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chansensturm
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Re: A difference that makes no difference is no difference!

>> Does anyone out there have the same level of knowledge on Mac based systems.

I thought I'd share my experience on the Mac. Thankfully, the Mac does not have as many issues to deal with, e.g., there is no kmixer which needs to be carefully jettisoned from the signal path. That said, there are still some issues.

First, let me describe my signal path.

Mac Mini -> Firewire400 -> RME FireFace400(transport only) -> SPIDF -> Grace M904 (DAC/Preamp).

Because the Grace does not output wordlock (unfortunately, it can slave only), I set the FF400 is WC Master, and run an external WC Coax to the Grace.

RME FireFace400(word clock) -> COAX -> Grace m904.

All media on the Mini was ripped in ALAC (apple lossless) format using iTunes. It is important to note, that, this is not a "bit perfect" operation as there maybe errors during the physical read of the optical media. iTunes doesn't care, it just reads the stream. To minimize this problem, but not eliminate it, select the "error checking" option in the iTunes preferences. Currently, I'm researching alternatives to iTunes for ripping. Not certain if there is a good OS X solution at the moment.

Following the instructions on the Benchmark Wiki, it is also probably a good idea to disable any EQ, Cross Fading, Normalization, and Audio Enhancement prefs in iTunes as well.

One reason I selected the RME FireFace is that it is not USB :-) Actually USB is just fine; however, most of the current crop of USB transports and DACS use chips tied to the USB 1.x standard which limits playback to 16/48 or 24/96. USB 2.x changes this, but it is rarer to find.

With FW400, 2 channel 32/192 is possible, one does not need FW800 for this. RME also implements their own FW fpga, and include their own drivers. This is a good thing, since they control "both ends of the pipe", so to speak, and use a proprietary "transport" protocol over FW. Finally, naturally, the MacMini has no PCI slots, so an internal card such as the 2496 wasn't possible, though that would have worked well.

I have spoken with RME, and they claim that the FF400 digital out is "bit perfect" and that they do not do any SRC within the unit. I have not been able to verify this directly (yet), but I have no reason to question their claim on this point.

SRC is, instead (optionally) performed by the high quality OS X system AudioConverter SRC. Between the Tiger and Leopard releases, this SRC implementation improved dramatically. It really is world class. For comparisons with other SRCs, take a close look at http://src.infinitewave.ca/ In particular, I was rather shocked to see how Weiss compared with the Leopard SRC.

One important consideration to note, is that iTunes, internally, is not doing any SRC on Leopard. SRC settings are global to any app, and owned by the physical "device", so it is important to set your transport format first within AudioMidi prefs, and then launch iTunes in that order. iTunes could register that it wants to get dynamic notifications when the transport format changes underneath it, but I don't believe it actually does this.

I have found upsampling in OS X software, to result in significant improvements in the sound. There is a rather dramatic difference between 16/441 and 32/192 - particularly w.r.t sound staging. The difference is even more significant when the FF400 is removed from the signal chain and it is compared to 24/96 MacMini -> TOSLINK -> Grace M904.

One can speculate why this is the case. Maybe there is jitter, error, or RF interference influencing the MacMini's TOSLINK out. Perhaps software upsampling "spreads out" quantization error over a wider frequency range so the Grace M904 DAC has an easier time of it, even though it is also upsampling (Mhz range). Perhaps the FF400 transport produces cleaner and, comparatively speaking, jitter free output. Perhaps I'm enjoying pleasing artifacts of the lowpass filter in the OS X SRC. Who knows.

What I do know, is that this particular setup sounds superb when I render through my biamped Lipinski L-707's with Lipinski L-301 monoblocks.

This, coupled with the convenience of FrontRow (which has an unfortunate bug, currently, where it won't display album art when streaming from a remote iTunes server), makes this an ideal setup for me. It's been well worth the effort getting there.

cheers.
Craig Hansen-Sturm

BVillet
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Re: My audiophile music server system

I have just finished reading the entire sequence of posts and found the information very helpful.
I am currently building my third server and hoping that in this one will be able to achieve two goals (both of which have eluded me to date):
1. A quiet system where I cannot hear any mechanical sound from the server in my audio room.
2. Bit accurate transfer of the audio files I have stored.
My playback system is Levinson 40 to Krell amps to Revel speakers and input to the system is via SPDI coax from the external Audigy boxes.
The new server is Vista based, whereas the previous two (one system for full backup) were XP based. On both previous systems I used Audigy 2 Platinum ZS soundcards/breakout boxes and have not been able to achieve bit-accurate output through the co-ax digital outputs, using DTS test signals. I have tried Foobar with ASIO4all, but to no avail.
With regards to previous posts on the Audigy series of sound cards, I have come to believe the bit-accurate setting is only valid for recording input digital signals, not for output.
I am curious whether any of the contributors to this sequence of posts have had much luck completely eliminating mechanical sounds from their servers

Elk
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Re: My audiophile music server system

Creative Labs cards often do some odd things - like resample everything at 48kHz regardless of the source, etc. Not all of their cards/drivers do the same things, but they often have quirks that frustrate those who are serious about audio and are not gamers. Thus, I suggest researching cards and finding what you need else where. Consider (just some ideas), RME, M-Audio, Echo, etc. that are more audio oriented.

I do not like the idea of a computer in my listening space so I would bring the music to the system via a wireless connection. However, this means there is no nice big monitor there as an interface.

There are companies that build exceedingly quiet computers for project studios and the like. No names come to mind, but there are quiet fans, drives, cases, etc. available. Also check your BIOS settings as there is often a quiet mode for drives that can be invoked. You lose a little performance but this will not matter for a music server.

BVillet
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Re: My audiophile music server system

Elk
Thanks for a very quick response. I have ordered an Echo Gina and will report on the findings once I have it installed on the Vista machine. My preference would be to use Windows Media Player 11 as it gives me composer data, but alternatively I can also use Foobar or Winamp (neither of which I could set up successfully to deliver bit accurate output via the audigy soundcards in XP and I cannot find a way to show composer data in Foobar).
My house is old lathe and plaster construction and wireless is spotty at best. I have considered the Benchmark and PS Dacs for their USB inputs, but have decided no as the Levinson 40 would then take the analog outputs and go through another cycle of ADA conversion. I have also considered USB options such as the Trend

Elk
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Re: My audiophile music server system

The Gina is a wonderful card.

Vista has been tough for some audio applications because of the scarcity of drivers. This is improving with time. Kmixer is gone however and my understanding is that Vista is better for audio overall. I just recevied a new machine a couple of hours ago and opted for XP professional however as I wanted to make certain that all my existing apps would work with it. Thus I am of no help when it comes to Vista.

Jitter can be a problem with USB and using USB on my last machine did not sound as good as S/PDIF. At the moment I am using USB to my Grace M902 as it is easy. I will install a yet-to-be-determined card in the near future on this new critter. I haven't played with the S/PDIF on the built in HD Audio yet. Give me another ten minutes.

I see your point with the construction - solid and wonderfully nice in many ways, but not wireless friendly.

BVillet
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Re: My audiophile music server system

Elk, it will be about two weeks before I can complete the server with the Gina. My reference sound is a Levinson 31 played directly via AES/EBU digital into a Levinson 40. When I first built the servers, I loved the convenience,but now I am trying for the same quality sound that I have from my reference and it appears I still have a long way to go. Perhaps it is the windows kernel...If the Gina does not get me bit accurate output or if there seems to be jitter issue, my last resort will be the Lynx AES16 which I think will overcome poterntial jitter issues. This seems to be quite a card but sure seems expensive (in PC terms, not high end terms). If I can get the sound I would like to have, my next challenge will be mechanical noise... so the journey seems hardly started

linden518
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Re: My audiophile music server system

Forgive me if this has been discussed already, but how legit is this cMP thing?

http://www.audioasylum.com/forums/pcaudio/messages/2/27041.html

Elk
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Re: My audiophile music server system

Looks fun!

You may also be interested in the new PS Audio Perfect Wave Transport. Here is some info: January Newsletter (
page down a bit)

scottgardner
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Re: My audiophile music server system

Hi all just found this forum and thought I'd throw my .02 into the mix.

My current MEDIA server:

Vista ultimate x64
Gigabyte mobo with AMD 5000+ (passive cooling)
Gigabyte nVidia GeForce 8600 GTS (passive cooling)
Dual WD 500gig hd (the real noise makers)
ASUS Xonar D2 sound card.

I have used Echo products (darla, layla24) in the past and have been pleased with their quality. I wanted to try the Asus this time around. This card uses Burr-Brown 24/192 DACs and does DTS/AC3 realttime encoding to spdif and claims bit to be bit accurate (not all at the same time of course). So far my (limited) listening tests have been promising. It is difficult to comment further because so many aspects of my system are changing at once. I am basicly replacing everything.

Worth reading for Vista and sound issues:
http://techreport.com/articles.x/13874/1

It should be possible to build a silent server. Next for me is a fanless power supply and moving the big drives to a NAS accessed via Gigabit. Some wireless cards cause all kinds of problems and none can handle blu-ray.

Elk
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Re: My audiophile music server system

A suggestion for a quite server; underclocking.

Buy a motherboard that allows changes in the BIOS to the FSB, CPU multiplier, etc. and underclock. The computer will be "slower" in terms of absolute power but it is seriously overbuilt for handling audio and video datastreams. Underclocking the CPU, memory and graphics card will make for a very cool running machine.

BVillet
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Re: My audiophile music server system

In a previous post I have indicated I will list my experience with efforts to obtain bit accurate sound output from Windows based servers. I used three Windows-based PCs, one sound card and one USB DAC transporter over the weekend. There were a few surprises.
First the servers:
All three have more than 2 terrabytes of audio, nearly all recorded in WMA lossless. All three have the following media players:
1. Windows Media Player
2. Foobar2000
3. Media Monkey
HTPC1 is a custom built machine running Windows Media Center 2004 edition and Windows Media Player 10 as WMP 11 is not compatible with Media Center 2004
HTPC2, also custom built, has Windows Media Center 2005, WMP 11.
HTPC3 has Windows Vista professional and is a Dell Laptop with external drives.
All three machines are fully updated as updates become available from Microsoft.
The two sound cards I tried were:
1. A Trends USB DAC Tranporter which basically receives audio via USB1 and provides outputs of SPDIF coax, SPDIF on BNC, AES/BEU and Toslink. This device is available for circa $150 and the drivers loaded on all three HTPCs easily by simply plugging it into an available USB slot.
2. A Gina Echo 3 Soundcard installed only on HTPC 2. This can be purchased for about $270
Tests for bit accurate output were by feeding the digital output of the USB DAC and the Gina to a Levinson 40 Media Console. I checked both a recorded multi-channel DTS encoded wave signal and an HDCD CD ripped to hard drive as WMA lossless. If the 10 minutes of DTS played accurately and the HDCD was detected and decoded, I assumed the output was bit accurate.
Here are the findings:
The USB DAC provided bit accurate output from all three machines, using WMP10, WMP 11, Foobar2000 and Media Monkey, with the outputs for Foobar and Media Monkey set to direct sound. Contrary to the claims made by Benchmark in their manufacturer's response to Stereophile, Windows Media Player does pass the HDCD flag to the processor via USB output, so there may be a problem in the Benchmark USB on this issue. I did have one significant problem with the USB DAC. On one of the machines (HTPC2) the primary hard drive has been set by Windows in PIO mode rather than DMA mode. This resulted in sound dropouts. When I finally understood what the problem was, I uninstalled the relevant IDE driver from Device Manager, rebooted the machine and the problem was solved. I can now use this inexpensive USB tranporter with any of the three HTPC's and have what appears to be bit accurate sound. I believe the transporter is limited to 44.1 or 48 at 16 bits, so 88.2/96 24 bit would not play.
The Echo Gina and its drivers were only installed in HTPC 2. Once it was correctly set up, I could get bit accurate from both Foobar and Media Monkey using kernel streaming. The fact that the primary hard drive was in PIO mode was not an issue one way or the other. With the GINA, I can play higher resolution (24 bit) files from Media Monkey and Foobar. So far, I cannot play DTS music files from Windows Media Player via this card, nor is the HDCD flag detected if I use WMP. But Foobar and Media Monkey give me the DTS enoded output and the HDCD flag.
I have not yet had the time to compare the audio to my reference CD transport, a Levinson 31. But I do know that both the USB DAC and the Gina are providing substantially better sounding output signals than my previous Audigy Platinum 2ZS cards and that at a quick listen sound quality is at least in the same league as the 31

Elk
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Re: My audiophile music server system

Great info!

Thanks!

andy_c
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Re: My audiophile music server system


Quote:
A suggestion for a quite server; underclocking.

Buy a motherboard that allows changes in the BIOS to the FSB, CPU multiplier, etc. and underclock. The computer will be "slower" in terms of absolute power but it is seriously overbuilt for handling audio and video datastreams. Underclocking the CPU, memory and graphics card will make for a very cool running machine.

AMD has a very neat feature called "Cool 'n' Quiet" that does this dynamically. When it senses a low processor load, it dynamically underclocks and also reduces the CPU supply voltage. When the CPU usage increases again, it ups the clock speed and CPU voltage back to normal. Some motherboards have better support for this than others. I have had good luck with ASUS motherboards and Cool 'n' Quiet. They supply an app that shows the dynamic adjustment of CPU clock speed and voltage so you can verify that the BIOS settings, drivers and power management are configured correctly for Cool 'n' Quiet.

AMD also have some low power CPUs that are nice. You can go here and look up the X2 dual core CPUs. By choosing the X2 dual core option and the 65 nm process in the selection boxes, you can find the part numbers for CPUs with 45W dissipation. Click "view detail" to find the boxed CPU part number. The online suppliers provide this information so you can be sure of getting the low-power version. This is handy for ordering parts if you're building your own system.

Many ASUS motherboards also have very good fan control features. They use PWM to dynamically adjust the fan voltages in a continuous manner based on sensed CPU temperature and and sometimes other sensed temperatures. On my server, I use a fanless Scythe Ninja CPU heat sink that looks somewhat like the cylinder of a 50cc motorcycle engine. I use the variable CPU fan control feature of the motherboard to instead control the fan speed of the case fan that's near the CPU. This makes for a very quiet system.

Elk
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Re: My audiophile music server system

Good point. Intel MoBos have the equivalent feature, "speedstep".

scottgardner
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Re: My audiophile music server system


Quote:

I checked both a recorded multi-channel DTS encoded wave signal and an HDCD CD ripped to hard drive as WMA lossless. If the 10 minutes of DTS played accurately and the HDCD was detected and decoded, I assumed the output was bit accurate.

Another way to check bit accuracy would be to create a loopback through the Gina and 31, record the playback to disk then do a file compare. This is a crude approach and requires precise alignment of start and stop times. You would need something like Soundforge to do it.


Quote:

I have not yet had the time to compare the audio to my reference CD transport, a Levinson 31. But I do know that both the USB DAC and the Gina are providing substantially better sounding output signals

This may be considered sacreligious around here but I'm curious if you had a chance to drive your amps directly from Gina's output channels (they are balanced). And if so what did you think of the sound?

scottgardner
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Re: My audiophile music server system


Quote:
AMD has a very neat feature called "Cool 'n' Quiet"

...

Many ASUS motherboards also have very good fan control features. They use PWM to dynamically adjust the fan voltages in a continuous manner based on sensed CPU temperature and and sometimes other sensed temperatures.

The net result of "Cool 'n' quiet" is to adjust fan speeds. You can also adjust power settings (in Windows) to put parts of the system to sleep (hard drives and monitors) or low-power-mode (network cards, memory). In my experience fans are the biggest noise makers followed closely by hard drives. I'm ignoring floppies and CD/DVD's because they are just too loud to use. The easiest way to quiet fans is to use bigger ones. Bigger fans rotate slower for a given CFM so they tend to be quieter than smaller fans that are spinning like crazy. Even with quite fans you

andy_c
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Re: My audiophile music server system


Quote:
The net result of "Cool 'n' quiet" is to adjust fan speeds. You can also adjust power settings (in Windows) to put parts of the system to sleep (hard drives and monitors) or low-power-mode (network cards, memory).

It does more than simply adjust fan speeds. Although I've tried several motherboards that claim to support CnQ, yet it did not work on these boards. The net effect on my system is this:

Light load:
CPU freq = 1000 MHz
CPU voltage = 1.12 Volts

Heavy load:
CPU freq = 2400 MHz
CPU voltage = 1.4 Volts

The ASUS CnQ applet is very handy for displaying this info.

In order to make CnQ work, three things are necessary:
1) Enable CnQ in the motherboard BIOS
2) Install the AMD CnQ drivers
3) In Control Panel, Power Options, choose Power Scheme = "Minimal Power Management".

But yes, I'd say my server is still not quiet enough to put in the same room as the audio system. For that I'd recommend a completely fanless machine that boots from flash, with the music on a network hard drive in another room.

Still, this machine doubles as my work machine, and it's quite pleasant to have it nice and quiet, even though it's not in the listening room. When I visit friends and family, I'm always amazed at how noisy their computers are.

BVillet
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Re: My audiophile music server system

This is a response to the questions posed by ScottGardner. My understanding is that if a soundcard is capable of outputting an SPDIF signal containing DTS multi channel music (not a movie soundclip), then it is bit accurate. I can do a test along the lines you suggested perhaps a bit more simply as I have a non-pc CD recorder and I can check a recorded DTS encoded CD vs a test signal.
I cannot really do the Gina to power amp test with my current setup as the balanced outputs of the Gina are TRS 1/4 inch plugs and I do not have high quality interconnects that will allow me to do the trial. But I will see what I can come up with.
Please note that I have not yet stated that the bit accurate soundcards have better sound than the Levinson 31 played through my Levinson 40. What I have said is that the bit accurate soundcards are in the same league and that they are very noticeably and substantially better that the Audigy Platinum 2 ZS cards I had previously. There is a big difference in soundstage and in the "jump" factor of the music. The better soundcards simply open up the music.
I will try and do more carefully constructed comparative listening tests this coming weekend.

scottgardner
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Re: My audiophile music server system


Quote:
My understanding is that if a soundcard is capable of outputting an SPDIF signal containing DTS multi channel music (not a movie soundclip), then it is bit accurate.


It is possible, however, that an upstream DTS decoder could be modifying the stream and presenting this modified stream to S/PDIF.

Good discussion here:
http://forums.gbpvr.com/showthread.php?p=270851


Quote:
I cannot really do the Gina to power amp test with my current setup as the balanced outputs of the Gina are TRS 1/4 inch plugs and I do not have high quality interconnects that will allow me to do the trial.

I am really going to get in trouble now but here goes. Since the Gina outputs support both balanced and unbalanced output through the same TRS jack it is possible to use a simple mono phono to

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Re: My audiophile music server system


Quote:
It does more than simply adjust fan speeds.


You're right of course, especially if you

nyc_paramedic
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Re: My audiophile music server system

I just came across this very interesting thread and wanted to share my recent experience in setting up an inexpensive audiophile grade USB music server for my dedicated listening room. This response will be a little bit different from the rest because this solution is %100 Linux based.

I would like to preface this post by saying that I have been using Linux as my main operating system at home for the last ten years. My household has been Windows free for the last seven of those ten years. My occupation has nothing at all to do with computers. My desire to use Linux was borne out of extreme frustration with Microsoft and proprietary software products. I taught myself mostly by asking questions on a few mailing lists and using Google efficiently. I settled on Debian Linux for all of my computing needs because of it's wonderful package manager, Dselect and APT, and it's non-commercial and volunteer nature.

I originally started to experiment with USB audio as a way to have music playing continuously while I cooked in the kitchen without having to keep changing CD's on my trusty Theta Data Basic transport. It would also be nice to have a few internet radio stations playing on the main system.

Originally, I purchased a HagUSB ( http://www.hagtech.com/hagusb.html ) USB to S/PDIF converter. The price ($129?) was right, and there was no need for any special Linux drivers; the USB ALSA sound module loads up fine when it's plugged into any PC. A Thinkpad X40 sub-notebook was to be the digital source feeding the HagUSB FLAC's and MP3's when I wasn't doing any serious listening.

I didn't have any preconceived notions that the USB converter (when hooked up to my Adcom GDA-700 DAC) would sound any better than the Theta transport. It wasn't until one night that I had sat down in the sweet spot with the Thinkpad in my lap, and cued up some Jolie Holland FLAC's that I was amazed that the HagUSB sounded better than my Theta Basic! I later realized, after some preliminary research, that ALSA in Linux easily lets you specify a hardware address for the audio device thus allowing for bit perfect (bypassing any software mixers) output, which is what I was listening to initially with XMMS media player. The HagUSB has since been replaced by a Trends UD-10 for it's AES/EBU digital out.

My rough blueprint for the system I wanted to build was this article: http://www.linuxdevices.com/articles/AT6488801276.html

The article is a bit dated, the mini-itx hardware expensive, and it wasn't the least audiophile grade. But what was truly exciting was the software: MPD ( www.musicpd.org ), aka Music Player Daemon. This is a music player based on the server-client model and is very flexible; in addition to having more than a dozen clients available depending on the user's needs. One can run the MPD server on one machine and control it from across the room (or the globe) via the client. You could also have both running on the same machine if you wish. Support is planned for 24bit 96khz audio.

So, I originally had MPD up and running on a Dell GX110 (P3 733Mhz ,128MB RAM) computer I had found in the trash. With a minimal Debian install --and a very beefy Western Digital 750BG hard disk-- the PC sat in the corner of my listening room serving up FLAC via USB to the HagUSB. The Dell was connected to my LAN via CAT 5 that I had already run to the living room from the network switch in the bedroom. I would rip CD's on the desktop in the bedroom and FTP them to the Dell's hard disk. MPD was controlled via the Thinkpad and the GMPC mpd client ( http://sarine.nl/gmpc ) wirelessly. The system sounded great, but let a few things to be desired...

I needed to replace the Dell for several reasons:
It was a very ugly beige. It drew almost 49 watts from the outlet, according to my Kill-A-Watt meter, and electricity is very expensive in NYC these days. Most importantly, with two fans it was loud. The machine had a very audible high pitched whine that I could easily hear when listening to classical music. I wanted something silent, small, very energy inefficient, and relatively inexpensive. Something like a Linux compatible single board computer... I also wanted a handheld solution for controlling MPD. I usually listen to music at night with the lights turned down low. Even with its 12" screen at the lowest, the Thinkpad's display was way too bright and really spoiled the mood.

Several years ago I started using a custom hardware firewall after having issues with Netgear's firmware on their consumer router/firewalls. I have been happily using a PC Engines WRAP SBC (single board computer) that is running Monowall firewall software for the last couple of years, and was happily surprised to see that their new ALIX offerings based on AMD's Geode low power CPUs were sporting USB ports.

The Alix SBC ( http://www.pcengines.ch/alix3c2.htm ) has a 500 MHz AMD Geode LX800, 2 mini-PCI, 1 serial, 1 ethernet, 256MB RAM, and two USB ports. The whole unit, in it's case, is approx. 8x5x2 and runs on a small 12 volt, 12 watt adapter. The board was $125 USD from Netgate.

After a little bit of research I found out that there is a distribution called Voyage Linux ( http://linux.voyage.hk/ ). Basically a stripped down version of Debian for low power embedded machines that keeps Debian's apt package manager for super easy software package installation. After a quick note to the developers they were more than happy to send me a kernel compiled with sound, USB, and ALSA modules --their included kernels compiled with firewall and wireless networking in mind. The lead developer was intrigued that I was using Voyage as a music server and promised to included these modules in future releases.

In one afternoon I set up Voyage Linux on a 512MB partition of a spare compact flash card, installed the kernel and ALSA debs, apt-getted the MPD and ALSA packages, set up my bedroom desktop with the 750BG hard disk to export my music files via NFS, tweaked a few configuration files, and I was up and running. (NFS, aka Network Files System, makes remote disks appear as if they were local; no need to use SCP, SSH, or FTP to copy files; your favorite GUI file manager will work just fine.) The bedroom computer is usually on, so that will be my de facto server. I guess one could also use one of the new Atom based Intel boards as a low power NFS server kept in another room or closet.

MPD works beautifully with no clicks, skips, or pauses. Files are buffered 100% to RAM before play. I control it over WiFi with a Thinkpad on the couch via GMPC. Top (displays processes and CPU load info) shows no more than 8% load. The ALIX unit draws no more than 3 watts from the outlet. Even though it fetches FLAC files via NFS, changing songs is instantaneous. The ALIX has been on continuously for 3 weeks with nary an issue. There is also a neat module caller "heartbeat-trigger" that makes one of the ALIX's LED's blink like a heartbeat to keep you informed of the machine's CPU load.

This past weekend I was able to pickup a mint condition Nokia N800 tablet from Criagslist for $150 USD. I'm running an applet specifically written for the Nokia N800: MMPC, ( http://mmpc.garage.maemo.org/ ). I can control MPD with my fingers on the touchscreen; no need for a stylus. It's still in very early development but has been working fine with only some minor features missing. Also, there is one chap writing -- with the newly released Ipod SDK-- a native MPD client for the Ipod Touch: http://www.katoemba.net/makesnosenseatall/index.php/mpod/ No doubt something to keep your eye on. Mmmmm, sexy iPod touch as a remote!

I also installed one more indispensable piece of software on the Nokia tablet: Advanced Backlight v0.8 (http://maemo.org/downloads/product/OS2008/advanced-backlight/ ) It gives me very fine gradual control over the back light and lets me dim the back light much dimmer than the stock software does. Now, with the tablet at my side on the couch dimmed appropriately, it no longer distracts me from the music at hand. It's also great for quick emails or simple web browsing (looking up artists, music, etc.) at the sweet spot.

So, that's about it. The system sounds wonderful, has been stable so far, is infinitely configurable and customizable, and is not suspect to corporate obsolescence or vendor lock in.

I would be happy to try answer any questions.

Sincerely,

Nick

My costs in US dollars:

ALIX 3c2: $125
ALIX aluminum enclosure: $15
ALIX USB faceplate: $1.55
12v DC adapter: $10.95
Nokia N800: $150
Trends Audio UD-10 USB to S/PDIF converter: $140

Bruce-in-Philly
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Update - Some Changes

Thought I would post an update and see who is still reading this thread.

I ditched the Maxtor network storage disks I had because I did not have them backed up and, well, I found another alternative that looked, and is great. I put in a Netgear Ready NAS NV+ storage unit. This single box attaches to my gigabit router via gigabit Ethernet and I installed 4-750 GB drives into it. These drives are RAIDed which means that redundant data is stored across the drives and if any of the 4 fail, the unit continues to function and I do not loose any data. I simply pop in a new drive, the unit does some syncing, and I am back in business. No need for backup with RAID. To my network computers/music players, the unit looks like one drive but due to the redundant data, I have just over 2 terabytes of space.

The literature denotes that this unit with the RAID option will stream four different, simultaneous HD video feeds without juddering. I don't do video, just music and all I know is the thing just works.

By the way, I have had 2 out of 5 Maxtor drive fail, with one covered by warranty. This is a lousy percentage and I will never buy their products again.

I also put in a D-Link DIR655 high-performance router with gigabit ports. Now my PC players are only 10 MB so I really can't take advantage of it, but the infrastructure is there for growth. I chose this router because of its sophisticated Quality of Service (QOS) feature and its high-performance design. With QOS, I can set traffic priorities - it is really cool. So FTP downloads don't impact any performance and my main PC gets full blast when I am playing my GTR2 game on the 'net all while playing music. The Linksys routers have QOS but it is simply terrible, given my experience, and their routers have generally slower throughput. Having said all of this, a Linksys router works fine with small networks for music and surfing although the wireless on them can be a bit flaky and result in some juddering of music.

Other than that, my systems are fine and I love it. Just love it. The sound is near-flawless and I am totally satisfied. I have not changed the two PCs or Accuphase DACs configurations - read about them in the first post. I am still not sure I am getting true bit-for-bit pass through, but the sound is so fantastic, I don't sweat it anymore (how about that from a neurotic audiophile!).

This system is now rock solid in all respects including sound.

Oh, and I have not moved to Vista yet for a whole host of reasons. First, I have no compelling reason to do it (what do I really get for my money beyond some eye candy) and XP is fairly bullet proof now. Second, my friends are having some issues with it even with the latest service pack. Please let's not turn this thread into an operating system religious war, but I did want people to know they don't need to change to Vista to make this thing work. And with folks upgrading to Vista and buying newer PCs, I'll bet you can ask around and get an old XP laptop from a friend for free as you don't need computing power to run this setup.

struts
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Re: Update - Some Changes


Quote:
No need for backup with RAID.

Bruce,

Good to hear from you, glad to hear your system is still giving you pleasure. I just wanted to insert a cautionary word about your above statement.

IT IS NOT TRUE and I would urge anyone to think hard before deciding to run a RAID array without back-ups.

RAID 5 (aka striped drives with distributed parity) is a very clever way of making sure that the array can tolerate the failure of any one of its constituent drives without losing data. Since drives are a) the main scalable cost component and b) the component with the lowest MTTF, providing cost-efficient (<n*2) redundancy is obviously a great idea. However the drives are not the only component in the system.

The RAID controller, for instance, is still a single point of failure, both from a hardware and a software perspective, and a RAID controller failure can in the worst case corrupt your data. I nearly had a heart attack back in February when we got back from a week's skiing and I turned on the NAS only to be greeted by a 'RAID Error'. The drive just would not start up properly and since the firmware is in the drive I couldn't update it either. Partly because I am a trained engineer and composed methodical problem solver and partly because I had no alternative I powered everything down, unplugged it from the mains and went and sacrificed a chicken. When I tried again a half hour later everything worked. P H E W !

I also recall that one of the message boards (head-fi.org?) was knocked out for a week-or-so a while ago because of a RAID controller failure which had corrupted the data on all the drives in the set. They did have a back-up but had to do a very protracted roll-forward recovery to get back to a reasonably current state.

Also, bear in mind that a NAS is one of the things a burglar would probably take if you had a break-in. Something to reflect on for all of you with irreplacable personal digital photo or video collections stored on un-backed-up RAID arrays.

Sorry to be a doom-monger, but please, audiophile siblings, give this one some thought.

jazzfan
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Re: Update - Some Changes

Hi Bruce,

Thanks for the update and yes, there are some people still reading and still very much interested in this thread.

Jim Tavegia
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Re: Update - Some Changes

What becomes crystal clear is how little I know about computers after following this thread. NY Paramedic makes me wish for anyway to get out of windows, but for most like me who are so "challenged" we are stuck. Now we will be forced to go to Vista, except that my next computer will be a MAC and my wife will go first.

Her HP, when shutting down, the computer screen "waterfalls" so slowly can the end be near? Nothing we have tried to this point helps and I am sure Vista will be worse.

I applaud those of you way up the curve here. With hours of countless uploading 100s of gigs of music files, crashing should not be something you have to worry about.

Great thread.

CJ1045
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Re: Update - Some Changes

I too thought I should add my experiences to the fray. It certainly seems that there are lot of people learning by themselves and this thread has helped turn that around by helping the beginner learn more quickly.

My own thinking evolved from simply trying to improve my home cinema set-up (get ready for Bluray) into realising that I could replace a lot of hi-fi with a PC based system.

I have already been running a joint home theater/hi-fi audio system very successfully and was determined not to compromise that.

Initially I had a PC running Vista Home Premium and it's Media Center component in particular acting as a PVR for TV (brilliant system with a lovely interface) and a DVD player outputting a digital audio signal via SPDIF to a Yamaha DSP A1 receiver. The front left/right of the receiver are fed into a Linn Kairn aux input (that can be set to pass through) and then onto a Meridian 557 (rather than using the Yamaha's power amps) and onto Linn Iosbarik DMSs. The center is driven directly by the Yamaha (Linn 5120) as are the rears (a pair of Linn 5110). This set-up neatly allowing me to feed the Kairn with my Linn Karik/Numerik by simply selecting CD input on the Kairn and solely driving the Isobariks.

Now the aging PC has been replaced by one with a AMD 780G motherboard at its heart (super low power and silent with an AMD 4850e processor - low power and silent too). The motherboard has built in HDMI 1.3 and with the addition of a Bluray DVDROM (

whacker
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Re: Update - Some Changes

First of all: hi! My first post as you can see .

A little background:
In the old days, I *thought* I was serious about audio. You know, I had the SB Audigy Platinum and a TEAC 5.1 system. It was connected magically with optical. It surely doesn't get better than that?

Soon, I learned that it does.

The recent comparison of car audio systems and the final choice (Dynaudio system of the VW Passat - couldn't go aftermarket as it's a lease) have made me curious again.
I'm not exactly sure where I'm going with "my rig" (if you can call it that if it doesn't exist yet). I'm hoping for:
Fanless barebone PC (size of standalone DVD/CD player to make it fit in our TV area) controlled by a remote or touchscreen device. Connected to the network so I can mount my NFS drives from my server, containing my music collection stored in FLAC. I would need a nice, intuitive GUI (thinking back at my Freevo experiments now).

Sadly, I haven't found any decent stores in Belgium, let alone stores where you can try before you buy to select an amp and speakers. This, and my newbie-status, have stopped me from going hi-fi. I'm afraid I will end up buying something and regret it a year from now when I know more about the subject.
For now, I'm on a tiny budget and I was seriously considering buying M71's 2 days ago (they only went for 22 GBP!) but in the end I haven't gone through as the misses wouldn't like it and we're considering a move. Extra stuff that has to be handled with care is always a burden.
That's why, at the moment, I was thinking of a Maya44 card with AudioEngine A5's (will probably become A2's if we don't move out of our cramped appartment soon). In the end I would want bit-by-bit passthrough and do everything (DAC + amp) outside of the computer (and other sources) so a more expensive audio card seemed like a waste.

Then CJ1045 posted his findings and I found out that only the Xonar is sold by my supplier (it would cost me less than a Maya44 or an M-audio 192 on E-Bay).
Now I'm looking into barebones that have the required form factor and will hold the Xonar.

I finally understand why (some of) you guys have several systems. Choices are hard!

PS: Thanks for everything I'm learning here.

jazzfan
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Re: Update - Some Changes

Whacker,

You sound like the perfect candidate for a Squeezebox. Basically it's a networked music player with a remote which can also stream directly from the internet via one's network without the local computer running. The server software runs on a variety of OSs and may even be able to run right from your existing server. I realize that the Squeezebox is a music only device (although it can read certain content from the internet, (RSS feeds and weather data, for example) whereas the computer would able to supply internet and video as well but, as you say, if one is on a budget than the cost a Squeezebox is less than than that of even the most bare bones PC, without a monitor.

SqueezeBox

Disclaimer: I'm a Squeezebox owner but I don't work for them. I just happen to think that Squeezebox and several of the other networked music players allow one to experience high quality, hard drive based, digital audio, e.g. flac files, right from one's favorite listening chair without having to worry about sound cards and ASIO settings.

whacker
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Re: Update - Some Changes

Indeed, very interesting!
I will get the EXACT same signal on the Squeezebox optical out than the one I would have on my server soundcard (provided I disable the sampling). And no noise, which is exactly what I wanted.
I'm just checking the capabilities a bit further and will then order my Squeezebox Duet

jazzfan
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Re: Update - Some Changes

I'm glad to be of help. The Squeezebox Receiver is nice since it's fairly small and has no display so you can place it almost anywhere. The Duet's Controller is pretty nice too but I prefer using the IR remote that comes with the regular Squeezebox. I find that it's faster and easier to navigate through my fairly large music library, especially after adding the Lazy Search plug-in. Of course one than needs to be able to read the Squeezebox's display in order to use the normal remote so there is a trade off between the two devices. By the way, the Lazy Search plug-in does nothing if you're just using the Controller, as would be the case if you get a Duet.

Also be sure to explore the Slim Devices forum, both before and after you've gotten the Duet, it's filled with useful information about all things Squeezebox related, such as: SqueezeCenter (the server software needed to run the Squeezebox), the devices themselves, SqueezeNetwork, ripping, tagging, networks, servers, plug-ins, etc. On the Slim Devices forum, my user name is ralphpnj.

nyc_paramedic
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Re: Update - Some Changes


Quote:
What becomes crystal clear is how little I know about computers after following this thread. NY Paramedic makes me wish for anyway to get out of windows, but for most like me who are so "challenged" we are stuck. Now we will be forced to go to Vista, except that my next computer will be a MAC and my wife will go first.

I hear ya...

I've got some ideas on making this Linux music server more accessible to the Windows/MAC crowd. The Voyage Linux distribution that I'm using on the this ALIX computer has with something called the Voyage Linux Framework. That is, Voyage Linux will have tools for rolling you own task oriented operating system.

After talking with the lead developers of Voyage Linux, who state this is very doable, I envision making something like this available:

1> A complete OS with MPD, audio modules, and light weight web server all in one file.

2> User downloads file image in Linux, Mac, or Windows and copies it to an empty compact flash with a simple command.

3> Plug Compact Flash into ALIX board and power up.

4> Log into web-interface and configure MPD and music file locations using point and click interface.

5> Play music.

This would be akin to setting up one of those Netgear or Linksys routers using a web interface, thus shielding the user from editing any text files whatsoever.

I don't know if there would be enough interest in this project to invest the time of researching and coding the web interface, but I'm shopping the idea around. And I would have to get things done in my spare time.

Either that, or I could set up a Wiki page detailing precise instructions on getting Voyage and MPD up and running on ALIX (or any other generic x86 machine) as simply as possible.

The added benefit would be that one would not have to deal with any ASIO issues. But honestly, I can't say if Linux ALSA sounds better that what Windows can do, and I only say this because I don't run Windows whatsoever. Others have claimed that using Linux ALSA USB is superior to anything Windows offers.

Comments and questions appreciated.

jazzfan
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Re: Update - Some Changes


Quote:

Quote:
What becomes crystal clear is how little I know about computers after following this thread. NY Paramedic makes me wish for anyway to get out of windows, but for most like me who are so "challenged" we are stuck. Now we will be forced to go to Vista, except that my next computer will be a MAC and my wife will go first.

I hear ya...

I've got some ideas on making this Linux music server more accessible to the Windows/MAC crowd. The Voyage Linux distribution that I'm using on the this ALIX computer has with something called the Voyage Linux Framework. That is, Voyage Linux will have tools for rolling you own task oriented operating system.

After talking with the lead developers of Voyage Linux, who state this is very doable, I envision making something like this available:

1> A complete OS with MPD, audio modules, and light weight web server all in one file.

2> User downloads file image in Linux, Mac, or Windows and copies it to an empty compact flash with a simple command.

3> Plug Compact Flash into ALIX board and power up.

4> Log into web-interface and configure MPD and music file locations using point and click interface.

5> Play music.

This would be akin to setting up one of those Netgear or Linksys routers using a web interface, thus shielding the user from editing any text files whatsoever.

I don't know if there would be enough interest in this project to invest the time of researching and coding the web interface, but I'm shopping the idea around. And I would have to get things done in my spare time.

Either that, or I could set up a Wiki page detailing precise instructions on getting Voyage and MPD up and running on ALIX (or any other generic x86 machine) as simply as possible.

The added benefit would be that one would not have to deal with any ASIO issues. But honestly, I can't say if Linux ALSA sounds better that what Windows can do, and I only say this because I don't run Windows whatsoever. Others have claimed that using Linux ALSA USB is superior to anything Windows offers.

Comments and questions appreciated.

Sounds like a very interesting project. Good luck with it.

whacker
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Re: Update - Some Changes

I have changed ideas yet again.

The current setup will be:
Thecus N5200PRO or comparable with 3 1TB Western Digital Raid Edition Greenpower disks in RAID 5 + Squeezebox Duet + AudioEngine A5 & S8.

Pro:
-real audiophile equipment can be added when the cashflow allows it (DAC, amp, speakers)
-storage is centralised.
-as the NAS runs on linux, a squeezecenter module can be loaded. This means that you need no PC what so ever. Music can be streamed directly from the NAS (which of course resides in an other room).
-The NAS can also be used for torrents and other downloads. (again without need of leaving the PC on)
-The NAS will use a lot less power than a server, saving some bucks in the long run.

Con:
Total cost estimated around 1600 (without VAT). I could go cheaper on the NAS.

scottgardner
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Extream HTPC

The system is a PC with an RME multiface II, Sunfire and B&K amps Mirage sub and (modified)Martin Logan Airus I speakers
and even uses the PC to implement a linear Phase Xover.

Here is a link to more pictures and a complete description:

http://67.19.167.226/~tdacquis/forum/showthread.php?t=7342

scottgardner
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Re: Extream HTPC

Here is a complete thread on how to do PCXO:

http://www.diyaudio.com/forums/showthrea...mp;pagenumber=1

Editor
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Re: Extream HTPC


Quote:
Here is a complete thread on how to do PCXO:

http://www.diyaudio.com/forums/showthrea...mp;pagenumber=1

An excellent resource. Thanks for posting.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

wgb113
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Re: Extream HTPC

I'm thinking of taking this route:

AIFF files ripped from my CD's onto a 1TB external drive connected to my iMac via FireWire 800, managed by iTunes. I'll then connect an AppleTV to my main system via our network (hard wired) and feed it's optical output to a Benchmark DAC1 whose analog out will feed my pre/pro. By using an iPod Touch with the remote app I won't have to have my TV on in order to browse my library as I can get coverflow right on the iPod.

The reason for having the AppleTV in the middle, as opposed to running an audio cable to my pre/pro from my iMac is that my main system serves both music and movie duty. The AppleTV will be used in conjunction with an EyeTV HDHomeRun to stream recorded content to that same system.

It makes for a convienent AND good sounding solution for listening to music.

Any comments/suggestions?

Bill

DavidL
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Re: Extream HTPC

Hi Bill

I've only just found this thread; very interesting and in places more informed and useful than the Computer Audiophile site. Did you ever get any reactions - or have I lost the thread somewhere?

I'm responding because I've been using almost exactly the system you describe for about 1 year. Differences are:
(1) I use an airport extreme connected by ethernet to a Mac Pro running iTunes to stream music to an AppleTV wirelessly by 802.11n
(2) I use a Bel Canto DAC3 (with VBS power supply) connected to the optical output from the ATV.
(3) I use the DAC3 as a preamp connecting its variable output to my power amp.
I use an iPod touch for control and use the ATV for video content from EyeTV etc.
I've found this system almost bullet proof, with practically no drop outs. Sound quality is excellent and almost as good as that from my PS Audio PWT transport. I found that moving the ATV about a metre away from the DAC (using a long VdH Opticoupler cable), and adding an RFI filter on the power supplies improved the sound noticeably.
Main drawback of this system is that you cannot play hi-res digital through it - Apple's Airtunes is limited to 16/44.1 PCM. Maybe one day Apple will deign to upgrade their iTunes / AppleTV hardware / software. Should be a no-brainer as the core audio already supports 24/192 PCM but I guess we audiophiles are too small a community to make it worthwhile for Apple to make even this small investment - they are too busy making large profits on the millions of iPhones they are selling.

Happy listening (forgive my rant),

David

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