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  1. Shootout at the Linux Corral: AudioLinux vs Euphony
    Shootout at the Linux Corral: AudioLinux vs Euphony

    After some time involved in Euphony setup, I am here to write my own impressions.

     

    For all my storage requirements I am using a NAS. Homemade machine with Supermicro server board, 12x 8Tb WD REd HDDs & 128 Gbytes or ECC Registered RAM. I have been using WS2019/AO3/JPlay for quite some time now.

    I have made a vast improvement in sound quality 2 weeks ago, by lifting my server PC from the router/switch interface and plugging it directly on my NAS second NIC. This was one of the most dramatic upgrades I have ever had, by bridging the two NICs on the NAS. This is a new upgrade on FreeNAS 11.3.

     

    So I have evaluated using one and two PCs with Euphony, all with identical motherboards. I am really so curious of the fact that some guys here do not experience anything that much big from going to a dual PC setup with Euphony. Guys, the improvement is really really big to the point of forgetting anything alternative.

     

    My last adventure is playing with Euphony server and stylus control software on the server (control) pc, with StylusEP and Roon bridge on the audio (endpoint) pc. I am using the Pink Faun I2s bridge and after many comparisons I can say that this is really a game changer, for me digital audio reproduction is a no-go thing without this I2s bridge, even for playing DSD by converting to PCM I2s. Sound comes out unprocessed with stunning immediacy and clarity. USB interface is not for audio, even if you plug out-of-this-world USB cards with insane P/Ss and clocks. You will always miss that kind of magic. In the end, you should not forget that I'm an analog, vinyl & tubes guy...

     

    Best sound was achieved with Stylus control software on PC1 and StylusEP on PC2.

     

    Second best sound was achieved with Roon control software on PC1 and Roon bridge on PC2. Controlling Roon onto anything else than Roon bridge was intolerable to my ears.

     

    Practically, for me it is the first time I am experiencing very good sound out of my Roon license. The only penalty of using Roon is the requirement for a huge local hard disc, in excess of 100 Gbytes, while with Stylus control software the requirements go down to less than 8Gbytes for my 100.000+ albums library. But then again, for maximum sound quality, you need to stick to Stylus.

     

    Hope that my findings could be helpful to you.

     


  2. A novel way to massively improve the SQ of computer audio streaming
    A novel way to massively improve the SQ of computer audio streaming

    I thought I'd provide an update.  I apologize for another War and Peace length post but it's been awhile since I last posted and since I don't know when I'll post again, I figured I'd leave it all on the table.  Like always, the following represents my opinions based on personal observations and so YMMV.  Full disclosure, I have no financial motivations.

     

    Some may recall that a year and a half ago, I transitioned to a pair of Wilson Alexia Series 2 speakers.  The good news is that these are as good as I hoped they would be.  The bad news is that they are also as bad as I feared they could be.

     

    These speakers aren't that difficult to drive but are so much more revealing of the qualities of the driving amplifier than what I previously had that with the wrong amplification, they can sound lifeless and dull.  I ran the gamut of amplifiers, basically whatever I could get my hands on from friends, dealers, and directly from manufacturers and just when I thought the Alexias had shown me all they could, an amplifier would come along and I'd realize the Alexias had more to give.  As I went through this exhaustive exercise, I found that the best amplifiers shared 2 very important traits:  control and immediacy. 

     

    Without control, complex instrument lines blur into one another.  Transients are smeared.  Resolution and transparency are compromised.  As for immediacy, here is a view of Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco that I hope to never see again while at a performance there.  It is from high up in the 2nd tier and I have fallen asleep from seats like this.  I might as well have stayed home:

     

    second-tier-davies-symphony-hall.jpg.361883e0d4a3f41652a10753b53b1a9d.jpg

     

    The following is a stock photo but is an actual view from my preferred seats -- the very front row. 

     

    symphony-sf-front-row.thumb.jpg.850a0f1e6a81d8e0ee1cdf6c09f06f5c.jpg

     

    These are actually not elite seats as it turns out this vantage point is too close and too low for some tastes and so to my good fortune, I find these seats frequently available and affordable.  The point is they provide the immediacy that I crave and even on days when I arrive to these seats after an exhausting day, my engagement is always there.  I can hear the performers' subtlest expressions.  I can hear them take their breaths.  I can more easily discern the timbral variations between the 1st and 2nd violinist and better glean the space between them.  The soundstage is wider and deeper.  There is simply better localization of everything and while it's easier to hear mistakes from this close up, when perfection happens, you appreciate it better.  For someone like me who craves presence, being this close up is enthralling.

     

    Music servers are the same way.  To my ears, they provide the exact same qualities that a good amplifier provides and the very best music servers I have heard amount to the equivalent of a serious amplifier upgrade.  Given the large price tag of some of the very best amplifiers, this is saying a lot.  

     

    Power

     

    It has been said that when listening to a really good amplifier, what you are really listening to is a really good power supply.  This is just as true for music servers.  It starts at the power supply and to date, I have yet to personally use a power supply in a DIY build that performs as well as a DR (double regulated) SR7 from Paul Hynes.  My latest SR7 arrived earlier this year in a large Streacom FC10 chassis and this thing must weigh at least 50 lbs.  It includes the Teflon board and Vishay Foil resistor upgrades for all 3 rails and if you zoom in, you can see what the off-white colored Teflon PCBs look like. 

     

    128017480_SR7Back.thumb.jpg.f203046bac69126aaaddb953dbf56a3d.jpg

    1428274992_SR7internal.thumb.jpg.eb3ec1a59c445baa50dacfb3d63e4ef9.jpg

     

    Like Teflon coated frying pans, they are very smooth and slippery to the touch.  They also have a low dielectric constant leading to a smoother presentation with less smearing, especially in the treble.  Compared against my standard DR-SR7, the presentation also sounds a bit faster.  While not as impactful as going from SR to DR, it squeezes out the last bit of performance from the SR7 that Paul is capable of and I have found it to be worthwhile. 

     

    With this SR7 as a foundation, I have found my servers to be competitive with anything I have put them up against.  Here are photos of Streacom's FC9 chassis against Aurender's latest W20SE.  

     

    1356136912_W20SEfront.thumb.png.fc95d1011ac4ab87b41ec6033ddca046.png

    1372994095_W20SEback.thumb.png.c51ae0d04273927c169330f5697fe4ed.png

     

    The Aurender is a very attractive unit and is solidly built as it should be for $20k.  While it's presentation is very refined and is an obvious improvement over the outgoing W20, in comparison to my server, the transients sound too soft and smeared.  There is an obvious downgrade in resolution and the immediacy is not the same as it lacks that startling quality that my server is capable of when called for.  It's as if I'm sitting high up in the 2nd tier at the Davies Symphony Hall.  In isolation and if money is not a concern, I doubt its buyer will complain but in comparison, the W20SE is a disappointment given its mediocre performance and high asking price.  While there are probably a multitude of factors, I believe the transient softness and lack of immediacy I am hearing is largely due to its hybrid battery power supply.  

     

    For those who have been patiently waiting for their bespoke SR7s, the most encouraging thing I can say is "hang in there."  This is my 4th SR7 and so I know your pain but the wait has been worth it.  It will probably outlast every other component you own because you'll likely never outgrow its capabilities.

     

    For those not in the hunt for their own custom spec'd DR SR7 or are biding their time until their's arrives, there is hope in the form of the HDPlex 800W DC-ATX Converter ($248):

     

    HDPLEX_800W.DCATX.7.thumb.jpg.60b3bcc2fb05a317610000c194a1e4af.jpg

    This has been discussed by others already and so I won't go into it too much.  It's been out for awhile and when I first noticed it, what caught my attention is the low voltage variance of only 0.1-0.6% for the ATX rails that matter and so I felt it was worth the gamble to try it.  In comparison, the 400W DC-ATX converter I was previously using had reported voltage variances of about 1% and for the all important 12V rail which has a reported variance of only 0.1%, this represents a 10-fold improvement!  

     

    If a power supply can't maintain voltage (i.e. if voltage sags) which can happen when a PSU is pressed, then based on Ohm's Law, the power supply's capacity to deliver current is compromised.  This ability to maintain voltage is one of the things that makes a DR SR7 sound more controlled and more dynamic and this is exactly what I hear with this converter.  While a 19V DR SR7 rail powering this converter sounds otherworldly, I am finding even the 400W HDPlex ATX LPSU powering this converter via its 19V rail to sound very good and much better sounding than the HDPlex directly powering the motherboard via its ATX connector.  So good that you can use this converter to power both the ATX portion of the motherboard AND the CPU and get surprisingly good results without having to devote a 2nd precious rail to the CPU.  All you would need from your 19V rail is adequate headroom and so for those looking for simplicity, high performance for the dollar, and more ready availability, a single 19V/8-10A rail from Paul Hynes Design LTD, Farad, or Keces could work out well.  In a pinch, the HDPlex's 19V/5A rail is proving to be very satisfying.  It should come as no surprise given my experience with my SR7s that I would have a bias towards Paul's supplies but what is further appealing to me with the fairly affordable, off-the-shelf single rail SR7s from Paul Hynes Design LTD is the Streacom FC-9 chassis that's used as this chassis is presently my preferred chassis to build with.  For those who are space constrained and need or prefer to stack the server on top of the PSU or are looking for the aesthetic of a matching server and PSU chassis (like the innuOS Statement), then this SR7 is all the more appealing.

     

    For those looking to power other peripherals such as Chord's M-Scaler, a JCAT card, tX-USBultra, or network switch, consider one of these:

    DXP-1A5S-2.jpg.b42b11480f75616387b3e02e5edd2956.jpg

    https://www.ldovr.com/product-p/dxp-1a5s.htm

     

    Credit to @seeteeyou for bringing this to my attention and I now have one on order.  Combine one of these DXP-1A5S ($99) single stage regulation power supplies with a 19V SR4 and you now have a Hynes DR rail capable of up to 1.5A output between 3.3-15V.

     

    For those on a tight budget, then consider the DXP-1A5DSC ($149) dual stage regulation model as you can combine it with an inexpensive PowerAdd battery and using that battery's 20V/4.5A output, you now get linear DR output.  I have one of these on order also.

     

    Chassis

     

    This component is more important than some people may realize.  With certain servers like the SGM Extreme, the chassis can be the single most expensive part.  Yes, a good chassis is important for aesthetics and can make an audible difference with respect to minimizing unwanted resonances but there is another important practical consideration.  No one wants spinning fans inside their server based on the acoustic and electrical noise that fans create and so a passively cooled server is what most audiophiles strive for.  At the present time, for DIY, this means fanless cases from Streacom, HDPlex, or Akasa.  Soon, JCAT will be introducing their own fanless chassis that will be able to accommodate a full-sized ATX motherboard and so this is very welcome news.  The ability of these chassis to effectively dissipate heat is crucial as it limits what CPU you can use. 

    fc9b_alpha_internal.thumb.jpg.e6752300a8b12dd152457b1315a7fc19.jpg

    For example, Streacom claims its FC-9 Alpha's passive cooling design can accommodate a CPU with up to a 95w TDP but recommends a CPU with only a 65w TDP.  I have found this to be true.  With a recent build utilizing an AMD 12-core 3900X (TDP of 105w), I am unable to run this CPU without de-throttling it significantly (down to 2.4GHz) because this chassis can't handle this CPU's heat output.  While CPU temps of 80 degrees C are considered tolerable in gaming rigs and 3D modeling workstations, I find CPU temps this high to result in fatiguing harshness and so with this build, I shot for temps of <50 degrees C.  

     

    The SGM Extreme, which utilizes a chassis and a fanless cooling system specifically designed for the dual Xeons housed within has average CPU temps of only 40 degrees C and chassis temps of only 35 degrees C during even prolonged use according to Emile Bok.  This is quite remarkable as this should have not only SQ benefits but also longevity benefits.

     

    Vibration Control

     

    A few months ago, I was introduced to the CenterStage2 footers (starting at $320 each) from Critical Mass Systems based in my hometown of Chicago. 

     

    centerStageFamily01.jpg.19111b65d6d15efc4cc02dede59d3a33.jpg

     

    My first thought was "Oh no, not another footer."  I already own a variety of footers and had settled on a certain combination that was working well for me.  With my heaviest gear such as amplifiers, I liked the very even-handed noise reduction I got from the HRS Vortex footers.  Because of their small footprint, I had been using Stillpoints Ultra SS footers under my power supplies.  I used to be a much bigger fan of Stillpoints but I have had to be careful with them under certain gear because they have a tendency to "oversharpen" resulting in a presentation that doesn't sound natural to me but under my power supplies, I generally liked what they did.  Under everything else, including my DAC, server, and even my Wilson Alexia 2s, I had been using high grade G5 Titanium footers ($35-$50 each) that were custom made for me by an audiophile friend from Taiwan who owns a titanium factory.  Titanium resonates at a frequency well outside the range of audibility and so I have found these footers to be quite effective without adding any unnatural coloration.  They are especially effective under my Wilson Alexia 2s.  

     

    When I first tried the CS2 footers under my DAC and music server, I was warned they would sound horrible during the first 2-3 days, so bad that I would want to take them out.  I was intrigued by this statement because if a product like a footer can result in that large of a delta of bad sound that I would want to take them out, then this tells me just how negatively impactful vibration can be.  More importantly, once this footer settled, could it then result in a similarly large delta in the positive direction?  This, in fact, has been the case.  So much so that I have been slowly replacing my other footers with these.  As you might expect, good vibration control results in improved clarity and focus but these footers do something else I have never before experienced with vibration control devices.  I hesitate to call it a coloration because the tonal color is neither warmer nor cooler yet the signature is "creamier" and more immersive without smearing detail.  It's hard to explain but these are the most musical footers I have yet heard and improve resolution quite dramatically.  What is especially nice about the CS2s is that if there is desire to stack one component on top of another, while this is generally not something I like to do, these footers allow you to do so without apparent detriment, at least none that I can hear.

     

    If there is a downside to the CS2 footers, they are quite expensive and for those looking for a less expensive solution, there are the Daiza platforms by Taiko Audio. 

     

    TaikoAudio_Daiza_F-1024x768.thumb.jpg.24b2040ae0c83e8f7e78995860e6f609.jpg

     

    I saw these first hand during my visit to the Taiko Audio factory in Hengelo in The Netherlands and they are attractive with an earthy look to them but also relatively inexpensive (starting at 400 Euros for a platform).  They also come with a money-back guarantee.  They are made of German Panzerholz wood and are designed to couple with your component resulting in a significant dampening of vibrations.  I have not had a chance to evaluate these yet in my system but they were used exclusively in Taiko Audio's listening room and I was quite impressed by the overall presentation and so I feel these deserve further exploration.  For those who are curious, the footers built into in the SGM Extreme's chassis are a hybrid design that include this Panzerholz wood and so I know that Emile fully believes in the vibration dampening qualities of this wood.

     

    CPU

     

    If you recall my last long post, it was quite surprising just how impactful I found the CPU to be to the overall presentation and all things considered, probably the 2nd largest difference maker behind only the quality of the power supply.  How could a stock Celeron NUC sound better than devices like an sMS-200 or ultraRendu that use low power/low noise ARM CPUs and are designed specifically for high quality audio playback with low phase noise clocks and linear regulation?  If you recall, the initial thought was this improvement in SQ was due to a better OS (AudioLinux running resident in RAM) and yet SQ improved further as I transitioned from a Celeron NUC to a more powerful i7 NUC.  While no doubt the OS plays a large role, in my mind, the CPU plays the bigger role.  From the i7 NUC to an 8700T (35w TDP) to an 8700K (95w TDP), dynamics improved but if I wasn't careful, so did harshness.  Fortunately, with effective CPU heat dissipation and higher quality PSUs (HDPlex --> SR7), this harshness went away and what was left was a fuller bodied presentation with superior dynamics and with transients that were more fully and powerfully expressed.  I won't name names but anytime I hear a server today that runs Roon and is powered by weak Celeron or Pentium, the presentation I hear can sound clean but also sounds thin and sterile.  For me, there's just no going back and I suspect in time, once these companies do their own testing, they'll start to incorporate higher power CPUs.  I find that even streamers or endpoints that run RoonBridge benefit from high power CPUs and so it makes sense that someone like Pink Faun would market a server/streamer combo that use equivalent high-power CPUs.

     

    1049137274_intel-vs-amdcopy.jpg.e1804aae7d7151a5615b490bda453836.jpg

     

    The questions for me now are Intel vs AMD (which is better?) and cores vs CPU frequency (which is more important?).  If you ask the companies building high-power servers, Jord at Pink Faun prefers AMD and Emile at Taiko Audio prefers Intel.  Both have told me they believe cores to be more important than CPU frequency in a non-upsampling Roon server although in my testing of Intel's 8700T, turning Turbo off which effectively caps CPU frequency to 2.4GHz didn't sound as dynamic as leaving Turbo turned on so probably, in a perfect world, if heat isn't an issue and the power supply is solid, it would be ideal to have both a large number of cores and high CPU frequency.  I know with HQP upsampling to DSD, higher CPU frequency begins to take on greater importance.

     

    As I dipped my feet into AMD waters, I've been able to test 2 different Ryzen CPUs including an older 2600 (65w TDP) with 6-cores/12-threads and a max CPU frequency of 3.9GHz and a newer 3900X (105w TDP) with 12-cores/24-threads and a max CPU frequency of 4.6GHz.  As stated above, because of heat issues, I was forced to throttle the 3900X's CPU frequency down to 2.4GHz to keep CPU temps down to acceptable limits but even with this de-throttling, the more core-rich 3900X sounded more dynamic, better controlled, and more expansive.  This would support that cores are more important than CPU frequency if forced to choose.

     

    As for AMD vs Intel, this one is more difficult for me.  With the AMD 3900X (12-cores) vs the Intel 8700K (6-cores) and outputting via USB, the AMD 3900X sounds once again more dynamic, better controlled and more expansive but there is also a mechanical character to the sound that is less natural and more clinical sounding to my ears.  The Intel 8700K, in contrast, sounds more liquid, tonally richer, and more intimate and so there is no definitive winner based on what I'm hearing.  Is this due to the CPUs themselves or are the motherboards/chipset/RAM/etc. playing just as big of a role and is it possible to get the best of all worlds? 

     

    Motherboard

     

    The chassis plays a big role in the decision for which motherboard to use as most fanless cases cannot accommodate anything larger than a mini-ITX sized board although the new HDPlex H3 V3 ($258) and the Streacom FC9 Alpha ($300) are both capable of uATX boards.  As far as I am aware, the only fanless cases that can accommodate a full sized ATX motherboard are the HDPlex H5 V2 ($298) and the Streacom FC10 Alpha (approx $400).  The problem with both of these chassis is that you are forced to use PCIe extender cables which is less than ideal.  Hopefully, the upcoming JCAT chassis will not have this limitation.

     

    As previously posted, the gaming motherboards I tested seem to have an edge over non-gaming motherboards presumably due to better VRMs and use of multi-layer PCBs with more copper in the trace paths resulting in better isolation, grounding, and power delivery.  Because VRMs require real-estate, the ideal sized board would be a full sized ATX motherboard. 

     

    If limited to mini-ITX, for Intel, the best board I have found is the Asrock Z390 Phantom Gaming-ITX/AC.

     

    358783658_Z390PhantomGaming-ITXac(L2).thumb.png.e5e50d694ca92c76cf6a35ec7b10f472.png

     

    For AMD, thanks to @Nenon, it is the ASUS ROG Strix-X470-I. 

     

    1150518562_ASUSROGSTRIXX470-i.thumb.jpg.3f76d57af89de560909790b433254345.jpg

    Between the two, the Asrock Intel board has the superior VRM.  I have already discussed the high quality VRM used in the Asrock board in a previous post.  Unfortunately, the large CPU cooler mounts used by AMD CPUs takes up precious real estate on the already cramped mini-ITX motherboard and so it is the VRM that is compromised.  This may account for perceived sound quality differences between the two.  This also suggests that for AMD CPUs, it would be better to use a full sized ATX motherboard which would likely have a higher quality VRM. 

     

    The block diagram supplied by ASUS suggests, however, that the ASUS AMD board probably has the better architecture where the PCIe slot, M.2 slots, and 4 of the USB slots all bypass the bandwidth limited chipset (PCH).  With Asrock's Intel board, the M.2 slots and USB slots all have to go through the PCH.  To my ears, with the AMD board, the 4 blue USB ports on the back (which connect directly to the CPU) do indeed sound slightly better than the 2 red ones (which connect through the chipset).  Here is the block diagram for the ASUS ROG Strix B450-I which I am told is equivalent to the ASUS ROG Strix X470-I:

     

    ASUS-ROG-Strix-B450I-Gaming-KitGuru-Review-Block-Diagram.thumb.jpg.71b1b6b6d04b8e793c1d9a88abc35995.jpg

     

    Good quality uATX-sized boards are not so easy to find.  I had purchased the Asrock X470D4U and had high hopes for this board based on the block diagram provided by Asrock.

    1101710818_AsrockX470D4U.thumb.jpg.ab6a79909c48d2a03b7e0b2906ea0420.jpg

     

    Fortunately, before I could open the box, I read @Nenon's unfavorable review of this board which was quite timely as I was able to return it without having to go through the aggravation.  

     

    The best uATX board may well be the ASUS ROG Maximus XI Gene which is designed for Intel CPUs and used by @StreamFidelity in his build below although I have not yet personally tried this board.  Unfortunately, I know of no good uATX board for AMD.

     

    streamfidelityasus.thumb.jpeg.5274f5ebd601d2f7aaeb830b92a5faf3.jpeg

     

    I have to compliment @StreamFidelity as this is a masterclass build -- very clean with excellent attention to detail.  I don't think I could do it any better and I especially like the CPU cooling enhancements.

     

    RAM

     

    I won't really go into this except to give kudos to both @Nenon and @Marcin_gps for bringing to our consciousness the Apacer brand.  I bought Apacer ECC DDR3 memory and an SLC compact flash card back in 2017 based on Marcin's recommendations for a build that only momentarily saw the light of day.  Having purchased Apacer's ECC DDR4 memory for a recent AMD build based on Nenon's findings, there is definitely a nice uptick in SQ.

     

    Apacer.thumb.jpeg.dff620e5840b786eebbb8c82ace42e44.jpeg

     

    JCAT

     

    JCAT deserves its own subheading here as 2 of their products single-handedly salvaged a somewhat unnatural and mechanical sounding AMD build, even with the Apacer RAM. 

     

    JCAT.thumb.jpeg.4d796f9ec8fbd787ba38632606d66a04.jpeg

     

    Those who read my last lengthy post know that I found the Femto Net card to sound incredible with my Intel build and it is just as incredible with this AMD build.  This ASUS board's stock Ethernet port pales in comparison.  This time around, I compared it against a 10Gtek SFP+ PCIe card with the Startech SFP transceiver that Emile at Taiko Audio likes.

     

    1681309910_10GTekSFPcard.thumb.jpeg.2296c27eaadd4abfe84f731393761609.jpeg

     

    This fiber network card immediately brought forth a lower noise floor, a greater sense of resolution with very well defined bass and extended treble but the presentation was bright and thin and didn't sound natural and so I much prefer the JCAT Femto Net card.  It turns out that I misinterpreted Emile as he not only prefers the Startech SFP transceiver but also the Startech SFP PCIe card and so this will require exploration as the greater perceived resolution brought about by the fiber card is desirable.  If Marcin is able to somehow marry the benefits of SFP with his current Femto Net card, this could be worthwhile. 

     

    This was my first experience with JCAT's Femto USB card.  The card that shipped to me had the older firmware and I was quite surprised by how much difference in SQ a firmware upgrade could make.  While the 4 blue USB 3.1 ports on the back of the ASUS motherboard sound better than the 2 red ones, it isn't saying much because the stock USB ports on the back of my Intel 8700K server still sound more natural.  If it wasn't for the Femto USB card, I don't think I could recommend this AMD build at all and so in this sense, just like the Femto Net Card, this card is a game changer.  

     

    Directly compared against my tX-USBultra with the EVOX cap + Ref10 master clock, the tX yields slightly better detail resolution with a greater sense of air and space.  Powered by a DR SR7 rail, it is very dynamic sounding.  Those that know my situation, however, know that I have had a love/hate relationship with the tX-USBultra.  I have pulled it out several times because it can sound thin and so perhaps I would prefer it with copper rather than silver DC cabling.  This is where the Femto USB card, to my ears, is better.  While it doesn't have that last bit of detail resolution and air that the tX has, what it brings to the table is rich, glorious tone and body.  Timbres are expressed beautifully and naturally and it is eminently a more listenable presentation to me.

     

    But there is a caveat.  This beautiful presentation that is so captivating ONLY occurs when I power the Femto USB card with a DR SR7 rail.  The results are not the same with an HDPlex, LPS-1.2, SR4, or even SR SR7.  What about bus power with a DR SR7 19V rail + HDPlex 800w DC-ATX converter providing that bus power?  With the Femto Net card, this provides excellent results.  If you purely bus power the Femto USB card, it will work but the Femto USB card will fail to pass 5V VBUS to your DAC and my DAC requires 5V VBUS power.  I found a workaround by using an iFI iDefender 3.0.  With this device, I was then able to send my DAC clean 5V VBUS power using an LPS-1.2 and so I was hopeful but unfortunately, this still didn't come close to what I got by externally powering this card with a DR SR7 rail.  

     

    Operating System + Playback software

     

    I placed this close to the bottom of my post but it deserves to be at the top.  Along with the power supply and the CPU, the OS and software player have tremendous ability to affect the sound presentation even with bit-perfect playback.  Many already know my preference for the combination of Euphony + Stylus and this preference has not changed. 

     

    Željko at Euphony has been using Rajiv and me (and perhaps others) to vet Euphony and Stylus updates to make sure his coding changes haven't somehow negatively altered SQ and it has been amazing to witness how even subtle changes did indeed negatively impact SQ.  On more than one occasion, we have been left scratching our heads and so credit to Željko for not being rash and careless with these updates. 

     

    As for Stylus vs Roon, I don't know what to say.  I spent $500 for a lifetime Roon subscription and given Roon's superior library management capabilities, I would like nothing better than to use Roon but every time I move back from Stylus to Roon for playback, there is a massive loss of engagement.  With complex orchestral music, Roon just sounds horribly controlled to me.  The latest 1.7 update has led to improvements but to my ears, not enough.  If I specifically allocate 12 of the 24 available cores (both real and virtual) that the 3900X offers, control improves but not enough.   StylusEP improves it but once again, not enough.  For my tastes, Stylus remains the best playback software I have heard at home.

     

    What is interesting is that the SGM Extreme uses Roon and during my brief time with the Extreme, I heard none of the control issues that I hear at home.  Somehow, Emile has figured out how to tame Roon in ways that I have not.  Some are aware that I have placed an order for my own Extreme and so no doubt, once I receive it, I will load Euphony and Stylus (via USB stick) and see how it compares.

     

    SGM Extreme

     

    Given the knowledge accumulated through so many hours of testing and comparing, the natural question arises why I would buy an SGM Extreme?  The bottom line is as much as I would like to, I cannot build a server of the caliber of the Extreme.  I don't think anyone but Emile can.  Having communicated with Emile at length over a span of months, it became evident that Emile has spent many more hours than I have with his testing and comparing.  He even quit his day job as a university level IT professional so he can test and compare all day long.  Unlike me, he has access to measuring equipment and has spent tens of thousands of Euros measuring the noise spectra of motherboards, CPUs, chipsets, clocks, memory, storage media, and power supplies to guide his path whereas I am left to random guesses as to which CPU and motherboard might sound best.  I also do not have the gifts that Emile has with respect to hardware and software optimization capability including network allocation.  I don't think most other IT professionals do either based on the fact that no one else has come up with a server like the Extreme.  Here is an example of one of Emile's e-mails to me and I think you'll quickly get the picture as to how Emile views music server design.  I had asked Emile why he felt he needed to use 48GB of RAM in the Extreme when this seemed like overkill and would potentially be a significant source of noise:

     

    "Well RAM is a topic on its own, to start with, the 2 cpu’s are split into domains (NUMA / SNC), so you really have 2 x 6 dimms, 6 for each CPU, they are not shared. Music services have their own cpu/dimms and the OS has its own cpu/dims. So its sort of a core and endpoint into a single machine going beyond just core allocations for individual processes. These Ram modules are a custom order type, similar to the Apacer types popular in the Jplay forums, but taking it just a bit further. They do create less noise and draw less current then other offerings. If more dimms reduce performance, it typically means your power supply is negatively impacted by the increased current draw. As occupying more memory channels increases bandwidth and reduces wait states, you do get better individual process performance."  "What you really want to do is reduce your hardware active processing times as much as possible. The net effect is much like a class A amplifier, you have a higher baseline power consumption, but power draw does not vary much, and this is very good for a more “natural/relaxed” sound. I hope this makes sense 🙂 But you do need a power supply which is very comfortable supplying the load. You really want the least possible variation in load, and higher cpu power / bandwidth systems are better at that with very low load music playback processes."

     

    As for the Extreme being a core and endpoint in a single chassis, this was interesting for me as well.  You basically have 2 CPUs with each CPU having its own dedicated RAM bank (24GB each) and so there is a genuine distribution of tasks between 2 machines just like dual Pink Faun 2.16Xs.  While I very much like what I heard in the Aries Cerat room at Munich this past May where dual 2.16Xs were playing, this configuration costs north of $30k, has fewer cores, uses a noisy SSD, consumes more than 200 watts, and capably functions as a room heater.  I find the Extreme to be a more elegant and practical solution and at least on paper, I believe it is the most technologically advanced music server at this time.  My brief listening experience in Taiko Audio's listening room did nothing to dissuade me from this opinion.  

     

    Happy holidays.   

     


  3. Shootout at the Linux Corral: AudioLinux vs Euphony
    Shootout at the Linux Corral: AudioLinux vs Euphony
    3 hours ago, Dev said:

    All these even makes a stronger case for Stylus to improve upon the UI aspect while still keeping the audio quality at the highest bar. Nothing like it if Željko can pull this over !

     

    I never thought I would leave Roon having paid for a lifetime membership a number of years back.  It remains second to none with respect to library management and overall user experience but I have found the Stylus player to sound TOO GOOD to ignore and so I have made the switch. 

     

    Roon by itself has a very good bloom and liquidity to it but it is at the expense of control resulting in considerable overhang and smearing of details, at least to my ears.  For vocals, Roon sounds more than just acceptably good but for orchestral music, it really is a mess.  Roon + SqueezeLite provides more of this control and much needed precision resulting in better damping and cleaner transients.  It's easier to hear when notes start and stop giving you the perception that the noise floor is lower but it also has a tendency to sound dry and mechanical.  While tolerable with orchestral music, with vocals and solo instruments, there is a sterility and thinness to SL (even with large buffers) that has always left me wanting.  The brain tells me all is well but the heart tells me differently.  Stylus is exceptional in it's ability to provide the bloom, liquidity, and tonal richness of Roon but also the the timing precision of SL.  In fact, to my ears, Stylus actually does all of these qualities better.

     

    When I was doing my tests on AudioLinux, I found that ramping up CPU frequency resulted in better dynamics and an overall more muscular sound.  On an i7-8700K, this meant CPU frequencies as high as 4.7GHz and while this improved dynamics was very pleasing, it also came at the expense of harshness and an inability to convey delicacy and nuance.  As I set CPU frequency to the other end of the spectrum to a fixed 800MHz (and even 400MHz), delicacy and nuance was there in spades with no apparent harshness but the sound signature was thin and anemic sounding in comparison, similar to what I hear with an sMS-200ultra or ultraRendu.

     

    Somehow, with the right CPU, Euphony is capable of providing both the benefits of high and low CPU frequency where it can do dynamics and expansive sound stage but also subtlety and nuance while never sounding harsh.  In hindsight, probably one of the worst features ever developed for AudioLinux is the Extreme2 mode because it forced you to a single frequency.  I think it's best to allow the CPU the flexibility to scale to whatever frequency is called for by the track.   While there is more to Stylus' magic than that, it is Stylus' ability to be both muscular and delicate that has forced me to rethink my digital front end once again.

     

    While in Munich, I had a discussion with Jord Groen of Pink Faun about his decision to go with an AMD 1800X CPU.  It was his opinion based on listening tests that with his version of AL, CPU frequency was nowhere as important as the number of cores and so he never felt it necessary to move to a more powerful CPU with higher CPU frequency capability.  My experience is that CPU frequency definitely adds something but ultimately, harshness was the biggest trade off and so I presume this is what Jord meant.

     

    With AudioLinux, I was forced to cap an 8700K at 3.8GHz because any speeds beyond this sounded harsh and so this supports Jord's comment.  But with Euphony and Stylus, I let the 8700K run with no cap whatsoever and notice that CPU frequency will typically reach 4.4-4.5GHz consistently, however, I get no harshness at all.  In fact, the higher the frequency a CPU is capable of, the better, and so I imagine the ultimate CPU at this time would be something like an i9-9900K that provides 8-cores and a max frequency of 5GHz and a TDP of only 95w.  I hope to be able to test this soon but what I will say is that with Euphony + Stylus on a single box 8700K machine, my reclocked i7 NUC driven by a 19V SR7 sounds absolutely puny.  Even with the 8700K server powered by an HDPlex 400W ATX LPSU and with no special clocking outside of my tX-USBultra, I prefer the big server to the i7 NUC but as I have figured out a way to independently power both the 8700K CPU and ATX motherboard (using a DC-ATX converter) with SR7 rails, the i7 NUC has now been officially retired.

     

    Do I think that a powerful single box server running Euphony + Stylus is better than a dual box machine running Roon + StylusEP?  At this time, yes, no question.  Stylus is that good.  StylusEP contains a subset of Stylus but they aren't the same.  To my ears, Stylus sounds smoother and richer and better textured.  It is also ultra stable and Željko has done a wonderful job enhancing its feature set.  In fact, expect further enhancements in the coming days.


  4. Euphony OS w/Stylus player setup and issues thread
    Euphony OS w/Stylus player setup and issues thread

    An interesting discovery about Euphony  😉

     

    I wonder if this has already been discovered or whether its a designed function of Euphony of which I was unaware but there is a way to run Stylus and Roon at the same time with the same music database without having to switch between the two in the Euphony Select Audio System menu.

     

    Before last night, I had to choose either to play by Stylus for the sound quality or Roon/StylusEP to use Roon's excellent music discovery interface. And I had to switch between the two using the "Select Audio System" menu.

     

    Well it turns out you don't have to. 😄

     

    Step 1:

    I play Stylus from my all-in-one Pink Faun 2.16x streamer (PF). My music database is in this streamer. I select the upsampling function by "HQPlayer for Stylus".

     

    Step 2:

    I installed Roon in another server on my network which happened to be a spare SonicTransporter (ST) I had lying around and was repurposed into a Plex server for my movies. From here, I pointed to the same music library inside my PF.

     

    This way I was planning to use Stylus for playback but have the Roon resource ready at a moments notice to research or find music.

     

    Step 3:

    With the recent version of Euphony, there is a new function which allows Roon to play higher than 192kHz files through Squeezelite using HQPlayer as the conduit. It's simply to opt to use HQPlayer in Roon and to use "euphony" in place of "localhost", then select to use Squeezebox devices in Roon's menu settings. Then selecting HQPlayer as the output device - which should be working as StylusEP via HQP.

     

    This all works fine as expected but I found that HQP was upsampling my Roon playback despite Roon saying it wasn't supposed to with the upsampling settings the same as what I selected inside Stylus. This might be that I selected to use HQPlayer in Stylus inside the PF streamer or that my Roon installation was outside of Euphony.

     

    Whatever the case may be, with these settings, I further found that I could then run both Roon (from ST) and Stylus (from PF) side by side and play tracks from either, from the same database, without having to switch systems inside Euphony. Playing a track from Roon would stop Stylus playing and switch to Roon. And vice versa, with Stylus automatically stopping Roon's playback upon selecting a Stylus track.

     

    It's very nice to be able to switch between the two instantly. Hope others will find this useful too! 

     

    Cheers, Kin

     

     

    Unanswered questions:

    - How does Roon/StylusEP/HQP upsampled sound compared to Stylus?

    - Perhaps there is no need to upsample and Stylus/Roon will still work side by side? 

    - Will the EtherRegen now finally sound good if it's placed between the SonicTransporter and my Pink Faun acting as an Euphony End Point?

     

     


  5. Euphony OS w/Stylus player setup and issues thread
    Euphony OS w/Stylus player setup and issues thread
    On 2/20/2020 at 2:31 PM, mnuno10 said:

    Hi,

     

    I will make a fanless NUS to run Euphony Stylus with Tidal. I'm thinking of buy:

    - NUC: NUC8i3BEH or NUC8i5BEH

    - Disk: Samsung 970 EVO Plus 250 GB NVMe M.2 Internal SSD

    - Case: Akasa Turing

    This seems good? Or do you have any other recommendation? What RAM(amount and model) do you recommend?

     

    Thank you in advance.

     

     

     

    1) use an optane disk for your OS boot drive, they boot fast, no nasties in audio signature during playback, 32gb is inexpensive

    2) no local attached HD ,SSD, use a NAS. Better sound and no nasties

    3) buy a good DC power supply, you don’t need 19V, 12v does fine. HDPLEX 200W is a good starting choice.

    4) no recommendations on RAM other than use at least 8 gb to insure adequate RAM cache for player applications


  6. A novel way to massively improve the SQ of computer audio streaming
    A novel way to massively improve the SQ of computer audio streaming
    20 minutes ago, auricgoldfinger said:

     

    That is going to be quite a project!

     

    Indeed! I don't know when I will work on this, but I will start collecting some of the parts now. Probably after the summer...

    Right now, I am working on this:

    On 2/5/2020 at 4:55 PM, Nenon said:

    I have used the AsRock in previous builds. It's a great motherboard. You can't go wrong with either of them. I have a slight preference towards the Asus.

     

    Also, speaking of HDplex H5 and Asus ROG motherboards, I have the big brother - Asus ROG Crosshair VII Hero placed in a H5 case (not mounted, just placed on top). This is obviously an AMD motherboard, not Intel. 

    IMG_2643.thumb.jpg.29a874264d490602b23247ba78b6ccd3.jpg

     

    When I did the build in this thread, I had a lengthy discussion with the now owner of this server, and it was decided to go with what I already knew works best rather than experimenting with new things. The Asus motherboard was a wonderful serendipity. So, time for new experiments with a bigger Asus motherboard now. 

     

    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.

     

    What I like about the H5 case is that it supports a full size ATX motherboard and allows you to mount all PCIe cards vertically with no adaptors. 

    IMG_2644.jpg.724a8f18bd1c02dcc4a0f51de26970d5.jpg

    What I don't like about the case is that this plate needs to come out completely every time you want to add or remove a PCIe card. But I haven't assembled it yet, so maybe there is a workaround this. It also feels a little cheaper quality than the Streacom, and I wish the top and bottom plates were thicker. 

     

    This won't be a fully documented build like I did before, but rather some comparisons after I do the work. It would probably take several weeks before I have any discoveries I can share. I may post some info on the clock changing process, though. 

     

    The first problem I am running into - I am not sure which PCIe slot is connected directly to the CPU and which goes through the chipset. If anyone knows, please let me know. It would save me some time. Ultimately, if I can't find any info I can probably trace the PCB traces on the motherboard and figure it out, but that would be too geeky :). 

     

    Stay tuned for more updates.

     


  7. A novel way to massively improve the SQ of computer audio streaming
    A novel way to massively improve the SQ of computer audio streaming

    A Tale of Three Roon Servers

     

     

    To haul this thread a bit more back on track, here is a little story about SQ in my systems.

     

     

    I have been using Allo USBridge Sig endpoints to a couple of different music server software systems.  I have tried UPnP, Audirvana, and Roon.  I have narrowed down the software in the Allo to either MoOde or GentooPlayer.  While both sound good, MoOde does not seem to work right with Roon!  GentooPlayer has held up well for me.  The Allo USBridge Sig is the best sounding endpoint I have used to-date in my systems.   

     

    While the Allo does an excellent job of isolating the noise from the DAC, it is not perfect.   

     

    Two NUCs running ROCK and a Xeon running Euphony


    I wanted to find out if the server mattered any more!  I started with two different 7i7 NUC devices: The first one is in the Intel tall chassis with fan and the external switching supply.  The second one is my fan-less build with an HDPLEX 200 power supply.  I installed Roon ROCK on both systems so I could swap back and forth.  There are other differences in the hardware, RAM, and SSD vs. Optane, so the differences are exaggerated.

     

    On both Allo endpoints, the difference was instantly observable.  The Intel chassis model sounded harsh, and the dynamics are constrained.  It felt like I stepped back ten years, yuk!  I hope my HD-800 cans were not insulted!

     

    The next test is to bring in my Xeon server with an HDPLEX 400 LPS.  I added back in the Sonore Opticalmodule, bridged the network to the Allo on my Kii Three speaker system.   The music feels excellent; there is additional detail, bass clarity, and midrange strength with none of the high-end glare! 

     

    Now the fan-less NUC running Roon ROCK is pretty darn good, but the Xeon box is way better.  And not a Paul Hines SR power supply in sight!

     

    There is so much more to research.    I can take out the Opticalmodule and use a generic FMC or wired ethernet.  So much more with software.  Different kernels and settings.  I am not even loading endpoints or server OS into RAM yet.  

     

    What is incredible is that after several months of reviewing and testing, I got my Roon back!  For right now, this is an excellent place to pause and Enjoy the Music.


    Bob

     

    Reference Threads:

     

    https://audiophilestyle.com/forums/topic/55383-from-0-to-nucalram-in-2-hours/?tab=comments#comment-917302

     

    https://audiophilestyle.com/forums/topic/55681-from-0-to-xeonalroon-server-in-2-days/?tab=comments#comment-928961

     

    https://audiophilestyle.com/ca/reviews/allo-usbridge-sig-review-r858/

     

    https://audiophilestyle.com/forums/topic/55235-gentooplayer/#comments

     


  8. Shootout at the Linux Corral: AudioLinux vs Euphony
    Shootout at the Linux Corral: AudioLinux vs Euphony

    I tried Euphony earlier a month back or so but moved to AL setup primarily due to lack of Wifi. Ever since then and after lot of experimentation I have moved to single i7 NUC setup running AL in ramroot with Roon + Squeezelite combo on Wifi. This setup has sounded very good in my system and exceeds that of 2 NUC solution with server and streamer combo. Upon request to Željko, he promised to have it supported in his next release and he kept it. My trial has also expired in between but Željko was graciously kind enough to extend it some more just this time. Moreover the StylusEP which replaces Squeezelite has been enthralling and I had to try the new release.

     

    Well, the latest Euphony update has been fantastic in my system. From limited listening that I had done so far, the SQ of Roon + StylusEP is a big step forward - a bit more holographic sound, more air around vocals and instruments, slightly more depth. I had to redo my speaker positioning a bit to take more advantage of it. I am also on Wifi which is not in the critical audio signal path. As a single box solution, it's simplicity is what makes it more interesting and appealing to me.

     

    Still more comparisons to do - Wired vs wifi, Stylus vs StylusEP, etc but so far I am very impressed.

     

    Will report back as I do more listening.


  9. A novel way to massively improve the SQ of computer audio streaming
    A novel way to massively improve the SQ of computer audio streaming
    59 minutes ago, dtossan said:

    Hey Nenon, saw your original post back in july. Glad you remind us.

     

    A rough est to make a 1 foot Mundorf Silver/Gold cable would be around USD 100, right.

    That sounds like an amazing step up compared to a 1 foot Ghent Neotech 7N for US$79.

     

    What other parts to buy to make a 1 foot JSSG360 version? Will PM you.

    Denis

     

    I don't want to derail this thread with DIY cables, there are plenty of other threads on that, but for completeness, here is what you need for 1 foot cable:

     

    Wire: https://www.partsconnexion.com/MUNDORF-72180.html - 2 feet

    Cotton: https://www.partsconnexion.com/COTTUBE-72533.html - 2 feet

    Whatever connectors you need, i.e. https://www.vhaudio.com/oyaide-dc.html

    Techflex cable sleeving to decorate the cable: https://www.vhaudio.com/heatshrink.html#techflex - 1 foot + a little extra

    And some heatshrink: https://www.vhaudio.com/heatshrink.html#heatshrink - 2 pieces to go over the connectors

    I use WBT solder: https://www.vhaudio.com/heatshrink.html#solder - 1 foot is plenty

     

    For the JSSG360 shielding, you would need some tinned copper braid. Plenty of options on that:

    https://www.partsconnexion.com/tinned-copper-braid.html

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003HGHQYM/

    the 1/4'' should be fine for a two wires cable.

    and some plumbers tape: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B06XCWQ4D2/

    There is a lot of info how to do the shielding, please search the forum.

     

    Making the cable:

    Cut two wires to your preferred length.

    Insert each wire in its own cotton sleeve.

    Slightly twist the two wires together. BTW, I just realized I have not twisted mine. 

    Insert the twisted wires in the first tinned copper braid.

    Wrap the tinned copper braid with plumbers tape.

    Insert in the second tinned copper braid.

    Do the JSSG360 shielding - connect the first braid and the second braid on each side. 

    Insert in the techflex cable sleeving.

    Add heatshrink at both ends.

    Solder the connectors (don't forget to insert the back part of the connector before soldering). 

    Heat the heatshrink in place. 

     

    Hope that helps. Please share your impressions if you try it. 


  10. ALLO USBridge Signature
    ALLO USBridge Signature
    On 12/17/2019 at 10:06 PM, blighter said:

    I would like to get Digione Signature Player (+Shanti), but I have no clue which Pi verision to get: 3B+ or 4B? Could more knowlegable members advise please? Is there any reason to go with 4B? I have read that 4B might be affecting SQ negatively? Is this true with Digione Signature?

     

    I'm not sure also which system to go with. My primary goal is Tidal integration so I guess Volumio is the best choice? SQ abviously also a huge priority.

     

    thanks.

     

    I went from a 3B+ to the USBridge Sig, and the SQ improvement is well worth it.


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