Computer Audio

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Table of Contents

Introduction

2017/01/17

My first functioning DAC is working excellent, therefore it becomes time to take care about a suitable digital source. For the first tests I took an embedded PC with Windows 7 Professional, Foobar2000 and Fidelizer Pro. The audiophile result was not bad, but my SACD player is hearable better. So I took a look in the high-end computer audio scene to get an idea about a proper system.

  • 2 PC solution (Control-PC & Audio-PC) plus tablet
  • MS Server Operating System
  • exclusive ethernet connection between both computers

Since a longer time I kept an eye on Roon as my main audio player software and with this project it becomes time to change over to it. I want to operate the complete computer system from my tablet. The first PC is the data storage for the music files and the Roon Core – it runs the Roon server and database. The second PC is a pure audio player.

Hardware

2017/01/17

The requirements for the control PC are reasonably high and therefore I bought an up-to-date and powerful hardware. The operating system and audio software are stored on a SSD and the music files on a big 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 took the descission for the mainboard mainly because of the onboard 2 ethernet ports and the integrated WiFi port.

The hardware is integrated in a mini tower from Fractal Design. Of course this PC is not free from noises with its hard drive and 3 fans (CPU, power supply and case), but it is surprisingly quiet. Nevertheless it will placed in the room nearby my listening room. The connection to the audio PC is an exclusive ethernet line.

For the audio player I’ve got an used embedded PC. I equipped it with a SSD for the operating system and the audio software. This PC has a passive cooling and therefore it is free of noises. Furthermore the hardware is powerful enough for its intended task.

  • Aaeon AEC-6876 with an Intel Core i5-2510E processor
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • SSD Samsung 750 EVO 120GB

Currently I run the audio PC with its external switching power supply. In the future I will replace it with a DIY linear regulated power supply.

Software

2018/11/20

As I mentioned above I use on both computers Windows Server 2012 R2 as the operating system. In the BIOS of the PC’s I switched off everything around Intel SpeedStep, Turbo Mode, C-States, Virtualization Technology and Hyper-Threading. The operating systems are installed with the GUI.

Direct after the start of the new installed operation systems I implemented on both computers only the absolutely needed hardware drivers. In my case it was the chipset and LAN drivers. I installed no other driver software, particularily no drivers for the integrated graphic chips.

The network addresses have a fixed number and don’t get it dynamically from my router via DHCP. You have to take care that both addresses for the exclusive LAN interface between the control and audio PC has another address range as your internal LAN. After the installation the audio PC is no longer directly connected to the internal LAN of my home network.

After the installation of the operation systems and a following lengthy update of the software I put on both computers the USB driver for the Amanero Technologies card of my DAC and installed also JPLAY. An audio driver is not needed on the control PC for the normal operation of a two PC solution, but you need it for the configuration of JPLAY. Without an audio driver on the control PC I couldn’t set up this software.

After the successfull installation of the JPLAY communication between both PC’s over the exclusive LAN interface, I installed on the control PC the Roon server software and transfered my music files to the hard drive. The last step was to install the Roon App on my tablet. With it the system was ready to play music for the first time.

My first listening impressions are very positive, however I don’t hear the system very long in this condition. As the last step I installed on both computers the Audiophile Optimizer. With it I optimize the audio PC nearly completely – incl. a deactivation of the GUI. On the control PC I leave actually the GUI active.

Even if you don’t use the Audiophile Optimizer it is worth to have a look at its documentation which you can download from their website. It is a good starting point for high end computer audio with a lot of useful informations.

At least the following software packages are installed on the computers:

Control-PC / Roon Core

  • Windows Server 2012 R2
  • Chipset and LAN Drivers
  • Amanero Technologies USB Driver
  • JPLAY
  • Roon Server
  • Audiophile Optimizer

Audio-PC

  • Windows Server 2012 R2
  • Chipset and LAN Drivers
  • Amanero Technologies USB Driver
  • JPLAY
  • Audiophile Optimizer

The result is as good as I had hoped. After the first listening impressions and comparisons the audiophile performance of the system is at least equal to my premium SACD player. It showed also at which high level the hardware of my DAC is working.

Updates:
End of January 2017 after a friendly email contact with AudioPhil from Audiophile Optimizer I set the highest possible optimization mode for my system. I activated the Minimal Server Mode for the control PC and the Core Mode for the audio PC. Additionally I set Disable Network related Features on the audio PC, which is possible with JPLAY and a fixed IP address. The result is really impressive. Like that I never heard music from a digital source before.

You find my actual Audiophile Optimizer settings for both PC’s at the following Links:

At the end of April 2018 I installed an update of the Audiophile Optimizer from version 2.10 to 2.20. I was very pleasantly surprised how easy such an update is. Once again a proof of how professional and well designed this software is!!!

In November 2018 there was an update from JPLAY 6.2 to 7. The effort for the update is higher than for the Audiophile Optimizer, but also gives you the opportunity to update the Windows systems with the latest security patches. After the installation and the setting of JPLAY 7 I was curious if the euphoric announcements on the internet regarding the improved audio performance compared to the predecessor could be reproduced on my system – I was skeptical. Meanwhile I agree with these statements, unbelievable what potential is still in the systems. There is definitely no way back to version 6.2 for me.