Oh, in case it was not clear from the original post: this cheap PC as a source is no slouch. It sounds almost (but not quite) as good as the transport in my Accuphase DP550; on the other hand, when comparing the CD with the streamed album in a higher resolution like 24/96, it becomes a matter of preference, maybe with a slight nod to the streaming.
I suspect many won't take you seriously with idea of using your computer as high quality streaming source.
I ran various modified mac minis for years and presently use Windows based custom build at present. While my custom build has virtually nothing in common with a general build Windows machine, I do believe one can create a decent streamer with certain mods to general service Windows machine.
I doubt more than minimal improvements with power supplies you mentioned, much better would be HDPlex optimized SMPS allied with external LPS HDPlex 200W dc-atx cost around $70, sufficient lps to power HDPLex will be $400 up.
Assuming you have sata drive, ssd will be nice improvement over HDD.
JCAT or Pink Faun usb card would be substantial improvement over any other usb card or usb off motherboard, a little pricey but worth it!
Optimizing your OS is another substantial improvement you could make, something like Windows optimizer, I use Euphony OS. Be aware these OS modifications will severely restrict or eliminate use of your computer for general service needs
I believe this is minimum for what I'd do for modifying general service Windows machine into music streamer. Without all three of these changes you'd be greatly limiting potential of this machine for music streaming duty. You could do any one or two in isolation with incremental improvements, but not really worth the effort or expense.
As for total costs here, think $500-$1500 for power supply via HDPLex route, ssd could be anywhere from $75 to multiples of $100, one could have OS only on ssd, storage on HDD or everything on ssd. Nice usb card around $800, Windows optimization could be anything from diy for free to subscription to Euphony or another OS for $200 up per year. So bottom line cost here could be as low as something less than $2k-over $3k. Weight this against what an off the shelf would cost, come to your own conclusion. Keep in mind to reach this level the Windows computer can no longer be used for general purpose. If still needed for general purpose you'd be better off going with dedicated off the shelf streamer. Eliminating the many processes Windows general service computers running is absolutely necessary to hearing potential of the other mods.
I go into this much detail because this is exact place I was at some months ago in determining whether I was going to go with diy mods to Windows based computer or off the shelf. In my case this was all out assault, so comparative purchasing decision was to machines like Antipodes K50, Innuos Statement, Aurender W20SE. I chose extreme custom build Windows based mostly because I'm the type that loves bespoke solutions. Whatever route you take, I'd not cheap out, based on your system description, I'd expect you'll hear the improvements brought from a top quality streamer.
At minimum, I would get a 700 watt+ power supply and a gold one at that. The gold means it will last much longer than traditional ps. A SSD will be much faster and won’t have to be constantly searching like a mechanical drive would. It will make no difference to the sound. I have both in my PC and there is no difference in sound quality, it is only the speed difference.
@stereo5 Not my experience with mac minis, I used hdd and ssd via sata drives and PCIe ssd in various extremely modded minis, sound quality definitely impacted. I'd expect same in Windows computer. My present Windows custom build streamer runs OS in ramroot, runs OS off RAM, this better than any ssd.
Thank you both, very useful information!
Unfortunately, some recent unfriendly financial events are severely limiting my budget for the time being (and for the foreseeable future). So the upgrade path suggested by @sns is not possible in my case. Luckily, I'm quite content with the sound of my system as it is. On the other hand, I'm very much aware that "everything matters" from the sound quality point of view, to a degree that many would deem ridiculous if I were to share some of my experiences, so I wouldn't cheap out on the computer / streamer side of the equation if it were by me.
I must admit though that the Lumin experience kinda killed my interest in a moderately expensive (2000-3000 euro) streamer anyway. I don't understand why the Lumin didn't destroy my PC in terms of sound quality. Also, a friend of mine has bought a Sotm streamer with the dedicated Sotm power supply and, well, it is nice but not groundbreaking if you're asking me (never heard it in my system).
I have tried the free version of Fidelizer today. I recognize it as a clear improvement, objectively speaking, but the tonal change (stronger upper bass) was not very welcome in my system. It's just not a good synergy to my current system (and taste, after all). By contrast, I didn't like Audirvana.
Btw, I have found that synergy trumps "objective" quality most of the time, and to a degree I wouldn't have though possible.
Get a Sonore OpticalRendu and connect the fibre to a network switch with the option for fibre. The rendu | power supply | USB cable can be obtained for under $2K. If you want a bit more improvement, get a FMC from the network switch to the FMC via RJ45, then to the OpticalRendu via fibre. I use the EtherRegen in reverse order as an FMC.
With what I have suggested you can use a noisy cheap computer to serve your music. I use ROON Core for this on the cheap computer. The computer is a few rooms away from the music systems. I believe what I suggested would work for non-ROON users too because the Rendu's support multiple protocols. Not just ROON RATT..
BTW - I am getting a Lumin X1 delivered soon. I doubt the X1's fibre streaming is better than the Sonore OpticalRendu, it should be similar. I only bought the X1 for the fibre streaming and to have a lower box count.
I have had some considerable experience with sound from a "PC". As far as computer power supply is concerned, linear power is better. The HDPLEX options are recommended, but they are external units and will require some modifications on the power wiring to your computer components.
If you are looking at normal PC power supplies, I would recommend getting the largest you can afford. They are all switching power supplies, so the larger sizes will have larger capacitors as a power bank. This equates to smoother current/power. The Corsair AX1600i measured to have the cleanest power output. However, the cables that Corsair supplies are heat-shrink and techflex coated. These are extremely thick and stiff cables. If you are trying to route these behind the motherboard in small spaces, the Corsair cables will NOT work beause you just cannot bend/flex the cables enough to fit through tight areas. The Seasonic PRIME TX-1600 is almost as good and they have much better cables for routing/bending/flexing.
For transfer of signal to your outboard DDC or DAC, I have found that USB quality is really dependent on how good the USB-to-i2s circuits are on the DAC. I, personally, don't think the USB is the best mechanism, but this is a controversial subject. I have a friend who owns a $25,000 Pink Faun music server that includes both a Pink Faun USB card and a Pink Faun AES/EBU card (both with the highest level OCXO clocks). When using the USB output, it gave the highest resolution for midrange and high frequencies (air), but it just did not sound as natural and full when compared to the AES/EBU output. This was going to a $16,000 DAC (I can't remember which one it was). The AES/EBU output had more weight, bass strenght, and overall fullness - plus it sounded more natural and real.
On my own system, I am running a stock level version of the Pink Faun AES/EBU card with a Farad Super3 power supply. This is just outstanding. The Pink Faun s/PDIF card with AES/EBU and BNC outputs would be my recommendation if you have that input on your DACs. That being said, if you are running a Linux operating system with Intel CPU, this card does have problems. Running Windows on Intel should be fine (it's a weird chipset comparability issue).
Oh, I have tried working with Fidelizer and it did weird things to the sound. I think using the stock configuration in Windows is best, but there are a lot of people who think Fidelizer does good things.
I have also heard that trying these expensive high end OCXO clocked routers can also do weird things to the sound.
When streaming via my home theater setup I always use Wasapi Exclusive, better than the other schemes I've used.
For sure adding external power supplies to Windows based server can be problematic in how to run external cables. I had to cut out top panel of streamer to be able to fit the JCAT Optimo S ATX lps cabling to motherboard.
One of my best friends has a PC front end that uses multiple LPS, isolation, OCXO USB output cards, battery supplies to run internal SATA drives e.t.c e.t.c
All these things improved the sound and I heard them being implemented step by step. But the biggest improvement, which moved the audio from sounding digital to a real life type naturalness, was the JPlay shutdown mode.
JPlay software for Windows has a special mode that turns off all motherboard functions (including video output and mouse/keyboard controls) in an attempt to minimize all the EMI/RFI created by a computer motherboard design. Essentially it buffers your chosen WAV files directly out of RAM to the output, powering down and minimizing everything else.
It sounds amazing - but the catch is once you set the chosen tracks to listen to (and that is a convoluted process in itself involving pasting exact file name into a text file) you lose all control of the PC. You cannot pause, stop, skip a track or do anything else until you reboot the PC. Its very very non user friendly and impractical.
He set this rig up 10 years ago following advice from the JPlay forums. I expected audiophile manufacturers to have followed this path with dedicated hardware but it was obviously very difficult and has taken longer than expected, with only now the latest streamers from Auralic, Aurender, Lumin e.t.c are using in-house custom CPU processing designs rather than the noisy, off the shelf designs best suited to the PC industry.
@agisthos Euphony OS for Windows eliminates any use of Windows as computer, all you get is BIOS screens and Euphony screen. With I9 processor using less than 3% on only two cores in server mode handing off to Sonore OpticalRendu for streamer. Euphony OS integrated with Stylus music player software for seamless user interface.
I too thought Windows machines would have entered plug n play market, Baetis is only company I'm aware of offering music streamer using Windows platform. Based on individuals I'm acquainted with over at Audiophilestyle forum it seems diy crowd can build streamers that can beat all the plug n play streamers with exception of Taiko Extreme, perhaps Wadax. The builder of my custom streamer and subsequent owner both compared this build to some of the best plug n play, this preferred until comparison to Taiko Extreme, which both purchased. At time of their comparisons this build running HDPlex, I'm running with JCAT Optimo S ATX. Wonder how this would compare now?
I doubt profit margins using fully optimized Windows hardware and OS would be nearly as great as the Linux based. Comparing internal parts cost in my custom build vs what I see in most plug n play is no contest, mine far above. Add in $6k Optimo LPS and nice case needed for plug n play market, it would probably have retail cost of Taiko or Wadax, and still may not be as good considering all the proprietary technology in those two streamers.
"Euphony OS for Windows" does not actually run in Windows. They just have a "Euphony Downloader for Windows" which can be used to download and written to a USB device as a "bootable device".
Euphony is Linux operating system that is similar in ways to "Audiophile Linux" or "Arch Linux". My understanding is that Euphony has done a lot of the "common tuning" which creates a result that is great in most scenarios. Hardcore Linux users can take ArchLinux and spend hours/days/months tuning the O/S configuration. In the end, they may achieve better than Euphony (or worse depending).
More expensive/higher standard power supplies just mean they are more efficient in terms of power consumption overall. They produce less heat, may last longer, and sometimes improve overall system performance (in the case that you a have a powerful gaming PC, I’ve built these and others etc. severs before...my day job is IT).
In terms of the PSU itself, I don’t think that will impact sound quality. Because it’s a computer, not an audio component.
All good DACs will pre-filter the USB input from any noise over USB, so that’s not a concern.
In regards to storage options for music, I would suggest a fast and reliable SATA III SSD of your choice (capacity) or a PCI-e /nVME solid-state drive. If the motherboard on your computer is not already compatible, you can buy a PCI-e card and add that functionality by using one PCI-e lane on the motherboard. Hard Drives are noisy! bad for music.
The quality of electricity (especially of AC) before it reaches an audio component or anywhere within that chain is important.
Check out my profile to see what I’m using. And feel free to send me a message.
Actually the opposite is often the case. Nothing could be more inefficient than a Class A power supply.
@auxinput That is correct, Euphony Version 4 is reportedly big upgrade on 3, never had 3 so can't say.
I'd agree quality power supply may not make that great a difference with Windows computer, the Windows based motherboard music server I'm running is in actuality not a computer, has virtually no capability of a general service computer. At this level of minimal processing and hand picked parts chosen for lowest possible noise, latency, power supplies make large difference!
I disagree with this based on personal experience. The power supply will definitely affect a digital source. My own experience is with a Pink Faun S/PDIF PCI card mounted in a computer. Using the computer's power supply, the sound was nice, but I can definitely hear harshness and noise/distortion in the sound. When I connected an external Farad Super3 linear power supply to the Pink Faun card, the sound really cleaned up and became more solid and more powerful.
Even in this case, the quality of the computer switching power supply will affect the digital signals being passed to the Pink Faun S/PDIF card (even though the Pink Faun itself is powered by an external linear power supply).
@cleeds - I assume you are meaning this as a joke. 99% of all computer power supplies are switching power supplies (the most efficient type). However, there are differences in performance between manufacturer/model of power supply. Even HDPlex, which is a computer linear power supply, is not going to be a "Class A" power supply like the shunt regulated PS circuits that you find on high end preamp/sources.
@mastering92 Thank you for your advice.
I would be very surprised to discover the power supply of my PC didn't matter for the sound. The power cord feeding the PC certainly did make a difference. And, counterintuitively, it made a difference even when I was taking the USB signal from the Matrix PCI-USB card powered by an external Ferrum Hypsos power supply!
You’re most welcome.
The power transformers in audio gear are of varying quality and can influence performance in profound ways. I don’t believe the same is true for PSUs in computers. I don’t think a PSU in computer would influence sound quality that much. Unless of course the PSU itself is defective or has blown/bad capacitors. A restriction of even the smallest amount of electricty can impact performance. Power supplies with Japanese-branded capacitors tend to last longer in my experience).
This is what I use for my DAC - 13A at just 3 feet. shorter distances and higher Ampere tolerances for cables are better. Even if it’s way overspecced. For very little money, you can get a power cord that is certified for use in demanding applications and guaranteed to provide exactly the amount of power needed. In my experience, only very inferior/cheap power can impact performance negatively.
Hospitals, scientific laboratories, and medical equipment in Doctor’s offices depend on on power cords that meet these specifications. Even the inbuilt (already soldered onto the device) power cords must pass extensive certification testing/safety testing prior to product release. Sensitive instrumentation in these environments can be plagued by insufficient power delivery. So...good enough for me. I definitely heard a positive difference. You may as well if you buy one.