AUDIO FORUMS >> General Discussion and Support >> Computer streaming as a source

Message started by Fireblade on 02/05/12 at 01:37:22

Title: Computer streaming as a source
Post by Fireblade on 02/05/12 at 01:37:22

Hi all!  Not sure where to start this thread.  Just want to discuss with more experienced computer-source audiophiles (as well as anybody else interested or with suggestions) my current source setup, and maybe get some pointers.

As you already know, I'm waiting for the Mini Torii and DM945's. Yet, I've also been fine-tunning my source setup which wil drive that gorgeous coming Decware system.

I currently run Foobar2000 in 24 bit/44.1Khz - WASAPI mode through an HRT MS II USB/DAC.  I optimized my laptop (Win 7) for music streaming and configured Foobar2000 for WASAPI and MS II.

After 'will' (from this forum) made me aware of the fact (with which I now concur, after reading articles and listening for details) that original FLAC files sound at least slightly better in uncompressed WAV format, I now exclusively stream WAV files.  I manage to convert every FLAC file on the fly using a built-in, very fast Foobar converter just before sending it to the USB/DAC.

Just ordered a 1 Tb external hard disk drive for backup and memory expansion, to eventually swap part of my music collection to WAV.  Except from some issues with buffer adjustment in Foobar (mostly, but not completely taken care of by minimizing the buffer), I manage to offer an overall good source signal to my SS Bi-amp.

Evidently, I'm in no position to absolute judge the end sound result of this sourcing treatment yet, as my existing gear is not high-end and therefore not as transparent as the future setup.  Until then, I can only compare before and after, relative sound changes, and as far as I'm concerned this new source beats the crap out of my original Hi-Fi DVD/CD player (w/Toslink).

On the USB/DAC front, I have spoken to HRT's CTO (Kevin Halverson), and they offer an upgrade path to go from the MS II to the better sounding MS II + , for just the price difference (returning the original, of course).  I'm still not convinced to follow this path though, as I have some reservations about the MS II compatibility with WASAPI:

Some people have tried with some success connecting a self-powered USB Hub between the USB Cable and the DAC to assist in the power flow and eliminate the sporadic skipping and shuttering that happens only in WASAPI mode, using Foobar2000 (I have not had this inconvenience running other lesser players, like KM Player, for example).

Anyway (this has gotten longer than anticipated), I would be very appreciative of any comments and/or observations that may help me further evolve the best possible sourcing configuration within this computer-based realm.  I'm sorry for the extension of this message.  

Happy listening to all ...

Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by Lon on 02/05/12 at 04:21:19

Have nothing to contribute here as I know far less about this than you, and really can't imagine going through all this effort as I am very happy with my RAM-digital lens transport and DAC and my discs, both audio and video. Like the process, don't like mixing music and computers much, and have so many discs and yet ironically don't find myself wanting the "convenience" that seems to be a big drive to rip and file.

Just want to say I know that there's a big element of fun in the learning and implementation here, so enjoy and happy listening! I know you'll find the right components and methodology.

Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by Fireblade on 02/05/12 at 14:28:52

That's fine, Lon.  It's understandable.  I just feel the future is in computer music streaming, for it's intrinsic potential fidelity.   Also, it allows to go quite high in source sound quality without spending excessively.

IMHO, in the near future, some of the high-end gear manufacturers are going to design a high-end music-only computer/OS, to replace existing transports.  Something radically improved upon what's available today in, say, Apple McIntosh music servers.

All these years I've collected many CD's.  I started in NC when the first batches came out, in 1983.  Since then, I've lost a good portion of these due to initial mistakes in the manufacturing chemicals used in covering the magnetized info on the CD's (film erosion, peeling and perforations.)

Adverstised as a permanent (no mechanical friction or wear) medium, the CD's have not really fulfilled this goal.  Current manufacturing quality has improved but not that much.  Then there's the issue of having to clean each disc everytime.  When you accumulate several hundreds or even thousands of them, it's not a simple task.

Then there's the convenience of transportability.  You can change computers anytime and the basic process you have mastered remains the same.  Also, finding the right album/track you're looking for, etc., all becomes significantly easier.

In the more mediate future, better binary super formats will be developed to record and store music files.  These would be revolutionary.  I think the transport industry we are familiar with today (optical magnetic reading), is a dead-end.  Evidently, there's a lot of interest-resistance involved, but sooner than later these facts will prevail.  Just my opinion, though.

Have a nice listening session, Lon ...

Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by Lon on 02/05/12 at 14:47:02

Well, we can make our own future. With tens of thousands of discs in my house, I can safely say they are in my future.

I hardly EVER have need to clean a disc. I clean a few with glue on them when I first get them if they come in some of the poorly designed box sets.

And I've been collecting discs since '88 and haven't had a single one suffer from "cd rot" etc. Not one. So some of your major "gripes" here I just scratch my head over. :)

Anyway, I think there will also be a simultaneous development of new systems to utilize discs that will incorporate benefits of "computer audio" technology and allow collectors to enjoy their discs. My PS Audio "Duo" is a step in that direction, and I'm very very happy with it. They also believe in having an upgrade path. Playing my discs I don't have to spend time converting audio formats, ripping, etc. Just pop in and play and enjoy.

I see the allure of "hi-res" and the sound is great. . . but I'm happy enough with Redbook and I have glorious Redbook sound in my home. I could still go hi-res and burn to DVDR and play back using my PWT and my PWD if I get the bug. . . but I'm not likely to go crazy in that direction. So much music on hand right here right now, and it's music I love to listen to and explore.

Another reason that I have stayed away from computer audio is. . . I see so many using it for "free music." Which is just theft. And even if they're not downloading illegally they're buying cds, ripping them, selling the cd, and I'm not sure if that's really legal either. Anyway, it's turned me off and away.

Now, back to my musical enjoyment. Billie is singing about her "sweet hunk of trash." And Pops is now chiming in. That's the stuff.

Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by Fireblade on 02/05/12 at 15:32:10

ost of the damaged discs were produced 5 years befiore your first ones.  The've learned some to better their process (the worst came from Germany, mostly DG but also some London Decca).

The other factor is climate.  I've been living in secveral countries and in some cases in very year-long hot, humid climate conditions.  Some fungi tend to eat the material covering the magnetized info out of CD's.  They leave spots and holes on that surface, where you can see light getting through the plastic CD.

As far as your reasons for staying away from computer sourcing, I agree from your point of view.  It's just a matter of convenience and/or practicality.  Then again, I bet you have not moved from your place, mostly.  I've had no real home or country for 30 years, up until the last two.

One thing that puts me off from all Billie Holiday's albums is the sound.  That wonderful voice is evidently not given a fair chance.  Her style is unique and you can sense about her voice, but mostly is a matter of mentally filling in what the recorded sound is not conveying.  It's like Caruso's recordings.  But I agree, the music is the whole idea.

Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by Pale Rider on 02/05/12 at 15:52:06

Fire blade wrote:

IMHO, in the near future, some of the high-end gear manufacturers are going to design a high-end music-only computer/OS, to replace existing transports.  Something radically improved upon what's available today in, say, Apple McIntosh music servers.

Stay tuned. There are already some good ones out there but my money is/will be on the PS Audio Silent Server, which may be close to production.

Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by Lon on 02/05/12 at 15:53:16

Well, I would say that I listen to music recorded from 1918 through the forties ('Pre-tape' music) about 15 5o 20 percent of the time and have for years and years, and did before "digital media," and I can really enjoy the sound. Some of it, recorded directly to disc with one microphone, is GENIUS in its vivid sound. I confess it takes years to develop the "ear" for this type of sound, but I have and I prefer it in many ways to much of the later development in recording. In fact I think that its the listening to early recordings that has tempered my audio obsession, making me seek a "blanket fidelity" that is fair to all my recordings rather than trying to squeeze the very best sound out of any one type of recording. And the ability to enjoy a wide range of recordings is exactly what I love about my system.

I think you're selling the fidelity of Holiday's recordings short. She didn't start recording til after the worst of the early technology (acoustic horn recording) had ceased, and by the time of her Verve recordings there was certainly nothing that had to be 'mentally-filled in' about the sound of her recordings. Even her 'thirties recordings for Columbia labels can sound EXCELLENT. It may not hurt to revisit her work if you enjoy her art.

I live in a hot and humid climate as well. It's true, I haven't moved since 1998, and hadn't moved before that since 1990 (the year of my marriage to my late wife) but I moved a LOT before then. Even if I had all my music in a box of hard drives, I'd have tons of stuff to move, instruments (at present 20 stringed instruments, two drum kits, a keyboard, and five instrument amps), books (thousands), etc. I am the son of a collector of things, and I have the gene fully blown!

I do have cds from before the beginning of my collecting. I just haven't seen the rot or the fungus growing on my discs. Maybe I'm lucky. On the flipside, when I was living in Houston for Helen's cancer treatments, we had two external drives with music and other files on them for the convenience and portability of entertainment and work files. One went belly up in six months, for no apparent reason. Made me VERY wary of this technology, in fact this was the main reason for some time that I did not pursue computer audio. That and the fact that when a computer server was set up in my house by a then-roommate digital engineer, I didn't really hear any sonic benefit.

I applaud your thirst for discovery and the very future of audio. Enjoy the search and discovery. I'm set.

Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by Pale Rider on 02/05/12 at 15:59:08

Lon opined:

Another reason that I have stayed away from computer audio is. . . I see so many using it for "free music." Which is just theft. And even if they're not downloading illegally they're buying cds, ripping them, selling the cd, and I'm not sure if that's really legal either. Anyway, it's turned me off and away.

I think that can be a problem. Not this boy (I have all my discs or legitimately-purchased downloads; I do not agree with Paul McGowan's recent musings on "sharing," and what others do does not define my moral code), but I am sure some do. But another factor here is hi-res downloads. Several vendors are already having good success with these, and it's only a matter of time. I am no eco-freak, but downloads are a green factor, too.

And the he teased with this:

Well, I would say that I listen to music recorded from 1918 through the forties ('Pre-tape' music) about 15 5o 20 percent of the time and have for years and years, and did before "digital media," and I can really enjoy the sound

Do tell! Got any links?

Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by Lon on 02/05/12 at 16:05:54

I certainly was not inferring that anyone here was a digital theif! :)

And yes, I've experienced great sound from hi-res recordings (just listened to a Muddy Waters recording that was stupendous) but it's really just a novelty for me, good for analyzing the system, etc. I live in Redbook and DVD media limitations quite happily, and really fear getting wrapped up in the "very best fidelity" and forsaking the many recordings I have. It's just a personal choice I've made, to hang with the range of fidelity that I have so much of. If I were REALLY to go crazy about high fidelity, I'd probably go back to analog, because I just love that sound so much. But I can't find the music I want in the format here. I could never feed the ever-burning fire with lps bought locally or the chanciness of buying lps over the 'net. But I can concede that that may be one of the best paths to sonic bliss.

Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by Pale Rider on 02/05/12 at 16:19:16

Fireblade, FWIW, I don't think transcoding on the fly is quite as effective as converting the files and storing them as either WAV or AIFF. Just my two cents. Youre adding one more task to the processor.

My computer audio system:

1. Synology Diskstation 411+ NAS and 2010 Mac mini each syncing a complete copy of my 1.6tb library. NAS transcodes AIFF to WAV for both my DAC and my Oppo BDP-95 (which I mostly use for the multi-channel files.

2. Mac mini runs PS Audio eLyric Music Manager.

3. PS Audio PerfectWave DAC/Bridge Mk II connected over wireless network (though the PWD is connected via Cat5 to an Airport Extreme extender which connects to the wireless network over 5gHz). Seems to work well. DAC can acces either the NAS or the EMM. I will likely add a second box running EMM to access the NAS files, or in the alternative, the PS Audio Silent Server when released.

4. PWD/Bridge connects to Decware Ultra. From there, it is all Decware, though with. Few AudioQuest and MAC ICs.

Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by Pale Rider on 02/05/12 at 16:20:59

I certainly was not inferring that anyone here was a digital theif!  

I know; no such inference was taken. But there is no question it is a huge activity.

Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by stone_of_tone on 02/05/12 at 16:37:18

I have large CD collection.....and as Lon mentioned, I have never had a problem with a single Disc. I have been collecting since 1990. I can grab each disc with a particular memory of when too (well, not all 900+ of them).

Anyway, I keep abreast about streaming....and hi-rez files. However, how I decode the red book standard from my disc's is just fine with my AA gear with the PMD100 filter from prof Johnson of Reference Recordings. Whom I had the pleasure of meeting one year at the Pavek Museum.

When the physical media of discs dries up.....then I suppose I'll have to get in to it. I love being a late adapter. The last decade and counting I learn from the early adopter beta testers :-) . You have a finite amount of net time.....and I understand the hobbyist of this.....I just chose not to spend my time on it, or being a slave to my PDA or Facebook either. IT gets in the way of my music listening and fulfillment.  -Stone

Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by Lon on 02/05/12 at 16:37:40

Greg, one way to insure great fidelity of early music on cd is to look for the work of John R. T. Davies. Davies was a great musician who collected 78s of early jazz and jugband music etc. and transferred them with great skill to analog and digital media. There are labels which have featured his work and offered great collections, such as HEP, Frog,Timeless, Origin Jazz, King Jazz,JSP and (my favorite) Jazz Oracle. His work has also been used by the majors such as RCA and Columbia and Universal. His 'protege' Ted Kendall also does great work, carrying on the tradition so to speak.

Here are some favorites,,1047397,00.html

Also any of the Mosaic Records sets of early music have wonderful transfers. The Ellington ones blow all the previous ones out of the water!

And there are excellent sets and single cds from Columbia Records that have great sounding transfers:

Just a few favorites. There are so many more!

Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by Fireblade on 02/05/12 at 17:21:05

The recordings from Billie are best from 1930 to 1941 (her prime), not good sound quality, in my experience.

Pale Rider, I'm not too sure I follow the descrption of your system, as I have no real familiarity with the available computer audio media yet.  I'm sure these new coming digital designs will be something else.

When I bought my first CD's, back in 1983, people would literally run to get access to every new box of CD's arriving to the ensuing stores.  It was a case of demand exceeding by far supply capacity.  You could not find the music you wanted, and could only buy what was available.

I assume this was part of the reason why production was not completely reliable, as was shown years later with the described phenomena.  The bulk of my damaged discs came from that time.

There are many ways to cook an egg ...  indeed

Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by Pale Rider on 02/05/12 at 17:40:07

Lon, thanks for those resources. Much appreciated. Am starting with the Billie Holiday Lady Day collection. On to others after that.

Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by Fireblade on 02/05/12 at 18:13:41

Oh, Pale Rider, I convert the FLAC files into WAV and store them in a specific folder, temporarily (Foobar asks you which folder to store it at).  From that folder, I enact the player on the WAV file.  After listening to a whole session of tracks, I just erase the temporary files (due to lack of enough HD space, for now).

What I meant by 'on the fly' is that it takes seconds to have the file format conversion, so is practical and I don't require extra HD space, as I can always re-convert them over and over. With my coming external drive I will be finally swapping those files into WAV permanently, though.

stone, you said:  'AA gear with the PMD100 filter from prof Johnson of Reference Recordings' ... I guess you're refering to the elimination of the extra images caused by over-sampling the original encoded digital data?

As normally these filters are part of the internals of a modern DAC, this is a more subtle approach than I can grasp at this time, so I'll take a look into it too, thanks.  

Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by Lon on 02/05/12 at 18:23:15

Fireblade wrote on 02/05/12 at 17:21:05:
The recordings from Billie are best from 1930 to 1941 (her prime), not good sound quality, in my experience.

Don't personally agree that only "her prime" is worth hearing, and I totally disagree that you have to "mentally fill in bits" on these recordings. I'd urge you to listen again with less bias towards early recordings, it's surprising how much fidelity is there.

I think Billie's prime extended at least through the Decca period, which was well-recorded as well.

Over and out. Have fun.

Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by Lon on 02/05/12 at 18:27:58

Pale Rider wrote on 02/05/12 at 17:40:07:
Lon, thanks for those resources. Much appreciated. Am starting with the Billie Holiday Lady Day collection. On to others after that.

Welcome as always my friend. Let me know if I can help further.

Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by stone_of_tone on 02/05/12 at 19:10:44

Billie and the Prez..... . The Prez loved Billie.....but Billie did not love the Prez.  I need to play the Prez right now.......... .

Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by Lon on 02/05/12 at 19:19:03

Now wait a minute! There's was a shared love! They were never lovers (at least a couple) and both had others (in Billie's case mostly a-holes I'm afraid), but they loved each other. I do believe it is so, dear friends. They gave each other the nicknames we know them by, Lester dubbed Billie "Lady Day" and Billie dubbed Lester "The President."

Yes, I think I'll spin some Lester Young on Keynote.

Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by will on 02/05/12 at 19:52:30

1) Though Greg and Lon use the same DAC (before Greg's upgrade board) I doubt one source is particularly better than the other. As I get it, the Perfect Wave Transport and DAC combo do the memory play, error correction, async, digital lens......etc. This is why Lon has the perfect setup for himself. Expensive, but for the ultimate CD playback, pretty much state of the art technology.

Greg's setup has the same advantages of memory play, lens and so on using files he has ripped doing the error correction himself, but he has networked files and downloadable highres digital files.. Two different matters, and ideal for his setting and needs. Each has the perfect setup presumably without sacrifice of any kind for the media they use.

2) My rig begins with a Mac Mini with 4GB Ram running at 64 bit (extremely quiet computer relative to most ) fully optimized in software (minimized system and software to bare essentials for music playing... I even quit the Finder. Pure Music is the player I prefer), cabling, weight on the computer and excellent sounding feet. This is followed by the very transparent yet highly musical Tranquility DAC, a minimalist NOS design that is very effective at not being there while providing amazing inner detail, resulting in no sense of loss of any aspect of the music.

With monitor, keyboard, mouse, excellent cables (DbAudio Essential USB, PI Audio power cable optimized for the Tranquility, Reality cable ICs), a very nice 1TB Oyen external firewire mini drive for play, and another for backup (firewire is more optimal for the drives since they then leave the USB buss to the DAC) this source adds up to about 3350. Not cheap, but a complete front end that is approximately equal to a good price on just a Perfect Wave DAC MkII with one good cable.

No way to know how the sound compares to Perfect Wave without direct comparison, but I can say that my front end is extremely lifelike, and its very minimalist design/circuit path appeals to me conceptually...the idea of the least between you and the data, the better. And that those parts were chosen for "no sound" with master tapes as a reference, appeals also.

I use all error corrected uncompressed AIFF files. The Tranquility is so amazing in its smooth, liquid and uncolored presentation, yet with outrageous micro detail and micro dynamics....I never get a sense of insufficient resolution. Doesn't even occur to me. It sounds pretty sense of bits. Ambient cues are a great indicator of the quality of detail, and this DAC excels there with a very real ambient attack through decay...clear as a bell but without hardness or etching. So though I have not listened to highres, and I am sure I would like it through a great DAC, I don't feel like not having it is an impediment to my musical experience from carefully listening to my sound.

But of course the source is part of the matrix that is the System/Room and I have done a lot to tune it all together.

3) A very important aspect of my computer setup for me is this. Though I have done a lot of room work, for whatever reason I still have low bass issues. Pure Music integrates EQ into its "hogmade" (where the software forces prioritization of most computer resources to go Pure Music) and having this EQ integrated is big for me.

Rather than having to build another bass trap (a big one, since most of what I filter with EQ is 30Hz and down) I can fine tune with my player software. I have created a bunch of very specific notch filters pulling 1 to 3 dB narrow notches down to 23 Hz. There I have a 4 dB cut. Then there are two low shelfs. At 18 Hz, -15dB, and finally a dump shelf at 12.7 Hz of - 40dB.

This took a while to sort out by ear, but it has really improved a system that sounded truly great before, but required careful tube/wire selection to get there without bass muddle. With EQ my sound is not great, but sort of unbelievable, and I can use any tubes with no concerns for low bass density clouding the music, using only the Torii bass and treble knobs for fine tuning. The bass is unreal to me it is sooo real, deep, but impressively taught...very natural sounding. As is the rest. I love this sound!

Conceptually I might not want to use EQ this way in the mids and highs, but in the bass, I don't hear a problem imposed by software. And the beauty is that this is like mastering the entire music collection to fit my system/room and tastes since it happens in the software player, just like it does in the mastering software that was used on all our CDs.

Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by Pale Rider on 02/06/12 at 02:10:22

Implicit in Will's excellent post is that there is more than one way to skin a cat.

I use a Mac mini in my headphone rig, and while I once used Pure Music, I now switch between Audirvana and Fiddlia. All provide excellent sound on the mini platform. Properly configured (as Will has done), the mini makes an excellent platform. And also like Will, I have had excellent experience with good NOS DACs. If it weren't for my desire to play hi-res files, I would probably still be using one of those.

Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by will on 02/06/12 at 02:42:20

Greg, the main attraction to Pure for me at first was excellent iTunes integration. Then it got better sounding through a few versions. But most, I like it for the integrated EQ. Otherwise I would have settled for the very good sounding Audirvana with its recent iTunes integration upgrade.

However, inadvertently, through adding a number of dithered EQ filters (5!) in Pure Music I think I caused the software to process more of the signal (about 2% processor usage), and with a little noise shaping play, it was sounding on the  Audirvana and Fidelia side of untouched Pure Music.

When I was turned on to the latest Audirvana, I sounded a bit processed to me, but really amazing in detail differentiation with sweet musicality, but why this level of fuss? Well I tried Pure without and processing and it sounded lean and cool by comparison. I did not realize how far I had veered from the baseline sound. Now I think I like PureMusic better, to me rich and musical enough, but more transparent and neutral. But this is with the EQ that helped take my system way over the top for the "player in the room" game.

This causes me to wonder if the main difference in the sounds of the players has to do with the level of dithering built into Audirvana and Fidelia (before tweaking), and dithering being more optional in Pure Music. Who knows. I find all of these guys explanations of their programs too obscure, probably in their attempt to hold onto their secrets.

Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by Fireblade on 02/06/12 at 15:08:57

Thanks for the thorough description, will.  As usual with your inputs, I learn in quantum leaps with one read.

It's a shame (for me, anyway) that nobody here seems to favor the Windows platform for this purpose.  Conceptually at least, there should not be major differences.  I'm used to PC's, so that's naturally my first choice.

I suspect Foobar2000 is equivalent to Pure Music. When combined with WASAPI in exclusive mode, it takes absolute control of the entire audio processing plumbing, subduing to the USB/DAC in place.  If fed with properly ripped (error free EAC) FLAC/WAV files, the fidelity is impressive.  

It also incorporates an EQ, but I am not using it for now, until I get to fine tune the new rig, along with speaker positioning and some room adjustments.  Conceptually again, I dislike EQ's.  Sometimes you need them though, especially in the case of too bright room reflections/ speakers or muddy bass, as you have successfully applied.

As per the USB/DAC, I know there are better ones out there, costing a little fortune.  The point is how to get the best acceptable sound with the minimum investment.  In this regard, the HRT line is very successful (and I still may try the improved '+' ugraded version of mine.)  There are also promising new ones, like the Shiit Bifrost and DACit, both affordable and very well reviewed.

Weight on the computer? Sound feet? ... Unfamiliar terms to me, although I can guess their purpose.  Definitely considered as options for me for the fine-tunning stage as explained earlier.

I have 2 Gb of RAM and my Win 7 is running at 32 Kb.  I can fix both issues, no problem, especially if I'm convinced these are worth changing.  Are they?

A question I have regarding external drives, is would you use the player with files directly off the external drive rather than the internal HDD?  Is there a sound issue involved?  For example, I've increased the RAM memory buffer to 500,000 Kb, to make sure every file I play comes out of RAM with no HDD activity present.  Shouldn't this be enough?

NOS DACs:  I guess this means Not Over Samplig DaCs?  I was adviced by Kevin Halverston (HRT CTO) to avoid sampling beyond the native sampling of the source (CD), which is 44K1.  Sample sizes can be 24 bits no problem, even though the original recording size is 16 bits.

If the above holds, I would be virtually doing NOS at implementation, so there must be something else you like in NOS DACs that I don't know?

Anyway, great topic and fabulous inputs from you guys, thank you very much ...   Now back to the complete Webster/Mulligan.


Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by will on 02/06/12 at 19:53:33

Of course these will be generalizations, but with that disclaimer in place I will try to explain the Mac Mini thing.

Mac: I think there are several reasons a lot of folks prefer Macs. One is that the quality and output of the parts are chosen for efficient corners cut. This ensures an optimized machine without having to mess around. It also points to the value of support Apple places on its computing experience. If the quality is good and uniform, support is less needed, and simpler. Good parts synergistically integrated for the optimal computing experience is different than trying to make a computer as cheap as possible while appearing to be powerful as possible. Of course this is not always the case with stock Windows based machines, but very often it is.

Also, a lot of artists have long ago adopted the Mac platform. A foundation of the Mac that artists tend to be able to relate to is in how the computer and applications tend to be designed. With the Apple design protocol, for the system and applications, process is set up to be intuitively graspable by using our natural problem solving methods as integral priorities in software development. So traditionally there have been less frustrations in using a Mac, and this in turn makes artists like the tool, making it easier to be creative in an unimpeded natural way. So a lot of musicians and music lovers use Macs and therefore develop nice intuitive software and hardware tweaks in the platform. Also the System is easy to play with making optimization easy and user friendly.

Not that this does not happen with Windows gear and users, or that the same objectives can't be met with Windows gear. Just that it is a bit more of a given with Macs.

The most interesting thing I run into when helping friends who have shifted over to Mac is solving their deeply ingrained fear of computers. It usually takes a long while to get over the "you have performed an illegal exception causing a fatal error," or "you opened the wrong file and now your computer is way sick" psychology, and replace it with..."wow, I can figure this out and fix it myself, and this is sort of fun"...the creative interactive attitude as opposed to the oppositional/need to learn it or hire someone habit.

Mini: I doubt it was designed as a great music server, though this may have been considered. More likely, it was designed to be very small, quiet, powerful, and cool looking. In this small/powerful equation, efficiency is very important for small powerful parts. Using them throughout produces less heat, while tending to be inherently quieter.

Also, for the pleasurable use experience, the distraction of fan noise is not good. So the unit needs to cool passively for the most part and if there is a fan, it needs to be subtle, and therefore quiet. The solid aluminum body is the passive cooler that takes care of things for the most part, but this mass also makes it a very stable vibration-wise, and as we all know, vibration and sensitive electronic gear designed for great music are not compatible. Also there is the electronic noise shielding from this solid aluminum body. And finally, differentiating it from a well made laptop, it has no monitor or keyboard on board, further simplifying the unit and reducing electronic noise.

Long story, but I think the Mini just happened to turn out to be a great server based upon all of the above! Interestingly, they wouldn't have done much better had they designed it with this in mind.

But the Windows music guys are out there as you have found with Foobar. Have you looked around over at lately for the latest Windows user input. I have no idea how Foobar and Pure Music compare, but all the good player software sounds different on the Mini, so it is possible that there is a player that you would prefer over Foobar, or that there are recent optimization discoveries.

Feet an Weight: We have found that computer output is clearly not all 1's and 0's, that analog information/noise comes across the wires too. And the 1 and 0 information can be truncated inside the computer in various ways if not given the correct processing of clean, uncompressed files. And vibration effects sensitive electronics making it just as likely to have an effect on a computer as another piece of audio gear.

I have tried several different vibration damping feet under the Mini and can definitely hear the difference. This proves to me that vibration is solvable with the Mini, and that vibration control is a way to refine the sound to tastes. Weight on top made a difference too, I suppose by drawing off heat and vibration, but also by how it causes the feet to function. At any rate, the weight makes the sound more solid and focused in my setting.

RAM: I can't answer your question on RAM except to say that even with an optimized computer, the system burns a lot of RAM, and the more free RAM there is the better the music. One would think that 500MB would be plenty of allocated RAM being nearly a CD in 44.1K/16 bit data. Do you have a program that can log how much virtual memory is used while playing music, virtual memory being the computer using hard disk for memory needs? This is what we want to avoid. Eric at dBaudiolbs (Tranquility) has done loads of double blind testing with optimized Mac Minis, and he says 4GB RAM is the least we want on a Mini and that you can hear subtle changes with 8GB. I am assuming that greater RAM takes care of all processing that is going on more efficiently, minimizing Hard Drive activity.

64 bit seems logical if your computer utilizes it. Eric Hider recommended it as a Mini optimization. He does the blind thing, and everything he has told me that I have tested I could hear too. And since it is easy to turn on in the Mini, I just did it without testing. If you can turn it on during startup, why not test it yourself and see if it helps.

EQ Conceptually, I think quality digital EQ, cleanly implemented in the software player is entirely different than having it mid signal once in the analog realm. The work is done before the analog conversion as an integral part of the digital file just like when mastering. But it can be done in the analog realm very well, it just costs loads to do it. I get the purist aversion, but like usual, the test is in how the music effects the listener! I listen hard, and for my setting, surgical EQ has assisted in a more easily achieved world class sound. Not to have used it for conceptual reasons would have been foolish. I suspect this could be the case for many computer audio heads, even some with perfect rooms, allowing fine tuning of gear synergy and tastes.

External Drive: I don't know how memory play in Foobar is configured. Unless it can pull in a whole playlist or album at once, you will be accessing the tunes from the hard drive, and this activity will be interactive with the system and player software action increasing hard drive work. Also remember that the fuller the drive is, the more it has to work to hunt the files and relay them to the player/RAM. So a drive that is very simple due to bare essential data makes sense toward our optimized goal. The really serious guys use Solid State drives for the system and software and external drives for music files.

Moving the music files to an external drive for me was an audible improvement. But i also am able to use the firewire buss, so it is not interactive with the USB buss, which has good theoretical internal noise consequences. I think a lot of these things get pretty subtle though if your computer is powerful and quiet.

If nothing else, you need a good drive to back up all you files, so why not configure Foobar to use the backup drive as the library and listen. Might be good to wait until you have your new gear all broken in though as it is likely to be very revealing and a better ultimate indicator.

NOS DACs are another area I have a limited story on. They have been popular from the start and interestingly, the favored NOS chips are ancient technology (in digital time) and I think there may just be a few of them. But they have a sound that a lot of people love to work with sort of like tubes....may be that there are musical harmonics that they bring out? Then of course, it is how it is implemented that makes or breaks a DAC, the chip being only one part in the stream. So I can't say I am a NOS DAC advocate, but I love my Tranquility DAC.

Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by will on 02/06/12 at 20:56:49

Not That you want a PS after all that, but in the interest of great sound with a computer source:

I really like the way Pure Music works with dithered EQ, and I find it to be a very sophisticated, and "purist" player sound-wise. But whenever I use it to change the sample rate or the bit depth, it does it well, but I personally find that the sound suffers. This may not be the case with Foobar, or with your system and tastes, but for me, I prefer letting those aspects of the signal pass to the DAC in Native mode...44.1/16 without software intervention.

Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by will on 02/07/12 at 01:16:11

However, this got me thinking about the Apple Audio Out setting. I had always set it to 44.1/16 to stay with original file and DAC integration, and liked this best. I have had several upgrades in Pure since then and wondered if anything had changed in terms of Pure controlling the Apple Audio out settings.

Well I think it may have. PureMusic has a thing called a PAD that you can install to enable running other computer sound through Pure. Then you can use it for cool little things besides EQ, like multichannel with 4 stereo busses with crossovers, volume, delay to tune a sub or a surround system. I had installed this some time ago to play Apple DVD movies on the Mac through PureMusic, and forgot about it.

Today I looked at the Apple Audio Output, and Pure is causing the audio out to default to the installed PAD which is set at 32 bit! So I unknowingly have been using 32 bit out, probably for the last few updates of PureMusic and Mac OS!

I just tested it repeatedly, removing the plugin and defaulting back to native 16 bit mode for the DAC, and I was surprised to think I might prefer the 32 bit out, converted presumably by the OS software. But before I did not like it! I guess Mac OS has improved the internal conversion to something I might like. Guess I should check out the latest iTunes!

I still prefer to leave the internal Pure Music settings on 44.1/16 bit, but I think I like this last 32 bit touch the OS is doing via the Pure Music PAD. This requires further investigation.

I guess the bottom line is that it doesn't necessarily matter if you can figure out what is going on, or what the conventions are, it is worth exploring options the most for tuning to the most pleasurable playback.


Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by Fireblade on 02/08/12 at 01:40:52

Thanks, will.  I can certainly tell you have reached a very advanced state of evolution in this concept.  Congrats!

I wish I knew this before I purchased my new laptop, recently.  In any event, I agree with your conclusion on keeping the trial and error discipline and gradually improve conditions, until reaching a plateau of acceptable great sound (at least in my case).

Hopefully, these gradual changes would concern relatively minor scale investments if you start with the right basics.  In this case, Decware gear will provide the means to detect differences in every other component.

I've decided the HRT MS II USB/DAC is so good, I'm definitely upgrading to the improved version, the HRT MS II +, after all.  Once my external drive arrives, I will use that to enact the player within.

Regarding RAM size and Foobar2000, I'm sure the initial search for the track file will impose some HDD activity, but once it is in the player's realm (and certainly once it has been converted to WAV), the data is all coming from RAM memory (that's why the buffer was set so large).

If my feeling is right, the improved USB/DAC addition will provide the platform for all the fine-tunning mods to come, from room conditioning to EQ testing and some cables swapping.  In the end, I expect a longish convergent evolution path until I may be satisfied.  But like in motorcycle riding, the destination is less important than the experiences to get there.

Eventually, I'll also replace the laptop for something like the Mac Mini, in due time.  BTW, I'm not sure how to configure Win 7 in 64 bits without loosing all my current platform.  I'll check on that.  Point is, that's the only way to be able to take advantage of RAM beyond 4Gbs.

I sincerely think I've nailed the bulk of the concept.  I just need to keep working on the myriad of details in the described evolution path.  If the Decware gear is as you guys have told me, I'm sure my initial setup, green as it may be, will sound terrific.

Regarding info from Computer Audiophile's forum, I personally have not been lucky finding support over there.  Or should I say, they were somewhat useful starting from scratch, but at this level, I don't get feedback.  I've placed at least two threads recently, with little or no replies.

I don't have enough experience with Foobar2000 yet, so I really could not tell what's amiss in my current version until I master the operational issues and options offered.  Only then I may compare it to other players, in same configuration conditions and decide which I like better.  So, I have plenty of homework ahead, as you can tell.

I really appreciate your always very valuable feedback, will.  Keep it up all you want and continued success in your audio Nirvana quest.  Cheers!


Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by will on 02/08/12 at 02:06:03

Fireblade, Sounds to me like you are right on track and you will very likely love your sound with the upgraded DAC, and the laptop you have. Decware gear is revealing to be sure, but it is also very musical. And you can tune it with wire and tubes too! It will allow you to hear your experimentation at a refined level, AND, it will make the gear you use sound good!

So after it is all broken in, when you find ways to further explore Foobar, you laptop, tubes, cables or whatever, like you say, the ride is as important as the destination. Which BTW for me is likely always out there! Learn/perceive more and then there is more to explore. The wonders of creativity!

If you can upgrade your RAM easily, 4 GB should cover you if you ever feel deficient, and if my experience is translatable to yours. I feel fine with 4 GB....but I haven't tried 8 yet! :-?

Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by Brett on 02/08/12 at 03:46:05

Great thread for reference...

Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by Fireblade on 02/08/12 at 21:07:25

Thanks, will.  I just ordered the chip to increase my RAM to 4 Gb, which is the maximum allowed for a 32 bit Win 7 configuration.  It turns out you have to re-install a 64 bit Win 7 OS version if you want more RAM than that (up to 16 Gbs), so I'm sticking to the 32 bits version  for now, as I cannot warranty the compatibilities in all the stuff I have put together so far.  I don't want to risk starting over again, with non-clear advantages stemming from the 64 bit configuration, at least from what I've been able to read.

Thanks for that interesting thread, Brett.  I went over the whole story there, and I could tell how those ideas were evolving in the direction of where we are today.  It's amazing how many things change in a short time span in this field.  What I read from it, corroborates what I've researched in the past 3 months or so.

I'm very encouraged to see some real tangible progress being achieved finally, and the curiosity and anticipation to listen to all this sound structure in practice, is killing me!  One thing I can say is I've never heard my existing SS setup sound as good as it is today.  This is a testament to the huge leverage the computer sourcing concept brings to the playing table, along with the USB/DAC.

It takes a while to get the juices flowing, the inertia of overcoming the initial threshold of the learning curve, but once you're on the go, things just start clicking in place and are either processed, digested and adapted, or simply discarded, with relative ease.  In the beginning, the task was seemingly unsurmountable, at least for me, with all the jargon and technical wrap making me dizzy.  That doesn't mean I feel comfortable or satisfied, but mainly encouraged to continue this quest and get to the bottom of it, at least up to my own level of complacency.

Have a great listening, guys ...   good job!


Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by MichaelHiFi on 02/13/12 at 21:36:15

Thought I'd chime in here. I mentioned in another thread, I've been working with computer audio for many years starting with Squeezeserver. I still have my hot-rodded Squeezebox 3. That system worked reasonably well but you still had to put an effort in order to keep things tidy. And often the case when the software/hardware handshake wouldn't happen, then a long evening(s) sorting through the mess. I moved on to the PS Audio gear. But it was the same story (I was an early adopter). I simply grew tired of fixing software, rebooting computer, server, my brain...

I'm currentlu using a BDP95 connected to a hard drive. Easy. Only wish the hard drive didn't have a proprietary USB cable. I'm still curios whether the performance orientated USB cables have sonic attributes?

In fact, now that I think of it, it may not be such bad idea to disassemble the hard drive and dampen as many parts as possible (jitter reduction?). That's it, the worlds first audiophile hard drive! (don't be stealin my idea)

Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by will on 02/14/12 at 14:39:35

Proprietary hard drive USB cable? Odd.

I have to reset the handshake from within Pure Music on very rare occasion, but it is an easy menu command. Other than that, I have had flawless interaction between the Mac Mini and Tranquility. This is a NOS (no async) DAC, and there are notable difference in cable sounds in this setup, enough to make it worth exploring good cables, both USB and Power. The thing is that the USB cables carry digital data, but they have analog attributes too, so noise management is as important as with any cable.

My other front end (Music FidelityV-Link/ZDAC/Zstage) works fine connecting with sources too when it is working correctly (my ZDAC had some degenerating problem works great for a long time, then all the sudden, just won't connect to any source. A new board and all is fine). But even with the async, it too is effected by cables. For it I prefer the Wireworld Starlight USB and for the Tranquility, I prefer the DbAudioLabs Essential USB.

I have no knowledge of the workings of the Oppo, so can't comment on it and how it interacts with the hard drive. I did hear improvements from moving music files off my Mini internal hard drive, and onto to an external firewire drive though, something you are already doing.

Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by Fireblade on 02/14/12 at 17:49:34

HRT's CTO, Kevin Halverson, told me to stay away from USB-based external hard drives, as these would compete for resources from the host's USB root, with the HRT MS II + USB/DAC.  He's all for having the external drive on NAS or FireWire, as is already common knowledge in compuer audiophilia.

I don't currently have any of these two choices available, as my laptop is Windows-based and without FireWire ports, and I do not have a LAN either.  Yet, when I explained to him my playback procedure (which BTW has provided excellent results with my current MS II), he agreed.

Essentially, I'm leaving a time period separation between the two processes ('in' file data to the player from either drive through one USB Port, and 'out' player-processed data to the DAC from the other USB port).

This is possible because I call a selection of files from the hard disk, and have Foobar2000 convert them to WAV (takes only seconds), and with the big file buffer all these files go to RAM.  Then, I just stream those files to my audio system through the DAC.

Non-concomitant USB-IN and OUT processes allow me to use the only available method, presently, to play WAV files remotely and reduce internal noises and jitter to the minimum possible, within my setup constraints.  I tell you, with my internal drive the sound is great now, so I 'm expecting further improvements when my self-powered 1.5 Tb HDD arrives, along with the new MS II+.

With 4 Gbs in RAM and plenty of available hard disk space (storing the bulk of files on my future remote Drive) and running WAV files (EAC- no error compilations) through the upgraded MS II+, will take this cybernetic sourcing concept to a higher level than it deserves in the current market, given the total investment.

So, it may be more comfortable to buy the best there is, at much expense, but I'm having fun and getting great sound for a much more reasonable cost.  I'm betting, of course, on the delightful Mini-Tori/DM945's combo to crown this sourcing setup.

I've spent many hours doing research on this, almost from scratch, but I can see this time investment is as precious as putting all that money into fancier equipment.  Decware's philosophy is one I share innately, as getting best bang for the buck and still meet a sonic threshold of sorts is more appealing to me.

It's like riding my bike:  I could never afford (nor would I, if I could) a car with the performance specs of my 'jap crutchrocket'.  It's just exhilarating, and it does not require to be rich to enjoy high tech engineering in a pure sports thoroughbred.  Of course, I've invested in all kinds of accessories and stuff, to make it even better, but at incremental investment levels.

Life is great, you have to enjoy it, one way or the other.  Take care now ...

Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by MichaelHiFi on 02/14/12 at 20:08:39

So, using an external hard drive connected directly to a source unit such as my Oppo can be detrimental to sound quality in the from of jitter maybe? I'm not understanding the impact of using the root USB hub of the Oppo and the effect it may have on SQ. You seem to have some serious knowledge about this, way beyond me :)

I have my Oppo wired (not wireless) to my home network and have a D-Link storage array of 4ea 1.5 TB hard drives. The actual process of accessing my music files (FLAC ripped through EAC and DBPoweramp) is often painfully slow. Thus my brilliant (or not so brilliant) idea of procuring a 3 TB "My Touch or book" drive just for direct connecting my library to the Oppo. First mistake was that I needed to reformat to 2TB to get a MBR that the Oppo can see! Second mistake was that this external hard drive has a different style of connection at the hard drive, perhaps due to it's 3.0 USB specification. I screwed up bad on that purchase...

Lately I've been reading about how even FLAC files are somewhat compromised compared to a WAV file. The whole idea started out as "getting a bit perfect file compressed in a FLAC wrapper". Now I want to revisit and compare files on my system, or NOT!

Then I read about all types of audiophile software that one should use to play files through the computer. It all gets a little unnerving.

Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by will on 02/14/12 at 20:55:30

Michael, It occurs to me that if your hard drive has no serving capability..IE, is not a computer, but is a drve only, that the USB cable would theroetically have much less effect than in a computer-USB cable-DAC setup. This is since the computer has a lot going on that can generate noise, and also, because jitter is caused by clocking between the computer and the DAC. It sounds like you have an external hard drive hooked to the Oppo for it to access files. In this case, presumably the Oppo is doing all the clocking and processing work that a computer might. Is this true?

If so, you are probably not going to hear problems from the drive or drive cable anywhere near like you might from a computer-USB cable-DAC. Also, I don't really think you need a firewire, or whatever non-USB connection since in your case, the USB to hard drive is already independent from the "computing" in the Oppo. It is when you are using a computer as a server that using a different buss for the USB DAC and the external hard drive can be better. So I am guessing you have no real worries with the USB in your particular setup.

The main thing is the sound! And if you are getting good sound, if you feel like going further in time, you have time to sort it out.

Try the Flac versus WAV thing and see if it matters. It does to some (like me) and not to others, and I think this can be effected in a pretty big way by gear or software too. So you may have no issues at all with your setup.

Also, if you dive back into computer audio some day, there are effective ways to do it (gear/cables/software) that just work and you don't have to reinvent the wheel. There is enough fun in just refining things to tastes without bending the brain too much!

Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by MichaelHiFi on 02/14/12 at 22:36:41

I simply have a hard drive connected to the back of the Oppo. That's it. Fast access, and a simple Oppo interface. The BDP95 will get modded pretty soon, getting some finer clocks, some power supply work, and a new output stage.

Can one rebuild a FLAC file back into a WAV file without actually damaging the file?

I hope I'm still on topic.

Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by will on 02/14/12 at 23:18:35

Right, so all the "computer part" is in the Oppo, meaning jitter and primary noise potential is in the Oppo. And Oppo has done the homework. So if you like it, I think you are good. What modder are you going to use.

Flac files are "bit perfect" with the compression coming from subtractions of non music data and spaces if I am not mistaken, so you can decompress them to WAV with no loss to the music. I think you may have lost other information data in the compression, but not sure if any of it will matter to you. If you Google around you can figure this out. It may be that your Ripping software can batch convert Flac to WAV. If not there is software out there that will.

There are a lot of serious music heads, like those you listened to before making Flac files, who swear there is no difference in sound, Flac to WAV. There was for me, with my first tests between Apple Lossless and AIFF, so I stayed with AIFF, Apple's WAV. Also AIFF is highly compatible with iTunes, my background library that PureMusic takes over for playback, so I used it over WAV.

I wonder about waiting for your mods to test the Flac to WAV sound difference. I bet they are designed to deal with some of these issues, and also will probably make your sound more transparent, making the differences more clear if they are there for you.

Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by Fireblade on 02/15/12 at 01:55:42


I'm glad will has replied before I could, as he's even more familiar with this topic than myself.  The way I understand this, is exactly as he explained.  

Let me stress that the issue is only the overburdening of the USB root at the host (computer), when having to satisfy high-level competing demands at the same time.  This creates a situation where neither party can be fully satisfied.

The described event can affect the SQ significantly, when one of the USB-Root demanding parties is, in effect, a USB/DAC like the MS II+, which for example requires 80% of the total possible current allocation from any USB 2.0 computer port.  This is 60% higher current demands than my current MS II (simpler version).

Although current may not be directly linked to the mentioned overloading problem, it correlates with the level of translation and internal conversion demands and processes generated at USB Root levels from the MS II+.  

For the described scenario, some people even recommend using a self-powered USB hub to assist the USB-Root at the host computer by providing load relief from the HS to FS translations, for example.

If something I've learned so far, is the simpler and more redundant the components are, the better sound, ceterius paribus.  So, don't worry with the Oppo setup (BTW, great reviews all over), as this is not the problem I was refering to in my previous message.  



Title: Re: Computer streaming as a source
Post by Pale Rider on 02/15/12 at 15:10:37

I echo Will's question. Who will do our mods for your Oppo? I have considered modding my BDP-95, but the problem I have is that 99% of my music comes through my PWDAC, and not my Oppo, so I am not a all sure I want to spring the $.

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