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Audio pc - have you built one ?


Tim F
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  • 4 weeks later...

Had one built by Item Audio so didn’t build myself, but I have done a lot to it since. Main thing I’ve learned is the importance of clean power and re-clocking. Everything has its own power supply and the unfortunate thing is it isn’t cheap. Also IME a good USB/SPDIF converter in the chain always sounds better than direct usb. Also the audio card makes a big difference. I’ve just upgraded from the standard JCAT to the new fancy pants one with huge results...

It probably stands me c.£7k as it stands but it destroyed the fully loaded Rocksan TMS that I had...made it unlistenable...

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I considered having a fanless audio PC made in one of the many pick-your-parts websites but the price would always end up north of 1k...

https://www.quietpc.com/silent-media-pcs

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On 17/04/2021 at 14:51, Tim F said:

Wondering what your experience is, what did you learn? 
 

Cheers Tim 

What do you want to do with an ‘audio’ pc? It’s form and composition will be a function of its use. You can go from a streamer with USB drive plugged into its rear to a Pi with software and functionality of your choice to mini and full sized x86 computers with massive amounts of processing power. You can stick it in a cupboard headless and control it remotely or you can use it in laptop form with everything at your fingertips. So the very first question is what do you need it to do?

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Posted (edited)
15 hours ago, HectorHughMunro said:

It’s not necessary now.  The Raspberry Pi is so powerful that it can do everything that an audio PC can. 

I am upconverting Redbook to DSD256 and applying a bit of EQ with HQPlayer. My 2018 i3-8100 Mac mini just about manages with my preferred filter and noise-shaping settings, but can't cope with some of the other nore resource-hungry options. Same for my 2012 i7-3720 MacBook Pro.

I can't imagine the Pi4 doing even DSD128.

Edited by tuga
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I made a near silent PC (with 140mm fans but no graphics card fan) in a silentPC case. It does my business stuff as well and I'm delighted with it. I sit next to it and can't hear the fans unless it's late in the evening, and I don't listen super low volume anyway. Very happy with the sounds via USB, agree with Timinator that a dedicated usb/spdif convertor seems to help, maybe because of the isoloation, I don't know. AnywayI have no intention of trying to further improve it, but it wasn't a cheap venture as others have mentioned - north of £1k. Still, there's the satifaction of DIY and 11 years on it hasn't put a foot wrong.

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I know  a lot of people get specialist PC's (expensive a few years ago, cheap was £1200) just to record music on. so I would have thought just a near bare bones PC with hardly anything on, apart from a couple of SSD's  and basic OS would suffice for playback of ripped CD's etc

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On 17/04/2021 at 14:51, Tim F said:

Wondering what your experience is, what did you learn? 
 

Cheers Tim 

What do you want to do is the obvious question. I use a Pi4 2gb with MoOde software, for streaming hi res via Qobuz, and playing back stored files from a usb HDD, all of this it does with aplomb, and at a very high SQ. You can play about with sox upsampling, it also does DSP , PEQ, has a graphic equaliser. Pi's are now available up to 8gb and of course there are no fans, so silent.

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What difference does clean power make when there is so much switching going on within the motherboard?

I built a PC without any moving parts in, based on an i7-6700k. This feeds my RME ADI-2 quite nicely. I am happy with the sound, but would like to now if a fancy SPDIF board would really make a difference, apart from a financial one.

I have yet to try one, due to the cost.

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Posted (edited)

OK Tim, what you want to do is the best way to get good sound direct from a PC. Although I’d probably avoid USB in favour of i2S. You can do what you propose with a pretty regular M-ATX based board. You would need to be able to run it from a Linear ATX supply such as the HD-Plex item. Interestingly HD-Plex also work with some of the higher end Audio PC manufacturers. To get close to that you also need discrete audiophile cards for your inputs and outputs. So the Jcat Ethernet card and USB, or as I suggested an i2S card like the Pink Faun item. All can be powered separately thus minimising noise ingression and transfer to your DAC. Good quality local clocking is a must, not so much because of the benefits of greater accuracy and precision, but because better clocks produce less phase noise which can have deleterious effects when connected direct to a DAC. But as you probably know when you start adding it all together, you are talking multiples of thousands of pounds. I did look at a lot of this. I found that individually each change made things better, but I never tried them all together because I started with a M-ITX board before realising ATX was the way to go. Then I got a networked DAC and made much of you do with a PC as a source unnecessary. It meant that (as a Roon user) all I needed was processing power and minimal network noise. So now I use a silent NUC, Etheregen isolating switch and Teac streamer. Internet is via fibre for electrical isolation. 

Edited by Cable Monkey
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Posted (edited)

I see three significant variables in PC Audio which will affect the outcome:

• file playback - it can be "pass-through" or it can perform upconversion, filering and even EQ using DSP; in my opinion the latter has a most significant impact/improvement on sound but requires a lot of processing power and that leads to operating noise

• operating noise - cooling fans are noisy (processing produces heat which means fans will spin faster), and HDDs in external storage devices and computers make noise, even a the darn mesh wi-fi makes an audible high-frequency "zing" (one of the reasons why my file playback system uses copper Ethernet only)

• electrical noise - this comes from the network and the computer and the mains; it should be minimised at the source and/or filtered at different stages (PSUs, network, transport to DAC interface)

Edited by tuga
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Posted (edited)

HQPlayer ( I think Roon does too) proposes a two-step solution to minimise noise in file playback:

• a powerful and noisy processing computer (the "server") dedicated to file playback and EQ duties, which can be accessed remotely and can therefore be placed in another room

• and an acoustically and electrically silent buffer/endpoint/bridge NUC (the "network audio adapter") with minimalist dedicated operating system and software, to be located close to the DAC

Such setup converts any DAC into network DAC and HQPlayer's desktop player let's you easily select between different endpoints/DAC that you may have in your network.

Edited by tuga
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