Gary, Black Viper has registry files that can be downloaded with his Tweaked and Bare Bones configurations. I haven't tried his files, but I know it takes about 40 minutes to manually disable everything, so using one of these files and tweaking it (or creating one from your machine) would probably cut this process down to a few minutes.
Hi Renanj, I've only tried one sound Card, in my parents system. I don't remember the model, but it was highly regarded, about $200, and a USB DAC built into the King Rex T20U trashed it. I doubt there's a card out there that can compete with a Weiss, Red Wine, Wyred, or even an HRT Streamer. Also, many people I've heard from claim the noise that bleeds into an onboard card is way too much for high-end audio. Your DAC doesn't have to be USB, as these motherboards also have digital outputs (without a soundcard).
In my experience, YMMV. The internal audio card is subject to the digital noise inside the casing. That is why we spray the inside of the case with the Super Shield. That is to keep the EMI/RFI inside the case, not to keep it out. That is also why we don't turn on WiFi on the machine. I picked a motherboard that does not have on-board WiFi.
In my experience, I have found that a good external DAC - either Firewire or USB - outperforms an internal audio card. The same external DAC on Firewire outperformed the RME Hammerfall feeding it. I don't know about the Lynx though.
The server I'm envisioning building also has too small a case to put any expansion cards in. This is a really small form factor box that can sit in your audio rack. You might not even need a new shelf for it if you can scoot one of your components to a side. My plan is that it is small enough that it can sit on the same shelf as a Weiss DAC in a standard rack.
You have to remember my objectives - reliable, good sound. I bring will bring it to at least 2 shows a year, and carry it with me around the country visiting dealers.
I think that from what I have read and put together, a good soundcard to be used only for ASIO digital out, feeding an outboard DAC is better than USB or Firewire out. I have used the Digital Audio Labs sound card and a Lynx sound card strictly for ASIO out only with an outboard DAC and it sounds amazing. I use a Mini-ITX motherboard from Intel with a small footprint case, that's fanless and has an external power supply (wall wart). It produces no RF that I know of and is completely silent. It cost me around $300 including a 250 gb hard drive. I use an Acer Netbook (fanless and running Win 7) for $279 as the remote control to the server - it serves 2 purposes - 1) acts as a remote 2) can be used as a laptop and taken on the road. The gold standard used by Stereophile to evaluate DACs is to use a Digital Audio Labs sound card in a fanless computer. Anyway, this is my 2 cents for what it's worth. I'd like to have you hear what I have put together sometime.
Hi Renan, your setup sounds pretty slick. My preconceived notions may need to be tested. It would be fun do a shootout with several servers connected to the same DAC and see how they sound.
From what you've read, what are the potential benefits and to avoiding USB / Firewire and what is the reasoning? Also, why use a sound card, rather than a direct out from the motherboard...is it because you can't use the ASIO driver on the motherboard output or that it introduces jitter?
We can delay the server build project until after we have had the time to do a shoot-out if you'd like. I have a deadline as I'm building a server for RMAF and can't wait for such a shoot-out.
To be totally objective, there should be four comparisons:
0) Baseline - the club's 777.
1) Server as configured by each builder - Renan with his server, built-in soundcard, my server with my external Firewire DAC, both analog out to the club system.
2) Renan's server with his choice of sound card and digital out (I assume SPDIF), and my server with the Weiss as a Firewire to digital-out interface to a 3rd party DAC. May be we can persuade Renee to bring in his Alpha DAC
3) Both servers with USB out to a USB DAC. May be Joe can bring in his Music Hall, or someone else can bring in a good USB DAC.
4) Both servers with on-board digital output into a budget DAC as the lowest common denominator. On my server, it will be the on-motherboard Toslink output. On Renan's it will be the either the DAL digital output or the Lynx digital output.
Gary, I think everyone is ready to go for October so we should stick to our schedule. Your new server will be more than good enough to keep everyone happy. We can still do a shootout at some point and see what we learn. People have to accept that because things move so fast with these servers, the business of finding ways to get better sound isn't going to end here; just be glad you have a lot of help through the club to try to stay on top of things.
Oh no! Looks like I've stirred up a hornet's nest! I think you should go ahead with the build of your servers for the club members as you have spec'd. I don't think we can do a shootout with any accuracy with the club's equipment or at the club room - none of which sounds good to my ears.
To answer your question - a good audio card with an ASIO driver produces the best digital output from an audio file because of the controlled low jitter and the bypassing of all audio processing on the motherboard. Neither USB nor firewire were ever designed to produce jitter free high frequency digial output - they are a compromise for convenience only. There is no substitute for a good outboard DAC however.
Renan, stirring up a hornet's nest is always good before we have to sit down to eat. The problem with the configuration that I've specified is that there is absolutely no way to put in any sort of card inside the box.
If what you say is really true, then most recording studios are set up wrong. As far as I know, Firewire is the standard for audio processing in professional studios. Between building my first server in end-2004 and now, I've built several in between - including one that used an audio card. I only tried four cards the Lynx, RME, EMU, and M-Audio, but in all cases, I preferred an external USB DAC. At that time, it was the Stello that we did the DAC shoot-out with at the club last year. With the Weiss Minerva on Firewire being far better than the Stello on USB, I never went back to an audio card.
With internal or external DACs, I always advocate using ASIO.
Willy and John came by to my office today. Willy was concerned about spending the $600 to build the server as he was not sure that it would sound better than just any old PC. I think that he's a convert now.
I'd have to disagree with you on this one. Most recording studios use Pro Tools HD systems. These are proprietary DSP card systems using a "Digi-link" cable to the outboard converter. We use the Digidesign 192 and a Lynx Aurora for converters. Most mastering studios use the Lynx AES16 or the RME AES32 card using ASIO via AES/EBU to an outboard converter. Most converters used in mastering studios are, in no particular order, PM2, DAD AX24, EMM Labs, Prism Dream, Lavry Gold, Weiss ADC2/DAC1 and a smattering of Myteks, Berkeleys and Benchmarks.
There are only 2 Firewire converters that I know of that are used in a few studios... that's the Weiss DAC2 and the Prism Orpheus. The biggest selling Firewire converter is the Metric Halo, which are for MAC computers and are used mainly for location recording. Companies refuse to implement Firewire because the AES recording standard is AES/EBU, either single or dual-wire for PCM. DSD signals in a studio are carried only by MADI, SDIF-3 or ST and SC optical.
Thanks, Bruce. And are most studios Mac or PCs? The Mac folks say that 90% of studios are on Mac but the PC folks say that 70% of studios are on PCs. Which are correct. I'll probably get flamed for this, but no Mac has beaten my server sonically.
Do you know of USB being used in recording? You're only one of two studios I've been in - the other one was built in 1963.
Have you compared the Lynx and the RME cards? I've only tried the cheaper Hammerfall series.
To control the server, I use an iPad with an external wireless network. As Willy and John both experienced, just turning the internal WiFi on floods the chassis with RF, and the impact on the sound is significant. If you, like Renan would like to use Netbook to control the server instead, Tiger Direct has a sale on a 10.1" Asus model for $240 here:
I'd say about 70% of recording studios are on MAC. When the recording industry started putting computers in studios, Sound Designer was the major game in town. This was written on the MAC platform. Sound Designer was the name before they changed it to Pro Tools.
In mastering studios, the PC is the dominant force because there are so many more apps written for Windows. The only "major" app for mastering on Mac is Soundblade and Bias Peak. On the PC side, you have Pyramix, Sound Forge, Samp/Sequoia, Sadie, SAWStudio, Cubase/Nuendo, Cakewalk and others.
On the video side, it's probably over 90% MAC using Final Cut Pro with the 10% of PC's using Avid Media Composer or Vegas.
Excellent document Gary. I haven't read the whole thing, but it has some tips on USB optimization that I haven't heard. I might try to see if I can get the software working with Foobar on my machine.
However, I'm a little confused about the concerns with jitter. My Wyred4Sound DAC has asynchronous USB and the Weiss also runs asynchronous. My manual says "The USB receiver chip outputs I2S signals directly to the DAC chip which offers a jitter-free audio streaming." I thought asynchronous means the bits received are checked to make sure they match the bits sent, like my external USB hard drive. When I transfer a file to the hard drive, I don't worry about whether the bits were sent properly.
If it's asynchronous, how can jitter have an effect on my sound? Is my understanding of asynchronous incorrect? If it's not jitter affecting my sound, then how is lowering electrical noise (or upgrading my USB cable) in my server going to make a difference? I suppose it's possible that noise could travel on my USB cable and bleed into the analog section of my DAC, but the DAC is powered from it's own power supply.
I haven't had the chance to read it thoroughly either. There's a lot of interesting observations - one of the biggest differences is that I recommend as much memory as possible (and high quality gaming memory) whereas they recommend as little memory as possible - as low as 256Mb which Windows 7 will NOT install into. I've got to try reducing the memory. It's interesting because in Foobar, either a very small buffer (just barely larger then it begins to stutter) is best, or a very large buffer (maximum if your hardware can support it) sounds the best. When we do our Server Saturday, I'll demo the differences.
Async USB has been one of the biggest sources of bovine excrement in marketing DACs in the past year or so. It has nothing to do with data accuracy. All it means is that the incoming USB data stream is re-clocked. With sync USB, the clock of the USB receiver is synchronized with the USB transmitter (hence sometimes called adaptive because the clock adapts to the sending clock).
Async can have just as bad jitter as sync if the clock at the DAC is badly implemented. Sync DAC can be extremely good if the incoming data stream is buffered between the USB receiver and the DAC (like the PS Audio, Benchmark, etc.).
The Weiss runs "asynchronous" not in the USB sense. With Firewire, the Weiss sends the master clock signal to the computer to tell it when to send the data. Hence, the Weiss clocks the computer instead of the other way around. Here too, if firewire is not implemented correctly, it can be much worse than USB sync or async.
See my postings in the forum on basic stereo set-up and how little timing difference can make a difference in soundstage and imaging. The jitter is sufficient to make that difference.
Electrical noise is a whole different kettle of fish.