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Music Streamer Transport (“MST”) vs Audiophile Fanless Silent computer

Cbreeze

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Hello everyone,

I am sourcing for a MST and having studied what goes into a good quality MST (e.g. Aurender N200, Auralic Aries G2.2, LUMIN U2, Innuos Pulsar) that would easily cost $5-$8K, I came to realise that such MST are purpose-built computer in a scale down version consisting of some similar components commonly found in computer as follow:
  1. Motherboard for a quite low power CPU e.g. Quad core Cortex-A72 or Intel Quad Core N4200
  2. RAM: Up 8GB SSD DDR3
  3. Storage/Memory: SSD
  4. Fanless and low noise topology
  5. I/O Connections comes with Motherboard:
    1. USB for external storage drive,
    2. i2S output,
    3. USB chip for dedicated and galvanically isolated USB output,
    4. Fibre Network Ethernet LAN or isolated Gigabit LAN input
  6. Power Supply: Quality Linear Power Supply Unit (Big Toroidal transformer with huge capacitor banks and rectifier/linear regulator circuit). This took up much of the space.
Other unique component/software:
  1. Some comes with reclocker
  2. Proprietary Control software/app, multiple streaming inputs of various streaming services, support up to DSD512 22.5Mhz, 1-bit and PCM 768kHz, 16-32 bit, upsampling to DSD256 & PCM 384KHz, support multiple streaming file formats.
  3. LCD display (something I don’t see a need for since control over tablet or phone app is preferred. I also feel the display will add noise and will be complicated if the screen degrade or goes faulty)
Based on the above, I felt such MST are overpriced with quite basic computer components where they will be outdated in 3 years or more and these companies will push out more “advance” model to give consumer a reason to upgrade.

As such, having research on fanless computer for audiophile music streaming and components to further enhance the audiophile experience, I am leaning towards building my own Audiophile Music Streamer with components as follow:
  • Item 1: Assemble a fanless silent computer and higher spec components:
a. Fanless computer chassis with heat pipe for CPU & SSD passive cooling
b. Motherboard: ITX/ATX with WiFi for Intel i7 CPU
c. CPU: Intel i7-13700 13th Gen Raptor Lake
d. RAM: 32GB Kingston Fury DDR5 5200MHz
e. System Memory: Samsung 990 PRO 1TB SSD M.2
f. Storage: Samsung 990 PRO 2TB SSD M.2
g. Video output: Onboard UHD Graphic 770 (to provide video signal to my OLED TV to showcase album cover during streaming playback)
h. Jcat USB XE (PCIe 5.0) dedicated for audiophile USB connection output to DAC
i. Jcat Ethernet XE (PCIe 5.0) audiophile Ethernet LAN card for high quality digital signal input
  • Item 2: Holo RED for USB to I2S output into DAC (This can be an enhancement at a later stage)
  • Item 3: Invest in a superior quality LPS unit to supply clean and quiet power for the Fanless computer, the Jcat USB XE card and Jcat Ethernet XE
  • Item 4: Subscription to Roon and HQPlayer as music streamer software
With this DIY approach, I could probably do it with $5.5K (Fanless computer $2K, Jcat card $1.5 K, LPS $1K, Roon lifetime subscription $1K) vs say an Innuos Pulsar @ $8.5K. I will also have better control over my computer under a Window 11 OS and other ancillary usage.

Questions:
  1. Is my analysis and reasoning correct to build an audiophile fanless computer instead of spending on a good quality but expensive MST and still achieve the same superb SQ of such MST?
  2. Should I add expensive USB card under item 1h and item 1i ?
  3. Will there be any noise generated by the higher powered CPU and RAM chip that may have a negative effect on the music reproduction?
  4. How can I remotely communicate and control my computer for music streaming, upscaling via my tablet or mobile phone? (Roon app?)
  5. Will such audiophile computer be susceptible to computer virus or malicious cyber attack?
  6. Can I operate the fanless computer 24/7 over every weekends?
Thank you.
 

BDWoody

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I am sourcing for a MST and having studied what goes into a good quality MST (e.g. Aurender N200, Auralic Aries G2.2, LUMIN U2, Innuos Pulsar) that would easily cost $5-$8K,

Welcome!

Yes, there is a lot of crazy out there.

My suggestion would be to expand your research into what impacts the final sound quality a bit more.

I don't believe anyone has shown these overpriced boxes are special in any way but price.

I have my lifetime Roon on my NAS in the laundry room, a mixture of Chromecast audio pucks, a couple of Nvidia Shields, and whatever else is scattered around and it all works great. It's a digital signal until it gets to a DAC, and really doesn't need special handling.

My guess is that you won't believe any of this, but I had to try. Please spend some time poking around the site. It may save you a mountain of cash.

Just out of curiosity... What speakers or headphones do you use? Transducers are where the real differences lay.
 
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Cbreeze

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Hello BDWoody,

I have just dipped my toe into the deep Audiophile ocean :rolleyes: haha... I have ordered my Luxman L-507Z integrated amp which will be powering my Polk R700 tower speakers.

I will be purely listening to digital music via streaming and I am still sourcing for my DAC, at this moment leaning towards the Holo Audio May KTE or the Denafrips Venus. I also auditioned the Meitner MA3 which while impressive is way out of my budget.

Quite naturally what is still missing in my audio system chain is the upstream player. I would very like to build my own fanless silent computer if the general advices support this endeavour of mine :)
 

Frank2

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A standard mini PC like the Acer Veriton ($600-900) and a good USB DAC like the Topping D10 ($100-200) will give you a perfect analog signal. You don't need tons of processing power for audio (I use Foobar and Qobuz), and there is no such thing as "audiophile ethernet" or "audiophile USB". Your DAC will reclock everything anyway.

I use a remote keyboard and a big monitor with a long cable to be able to remotely control my Veriton mini PC. Works perfectly for me and I sit 3 meters from the PC so the fan does not bother me.
 

MaxwellsEq

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a. Fanless computer chassis with heat pipe for CPU & SSD passive cooling
Welcome. You may find this thread interesting. Lots of people stream using old tablets, Raspberry Pi, old laptops, quiet dedicated PCs, even Macs!

 

Frank2

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This thread was very helpful to me, it explains how you can bypass the windows audio drivers:
 

Timcognito

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Maybe
 

BillG

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Audio processing isn't particularly resource intensive, unless one is performing something exotic, which is usually unnecessary for the common, two channel, stereo systems most people own.

Audiophile grade network cards aren't necessary. Reclockers aren't necessary. Optimizing the OS isn't necessary, and linear power supplies offer no advantage either for a PC.

Any x86 machine built from 2010 onwards will suffice. For example, my own music server, and occasional local playback machine, is an i7 2600, ex-lease, business computer that was built in 2011.

Under stress testing, I've had it feed six network audio players simultaneously. This included processing an individual DSP profile (Room Correction EQ, Loudness Compensation, and Stereo Widening) for each, transcoding the results to 24/44.1 FLAC to preserve the fidelity, and conserve bandwidth, and then transmitting the results via WiFi using the UPnP-DLNA, Google Cast, and SlimProto streaming protocols.

The server's CPU utilization never exceeded 8%, and the sound was a high fidelity as I could wish for.

I'm running Windows 10 Pro on the machine, as a host for Logitech Media Server. By the way, InnuOS on the Pulsar music server is actually LMS with a custom skin.
 

phoenixdogfan

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You gonna get an I7 machine that's fanless? I guess that's possible but it will no doubt be able to double as a hot plate.

Besides, you don't need all that stuff (reclocker, galvanic USB isolation. I7 processor, 32k DDR5 memory). I run a Mele Quieter 3Q fanless with 8gb or ram and it does everything i could want including running Jriver, rendering 4K HDR video over HDMI, streaming Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Tidal and Qobuz via desktop apps on Windows 11. If you have Amazon Prime, it's currently selling for $170. So why pay more?

Streaming via PC is a solved problem, and it does not have to cost a lot of money. Those $8k streamers are as big of a rip off as those $15 boxes o'dirt sold for 'Earthing" purposes.
 

antcollinet

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I have ordered my Luxman L-507Z integrated amp which will be powering my Polk R700 tower speakers.
Is it too late to cancel this order?

It is a great amp, but you don't need to spend anything like that amount to get great amplification. And you certainly shouldn't be spending 4x as much on your amp as you are on your speakers. Much better the other way around.

Same for your proposed DACs. You shouldn't be spending more than a few hundred $ on a dac - and then not even that much to get good sound - just the features you need. Top out at around $1000 for the excellent RME ADI-2 which will also do room correction.

Things that impact sound quality (and are worth spending money on after careful research).
  • Speakers (and placement/interaction with room)
  • Room treatment
  • Room Equalisation/correction

Things that don't audibly impact sound quality
  • Amplification (if operated within it's power limit (not clipping), and meeting some other basic criteria - which don't have to be expensive.
  • DACS if well designed (and this can start at less than $100)
  • Streamers. They only operate in the digital domain. All non broken devices will sound the same with the same program material. If you want to use a PC, then any basic fan-less PC will sound as good as the most expensive "MST". Delivering music doesn't even need anything particularly powerful. A raspberry pi is more than capable, can operate as a roon endpoint, and again (even at a total cost of $100) will sound just as good as the most expensive "audiophile" super duper whizz bang MST.

The days of needing to spend megabucks on digital audio are well and truly over. If they ever existed.
 
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kemmler3D

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Welcome to ASR! Your plan (use a computer instead of an expensive streamer) is good. However, the good (but perhaps not as interesting as you'd hoped) news is, as others have said, you don't even need a good computer or fancy networking gear to get perfect digital sound.

The reason for this:

Data sent over a network works much faster than realtime audio does, and has error correction. In other words, if a single bit arrives on your network out of place, the entire packet is re-sent. And it keeps getting sent until it arrives without a single error.

The tech behind this is called CRC and is quite old / robust. This is also why you can do banking online (indeed, why millions of people can do banking online at the same time) and not a penny goes missing. The principle is exactly the same for audio, the networking hardware doesn't know the difference between audio bits or money bits. Data centers will often stream the equivalent of decades worth of audio without a single CRC failure. And your home router uses the same tech.

So upgrading your networking hardware for audio is like putting weights on the ground to keep the earth from blowing away. It's not a good use of your $$ or effort. :)

When it comes to USB audio, there is almost always buffering to some extent in the DAC. This means that whatever timing of bits happened in the cables leading to your DAC is replaced with the DAC's timing. Essentially all the bits march into a waiting room at whatever pace they arrive at, and are let out of the waiting room at a precise interval. If you go to some effort to use a reclocker, you can use that instead of the DAC's clock, in some cases, but it's usually much simpler to buy a good DAC in the first place.

So a capable PC (read: any PC with the connectivity you want) and a good DAC are all you really need. The RME is a good choice, as is the Topping D90 or similar units if you're looking for a bit of overkill.

All of this is also why steamer audio quality isn't really a thing. If it has the streaming features you want, then bits are bits until they hit the DAC. So a WiiM is as good as any, if it checks your boxes feature-wise.

Personally I use one of these for DSP, works fine and it's cheap: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07QGLC4FW/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1

It is certainly not glamorous, and if you want the looks / build quality of a better computer, there's nothing wrong with that. However, in the pursuit of better sound, your bucks are better parked elsewhere.
 
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MAB

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To add to the excellent advice,
I have ordered my Luxman L-507Z integrated amp which will be powering my Polk R700 tower speakers.
Is it too late to cancel this order?
I agree, the Luxman are gorgeous. But won't make an improvement in sound over just about any other 110W/Channel amp. I have a Yamaha CA-2010, so I appreciate the Luxman's take on integrated amps, but just can't agree with Luxman's value. And would recommend returning it, and perhaps doing a bit of research here, before you start forging down this path.

This for instance streams, has multiple additional inputs including analog, and a transparent DAC, DSP (which will actually make a dramatic difference in your sound whether you use DIRAC or make your own room corrections). Plus allows full integration of multiple subs.
 

Greenman

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As you may have gathered from some of the reply’s above, this site probably differs from some other forums and online sites with its advice. I would advise not to take too much as gospel either on this site or other forums or online reviews.

This site will advise that you need not spend more than £100 on any item other than speakers. Other sites may advise that if your cables/interconnects cost less than £1000 you might as well just listen to internet radio. The reality unsurprisingly is somewhere in the middle.

The Luxman is a fantastic amp. The holo May looks like an amazing DAC. My advice (especially if you get the May which is particularly jitter tolerant) is start with something cheap like a WIIm mini and feed the May with that and see what you think. If you don’t think you are getting the best out of the rest then upgrade later. fYI. I am using the WIIM on a £15k+ DAC/AMP/speaker system at it sounds amazing.
 

kemmler3D

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This site will advise that you need not spend more than £100 on any item other than speakers.
Well, that's not totally true. People really like the RME here, which is a $1K DAC. And depending on the speakers you'll often hear advice to put Purifi or Hypex amps in the system, which can run at $1K+.

But in general, I totally agree that you should spend as much as you can on the speakers / headphones and scrimp on the rest.

There's also the "streaming actives are the future" camp (me) and I'll tell you that in the week I've had them the KEF LS60s do not disappoint. And then you don't need any of those damn boxes anymore. ;)
 

Barrelhouse Solly

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A Raspberry Pi, OK, I'm an enthusiast, with a good audio HAT or a Pi 4 connected by USB to a DAC might be just what you need. Depending on what features you want on the DAC, you can get a pretty darned good one for as little as $70. You can get a variety of Pi models at list price from authorized dealers now. There's no need to spend $200 for something that lists under $50. You don't need much computing power to move audio because all you're doing is passing data from point A to point B. There is audio software starting at free that will connect to a variety of streaming services. The Pi also has a Roon front end.

As others have said, speakers are the key. When vinyl was the only source the rule of thumb was spend at least half of your budget on speakers and the cartridge. Digital has changed things. Ones and zeroes don't need electromechanical devices. Reliable electronics for a bit stream are cheap. The speakers are what counts.
 

BDWoody

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This site will advise that you need not spend more than £100 on any item other than speakers.

Really? Huh... haven't noticed that myself.

I have noticed that we focus on measured, demonstrated performance versus claims and stories, is that what you mean?

I'd have no problem with the Luxman in my setup. Actually, I have one of their preamps and enjoy it very much. It shouldn't sound any better than any other competent amp, but it certainly is a beautiful component.
 

Sputnik

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Welcome,

You are clearly enthousiastic and have watched and read some raving reviews about expensive stuff. Reviews that are unfortunately paid for by what we like to call snake oil vendors.

I will eat my shoes and my hat if anyone can hear the difference between a pc with that jcat stuff and one without it, if both go through a properly designed dac. It's just not possible, the owner of this forum has proven this many times.

Spending twice as much on a streamer as on your speakers is crazy. You listen to speakers, not usb or network connections. If your goal is streaming, a transparent streamer like the Wiim pro and maybe an extra dac (because you have the money and are eager to buy nice stuff) is what you need. And get a pair of subwoofers, you'll actually hear where that money went.

Also an i7 13700 in a silent fanless pc meant for music streaming? That's like buying a horse because you want a small pet that doesn't require much care, for your apartment.
 
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