wasn't sharp. It's like re-polishing the corner of table, re-staining it, and putting a new layer of polyurethane over. It was the same sound I had liked or was familiar with but it just sounded more real yet edgy. Digital, yet analog. It only got better in time. At the 2 weeks mark I sold the Intel NUC off. 

 

Having said all this, I could come with some guesses on why it sounded better. I'm not a computer techie, but the improvements could be related to it's low TDP of 15W yet it has faster processing power. It's an APU so it's latency between CPU/GPU processes could be lower since they're both located on the same die. Since the Intel and AMD unit are both small form factor 4 x 4's, that department ends up in a tie. Since the Intel has a wide input range of 12-24 VDC, perhaps a set 12V has less DC-DC conversion going on. The higher frequency RAM meant nothing since I am using 2400MHz sticks so it didn't matter. ECC enabled for the memory does sound a little better (3%) whereas when used on the music server is less profound (1-2%). Lastly I am using the same power supply for them both as I have two of them so it couldn't be because of PSU differences. I even swapped them but they produced the same results time and time again.

 

So all in all, I highly recommend the iBOX-V1000 for those wanting to upgrade from their NUC7i7. The ECC didn't play as huge of a role as I thought but little did I know, every other component was what lead to the rest of the benefits. In regards to components, I advise you to have at least 3A of current for your linear PSU. I found that it sounded better with a 4A supply and the case is probably true when going even higher. I was going to add an MPAudio HPULN (5A) after the Linear PSU I'm using now for extra PSRR and lower output noise to see if it helps with sound (which im sure it does), but in that process I had a different idea. I looked at the unit and hold myself.. "having the endpoint attached to sCLK-EX to replace it's clocks wasn't good enough". I didn't want to improve the clocks of an area that could have been better isolated. For that I felt like the best course of action was to find a way to install both an Ethernet card and USB card into the unit to further isolate the Ethernet and USB controller so that even less jitter could be achieved. This way when the sCLK-EX connects to it, the clock signals are received in optimal fashion since the receiving circuit is now much more quiet. Then comes the discussion on the new USB output's ability creating a more ideal USB signal for the DAC. Even though I have a SOtM tX-USBultra after the endpoint that does some reconditioning to the USB signal, maybe it would do a better job if the signal arrived in better condition than it had before. Or maybe Ethernet entering the endpoint through the isolated card can now be processed more efficiently since there is a direct path to the CPU rather than running it through noisy motherboard components that are all sandwiched in the one area.

 

For this reason I came to the conclusion that despite it sounding better, I am going to go further. For those of you who want the iBOX-V1000, don't let this discourage you. It does sound better, but I think more can be squeezed from an endpoint.

 

I did a search and found that I could purchase a motherboard with the same CPU that also has a set 12V input and all the goodies that was spoken about previously. The unfortunate thing here is that the motherboard is no a longer small form factor 4" x 4". It was bigger, possibly require more power, and having more components on-board for processes that aren't used may create more noise. BUT what it did come with was a PCI-E socket for an add on card. The chassis I found does have a slot for an add on card and passive cooling.

 

This is currently what I have found. I am trying to find a motherboard with the V1605B APU but with 2 PCI-E slots as well as a chassis that can hold both cards while offering passive cooling.

 

Chassis: 

https://www.shop.perfecthometheater.com/FLM-7-Black-Fan-Less-Mini-PC-HTPC-aluminum-chassis-FLM-7-Black.htm?fbclid=IwAR1ZHJMsuS5CrmH1d6hNL7KqxdzyFHd-WT9yz_GsQkDQm2EP3nGqIXDcFLw

 

Motherboards:

[1] https://www.dfi.com/product/index/1404?fbclid=iwar1ww2swkbcrilb5dnpxw_zrsc71t-phnwc-dztnh1yx3smmzc6tk9iu6wi

[2] https://www.scan.co.uk/products/sapphire-ipc-fp5v-1ge-amd-ryzen-v1605b-embedded-cpu-vega-8-graphics-2x-1-gbe-4x-displayport-14-ddr4?fbclid=IwAR19uboDW_ialHLQKCLL30s3KKq99QubFg2aHJjDFDKGFczA9F2DuMzN1h4

 

So there you have it. This endpoint is currently satisfying me but for the future I would like to have a similar one but housed in a larger aluminum case (black) with two JCAT add-on cards for Ethernet and USB. This however would require a larger linear PSU that would have to output at least 5A so I am hoping Farad will build something that can accommodate. 

 

Did you manage to find a price for the DFI GH171?

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Sound technical reasoning... I did some experiments myself on motherboard VRMs and power supplies.  What I found was that my 6 Phase ITX motherboard (msi z97i) sounded better than a 24 Phase Gigabye one (it used doublers mind).  Sound was perhaps more detailed on the 24 Phase one, but it lacked transient attack and timing qualities of the smaller ITX motherboard.  I now think low impedance is probably more important than ripple now.  Some feedback I recieved.

 

 

I looked at Belleson regulators, but never progressed - very interested in feedback on these as written reviews are not really available (?). How are you configuring them - in a linear supply? 

 

I tried Corsair ax1600i (lowest ripple ATX SMPS available, uses GaN Transistors), but NUC + Paul Hynes SR7 still sounded better (more dynamic) to me.

 

 

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@Energy Great post, you've earned your title of Audio Sophomaniac 🙂

 

Wished I'd crossed paths with you earlier when I was doing my VRM & power supply experiments.  Due to my lack of success I'd then given up on the idea of being able to design something which betters the NUC/SR7 combo.  The information you've shared makes me think your ideas are very promising!

 

As you say, power supply is key - I am happy building using off the shelf modules and can also stuff and solder through hole PCB's, but no way I could design from scratch.   Are you able to flesh out your proposed build / products /designs being used for the power?

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@Nenon amazing post - can you show us more about how you undertook the motherboard clock mod?  I would also be interested your thoughts on the impact of the motherboard clock mod, vs say, adding JCAT USB  & NET cards only...

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Very nice Nenon - thanks for the details.  Did you try a listen with just the JCAT cards prior to the motherboard clock install?  Just interested in sound quality improvements vs investment ratio.

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This discussion has me thinking once again about the quality of power supply, for example great quality single rail linear power supply (Paul Hynes or Sean Jacobs) direct into an ITX motherboard with a DC Jack, or 4 pin Molex, vs going down the above route which needs a HDPLEX DC-DC converter (wastes the advantages of these high quality supplies?).

 

I keep coming back to the idea of a single rail for the main MB/CPU, then power separate PCI cards from smaller separate supplies like MPAudio ones.

 

I’m also very impressed with IanCanadas Life PO4 power supply (version 3 is out soon and is easy to integrate super caps) and I am considering using its configurable output to 13.2V to a DC/4-pin Molex ITX board (assuming it accepts that range)  LT3045 on the JCAT USB EX suggests it would accept 2 x 3.3v from the Life PO4.

 

That’s where my thoughts are presently going...

 

....so many different approaches to compare and I don’t think I could guess which would sound ‘best’.

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Perhaps the benefit of Nenons approach is that the full size motherboards he chooses have a dedicated 12V power to the processor... (unlike the DC/Molex single input style of solution I reference) if CPU lithography, typical speed and cache are the same then I would have thought that a i7 9700T would perform just as well as it’s higher powered counterpart(?), depending upon how many cores the operating system and playback software can utilise.   I know from experience that higher speed and larger cache processors sound better (so I’m also not interested in lower power Raspberry Pi solutions)... but do we need 39cores?  I have no experience to comment.


I’m limited to a single CPU <45w 9700T (or equiv) style solution anyhow as I don’t have the budget and prefer smaller boxes 🙂

 

I’ve posted the question on core count in the Gentoo Player thread as I wonder what the developer of this software thinks of the issue.

 

Did Emile f Taiko audio post a comparison of CPU’s somewhere?  Anyone got a link?

 

 

 

 

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6 hours ago, beautiful music said:


Thanks Nenon - looks like a 7700k (With TDP limit set?) would be best for me then.

 

7 hours ago, dminches said:

 

Are you saying that m-ATX motherboards don’t allow for direct powering of the CPU?  I am using an m-ATX Supermicro mobo and I am powering directly from the 12V rail of my HDPlex 400W LPS.

 

Of course, the mainstream is that ITX and almost all m-ATX boards come with a dedicated 12V CPU connection that must be powered for the CPU to boot.  I’m just trying to get a handle on the technical reasoning why the multi rail approach reportedly sounds better, compared to a single very good quality power supply feeding a smaller ITX board that has only a DC jack or (slightly better) a 4 pin Molex onboard.  I am talking about powering the CPU only here, of course I understand that step down converters are required onboard motherboards with single voltage DC input to produce 5/3.3V (but won’t matter as much if your powering network and USB cards directly with their own dedicated linear power).

 

Would be logical that motherboard that accept a single DC range say 12-19V would be at a disadvantage due to some step down conversation required on the motherboard.  My NUC sounds pretty great - but I’ve never experimented with multi rail.

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1 hour ago, gererick said:

Presumably whether or not one can or cannot disable the GPU in the operating system depends on the operating system. 

 

For example, per Nenon, Euphony is a closed operating system and changes are not possible.  Euphony is the best-sounding operating system, in my setup.  Regardless of GPU enabled or disabled.  And Euphony sounds best with a powerful processor, which I am guessing rules out a lot of NUCs.

 

Then there is the question of whether (i) motherboards that allow the PCH to be disabled sound better - after the PCH has been disabled - than (ii) other motherboards that do not allow the PCH to be disabled.  The motherboards in clause (ii) may have other SQ advantages that more than offset.   

Have you tried Gentoo Player... worth a go 🙂

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Question - I definately prefer faster processors.  But what would likely sound better... a 9700T or underclocking its faster unlocked counterpart 9700k to within the same power envelope? 

 

T vs K...

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NUC's allow you to directly set a maximum current limit for the processor in amps in the UEFI BIOS (under the performance screen).   Being able to set max current is really useful, as it means you can easily define performance around the capabilities of your linear power supply, and not risk damage to it.

 

Looking at the ASUS Z390-I ROG Strix Gaming manual, I can't see any reference to this feature.

 

Do any of the motherboards being examined here support this functionality?

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@Nenon  What Happens ot sound quality if you disable one of the processors?  Just interested in the dual vs single processor argument.

 

Would also be interested in how the number of operational cores also affect sound 4 vs 10 vs 20?

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@Nenon For your dual CPU Asus c621 build, how is it's HQPlayer performance? Can you run Sinc-M, or Sinc-L at DSD512, with some of the more demanding modulators like ASDM7EC?

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52 minutes ago, Nenon said:

 

I don't know as I don't upsample. Those CPUs don't have super high clock speed and may not be the best for heavy Hqplayer usage.

My guess is if you push them too hard, you would run into some cooling problems with the HDPlex heatsink... And you would need a high current LPS. 


True - I’m presently using SMPS for that very reason.

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20 hours ago, RickyV said:


Finished building the SJ dc3 regulator into my NUC case.

 

This is what I took as a base for the server, a 12cm wide heatsink with a copper heat transfer block.

7A052DA1-82DB-4FAE-B4D5-8757A1C2C360.thumb.jpeg.2027fc2b1996ab6d5e9a627f35dfdd97.jpeg


9D562A91-05C6-4163-AD2A-C30B66C7E34F.thumb.jpeg.0c813bfb26b438a25ea0d60896e095c1.jpeg

 

After choosing the best position for the regulator I had some room left so I added an extra LC filter to filter RF, EMI as much as possible before going into the regulator.

 

14BD0276-C3BA-4CE9-8850-55F794BED7E5.thumb.jpeg.8395045f5f73903d08359b46615d9614.jpeg

 

This is the internal power point of the NUC. Normally there is a 4pin connector there but I removed it so I could solder the 4 silver/gold mundorf wires straight to the board. So I made it in a star quad configuration with two shields separated by Teflon tape.

 

BBB4603C-3C1B-421B-B308-B741CBF502BE.thumb.jpeg.0ef67845bf3c8a3319874fcbd1ceb38d.jpeg

 

F28A395D-C802-4234-BA07-60744E318652.thumb.jpeg.1210bf6d7efdfa14b3c1c53ab216db89.jpeg

 

The all most finished NUC server.3C2C98F6-0013-49EC-BC36-7C2D5F74EB30.thumb.jpeg.3e616596e7f866285d3ca853e3102648.jpeg68300A22-E81A-4459-8F44-79A71C784EA8.thumb.jpeg.537c568aaf9a68bbd68f58e80b53ba41.jpeg

9A377C15-4BA8-4B55-AFCD-D7208DB34D16.thumb.jpeg.e5ce2618b10141da9c355c3f8cb537a7.jpeg
 

I still have to find a spot for the power switch and I want to polish the top a little beter.

Burn-in time.

 

 

Nice work!

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4 hours ago, seeteeyou said:

FYI - here's a little something for the fans of stripped-down Windows 10 LTSC 2019

 

http://jplay.eu/forum/index.php?/topic/3063-pink-hq-minorityclean/page-31

 

So far the latest MinorityClean Rev. 56 seemed to be the champion

 

http://www.mics.ne.jp/~coolverse/MinorityClean/MinorityClean_2020_Rev56_x64.zip

http://jplay.eu/forum/index.php?/topic/3063-pink-hq-minorityclean/page-31#entry52623

 

Interesting yet again - I really enjoyed the sound of LTSC, but I couldn't get JPLAY to work.  Any other upnp windows playback software alternatives?

 

Would be good to see an install / config process of Minority Clean.

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15 minutes ago, seeteeyou said:

https://audiophilestyle.com/forums/topic/30376-a-novel-way-to-massively-improve-the-sq-of-computer-audio-streaming/page/702/?tab=comments#comment-1085485  

 

FYI - they really aren't THAT expensive IMHO and there's only one £195 Duelund CAST Silver inside each Extreme

 

https://www.hificollective.co.uk/catalog/castdcag010-01uf-630v-duelund-cast-silver-stock-p-9417.html

GqoLstf.jpg

 

13 pieces of Mundorf MLytic AG were placed next to Duelund and obviously they're quite affordable, and then we could find 2 more nearby but they're still inexpensive

 

https://www.hificollective.co.uk/catalog/-c-61_68_182.html

https://www.hificollective.co.uk/catalog/-c-61_68_393.html

XDt8hfP.jpg

 

There's a much larger one on the other side that might look more like Mundorf MLytic HC, once again it wouldn't cost too much in the first place

 

https://www.hificollective.co.uk/catalog/-c-61_68_236.html

https://www.hificollective.co.uk/catalog/-c-61_68_412.html

https://www.monoandstereo.com/2020/02/taiko-audio-sgm-extreme-experience.html

oAtnaYL.jpg

 

Duelund CAST Silver seemed to be a solid performer, it's just almost nobody was interested other than Taiko Audio 

 

https://audiophilestyle.com/forums/topic/58164-building-a-diy-music-server/page/28/?tab=comments#comment-1078052

Duelund CAST Silver may well be acting as a bypass capacitor, which could deliver most of the sonic benefits allowing  MLytic to be used elsewhere.

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10 hours ago, dctom said:

Anyone tried a MSI motherboard? thought I might try this as an experiment -MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Edge AC fr a server build.

I used to use MSI Z97I Gaming AC ITX - a little old now, but sounded very good to me.

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20 hours ago, dctom said:

Hi

Anyone using an i7 9700k in a fanless case - I have a HDplex H5 v2 I was thinking of using with this cpu.

Wondering if the H5 can deal with this 95w processor.

Would be grateful for any info.

The largest HDPLEX is rated to 95watts - I used 8086k in it.

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