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My first working DAC is running great, so it was time to look for a suitable player. First of all, I use an embedded PC with Windows 7 Professional, Foobar2000 and Fidelizer Pro. The result was not bad, but my SACD player was audibly better. So I looked around the scene and quickly realised some basic principles:
- 2 PC solution (Control-PC & Audio-PC) plus tablet
- MS Server Operating System
- exclusive ethernet connection between both computers
I have been thinking about Roon as an audio player for a while and with this project it was time to implement this idea. The system should be operated via the tablet. The first PC serves as data storage for the music files and as Roon Core. The second PC is designed as a pure audio player.
The demands on the control PC are quite high, so I made sure that the hardware was up-to-date and powerful. The operating system and the software run on an SSD and the music files are stored on a large hard drive.
- Mainboard Asus H170I-Pro
- Processor Intel Core i5-6500
- 16GB DDR4 RAM
- SSD Samsung 850 EVO 250GB
- Hard Drive WD Blue 3.5-Inch 4TB
- Power Supply be quiet! Pure Power 9 300W
I decided on the mainboard mainly because of the 2 Ethernet and the integrated WiFi ports.
I installed this hardware in a mini tower from Fractal Design. Of course, this PC is not free of noise with its hard drive and the 3 fans (CPU, power supply and housing), but it is surprisingly quiet. Despite all this, it will be placed in the room next to my listening room. The connection to the audio PC is established via an exclusive Ethernet interface.
I got a used embedded PC as audio player, which I equipped with an SSD for the operating system and the audio software. This PC is passively cooled and thus free of noise. Moreover, the hardware is more than powerful enough for its intended task.
- Aaeon AEC-6876 with an Intel Core i5-2510E processor
- 4GB DDR3 RAM
- SSD Samsung 750 EVO 120GB
At the moment I am operating the audio PC with its external switching power supply. In the future, I will replace this with a self-built linear regulated power supply.
As already mentioned above, I use Windows Server 2012 R2 as the operating system on both computers. In the BIOS of the computers, I switched off everything related to Intel SpeedStep, Turbo Mode, C-States, Virtualisation Technology and Hyper-Threading. The operating system was installed on the computers with GUI.
Immediately after the first start of the newly installed operating system, I installed the hardware drivers on both computers that were only absolutely necessary. In my case, these were drivers for the chipset and for the LAN interfaces. In particular, I did not install drivers for the integrated graphics hardware.
The network addresses of both PCs are permanently assigned and are not automatically assigned by my router via DHCP. Make sure that the two addresses of the LAN connection between the control PC and the audio PC are not taken from the same address range as that of the internal LAN. After installing the operating system, the audio PC is no longer connected to this LAN.
After installing the operating system and a subsequent lengthy update of the software, I then installed the USB driver for the Amanero Technologies card and JPLAY on the audio PC. Only JPLAY is installed on the control PC. JPLAY is then configured once on the audio PC and then the final configuration is done on the control PC.
After the JPLAY communication between the two PCs worked via the exclusive LAN connection, I then installed the Roon server software on the control PC and transferred the music data to the hard drive. The last thing I had to do was to install the Roon App on my Androit tablet. The system was then ready to play for the first time.
The result appealed to me very much, but I did not listen to the set-up for long in this state. As a last measure, I installed the Audiophile Optimizer on both PCs. I have almost completely optimised the audio PC with it – including deactivating the GUI. The GUI is currently still active on the control PC.
Even if you don’t use the Audiophile Optimizer, the freely available documentation is a very good introduction to the subject. It provides a lot of useful information on the subject.
This means that the following software is on the computers:
Control-PC / Roon Core
- Windows Server 2012 R2
- Chipset and LAN Drivers
- Roon Server
- Audiophile Optimizer
- Windows Server 2012 R2
- Chipset and LAN Drivers
- Amanero Technologies USB Driver
- Audiophile Optimizer
The result is at least as good as I had hoped for. According to my first impressions and comparisons, the audiophile performance of the system is at least on a level with my first-class SACD player. This also showed what a high level the hardware of the DAC’s plays at.
Moreover, Roon exceeds all my expectations by far. With this software, you are able to listen to your music collection in a completely different way and you get an incredible amount of additional information. After just a few weeks, I no longer want to do without this software.
At the end of January 2017, after a nice email contact with AudioPhil from Audiophile Optimizer, I set the highest possible optimisation levels for my setup. For the control PC I activated Minimal Server Mode and for the audio PC Core Mode. In addition, I set the audio PC to Disable Network related Features, which is possible with JPLAY and fixed IP addresses. The result is really impressive.
I have never heard music from a digital source like this before.
The following links contain my current Audiophile Optimizer settings of the PCs:
At the end of April 2018, I updated the Audiophile Optimizer from version 2.10 to 2.20. I was very pleasantly surprised how easy such an update is. Once again proof of how professionally and thoughtfully this software is made!!!
In November 2018, there was an update from JPLAY 6.2 to 7. The effort for the installation is higher than for the Audiophile Optimizer, but it also gives you the opportunity to equip your Windows systems with the latest security patches. After installing and setting up JPLAY 7, I was naturally curious whether the euphoric announcements on the Internet regarding the improved audio performance compared to the predecessor could be reproduced on my system – I was sceptical. In the meantime, however, I agree with these statements. It’s unbelievable what potential there still is in the systems. There is definitely no way back to version 6.2 for me.
Exactly 6 months after installing JPLAY 7, my setup stopped making any sound. The first thing I thought was a hardware fault. It took some time until I noticed that JPLAY no longer worked – both PCs run without a GUI, so checking software is more complicated. When I noticed that JPLAY was mute because it wanted to renew its licence, I found the error, but it took more than 3 hours to fix it. It involved disabling the Audiophile Optimiser on both PCs, a complete reinstallation of JPLAY (recommended by the JPLAY team) and I had to bring the audio PC into my normal network and then of course undo the whole thing. All in all, quite a hassle for a stupid renewal of a licence. I hope the JPLAY team comes up with something more intelligent, at least other manufacturers can do it much better.