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rrstesiak
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$250 Digital Music Server Equaling $1,800 - $3,000 Commercial Servers!

All:

For about $250, one can have a nearly silent, thin, rack mount server with USB output of the highest calibre. The secret is the Operating System. It will drive a modern USB DAC from 44.1-192/24, as well as stream AIRPLAY for iOS and Apple OS X running iTunes, and serve last.fm and Spotify streaming radio.

For $450 total cost, add a $200 USB/SPDIF BNC or COAX card if USB isn't your bag or if you have an older high end DAC. This is exactly what I did in my case.

So the secret: LINUX! High end hifi companies like Bryston use Linux in their media servers...and a program called mdp...so I did the same with off-the-shelf hardware and the savings are astronomical..for just a little effort. Here are the specifics:

I actually just finished converting my existing intel workstation into a music server as a proof-of-concept, and it sounds amazing so far! My only complaints are rack space, power, and noise. I too use liquid cooling, but my radiator has a fan on it and an i7 needs a lot of cooling!

When running my entire operating system and playing a 192/24 file, my CPU usage is 1%. So, spec'ing out a much more modest, quiet, and power efficient system certainly is possible.

Here is my current choice of components for a hifi music server from Newegg with prices:

$59.99 iStarUSA D Value D-214-MATX Black Steel 2U Rackmount Compact Server Case
$59.99 SeaSonic S12II 430B 430W ATX12V V2.3/EPS12V 80 PLUS BRONZE Certified Active PFC Power Supply
$21.99 Kingston 4GB 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 Desktop Memory SR x8 STD Height 30mm Model KVR13N9S8H/4
$69.99 ASRock Q1900M Intel Quad-Core Celeron Processor J1900 Micro ATX Motherboard/CPU/VGA Combo
$45.99 Kingston SSDNow V300 Series SV300S37A/60G 2.5" 60GB SATA III Internal Solid State Drive (SSD)

Total: $257.95

here is what the case looks like:
Image hosted by servimg.com

Bear in mind I've chosen good to very good components so this machine is *quality*.

I have successfully configured my prototype and it is driving my Bryston DAC at 44.1-192/24 via SPDIF(see next sentence). If you want to try further USB isolation, an M2TECH HiFACE TWO USB/SPDIF converter can be had for under $200. This is actually the way I ended up going because my older Bryston BDA-1 only supported up to 48/16 via USB, but 192/24 via SPDIF...however, ANY new DAC will support USB without the M2TECH interface..thus saving potentially that extra $200.

My total system cost, including the M2TECH USB/SPDIF converter comes to $450.
Without the SPDIF converter, again $250!!!!

It is easily on league with the Brsyton BDP-1 USB for 15% the cost.

Let me know if you have any questions.

Kind Regards,

Ron

ps. in addition to AIRPLAY, free clients for mdp FLAC servers are available on iOS for iPAD and iPHONE. They are good quality and automagically grab album art and track info.

pps. For the same $450 total cost, one could instead of the M2TECH USB/SPDIF converter, choose the $200 Juli@ XTe sound card offering more choices of SPDIF, balanced AES, and other outputs.

rrstesiak
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Update!

For $30, I am getting a blue on black background LCD 2 line display that will integrate with Linux and output currently playing artist on top line and song on second line. Just like the Bryston BDP series! The blue letters will match the rest of my equipment. Here it is for reference:
Image hosted by servimg.com

I already have the code working that grabs the artist and song playing and parses it into two lines... just waiting on the LCD kit which is driven by USB.

I plan on dremeling a rectangular hole into the front of the chassis and mounting the LCD panel there for easy viewing. Here is a picture of the Bryston BDP showing the LCD to give everyone an idea of what I am doing:
Image hosted by servimg.com

Best Regards,

Ron

rrstesiak
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UPDATE #2

Power Supply...

I have read that "linear" power supplies for high-end audio servers are the rage... and this can be accomplished by purchasing a slightly more expensive logic board or purchasing an adapter that allows DC.

So, for about an extra $75 - $400; depending on how far up the power supply food chain I want to explore, I can have a dead quiet power supply... I may change my build to allow for this.

I am also considering the possibility of marketing this product as so far I am achieving success. Granted, I spent my first career as a programmer..so I can do stuff like this very quickly and efficiently, and I have an Electrical Engineering degree.

So are any readers interested in continuing to follow this or is everyone off listening to records or what?

:)

Most Respectfully,

Ron

rrstesiak
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UPDATE #3

After comparing the sound quality to my NAD 516 acting as a transport using the same bryston dac, it turns out the CD player yields an easily perceivable larger soundstage.

So, in addition to a quieter linear power supply, I am also going to move to Debian realtime kernel Linux. This will reduce system latency into audiophile territory.

This challenge is actually fun for me and a great way to quality control my music server design .

A final trick up my sleeve if necessary will be to move to an audiophile quality USB adapter.

Best Regards,

Ron

rrstesiak
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Update #4

I've since switched to a real time Linux kernel, and now the sound very eerily matches the NAD 516!
I attribute this significant improvement to the reduced latency afforded by moving to a real time Linux kernel.

I would say a good milestone. It makes sense they now match as I am using the NAD purely as a transport and leveraging the Bryston DAC for both it and my music server.

Next steps: move to external, linear power supply. Possibly purchase SoTm USB card or high end USB to SPDIF external converter from the likes of Bel Canto, Audiophillea, and OFFRAMP 5...there seems to be a lot of choice and a new market segment in hifi with these adapters. Apparently even relatively high end DACS up to $3,000 can significantly benefit from a re-clocked and improved power USB interface. It is the consensus that in this price range of DACS, with SPDIF being a much more mature technology for audio, it is superior to USB. Such interfaces as digital coax, AES, and BNC being the best.

With those final steps, this digital server should outperform the CD transport and it will be interesting to hear how far I can push the performance with little money spent as possible. Even with a linear power supply and SoTm card, total cost should be under roughly $700. That's still way cheaper than the commercial audio servers out there and I believe to be superior to the CAPS servers: eventhough they have very good hardware design, their limitation is the choice of Windows for operating system. Linux is simply the way to go as high end manufacturers also favor it and for many other valid technical reasons.

Respectfully,

Ron

Ps. Further reading has revealed that in fact many DAC manufacturers utilize the circuitry in the m2tech hiface two usb/spdif converter inside their units...it uses the now ubiquitous xmos chip. I therefore conclude I've in essence upgraded my older Bryston to the rest of the newer higher end DACS.

jgossman
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I'd be interested

I'm using my Mac Mini right now with a Cambridge DacMagic 100 and I'm very happy overall.

I'd encourage using optical output as it is more immune to noise issues from the source power supply. I immediately preferred the optical out to USB using my Cambridge DAC.

I'm interested in what your implementation of the little LCD screen looks like.

rrstesiak
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BETTER than CD transport... reply & UPDATE

jgossman:

I'm glad to hear you are enjoying your mac mini! It is an excellent and compact music server and blends in well with other components. I agree about optical having less noise; however, bear in mind only a maximum of 96/24 file is supported. For those with a very large digital collection of CD qulaity (44.1), it shouldn't be an issue. I have a few classic albums downloaded in 192/24; however, so I have to go with USB via M2TECH HIFACE TWO or LINUX COAX SPDIF; which both support 192/24.

As for the LCD, I am still in the process of building my little Linux server, so it has not been installed in the case yet. I intend on using a Dremel tool to perform that step.

I am strongly thinking of going with this case:

Or it's bigger brother which is just wider to support up to two PCIe cards to the right of the motherboard vs. only one stacked on top with the smaller case. I may eventually get an SoTm USB PCIe audiophile card or something like a Juli@ PCIe or ASUS Essence STX PCIe for very high signal to noise ratio.

At any rate, back to the LCD...my intent is to mount it into the front of the case like the Bryston media server shown previously in this topic..which will display artist and song info. I think it adds a little bit of professionalism to the build as well as serves as a general monitor if the PC is working ok. It can also display system stats like CPU usage, network usage, etc.

Back to the server.. I am again deciding on a case, but for now my final system is up and running! I just received an AC Adapter powered ultra low voltage mini-atx motherboard which came with an Intel N3150 Braswell processor. (it only consumes 7 watts!!)

With the shift from my prototype standard but way overpowered Linux server with a 750 Watt conventional power supply and i7, this new server is completely quiet. I also have a single low voltage (1.35 volt) 8GB ram chip installed as well as an SSD for perfect silence.

Definitely the most compelling thing is I actually notice a significant difference in sound moving to this tiny and efficient and quiet motherboard. I notice quieter backgrounds and more Bass of all things. So much so I've bypassed my tone controls in my Creek Integrated Amplifier, resulting in even further improved clarity and stereo separation as well as a significant increase in soundstage width!? To be absolutely truthful and detailed, I also recently upgraded my Epos Epic 2 book shelf speakers by adding a Bowers & Wilkins subwoofer...enabling the tone control bypass as it supplies the needed Bass. At this point in my music server project, I can easily state the sonics have now surpassed the NAD CD transport. I'm honestly unsure what spending thousands on an audiophile CD transport would yield; as I have an excellent DAC and bit perfect audio.

I am rambling on... but hopefully most of this makes sense to yourself and other curious readers. Of note for the Linux folks, I am running Debian "Wheezy" in real time kernel mode. I am also using ALSA and mpd music server daemon. Combining the design of my new motherboard with the Linux OS and tuning, the results are "bit perfect" audio which can be confirmed with commandline built in utilities. Of critical importance to convey to readers is that the pro's...like Bryston, also use Linux and the exact same software..ALSA and mpd..that is where I got the idea to go this route.

Once I get the case and install the LCD, this little server will be mostly complete..save for the potential sound card or audiophile quality USB port.

I have been an Apple fan for the past decade...my previous setup was a Macbook Air 2014 with SSD running Audirvana. It was also very good...this highly customizeable Linux server approach is just taking things to the next level and is not for everyone. I hope to end up with a product that equals the Bryston music servers for pennies on the dollar.

Here is the logic board with RAM and CPU:

Image hosted by servimg.com

Also shown is the M2TECH HIFACE TWO SPDIF converter hanging off the back of the logic board.

Best Regards,

Ron

jgossman
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Power supply

First thing I'd do from experience is put a linear power supply on your dac if it doesn't have one built in. This is from personal experience. PWM supplies suck. They suck the dynamics from your music and add noise to the power supplies of your entire chain.

A linear supply for the computer would be completely feasible DIY if you are so inclined. Does your computer use a 12 or 5v rail? The only thing is if you need more than a 100w I'd use chokes in the ripple filters rather than resistors to keep the heat and electrical noise down. 100w draw/12v=8 amp current = big sometimes noisy resistors. Aside from that I think what you are doing is pretty neat. I'm genuinely interested after putting a linear supply on my DAC what it would do for the computer.

Sorry, EE's if my engineering isn't up to snuff. But please let us know where I'm wrong. I'd love to learn more.

rrstesiak
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Reply to jgossman

My DAC currently has two internal linear power supplies..so I'm good there.

As for the computer, it already has a 19volt DC connector instead of the traditional PC connector! So that should be a lot easier to work with. It also requires no more than 4 Amps. I am presently using a laptop type 60 watt external brick to power it.

As the linear power supplies I've looked all start around $300, I would be definitely seriously interested in how to tackle a DIY linear power supply with my modest requirements for the little computer.

As far as learning more, feel free to ask away! I think we can learn from each other.

Kind Regards,

Ron

jgossman
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So there you go

I just have the switch mode PS from Apple on the Mini. I have considered, now that I have experience building good PS's building one for the Mini and plugging the hard drive into a physically different outlet and moving off the same shelf as everything else.

For another day, of course.

rrstesiak
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Re jgossman

J:

I am very well educated in VLSI and digital, but hardly any analogue education or experience ... I'm in need of your advice on the following diy linear power supply:

http://www.amb.org/audio/sigma11/

It's what they call the sigma11. A low powered (I only need 8 watts at 19v and 2 amps).... But allegedly very clean and pure power signal. Also of note, it was released very recently..so it's not an outdated old design.

My only concern is it doesn't seem to have much in the way of smoothing capacitors. I think it's Max spec is 4,700 ufarad. Maybe that's totally ok for low power needed. I also only need the one rail. The two rail design is significantly more difficult and costly anyway.

Any opinion is welcomed and I'm in dire need of some validation before I start this project.

Most importantly, it should all cost well below $100, including a fancy aluminum case, which is a lot better than commercial offerings.

Respectfully,

Ronald R. Stesiak, PhD
National Science Foundation
Computational Neurosceince
Computational Finance

rrstesiak
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UPDATE: Case

All:

I've decided on the case and now have everything installed and running in my rack:

Image hosted by servimg.com

The vendor is Logic Supply, and it was $100.00. The main reason I purchased it over the other rack mount case is simply the aesthetic. It also has room for up to two ful-length PCIe cards should I need them in the future. I can think of possibly a SoTm Audiophile grade USB card or a sound card like the Juli@. For now, I am more than satisfied with the music. It has now been awhile since I've listened to a CD... I find my current player; as well as any CD player, now obsolete. I intend on keeping my CD player to use as a reference when getting new music.

Best Regards,

Ron

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Next Direction

All:

As previously mentioned, my next project for my Audiophile grade music server is to upgrade from the laptop switched power supply to a linear one.

I may go the DYI route which will save me hundreds. I can probably hand-assemble one based on existing and proven schematics again for pennies on the dollar as compared to Retail.

If any listeners are knowledgeable, any recommendations on schematics or even a commercial Retail unit that is $300 or under are all welcome.

In building this server, I have learned many many things in the audiophile world and have become a better listener as a result. It is becoming increasingly harder to detect differences now in any changes I make; with the linear power supply probably resulting in possibly my pinnacle of sound output from this device for very little investment. I am looking forward to listening to the differences and documenting and sharing them here and elsewhere.

Listen On!

Ron

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Ron, I want to say thanks for

Ron, I want to say thanks for the informative thread. I have no plans on ditching my 851N player and building my own however, I've enjoyed following you on your journey.

rrstesiak
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Reply mooster

Mooster:

Your product includes both a very high performing DAC combined with a music server anyway... You have no reason to upgrade from that already capable machine. Oddly enough, I think bierfeldt also has this exact DAC/streamer. Must be a great value and performer.

My design is aimed at audiophiles who only have a DAC and need a cost effective but still audiophile quality way of accessing their digital media files, and without dedicating an Apple laptop or PC.

Thank you for the support though!

Kind Regards,

Ron

rrstesiak
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UPDATE

All:

My next test is to see if I can discern a difference in first loading each song entirely into memory before playback; as opposed to streaming it from my NAS. I have read many articles of other audiophiles claiming the merits of this subtle tweak.

Best,

Ron

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Power Supply

Ron,

I just checked in to see how your project was going.

A linear supply is pretty simple.

In my case I had a 24 volt transformer with a CT. This worked perfectly because I was at the time building a universal 12v +/- (dual rail) power supply to experiment with different op amp preamps. Since then, a now 21 month old mini me and working 50-60 hours a week has preoccupied my time for listening. That said, I did wrap it up in a janky little DIY aluminum box, wire in a 120v/ 2 amp fuse (my unit never uses 2 amp, so mostly it's just in case I have a transformer failure.

Mine looks like this. Transformer > Discrete full bridge rectifier > 4700uf Pansonic bypassed with a 10pf Panasonic film > 12v regulator > 2700pf Panasonic > 10K (I think, going from memory) resistor making up a CR ripple filter. About the only thing you could really do that might make it better (besides adjusting the values for your specific situation) would be adding another ripple filter and possibly a coil, even if it't just your output wire wrapped around a ferrous core. Even that might be overkill, especially if you plug it into it's own outlet.

I will probably build the same circuit as it is on a nice new clean board minus the negative rail and with a surge protector ahead of the transformer so it can be safely plugged into it's own socket.

Good luck.

rrstesiak
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reply

jgossman:

Thank you for the detailed reply - I am pretty certain with my non-existent analogue circuit knowledge I am going to build the sigma11 linear power supply..it has the features you address plus a few more discrete components. I appreciate simple designs outperforming complex, but in my case I just lack the knowledge to either hand-build or tweak another design and will so press forward with a "paint by numbers" approach. :)

Respectfully,

Ron

modwright
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Collaboration

This is an old thread, but if you read this rrstesiak, hit me up at modwright@yahoo.com. Interested in talking to you about some things.

Thanks,

Dan Wright

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