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Audio PC - Optimized

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I have been very pleased with the results I have heard by using the AudiophileOptimizer! Actually, shocked would be a little more accurate description. I love the improvement I heard from my dedicated audio PC by moving from Microsoft XP to Windows Server 2012 and using the optimizer tool. I was working at the PC after running the optimizer when the sound that I was hearing turned my head quickly, “What was THAT?!” Another layer has been removed from between me and the music… much like I experienced the first time I installed panels and bass traps, Craig’s VRDs, Dean’s crossovers or Dave’s Eliptracs. There is a clarity and life that I haven’t heard from my system before. The breath of the singer, the shimmer of the cymbol, the individual notes… I can hear it all better than before.


Now, a little background:

I built a CAPS 2.0 audio PC described on the Computer Audiophile website almost 2 years ago. The really nice thing about the CAPS computer designs is that they are completely SILENT. There is not a fan or noise maker of any kind! I used Windows 7 Pro as my operating system at first (as was suggested by the Computer Audiophile site). I was not very happy because I found that I was plagued with latency issues that caused occasional pops and clicks while playing. I confirmed the latency issue using a couple of latency check programs such as DPC Latency Checker from Thesycon System software. I reformatted the hard drive and installed Windows XP which had much lower latency and sounded better especially after tweaking, stripping it down and removing unneeded services . It didn’t sound a LOT better than my standard PC but slightly. I was fine with it because it was a dedicated audio PC and was so quiet!


I didn’t really care much about the end of XP support for this audio PC… it wasn’t critical to have on the network but it would become a hassle eventually. It was working fine but I had heard that people were having some good success with MS Windows Server 2012 as an audio server. It is expensive but there is a free trial version available from Microsoft so why not give it a try? I bought another solid state hard drive and loaded Windows Server 2012 R2 along with my DAC driver and the same stand-alone Foobar2000 install from the drive with XP.


Hmmm… interesting… I thought it was sounding better but do I really want to mess with dealing with a trial version of Server 2012? I certainly didn’t want to pay $600 to license it when the 180 days ran out! No, this was not a $600 improvement with just Server 2012 by itself! Well, I could format and reinstall the OS twice a year but is it worth that effort? I soon found out that, Yes… yes it is! And it really doesn’t take that long to install since I have everything I need loaded on a 8GB bootable USB flash drive.


I don’t hang out on the Computer Audiophile forum much but I recently ran across a couple of threads of discussions about this “optimizer” for Windows Server 2012. It sounded interesting because this guy, AudioPhil, had obviously spent a lot of time doing what I knew I would be doing which is removing services and playing with settings to hear how it affected the sound. It would be nice to skip that process and pay this guy for all the many hours of doing it for me. He resides in Switzerland and with the exchange rate it wound up costing about $140. I’ve certainly paid more than this for smaller degrees of improvement. I’m quite happy with the return on my investment!


I can follow up later with more details about how I set up my system. The instructions and information on his site seem to be pretty complete but you will find that you need to read through them completely before deciding or doing anything and then review them multiple times. There are options but I suggest keeping it simple in the beginning. The process also makes it easy to back out of your changes. I can tell you that I don’t like it when I remove the tweaks!


Would your results be similar? I don’t know. Without the room treatments and highly resolving equipment I might not notice the difference as much.


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Awesome Cameron! It is astonishing at just how much the digital source has to do with the final outcome. If your DAC is transparent, which yours is, the source is what determines the sound you get.

We must now have a shootout with my Mac Mini (highly tweaked and upgraded, Mac Mini) as it has been the undisputed king here.

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Awesome Cameron! It is astonishing at just how much the digital source has to do with the final outcome. If your DAC is transparent, which yours is, the source is what determines the sound you get.

We must now have a shootout with my Mac Mini (highly tweaked and upgraded, Mac Mini) as it has been the undisputed king here.

If we can use YOUR power supply to keep it fair! 12v?

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I have a lot of years with Windows Server operating systems. Properly configured to do what you tell them to do, they are extremely lean, and more robust than anything I have used which includes Linux. Windows will utilize your cpu and bus more efficiently than anything you have ever used. Check out memory useage. Server is LEAN, even though it is the most advanced OS on the market today. Check out the CPU useage. ALL of the cores are doing stuff, not just one or two. True multithreading and multitasking.

I commend you on all of your effort. This was a huge project with a custom HT PC build, and a great deal of configuration to the OS. I think you are at the top of the food chain with this setup. I like what I see, but unfortunately I don't have the funds. I do have a couple of shelved blade servers with Windows Server 2003 on them. The only problem is they are very very loud. That would defeat the purpose.

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Awesome Cameron! It is astonishing at just how much the digital source has to do with the final outcome. If your DAC is transparent, which yours is, the source is what determines the sound you get.

We must now have a shootout with my Mac Mini (highly tweaked and upgraded, Mac Mini) as it has been the undisputed king here.

If we can use YOUR power supply to keep it fair! 12v?

Why certainly!!

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You don't have to spend anything to start if you have a computer sitting around. You can download the trial version of Server 2012 R2 here.

Instructions for how to load it to a bootable usb flash drive are here. You can install the OS from the flash drive very quickly! Load Jriver or Foobar2000, hook up your DAC, and take a listen.

Actually, this information can be found in the AudiophileOptimizer manual. It doesn't cost anything to get up and running for a long trial to see what you think of running Server 2012 as your audio PC operating system. I thought the 2012 install sounded better but it really turned a corner with all the tweaks from the optimizer.

A quiet PC is a very nice thing to have! Even if it isn't for audio. This is where I've gotten my last couple of computers for home: www.endpcnoise.com You will see that they look pretty expensive but they have value packages that aren't as bad. When you look at the components they use it would cost almost as much to build it yourself but then you wouldn't have a warranty or the benefit of their burn-in time.

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You don't have to spend anything to start if you have a computer sitting around. You can download the trial version of Server 2012 R2 here.

Instructions for how to load it to a bootable usb flash drive are here. You can install the OS from the flash drive very quickly! Load Jriver or Foobar2000, hook up your DAC, and take a listen.

Actually, this information can be found in the AudiophileOptimizer manual. It doesn't cost anything to get up and running for a long trial to see what you think of running Server 2012 as your audio PC operating system. I thought the 2012 install sounded better but it really turned a corner with all the tweaks from the optimizer.

A quiet PC is a very nice thing to have! Even if it isn't for audio. This is where I've gotten my last couple of computers for home: www.endpcnoise.com You will see that they look pretty expensive but they have value packages that aren't as bad. When you look at the components they use it would cost almost as much to build it yourself but then you wouldn't have a warranty or the benefit of their burn-in time.

I skimmed over the instructions, and did see the download link to the trial Server 2012. BTW, I used to be able to buy a web license version of Server that was less expensive. I wonder if that is still available...

I was looking at the endpcnoise site, and those fanless pc's are very interesting. This is, without a doubt, the BIGGEST cpu heatsink I have ever even seen a picture of:

CS60-Left_Open.jpg

Quiet yes, but no room for anything but onboard video and onboard or usb sound. Also very limited headroom for memory, so you couldn't use memory with large heatsinks. I'm not sure how they tackle memory cooling, not to mention onboard video cooling which these MB's are designed for convection cooling. perhaps they underclock the bus and video.

I would go for the quiet fans just to be safe.

I like the CAPS 2.0 computer that you built. 12VDC, designed for fanless operation from the silicon chip up. Now that's a quiet PC that I wouldn't be afraid of. It also looks the part.

Do you have any pictures of your new CAPS 2.0?

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The Essentials version of Server 2012 will work too and save a couple hundred dollars. Just don't let the wizard run after you finished the install. You don't want that extra junk. I'm going to wait for my trial to run out in another 100 days or so and decide what to do then. I might just start over again. I'll have a backup copy of Foobar and DAC driver and that is about all I need.

The computers they build at QuietPC are all pretty quiet. The case insulation makes a bigger difference than you might think and the fans are big but quiet. I'm sure the case insulation holds a little heat but the fans keep the air moving enough. It is the most professional installation I have ever seen (better than my own) and I'm pretty picky. They go to the trouble to run the wires tucked out of the way and allows for uninterrupted air flow for better cooling. I don't know if they have them anymore but I got heatsink hard drive enclosures that made the hard drives very quiet. Looking at the temperatures they ran a little bit hotter but not much. It all added up to a computer with which I could sleep in the same room. Still, for audio, its gotta be fanless unless it is going to be sitting far FAR away.

If you are thinking about building an audio PC I'd look at the C.A.P.S 3.0 at Computer Audiophile. It can get expensive and just remember that the case really doesn't matter as much as long as everything fits and allows for it to keep cool. $350 for a case is a little steep but I guess it depends on how much looks count to you. If you are thinking home theater in addition to audio that really changes your requirement list. No additional video card for a dedicated audio PC. Ideally, for audio, you wouldn't load but the most basic video driver required.

The CAPS 2.0 (and at least a couple of the 3.0) uses the Intel Atom processor... not exactly a work horse. One interesting thing is how much COOLER my audio PC is running after removing XP and running Server 2012. It is not working hard at all!

I'll look for some pictures or take a new one.

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Looking forward to the pics!! Ya, I'm a technogeek...

Edited by paul79

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Here you go.

This case came with a small VFD screen and a remote that was kind of neat but I have disconnected it so as to not have anything running or connected that is unneeded.

Caps20_2_zps0386038b.jpg

I finally found a picture with the VFD screen enabled. It could display internet feeds, email, frequency bars, time and date, and it was also compatible with some media players such as MediaMonkey and Jriver. All unplugged now.

I'll see about getting a picture of the inside of the case. I can't believe I don't already have some!

Caps20_1_zps14af7759.jpg

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Take a look at Asus Via for inexpensive silent "plug and play" PCs. I built my first silent PC in 2003 with a fanless Eden processor. Not much power as a PC, but plenty for audio and the only thing that made any noise at all was the HDD, which could only be heard 2 feet or closer. Of course, SSDs took care of even that.

Audio dedicated PCs do not need a fan. Linux is an excellent choice...my old Audiophile USB external DAC is even supported! Linux is free and Mint or Ubuntu generally install fiddle free in minutes, and there is the added benefit of much lower CPU load than any other OS.

Dave

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I have another 100 days of the 2012 Server trial period. As long as Microsoft continues to allow a trial period I can reformat and reload the OS for another 180 days. Assuming I don't have trouble with the hardware signature or they don't change something with the trial I'm looking at a pretty good price! Installing from the 8GB USB flash is very fast and I'm betting I can have everything loaded and set to go in less than an hour. I guess I'll know in a few months.

I have a spare SSD... I'm not opposed to trying Linux on an audio server but what player do you use?

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You don't have to spend anything to start if you have a computer sitting around. You can download the trial version of Server 2012 R2 here.

Instructions for how to load it to a bootable usb flash drive are here. You can install the OS from the flash drive very quickly! Load Jriver or Foobar2000, hook up your DAC, and take a listen.

Actually, this information can be found in the AudiophileOptimizer manual. It doesn't cost anything to get up and running for a long trial to see what you think of running Server 2012 as your audio PC operating system. I thought the 2012 install sounded better but it really turned a corner with all the tweaks from the optimizer.

A quiet PC is a very nice thing to have! Even if it isn't for audio. This is where I've gotten my last couple of computers for home: www.endpcnoise.com You will see that they look pretty expensive but they have value packages that aren't as bad. When you look at the components they use it would cost almost as much to build it yourself but then you wouldn't have a warranty or the benefit of their burn-in time.

I skimmed over the instructions, and did see the download link to the trial Server 2012. BTW, I used to be able to buy a web license version of Server that was less expensive. I wonder if that is still available...

I was looking at the endpcnoise site, and those fanless pc's are very interesting. This is, without a doubt, the BIGGEST cpu heatsink I have ever even seen a picture of:

CS60-Left_Open.jpg

Quiet yes, but no room for anything but onboard video and onboard or usb sound. Also very limited headroom for memory, so you couldn't use memory with large heatsinks. I'm not sure how they tackle memory cooling, not to mention onboard video cooling which these MB's are designed for convection cooling. perhaps they underclock the bus and video.

I would go for the quiet fans just to be safe.

I like the CAPS 2.0 computer that you built. 12VDC, designed for fanless operation from the silicon chip up. Now that's a quiet PC that I wouldn't be afraid of. It also looks the part.

Do you have any pictures of your new CAPS 2.0?

I just bought a few Dell Precision computers (T5400 and T7400). If you use a passive video card they are essentially silent (you need to put your ear really close to hear them).

They use big fans which give off a lower frequency sound that we are not as sensitive to. They also have metal cases, support 32 GB memory and tons of room. You can pick one up for about $250 if you go with a "lower" processor (Dual Quad core 2.5 or below) or even less if you can "live with" a single quad core. Check ebay.

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The Essentials version of Server 2012 will work too and save a couple hundred dollars.

...

Microsoft Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials 64B 1-2CPU - OEM $399.99 free shipping from Newegg.

This is the way I would go, unless you can figure out a way to get the server foundation version which is installed on some new servers.

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Just a follow up to my original post back in May about using MS Windows Server 2012.  Well, my trial version ran out!  180 days passed and the audio server started randomly shutting down.  It took about half an hour and I reformatted the hard drive, got Server 2012 reloaded, installed AudiophileOptimizer and my music server was back on line.  Actually, I had to spend a little extra time since I forgot to copy my Foobar2000 folder so I had to make a few tweaks to my backup copy.

Very fast process!  The good news is with a fresh install I have another 180 days of the trial version.

 

ALSO, I upgraded to the latest version 1.30 of AO last night and my first impression is that the bar has been raised again and seems to be yet another step closer to live/natural sound!  I'm quite pleased but I'll see what I think as I give it more time.

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You might check out the new Auralic Aries. It has AES/EBU, USB, and SPDIF outputs. All you need is an Ipad and a NAS running a server client, connected via Ethernet. No more PC :)

 

Yes, the NAS is a computer also, but much less software running. My new server is somewhat similar, using a NAS and WiFi router, controlled with ipad. This has been absolutely stunning here.

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That is a cool looking box!  I'm guessing it is running Linux of some sort.  I think this is the kind of direction we are going with these devices.  It just keeps getting better!  Now, if only the recording studios would give us more to work with. The nice thing about the PC solution is you can continually upgrade indefinitely.  Your interface... monitor, keyboard, mouse, remote control, etc.. and box can all stay the same. 

 

I don't think I mentioned that I could go without a monitor on my audio PC.  I use MonkeyMote from an iPhone.

 

I really need to do something about getting a linear power supply for this... I'm told it helps a lot. 

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You really do man. The Hynes supplies are now performing duty to my NAS and Router, and the difference they made for even these pieces is nothing short of amazing. The Hynes supplies on any computer devices has improved them big time. No reason it shouldn't do the same for you.

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