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romaz

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  1. An excellent write up, Danny. You also own my ultimate speaker, the Wilson Alexx, and so I read your review with great interest. I happen to belong to the camp that finds the Macs to be "mid-fi." Like speakers, amplifiers are a very personal thing and so take my comments with a grain of salt. They are the opinion of one person. If you love how the MC611s perform in your setup, that's what's important. I've taken an exhaustive look (and listen) at a number of amps over the past 2 years. I looked at Macs very seriously when I first got my Martin Logan Renaissance 15As because at various trade shows, I noticed they were often paired together. I got to demo the MC611s when I traded my Martin Logans in for a pair of Wilson Alexia 2s and no question, they can drive the Alexias fine (the Alexias are not that difficult to drive) and they produce a lovely tone but what I found missing were speed and control. Directly compared against a Burmester 911 Mk3, the unanimous consensus in our group of audiophiles was that the MC611s sounded slow, bass sounded bloated, and transients were too rounded and it's not something you realize until you do a direct A/B. Another fantastic amp that pairs well with Wilsons that I have listened to are the VTL Siegfried monoblocks. VTLs were the personal preference of Dave Wilson and VTL uses Wilsons when voicing their amps. If you prefer the holographic qualities that only tubes can provide, I don't think you'll find a better match for your Alexxes. For solid state, it's tough to beat D'Agostino, especially the Momentum line. This amp has the smoothness and rich textural qualities of tubes but also the punch and immediacy of the very best SS. Soulution, CH Precision, Constellation, Spectral, T+A, and Burmester -- I've heard them with my Wilsons and they're all in the conversation for what is truly SOTA but as far as synergy goes, it's tough to beat D'Agostino with a pair of Wilson speakers. Request a demo from a D'Agostino dealer of a Momentum Integrated for your Alexx (yes, a lowly integrated amp that outputs only 200W into 8 ohms) and directly compare it against your MC611 and you'll understand what is meant by "resolution." Where McIntosh excels is with value. No, I would absolutely never pay $40k for the MC611s even if they were rebadged with a Boulder or Nagra logo (since they don't perform at that level) but for $15k, they are a compelling option and at that price, they're almost impossible to beat (the only other amp that I would consider at that price range would be the Luxman M-900U). Just to be clear, I do not (yet) own a D'Agostino or VTL amp for my Wilson Alexias and so I don't have the bias of someone who owns these brands but my journey thus far has led me to these 2 amps. Also to be clear, when I had a pair of Magico M3s in house for audition, my preferred amp for these speakers by a large margin was a Soulution 711. Synergy is incredibly important and while a good amp will always be a good amp, what works best for one speaker isn't always an ideal fit for another speaker.
  2. It sounds like you have tuned your setup perfectly to your liking and so that's what's important. As for my post, it had nothing to do with a single-box configuration being better than a dual-box configuration, it had to do with my preference for Stylus over Roon and it just so happens that Stylus only works in a single-box configuration. I completely agree with this statement. I now belong in the camp that believes that the best dual-box configuration is 2 identical boxes meaning that the server and endpoint use the same powerful hardware and both boxes are equivalently powered to a very high standard. Unfortunately, this means 2X the cost. At Munich, Pink Faun was demonstrating a dual 2.16X setup at a cost of $32k and this setup was not doing any upsampling at all (Jord prefers no upsampling with his DAC). There is definitely an elegance and economy with a single box setup that I am very pleased with. I agree with you as I have moved on from a NUC as an endpoint for the reasons I already stated. Also, it appears you are hearing the strengths and weaknesses of a NUC exactly the opposite from how I am hearing them. My i7 NUC had 4 clocks replaced and was being powered very well by a 19V rail from my SR7 and so this NUC presented much better detail than a powerful PC with dedicated interfaces unless that PC was also being powered by an SR7. Also, this NUC exerted excellent control of not just the bass but also the midrange and treble manifesting as tremendous agility and again, this has everything to do with a low impedance power supply. Where the NUC lacked was in dynamics and soundstage and this is what a powerful CPU that is independently powered gives you. If you cannot properly power a big PC, I cannot guarantee that it will sound better than a NUC. Once again, I agree. I think both server and endpoint in a dual-box setup should be identical. Even identical CPUs. When I was running a dual box setup, my server was using a JCAT Femto NET card and this JCAT card was being powered by an SR7 rail. My endpoint had all 4 clocks (including the LAN and system clocks) replaced by a REF10 and was connected to my DAC with a tX-USBultra which was also connected to the REF10. Both the endpoint and tX-USBultra were being powered by SR7 rails. In between the server and endpoint were 2 SOtM sNH-10G switches in a serial configuration and I can confirm that the 2nd switch had almost the same impact as the 1st switch. Furthermore, both switches were being powered by SR7 rails and both switches were connected to the REF10. And so my preference for a single-box Stylus setup over a dual-box Roon setup had nothing to do with inadequate hardware. I am inclined to agree with you and the key word is "might." I compared 2 Asrock boards side by side and the board with the better VRM sounded better to me. Whether this is specifically because of the VRM or some other variable is not entirely clear but it would make sense that the quality of the VRM "might" impact SQ since the VRM is responsible for the stability of the power that the CPU sees. As to whether more power phases also results in better power stability, this is not always true since the quality of the power phases matter just as the number of power phases. Your Extreme4 board is actually a 10+2 design meaning 10 power phases are dedicated to the CPU while 2 power phases are dedicated to the integrated GPU and so only 10 of your power phases have significance. Your particular board uses SinoPower SM7431EH MOSFETS which are rated at 25A each. The Asrock Z390 Phantom 9 is a gaming ATX board that uses the same 10+2 design but uses the higher-end Texas Instruments NexFETs which are rated at 40A. The motherboard I have decided to focus on for now is the Asrock Z390 Phantom Gaming ITX/ac which is a mini-ITX board and because of its smaller size, it incorporates only a 5+2 design but this is where things get deceiving because this board utilizes higher quality power phases comprised of the Intersil Smart Power ISL99227 which many consider to be among the best and are rated at 60A each, more than 2X the current capacity of those used in your board. Regardless, each of these boards should be able to easily handle something like an i9-9900K that isn't being overclocked. This illustrates the advantage of boards designed for gaming as they generally use better parts, especially with regards to power delivery. Another example, your board is only a 4-layer design while my board uses 8-layers which in theory, provides better isolation. Also, my board, even though it is smaller than your board uses a total of 8oz of copper in the traces resulting in better conductivity. If someone is building a server from scratch, it would be worthwhile to investigate the gaming boards. They don't cost that much more. Ultimately, I chose the board that I did because of its size. I would have loved to have gone with a full sized ATX board with multiple PCIe 3.0x16 slots, however, it has been challenging to find a fanless chassis that can house a full sized ATX board that can accommodate multiple PCIe cards without having to use riser cables (ie HDPlex, Streacom). The problem with riser cables is they are generally of poor quality as they use cheap, thin gauge conductors and so I would prefer to be able to plug cards directly into the PCIe slot but perhaps my paranoia here is unjustified. If you know of a good full ATX fanless chassis that can accommodate at least 2 PCIe cards without having to use riser cables, I would like to know. As I already stated, in my signal path between server and endpoint, I was using dual sNH-10G switches that were being clocked by a REF10 and cabling throughout consisted of either SOtM's dCBL-CAT7 or Ghent's double-shielded CAT6A along with with a SOtM iSO-CAT6 LAN isolator (essentially, an isolation transformer) and so I feel my signal path was pretty well taken care of. I even introduced optical cabling between the 2 switches but ultimately preferred the SQ of copper cabling better. What is surprising is that all of this stuff is just as important with a single-box setup even though Stylus buffers files fully into RAM before playback. People will view this comment skeptically but I am convinced no one fully understands how a network impacts SQ. It's definitely not just about RF noise in the line or leakage current. I actually own 2 full Euphony licenses since the less expensive Endpoint license wasn't available when I bought mine. Also, I was not successful in running RoonBridge on the endpoint and so I used RoonServer on both machines just like you are. While I cannot claim that 2 instances of RoonServer sounds better than RoonServer + RoonBridge, I know I prefer the SQ of Stylus. Having said that, as I own Roon, I continue to use Roon for library management because there is nothing better and then flip to Stylus for playback. Fortunately, it's not hard to do. I presume you mean RoonServer since you already stated you don't like RoonBridge. Personally, I find StylusEP sounds better than either SL or RoonBridge but fortunately, Euphony offers you the choice of either one and it's fairly easy to switch. In the end, my preference for Stylus has more to do with the balance of qualities it offers than any one property and it's obvious that what works for me may not work for someone else.
  3. I fully get what you're saying. Both the 8700K and 9900K are based on a 14nm die and yet a 9900K with 2 more cores and 300MHz of greater headroom is supposed to generate the same heat? However, issues you are reading about don't have to apply for audio. I realize that with the Pink Faun 2.16, based on how this machine can be configured as an upsampling machine using HQP and AL and based on what others have posted, I have read claims that this machine consumes 100 watts at a minimum and functions as a space heater. In my case, I do no upsampling since I have a separate Chord M Scaler that does this for me. With Euphony + Stylus and with the 8700K CPU unrestrained, as I look at my Euphony meter, CPU load across 6-cores and 12-threads is consistently <1-2% during music playback and CPU frequency peaks as high as 4.63GHz for a given core. The CPU cores run between 38-47 degrees C even though I have been playing music continuously for the past 3 hours. During boot up, my Kill-A-Watt meter climbs as high as 92 watts of consumption for about a split second but once in a steady state, while playing music, this machine consumes no more than about 50 watts and as little as 38 watts. The HDPlex chassis handles all of this well (it barely feels warm to the touch even with the machine kept on 24/7 for most of the past week) in my enclosed but ventilated cabinet. I would be shocked if my setup can't handle the 9900K. The AMD 1800X also has a rated TDP of 95 watts and while it has 8-cores, it has a max frequency of only 4GHz and so this is not the best case scenario for Stylus. If rumors prove true, the upcoming AMD 3000 series CPUs with a die of only 7nm may be the ultimate CPU. The rumored 3800X is purported to have 12-cores and a max CPU frequency of 5GHz while sporting a TDP of only 105 watts. This TDP may be a big deal for a Pink Faun machine running AL and HQP but I suspect it won't be a big deal for Euphony + Stylus. As for motherboards, this matters and I'm hoping the new crop of mini-ITX AMD X570-based motherboards will be better than what's available. Because of the unnecessarily large fan mounting posts that AMD CPUs use, they use up precious space on the small mini-ITX motherboards making it challenging for the motherboard manufacturers to incorporate high level VRMs. In this sense, if one is looking for a mini-ITX board, Intel boards are far superior than any of the AMD boards that are presently available and the best board I have so far found is the Asrock Z390 Phantom Gaming ITX-ac. For a solid AMD board, it seems you really have to go full ATX.
  4. Your situation is becoming more the norm than the exception which is why Optane drives seem more viable today. Some motherboards have multiple M.2 slots as well.
  5. The original ATX spec called for a 12V rail for the CPU and 12V, -12V, 5V, -5V, 5VSB, and 3.3V for the motherboard and so lots of rails although most modern ATX motherboards no longer use the -12V and -5V rails (now considered legacy rails) and if you never go into standby mode, you can get by without a 5VSB rail. So, with any modern motherboard that accepts ATX power, you will generally see a multipin ATX connector (usually 20 or 24-pin) and a multipin CPU connector (usually 4-8 pins). It is this flexibility to power the CPU separately that is the difference maker and what disqualifies NUCs and any motherboard with an embedded CPU for any server I might build moving forward since these types of motherboards using take a single DC input. This was discussed at some length on the other thread back in 2017 and it is one of the big reasons the Innuos Zenith SE sounded better than my own 2017 server build. What is interesting is when I first tried the HDPlex DC-ATX converter back in 2017, I was not impressed by what I heard with this converter powered by a 19V rail from my SR7 although back then, I used this converter to power both the motherboard and a Xeon CPU. I think it was just too much to ask. This time around, I used this converter to power just the motherboard and with a special cable made for me by Ghent, I'm using a 12V rail from my SR7 to independently power the CPU and this has made all the difference. This is the HDPlex DC-ATX converter I am presently using: https://www.hdplex.com/hdplex-400w-hi-fi-dc-atx-power-supply-16v-24v-wide-range-voltage-input.html
  6. The concept of electrical noise generated by an SSD was first brought to public consciousness, I believe by Paul Pang, and he was also the first that I'm aware of to suggest using alternative lower noise media like USB flash drives and slower SATA II SLC SSDs to run the OS. Many, including myself, have found Paul's findings to be true in our own systems. Marcin's upcoming JCAT server looks like it will be based on SLC media. Keetakawee Punpeng, creator of Fidelizer and the Nimitra server will offer SLC media in his best custom builds also. While noise generated by the OS drive is an important consideration, so is performance, especially with Windows which engages in high amounts of disk I/O. This is where NVMe drives and their very low latencies have an advantage over slower drives including any drives connected to the motherboard via SATA. With Windows, these very low latency drives result in better immediacy although this is much less relevant with either AL or Euphony. The advantage of an Optane drive is that it runs on this very low latency NVMe bus while also being a very low noise drive and so it encompasses the best of both worlds. I have recently been educated that modern motherboards that have M.2 NVMe slots that aren't necessarily "Optane ready" (i.e. AMD boards) can still utilize an Optane card as a storage (or OS) drive but not as a cache drive, which is what Optane was originally designed for. This means that if your motherboard has an M.2 drive capable of NVMe, you are probably capable of using an Optane drive. It should be easy enough to try it. If Optane is not possible, a USB stick is still not a horrible way to go with Euphony and or Stylus. While not optimal, according to Euphony, there is no SQ hit with using a USB stick for the OS and I think this is because Euphony and many Linux-based OS's have small enough footprints that they reside mostly in RAM by default and so disk I/O is nowhere close to Windows. Sonically, I have confirmed this to be the case in my own server meaning that I don't detect a meaningful SQ difference between an Optane drive and a USB stick as an OS drive. Of course, if you have a large library and you are interested in keeping your files within your server's internal drive, then you have no choice but to use large capacity storage media like an SSD or hard drive. At that point, see what you get and if you aren't bothered by it, that's all that matters.
  7. I never thought I would leave Roon having paid for a lifetime membership a number of years back. It remains second to none with respect to library management and overall user experience but I have found the Stylus player to sound TOO GOOD to ignore and so I have made the switch. Roon by itself has a very good bloom and liquidity to it but it is at the expense of control resulting in considerable overhang and smearing of details, at least to my ears. For vocals, Roon sounds more than just acceptably good but for orchestral music, it really is a mess. Roon + SqueezeLite provides more of this control and much needed precision resulting in better damping and cleaner transients. It's easier to hear when notes start and stop giving you the perception that the noise floor is lower but it also has a tendency to sound dry and mechanical. While tolerable with orchestral music, with vocals and solo instruments, there is a sterility and thinness to SL (even with large buffers) that has always left me wanting. The brain tells me all is well but the heart tells me differently. Stylus is exceptional in it's ability to provide the bloom, liquidity, and tonal richness of Roon but also the the timing precision of SL. In fact, to my ears, Stylus actually does all of these qualities better. When I was doing my tests on AudioLinux, I found that ramping up CPU frequency resulted in better dynamics and an overall more muscular sound. On an i7-8700K, this meant CPU frequencies as high as 4.7GHz and while this improved dynamics was very pleasing, it also came at the expense of harshness and an inability to convey delicacy and nuance. As I set CPU frequency to the other end of the spectrum to a fixed 800MHz (and even 400MHz), delicacy and nuance was there in spades with no apparent harshness but the sound signature was thin and anemic sounding in comparison, similar to what I hear with an sMS-200ultra or ultraRendu. Somehow, with the right CPU, Euphony is capable of providing both the benefits of high and low CPU frequency where it can do dynamics and expansive sound stage but also subtlety and nuance while never sounding harsh. In hindsight, probably one of the worst features ever developed for AudioLinux is the Extreme2 mode because it forced you to a single frequency. I think it's best to allow the CPU the flexibility to scale to whatever frequency is called for by the track. While there is more to Stylus' magic than that, it is Stylus' ability to be both muscular and delicate that has forced me to rethink my digital front end once again. While in Munich, I had a discussion with Jord Groen of Pink Faun about his decision to go with an AMD 1800X CPU. It was his opinion based on listening tests that with his version of AL, CPU frequency was nowhere as important as the number of cores and so he never felt it necessary to move to a more powerful CPU with higher CPU frequency capability. My experience is that CPU frequency definitely adds something but ultimately, harshness was the biggest trade off and so I presume this is what Jord meant. With AudioLinux, I was forced to cap an 8700K at 3.8GHz because any speeds beyond this sounded harsh and so this supports Jord's comment. But with Euphony and Stylus, I let the 8700K run with no cap whatsoever and notice that CPU frequency will typically reach 4.4-4.5GHz consistently, however, I get no harshness at all. In fact, the higher the frequency a CPU is capable of, the better, and so I imagine the ultimate CPU at this time would be something like an i9-9900K that provides 8-cores and a max frequency of 5GHz and a TDP of only 95w. I hope to be able to test this soon but what I will say is that with Euphony + Stylus on a single box 8700K machine, my reclocked i7 NUC driven by a 19V SR7 sounds absolutely puny. 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 but as I have figured out a way to independently power both the 8700K CPU and ATX motherboard (using a DC-ATX converter) with SR7 rails, the i7 NUC has now been officially retired. Do I think that a powerful single box server running Euphony + Stylus is better than a dual box machine running Roon + StylusEP? At this time, yes, no question. Stylus is that good. StylusEP contains a subset of Stylus but they aren't the same. To my ears, Stylus sounds smoother and richer and better textured. It is also ultra stable and Željko has done a wonderful job enhancing its feature set. In fact, expect further enhancements in the coming days.
  8. My experience is that the quality of the USB stick has no impact on SQ. I've tried an expensive SLC USB stick I had lying around and it resulted in no change in SQ that I could hear with Euphony compared against a cheap $5 Sandisk. Of course, if you are using AL ramrooted, for sure the USB stick won't matter. Just get a fast USB 3.0 or 3.1 USB stick to keep your wait times to a minimum during bootup. These devices have limited write cycles before they fail and so make sure you have a backup. Fortunately, these things are cheap. This will be my last post on AS for the foreseeable future. Please forgive me if I don't respond to queries that are addressed to me. Best wishes and I hope to meet up with some of you in Munich in May.
  9. My initial observations with the NUC were surprising for a couple of reasons. First, that a $120 Celeron-based NUC + AL could outperform (to my ears) products like a microRendu/ultraRendu/sMS-200ultra that were designed from the ground up for audio playback with high level clocking and ultra low noise voltage regulators. Second, that this same $120 NUC + AL when powered by a DR SR7 could outperform (to my ears) a $7k Innuos Zenith SE. This was my first inkling that low power CPUs like an ARM processor are probably not optimum for an endpoint. For a cheap unoptimized Celeron to outperform these highly regarded endpoints, I could offer no other explanation and this theory was only bolstered when I moved to an i7 NUC and found that the gap had widened further. It also suggested the OS matters and it matters a lot. While both my initial NUC and the Zenith SE utilize Celerons and with both powered by high quality PSUs, I believed that it was the OS that was the difference maker and I recall that Rajiv found this to be his observation also, that his SE when booted to AL resulted in improvement. Of course, optimizing the NUC by replacing its clocks has resulted in further significant improvements but the lesson that the unoptimized NUC taught me is that the performance that a CPU brings, the quality of the OS, and of course, the quality of the PSU matter just as much if not more. With respect to your server, these qualities have already been considered and so I'm not surprised that your unoptimized NUC powered by an sPS-500 isn't meeting your expectations. As for ROI, replacing clocks on your NUC is the last thing I would do. Figure out a way to better power your NUC. This would be my first priority. Second, because it's easy enough to do, go ahead and give Euphony a try just in case it's signature is more to your liking. The trial is free and it is easy to do. Or else, give WS 2016/AO a try on the NUC but of course, you won't be able to boot it from a USB stick and so you'll have to install either an SSD or preferably an Optane card. Ultimately, if you're already happy with your optimized server, your best ROI might be to sell your NUC and cut your losses.
  10. You may be right but it's best not to assume. More cores seem to matter even if you don't use HQP. In my Roon server machine where I employ no upsampling or DSP, as I go from a 4-core i7 to a 6-core i7 (a 50% jump in cores), the improvement is notable in terms of a bigger and more dynamic sound. No matter how high I crank up the 4-core i7's CPU frequency, I can't get it to match the 6-core i7's dynamics. The 4-core sounds thin and small in comparison even with the 4-core i7 powered by a 19V SR7 and with the 6-core powered by an HDPlex. At some point, adding more cores probably won't make a difference but until someone does the testing to find where that ceiling is, no one knows. The advantage of parallel processing through multiple cores is that with software that is written to take advantage of those cores, tasks can be performed more efficiently and often more effectively and so ultimately, what is important is not how many cores but whether the software was written to take advantage of those cores. A good example is Rob Watts' M-Scaler which utilizes a Xilinx XC7A200T FPGA and its 740 DSP cores. This FPGA can upsample to 1 million TAPS while consuming only 12 watts. There is no 12-watt X86 processor from either Intel or AMD that can achieve this level of performance.
  11. Brian said it perfectly. When you combine intelligence, experience, and most importantly passion, good things are bound to happen. Another thing I have noticed about Paul is humility. He doesn't claim to know it all or that his product is better than anyone else's, not even in private, and so Paul is always trying to get better rather than resting on his laurels and that is evident in the evolution of his product line. There are those who have tried to emulate Paul's designs, have even opened up an SR7 and automatically claimed superiority by virtue of using name brand parts that aren't used in the SR7 like Mundorf caps, etc. And yet, where it matters most, the SR7 always seems to prevail.
  12. Avoidance of a SSD is my chief goal since disk access isn't such a big deal with Linux. Even a USB stick which is very slow sounds as good as an Optane drive with either Euphony or AL. I think the performance of Optane is a bigger deal for Windows.
  13. Forced to choose, I would agree with you. Finding the perfect balance with just the right CPU is the goal and then from there, figuring out the best way to power it.
  14. Very helpful, thanks. It wasn't clear to me that AMD CPUs are compatible with Optane memory. With Intel CPUs, not all Intel CPUs are compatible. Value is certainly an important consideration and in the end, that may be what tips the decision to go with AMD. At this time, my objective is to search for performance and to find where the ceilings are.
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