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PC for stereo streaming; what to prioritize?


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I have a Cambridge Edge A integrated amp, Martin Logan Vistas, and a Denon DVD-5900 as the primary source (used for audio only) for my CD and SACD collection. I use its digital coax out direct to the Edge for CDs. Sometimes I stream Tidal from my laptop connected via USB, but I want to add something better and more permanent. I've been reading these forums and gaining knowledge, but these threads can quickly go DEEP into the weeds. I'm looking for pointers on how to start planning a PC that would be a good fit. What should my priorities be?

 

I'm a software engineer, I have no problem building a PC, I've used linux as my primary OS for more than 15 years, and so I gravitate toward having a PC of some kind where I can have control of the software, upgrade software over time, and perhaps just use VNC or remote desktop to control the thing. I want to end up with the ability to stream Tidal or other high-quality services, potentially with video (like the Berlin Phil Digital Concert Hall), and I guess other mainstream video. I do not yet own a TV, so advice on that is also welcome. (Maybe I should plan to stream video sources direct from the TV? Haven't owned a modern TV, so I don't have experience there.)

 

I mostly listen to classical and some jazz, and I had a ~10 year career as a classical musician before the software industry lured me away, so my ear is picky about quality and accuracy.

 

Hardware: I'm reading in this forum about being fanless, linear power supply, using particular RAM, isolating the SSD's power, or having no local storage at all, having a dedicated high-end USB card, isolating power to that too, .... Then I'm also reading about people using NUCs or even raspberry pis. Can you help me digest and prioritize these things? What would be a good fit for my setup to produce a high-quality stereo source? Or is this whole idea crazy, and I should just get a Bluesound Node 2i or similar?

 

Software: I understand that Tidal does not support MQA on linux. Bummer. I much prefer to run linux, but I may be willing to run Windows if that's the only way to get MQA. It's just been a LONG time (my last Win desktop was XP). Thoughts on that? I have at least been able to identify that disabling pulseaudio makes a noticeable difference when my laptop is the source. Should I be looking at Roon, or can I get by without it? I have a modest FLAC collection that I don't often think about, so streaming is probably the priority.

 

Any advice at all would be appreciated. There are probably some questions I should be asking but don't yet know enough to ask. Thanks!

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It's difficult because there are so many choices which in turn will depend on your audio gear physical preferences (streaming, local storage, NAS or not,USB or not, etc etc) and then your 'ideology' in terms of the best sound quality to be obtained in those various implementations. The latter is the most controversial and where the heated debates occur.

 

If streaming is your priority maybe consider buying a streamer, rather than PC ?? (I do not stream, I use a custom built server and local storage, so really just mention streamers as an option. I also use VNC to access server or use a phone app to control my media player, JRiver).

 

A good starting point IMO is something like https://thewelltemperedcomputer.com/index.html

 

On the "ideological" front things like MQA is highly controversial. Just mentioning that in case you were unaware and wondered why your choices might be shaped by MQA vs no MQA.I hope others do not turn this into an MQA thread tho.....you can read here https://audiophilestyle.com/forums/topic/30381-mqa-is-vaporware/

 

 

Good Luck and welcome

David

Sound Minds Mind Sound

 

 

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2 hours ago, MichaelH said:

I have a Cambridge Edge A integrated amp, Martin Logan Vistas, and a Denon DVD-5900 as the primary source (used for audio only) for my CD and SACD collection. I use its digital coax out direct to the Edge for CDs. Sometimes I stream Tidal from my laptop connected via USB, but I want to add something better and more permanent. I've been reading these forums and gaining knowledge, but these threads can quickly go DEEP into the weeds. I'm looking for pointers on how to start planning a PC that would be a good fit. What should my priorities be?

 

I'm a software engineer, I have no problem building a PC, I've used linux as my primary OS for more than 15 years, and so I gravitate toward having a PC of some kind where I can have control of the software, upgrade software over time, and perhaps just use VNC or remote desktop to control the thing. I want to end up with the ability to stream Tidal or other high-quality services, potentially with video (like the Berlin Phil Digital Concert Hall), and I guess other mainstream video. I do not yet own a TV, so advice on that is also welcome. (Maybe I should plan to stream video sources direct from the TV? Haven't owned a modern TV, so I don't have experience there.)

 

I mostly listen to classical and some jazz, and I had a ~10 year career as a classical musician before the software industry lured me away, so my ear is picky about quality and accuracy.

 

Hardware: I'm reading in this forum about being fanless, linear power supply, using particular RAM, isolating the SSD's power, or having no local storage at all, having a dedicated high-end USB card, isolating power to that too, .... Then I'm also reading about people using NUCs or even raspberry pis. Can you help me digest and prioritize these things? What would be a good fit for my setup to produce a high-quality stereo source? Or is this whole idea crazy, and I should just get a Bluesound Node 2i or similar?

 

Software: I understand that Tidal does not support MQA on linux. Bummer. I much prefer to run linux, but I may be willing to run Windows if that's the only way to get MQA. It's just been a LONG time (my last Win desktop was XP). Thoughts on that? I have at least been able to identify that disabling pulseaudio makes a noticeable difference when my laptop is the source. Should I be looking at Roon, or can I get by without it? I have a modest FLAC collection that I don't often think about, so streaming is probably the priority.

 

Any advice at all would be appreciated. There are probably some questions I should be asking but don't yet know enough to ask. Thanks!

 

First of all you should start with the hardware. Although straightforward, this is not the case. At first, low CPU low powered computers were preferable. Now, trends are higher CPU high powered computers that can do lots of upsampling, running HQPlayer etc. Decide your budget for the pc. For my build, I will choose the low powered option, upsampling is not my cup of tea. First the build and later comes all the tweaking options you have been reading about.

 

Secondly comes the software. Since you are a linux guy, there are ready linux distros here that can do the work effectively, like Euphony OS. I use win10 because my software player of choice only comes in win10.

Thirdly, comes the streaming. Most players offer some sort of integration with streaming services. The best intuitive software this time around, albeit expensive, is roon. There is a trial version you can test and see if it suits you. Other players will do the work too, it is a matter of preference and convenience. I use MUSIChi suite.

 

Lastly, do not overestimate MQA. It will soon become obsolete.

 

Streamers: Since you are a PC guy, streamers will not suite you. They are static, not upgradeable, an out of the box solution that gets the job done, without much hassle. Of course, there are models that cost thousounds that do more, like upsampling etc. But then again, you cannot mess with it.

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46 minutes ago, fragoulisnaval said:

Streamers: Since you are a PC guy, streamers will not suite you. They are static, not upgradeable, an out of the box solution that gets the job done, without much hassle.

 

That is also my conclusion. Well, I am not sure streamers are not up-gradable.  I'd rather deal with the hassles of  a computer....and sometimes they are a hassle.

Sound Minds Mind Sound

 

 

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6 hours ago, MichaelH said:

 

Hardware: I'm reading in this forum about being fanless, linear power supply, using particular RAM, isolating the SSD's power, or having no local storage at all, having a dedicated high-end USB card, isolating power to that too, .... Then I'm also reading about people using NUCs or even raspberry pis. Can you help me digest and prioritize these things? What would be a good fit for my setup to produce a high-quality stereo source? Or is this whole idea crazy, and I should just get a Bluesound Node 2i or similar?

 

Software: I understand that Tidal does not support MQA on linux. Bummer. I much prefer to run linux, but I may be willing to run Windows if that's the only way to get MQA. It's just been a LONG time (my last Win desktop was XP). Thoughts on that? I have at least been able to identify that disabling pulseaudio makes a noticeable difference when my laptop is the source. Should I be looking at Roon, or can I get by without it? I have a modest FLAC collection that I don't often think about, so streaming is probably the priority.

 

Hardware:

You are not going to find the widest agreement about this. Lots of users swear by complicated and extreme setups that try to optimize every aspect. Others think the digital/streaming source isn't very important and makes little, if any, difference. It's also possible both groups are correct - and that it depends on you system and the way your DAC input is designed. I'm not familiar with the DAC in your unit, so I can't tell you what you will find. Do you find the SPDIF vs USB inputs you presently have are very different in resulting SQ? If, for instance, you find your USB inferior, that might push you to get a source with an optimized USB output. 

 

If you are looking for a server/playback device, one consideration is whether you are going to be doing extreme upsampling, room correction, or DSP. If so, you need a high powered computing source. If not, you can probably get away with somthing like a NUC or the HW equivalent. Even fanless models of these are not outrageously priced.   If you are going to do mostly streaming as you described, you don't need a high powered source. A Pi might suffice. The good thing about the NUC  or Pi type solution is that if you decide in the future to upgrade to more expensive items, you can repurpose them for other uses. Not so true with some of the dedicated, specialized computing and streaming devices. 

 

If I was you I'd jump in on the more low cost end and see what you think. You might be very happy with the result. You can always add on expensive power supplies or USB optimizing devices, etc., afterwards.

 

There are also models like Innuos or Small Green Computer that are "audio optimized" and have built in storage or can use an external HD. After the introductory models they get very pricey, though. 

 

I've used all of the above, including some very pricey specialized solutions. They were all good. The NUC and Pi solutions  give a lot of value for the dollar. There is definitely a declining returns curve above that level of investment. 

 

Software: If you go the Windows route Windows 10 is fine and I think you will be shocked how different it is to your XP experience. Windows 10 Pro is more useful and flexible in a network and remote desktop environment than the home version.  If you are comfortable with Linux that is certainly an inexpensive and good option. 

 

You don't have to have Roon (and I say that as a Roon fan). There are good free or modest cost alternatives. In your case just be sure that what you use can integrate your streaming provider in the interface. That makes the UI much more convenient. 

You can always do a trial of Roon and see if you think it is worth the price. 

 

MQA: how important is it to you? Have you heard it enough to be sure you find it a "must have"? Many of us don't feel that way about it.  If it isn't vital for you, Qobuz or Amazon HD may be a better, cheaper solution for you. Amazon obviously has a vast catalog, and Qobuz is probably superior to Tidal for Jazz and Classical lovers. 

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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I was a software guy too until I retired recently. I guess with your background you'll want to tinker with hardware and software over time. If that's your thing, you'll want to buy a case with plenty of room for adding linear psu, audiophile network and usb cards, hard drives, noise filters, acoustic dampening, etc. 

 

I really like fanless pcs but made a mistake and bought a low form htpc case (Streacom F5). I should have gone for the HDPlex H5 v2 as the Streacom won't allow me to mount pcie cards directly on the mobo (riser cards are not ideal). They're both real pretty.

 

 

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On 3/30/2020 at 12:23 AM, MichaelH said:

Hardware: I'm reading in this forum about being fanless, linear power supply, using particular RAM, isolating the SSD's power, or having no local storage at all, having a dedicated high-end USB card, isolating power to that too, .... Then I'm also reading about people using NUCs or even raspberry pis. Can you help me digest and prioritize these things?

 

You'll find a few camps on an approach to hardware. My experience, and data supports this, is that you want a good DAC that the hardware and software people behind it know how to build a moat to make it impervious to what is going on downstream. You didn't state budget but since you mentioned MQA the Matrix Element i is $2K and empirically speaking probably a top 5 DAC in the market regardless of price.

 

I run both a Windows 10 Pro machine with JRiver using a convolution correction filter created with two applications: Room EQ Wizard (REW), Dynamic Room Correction (DRC) and calibrated Microphone. And a Rasberry Pi. Both sound the same.

 

So I've taken an instrumented approach where I know the performance characteristics of my gear and my room. All that courtesy of one of my first jobs installing NLE workstations for Audio/Video Mastering for 7 years.

 

Post what kind of budget you are thinking and the metropolitan area you live in to see if some members are nearby.

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1 hour ago, plissken said:

. You didn't state budget but since you mentioned MQA the Matrix Element i is $2K and empirically speaking probably a top 5 DAC in the market regardless of price.

 

The Element i is only $990. It has  very good measurements, but slightly below state of the art (I own one). The Element M is $1799 and is more high end (better power supply, a build with better internal isolation. etc.). Maybe you meant that one. 

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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1 hour ago, firedog said:

 

The Element i is only $990. It has  very good measurements, but slightly below state of the art (I own one). The Element M is $1799 and is more high end (better power supply, a build with better internal isolation. etc.). Maybe you meant that one. 

 

Yep the M. It's simply SOTA vs anything else and any price point.

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On 3/30/2020 at 12:23 AM, MichaelH said:

I have a Cambridge Edge A integrated amp, Martin Logan Vistas, and a Denon DVD-5900 as the primary source (used for audio only) for my CD and SACD collection. I use its digital coax out direct to the Edge for CDs. Sometimes I stream Tidal from my laptop connected via USB, but I want to add something better and more permanent. I've been reading these forums and gaining knowledge, but these threads can quickly go DEEP into the weeds. I'm looking for pointers on how to start planning a PC that would be a good fit. What should my priorities be?

 

I'm a software engineer, I have no problem building a PC, I've used linux as my primary OS for more than 15 years, and so I gravitate toward having a PC of some kind where I can have control of the software, upgrade software over time, and perhaps just use VNC or remote desktop to control the thing. I want to end up with the ability to stream Tidal or other high-quality services, potentially with video (like the Berlin Phil Digital Concert Hall), and I guess other mainstream video. I do not yet own a TV, so advice on that is also welcome. (Maybe I should plan to stream video sources direct from the TV? Haven't owned a modern TV, so I don't have experience there.)

 

I mostly listen to classical and some jazz, and I had a ~10 year career as a classical musician before the software industry lured me away, so my ear is picky about quality and accuracy.

 

Hardware: I'm reading in this forum about being fanless, linear power supply, using particular RAM, isolating the SSD's power, or having no local storage at all, having a dedicated high-end USB card, isolating power to that too, .... Then I'm also reading about people using NUCs or even raspberry pis. Can you help me digest and prioritize these things? What would be a good fit for my setup to produce a high-quality stereo source? Or is this whole idea crazy, and I should just get a Bluesound Node 2i or similar?

 

Software: I understand that Tidal does not support MQA on linux. Bummer. I much prefer to run linux, but I may be willing to run Windows if that's the only way to get MQA. It's just been a LONG time (my last Win desktop was XP). Thoughts on that? I have at least been able to identify that disabling pulseaudio makes a noticeable difference when my laptop is the source. Should I be looking at Roon, or can I get by without it? I have a modest FLAC collection that I don't often think about, so streaming is probably the priority.

 

Any advice at all would be appreciated. There are probably some questions I should be asking but don't yet know enough to ask. Thanks!

 

The equipment you have looks like you are early on this experiential journey and a lot wont make sense until you have a trained ear and experience

with the hobby and better gear. You may want to go audition a well designed off the shelf solution, like the Innuos Zen MK III to understand what is possible.

Audio shows are a great way to get up to speed on gear and costs

 

http://www.innuos.com/en/catalog/go/zen-mk3-1tb-hdd-black

Regards,

Dave

 

Audio system

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Thank you all for the feedback. Based on your suggestions and a lot of reading, I have a NUC8i3BEH on the way. Now I need to select a power supply, RAM, and storage.

 

I'll give it a try, likely end up putting it in an Akasa case, and will see how the SQ compares to my CD source, which itself is very clean. Depending on how that goes, maybe I'll dive deeper and build a more customized system.

 

There were a couple of DAC suggestions, but my Cambridge Edge A has a nice DAC built in. When I was looking at upgrade options about a year ago, the Edge really blew me away with its overall SQ. I was previously using a Musical Fidelity DAC that I liked a lot, but even connecting it to the Edge, the built-in DAC seems better all-around. I'm sure there is some advantage to having a computer source with DAC closely integrated, but in this case I think it makes sense to continue using the Edge's DAC and focus on giving it a quality source over USB.

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5 hours ago, MichaelH said:

Thank you all for the feedback. Based on your suggestions and a lot of reading, I have a NUC8i3BEH on the way. Now I need to select a power supply, RAM, and storage.

 

I'll give it a try, likely end up putting it in an Akasa case, and will see how the SQ compares to my CD source, which itself is very clean. Depending on how that goes, maybe I'll dive deeper and build a more customized system.

 

There were a couple of DAC suggestions, but my Cambridge Edge A has a nice DAC built in. When I was looking at upgrade options about a year ago, the Edge really blew me away with its overall SQ. I was previously using a Musical Fidelity DAC that I liked a lot, but even connecting it to the Edge, the built-in DAC seems better all-around. I'm sure there is some advantage to having a computer source with DAC closely integrated, but in this case I think it makes sense to continue using the Edge's DAC and focus on giving it a quality source over USB.

Let us know what you think. I've used a fanless NUC as a Roon endpoint and found it to work fine.

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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