Building a DIY Music ServerOn 4/13/2020 at 9:30 AM, beautiful music said:
@Nenon any news of your new build!!!
Also what about the new jCat USB XE card?
My new build is:
- ASUS ROG Crosshair VII Hero full size ATX motherboard
- AMD Ryzen 7 3700X CPU
- Apacer ECC RAM
- Upgraded motherboard clock with PinkFaun ultraOCXO clock
- The new JCAT XE USB card
- JCAT NET Femto card
- PinkFaun I2S Bridge with ultraOCXO clock
- Optane card for the OS
- HDPlex H5 Case
- HDPlex 800W DC to DC ATX Convertor
- Gaia feet
- Mundorf Silver Gold DC wire all around
- Euphony OS
I made that carbon fiber plate with two connectors that I quite like. One connector goes to the CPU / EPS and the other to the HDPlex.
On the other side I just drilled a hole on the plate and installed a connector to power the OCXO clock. I will be adding a grounding post this weekend as well.
And of course vibration isolation with Gaia feet:
There were three big questions I wanted to answer with this build.On 2/5/2020 at 4:55 PM, Nenon said:
The three BIG questions I would like answers for are:
1. Does this big full size ATX motherboard sound better than its smaller sibling I am currently using in their stock versions?
2. How much better Qobuz would sound (if it sounds better) when my JCAT NET Femto NIC is on a regular PCIe slot with no extension cables?
3. Last, but not least, what would be the effects of changing the motherboard clocks with high quality OCXO clocks? That's the part I am most curious about as it's something I have never done before. If time allows, I may even document the clock changing process here, but I am not promising.
I will be honest with you and tell you upfront that I did not spend enough time to apply the typical systematic approach of testing. Here is why - I am doing this as a hobby and when I hear that something I did convincingly sounds better, I am not interested to go back and forth and study how much better it sounds. I wish I spent a little more time with each small change, but I had too many thing going on.
Let's start with the motherboard. Does it sound better than the mini-ITX motherboard? Yes, it does. But I don't think we should make the conclusion that every full size ATX motherboard sounds better than its mini-ITX sibling. That's not true, and I have seen the opposite. But this particular ASUS ROG Crosshair VII Hero sounds a little better than the ASUS ROG Strix X470-I Gaming mini-ITX motherboard. Not much better, just a little.
After adding the PinkFaun ultraOCXO clock, this motherboard sounded much better than the mini-ITX model. Not all OCXO clock upgrades are up to my taste. They all seem to help with details, but some of them make the sound too sterile, too clinical, even lean in some cases. That's kind of what I expected by replacing this motherboard clock. But my expectations were wrong, and I was pleasantly surprised. The effect was quite different than what I thought. The first thing I noticed was a lot of air between the instruments. There was also more layers, more depth, and the bass became tighter and more real. It was immediately noticeable, but after a week I decided to go back to the stock motherboard clock just to double check. I did not listen for long with the stock clock. It was all confirmed immediately and I switched back to the ultraOCXO clock. Another thing I noticed was that the PinkFaun ultraOCXO clock improved a lot the USB output of the motherboard. Especially the USB ports that are connected to the chipset sounded a lot better with the clock. I think for the first time I actually preferred the USB ports that go through the chipset than the ones that don't. But ultimately I preferred the new JCAT USB XE card. More on that later. One little detail - this clock requires really good and clean power. The cleaner, the better. And good DC wires. My Mundorf silver/gold DC cables came to rescue again.
Having said all that, it's hard for me to answer the second question.Quote
How much better Qobuz would sound (if it sounds better) when my JCAT NET Femto NIC is on a regular PCIe slot with no extension cables?
I don't know. It's a different motherboard with ultraOCXO clock. It definitely sounds better, but how much of that has to do with the fact that I did not have to use a PCIe extension cable, and how much was due to the different hardware? I have no idea.
I was also wondering how the passive cooling on the HDPlex H5 chassis compares with the Streacom. I was thinking to install two identical motherboards and run some tests to see how efficient in heat dissipation each case was. Well, I will leave that test to someone else. A lot of IT youtubers out there do those experiments. I just don't have the time.
But I think it's obvious that the HDPlex H5 passive cooling is much better. Streacom on the left, HDPlex on the right:
Streacom has 4 copper pipes. HDPlex has 8 copper pipes. Streacom has a tiny aluminum mounting plate. HDPlex has a massive copper piece with a big aluminum heatsink going on top. Streacom's pipes are flattened and they lose performance this way. HDPlex are not and go inside groves in the heatsink. And the HDPlex heatsinks on the chassis are bigger, at least compared to the Streacom FC9. Plus the HDPlex supports full size ATX motherboard with vertical PCIe cards and no risers.
The only things I hate about the HDPlex is that you need to remove the entire backplate to install PCIe cards. Maybe it's convenient for one card, but try doing 4 PCIe cards at the same time when you also have 3 DC connectors with soldered wires on the plate... not fun! But some people think that's the best thing about this case. I won't repeat the conversation that happened previously in this thread regarding that. Between the two cases, my preference is the HDPlex case now, but that's mainly because of the full size ATX support. The HDPlex has thinner bottom and top covers - that's not good for vibration treatment.
Okay, what's next? JCAT USB XE Card. It's really good and keeps getting better and better over time. I really like it, and it's an easy recommendation. I can't tell how it compares with the PinkFaun USB bridge with ultraOCXO clock, but (besides the PF) I can tell you that it's better than any other USB card I have tried. It would be interesting to do an A/B comparison between the PinkFaun with ultraOCXO and the JCAT card.
Let me touch on CPU choices a little bit. Emile from Taiko has done an extensive research on CPUs and shared some of his results on another forum. My understanding is that he has tried pretty much every CPU he thought might have a chance no matter the price. And interestingly enough he did not like the sound coming out of the AMD CPUs he tried. Romaz also built a computer with an AMD Ryzen 9 that has 105W TDP in a Streacom FC9 chassis. I don't think the Streacom chassis is up to the task to cool down a 105W TDP CPU. At that point you need to start reducing the voltage / speed on the CPU just to keep it cool enough. That in my opinion diminishes the sound quality. And even when my chassis get somewhat hot, I can hear degraded sound. The HDPlex is a better choice, but as far as AMD CPUs go I don't think we can go higher that the 65W TDP of the AMD Ryzen 7 3700X CPU I am using.
Emile is a genius. We all know that. And it seems like he has resources we can only dream about. But I feel like it's difficult to compare CPUs and have a definitive conclusion about the sound of each CPU. Is it possible that the same CPU sounds very different in his system with his power supply and his choice of motherboard with his tweaked operating system than it sounds in my system with my power supply and my choice of motherboard and completely different operating system? I think the answer to that question is yes. Not only it is very possible, but it's also very likely. I really like the way this new server turned out. It's better than my previous AMD build, which I quite liked. It might be better them my previous Intel builds. It certainly sounds different and probably different people would have different preferences.
But regardless of that, Emile's test sharing is very useful. Ultimately, there is only one way to find out, so here it is:
This is the ASUS WS C621E Sage Extreme motherboard with two Intel XEON SILVER 4210 CPUs that the Taiko Extreme uses inside an HDPlex case. It would be interesting to complete this build and compare with my other builds. Granted, I won't have the million small tweaks Emile has put in the Extreme, but I will apply all the stuff I have learned during my builds. Not trying to reach the Extreme but just to explore another route. I have a custom order Apacer RDIMM RAM coming in several weeks. Between now and then there is a lot of challenges I need to overcome. Don't ask me how I am going to passively cool down those CPUs for example. I don't know. There is no adaptor for the fclga3647 socket in the HDPlex or Streacom kits. I will have to build my own. I have several different Dynatron coolers coming my way as well as various cooling pipes and a pipe bending tool. Ideally, the CPU that is closer to the front of the chassis would be cooled by the left heatsink and the second CPU would be cooled by the right heatsink. That would be a heck of a project.
DIY music server
Building a DIY Music Server
Hi everyone! I am building a computer for someone else and decided to share what I am doing with everyone.
Let me start with some of the high level requirements:
- One box solution to eliminate some of the clutter.
- Optimized for Streaming (Tidal / Qobuz).
- The best quality USB output.
I came up with the following specs:
Motherboard: ASRock Z390 Phantom Gaming ITXchanged to ASUS Z390-I ROG Strix Gaming Intel LGA 1151 mini ITX motherboard
Intel Core i9-9900changed to Intel Core i9-9900K
2 x 4GB Non-ECC Apacer RAM (Apacer D11.2318FS.004)changed to 2 x 4GB ECC Apacer RAM (D31.23185S.001)
- OS Drive: 32 GB Optane
- Chassis: 2 x Streacom FC9
- USB Output: PinkFaun USB Bridge with ultraOCXO clock
- Network input: JCAT NET FEMTO
- Operating System: Euphony running Stylus, switchable to Roon
Some other specs:
- 6-rails of DC power
- All wiring will be done with Mundorf silver/gold wire (and JSSG360 shielding where it makes sense)
- Isoacoustics Gaia feet will be used on both chassis
- Some but very little EMI absorbing material to be applied at strategic places.
- All connectors will be treated with Walker Audio Quantum Silver Contact Treatment with Nanocrystal Technology.
- Resonance controlling material will be applied on the chassis.
Given the specs above, we came up with 6-rails - 3 for the ATX connector, 1 for the EPS connector, 1 for the PinkFaun USB card, and 1 for the JCAT NET card.
He acquired a 4-rail Sean Jacobs power supply, which I customized for him. 3 rails used for the ATX connector and one rail for the PinkFaun USB card.
The EPS connector will be powered by another 12V Sean Jacobs DC3 LPS he already has.
The JCAT NET card will be powered by various spare linear power supplies he has, tbd which works best.
There are two goals with the customization of the 4-rail LPS:
1. Shortest possible cable path from the double regulators to the components powered.
2. Good heat management to keep things cool.
We decided to use two black Streacom FC9 chassis. One chassis would be hosting a big 400VA toroidal transformer, Schottky diodes for rectification, Mundorf caps, etc. The second chassis would be hosting the motherboard, CPU, RAM, etc. and some of the DC regulators.
I decided to install the regulators for the ATX connector in the motherboard chassis. That would meet the first goal.
For the second goal, I left the regulators for the PinkFaun USB bridge in power supply chassis. I calculated that the path from the regulators would be almost the same length as if they were in the motherboard chassis. But we have an available heatsink to use in the power supply, so I opted for the better heat management.
This may resemble a little bit the power supply of the Innuos Statement described here - http://www.the-ear.net/how-to/power-supply-design-innuos-statement.
It’s not a coincident, and some of the ideas were taken from there.
It’s also good to mention that Sean Jacobs would not do a power supply like this. Due to his contract with Innuos, he is not doing ATX power supplies. The only way to build his power supply inside a computer is to go the DIY route.
This server will look a little like the Innuos Statement. But to be honest, I am aiming higher than that.
One can buy a Statement instead, but there are a few things I don’t like about the Statement - the low powered CPU does not sound as good as this configuration; the SSD drives are too noisy, and I don’t want to have any in my servers; Apacer RAM is a must; the wiring (silver/gold wires used for everything) cost $1,500 alone… if the Statement had the same wires and cables, it would probably cost $5K more just for that… that’s not including the amount of time, it takes to do all the JSSG360 shielding and every small detail. And those cables make a big difference. I’ve heard the Statement in a few occasions and liked what I heard. But I’ve never had one in my system to compare with a DIY server like this.
Stay tuned. I am planning to post a lot of pictures and comments as I make progress.
Here is the final result and a review from the new owner after a couple of weeks of listening to the new server:
A novel way to massively improve the SQ of computer audio streaming
A small miracle !
I have been for several years in this game of building a very good server-player pc system .
I went through the 626 pages of this thread and exchanged with several of you .
You can have the detail of my system on my profile . I have achieved very good musical results with this system.
However , I felt it was too complex and I wanted to make it simpler . I made two changes to my system :
1- I replaced the quite complex optical switch and optical network by an UpTone etherregen.
2- The pc player with its clocks driven by SOTM clock board , SOTM usb pcie card ,SOTM tx usb , SOTM hd usb (usb to spdif ) were all replaced by an upnp/dlna renderer from engineered . A small company in Switzerland who is selling it’s network renderer to Dartzeel , Soulution , CH ,Audiomat ....
My system now is :
- server: Super micro x10 sba under daphile with an upnp dlna plug in
- etherregen switch
- player : engineered network card
- 2 very good 12v psu and 2 at 5 volt.
Results : It is much simpler than my previous system but the small miracle is that the sound quality is much , much better than what I did get before . It is so much closer to the real performance. It is truly amazing.
I could write many many things about the sq....
It cost much less than what I had before therefore an amazing move.
Both the etherregen and the engineered card were key in achieving those results.
I really encourage you to explore this road , the reward is exceptional .
Euphony CPU settings
Euphony OS w/Stylus player setup and issues thread1 hour ago, RickyV said:
Please specify your use case. Are you running this as a StylusEP endpoint? Or is it a standalone server running Stylus? The process "stylus" runs both the music server and the overall web UI, so you see it running even in an endpoint machine. If a music server, then you want to give stylus some dedicated CPUs. If an endpoint, you can lump it with the default.
You could try and compare these (remember each physical core has 2 logical CPUs, i.e. HW threads):
- 0-3 gstp 4-7 < -- this may be good for endpoint (physical core 0-1 for default, core 2-3 for gstp, i.e. the player part of Stylus
- 0-1 stylus 2-3 gstp 4-7 < -- this may be good for standalone (core 0 for default, core 1 for stylus, core 2-3 for gstp)
Beyond this, feel free to experiment.Quote
I have also been playing with the CPU frequency but there seems to be only two settings and that is 1.9ghz and max, which is 3.8~4.2ghz. If I put 1900000 in the max freq field I get 1.9ghz. If I put 1900001 in I get max, 3.8~4.2ghz. Is this correct?
This relates to the issue in the NUC7i7 BIOS with the existing kernel. On the NUC7i7, the max CPU setting does not seem to "take" beyond the base frequency. Whenever Željko updates the kernel, this will then get fixed.
A novel way to massively improve the SQ of computer audio streaming
Some big changes in my soundscape recently. They aren't 100% complete but I'm close.
I received a nice package from SOtM yesterday.
- An sNH-10G with sCLK-EX, Evox cap (that thing is huge!) and silver wire upgrades. The 3 remaining taps from the sCLK-EX now provide clocking from my NUC's system, NIC and (2) HDMI.
- Another sCLK-EX with taps used for the tX-USBultra and my server's system, (2) NICs and tX-USBexp was upgraded with the Evox cap.
Jeff Hedback of HD Acoustics conducted an analysis of my listening room where he measured reflections, decay and frequency response. The cost to do this is very reasonable. Jeff did everything remotely, shipping his gear to me. I played some test tones and recorded them with his gear. I had also been talking with Bob Hodas, who has an impressive background. Bob would come on site and this could be a future, but more costly effort.
I gave Jeff measurements of everything in my room along with pictures. He provided a detailed report and took time to explain the results. He then created a design with recommendations for treatments. My room already had wall absorption panels, but I knew they weren't good enough as they didn't go down to 80Hz. So a change to the absorption wall treatments closest to the speakers, some diffusion and absorption on the ceiling and better absorption behind the speakers was recommended.
- I have installed Vicoustic Multifuser DC2 panels to the ceiling and added insulation behind the speakers where there is a cavity behind the projector screen. The DC2 panels are light and easy to install. I did paint them so they would blend in more with the ceiling. As the are polystyrene care needs to be taken.
- I have GIK 244 traps on order which will be used to the sides, at the first reflection point of the speakers and on the ceiling above the speaker. I will also be installing a 242 trap in the middle of the ceiling which will be surrounded by the Vicoustic DC2 panels.
- I gave Jeff measurements of everything in my room along with pictures. He provided a detailed report and took time to explain the results. He then created a design with recommendations for treatments. My room already had wall absorption panels, but I knew they weren't good enough as they didn't go down to 80Hz. So a change to the absorption wall treatments closest to the speakers, some diffusion and absorption on the ceiling and better absorption behind the speakers was recommended.
Our main efforts were to resolve an issue between 100-200Hz. This is where the acoustic treatments should help. Once everything is in place I will re-run the analysis with Jeff.
My Persona 9H speakers have Anthem Room Correction (ARC) built in. ARC only impacts the sound below 500Hz. While I typically don't run DSP on 2 channel, these speakers are a bit unique and what they can do is fantastic. By applying it at the speakers themselves the change will impact analog sound without converting it to digital. This means vinyl can receive DSP while remaining unmodified analog. I can also turn ARC on and off with the push of a button. The difference is stunning. The low end is tamed allowing for a more accurate bass representation while revealing music in other frequencies that would be otherwise masked. I am hearing sounds I couldn't hear before.
This is just another example of the analysis which helps to understand the room's characteristics and apply corrective action.
I will share pictures of the server - NUC - tX-USBultra spaghetti later. Where I just had a little spaghetti before, it's a big bowl of stuff now. I will also share pictures of the room once the treatment is completed in a couple weeks. I also need to let the new SOtM components burn in as well as apply EMI RF shielding to the SMB cables.
- I received a nice package from SOtM yesterday.
SATA Flash Drive
Euphony OS w/Stylus player setup and issues thread
I have two nuc7i7dnbe and I was going for the AL/LMS sqweezelite configuration but that is a bit of pain to install for me, with tidal and local files. So to make my life easier I was thinking to put Euphony on a Delock SATA 6 Gb/s Flash Module 8 GB SLC and use the SATA slot. Why, because I what to keep the m.2 slot free for a jcat net card/ bridging.
Question: is the 8 GB enough for Euphony? I read somewhere that Euphony also uses the os drive for buffering music so maybe 8GB is a bit small for best sq.
I am not interested in Roon, if you do not start with Roon you do not have to struggle with the Roon money on your back 😂. But is one Euphony nuc better then two nuc configuration???
Separately powered and SLC!!!
Battery PSU for NUC
A novel way to massively improve the SQ of computer audio streamingOn 12/10/2018 at 5:44 PM, seeteeyou said:
A123 LiFePO4 batteries are well known for their quality, that's why Ian Canada's latest project might do the trick when we're powering multiple units of NUC
Just back from a few weeks away for work and catching up on developments here. Also today I had time to complete a new power supply I wanted to try out. It's Ian Canada's new LifePO4 power supply which includes 2x isolated 13.2v DC outputs (among the 5 possible rails) and I was interested to try this to power my 2 NUCs with a higher voltage than my SR4s can supply.
First impressions are this is an excellent solution. More punch, dynamics and a very clean sound, so this is a keeper for me. The board is $189.99 and the A123 26650 LifePO4 batteries are extra. This project involves DIY and some soldering but a is a very nice, relatively low cost and worthwhile option for powering NUCs. There is a Mk II version of the board now available.
I am not affiliated with Ian Canada just sharing what I have found. For more info see DiyAudio thread:
"This LifePO4 pure battery power supply is a completed solution to provide battery based clean power voltage rails. When it's turned off, all batteries will be charged automatically. The charging progress is managed and monitored by Smart battery management. Comparing with an active power supply such as a voltage regulator, it has much better load transient response and less noise. Includes five independent voltage rails - 2x 3.3V isolated voltage rails. 2x 3.3V-13.2V isolated voltage rails, which can be configured as 3.3V, 6.6V, 9.9V or 13.2V separately. 1x 5V 2A linear LT3042 regulated non-isolated rail."
Now I have 2x SR4s to repurpose for other tasks!
SL buffer settings
Euphony OS w/Stylus player setup and issues thread15 minutes ago, HeeBroG said:
Forgive my ignorance but why does 2GB have fewer digits than 50MB?
- -b has units of kilobytes
- -a has units of bytes
-a <params> Specify parameters used when opening an audio output device. For ALSA, the format <b>:<p>:<f>:<m> is used where <b> is the buffer time in milliseconds (values less than 500) or size in bytes (default 40ms); <p> is the period count (values less than 50) or size in bytes (default 4 periods); <f> is the sample format (possible values: 16, 24, 24_3 or 32); <m> is whether to use mmap (possible values: 0 or 1). For PortAudio, the value is simply the target latency in milliseconds. When the output is sent to standard output, the value can be 16, 24 or 32, which denotes the sample size in bits. -b <stream>:<output> Specify internal stream and output buffer sizes in kilobytes.
SL buffer settings
Euphony OS w/Stylus player setup and issues thread2 minutes ago, mozes said:
Thanks I guess the optimal settings will be system dependent i.e. CPU and RAM
Yes, of course. This is only for those who want to experiment, and know the pitfalls and risks.
The key is to know how much physical RAM is in your box. Then go to "Temp/CPU" to check memory utilization. Based on that, you get a sense of free memory, so you know what you have to play with. In the example above, we are allocating:
- 2GB for input stream
- 2GB for output buffer
- 50MB for ALSA buffer
Feel free to experiment, and post findings!
Also, if you set a value in the freq fields, it unlocks a frequency monitor in the Temp/CPU panel. If you just want to know what the current frequency is, (Kenneth), just set a small value like 800MHz in the Min box and look at the freq monitor.
FYI - frequency settings do not seem to work on the i7DNBE at the moment. It's probably due to the versions of kernel and cpupower Euphony uses, as frequency setting works fine in AL.
Romaz i7 server
A novel way to massively improve the SQ of computer audio streaming
It's been a long time and so forgive me if I have a lot to say. As I indicated in one of my last posts back in 2018, I wouldn't post again unless I felt I had something meaningful to offer. I have received a lot of inquiries about the status of my audio setup and I apologize as I have not responded to most of these inquiries due to time constraints. To be honest, since I started this thread back in 2017, my system has been in continual flux but the time has come hopefully to settle down for awhile and so I felt it was finally time to share the status of my setup and to offer some personal observations based on my comparison testing. This marks my first public post since CA became Audiophile Style. I miss just being able to say "CA" and having the audiophile community know what I am referring to.
As always, what I have to share are personal observations and opinions based on my sensitivities and personal preferences. I have no financial motivations. I have 2 systems at home and what works well in one system doesn't always work well in the other. In other words, YMMV.
As for my 2 systems, they are as follows:
In my home office, I have a pair of near field desktop monitors that were custom made for me by Louis Chochos of Omega Speaker Systems based in Connecticut. They cost me <$2k and they remain one of the highest value purchases I have ever made. They are comprised of Louis' high efficiency, crossover-less Alnico drivers and excel in delicacy, nuance, and tone. I am continually amazed by how well these drivers express the subtlest textures. I used to own a pair of custom made Voxativs that were even more resolving and oh so velvety smooth but also a tad bright and not ideally suited for long term near field listening and so those are now gone. Paired with a fast JL Audio Fathom F110 V2 subwoofer and driven directly by a Chord Hugo TT2 / Hugo M-Scaler, I find this Omega setup to be very transparent, highly resolving, non-fatiguing, and transfixing. I own or have owned many fine headphones over the years (SR-009, HD800/HD800S, HE-1000 V2, Abyss 1266, LCD-4, Focal Utopia, Dharma D1000, TH-900) and when my children were living at home before they moved off to college, I found myself forced to headphone listening at night but my headphones have been collecting dust for some time because I have found my Chord DAC directly driving these Omegas to be that much more engaging, even at low listening volumes.
With my youngest son having moved out of the house and onto college late last year, my big listening room is where I do most of my listening these days. This room has been home to a lot of different speakers over the years and for most of the previous year, I was using a pair of large Martin Logan Renaissance 15A hybrid electrostats. Typical of line source, dipole speakers, these Martin Logans cast a giant ambient sound stage and are wonderful for recreating large venue performances at full scale. Driven by a Pass Labs X350.8 amp and XP-22 preamp, this setup excelled in beauty but ultimately lacked in resolution and transparency even when fronted by my Chord DAVE DAC with M-Scaler. These giant electrostat panels, while very fast and with exceptional clarity, created a softly focused image and so point sources like a solo cello or a solo vocalist sounded too diffuse, too tall, and too wide for my tastes, regardless of speaker position. As I made tweaks in my upstream setup, I could hear changes, however, I could hear these changes much more succinctly with my inexpensive Omegas and so for someone who values transparency, this drove me nuts. Imaging and focus improved considerably with a switch from Pass Labs amplification to a more resolving Luxman M-900U/C900U and ultimately to Soulution amplification. Imaging and focus further improved dramatically when I moved from a Shunyata Triton V3 to a Sound Application TT-7 line conditioner by Jim Weil but despite these improvements, I eventually came to the realization that I was not meant for line source speakers like electrostats or planars like my brother's Maggies. Don't get me wrong, these are wonderful types of speakers with tremendous appeal but my time with the Martin Logans have better educated me as to the type of listening I prefer and so I have moved on to point source speakers once again in my large listening room, specifically the Wilson Alexia 2s.
I offer the above details for the following reason. It's important to understand the context by which my observations and opinions are based and the priorities that I value as your priorities may be different. I'm guessing that we all claim live music as our reference and yet it's interesting to see how we each vary in our approach to achieving the recreation of a live performance. Because today's technologies remain incapable of faithfully reproducing a live musical performance and because we each are constrained by a budget, it helps to know what type of listener you are to understand which compromises you should accept above others. My goals, simply stated, are resolution and transparency in the absence of harshness. I aspire to beauty, organic, natural, and musical just like everyone else but these qualities are more in the eye (or ear) of the beholder and are not easy to define. I tend to run from things that are described as warm (meaning slow), thick, heavy, euphonic, or lush. Not that I don't like warm or lush, I just don't want everything sounding warm and lush if warm and lush aren't in the recording. Just not me. I find that if you can successfully address harshness at every step in your chain, there's usually no need to embellish or to colorize.
Moving on, here's a story about listening that some will find interesting. There are 2 types of listening that most of us do. There is critical listening where we focus on what we are hearing hoping to dissect the qualities of a performance, recording, or some piece of equipment and then there is pleasurable listening where the goal is to relax and to escape. Given the choice, I'm sure most of us would prefer the latter. Almost a year ago to this day, I hosted Rob Watts (who needs no introduction), Jay Luong (lead reviewer for AudioBacon.net), and Jim Weil (owner of Sound Application and designer of SA's line conditioners) in my home for a series of listening tests. What I respect about these 3 gentlemen is that they are each highly educated and accomplished electrical engineers but also passionate music lovers. It has been my experience that most engineers aren't true music lovers, don't know how to critically listen, or worse, they're closed-minded with fixed ideas about how digital electronics are supposed to sound based on theory alone. Not these gentlemen.
Rob had come all the way from Wales and brought along prototypes of M-Scaler and Hugo TT2 for us to listen to and for the better part of 5 days, we conducted a series of critical listening tests. We did a lot of listening, both sighted and blinded, to Rob's prototypes, to different DACs, amps, cables, line conditioners, and speakers. While it was a lot of fun to hang out with these individuals, our listening sessions were often more tedious than enjoyable. We listened to select portions of Mahler's 1st symphony so many times that I couldn't listen to this symphony again for months. What I found fascinating but not surprising is that while we each heard differences, we heard them differently and had different preferences. Jim Weil had a strong aversion to anything bright. Rhodium and silver-plated copper are Jim's enemies and he could sniff them from a mile away. Jay Luong was especially sensitive to tone and timbre and would gladly trade detail for warmth. Rob was particular to depth. An organ that was 30 feet away had to sound as if it was 30 feet away. Everything else was secondary and so not surprisingly, his DACs excel in depth accuracy. My sensitivities are more toward transient response and the air and space around voices and instruments. I also crave variation over harmony. Even 2 Stradivariuses should never sound exactly the same and a system that makes them sound exactly the same simply isn't transparent enough. We are who we are and so gear will speak differently to each of us.
Single box server vs server + endpoint
There are compelling examples to support either strategy. In the perfect world, I would love to have the convenience of a single box solution but I have yet to hear a single box solution that I prefer over a multiple box solution. With multiple boxes, there is the option for finer level tuning which I will discuss further but ultimately, it comes down to how well each box can be powered. If all I can come up with is a single good PSU, than a single box server is all that I will aspire to.
Those who have followed this thread from the beginning know that its original goal was to figure out ways to improve endpoints like the sMS-200 or microRendu. It's amazing how endpoints have evolved since January 1, 2017. The concept behind the endpoint was to create a low noise rendering device to interface with the DAC that isolates against noise generated by a powerful computer server. Low noise was the rationale for using low power processors like ARM-based CPUs and even Celerons. It was also the premise behind the avoidance of other noisy components like SSDs and switching power supplies. While some of these principles have passed the test of time, others have not, at least not to my ears. Low power CPUs are not necessarily what sound best. How else can I explain how an i7 NUC board with its noisy switching regulators can sound better than an ARM-based sMS-200ultra or ultraRendu? How else can I explain how an i7 NUC can sound better as I ramp up CPU clock frequency? It's completely counter-intuitive but it suggests that aside from noise, there is performance to consider and sometimes performance requires power and sometimes performance is more important than low noise. To my ears, an i7 has the potential to sound more spacious, fuller, and more dynamic than a Celeron or ARM-based CPU and the number of physical cores, CPU frequency and size of the CPU cache seem to matter. The downside of the i7 is that they are potentially more challenging to power well.
Thus far, I have tested 5 NUC boards comprised of either a Celeron, i5, or i7 CPU and ranging from 2-cores to 4-cores and from 2MB of standard CPU cache to 8MB of SmartCache. The best sounding board I have heard thus far is the NUC7i7DNBE based on an 8th generation i7 that I first discussed a few months ago.
I am open to the idea that a more powerful, non-NUC device could sound even better as an endpoint but once again, powering it would be the challenge. Here is the Asrock IMB-1215 which will be released to the U.S. in a few months.
It is a mini-ITX board that can accommodate an 8th or 9th generation i7 and with an open PCIe slot that can be powered by a single 19V rail and so I find this board to have intriguing possibilities.
SOtM has reportedly designed an i7-based motherboard from the ground up with high level clocks that can be powered by a single 19V PSU. I very much look forward to trying out this board.
The NUC7i7DNBE when purchased as a board are more difficult to come by and also more expensive at a price of around $650 USD. Ironically, the NUC7i7DNKE NUC kit, which houses a NUC7i7DNBE board within a standard Intel chassis are much more readily available and cost $100 less. I just purchased one a few weeks ago and it took all of 5 minutes to explant the NUC7i7DNBE board from the chassis.
The NUC7i7DNBE has the option of being powered by a 12-24V PSU and higher voltage DEFINITELY sounds better to me. Bigger and more dynamic. It also has the option of being powered via either a 2.5mm x 5.5mm barrel connector or 2x2 mini Molex connector. With 2 NUC7i7DNBE boards on hand, I was able to recently do a direct A/B and powering via the 2x2 Molex connector sounds very slightly better.
As for power supplies, I could not successfully power a NUC7i7DNBE board with a single LPS-1.2 at 12V even though my Kill-a-Watt meter suggests this board never consumes more than 8 watts during bootup. I could get it to post to the BIOS screen but even with Turbo and Hyperthreading turned off and with only 4GB of RAM installed, I could not successfully boot into AudioLinux from a USB stick. I purchased a special serial Y-cable from Ghent Audio and this allowed me to combine two LPS-1.2s and this worked. The cable that I had Ghent make for me is comprised of high quality Neotech 18g 7N OCC copper and so I spared no expense to get it as I was very excited by the prospect of being able to power the NUC with 24V using two LPS-1.2s set at 12V each.
Unfortunately, for reasons that remain a mystery, I could not get this to work. Each time, one of the LPS-1.2s would start to blink red during the boot process and turn very hot. I own three LPS-1.2s and regardless of which one I swapped in, one of the LPS-1.2s would start to blink red and it was not always the same LPS-1.2 that would give out. When I kept one LPS-1.2 at 12V and switched the other to 9V (12V + 9V = 21V), this somehow worked and the NUC booted just fine. 19V (12V + 7V) also worked. The problem with using two LPS-1.2s in serial is that they don't sound good at all and this was very disappointing. In fact, I found better SQ powering the NUC with the 19V rail from my HDPlex which came as a surprise. It appears that using 2 or more LPS-1.2s in serial is not a good thing to do. The NUCi7DNBE also likes headroom and the LPS-1.2's 1.1A of headroom is a limitation. To hightlight the importance of headroom further, a 12V SR4 sounds very good powering this NUC but a 12V SR7 with its greater headroom sounds even better.
Beyond headroom, the avoidance of any voltage drop is also very important and a 12V DR (double regulated) SR7 sounds better yet although I am getting my very best SQ with this NUC powered by a 19V SR SR7 rail. With this NUC powered by the 19V rail from an HDPlex 400W ATX LPSU, while the SQ is not in the same league as an SR7 or even the SR4, it is much less harsh than the stock 19V switcher that Intel provides and so the HDPlex is more than just a passable option. The JS-2 or a bespoke PSU from either Sean Jacobs or Adrian Wun at TLS could be even better options but at a cost. As I stated above, the downside of the i7 is that they are potentially more challenging to power well but I do feel the rewards are there.
As for clocking, not surprisingly, this makes a significant and worthwhile difference. I had the TLS DS-1 on hand for a few months and it's single OCXO reportely replaced 3 clocks on this board (system, Ethernet, USB).
While much has been made about the mediocre performance characteristics of the Connor-Winfield OCXO that Adrian at TLS likes to use for all of his products, the removal of 3 noisily powered clocks from this board and replacing it with a cleanly powered clock even if that clock is of suspect performance has paid significant dividends. I had a stock NUC7JYH board with its Celeron J4005 CPU on hand and it is the very same board and CPU that Adrian used for the DS-1. Direct A/B revealed a significant uptick in detail clarity and spaciousness with the DS-1. Compared against my stock NUC7i7DNBE, this superior detail clarity was still very much evident although I found the i7 NUC to sound more spacious still. Regardless, I heard enough to know that it would be worthwhile to send my i7 board to SOtM for clock replacement and indeed, it has been worthwhile. To have replaced the 4 replaceable clocks on this board has resulted in a notable decrease in harshness resulting in cleaner transients, better definition, more accurate timbre, and a greater sense of space.
However, the benefits of clocking have to be placed in proper perspective. To my ears, the power supply still makes the bigger difference. I have the benefit of having 2 NUC7i7DNBE boards on hand (one is stock and the other has been reclocked) and this has allowed me to make careful A/B comparisons. With the stock i7 NUC powered by a 19V rail from my SR7, I am getting better SQ overall than the SOtM-modified NUC powered by the 19V rail from the 400W HDPlex. If forced to choose, the choice would be easy.
With my inaugural post on this thread, I had described my observations about how LAN bridging resulted in increased transparency of the endpoint to the upstream server. While the mechanism for why this improves transparency remains unsettled, with bridging, it was clear to me that the quality of the server mattered. With the release of the SOtM sNH-10G switch last year, I reported that I was no longer able to differentiate between the Zenith SE and my noisy 12-core Xeon-based Mac Pro when either one was used as a Roon server. But that was before AudioLinux came into the picture which allowed me to play with CPU frequency settings and this has made all the difference. The Zenith SE houses a powerful and low noise PSU but it is mated to a very weak Celeron while my Mac Pro utilizes a noisy switching PSU mated to a much more capable 12-core Xeon with a giant CPU cache. Without any OS manipulation of the CPU, cursory A/B comparisons between the two yielded no significant difference to my ears suggesting that the sNH-10G had effectively blocked the higher noise that was being generated by my Mac Pro.
But what would happen if I pushed my Mac Pro's CPU clock from it's base idle frequency to max turbo levels? Of course, this is the beauty of AudioLinux and it has proven to be a very useful learning tool. With higher CPU frequency, dynamics goes up but at the expense of subtlety and nuance and with progressively increasing harshness and the sNH-10G is incapable of completely isolating against these changes. I have read commentary that the upcoming opticalRendu will supposedly be completely immune to the virtues of the upstream server. I suspect this is probably the goal of the upcoming EtherREGEN also. Well, I believe this is both naive and wishful thinking and so people will need to adjust their expectations appropriately or else they will be disappointed.
I say this because I currently have 2 SOtM sNH-10G switches in my possession and I can tell you that while 1 switch makes a very big difference, 2 switches make an even bigger difference.
What is nice about these switches is that they have both standard RJ-45 Ethernet ports as well as optical Ethernet ports and so with these switches connected by a single-mode fiber optic cable, here is what I found.
With the optical cable compared against a 50+ foot Blue Jeans Cables CAT6A Ethernet cable, the noise floor with the optical cable was noticeably lower and there is a clear preference for the optical connection. With the optical cable compared against a 22-foot Belden CAT6A cable with JSSG360 shielding that was made for me by Ghent, the gap was smaller but there was still a slight preference for the optical cable. With the optical cable compared against a heavily shielded 1.5m SOtM dCBL-CAT7 cable, the noise floor was equivalent (at least to my ears) but tonality with the SOtM cable sounded more natural. The optical cable sounded a touch thin and bright in comparison and so in this instance, the copper Ethernet cable sounded better. Regardless, in each and every comparison, optical or otherwise, if I varied CPU frequency, I could hear differences in the server. The server still ABSOLUTELY matters and this is because it's not just about noise, there is also the matter of performance and it would appear that RoonServer likes horsepower. At this time, the delta I am hearing from my best server setup to my worst server setup is about the same as the delta I am hearing from by best endpoint setup to my worst. In other words, my current stand is that the server matters as much as the endpoint.
My testing has shown me that modern CPUs are preferable to older generation CPUs A few generations ago, an i7-4790 yielded a TDP of 84w with 4-cores/8-threads, 8MB of SmartCache and CPU turbo speeds reaching 4GHz. Today, an i7-8700T yields a TDP of only 35w but offers 6-cores/12-threads, 12MB of SmartCache and CPU turbo speeds reaching the same 4.0GHz. Basically, more performance with less noise and A/B comparisons between these 2 CPUs reveal exactly that. An 8700K houses potentially even greater performance with a max turbo rating of 4.7GHz using better binned parts according to Intel and so I decided to compare this against the 8700T.
Ultimately, it didn't seem to matter since I heard no benefit clocking either of these CPU beyond 3.8GHz when powered by the HDPlex 400W ATX LPSU due to harshness but who knows what would happen if I had a better ATX PSU on hand? I have explored such a PSU with both Adrian Wun of TLS and Sean Jacobs but the cost of a "no compromise" ATX PSU from these gentlemen will run somewhere in the $4-5k range. Regardless, the CPU matters and if I were to build another server, I would probably go for a standard i7-8700 since they're more readily available and less expensive then either the 8700T or 8700K.
My testing has shown me that the motherboard matters also. Borrowing a page from Pink Faun's book that gaming boards can sound better, I decided to compare a standard Asrock Z370M-ITX/ac motherboard against an Asrock Z390 Phantom Gaming-ITX/ac motherboard.
First of all, I only looked at Intel boards since it wasn't clear to me that an AMD board was compatible with Optane memory. Second, I specifically targeted the Z370/390 chipset because these chipsets were capable of running the latest generation i7s (both 8th and 9th gen). The Z390 board happened to be designed for gaming meaning they were engineered to be overclocked. As such, this gaming board has an 8-layer PCB with a whopping 8oz of copper to maximize conductivity and to enhance the ground plane. This board also has beefier heat sinks to improve heat dissipation and a more robust VRM (voltate regulator module) to make sure the CPU is never starved of current. While the differences weren't large, the gaming board had more substance to the sound stage with greater authority to its presentation but not to be completely outdone, the Z370 board had a touch better finesse and subtlety. The point is that even these more minor differences were easily audible in the server.
SSD vs Optane
Just for kicks, I decided to compare a 58GB Optane card against a Samsung 500GB 960 EVO NVMe SSD in the M.2 slot of the Asrock board. This was a very brief comparison because it didn't take long to realize how much more harsh the SSD sounded even with all of my isolation schemes in place. It's amazing how many commercial music server manufacturers continue to use SSD drives in their servers as if powering an SSD cleanly somehow addresses this harshness when it does not, at least not to my ears. I suppose you get used to the harshness over time but an SSD is about the worst thing I can imagine putting into a music server with the super fast NVMe drives sounding the harshest of all. As some may recall, in previous testing, I found the older, slower SATA II SSDs (especially the SLC variety) to sound less harsh then the newer, faster SATA III SSDs although the faster SATA III SSDs made music sound more alive and more immediate and so there was a trade off. It would appear that the Optane cards have the best of both worlds and so hats off to Larry for introducing us to the Optanes.
I have read comments about how running AL in memory doesn't result in much improvement in SQ except for a slight improvement in smoothness. The point here isn't just running AL in memory for the sake of latency but also to be able to completely avoid using an SSD in the server. The Optane seems to be a nice compromise if capacity, low latency, and low noise are desired since Optane behaves more like RAM than an SSD. For those with a large Roon database who are looking for a brisk user experience with Roon, an Optane drive may be preferable to a USB stick for the Roon database. For sure, it would be preferable to an SSD. From a SQ standpoint, is an Optane drive preferable to having more RAM (16, 32, or even 64GB)? I'm not sure although according to Intel, a 58GB Optane drive only consumes 3.5w and so it would appear to draw much less current than RAM as a 3.3V device.
I haven't done much testing with memory to see what is ideal. Apparently, Sound Galleries has found that RAM timing matters with respect to SQ but they are keeping mum about what they found to be the ideal RAM timing for their servers. It made sense to me to target low latency memory and I have had good success as far as compatibility with Kingston's HyperX DDR4 for either Asrock board and for the i7 NUC but I haven't yet played with RAM timing. As I previously posted, I have not been able to distinguish any difference in sound between 4GB vs 8GB or single channel vs dual channel memory and I believe these findings are supported by the findings of others. I have been asked about using as much as 64GB of memory in the server. I have to wonder what the benefits of using large amounts of memory are except for the purposes of a RAM drive to store music since AudioLinux doesn't even occupy 4GB when ramrooted. According to Crucial, both DDR3 and DDR4 memory consume about 3 watts per 8GB. That means 16GB consumes 6 watts and 64GB consumes 24 watts. As 1.2V devices, that represents quite a bit of current draw. In fact, 24 watts is more than the whole i7 NUC board consumes and while RAM isn't as noisy as an SSD, I have to guess that this amount of consumption is going to result in increased noise in the ground plane. While storing or caching music files in RAM seems to lead to a slight increase in SQ with AL (a touch more smoothness), I would have to guess that any gains made would likely be offset by the noise created by that much RAM. I think even 16GB offers no SQ advantage for 2-channel audio, even with OS's that pre-fetch all streaming music into memory (i.e. Euphony).
Ethernet - JCAT Femto Network Card
I've already provided my experience with optical Ethernet in the SOtM sNH-10G switch and I suspect it would apply to a LAN card one might use in a server also. With long runs of cable, optical seems to provide an advantage but with short runs, optical has potentially no advantage or actually sounds worse. This suggests to me that much of the noise that optical is mitigating is coming from the Ethernet cable and not the server and that with short runs of Ethernet cabling or with well-shielded cabling, the higher amounts of jitter that optical creates now becomes its Achilles' heel. Regardless, even in the best case scenario where optical imparts a benefit (i.e. when compared against a 50+ foot run of Blue Jeans Cables CAT6A), the improvement pales in comparison to what I am hearing with the JCAT Femto Network card. The JCAT card is a game changer.
I looked at other cards, specifically TLS's LAN card with OCXO but I decided to go with the JCAT card because it had 2 Ethernet ports that I could bridge and because it was the only card I could find that I could independently power with an outboard PSU. Adrian at TLS told me his network card had redundant linear regulation on board and so bus power should sound as good as an outboard PSU but I refused to believe it. It just so happens that the JCAT card has the option of either being bus powered or being powered by a 5V outboard PSU and so it was easy to do this comparison. No surprise, this card when powered by a 5V SR4 sounds incredibly better than bus power. What did come as a surprise is that the LPS-1.2 is not a good choice for the JCAT card. To power both Ethernet ports, you need to feed this card at least 1.5A according to Marcin although the LPS-1.2's 1.1A is enough to power one of the Ethernet ports. The problem here is you not only lose the option of bridging but SQ was just not great because the LPS-1.2 sounds like it's working too hard just to power the one port. The noise floor is low and articulations are clean and clear but they sound weak and thin. Even the 5V port from the HDPlex sounds better overall.
Not to knock the LPS-1.2 since I regard this PSU very highly and in fact, I own 3 of them but I find that components that draw anywhere close to it's max rating of 1.1A aren't going to sound that great powered by the LPS-1.2. Also, there are some components that just benefit tremendously from headroom. A good example is the sNH-10G switch. The LPS-1.2 powers it fine but it doesn't power it great. This switch really scales with a 12V DR SR7. At a minimum, I would suggest an SR4, otherwise, you may feel underwhelmed with this switch. I imagine the upcoming EtherREGEN will be a better match for the LPS-1.2.
Chassis - HDPlex H3 V2
This proved to be an excellent chassis in many ways for my intended build. First, it is a fanless chassis capable of dissipating 80w of heat according to HDPlex. Testing with an i7-8700K running for extended periods at a fixed 4GHz showed that this case could handle that level of CPU just fine. At no time did CPU temps climb beyond 65 degrees C, however, at that speed and at those temps, harshness was quite evident. Second, and more importantly, the design of this chassis allowed for the utilization and easy comparison of different outboard ATX power supplies. The key word here is outboard. Despite the greater impedance that comes with having to use long umbilical cabling with an outboard PSU, I have found digital components to be very sensitive to vibration and to house a large vibrating transformer in the same chassis as the server is fundamentally against my design philosophy and among the chief reasons I struggle with single-box servers, at least on theoretical grounds. My former Innuos Zenith SE did a good job isolating the impact of it's large 300VA transformer on the rest of the server but as we know, when it came time to build their no-compromise Statement server, Innuos felt they had to separate the PSU from the main chassis. If there is a downside to the H3, it's build quality is not to quite to the same level as the fanless cases by Streacom but, nonetheless, it is a solid chassis and nowhere as resonant as many of the Akasas. Like with all my digital gear, I find that this chassis benefits from good vibration dampening footers as they result in cleaner transients with tighter image focus.
One mistake that I did not make with this server that I made with my previous server is the use of EMI paper. With my previous server build, for those that recall, I lined the whole chassis with EMI paper with the idea that if a little is better, a lot is better still. Well, I found that too much EMI paper kills the sound and has the potential to sound lifeless and overly damped. It turns out playing with the harmonic frequencies even at frequencies beyond the audible frequencies (>20kHz) has a very audible effect and so with this build, I have purposely shied away from using EMI paper. If another used Tranquility Base shows up on Audiogon, that is what I will preferentially target.
PSU - HDPlex 400W ATX LPSU
I was so impressed by my i7 NUC endpoint with its clocks replaced and powered by a 19V SR7 that I wondered what it would sound like to have the same i7 NUC with the same clocks replaced and powered by a 19V SR7 as the RoonServer. Well, I tried this and it resulted in an exceptionally clean sound with wonderfully crisp and clear articulations and incredible detail resolution but somehow, compared against the either the 8700T or 8700K, the i7 NUC as a RoonServer lacked soul. The more powerful machine sounded more dimensional, airier, fuller, more authoritative, and more real. I went back and forth because each had its appeal but ultimately, the more powerful machine won out as my preferred Roon server.
This led me to wonder how much of what I was hearing was the more powerful CPU vs the PSU. Was the HDPlex 400W ATX PSU really that good? I decided to power the i7 NUC with the 19V/10A lead from the HDPlex and even using a custom JSSG360-shielded OFC DC lead made for me by Ghent, compared against the 19V SR7, the HDPlex was a fairly significant step backward. Noise floor was higher, bass sounded bloated and ill-defined, mids sounded a bit muffled, and treble sounded rolled off. Not to say the HDPlex sounded horrible (as I previously mentioned, the HDPlex is actually more than just passably good), it's just the 19V SR7 is that much better.
This outcome is a good example of performance being more important than low noise. When I first described my experience with an unmodified NUC (with AudioLinux) sounding better than a microRendu or sMS-200, people wondered how devices that were built from the ground up for audio playback with high level clocks and low noise regulators could be bested by a cheap NUC. My only explanation is that low power CPUs like ARM-based processors leave a lot of performance on the table and with Roon Core or RoonServer, I believe this all the more true. It turns out horsepower isn't beneficial only for upsampling with HQP. I'm sure this comment will stir a lot of debate and even heated comments but unless someone can propose a better answer, this is what I'm going with.
Some will ask why I didn't go with the 200W HDPlex LPSU when this server consumes no more than about 50 watts max and more typically about 30 watts. First, I wanted as much headroom as possible. After speaking with Sean Jacobs, he was very much in favor of over-provisioning any ATX PSU he would design for me to avoid core saturation. In fact, his design incorporated a 300VA transformer even though I told him I was expecting my server to only consume about 30-35 watts. Second, I wanted to avoid a DC-ATX converter. Having purchased and tried the HDPlex 400W DC-ATX converter already back in 2017, I was less than impressed with its performance even when powered by the 19V rail from my SR7. Sean was also willing to share a few things about what he had learned regarding ATX PSUs (as we know, Sean designed the PSU for both the Zenith SE and the Statement). According to Sean, the 5V rail is extremely important and requires high current for optimum performance (ideally 4-5A) even if you're not planning on powering any 5V devices such as an SSD. Apparently, many parts of the motherboard utitilize this rail and unfortunately, the 5V rail on the 200W HDPlex outputs only 2A. Even if I wished to bypass a DC-ATX converter and create special cables to directly power a motherboard, 2A of output, at least according to Sean, would be less than ideal.
As I started doing my listening tests with the HDPlex 400W ATX LPSU, I compared it against a Corsair RM650X ATX PSU.
I specifically chose this 650w Corsair because it had comparatively low ripple noise measurements and very good voltage stability and indeed, before the arrival of the HDPlex, I was quite impressed by its performance. I wasn't sensing any of the fatiguing harshness I had heard with my Mac Pro or HP workstation. Against the HDPlex, the Corsair was no match, however. Noise floor was even lower but the sound signature was also fuller, more dynamic, and harmonically richer.
As I was building servers for others, I had the good fortune of having 2 HDPlex 400W ATX LPSUs on hand and so I got a chance to use both at the same time.
I used one HDPlex to power the motherboard via the 24-pin ATX connector and the other HDPlex to power the CPU via the 8-pin EPS connector using custom shielded cables made for me by Ghent. This resulted in further significant improvement -- even better low end dynamics and a more substantial sound stage. Is it worth another $800 to buy a 2nd HDPlex? I have to say that it's a very tempting proposition and something worth considering because the difference is there. Because I had an older 200W HDPlex on hand, I decided a few days ago to try powering the CPU from the 12V lead of this HDPlex using the same custom XLR cable that Ghent made for me and unfortunately, with the 8700K, the 400W HDPlex sounds more dynamic by itself. I'm sure that a bespoke ATX PSU built by Sean or Adrian would be even better but for $800, I am very impressed with the HDPlex 400W ATX LPSU.
X Factor - Furutech Nano Liquid
This needs to be filed under the "needs to be heard to be believed" catergory. I received a tip awhile back from a trusted friend to give the Furutech Nano Liquid contact enhancer a try. Those that know me know that I use a full loom of High Fidelity Cables everywhere except for USB and that's only because High Fidelity Cables don't make USB cables. Anyway, as good as HFC cables are, I was very impressed by how this Furutech contact enhancer, which is basically a proprietary formulation of silver and gold particles suspended in squalene oil, resulted in an even smoother, richer, and more liquid presentation. Yes, I know, it wreaks of voodoo but I loved what I was hearing.
For my initial server build using the 8700T CPU, I decided to cautiously apply this contact enhancer to the CPU, RAM, Optane card, JCAT card, and the ATX and EPS connectors. Upon completion of my build, I immediately tried powering on this server but it wouldn't power on. My first thoughts were that this contact enhancer had somehow caused a short or ruined the board but I decided to wait 24 hours to see what would happen. To my relief, after 24 hours, the board powered on but the board was only seeing one 4GB RAM stick and not the other. I switched around the sticks and it became clear that the RAM itself was not the problem but slot 2 on the motherboard was somehow not functioning or at least not detecting RAM that was inserted into this slot. Was this a defect in the board or a result of the Furutech Nano Liquid? I'm not sure but I wasn't bummed long because the SQ I got from this server was beyond what I was expecting. Was it the CPU, the JCAT card, the HDPlex ATX PSU, or the Furutech liquid that was responsible for the magnificent sound? It was impossible to know for sure.
I was asked to build a second server for a friend similar to this first server. With this second server, I strongly suggested the Asrock gaming ITX motherboard and the i7-8700K. As I mentioned above, I believed this particular motherboard should, in theory, sound better than the first board because it had more layers in the PCB, more copper in the ground plane, better heat sinking, and a more robust VRM. Because the 8700K was structurally identical to the 8700T, they should operate similarly but because the 8700K used better binned parts, I reasoned that the 8700K could potentially perform better or at least more durably since I would intentionally be running this CPU well below it's rated peak capability of 4.7GHz. Not wanting to risk the same headache, I elected not to apply the Furutech Nano Liquid to this build, at least not initially. The machine powered up fine and with what I thought were appropriate expectations, I was quite let down by what I heard. It sounded very dynamic but there was a dryness and a harshness to the sound that I wasn't hearing with my other server. I quickly moved back to my other server and this was immediately confirmed. My other server sounded smoother, more liquid, and harmonically more pleasing.
Despite 100 hours of burn in, the new server failed to come close to what I was getting with my other server and so I had to let my friend know these findings. I told him I couldn't say for sure but I didn't think it was the 8700K that was the culprit since I was getting the same temperature readings based on the frequency I was running compared against the 8700T. I postulated that it had to be either the motherboard that was the culprit or else the Furutech Nano Liquid was the missing X-factor. I offered him the option of applying the Furutech Nano Liquid but he would have to accept the risk that this liquid could damage his motherboard. He agreed and so I tore down this machine and started over, this time more copiously applying the Nano Liquid to the CPU, Optane card, RAM, JCAT card, and ATX/EPS connectors. Since I was given the green light, I figured if we were going to go down and be forced to buy a new motherboard, we might as well go for a home run. Well, after application of this Furutech liquid, this server did improve...dramatically...and it was noticeable immediately. If I have to guess, it is with the CPU where this liquid makes the most difference.
Operating System - AudioLinux vs Euphony
It would be a gross understatement to say that I was merely pleasantly surprised when I first heard a NUC running AudioLinux in RAM and I have Adrian of TLS to thank for this. What is just as impressive is how open-minded and responsive Piero has been to suggestions and so it has been amazing to see how AudioLinux has evolved in such a short amount of time. Rajiv and I had asked Piero to allow us the ability to specify CPU frequency and the ability to tune the CPU frequency has been extremely educational. It also allows for the utilization of just about any CPU since the user is no longer tied to just the base frequency or the peak turbo frequency of a CPU. Regardless of whether you're using an 8700T, 8700, or 8700K, you can dial in almost any frequency from 400MHz all the way to >4GHz and so with just about any CPU, it becomes a matter of the number of physical cores and the size of the cache.
As you go up in frequency, dynamics improves but it is at the expense of subtlety and nuance and at some point, harshness will set in. I have found that harshness sets in sooner with lower quality PSUs. With the HDPlex, I can push to 3.8GHz with the 8700T/K before the harshness gets unacceptable. With the SR7 powering the i7 NUC, I can push as far as the i7-8650U will go (maxes out at 3.8GHz even though Intel claims it can go to 4GHz) and unacceptable harshness never really becomes an issue but this depends on the server CPU frequency. What is fascinating is that with my large orchestral tracks, I had a preference for running the server at 800MHz which gave me my very best detail while running the NUC endpoint at 3.8GHz which gave the sound more body. With heavily amplified rock, I found the server sounded best at 3.2GHz and with the NUC endpoint at about 2.2GHz. It seemed that with the server running at a lower CPU clock speed, the NUC endpoint was receiving a cleaner (less harsh) signal that it could then amplify more agressively without penalty. With the server running at a higher CPU clock speed, there was more body to the sound but as I advanced the NUC's clock speed, harshness became evident much sooner. Regardless, to have this level of control has been amazing and I can tell you that these preferred settings apply only to my large listening room with my Wilsons and not to my smaller listening room with the Omegas. I'm also convinced these settings would be different had I still had my Martin Logans.
This is also the beauty of the core isolation feature and being able to switch between RoonBridge and Squeezelite on the endpoint. Core isolation in my system results in a tidier and more precise sound signature resulting in tighter focus but at the expense of bloom. With my Martin Logans, I would have had core isolation tuned on in both the server and the endpoint but with my Wilsons, it sounds too mechanical and so I leave it on in the endpoint but off in the server. Squeezelite is similar to my ears. It is a cleaner and more precise presentation whereas RoonBridge can sound more uncontrolled with undersirable overhang but for certain types of music, Squeezelite can sound less natural and overly sterile. Regardless, I like the option of being able to easily switch between the two.
A couple of weeks back, I decided to give Euphony a try at the recommendation of a friend who was impressed with the upgrade from version 2.0 to 3.0. Euphony lacks the fine manual controls that AudioLinux provides and so this was an immediate red flag for me. With Euphony, there is no option to set CPU frequency, isolate cores, or bridge LAN ports but it does give the user a polished and easy to use interface. Where AudioLinux is a tweaker's dream, Euphony was designed for those looking for a more no fuss turnkey solution. Having spoken by phone with Željko Vranić, one of Euphony's programmers, he said their focus was to lower OS latency as much as possible which really has been Piero's goal at AudioLinux also but it would appear that they have approached latency differently. Željko told me Euphony makes no attempt to isolate cores or to adjust the CPU frequency since they found this made no difference. This certainly has not been my experience with AudioLinux. After comparing the two, at this time, I am getting better SQ with Euphony than AL, especially on the server, and I must say this comes as a surprise, especially since Euphony doesn't allow me to bridge the 2 LAN ports on my JCAT card. As both products utilize ArchLinux as its platform, I'm confident that AL will continue to evolve and that parity will become possible but thus far, I have been unable to configure AL to match Euphony's performance. Ultimately, competition is good for the consumer and as I now own both products, I am rooting for both to succeed.
I apologize for this War and Peace length post. It's unlikely you'll see a post like this from me again as I have grown tired of doing comparisons. Best wishes to all.
A novel way to massively improve the SQ of computer audio streaming
A novel way to massively improve the SQ of computer audio streamingCustom Roon Server - Initial ReportAs I've described here in the past, while I have upgraded my Roon endpoint to near-endgame with the sCLK-EX-modified NUC7i7DNBE/Plato X7D running AL in RAM, my server upgrade has been pending. In the meantime, I've managed to squeeze (pun intended) out a lot of performance from my generic Dell XPS 8700 desktop. However, it was always my plan to upgrade my server, following shamelessly in the footsteps of @romaz.Roy has been refining his server build, and while he is still tweaking, I acquired his first build to try in my system. I am just going to enumerate the system here, because most of the credit goes to Roy for the thought and effort he put into this. Here are the system details:
While Roy and I discussed these options at length, it's really he who drove this system selection, and the end result is truly special. Before I describe the sound, here is a brief rationale for these choices.
- HDPlex H3 chassis
- Asrock H370M-ITX/AC mobo
- Intel 8700T CPU
- HyperX Fury 2400MHz DDR4 8GB
- JCAT NET Card Femto
HDPLEX 400W ATX Linear Power Supply
- 19V rail modded to 12V to supply independent EPS input to CPU
- Ghent JSSG360 ATX-to-ATX and XLR-to-EPS cables
This report is just my initial listening impressions after a couple of days. For now, I've located this server adjacent to my Dell (in another room), so I can compare them head to head. For simplicity, the endpoint is configured with Roon Bridge.From the first note, there's really no contest. I've talked about how I was living with some harshness ever since I resumed using my Dell as the Roon Server. Well, the lack of that harshness is what hits you first. The sound is so much more natural, relaxed, and yet, much more dynamic. I don't have the ability to compare the NUC i7 as a server with this 8700T server, but I strongly suspect this is superior.Happy as I was with this, I next ran a 50ft Cat 6a generic cable from the second JCAT Net port from this server to the SOtM switch, to which my endpoint is connected. Wow, this was another uptick in SQ. I think this credit goes to bridging (in general) but more to the JCAT Net card in particular. Roy had already raved about this card to me, but I had to hear it for myself. The biggest improvement is in tonal richness and density. There is just more texture and bloom (in a good way). Most importantly, and personally very exciting, for the first time in my system, I heard the same album on Qobuz sound as good as local files on NAS. Kudos to @Marcin_gps et al. This is an outstanding product.I have a lot of interesting things to try next. I plan to move this server into my listening room, where it can benefit from better cabling and better power. We'll see how much of an uptick that provides. This is where the fanless chassis comes in really handy. There are some PSU experiments to try, but Roy has already explored these, and I'm inclined to trust him on these. I'll describe these later. Finally, there is all this buzz about Euphony, so at some point I should give that a whirl.I will say, this may be as close to endgame in the digital streaming chain as I've ever felt I've gotten!
- The 8700T CPU has 6 cores/12 threads/12MB Smart Cache, all for a TDP of 35W at a base frequency of 2.4GHz. This seemed to be a good balance of low power and hefty horsepower.
- The HDPlex 400W Linear PSU has independent rails for the ATX voltages (3.3, 5, and 12V), with no DC-ATX conversion. Plus, by modifying the 19V rail to 12V, this adds another rail solely to power the CPU via the EPS input.
- TDP 35W is well within the capability of the H3 fanless chassis, and we snake the cables into the chassis through a PCIe slot opening on the back. Not elegant, but effective.
- The JCAT Net card was chosen to provide a high quality bridging solution, and as you'll read, boy does this thing sound good!
AudioLinux and NUC Troubleshooting and Tuning
Audiolinux 0.7 with new improved menu (now with 4 screens) and the possibility to update system, kernel and menu from inside. New web interface! Now you can connect remotely with a browser at the address http://ipaddress:8500
Tidal setup in AL
A novel way to massively improve the SQ of computer audio streaming58 minutes ago, mozes said:
Can I stream Tidal in the same way from Bubble upnp?
You Can stream Tidal from Bubble UPnP, BubbleDS Next or Mconnect on Android.I
If you are using new AL 0.7 version you Can install MPD and install UPnP for MPD from the Audiolinux Update menu
When you are asked for a password type audiolinux0
Then you go to Configuration menu and enable MPD and UPnP for MPD services.
Now you should be able to see Upmpd renderer In Bubble UPnP or BubbleDS next.
In AL 0.6 ver You Can run
yaourt -S mpd upmpdcli
When asked to edit type n on all other type Y
When finished enable MPD and UPnP for MPD services In Configuration.
Akasa case transfer
AudioLinux and NUC Troubleshooting and TuningOn 12/8/2018 at 12:44 AM, greenleo said:
Thank you. I have the JC, just haven't switched the case yet. I always switch the headless back to standard mode when not playing music for "green" reason?
I have now switched to the Akasa Newton JC Fanless Low Profile Case. I did NOT video it, as I was concerned it would be an exercise in hubris! I did take some photos.
The process was painless. Having grounded myself I:
- Opened the Akasa case and took off the front;
- Opened the NUC case and photographed the interior;
- Carefully removed all the cables;
- Removed the two retaining motherboard screws;
- Flexed the case away from the connectors;
- The motherboard came loose easily;
- I placed the mobo onto the upturned NUC base using the screw heads as a platform;
- I undid the two screws securing the fan and removed it;
- This revealed a further screw retaining the black housing;
- In the centre of the housing is a hole through which is a further screw;
- Removing the three screws allows you to remove the black housing;
- This reveals the paste covered CPU;
- I cleaned off the paste from the CPU;
- I took the mobo and lined it up to the new case to practice putting it on;
- I used Mastergel thermal paste, rather than the supplied white liquid;
- I squirted a small lump of thermal paste onto the centre of the small cleaned CPU;
- I placed the mobo onto the four screw pillars, NOT sliding the mobo around;
- I now used the four new screws and copper washers to carefully secure the mobo;
- As we are not using an HDD I attached none of the replacement cables;
- I now did up the new case and tested the NUC - success!
Using advice on the thread I altered my BIOS settings:
On powerup the temperature built to 41C. I left the unit running overnight and it is currently 35C. I suspect this may be due to my valve pre-amp being off, it lives under the NUC.
The black and silver wires just pull off, and are not re-attached.
The extracted mobo sitting on the NUC base for fan removal.
Fan & housing removed.
Need to clean off the old paste.
Clean and shiny.
New paste dollop on CPU, placed into the new case and screwed back up. Tested on my desk and then placed back in situ:
As it's Christmas!
Welcome to the jungle.
Shaky Cam 2.
AudioLinux and NUC Troubleshooting and Tuning
AudioLinux and NUC Troubleshooting and Tuning
Bringing over another shuttle load of questions from the mother ship:5 hours ago, yellowblue said:
I am interested in the user experience with the NUC dual setup and AL. If I want to shut down the NUCs or reboot them. How long does it take to actually get them playing music?
As previously answered, once you have Extreme, RamRoot, and RoonBridge enabled, just give it a few minutes. It will auto select AudiolinuxExtreme on the boot prompt, auto load to RAM, and auto start RoonBridge. I just wait until Roon shows me the device is ready.5 hours ago, yellowblue said:
With a Zenith SE everyting is very comfortable. What will be the difference?
The key difference is that the SE boots from SSD, and has a web UI. I'm sure the latter will come with time. The advantage of the USB boot is you can remove the stick after boot, so no noisy device.5 hours ago, yellowblue said:
Using extreme mode - is there a possibility to have som kind of energy saving mode while not using the NUCs?
I don't know if there is a way to pop in and out of Extreme mode on the fly. That is a good question for @hifi25nl. My guess is it needs a reboot.
My plan is to just power down both the endpoint and the server between listening sessions, as the Extreme mode does run hotter.5 hours ago, yellowblue said:
Thamk you for your answer, Alan! No need to activate extreme mode seperately every time? Do I need a monitor to start/reboot AL?
Once enabled, it's automagic. Just give it time to complete.4 hours ago, mourip said:
Does anyone have a good way to clone a USB drive? Can Rufus do that? I think that my current USB drive is a USB2 and it takes a long time to boot all the way to ramroot. My ports are USB3 so I was thinking of buying a new drive to see if it would speed boot-up.
I've not done it, but I can't imagine how it wouldn't. At the very least, save the drive as an image, and then burn onto the new drive.4 hours ago, mourip said:
Second. I have not used USB in my system for a couple of years. I have been using Dante ethernet to AES. Any suggestions for a good "bang for the buck" USB cable?
I've been very happy with the Lush^2 cable.2 hours ago, yellowblue said:
Many questions just today because I am just about to order a NUC: Someone who know if a NUC7i7DNH (15W) on AL extreme mode will work with a LPS 1.2?
Not on mine. I think @lmitche found a TDP 10W mode, which is not on my BIOS, so you may have to do it through another OS first. Plus he had to turn off a LOT of stuff.5 minutes ago, greenleo said:
For the users who changed the chassis of the NUC7CJYH, how did you get out the main board? Is it by brute force? Any tricks?
Check out the YouTube videos. I didn't end up having to exfiltrate the board out of a NUC enclosure myself, but had this video in my list if needed:
AudioLinux and NUC Troubleshooting and Tuning
Random Tips and Tricks
Here are some random tips and tricks for AL headless. Since these are for system changes, don't run this in ramroot mode. ssh into the system, and run as root. Finally, make sure the USB stick is inserted. Been burned by this before!
First, disable ramroot
- ramroot remove
Fix the time zone:
timedatectl set-timezone America/Chicago (pick yours - look in directory /usr/share/zoneinfo)
Start NTP daemon (to keep the system time in sync)
Edit the file: /etc/systemd/timesyncd.conf
Change previous [Time} stanza to:
NTP=0.arch.pool.ntp.org 1.arch.pool.ntp.org 2.arch.pool.ntp.org 3.arch.pool.ntp.org
FallbackNTP=0.pool.ntp.org 1.pool.ntp.org 2.pool.ntp.org 3.pool.ntp.org
Run timedatectl set-ntp true
It may take a few minutes for the sync to occur, after which your system date and time will be accurate.
hostnamectl set-hostname <NAME>
List detailed system HW info
(pop out of root to run yaourt)
yaourt -S inxi
Once installed, run: inxi -Fc0
Reducing the size of the RAM root partition
You might want to do this for a couple of reasons - to reduce boot time, and to increase free memory - for example, to run squeezelite with larger -b buffer. As you do each step, monitor the used space on the / filesystem with command df.
Uninstall unwanted packages
List all installed packages: pacman -Qe
For each package you want to uninstall, e.g. in my case, I don't use HQPlayer.
pacman -R hqplayer-network-audio-daemon hqplayer-embedded
Warning: don't go nuts here. Most of the packages are there so you can build any new packages you may want to install. I would just focus on the audio packages like Roon and HQPlayer.
Delete pacman temp files
Clean up journal
Check current journal size: journalctl --disk-usage
Pick a max size you’re comfortable with, say 32M
Trim journal down to that size: journalctl --vacuum-size=32M
Set threshold for future growth:
Uncomment (remove #) and change line to SystemMaxUse=32M
Delete core dumps
rm -rf /var/lib/systemd/coredump/core*
rm -rf /run/systemd/coredump/core*
Once you're done making changes:
ramroot -F enable
Monitor free memory at run time
Monitor memory in use with free and/or top
After RoonBridge has been running for a long time, when you run free, you'll notice that the size of the FS cache - see the buff/cache column in the output of free - has grown quite large. If you want to reclaim this space and make it free again, say to run squeezelite with large -b values, run:
echo 3 > /proc/sys/vm/drop_caches
- First, disable ramroot
The new generation UltraCap LPS-1.2: USER IMPRESSIONS and QUESTIONS thread
The new generation UltraCap LPS-1.2: USER IMPRESSIONS and QUESTIONS thread
If you can solder SMD parts, I've had great results using a dual paralleled LT3045 regulator board like this one:
I use it to couple 2 LPS-1.2s together in parallel. I replace the adjustment pots with appropriate .1% precision resistors to get the 2 sides to VERY close to the same output values, feed an LPS-1.2 into each half, & parallel the outputs.
Yup, it is an advanced project, but getting 2A+ of LPS-1.2 power can be very nice!
In some applications, my experience is that it even sounds better than a single LPS-1.2 alone, even when the current draw of the device is <.5A. I'm guessing it's the benefits of lower output impedance due to paralleling.
& Alex gives me a commission each time someone buys a 2nd one for this purpose, right Alex? ?
Greg in Mississippi
A novel way to massively improve the SQ of computer audio streaming
A novel way to massively improve the SQ of computer audio streaming39 minutes ago, shahed99 said:
It'll also be interesting to see in a single server situation using AudioLinux and compare to Windows Server 2016 + Audiophile Optimizer.
For an apple to apple comparison, here's a guide that's created by @randytsuch
randytsuch's audio page: Running Windows from RAM
For headless Windows, either Nano Server or IoT Core might do the trick
Windows 10 IoT Core for MinnowBoard MAX
Installing Windows IoT Core
Windows IoT Core for UP Board
Windows 10 IoT on “regular” PC?
Beginning IoT – Installing Windows 10 IoT Core on an x86/x64 Device
A novel way to massively improve the SQ of computer audio streamingOn 11/4/2018 at 1:13 AM, austinpop said:
The trick with the audiolinux site I'm finding is that instead of looking for a "guide" per se, you should just search on the page for terms you care about. For most people, these are the things you want to know:
- install on USB: search "install"
- "Roon" to start/stop Roon Core, Bridge
- "DHCP" to switch between dynamic and static IP
- "ramroot" and "ramsave" about running in RAM
It still requires you to be computer literate, so this is really not for everyone.
It seems that a few members are still waiting for the guide. I'll post, for the computer illiterate.
AudioLinux Installation Guide 1:
0. download the RUFUS and but the image from Piero.
Process A: Installation to an USB disk
2. Choose the DD option
3. Select the image
4. Burn the image to the USB disk
5. Everying will be erased. click OK to proceed.
6. Wait till and 100% and wait more.
7. When the burning is truly finished, the start button will be available again.
Will try to do some screen capture for the running of the lxqt (GUI) version and post it here later. Hope everybody may enjoy this sw, one of my best invested $29 ?
A novel way to massively improve the SQ of computer audio streaming
Note from @austinpop
While I am now the OP of this thread, I did not start it. That would be @romaz. I have just been given authorization by him to take on the OP role.
A brief history of this thread - by @austinpop
Last update: Dec 13, 2018
This thread is almost 2 years old, with over 12,000 posts, and over 860k views.
While it was started by Roy @romaz about the positive SQ impact of ethernet bridging between a music server and an endpoint, it has since grown to span the gamut of the entire digital chain. Loosely speaking, this thread is an exploration of mechanisms that are observed to improve SQ in the streaming chain. This covers the path from the music file at rest on a storage device all the way to the input of a DAC. Conventional wisdom would suggest this path should have no, or very little, impact on SQ. Yet, as the 2 years of experience on this thread has shown, this path has a profound impact on SQ.
Undoubtedly, the topics covered have meandered. This is, after all, a forum thread! Over its lifetime, the topics and areas covered have included:
- Network bridging
- quality of power supplies
- quality of clocks - both data (related to the data sample rate) and system (USB, ethernet, and motherboard) clocks
- reference clocks
- mods - mobos, NICs, USB cards
- and many other topics.
The focus of this thread is on direct listening impressions. We were lucky that, from the outset, the early participants set a tone of experimentation with the proposed ideas, and reporting their results. Over time, this guiding principle has been enthusiastically adopted, and many participants have extended the body of knowledge with their experiments and reports. This has resulted in a thread with a reasonably high S/N ratio. Most of what is discussed here does not have a readily available analytical explanation. We would not have gotten this far if we had gotten mired in the "how could this possibly matter" debate.
To preserve this S/N ratio, and to keep the thread from disintegrating, we ask contributors to focus discussion on direct listening experiences.
I have created an index of useful posts to help the new reader navigate this massive thread. Please scroll further down to see the index.
We welcome your participation in this thread. Please note that discussion needs to stay focused on direct listening experiences with audio experiments discussed here. This is not an opinion thread. Most of what is discussed here does not have a readily available analytical explanation. Once we get into arguing about the why's, this thread is going to disintegrate. If anyone comes in here, makes no contribution, and attacks people, I reserve the right as OP to delete their posts.
Further - this thread is about listening impressions. We do not:
- Demand proof
- Require a specific methodology
- Require measurements.
Original post by @romaz
Ok, MASSIVE is a bit of an overstatement at this level of high-end audio but now that I have your attention, I would say that this improvement is quite significant, nonetheless, and once you hear it, I suspect you will not wish to go back to your previous setup. More importantly, this is neither difficult nor expensive to implement.
Much has been said about how ethernet renderers like the microRendu and the sMS-200 are immune to upstream components. Because ethernet is transformer coupled, it is inherently galvanically isolated and because of the error correcting packet protocol it employs, data is always bit-perfect and so it would seem that ethernet is an ideal data delivery vehicle for a digital audio stream. Indeed, when I first purchased my microRendu back in May, I tested it with a variety of standard sources including a Windows NUC, Windows laptop, Mac Pro, Macbook Pro and sonicTransporter and even when a certain source was powered by my HDPlex, I noticed no significant difference among these sources, at least not enough to care which one was feeding my microRendu. I have also explored and compared a variety of ethernet optimization techniques including optical isolation with FMCs (powered by LPS-1), an audiophile switch with TCXO clock by Paul Pang (powered by LPS-1) and various audiophile ethernet cables (BJC CAT 6A, SOtM dCBL-CAT6 with iSO-CAT6, AQ Vodka + Diamond, Supra CAT8, WireWorld Silver Starlight CAT8) and while they can and do make a difference, even collectively, the difference has never been that great, certainly not enough to want to spend lots of effort or money on these things. At least that has been my experience and so this is a compliment to both the microRendu and the sMS-200, that they are that immune to what is upstream...or are they?
Like with many of you, things changed when I received my LPS-1 as this power supply was eye opening in how it transformed my microRendu. This should have come as no surprise as John Swenson had been telling us all along that the microRendu, as a low noise and low impedance device, benefits from a low noise and low impedance power supply. What I wasn't prepared to experience, however, was how a good low noise, low impedance power supply would also transform my upstream components including a simple NUC or Mac Mini even with the microRendu or sMS-200 in place (I own both of these units). It was surprising to find out that even my internet modem/router similarly benefited. It turns out that while ethernet is good for isolating noise, it cannot fix a signal already molested at the modem/router or music server level. In the same way that the LPS-1 improved both the macro and microdynamic capabilities of my microRendu, my Paul Hynes SR7 has also magically transformed my modified Mac Mini and internet modem/router and both the microRendu and sMS-200 fully reveal these benefits but truth be told, these benefits are much more fully realized if these endpoints themselves are powered by a low impedance PSU. This is not some mild transformation that you need to blind test to convince yourself is real, this is something a semi-deaf person can distinguish because the dynamic contrasts with the Paul Hynes SR7 driving both my Mac Mini and internet modem/router is that much more thunderous, enough so that I have had to literally turn my subwoofer down a notch. If you think about it, there's no good reason why this shouldn't be happening. The whole purpose of the microRendu or sMS-200 and devices like the USB Regen is to present a DAC with a signal of the highest integrity. Why wouldn't the microRendu or sMS-200 similarly benefit from being presented with high signal integrity by the components before it?
I have come to the conclusion that this impact has more to do with low impedance than the low noise characteristics of the power supply fronting these upstream devices because as you recall, ethernet is transformer coupled and so is inherently galvanically isolated and with the FMCs that I employ in my network (which are powered by my LPS-1), no RF noise or leakage current should be reaching my microRendu or sMS-200. What is the measured output impedance of the Paul Hynes SR7? According to Paul, his SR5 and SR7 measure ❤️ millohms from DC to 100kHz and so consider this number as a reference point for comparison. Having asked around, it seems no one else can provide these impedance measurements over what John Swenson describes to be his ideal frequency range either because they don't own the measuring equipment to do so or because they don't believe this spec is important. What I can tell you is that neither my HDPlex or Teradak are low impedance LPSUs because neither of these units are good enough to allow me to distinguish one source from another when fronted by either the microRendu or sMS-200 and both are soundly trounced by my LPS-1 and my SR7 when it comes to soundstage dimensionality. While I have not had the opportunity to compare the Sonore Signature Power Supply to either of these two units, based on what I am hearing from respected sources and conversations I have had with Barrows, I have no doubt this is an excellent and very low impedance PSU. Based on how good the LPS-1 is, logic would suggest Vinnie Rossi's ultracap-based supply is likely of similar caliber. The problem with these other supplies is that neither of them have enough juice to power a Mac Mini, Nuc or my TP-Link internet modem/router as each of these devices require at least 12V/3.5A.
Of course, this discovery led to quite a bit of curiosity about other areas. What would happen if I directly connected my Mac Mini to either my microRendu or sMS-200? Intuitively, I had a hard time believing this should make a difference. If so, why weren't the microRendu or sMS-200 designed by their wise creators to connect this way? I further had a difficult time believing my internet modem/router or my Paul Pang switch with TCXO clock should have any real detrimental impact on either of these endpoints since the modem/router was currently being powered by my Paul Hynes SR7 and my Paul Pang switch was being powered by my LPS-1 and moreover, I had optical isolation in place and yet Mark Jenkins, owner and developer of the Antipodes line of music servers, had this to say about his latest generation Roon Ready DX music server. This excerpt is taken from John Darko's review of this latest generation DX server:
"A third way to plumb Roon inside the DX is to have Roon Core talk to Roon Ready directly. Think of this scenario as Roon playing out the server-client model not on a LAN but inside a single computer.
Jenkins clarifies: "They [Roon Core and Roon Ready] talk using RAAT but when they are in the same device they do not need to use the not-so-good comms layers that sit underneath RAAT when the two apps talk across a network."
I'm not sure I know what Mark meant by this exactly but he details a greater clarity and immediacy to the sound of Roon using this method and so I felt compelled to try and create this direct connection between my Mac Mini and my microRendu/sMS-200. This wouldn't be so difficult if either device had the ability to assign itself a static IP. Unfortunately, this was never possible with the microRendu and this feature was taken away from the sMS-200 after firmware 1.9 and because each device must be assigned an IP address by a router for control purposes, it didn't appear as if there would be an easy way to accomplish this.
It turns out OSX can function as its own DHCP server and so I used El Capitan to assign an IP address to one of the two ethernet ports I have on my Mac Mini (the Mac Mini comes natively with only one ethernet port but my Thunderbolt hub comes with its own ethernet port thereby giving me two such ports). I connected my sMS-200 to one port and my router to the other port and it worked but there were problems. Because OSX insisted on connecting this second port on a separate subnet, my sMS-200 had no outlet to the internet (for Tidal streaming) nor could it be controlled remotely by my iPad and so this was a "no go." When I manually forced both ports to be on the same subnet, my Mac Mini would get confused as to which ethernet port had control and it would lock up. It then dawned on me that I could bridge the two ethernet ports and BINGO! This accomplished exactly what I wanted to accomplish. Both ethernet ports were now on the same subnet and with one port connected directly to my sMS-200 and the other port connected directly to my router, everything was running smoothly. I could now easily access the sMS-200 remotely from my iPad and other machines that were on the network and the sMS-200 could access the internet. While I have not yet tried my microRendu this way (it is presently on loan), I don't see why it wouldn't work the same way. What is interesting is with this bridged configuration, my internet modem/router is now responsible for assigning the sMS-200 an IP address and yet the sMS-200 is physically directly connected to my Mac Mini without the intermediary "not so good comm layers" that Mark Jenkins describes.
So how does this direct connection sound? Simply glorious! While a low impedance power supply brings depth and dynamics to my upstream components, this direct connection brings amazing clarity and immediacy. It's as if one very thick veil has been removed and that my seat has been upgraded from the balcony to the stalls. I would rate the impact of this as equivalent in magnitude to employing a low impedance PSU. Many of you are aware of the claims many are making on several threads here on CA but also on HeadFi of how RedNet and Dante provides this "you are there" clarity. I had a ReNet 3 in my home for evaluation for nearly a month and I agree, it provides this beguiling sense of clarity that has to be heard to be appreciated although the problem with RedNet, I believe, is its inferior switching PSU. These units sound flat and dimensionless compared to my described setup above and so this clarity that RedNet brings almost sounds sterile and lifeless in comparison. Regardless, proponents of RedNet have suggested the problem with USB endpoints like the microRendu and sMS-200 is with USB. What I am hearing suggests USB is not the problem but perhaps the Dante technology by Audinate that RedNet utilizes has figured out how to eliminate the impact of these "not so good comms" in the network signal path. I have now been listening to this arrangement for much of the past week and so the initial emotions that can cloud one's judgement have settled down and my opinion remains the same as the first moment I heard it. To borrow from Chris Connaker, after all of this, I can unequivocally say that my audio system has never sounded better than it has now. For me, there is no going back.
For those interested in reproducing what I have done, first of all, you will need a music server with 2 ethernet ports. Current Mac Pros already have 2 ethernet ports. Mac Minis do not but I can verify that you can add a Thunderbolt ethernet port and it works very well. Many Windows PCs have 2 ethernet ports and if not, if you have a spare PCI or PCIE slot, you could inexpensively add one. Will a USB ethernet connection work? I don't see why not but I haven't tried it and I don't know how it will sound. I do know that you can't bridge a wi-fi connection and an ethernet connection.
So how do you bridge 2 ethernet ports? If you are on Linux, I can't help you but I'm sure it's possible. If you are on a Mac, here are the fairly simple instructions that I followed. Feel free to use DHCP but you are also free to assign a static IP:
For Windows, @jelt2359 has confirmed for me that the following directions below worked on his Windows 10 Nuc although he had to manually configure the bridge's DNS and IP addresses.
Obviously, if you decide to try this, please report back your findings here. If there is consensus that this improvement is universal, perhaps Sonore and SOtM can be convinced to allow their units to be configured to be directly accessed more easily.
Index of useful posts
- Some sections are lacking. If anyone can volunteer to supply me with posts for these sections, I will gladly add.
- If you would like to nominate a post to this index, just PM me.
- What do we mean by direct or bridged connection? A topology explanation
Using a 3rd wifi adapter in bridge to overcome problems some folks were having:
- HQPlayer Win Server 2016 GUI Network Bridge Walk Through
- How to use Interface Metrics
- QNAP NAS
- Synology NAS
- Info about Paul Hynes PSUs
- Aside on AC power cables and dedicated lines
- More info on Paul Hynes PSUs
- Even more info on PH PSUs
- @dgarretson compares sPS-500 to SR7
- @romaz compares sPS-500, LPS-1, and SR7
- @Superdad on LPS-1 heat considerations
- @austinpop Preliminary SR-4 review
- @austinpop PSU Roundup: comparing the new LPS-1.2 with the LPS-1 and SR-4
- @austinpop Followup on SR-4 and LPS-1.2
- @austinpop PSU followup
- @austinpop First impressions of Paul Hynes SR-7
- @auricgoldfinger compares TLS Reference 1 with Paul Hynes SR-7
- @austinpop compares the Farad Super3 PSU with the SR4, SR7 and LPS-1.2
- @austinpop review of DXPWR DXP-1A5DSC dual-regulator PSU
- @romaz review of DXPWR DXP-1A5DSC dual-regulator PSU
Clock Mods, reclocker chains, and sCLK-EX
- @romaz's Experience with Pang switch
- @romaz's rationale for trying sCLK-EX mods
- Some insights on clocking from John Swenson and Rob Watts
- @romaz's first round of findings with the SOtM sCLK-EX Ultra chain
- @romaz explains experiments with his music server
- Bad clock > Better clock > Best clock
- @romaz's planned mobo sCLK-EX mods
- @hols review of tX-USBultra
- @mozes's review of tX-USBultra (from another thread)
- @austinpop's initial impressions of Ultra trifecta
- @austinpop's Ultra trifecta impressions - Part 2
- @austinpop's Ultra trifecta impressions - Part 3
- @limniscate's listening impressions of Ultra trifecta
- @romaz switches gears and considers direct USB
- @austinpop Summary of clock chains - what we've learned so far
- @romaz met with Lee and May of SOtM at High End Munich
- @austinpop describes upcoming Ultra-vaganza, which will allow experiments with more than 4 sCLK regenerations
- @austinpop Ultra-vaganza report
- @romaz Rationale for going direct USB
- @ElviaCaprice receives his sCLK modded NUC
- @Always.Learning Listening impressions with his trifecta and ISO-Regen
- @Bamber first pics of sCLK modded SU-1
- @austinpop Updated perspective on what we have learned with clock chains so far
- @mozes Radically updated direct USB chain using tX and DAVE
- @romaz his ultimate end-to-end clock chain (from the Ref 10 thread)
- @romaz details his end-to-end fully sCLK-ed build
- @lojay describes his build clock chain, using the SOtM sMS-1000SQ
- @Johnseye describes his sClK-EXed build
- @elan120 describes his sCLK-EX mods to Singxer SU-1
ISO-Regen in the Mix
- @mozes Direct USB impressions of IR with tX-USBultra
- @mozes Optimum configuration of IR and tX-USBultra with VR Mini PSUs
- @austinpop ISO-Regen meets Ultra trifecta
- @austinpop ISO-Regen-polooza Part Deux
Master Reference Clocks
- @romaz stunned by Mutec Ref 10 at Munich
- @JohnSwenson's insights into clock oscillators
- @romaz returns with more insights on master reference clocks
- What exactly are reference clocks?
- @hols Cybershaft 10MHz reference clock driving tX-USBultra
- @hols Cybershaft update
- @Bamber First impression of Mutec Ref 10
- @austinpop Listening Impression with the Cybershaft OP-14 Reference Clock - Part 1 & Part 2
- @limniscate Listening impressions with Cybershaft OP-14
- @romaz explains phase noise comparisons
Comparisons with other endpoints
- @austinpop Listening impressions of dCS Network Bridge vs. SOtM trifecta with Cybershaft reference clock - Part 1
- @austinpop, @limniscate, and @Bruce Orr Initial listening impressions of UltraRendu vs SOtM Ultra and trifecta, LPS-1 vs. sPS-500
Comparisons with music servers
- @austinpop Review of Innuos Zenith SE vs his SOtM trifecta chain
- @austinpop Does the SR-7 PSU close the gap between the SOtM trifecta and the Zenith SE?
Ethernet cables, isolators
- @romaz Review of SOtM sNH-10G switch
- @austinpop Review of SOtM sNH-10G switch
- @zettelsm Experiments with EtherREGEN, opticalModule, Startech and Planet Tech SFPs
Computer mods - mobos, NICs, drives, etc
Booting Win on Mac Mini and benefit of AO:
Adnaco fiber mods
- Excellent summary of John Swenson thoughts on USB and leakage loops
- @Superdad talks about Uptone thoughts on future Ethernet upgrades
- From another thread: JS explanation of how asynchrony in USB actually works, and why the source clock still matters
- SSG 360 cable shielding scheme
- @austinpop Dummy DIY guide to JSSG 360. If I can do it, anyone can!
NUCs, in-memory OS, and AudioLinux
- @romaz Initial post on NUC experience with TLS DreamOS
- @romaz NUC Audiolinux impressions
- @romaz AL on powerful server running Roon Core also improves SQ
- @romaz i7 NUC sounds even better
- NUC update
- @greenleo Audiolinux Guide Part 1, Audiolinux Guide Part 2, Audiolinux Guide Part 3, Audiolinux Guide Part 4
- @greenleo Audiolinux Headless Guide Part 1, Audiolinux Headless Guide Part 2
- @austinpop Science Experiment: Audiolinux Extreme on Zenith SE
- @Johnseye Audiolinux NUC Update
- @austinpop Buffer size study with squeezelite vs Roon
- @austinpop NUC Audiolinux Impressions
- @austinpop NUC Audiolinux Impressions Part 2
- @austinpop ALSA buffer tuning in squeezelite
- @austinpop custom server update
- @romaz System update March 2019
- @austinpop PSU update Dec 2019
- @romaz System update December 2019
- @Gavin1977 Experience with Gentoo Player
A novel way to massively improve the SQ of computer audio streaming
My last guide on the AudioLinux headless
* AL headless v0.5 has come out. ONLY command alconf. NO reason not to use it for Dual PC *
A. Preparation of the USB disk
- Please follow my guide in the other post which shows how to burn the USB disk
B. Run the USB disk on the Audio PC, the headless
1. Use UEFI (through the BIOS of your computer) to boot the USB disk
2. Press [Enter] when a menu come out
3. Wait till the prompt comes
4. Type alconf
5. Choose from the menu. Done.
As an example:
Choose 7 in the headless. Then use HQPlayer in the control PC to play music.
PS. This guide just shows the basic operation of the AL headless and not the detail operations of each sw like HQPlayer, JRiver, ..., etc.
A novel way to massively improve the SQ of computer audio streaming53 minutes ago, beerandmusic said:
Will burning audio-linux to usb in this fashion make it bootable and fully contained on the bootable usb stick with ability to just point to local hd or network share for music?
A novel way to massively improve the SQ of computer audio streaming
This would be my last guide on the AudioLinux GUI version. If Rajiv find these guides useful, please put them in the index.
Installation guide 5: Automount
1. It is not necessary to do this guide. If you are using RAMBoot, and mount the drive interactively (as shown in the previous guides), and do not show down your AudioLInux (entirely possible because some NUC only runs at 10W)
2. Wrong lines in the fstab file may make your USB disk not bootable. So be careful.
3. This example works if the file system of the target hdd is NTFS.
This guideline is divided into 3 parts:
A) Find the UUID of the local hard disk to be mounted:
1. Click the icon to launch terminal
2. Type blkid to find the UUID of the target hdd
In this example, the target hdd is SLC_240 is the 01D....
B) Update the file /etc/fstab
1. Click the red folder (Must be the red one, not the blue one)
2. Click computer
3. Click file system
4. Click etc
5. Scroll down, until fstab is found. Click to open it
6. Update the fstab file.
red part: subs. your own parameter for the value after UUID
blue part: may be changed but not recommended. Please refer to the official site for the details.
orange part: should not be changed.
Save the file.
Open the Start here folder. Click samba (if the blue part wasn't changed) and check if files in your hard disk is being displayed. Your screen should be different from mine.
* If the check if OK, then the auto-mount is successful. Now you may use say, HQPlayer, to your music files.
A novel way to massively improve the SQ of computer audio streaming
AudioLinux Installation Guide 2:
** Continue from the end of Guide 1. **
1. Unplug the USB disk. Note: After the burning, Windows can't recognize it and hence can't eject it.
2. Insert the USB disk to a PC (power off) which you want to run the AudioLinux GUI mode
3. Power on the PC, get into the UEFI, from the boot menu, choose the just created USB disk as the boot device and boot.
4. Wait a relatively long time until you see a Windows environment (see the image below). In the process, some text comes out from the screen. Error message may come out but don't worry. Wait until Windows environment comes out.
Steps to mount a local drive
1. Click the Start here folder (it may lag few seconds depend on the speed of your computer and the USB disk)
2. Click the local Drive that contains your music files
3. Input the password audiolinux0 as the password to mount
4. Check the mount is complete.
5. (As an example) Launch HQPlayer
6. Add you library, set the settings of HQPlayer and play your music by HQPlayer.
End of guide 2. Enjoy!
1. After reboot, the mount of the local drive is gone.
2. Linux is pretty stable, you may leave for tens of days. Hence 1 won't introduce much problem.
3. Auto-mount of a drive is possible but needs using terminal, issue commands, and editing the file fstab. It's better for the users to read the instructions and follow. The boot may not be possible if fstab is wrong (as stated in the official site.)
4. In principle you may do the RAMBoot. However it's better to set up everything properly before using RAMBoot.