What is the best way to set up a computer-based media server?
The more upgrades you make, the higher performance your media server will have:
- Replace the stock SMPS with an ultralow-noise linear power supply.
- Upgrade the RAM to a minimum of 8GB and use16GB if possible.
- Use a small internal solid state drive (SSD) for your OS and player software.
- Use a large internal SSD or external drive/NAS/RAID for your music library.
- Power external drives with a linear power supply and use powerless data cables.
- Turn off unused wireless control interfaces such as infrared, Bluetooth, and WiFi.
- Interface WiFi through the Ethernet port using an external wireless router.
- Only use a monitor/keyboard/mouse for setup - control “headless” with a mobile device.
- Use anti-resonant decoupling products under your computer, power supply, converters, and drives.
- Optimize your operating system to improve audio and video performance.
For media libraries smaller than 1TB we recommend an internal SSD for everything. For larger media libraries we recommend external drives powered with one of our ultralow-noise power supplies. Our Joule V has an optional second power output that can power up to two external HDDs in addition to a computer with up to a 65w processor.
If you have the budget and require more library storage, we recommend Synology NAS/RAID drives connected through the Ethernet port. Larger NAS/RAID drive arrays with more than two HDDs consume too much power to use the second output on our Joule V - they require a dedicated power supply.
Use dedicated data paths for each type of data. The three categories of data are software commands (internal SATA SSD), media data coming in from external drives, and media data going out to your DAC. When data is going both in and out of the same data buss at the same time, the data controller has to act like a traffic cop, constantly stopping and starting data going in each direction.
By spreading your data flow over three dedicated data controllers you will improve performance more than having a faster processor, more RAM, and faster drives. So if you are using USB out to your DAC, then use Firewire or Ethernet in from your media library drive.
How does a low-noise power supply improve computer performance?
All computer communication works on a system of checks and error correction (check sum). If a packet of data doesn’t pass the check, a new packet of data is sent to replace the original. The lower the power supply noise, the fewer bit read errors, the fewer errors to correct, and the greater the system resources.
Switch-mode power supplies (SMPS) radiate significant amounts of RF and EMI noise that not only effect the the components they power but also radiate noise to analog components in proximity and dump noise down the common AC ground your system is plugged into.
Dynamic response of linear power supplies is equally as important as low noise. Slower linear power supplies dip in voltage when they respond to changes in current requirements resulting in more bit read errors. Our power supplies are not only low noise, they have a lightening fast dynamic response of less than 10uS from zero to full power output.
When a low-noise high-dynamic power supply is used, the result is more liquid and articulate sound and motion, higher resolution, increased transparency, greater dynamic range, and more organic character. Layers of subtlety and nuance are revealed.
Don’t batteries have the purest DC power?
Though better than the inexpensive external switch-mode power supplies that come with many audio, video, and computer products, battery performance can’t compare to the performance of an ultralow-noise linear power supply.
Batteries use a chemical reaction to generate DC power, and each chemical reaction from each type of battery has its own audible noise signature. This is why a specific type of battery, such as LiO4, sounds better than another type, such as SLA. The noise level of a battery also changes significantly during different phases of the discharge and recharge cycle, making batteries an inconsistent-sounding power source as well.
Even when fully charged, batteries do not have the dynamic response of linear power supplies. Because of this, there is a dip in voltage when they respond to changes in current requirements resulting in more bit read errors. Also, battery powered systems perform quite badly during their recharge cycles and batteries require the additional expense of replacing them every couple of years.
If battery power has the lowest noise, then why do the military, aerospace, and telecommunications industries only use them for portable devices?
Aren’t RAM-buffered music players bit perfect?
Yes, the data buffered in the RAM is bit perfect, but RAM is not the final link in the chain. Bit read errors still occur between the RAM and the output buffer, and between the output buffer and the digital to analog converter (DAC). Unlike most computer communication, the music data that leaves a computer through USB, Firewire, and optical ports is most often not buffered or error corrected at the DAC.
In addition, the system resources required to error correct the data that is being buffered in the RAM significantly slows computer performance resulting in a less liquid and analog-like presentation.
Also, RAM buffering doesn't deal with all the noise switch-mode power supplies radiate corrupting the signal in any component in physical proximity and polluting the AC ground for any compoent plugged into the same circuit.
For more information on computer-based audio refer to our Audiofiles blog.