Jump to content

Sign in to follow this  
Tasso

Building the ideal(ish) Music Server

Recommended Posts

Following on from our escapades with Mac Mini, Windows laptop, Rasperry and Banana Pi, I was still looking for something better to match the output from my Accuphase DP-700 feeding the DC-37 DAC via HS-Link ( Accuphase i2s style implementation). The Pi machines actually came close in terms of noise levels and tonality but there was still something missing in terms of resolution, imaging etc so I thought I would do some research.

b9120da10afd184f968ca19facf0325d.jpg

Theory

I first decided to hitch a ride with those that have done the research and then put their findings out in the market place for the world to examine. These are the commercial manufacturers of music servers and they all had the following common ground:

1. They all use modest CPU's ( e.g. Intel Atom) to minimise EMI/RFI. EMI generation is linked to power dissipation amongst other things

2. The "better" models used linear power supplies

3. Antipodes and others use Sotm or equivalent PCI/PCie USB output card. PCI/PCie cards have a degree of isolation from the main board and the potentially noisy mainboard USB bus. They also reclock the signal to be sent to the DAC and have on board filtration, but can be powered directly by an external clean linear power feed

4. SSD seems to be the pick for better SQ

5. Antipodes also claim there are different types of memory

6. They mostly use light weight, headless Linux O/S with no GUI, specifically tailored to the application

1268a933697b6ef3401b682bedf88e18.jpg

There are also those that claim the most powerful CPU is the way to go. But since I did not need extra capability for DSP , a GUI or a heavy operating system, I decided to first build a server based on the above formula.

Findings

Each of the following may be a subtle point of difference but combined makes a significant difference

1. Motherboard- I have tried a couple- of different makes - Jetway and intel using Intel atom 2800 CPU. Surprisingly, there were differences using different Linux players with each tending to sound better with different distro's and players- (subtle differences however)

2. The motherboards have hard wired CPU with 12V inputs which made things easy. An HD PLEX linear power supply outperformed a standard laptop linear PSU in terms of tonality , depth and perceived dynamics, (at much greater cost however). With Linear PSU, tonality was a few steps closer to the Accuphase player reference

3. Testing from motherboard USB vs SOTm output produced interesting results. The Sotm card improved things further in a number of ways. Im not sure if t was the lower noise, reclocking or a combination of those things.

4. On my system SSD sounded better although it was harder for me to pick differences when using a 2.5"spinning HDD with Rock music. I also tried SATA power filter and thought they took away more than they gave back.

5. Memory. This is one that I did not expect. Mark Jenkins did not specify which memory sounded better but since he also uses lower power boards I figured it could have something to do with single rank vs dual rank memory. I understand that single rank memory (1R) is configured to allow the CPU to access all the memory chips on the board at once ( even if spread over two sides) whereas with reguar or dual rank memory, only once side of the memory stick can be accessed at a time by the CPU.

I ordered 1Rx8 micron memory sticks and to my surprise they did sound better than the memory I bought from the local computer parts store. The difference was not as subtle as you would think.

Software

A friend who is also a Linux guru custom built a real time Linux kernel for me with a number of players, including MpD and Jriver. I also had downloaded configurations for Vortexbox and Daphile. They are all bit perfect players but can sound different nevertheless. I can say that the "best" one is dependant on individual taste as well as the the rest of the system. If you like things crisp and accurate and perhaps with a bit more edge than others, then Daphile may suit. If you like a more expansive, large scale sound with very good tonality, Vortexbox may suit and if you like fast, crisp clean sound with rock solid imaging, then Mpd could be the one.

Result

I am still running a couple of variations of software but I can say that the performance level is such that I can now happily listen to CA as a alternative to the CD player through the same DAC

Edited by Tasso

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Could you post links to the motherboard and the memory you ordered ?

 

Cheers

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I  bought mine on ebay but this is the memory - I used 2 sticks 

 

http://www.amazon.com/Micron-2GB-1RX8-PC3-12800S-11-11-B2/dp/B00DU1BS7A

 

For motherboard, best to decider if you will use a Sotm or equivalent card first. If so you will need a board with a PCIe slot - My jetway board is PCI only and Sotm no longer supply PCI cards although they might crop up on Ebay   The 2800 Atom has a total power dissipation of 7.5 watts and I think you can choose a number of boards which have similar specs. A quad core  Celeron 1900 for example  looks interesting with only 8.3 watts TPD.

 

but these are the boards I used so far.

 

http://www.mini-box.com.au/Intel%20DN2800MT%20Mini-ITX%20Motherboard.html

 

http://www.mini-box.com.au/Jetway%20JNF9C-2600%20Mini-ITX%20Motherboard.html

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

How can one establish an Antipodes clone business when all are transparently published?!? :D

Edited by Chanh

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites


Very interesting, especially the bit abt the software. Thanks for sharing Tasso.

Looks like I have to drop by your place soon to check it out.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Looks good Tasso, i have been running a similar setup for a few years now.

I also use the hdplex lps and sotm pcie audio card.

Have you tried windows server in core mode without the gui?

Would be interested to hear your opinion :thumb:

cheers

Liam

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think I have been very lucky. I vaguely realised most of the points Tasso made in the opening post and my local computer store just happened to have an Intel Atom DN2800MT mounted  in a double height case . No fan and internal SSD. I don't have a separate USB card but  I'm using a powered USB hub (powered by the 5V output of a HDPLEX LPS). The same LPS powers the MB from its 12V output.

 

I'm running Windows Server 2012 and JRiver.

 

Interesting about the memory. I have  a 4GB DDR3 Kingston memory stick. I might get my tech to replace this with the 1Rx8 micron memory sticks.

 

A couple of guys who are anti computer audio have listened to my system and have said it was the best they heard from computer audio.

 

I'm yet to try JPLAY6 which according to folks who have done this takes SQ to a whole new level.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

When people talk about a server, I always imagine a NAS where the music is stored, or a DLNA server which streams content into TV's, radios, and the likes. I'm guessing this is more a music dedicated HTPC build, or I have to get used to the jargon. I do have a dedicated server where I store and stream data, but it's hidden in the bowels of my office room.

 

I just received a 2010 Dell laptop, i5 with a few gigs RAM on it. I'll change the HDD into an SSD and install Xubuntu 14 with all the goodies, MPD, Kodi (XBMC), but I'll run it for the time being through the integrated audio outputs (please don't throw anything at me!). I'll upgrade later, say Xmas time to the Marantz HD-DAC using the USB output.

 

I'm always curious about the use of a linear PSU as opposed to the standard SMPS. I might be barking up the wrong tree here, but don't PC's have switched power supplies internally anyways? Somehow they must generate the 3.3V, 5V and 12V for distribution.

 

All in all, a dedicated PC in that case looks heaps better, I'll have to hide the laptop somewhere. Luckily there are ways to control it with the phones or remote keyboards.

 

Cheers,

 

Alberto

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites


There are switch mode type "buck" voltage step downs on various points on the motherboard on these 12V boards. But linear PSU still makes an audible improvement - it wouldn't be to the same level as say on a preamp or phono stage but an improvement nevertheless. For ITX boards, Teradak make a comprehensive linear power supply which provides different voltages to each section of the board.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Looks good Tasso, i have been running a similar setup for a few years now.

I also use the hdplex lps and sotm pcie audio card.

Have you tried windows server in core mode without the gui?

Would be interested to hear your opinion :thumb:

cheers

Liam

At all times I was conscious of building a music server, not a PC. With that in mind, windows comes with a lot of baggage which is fine for a PC, but for a music server it needs fidalizer and a 2 PC setup to get the best out of it. These Linux distros have been built without the same " baggage" for audio only.

Having said that, I am mindful of how different software can sound and it is not as predictable as I first thought , so I would like to try the windows setup to see what the final result sounds like.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think I have been very lucky. I vaguely realised most of the points Tasso made in the opening post and my local computer store just happened to have an Intel Atom DN2800MT mounted in a double height case . No fan and internal SSD. I don't have a separate USB card but I'm using a powered USB hub (powered by the 5V output of a HDPLEX LPS). The same LPS powers the MB from its 12V output.

I'm running Windows Server 2012 and JRiver.

Interesting about the memory. I have a 4GB DDR3 Kingston memory stick. I might get my tech to replace this with the 1Rx8 micron memory sticks.

A couple of guys who are anti computer audio have listened to my system and have said it was the best they heard from computer audio.

I'm yet to try JPLAY6 which according to folks who have done this takes SQ to a whole new level.

Well done Peter. I think you would like what the SOTM Card does for the sound . HDplex has a 9V rail specifically for the SOTM PCIE card

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@@Tasso, I notice you mention the Teradak power supplies, have you had experience with Teradak products and was a good experience? I am using a stripped down 2009 Mac Mini and the only linear PSU that I can find that outputs the required 18.5 volts AND comes with the appropriate cable to ensure the Isense wire is connected AND is significantly less than $1000 is the Teradak, but I cannot find anyone who has actually used one.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites


That said, I am sorely tempted by an Intel DN2820FYKH Celeron NUC with a 2GB SSD as a music only player ................... and it is 12 volts ............ much more choice for linear PSU ............. :)

Edited by Ancientflatulence

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My experience with Teradak is limited but from those I know who have them, they seem quite satisfied. They seem to be well designed PSU's. I don't think is worth spending megabucks on PSU in this application so I wouldn't be inclined to spend more than the Teradak price for the Macmini .

No problem with NUC except that it probably doesn't have a PCIe slot. I wish I could tell you the SOTM card makes no difference , but it does add a level of refinement and naturalness to the sound.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi guys, what sort of current is required to drive these mini pc's?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Atom and equivalent boards  don't need a lot. Total power consumed in full flight would be  20- 22W, possibly less with SSD.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites


Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...