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My New Computer music player

Wharfedale EVO4.4 Speaker

sidvee

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So I spent the last few months researching a bunch of information on computer based transports - hopefully to improve upon on my own transport that I had built by Fm Sarin a couple of years ago.
http://www.hifivision.com/computer-audio/45650-my-new-music-pc.html
So I used a start from scratch approach:
1. External Linear PSU - HDplex Cost about $385 (plus about $100 for customs)
2. Paul Pang audio v2 usb card - approx $150 powered by 5v output from HDplex.
3. Motherboard to accept 19v direct connection from hdplex psu - AS rock Am1H-ITX
4. AMD - processor
5. Gelid slim silence Fan
6. 4g hyperx RAM
7. SSD (120 gb kingston)
8. All other accesssories - Case etc.
So total cost (had to import motherboard etc- not many options in India for direct 19v connection) -
about $900.
Finally thanks to FM Sarin, everything was put together and I spent 30 min with the setup today.
Verdict: Underwhelming to say the least:sad:
Is there is major difference to my previous music PC that does not use external Linear PSU or USB card or ssd (cost me about Rs 40k 2 years ago) ?- perhaps a little bit but definitely not $900 worth. Is there a major difference to a decently specd. laptop. Perhaps, but miniscule again IMO not worth $900.
IMO lot of hype floating around on PC based sources - PCie usb cards powered externally, silent cases, copper cooling pipes, psu units etc. Do your research and spend carefully! I however believe that PC based sources definitely sound equal or better than CD sources.
I also got a Sotm USB card, I will try that out next (this one cost close to $300:sad:)
BTW please note comparison was to my older music PC (link attached above)- did not detect much difference when compared to this. Please also note everything else in my chain was the same - before and after, so only change previous music pc to current pc. Still using M2tech evo usb/spdif converter with external clock and battery psu (i think this negates the benefits of all the stuff I added and is perhaps the most important contributing factor in SQ).
Cheers,
Sid
 
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manniraj

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In my opinion a fanless barebones PC like the one which I recently got "Gigabyte N2807" is good enough and might be more VFM option for dedicated music transport compared to the $900 specced PC. I have loaded Windows 2012 R2 version recently and more than happy with the end result.
 

sidvee

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Don't get me wrong, I am satisfied with the result, but to my ears there is nowhere the difference that is described in sites like computer audiophile. I would say there is perhaps a 5% improvement compared to older music pc, in terms of better instrument separation, slight increase in bass respose and better overall resolution. My conclusion now is - the improvement with all these things will vary from system to system - not subjective - but based on the quality of power supply, quality of power conditioner (when smps is used - I use the digital input receptacles of my sine power conditioner which appears to be doing a good job rejecting noise from the computer smps), quality of components like the motherboard - especially when using usb out etc.
Also some of the posters in computer audiophile have very high end systems - in the $50,000 to $100,000 range. Perhaps at that level of resolution a lot of difference can be heard. However all this translates, IMO, to excellent performance by computer based transports, and I am never going back to physical media playback ever.
BTW excellent equipment selection by Sarin, the 1 fan for the processor is so quiet, I have to put my ear at 3-4 inches from the case to hear a small clicking noise. Frankly (unless perhaps there is huge SQ gain by eliminating fans ie. RF, EMI - which I doubt), this is as good as fanless performance, IMO. I will also experiment with power cords to the PSU and see if that makes any positive difference. Currently using a Shunyata Diamondback cable.
Cheers,
Sid
 

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sidvee

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panditji

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Sid, I bought a simple Dell i3 laptop with 4 GB RAM and installed Windows 7 on it...it works like a charm and is extremely silent since the processor has hardly any load on it...

On my regular work laptop, when I used Fidelizer, there was a huge difference in the sound and I became a fan of Fidelizer but when I used the same on my music only laptop, there was absolutely no difference...

Do note that I have a cheap Dell laptop with cheap plastic and therefore the power supply/battery is also going to be the cheapest but it works like a charm and is ever so silent...So with an async USB connection, I do not think an expensive PC will make any changes to the sound and maybe the 5% is also psychological..
 

sidvee

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, I do not think an expensive PC will make any changes to the sound and maybe the 5% is also psychological..

Well I hear you Panditji, but the basic components in my PC are not expensive. The motherboard was $80, RAM was $50-$60, Processor was Rs. 5000, fan was $20 and SSD was $100 (So maybe about 20k) It was the accessories that cost a bit more the PSU and PPA card, but they did not make as much of a difference as I expected.
Anyways I will stick with this setup in my main system - I like the aesthetics - they look more like audio components rather than a computer and move the other one to my 2nd setup.
Cheers,
Sid
 
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s_sachin

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Thanks for the write up Sidvee. Have you tried an internal sound card for digital out like Juli@ ? In my humble system usb has always been inferior.
 

sidvee

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Thanks for the write up Sidvee. Have you tried an internal sound card for digital out like Juli@ ? In my humble system usb has always been inferior.

No Sachin, I never tried an internal card with spdif output. Yes I hear you, appears usb is the weakest link for sound quality, but I feel that in this setup I have addressed it adequately. The Paul Pang usb card has some good components and it is powered directly by my Linear PSU. So any dirty power issues are addressed. Secondly the usb cable I am using has the power connection disconnected so there again another check against power corruption of the signal. Then finally in the m2tech evo converter, power is provided by a battery psu (so no ac power at all), and the external clock makes sure timing errors ie; jitter is reduced drastically. So the resulting spdif signal exiting this trio of components should be very good.
Cheers,
Sid
 

sidvee

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Another conclusion I have reached after this build, is that point of diminishing returns is quickly reached in computer based transports i.e, relatively large spending yields minor improvements. Anyways with this I will now concentrate on a potential DAC upgrade in the near future and put aside anymore upgrades related to hardware. I will mess a bit with media players - HQ player is supposed to be much better than Jriver, so will give that a go and report back.
Cheers,
Sid
 

manniraj

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Well I hear you Panditji, but the basic components in my PC are not expensive. The motherboard was $80, RAM was $50-$60, Processor was Rs. 5000, fan was $20 and SSD was $100 (So maybe about 20k) It was the accessories that cost a bit more the PSU and PPA card, but they did not make as much of a difference as I expected.
Anyways I will stick with this setup in my main system - I like the aesthetics - they look more like audio components rather than a computer and move the other one to my 2nd setup.
Cheers,
Sid

I think you are using the same linear PSU that Hydra had posted sometime back in his music-pc with very good reviews in terms of the improvements on the sound quality. I think the linear PSU did not make significant improvements in your already well tuned system along with the PPA card. This is a very good feedback in terms of what can be achieved and improved upon and I was contemplating on getting a linear PSU to replace the power adapter for my fanless PC. But looks like even I may not get any significant improvements (compared to the cost) to my power brick for my Gigabyte N2807 PC.
 

sidvee

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I think you are using the same linear PSU that Hydra had posted sometime back in his music-pc with very good reviews in terms of the improvements on the sound quality. I think the linear PSU did not make significant improvements in your already well tuned system along with the PPA card. This is a very good feedback in terms of what can be achieved and improved upon and I was contemplating on getting a linear PSU to replace the power adapter for my fanless PC. But looks like even I may not get any significant improvements (compared to the cost) to my power brick for my Gigabyte N2807 PC.

Yes I am using the HD plex 100w linear psu. Well honestly there is no way to tell till you try it. The reason - as I understand that smps is not recommended (wall warts, bricks etc) is that they pollute the power of the nearby equipment causing their sound to deteriorate as ac is alternating current and current flows back and forth from source. However if you are using a good line conditioner with additional filtering for digital sources (like the wall wart psu for a dac etc), then a lot of this pollution is stopped and hence it helps. Maybe that is what happened in my case as I am using a Sine s30a power conditioner that has 2 digital power sockets and 1 was connected to the 450watt smps of my previous computer. So if you have a similar situation the linear psu may not help as much. If not it may help. Also I have dedicated power outlets in my listening room connected directly to the MCB, and this eliminates a lot of power issues (from other appliances in the house) from even reaching my system.
Cheers,
Sid
 
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Nikhil

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Manniraj,

I think you should try out the Linear PSU. The wall wart SMPS will inject a fair amount of AC noise back into the mains.

In sidvee's setup, his USB converter with it's own battery power supply already does a fair amount of isolation i.e. galvanic isolation plus fresh clock reduces jitter. His PC is also fed by the digital outlets of a Sine Power Supply which is probably doing a fine job of AC noise rejection. All in all that is about Rs 2 lakh worth of equipment.

To assume the same conditions apply to your setup would not exactly be correct.
 
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matbhuvi

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I have designed my PC for gaming and photo editing. 750W PSU, i5, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD and 4 other internal HDD. I use Shiit wyrd to clean the USB noise. Makes immense difference with my Geek Out. The difference is not that obvious for coaxial transport from Xonar STX vs Gustard U12 to my Audio-GD NFB10ES. I slightly prefer Gustard U12 for the transport.
 

panditji

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Another conclusion I have reached after this build, is that point of diminishing returns is quickly reached in computer based transports i.e, relatively large spending yields minor improvements. Anyways with this I will now concentrate on a potential DAC upgrade in the near future and put aside anymore upgrades related to hardware. I will mess a bit with media players - HQ player is supposed to be much better than Jriver, so will give that a go and report back.
Cheers,
Sid

Aren't you using a very expensive and hi end DAC currently? You still want to upgrade your DAC and expect a substantial increase in quality?? I think you have an excellent PC, superb DAC and amplification and if needed, you should simply change your speakers for better performance (not that they can be bettered easily).
 

manniraj

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Manniraj,

I think you should try out the Linear PSU. The wall wart SMPS will inject a fair amount of AC noise back into the mains.

In sidvee's setup, his USB converter with it's own battery power supply already does a fair amount of isolation i.e. galvanic isolation plus fresh clock reduces jitter. His PC is also fed by the digital outlets of a Sine Power Supply which is probably doing a fine job of AC noise rejection. All in all that is about Rs 2 lakh worth of equipment.

To assume the same conditions apply to your setup would not exactly be correct.

I have a fairly simple and mostly DIY system except with the DAC and power amp, so I thought of going the linear PSU sometime back but was hesitating looking at the cost which is more than my DAC/PC :). I do not have any issues with the present system as the PC and the DAC both are powered by their wall warts. I am not sure whether my sine wave inverter (1.5kv powering my home) is also playing any part here. I am not well versed with the power supply issues but I think that a fanless PC has definitely made a difference in my setup when compared to my robust HTPC which runs via a Corsair SMPS PSU and its fan makes a lot of noise during playback.
 

audiodelic

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Im using an Ibasso DX-90 feeding digital via coaxial to my schiit Dac, player runs on battery so clean power.
 

sidvee

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Aren't you using a very expensive and hi end DAC currently? You still want to upgrade your DAC and expect a substantial increase in quality?? I think you have an excellent PC, superb DAC and amplification and if needed, you should simply change your speakers for better performance (not that they can be bettered easily).

Currently I am using a Ayon Skylla II. Considering a DSD dac. Playback, Bricasti and perhaps even Lampizator are in contention. I feel that DSD playback will sound slightly better, hence the consideration. Regarding speakers I am very happy with the Ascendo C8 R. I do not think there is anything in the $15k range that will beat these. So I am not planning to change now.
Cheers,
Sid
 

sidvee

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I I am not well versed with the power supply issues but I think that a fanless PC has definitely made a difference in my setup when compared to my robust HTPC which runs via a Corsair SMPS PSU and its fan makes a lot of noise during playback.

If Fan noise was an issue then really it is not an inherent SQ betterment when fan noise is removed. What I mean is that the PC didn't start sounding better because the fan noise was removed, rather the PC's sound through the speakers was masked by fan noise which created a higher ambient noise level in the room. And as I understand that is the main attraction to a fanless PC - just as it is to other audio components that do not have fans.
Of-course there are some suggestions that RF and EMI are also caused by fans but not sure how much of an impact they have on direct SQ of a PC.
Cheers,
Sid
 
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sidvee

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And finally I didn't state this point in my first post since it is quite controversial in this forum, at-least i.e; burn in. Both the PPA card and the HDplex are new out of the box with not really much burn in. So let me see if the sound changes at-all in the next 20-30 hours of use. Hopefully it does, other forums have reported it, so I have my fingers crossed on this one.
Please note I am not endorsing this view, just stating what I have read and hope to experience some benefit.
Cheers,
Sid
 

reignofchaos

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Amazing work Sid - I hope the parts help you in improving sound quality in your setup.

Sid are you planning to keep the PPA or the Sotm? I'd gladly buy the other one from you :).
 
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