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linden518
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Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!

So my living room computer - the 8 yr old Dell - crapped out. I have an Apple Powerbook I can use & my wife also has a MacBook, but I like having a desktop in the house. So I was going to just get one of those iMacs, but then I thought, why not have one of those dudes at MicroCenter build me a custom PC - an audiophiliac one at that - at a similar price? (I suck at building anything.)

So I thought maybe I'll revive the project from last year, of building a noiseless PC, to use as source in my living room system, with Plinius 8150 as amp. But since I know nothing about building a PC, I'd like all y'all's input on components.

First, I'm pretty sure I'd like to use Lynx AES16 soundcard. Pricy, but I've heard great things about its jitter-reduction, and I'd like that extra peace of mind when I have the data handed off to a DAC (not chosen yet.) I'm also leaning toward getting one of those fanless/noiseless cases from Zalman or mCube or something. I'm also leaning toward keeping the hard disk SSD only, and storing the data on a NAS in another room. So the bulk of the expense would go toward case, SSD memory, and soundcard. I'm not a gamer nor a power app user (i.e. Photoshop, etc.) so I don't care much about the fastest & the latest.

So is this feasible? Is it an overkill to go completely noiseless, sans fan? Also, I want to get rid of the big ass plasma I have and put in some LCD monitor that would double as both computer screen & TV... do people do this kind of thing? If so, I'd love to get your recommendations. Also, as for the OS, Windows XP 32bit, or Vista 64? I've heard the XP 32bit's superior for audio purposes.

Anyways, thanks for your help, dudes.

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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!

Divider, I have a self built noiseless PC that I use in my small project studio.

The main sources of noise are fans, hard drives, and power supply (fan). Easy fix - read up at silentpc.com or do a search. Everything is easy to do and costs maybe $200 extra if you go buck wild... Zalman makes great stuff - have their cpu coolers on all my machines, cases are overkill... You can get a HD silencer for $30 that will quiet down a HD to near silence. 1tb is about $115 these days... SSDD are still too expensive for massive storage needs. Buy a video card without a fan - dead slient.

Lynx AES is overkill for using digital only. I would suggest an Emu 1212v2 (PCI card) as there is no real difference on the digital side of AES vs SPDIF. The Lynx AES is a card that is used to hook up their top shelf ad/da converters to a PC using a PCI card, or a digital mixer.

Vista is still unsupported by most pro level audio cards, that is fact. XP sp2 is the way to go for stability and compatability.

PM me if you need more info.

Paul

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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!

A completely silent PC can be pricey especially if pre-built.

These guys have a few:
http://www.endpcnoise.com/

If you are going for a standalone DAC don't spend too much on a soundcard. Just make sure it has ASIO drivers so you can bypass kmixer (if you go with XP). Vista has a completely new audio subsystem and kmixer is gone.

Lynx and RME both fully support Vista x64. Both of these solutions have built in DAC's and sound incredible. If you get one of these cards you won't need a standalone DAC.

Oh and one other thing if you do decide to go with SSD Tom's hardware currently only recommends Samsung and OCZ (rebranded Samsung).

linden518
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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!

Thanks for the tips, guys. Very helpful... I do think building a completely noiseless PC will needlessly drive up the cost. How about building a relatively quiet PC, then, and not keeping it near the audio gear, but instead running a long cable line from the PC to the stereo system? Can this be achievable without degrading the SQ (supposing I go with Lynx)?

Also, has either one of you experimented with that cMP thing?

http://www.audioasylum.com/cgi/vt.mpl?f=pcaudio&m=27041

scottgardner
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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!

How long are you thinking?

If you go with the Lynx (LynxTWO B?) it has balanced outs and you can run these lines a very long distance. You will need to use a Converter / Isolator : http://www.jensen-transformers.com/pc2xr.html

linden518
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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!

Around 30 ft?

Also, another fantasy I'm kind of building up deals with the Origen S21T HTPC. With that 12" touchscreen, I can go w/o separate monitor or keyboard, and just keep it as digital source. I think the MSRP is $1300, way too steep for a mere case, but I'd love to just get this thing as a music source and put it on a rack... except that I have doubts about putting a PC on an audio rack with other gear b/c RF issues, etc...

http://www.modders-inc.com/modules.php?name=NDReviews&file=print&reid=185

scottgardner
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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!

Balanced lines will allow you to run more than 100feet without problems. The Lynx L22 also has balanced outs.

That is a way cool case but touch screens can be a pain depending on the media player you're going to use. I use Foobar for critical listening because it supports ASIO but driving it via touch screen would probably be awkward. Media Center works great with a touch screen but doesn't support ASIO.

Again, Vista has a completely new audio subsystem and kmixer is gone and Microsoft claims the new subsystem is lossless but I don't trust Microsoft.

What Media player were you thinking of using? Is video a consideration?

linden518
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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!

I was thinking of Window Media Center for the ease of use w/ remote control & touch screen, but I guess no ASIO support is a deal breaker? Foobar always scared the shit out of me b/c it's so customizable... I suck at DIY. Hmm... how about JRiver? As far as video is concerned, perhaps if I can get a Blu Ray thing going, that'd be nice!

Also, I'd use this PC for archiving my records, too... the more I think about it, in more ways than one, it makes more sense than getting separate CDP & some recording ware even if it costs a bit more than getting a Dell at Costco....

scottgardner
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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!

Media Center on Vista sounds much better than XP's version. I don't see it as a deal breaker. The way I look at it is that for casual use it's fine and if I'm a finicky mood I use FooBar.

I have heard good things about JRiver and I believe it supports ASIO but I'm not sure, I haven't used it.

One of the best things about going the PC route is that things are always getting better and most times all thats needed is a software upgrade.

scottgardner
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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!

The other thing to keep in mind is volume control. Until recently Lynx didn't support the windows master volume control and I'm not sure how well it does that now.

There is a utility that works with RME and thats what I use.

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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!

Thanks, Scott. btw, if I go with Origen HTPC & put it on the audio rack, am I opening myself upto an RF/hum hell? If so, is there a way to address this issue?

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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!

Wither PC?
Mac is native for IT8
Quicktime works
GarageBand great for nips and tucks
I-Macs near silent
Front Row remote
And 24Bit optical OP, no ground loops.
Roger imho

linden518
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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!

Hi, Rolo. In fact, I've asked myself the same question, since I've been a Mac guy since my college years, and I own a Powerbook. But I think the tradeoff for using Mac is that I'd gain elegance & ease of use for configurability. For example, if I wanted to use the brand of soundcard I'd like to use to maximize my music - like the Lynx or RME - I don't even have the option to use iMac. I have to spring for Mac Pro, which STARTS at close to $3K. That's not so practical for me; I definitely want to go with Lynx or RME to deal with jitter, but I'm not willing to spend so much. Of course the positives are fantastic; I can boot from Mac OS or Windows Vista or XP. But that premium comes at great price...

Not to mention that with Origen, I might possibly be able to place it on a rack and go without monitor or keyboard, like a dedicated music server i.e. Sooloos, but more affordable & catered to my own needs. I can configure it to minimize hard drive noise, fan noise, etc. by choosing my own parts. Not so easy for Macs, if I'm not mistaken. Plus, Mac Pro is a gargantuan beast. Forget about placing on a rack as a source.

And I agree with Scott; the possibility of PC making incremental improvements is much greater than Mac doing the same for sound. And even if it does, it'll be very proprietary, which leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!


Quote:
Thanks, Scott. btw, if I go with Origen HTPC & put it on the audio rack, am I opening myself upto an RF/hum hell? If so, is there a way to address this issue?

RF won't be an issue because the case is a shield but hum is always a possibility. Hum is almost always caused by ground loops and any gear can cause that problem. Lots of ways to correct ground loops; lift a ground pin, run a separate ground wire, power conditioning etc... As long as you provide proper grounding you'll be fine.

linden518
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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!

Thanks, bud. And let me take this opportunity to say I really appreciate your presence here. I know there are some of us who are all about expensive cables & gears & voodoo, and there's another faction that's all about pragmatic & sensible audio practice involving flat frequencies and low budgets. You toe the line gracefully. Have a good weekend, homey.

ROLO46
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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!

For an audio interface Apogee Duet is difficult to beat
Its Firewire Mac only , but an in / out transparent device Which enables headphone /line playback and recording into GB.
It has 80db of preamp gain for record and excellent headphone amp $500.
ITunes only reservation is 24b 44.1k, but all my music is 44.1k
I upscale and word shape with a Meridian processer (M518) and synthesis to 3 channels with Meridian 568.2 surround processer (Trifield)
Macs are built for music imho.
Roger

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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!

Having built a typical "quiet" PC a few year ago with an expensive quiet case, a large and expensive quiet fan, an expensive quiet power supply, rubber mounts for the quietest disc drives, slow lowish heat output processor, fanless slowish graphics card, etc... I ended up with an expensive modest performance PC which is quieter than a normal PC but is still too noisy to have on when working in a silent room. It was not a wise purchase.

If noise is an issue then I would only recommend fanless designs in rooms with people and/or putting the main computer in another room. For the couple of decades before the purchase of the "quiet" PC I had drilled a hole in the wall and put the computer works in the spare bedroom with the monitor, keyboard and mouse cables threaded through to the study. The purchase of the "quiet" PC was dictated by a change in circumstances precluding my doing this but it was almost immediately banished to the spare room because of the noise and an old fanless (most of the time) portable used in its place despite the poorer keyboard, screen, performance, etc...

In order to serve audio one needs only a modest computer. I currently use a cheap fanless consumer NAS box with an ARM chip which uses a pair of small quiet 2.5" hard disks for portables. It required a bit of fiddling to setup because the manufacturer did not support running the users own programs on the device. It runs fine for uncompressed audio streams and most compressed audio streams although there has been an issue due to the absence of floating point hardware for some older audio streams (e.g. the BBC). It appears solveable if somebody puts in a significant amount of coding effort but that someone is not me. The workaround when I want to listen to an awkward audio stream is simply to turn on a computer somewhere such as openning the lid of the portable or turning on the "quiet" PC in the spare room.

For audio I would go for a modern fanless computer with 128 MByte memory or more, 200 MHz clock speed or more, floating point hardware and running Linux in an open not a closed manner. I am not familiar with the current market which is evolving rapidly but this is perhaps the sort of thing I would start looking at:

http://www.fit-pc.com/new/

to have turned on all the time in order to serve audio and to be in the same room as people. One can get it with Windows XP but it is likely to be a bit sluggish interactively although the audio server should be fine. For video it probably lacks suitable hardware and one would need to look at something more appropriate.

I would use an external sound card but this is an area where audiophile views/beliefs differ too much from a technical/scientific view for my input to have much relevance.

scottgardner
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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!

Andy you bring up a good point. I forgot about tiny PCs (mini-itx). Many of these designs are completely silent and powerful:

http://www.logicsupply.com
http://www.mini-box.com
http://www.mini-itx.com

http://store.mp3car.com/

scottgardner
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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!

Another approach would be to have the music server located in another room feeding the audio system via balanced interconnects and drive it via a small silent wireless tablet PC via remote login.

If you went this route the PC wouldn't have to be silent at all and since the tablet PC is only supplying the interface it could be relatively simple. XP's Remote Desktop can drive a Vista box. Cool eh?

You can almost do this with a PDA or a smart phone.

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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!


Quote:
Another approach would be to have the music server located in another room feeding the audio system via balanced interconnects and drive it via a small silent wireless tablet PC via remote login.

If you went this route the PC wouldn't have to be silent at all and since the tablet PC is only supplying the interface it could be relatively simple. XP's Remote Desktop can drive a Vista box. Cool eh?

You can almost do this with a PDA or a smart phone.


I think that's probably where the smart money is. I'd hate to have something built, only to find out that it has RF issues or noise issues. Thank you so much for all the ideas everyone!

linden518
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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!

One more question, guys. What if I just went with a laptop? Is there any laptop that has a PCI slot, or a dock that does?

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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!


Quote:
One more question, guys. What if I just went with a laptop? Is there any laptop that has a PCI slot, or a dock that does?


Not that I'm aware of. PCMCIA/Cardbus, USB or Firewire.

Another up-and-coming option: Vista Sideshow. Google it, see what you think.

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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!

If a computer is large enough to insert PCI cards then it will be too big to be a laptop. There used to be things called "luggables" which were expensive and intended for making measurements in the field but I have not seen one recently. The tendency these days is to use a normal laptop and run a wire to an (expensive) headless box.

The electrical environment inside a general purpose computer can be fairly hostile for low level analogue signals which is why almost all sound cards above about $50 are external. The approach is to extract the digital signal (which does not mind a bit of noise) from the computer and convert it to analogue in a nice quiet environment built for the purpose. High performance internal cards will need a bunch of circuitry to try to cope with the noisy environment and I doubt the published signal-to-noise ratios were taken with an awkward PC as a host.

I am curious about why you have opted for an expensive PCI sound card? Do the cards come in two parts: a digital one in the computer and a remote digital to analogue converter?

linden518
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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!

Hi, Andy... the reason why I asked is that it seems that there were some slim IBM Thinkpads whose docks had PCI slots. I think if I can get a Thinkpad, running on SSD, coupled with PCI-capable dock, that would be as elegant a solution as a silent PC?

I decided on Lynx AES16 because the two guys I trust & respect for computer digital audio both recommended the particular soundcard as the best interface they know for PC audio, in terms of jitter control. (They don't know each other & made the same recommendation.) So, I wouldn't directly plug the Lynx into my integrated amp, but use the Lynx to interface with the DAC of my choice, then into my integrated amp. Many might feel that is extravagant & even unnecessary, given that various digital cables and even USB cords have proved to be excellent... but since I tend to set up my audio system for the long haul rather than incrementally (I'm not a chronic upgrader), I think that this extra OCD step might be worth the marginal investment, even if only for the peace of mind. (But according to them, the difference in improvement made by Lynx AES16 in the chain is audible.)

linden518
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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!

Just to argue with my schizophrenic self, I found this fascinating post by Gordon Rankin of Wavelength Audio on Audio Asylum, gushing that fitted with 4GB of RAM & SSD SATA2 drive, the MacBook is basically the best transport he's used:

http://www.audioasylum.com/forums/pcaudio/messages/3/31628.html

I'm very curious about JA's possible evaluation of Wavelength Cosine DAC, and the exploration of USB-linked DAC as hi-fi source, too...

scottgardner
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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!

You may also want to look at the Weiss Engineering Minerva/DAC2. This is a firewire device so it will work in your laptop and you won't need the Lynx and another DAC.

Works in both windows and mac.

Very pricey but some feel its "the best":
http://www.computeraudiophile.com/weiss_engineering_minerva_firewire_dac_review
http://www.ultraaudio.com/twbas/twbas_20081015.htm

Other DACs in the Benchmark price range to consider are:

Mytek Stereo96
Lavry Black DA10

(I'm not sure the Lynx AES16 is your best bet. What were you planning on doing with the other 14 digital channels?)

linden518
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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!

I did read about the Minerva, over at Computer Audiophile site you linked, as a matter of fact. Sounds very intriguing. $5K is a LOT of change, but seems like the SQ is very impressive... I definitely want to listen.

Ironically, Chris at Computer Audiophile, despite having claimed Minerva as the best DAC he'd heard (in June 08), now considers Berkeley Audio Design DAC as the best & uses it as his reference, but - adding to another believer in the list of Lynx card users - interfaces that DAC with Lynx AES16e from Mac Pro!

Anyway, I'm sure the Minerva & Berkeley Audio DACs sound tremendous. But they make Wavelength Cosecant seem like a bargain... one DAC I'm seriously considering at this point, though, is MSB Power Dac. Pretty expensive... so when it comes to DAC, there is no way I'd purchase something based on word of mouth; I'll have to hear it. (Although some people here will attest to the fact that I've made some risky blind purchases, especially when it came to my TT choice )

Other options I'm very drawn to are ModWright Transporter, b/c Dan Wright really knows what he's doing over there. And Grace Design m902, which (after this discussion) seems like a freaking bargain.

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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!

> the reason why I asked is that it seems that there were some slim IBM
> Thinkpads whose docks had PCI slots. I think if I can get a Thinkpad, running
> on SSD, coupled with PCI-capable dock, that would be as elegant a solution as
> a silent PC?

There is a Thinkpad T61 currently in my office at work and the dock does not take any cards but IBM may well supply bigger docks. We did find that the dock has to be powered by the mains if you use any of sockets on the dock (the portable was bought to host measurement equipment) which prevents the portable from being a portable. In which case, one might as well use a cheaper higher performance box PC...

> I decided on Lynx AES16

I looked this up and it is a card for combining/separating 16 digital audio channels for transmission using a professional recording protocol. It is digital only (so no analogue circuitry in the PC) but, unless I have missed something, would seem to serve little useful purpose for playback in the home. Coincidently, the Thinkpad is hosting microphone arrays which uses several similar cards although with different protocols.

> because the two guys I trust & respect for computer digital audio both
> recommended the particular soundcard as the best interface they know for PC
> audio, in terms of jitter control. (They don't know each other & made the same
> recommendation.) So, I wouldn't directly plug the Lynx into my integrated amp,
> but use the Lynx to interface with the DAC of my choice, then into my
> integrated amp. Many might feel that is extravagant & even unnecessary, given
> that various digital cables and even USB cords have proved to be excellent...
> but since I tend to set up my audio system for the long haul rather than
> incrementally (I'm not a chronic upgrader), I think that this extra OCD step
> might be worth the marginal investment, even if only for the peace of mind.
> (But according to them, the difference in improvement made by Lynx AES16 in
> the chain is audible.)

What to believe in and what/who to trust is a personal decision we all have to make. Thanks for telling me the basis for yours.

Setting aside questions of audible levels of "jitter", how one would go about minimising it for a chain of live recording equipment and for playback in the home are generally not the same. The people you asked did understand what you were trying to do?

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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!


Quote:
Just to argue with my schizophrenic self, I found this fascinating post by Gordon Rankin of Wavelength Audio on Audio Asylum, gushing that fitted with 4GB of RAM & SSD SATA2 drive, the MacBook is basically the best transport he's used:

http://www.audioasylum.com/forums/pcaudio/messages/3/31628.html

I borrowed Gordon's "no moving parts" MacBook to use as the source for my hi-rez dems at last's RMAF: see http://blog.stereophile.com/rmaf2008/101408hi-rez . It certainly worked a treat as a transport.


Quote:
I'm very curious about JA's possible evaluation of Wavelength Cosine DAC, and the exploration of USB-linked DAC as hi-fi source, too...

I used the Cosecant DAC at RMAF -- see http://blog.stereophile.com/rmaf2008/101408cosecant -- and the same sample I used in Denver should be arriving chez Atkinson at the end of the month, for a review to be published in the April or May issue of Stereophile. (If that seems a long way off, today we are starting work on the February's issue's production and I have to get 3 other reviews and a couple of follow-ups written first.)

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!

also may want to consider the

Grace 902
Prism Orpheus

Emperical Audio Spoiler Tube DAC

I have the referenced mytek, and I was really, really impressed with it. Ive heard all of the Lavry products, grimm, prism, stagetec, meitner, dcs.. , but the mytek, to me had a good combination of accuracy and smoothness.

I use the Esi ]Juli@>>>Mytek Stereo 96DAC .

I use the Lynx AES16 in my mobile recording rig, but it is overkill for what you want to accomplish. the Juli@ coupled with a good DAC or one of the standalone USB DACS alone should give you what you are looking for.

linden518
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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!

JA - thanks for the glimpse into the daily grind of a Stereophile editor/writer. Your blog post on Cosecant is in fact one of the reasons I'm very drawn to MacBook - Wavelength. Can someone give me a quick, dumbed down primer on how the asynchronous mode of Cosecant controls data flow from the computer via USB? If this is the case, why don't more DAC manufacturers adopt this method? It seems like such an elegant solution...

ncdrawl & andy, thanks for the advice. It does seem like LynxAES16 may be an overkill. The Grace m902 looks more & more attractive to me as an option, especially for the added bonus of providing a sweet headphone amp. Andy, the guys who did recommend the LynxAES16 to interface with DAC know exactly what I like in my system, how I like to listen. As mentioned, it seems like more than a few audiophiles - & not audio pros - use the LynxAES16... I've yet to hear the results myself, but no matter what the purported intent behind the card's design is, if it sounds good, it sounds good, right?

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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!

if you are just trying to get the audio out into a DAC, then yes.....itd be like buying a lexus just to use the cigarette lighter.

you are looking to go out from the computer to a dac to amp to speakers, yes?

if that is the case.. the 902 or combination of juli@ and DAC of your choice would be more practical, in my opinion.

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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!


Quote:
itd be like buying a lexus just to use the cigarette lighter.


LOL, I guess I know what you mean... what a good analogy! I'm definitely keeping the m902 option open. More than anything, I'm going to heed JA's evaluation of Cosecant seriously.

I also like Scott's recommendation of Minerva DAC... the firewire route is intriguing, especially as I already have a Mac Book (well, my wife does. I have the older Powerbook G4... perhaps I'll spring for the new 2.4 GHz Macbook with 128 GB of SSD memory, w/ 4 GB of RAM, like Rankin's transport. I just played with one today, and it's very impressively made. Gone is the cheap plastic enclosure; now it's one piece aluminum body, machined from a single piece of aluminum... It'll still come in under the price of an audiophile PC I'd build with Lynx card and Origen case.)

So the DAC models I'm going to be keen to check out are: Grace m902, Wavelength Cosecant, Minerva, MSB Power Dac, and ModWright Transporter. Bryston BDA-1, too, because of Bryston's claim of reclocking at DAC level to render jitter into a moot point, and for the ability to choose upsampling/oversampling rate. I'm all ears, too.

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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!

> It does seem like LynxAES16 may be an overkill.

I would suggest it is probably worse than that in forcing a choice that appears inappropriate for your technical needs. However, this is only the technical view and for minimising a parameter that is almost certainly irrelevant in practice (technically!). There are clearly other things that can be satisfied.

> Andy, the guys who did recommend the LynxAES16 to interface with DAC know
> exactly what I like in my system, how I like to listen.

Thanks for the confirmation. It begs the question...

> I've yet to hear the results myself, but no matter what the purported intent
> behind the card's design is, if it sounds good, it sounds good, right?

The only diplomatic answer is no comment. I have a different set of beliefs to you and, unless you adopt my beliefs, I adopt yours or we agree to test our beliefs against the real world, there is not going to be a resolution.

Editor
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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!


Quote:
[perhaps I'll spring for the new 2.4 GHz Macbook with 128 GB of SSD memory, w/ 4 GB of RAM, like Rankin's transport.

Just a note that the new MacBook, unlike the Pro, does not have a FireWire port.


Quote:
So the DAC models I'm going to be keen to check out are: Grace m902, Wavelength Cosecant, Minerva, MSB Power Dac, and ModWright Transporter. Bryston BDA-1, too, because of Bryston's claim of reclocking at DAC level to render jitter into a moot point, and for the ability to choose upsampling/oversampling rate. I'm all ears, too.

The Grace does not perform well via USB, though.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

linden518
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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!


Quote:

Quote:
[perhaps I'll spring for the new 2.4 GHz Macbook with 128 GB of SSD memory, w/ 4 GB of RAM, like Rankin's transport.

Just a note that the new MacBook, unlike the Pro, does not have a FireWire port.


Quote:
So the DAC models I'm going to be keen to check out are: Grace m902, Wavelength Cosecant, Minerva, MSB Power Dac, and ModWright Transporter. Bryston BDA-1, too, because of Bryston's claim of reclocking at DAC level to render jitter into a moot point, and for the ability to choose upsampling/oversampling rate. I'm all ears, too.

The Grace does not perform well via USB, though.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile


D'oh! I didn't even realize that Apple did away with Firewire ports on MacBooks! That eliminates Minerva as an option, b/c MacBook Pros are just too big & unwieldy for me. And I understand that the MacBook Pros now don't have Firewire 400 ports either... but if I were to go with the Cosecant, the loss of a Firewire port wouldn't much matter?

If I were to get the GraceDesign, I'd use coax... I did read about the poor USB performance with m902.

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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!


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The Grace does not perform well via USB, though.


I have the Grace and agree that the USB is not as good as the other digital inputs. (Although Ethan claims that it has no choice but to sound the same).

The USB is not awful, it just isn't as clean as the others.

It is a great headphone amp as well as being an excellent DAC. I happen to prefer it over the Benchmark - but it is a small preference. I also like the Lavry a great deal.

ncdrawl
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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!

the Grace and Benchmark sound really similar, in my opinion. A bit too analytical for my tastes, I prefer the Prism\/mytek/ sound, that sort of round, lush sound. I also associate this analytical sound with Millennia Microphone preamps, which I had several of before discovering my holy grail..

that being said, all the grace products are really well made, and Mike Grace is a real legend (especially amongst tapers!!..he had two of the earliest battery powered high quality mic preamp/adc combinations(the lunatec v2 and v3). )

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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!

I built my own desktop. It runs 64-bit Vista, and as I understand it Vista has a higher quality volume control than XP. (See extremely long thread on this topic: AVS Forum: Audio Processing in Vista Explained.) I currently rip CDs to Apple Lossless using iTunes and a Samsung optical drive, although I was once foolish enough to rip to MP3s at bit rates from 192 to 320 kbps. It is connected to a Stello DA-220 via S/PDIF out from the motherboard. The Stello feeds a Creek 5350SE which runs a pair of Paradigm Studio 100s. The Stello was a recent acquisition, it replaced a Xitel HiFi Link USB audio device. Source and speaker cables are all Blue Jeans Cable. The computer is in another room and a motherboard software utility allows me to turn all the system fans down to low levels. I am very happy with the Stello, and controlling the iTunes library with the Remote application on my iPhone is terribly convenient. Additionally, the Stello and Creek were purchased used.

struts
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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!

Hey again SD,

I have only just caught up with this thread, I guess I missed it initially because I thought it was about building an audiophile PC whereas now it seems to have morphed into building an audiophile digital music server. Much more interesting!

It is funny but it seems you are heading down a slightly similar path to me. I started off with an M-Audio 2496 card feeding my Grace m902 (via digital coax), but junked that when I got a new PC with Vista and M-Audio took about 18 months to get their act together on a Vista driver (one of the longest-running sagas in computer audio, I think I posted here when they finally made it). So the M-Audio went on ebay and I got an ESI MAYA44 - not the Juli@ you often see mentioned in dispatches but similar - the principal reason being that it supported digital output on both TOSLINK and coax from the card itself and I wanted to experiment with galvanically isolating the PC from the Grace. Also, it was nice to get away from clutzy breakout cables; it just looked plain silly having a classy Kimber D-60 cable plugging into the socket of a cheesy breakout wire. I have to say the MAYA44 is one sweet card, super build quality - about the best I have ever seen on a computer product - and excellent support from Claus over at the ESI forum. This was the momentous point at which, after about a year of banging my head against the bit-transparency wall, I finally cracked it and I was (momentarily) in audiophile nirvana.

However everything got turned on its head a couple of months later when I had a road-to-Damascus experience with a Rudistor RP010-B driving some tweaked Sennie 650s in 'full balanced' mode. The sound was absolutely fantastic, without doubt the best headphone sound I have heard so far. In fact it was so far ahead of what I was used to hearing, and in so many ways, that I just started laughing. That is the point at which THE BOSS knows to go hide my wallet. So I was struck with a vision of driving my cans with a signal balanced all the way from the DACs to my ears and eliminating the evil S/PDIF into the bargain.

About ten seconds of listening to that setup me realize that the Grace's days were numbered. It is a great piece and I love it to bits, in fact I may even keep it even if (okay, when) I replace it because I really have gotten very attached to it. Apart from great sound and great flexibility I love its compactness and pro-audio no-fuss dependability. However, replacing it posed a problem because of course I was using it as a headphone amp and a DAC. I didn't want to start building a new hifi rack under my desk so I was determined to find a compact, elegant solution involving as few boxes as possible.

Cue my next move which was to replace the ESI with a Lynx L22 (I would concur with the posts above that the AES16 is just the wrong ashtray for the job here). Back to breakout cables but at least they to appear to be better quality, and they are about a meter long which means they reach all the way to the Grace so I don't need to patch another cable in between. The Lynx is the real deal, you can just tell it is a piece of pro gear rather than consumer electronics. No disrespect at all to the ESI which is a jewel of a card, but we're talking apples and oranges here. If the ESI is a Porsche, then I would peg the Lynx as more Toyota Landcruiser than Lexus.

So now I have the Lynx configured as both a balanced analogue and a balanced digital source to the Grace. This sets up an experiment I have been dying to perform to determine whether moving the DAC out of the computer chassis outweighs the evils of introducing S/PDIF into the chain (of course there are plenty of other variables in this equation but at the end of the day I am most interested in which sounds better and not in proving why). I have been very busy recently so have not had time to sit down and have a proper critical listen but I can say that to my surprise a quick A/B certainly did not reveal any obvious differences. At first blush they are very close.

So the next step is a balanced headphone amp. I am really in a quandary here as I have the Grace on an IKEA GALANT drawer unit under my desk which leaves 10.5cm of clearance and the Rudistor RP010-B is 12cm high. It also has a massive 33x45cm footprint which I find slightly off-putting after the super-compact Grace, so I am looking in the mirror and asking myself if I seriously believe I can content myself with an NX-33. Ha ha. The other option of course is to stay pat with the Grace and convince myself that the whole balanced thing was a dream. Ha ha ha.

Anyway, I'll leave you with those thoughts; apologies that this post turned into a bit of a yarn. Gotta run as the little one is crying. In fact I might read it up to her - if it doesn't put her to sleep nothing will!

Sweet dreams everyone.

struts
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Re: Help Me Build My Audiophile PC!!


Quote:
So the next step is a balanced headphone amp. I am really in a quandary here as I have the Grace on an IKEA GALANT drawer unit under my desk which leaves 10.5cm of clearance and the Rudistor RP010-B is 12cm high. It also has a massive 33x45cm footprint which I find slightly off-putting after the super-compact Grace, so I am looking in the mirror and asking myself if I seriously believe I can content myself with an NX-33. Ha ha. The other option of course is to stay pat with the Grace and convince myself that the whole balanced thing was a dream. Ha ha ha.


Tripped over this old post and realized it was time for a postscript.

Those of you who frequent the headphone board below will no doubt have read about my discovery of Mark Lawton's modded Denon headphones. In one of my discussions with Mark I related the above quandry to him and asked his advice. While one can't expect him to be unbiased on the subject of headphones (although even taking account of a natural bias for his own products I have to say I found him surprisingly objective), he certainly has no horse in the headphone amp race. I also know he has very good ears and a nice wide window to listen through.

I decided for a number of reasons to go for a Rudistor RPX-33. Those of you who remember John Marks's review will know this is a dual mono unbalanced unit. The rationale was complex and quite unique to my priorities - a key one of which was that the thing should fit under my desk - so I am not trying to portray it as a universal truth. However a key factor was Mark's view that balanced was more different than better, along with his comprehensive description of the nature of the differences. Talking it through with Mark it became clear that I had fallen into the age-old trap of selectively linking cause and effect. While the SQ I heard from the RP010-B driving the balanced Sennies was undoubtedly great, Mark's opinion (and he owns an RP010-B and has extensive experience with it both balanced and unbalanced) was that it probably had more to do with the inherent quality of that amp, than with balanced working per se. The sound I am getting from the RPX-33/LA2000s is, as best I can tell, in every way as good and quite possibly better than my memory of the Sennies thru the RP010-B. It is just not possible to say without a side-by-side comparison.

So the Grace is now installed in my bedside table along with a Sonos ZP90, while the Rudi is providing great sounds in my study driven by the Lynx L22. My plan is to use open cans in the study so I can hear the phone ring (HD800s on the way) and the closed Lawtons in the bedroom so I don't disturb the BOSS. (any jokes about woodies in bed from Buddha or anyone else will be studiously ignored).

More thoughts on the Rudi as it (and the Lawtons) break in.

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