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Audio System

About Me

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  1. The below was written in June 2015; I've just opened a blog here so decided to move it over to the blog. Here is a report detailing my experiences of building a customised CAPS. Hopefully this will benefit others who are thinking of also building a machine for themselves - or at least provide some entertainment Before I start I would like to thank all those that helped me on these forums, especially Hifidelit and also Larry from HDPLEX; and of course Chris for blazing the way. This project started with the demise of my last CAPS (CAPSv2) which I had purchased ready made a few years ago. For some reason a chip or 2 on the mobo fried, so I either had to replace the mobo or start a whole new build. I had been very happy with the sound of the CAPSv2, though there were one or two things that I had been thinking of improving anyway. The first thing was an issue I had been experiencing with some kind of electrical "noise" in the system. This had manifested initially in a very high pitched noise from the internal beeper (fixed with a drop of glue), and then through the VGA video output with some kind of flickering/banding effect on the monitor. No matter what I tried, I couldn't fix the video issue. So I was keen to have a clear video display and ideally with a digital output rather than VGA. The second issue was power - the CAPSv2 was never meant to be a powerful machine, though the lack of power was often noticed with things slowing down, even browsing through my music collection. So I decided to go for a new build. After doing a fair bit of reading and research, as well as getting help from these forums, I settled on the following build: Case: Streacom FC5 Evo WS There were a few reasons that I went for this case. I wanted something a bit larger than my old Origen M10 case, to give a little more flexibility inside. It was a better size on my music rack. It was a fairly solid all-aluminium case and looked pretty good too. The heat dissipation properties as reported were good - it uses a heat block over the cpu with 4 copper pipes fixed to the side of the case. The FC5 Evo is a re-designed version of the original FC5. There is now a further update called the Alpha, though the improvements were not substantial enough for me to justify the extra cost (see below). There are not many alternatives in this area; HDPLEX seems to be the main alternative, and there is A-Tech Fabrication also though these are hard to find in Europe and more expensive. What cinched it for me was a reasonably priced unused FC5 Evo that I managed to find on Ebay. Mobo: Asus Z97 Gryphon The mobo choice was probably the hardest for me, as there seems to be little information about in terms of choice for an audiophile build. The Streacom site lists a number of motherboards that are suitable, though the list looked a little outdated. The FC5 case has the benefit of accepting both mini-ITX and micro-ATX motherboards so that widened the search a bit. The Asus Z97 Gryphon ticked the boxes for me, and there are companies online (e.g. CooltechPC) that report successfully using it with the FC5 case. It's a micro-ATX board and is LGA1150 compatible. CPU: Intel Core i7 4770T This chip offers the combination of high power with a relatively low TDP (45W). It is quad-core 2.5GHz with 8MB of L3 cache, and has integrated Intel HD 4600 graphics. I know it is quite powerful for a music PC, but - I wanted to use the Roon software which is quite graphics-intensive (Roon recommend a reasonable spec), and I might also use the machine on occasion for light gaming (emulation), for which the Intel integrated HD 4600 should suffice. RAM: Fairly standard choice here I think with the Crucial 2 x 4GB DDR3 1600. SSD: I'm using the same SSD as in my CAPSv2; the OCZ Vertex 2 60GB. Power: HDPLEX linear PSU 100W (with 160W VA R-core transformer), with HDPLEX 160W DC to ATX converter. Accessories: SOTM SATA noise filter (as used on previous CAPS). 24" Asus ProArt monitor from previous build. PCIe firewire card with PCIe flexible riser card. Building the machine Here is how the build went, along with some pictures. The motherboard, boxed: The Streacom FC Evo case: The inside of the case, with the power button chip on the left and the USB3 card on the right The mobo with the armour: The mobo without the armour: Notice the heatsinks which cover the VRMs. I was a bit worried that these would interfere with the cooling pipes. The CPU in the socket: The cooling block on the CPU; heatsink is definitely in the way of the pipes: Another view: So my initial thought was to try and bend/mould the heat pipes over or around this heatsink. I got a few longer heat pipes to allow this and some pipe benders. Unfortunately, this process was a lot more difficult that I had thought. The heat pipes are quite bendable in the areas where they are straight, though at the parts where they are already bent or twisted, they are extremely difficult to bend by hand. From this pic you can see that there was a bit of bending to do, especially as the ends had to remain flush with the respective heat sinks: Ultimately, this did not go well: So, what I had to do was remove this heatsink. From what I had read online, this heatsink is not necessary and the temperatures tend to be pretty low without it on. It was fairly easy to remove with a few screws. So, with the heatsink removed, here is the mobo in the case with the heat pipes in position as a dry run: All fits quite well now. With the heatsink removed, fitting the cooling system wasn't too difficult. I applied a thin layer of thermal paste to the CPU, fitted the block (which also had thermal paste in the grooves), fitted the pipes to the block and fitted the other end of the pipes to the case (also with thermal paste between the pipes and the case blocks. With the thermal paste, cover and connecting screw in place: Another view: Now for a slight break and a fast forward. I connected the rest of the things up; the 2 RAM strips were in place, the power supply hooked up - 19V output from the HDPLEX linear PSU going to the internal DC to ATX converter with the 24-pin from the DC to ATX going to the mobo and the 4-pin to the extra CPU power slot. Power button from the case hooked up to the mobo. SOTM SATA noise filter in place and powered via 5v rail. All external connections hooked up. So with some trepidation, I prepared to fire up the system for the first time. Part of me wondered if it might not start, and.....it didn't. Damn. What happened was that one LED lit on the mobo, but nothing else; no POST, no BIOS beep, no output to the monitor, nothing. The LED that lit was the power standby LED, and it was a constant green. No other onboard LEDs lit or even flashed. This is where a fun week or two of troubleshooting began. I learnt a lot and a went through most of the basic suggestions that I came across; checking all connections, checking compatibility of the components, checking the CPU was sited properly with no bent pins, trying the RAM in the different slots, updating the BIOS, resetting the BIOS, removing all components, breadboarding, trying different video outputs etc etc. Frustratingly, nothing whatsoever made any difference. On discussion with Larry he thought it might be the DC to ATX that was fault, so sent me a replacement one...though same problem. When I spoke to PC-people about it, they all laughed at my PSU and said that 100W was far too low powered and that most machines use at least 500W and more if it's a powerful machine. I explained that it was just a music server with SSD and no video card though was still advised by a number of sources that the problem was likely the power. So, I bought a cheap 500W standard ATX power supply, and hooked it up. No difference. Damn. Looking into it further, I wondered if it was because the cable going to the PSU power slot was 4-pin though the receptor was 8-pin. I tried an adapter; no difference. I noticed that the mobo didn't seem to have any internal beeper and thought great - maybe if I connected up a beeper then I would at least get a BIOS error code. I got a beeper, connected it up and...no beep. Not even a squeak. On further discussions I was advised that the extra PSU I had tried was possibly too poor (it was only £15), so I bought a better and more powerful Corsair one to test. No difference. By this stage I thought that it must be the mobo or the CPU that was faulty, though had read that this was fairly uncommon. I returned the mobo as faulty and received a replacement, hooked it all up and....IT WORKED!! Hallelujah. At least, it booted to BIOS. So must have been a faulty mobo. I wondered if I might have damaged the first one in any way, but I didn't see any damage to it. Anyway, on with the build; all hooked up with the new mobo (with mobo heatsink removed): The DC to ATX: And ready to go: So, with everything connected including the SSD which had been freshly formatted and ready for a new Windows installation, I go for the first-time power up, planning to install Windows off a USB drive. Power on....boots to BIOS. SSD not recognised. Pooh. Turn the machine off, check the connections, power on again...same problem. Hm...why isn't the SSD being recognised by the BIOS? I'm thinking that it's probably a power issue, and hook up the external ATX power supply to the SSD, rather than the 5v rail from the HDPLEX PSU. And...BIOS sees the SSD! Great. But...something wrong with the HDPLEX linear PSU? On discussion with Larry, I checked the 5v PSU output with a multimeter, which was fine at around 5.07v, and checked the end of the molex cable (which was connected to the PSU via another adapter cable, which showed a voltage fluctuating between around 0.1 and 0.2v...so likely a problem with one of these cables. Larry sent me a replacement, I hooked it up, tested it, and...5.07v! Great. So, hooked up this cable to the SSD via the SOTM filter and fired up the machine again and...STARTS! Woohoo. So installed Windows 10 from USB flash drive (developer preview). But, during the installation process, the SSD disappeared from the BIOS again on occasion. I read up on this but couldn't find a reason. All the cables seemed to be connected properly. It only seemed to occur on restarting the system - the system never just failed, or the SSD never stopped working when the machine was running. So I figured it was something to do with the startup process. A restart of two usually fixed it. So I managed to continue on with the installation. Windows 10 installed fairly easily, and the PC was hooked up via ethernet, though the internet connection was extremely temperamental. The default homepage of Bing.com loaded each time, and the search brought results, though hardly any webpages would load. One or two would, some were very slow and then without pictures, and some just timed out. I couldn't suss this at all and wounded if it might be some bug to do with the preview. After trying a few things I decided to do a reinstall with Windows 8.1 Pro 64bit. Windows 8.1 installed OK, and I went on to install and update the necessary drivers, install a few apps and disable a few services. I installed Roon and began scanning my library...finally we are getting there - Hooked up the DAC via firewire cable, installed the DAC drivers, set the DAC in Roon...hit play and....ahhhh. Music. So the story has a happy ending. There are two outstanding issues that I am still working on. One is a slight transformer hum. On discussion with Larry (great customer service), he sent out another HDPLEX linear PSU in case there was a problem with my existing one. Same hum/buzz though. I've put the PSU on separate rubber isolation feet though same problem. You can hear it just the same if you pick up the unit. It's not loud by any means - though easily heard with the ear a foot or two away from the PSU, and once you hear it, you can continue to as you move away from the PSU. The listening position is around 12 feet away from the PSU though I can just about detect it from there. So currently I'm getting some longer cables so that I can shift the PSU into a cabinet that's next to the hifi rack. I've already tried the unit in there and I think that pretty much makes the noise undetectable from the listening spot. The second issue that I'm still working on is that the SSD still intermittently disappears from the BIOS on starting up the machine. More often that not it starts fine. I'm not sure what I'll do about this. So a work in progress, but I'm very happy with it now, with a noticeable improvement in sound on my previous setup too.
  2. The coming AO 3.00 offers a handy new feature called the "CustomShell". It is exactly what its name implies, you can create your own shell script which fits your needs for 100%. You can customize it to your own needs and finally set it as shell replacement using the ServiceTool's shell replacement feature. 1. Edit custom_shell.cmd in editor of choice 2. Thouroughly test your batch file so it does exactly what you want 3. Once verified all is working as expected launch ServiceTool 4. Select "Shell Replacement" and then "Custom shell" and reboot or log off and on again Detailed Step by Step Guide: In The C:\AO\Tools directory you will find a file called "custom_shell.cmd", highlight it with the right moose button and click on edit. Edit the batch file to your needs, you can add your own lines or combine several things from the other shell replacement cmd files you can find under C:\AO\Tools. Be sure to test your own batch file in detail so it behaves exactly like you need it. Save it under exactly the same name, „custom_shell.cmd“. Once you are sure it works perfectly fine for your needs, launch ServiceTool, select the shell replacement feature and press "F" to select your custom shell as shell replacement. Your custom shell will be launched after your next reboot or sign in. Feel free to post this thread if you need help shaping your own custom shell or want to share your ideas or launcher scripts with others Enjoy it, AudioPhil
  3. I've been looking for a preamp for my main system for more than a year, but recently I got some bad news about the leading candidate and it now looks like I'm going to have to go the custom route, unless someone knows of a readily available product that meets my needs. System outline: 1. 2 DACs, both XLR outputs only. 2. 5 amps, all XLR inputs only. 3. Only listen to stereo, no multichannel. 4. Only ever use 1 DAC + 1 amp at a time. 5. Overview: - The 2 DACs are just different flavours and basically "spot 2" is for visiting DACs that I'm trying to get a feel for. But only XLR. - The 5 amps are 4 for headphones and 1 pair of active monitors. Due to my setting, I can't rock the speakers all the time and never in the day time. But I like to listen to them when I can. The 4 amps are just ideal pairings for 4 different headphones. I've got rack space and since the amps and the headphones aren't too big or unwieldy like speakers are, I can handle owning multiple sets geared towards specific musical styles/my mood. - I want it all connected, all the time. I will power components on or off as needed, but I don't want to deal with plugging or unplugging anything. **I did find that a pro-audio "mixer" is pretty much what I'm looking for in regards to I/O and I/O isolation/impedance matching. However, they're mostly pretty ugly, don't have a remote, have too many dials, and won't look good on an audio shelf/rack with all my other components. -> that is, unless someone knows a good one that mostly fits my needs listed below 🙂 Preamp requirements: 1. Needs 2x XLR ins + 5x XLR outs. 2. Everything must be able to be connected at all times and not have any performance difference vs. unplugging anything. 3. Due to impedance loads, the outputs will all need to be isolated and buffered to allow all amps to be connected simultaneously, but not create a parallel impedance situation where the input impedance seen by the preamp is too low. 4. I don't want anything run in parallel, such as input/DAC 1 is "on" and then all outputs are also "on". Only 1 input and 1 output can be active at any time. 5. Must work via remote. Apple remote is a handy one. *A great reference is this custom LDR preamp built by Mike at Redstone Electronics. Mike doesn't do contract work anymore and there are some differences, but overall it's a great reference and he did a beautiful job. Look how flush the OLED is mounted... Nice stuff, but not 'needs': 1. Volume memory for each "input+output" combination from last use. 2. Use Tortuga Audio LDR preamp boards. 3. Use Tortuga Audio OLED display and Apple remote receiver. 4. Use a tube buffer for the outputs. 5. Use output transformers after the solid-state/tubes to create a pure balanced XLR signal (akin to Empirical Audio's Final Drive component). Price range: $2000-4000. *we'll try to mitigate the custom casework costs somehow and put the majority of dollars into the component and workmanship. So, I'm hoping someone can give me some advice on where to post this info to find a builder, or if you are one, to contact me via PM. Or if anyone knows a suitable preamp that's got 2x XLR balanced ins + 5x XLR balanced outs and can deal with all being connected all the time, then post it up.
  4. I don't know how to distribute my correction file settings for DRC-Desginer (Which DRC-FIR uses). I quite like it as for now (version named settings is for now v3.81). But I try to distribute it, I am not very good at english, sorry... A small guide to use the correction file is also written somewhat technically guided. It could be, DRC-FIR users would like my work of filters setting file. Hi everyone that like to use DRC-FIR as DRC correct audio systems. (Settings for 96khz audio systems with very technical correction file) I have in many months tried different settings, mostly changed regulating normfactor as "enemy of distortion" and stage sound creation, the custom settings sound very differently according to normalize filters settings. I have matured the correction filters quite well on my measurement microphone. I have changes Window Exponents to 1.3 as it corrects more extensive to windowed correction filters. I have very had extensive work on equalization microphone correction, but cannot share it because many different ADC and Microphones, you could create your own microphone correction file. I hope you guys would like to check my normfactor settings to DRC-FIR. "DRC Designer" that use DRC-FIR as app source for correcting filters. ( www.alanjordan.org/DRCDesigner/DrcDesignerHelp.html ) If you want to try it out, here is a small guide: Install the DRC-Desginer somewhere, download the attachment file from here "strong96000.drc", copy it to "DRCDesigner\drc-3.2.0\sample" install folder directory (and yes overwrite it), run the app, and record sweep you sound system at 96khz samplerate. Go to "Generate Standard Filters" check only "strong" as the correction file on attachment is configured/written on strong 96khz setting, and you can use your own "microphone calibration file", and click "Generate Selected Filters" and it should process the convolution filters... Wait 6-16 minutes (yes very long time, as it corrects extensively sound, minutes is depending how fast computer is.) When it is finished. Go to "DRCDesigner\ConvolverFilters" folder, there should be a file named "Stereo96000STRONG.wav" that you can use for Convolution - DRC Correction, use it for Foobar (with convolution plugin) or other compatible Convolution enabled Apps or Devices. Try it, it could be that you will very well like the correction file filter. If you like the filters settings I created, try tell other DRC-FIR users to check this correction settings out. Link for drc-fir settings is down here strong96000.drc
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