13-2-2018




by Audio Dandy



Part 5

Why the Audio Dandy streamer
is still the best streamer solution available



Correction:

After using for almost 3 years my Audio Dandy streamer in combination with a NAS;
a lot of things have changed, therefore I decided to write an update about the
Audio Dandy streamer. the main reason was that
I found out that using a NAS for High-Resolution audio streaming is not ideal at all...



Why High-Resolution audio streaming with a NAS doesn't work...

In my first article from 2015, I wrote that audio/video streaming in combination with a NAS
(Network Attached Storage) device was the prefered audio streaming sollution.
but I was wrong...

What happened?
 a NAS is in fact a storage server that shares your audio files over your Gigabit Ethernet network.
 If you have a small music collection (and no big SACD.ISO or DSF or DXD audio files)
 Then the NAS will work perfectly, but in my case when I wanted to stream 32bit 192 kHz WAV files
 (of several Gb in size) something went wrong...
 I found out that the CPU of my NAS was too weak to transport the big WAV files
 fast enough to my Audio Dandy streamer.
 Also scrolling through my large music collection with my JRemote app on my Ipad
 was very slow, and became unworkable...
 
 So why are all other people not complaining about their NAS streaming solution?
 Probably because their collection is not that big yet, or that they don't stream big DSD256 DSF
 or SACD.ISO files yet.
 

So long if you stream PCM 16bit 44.1 kHz FLAC audio files every NAS will do his work perfectly.
But if your music collection becomes big over the years (in my case 3 years)
things are starting to change.


The disavantages of the NAS

Most NAS servers don't have powerfull Intel i5 or i7 processors in them, but instead Intel Atom or Marvel Armada, Intel Celeron, or other low power, low performance CPU's...
Therefore their processing power is limited, and the speed of copying
of big files over your network is often slower than expected.

In my Synology DS1815+ I have a quadcore Intel Atom C2538 with 2GB (DDR3) memory.
Of course I could upgrade my NAS with more memory, but this will only
speed up the NAS a bit, but will not solve all problems.
My NAS will still not be fast enough for my personal goals.



The main task of the NAS is to transport your audio files fast to your Audio Dandy streamer
   to make sure that your music files are delivered "bit perfect"
  without delay or adding or removing any bits of the original music file.
  
  In practice I found out that my NAS has not only a slow processor onboard
  it also had to transport all the data over the TCP/IP network.
  because of this a NAS is in practice too slow and not suitable for playing big
  High-Resolution audio files instantly.
  So if most NAS devices are not suitable for this job, what options do we have?
  The solution is very simple, cheap and also very effective!



No "NAS", but "DAS"





DAS

DAS stands for "Directly Attached Storage" and this is nothing new
 It means that you have a very big hard-disk(s) connected inside your streamer.
Because the storage is build in the streamer, you don't need a NAS any more!
 The streamer has direct access now to the music collection
 and therefore it's much faster than a NAS solution.
 Because the DAS is much faster not only the user experience will be better
but also the sound quality.
 Speed and low-latency are important for optimal quality.
 
 For fast internal storage we have are several options available:

Harddisk, SSD, M.2 and NVM Express add-in cards.

Harddisk - they are cheapest, but they can makes some noise, but they are available in very large sizes,
even 12TB and up!
SSD (M2) they are much faster, but they are also more expensive, the disk sizes are still smaller then hard-disks...but they are getting bigger, and there is already a SSD available of 16 TB (!) but it costs 11.647,99 dollars...so for the moment harddisks are the best option.


 

How to make a Audio Dandy DAS streamer?
 



Western Digital has released hard-disks with enormous storage capacities.
 The WD100EFAX model has a capacity of 10 TB.
 We can store our entire music collection on one or two of those hard-disks.
In the Audio Dandy streamer is space for 4 harddisks.
So with 10TB harddisks in RAID 0 your options are:
1 x 10 TB disk = total storage: 10 TB
 2 x 10 TB disks = total storage: 20 TB
 3 x 10 TB disks = total storage: 30 TB
     4 x 10 TB disks = total storage: 40 TB (!)



                                           

UPDATE

Note: I discovered that the 6TB version of WD Red is very quiet, even more quieter than the 10 TB version,
and for a DAS streamer this is very important.
So I bought two 6 TB Red harddisks (type: WD60EFRX) so in RAID 0 I will around 11 TB netto
storage space.
For me this is currently sufficient, and I still can later upgrade my storage space, by adding two identical harddisks, then I have 22 TB storage!








You can easily place the harddisks in the removable trays of the Audio Dandy DAS stramer
(if you want place more than 2 harddisks, than the two other harddisks will be placed
internaly)




What we need more to make a DAS audio streamer?


A fast HBA

To make sure that we can store our entire music collection on one or more hard-disks
 we need a fast "HBA" to connect these hard-disks to our motherboard.
 HBA stands for "Host Bus Adapter", this circuit board/adapter/controller makes sure
 that your hard-disks can communicate with the rest of your computer
 with optimal speeds.
 If you have a recent motherboard with fast 6 Gb/s SATA controller then you don't
 need a HBA.
 
 But my motherboard didn't had the proper SATA connections on board, so I ordered
 the "HighPoint 640L" HBA controller has four 6Gb/s SATA connectors.

  Now I can add one, two, three or four hard-disks in my Audio Dandy streamer.
 I'm going to use RAID 0 also called "stripped volume" for optimal speed and most storage space.
 I'm not going to use soft-raid of the operating system,
 but the RAID functionality offered by the HighPoint RocketRAID 640L (in the bios)
 This way my (older) CPU gets less tasks to process.
 A another benefit is that my RAID 0 set will be intact after I install another operating system.




HighPoint 640L "HBA"





UPDATED

Which operating system?

In my earlier articles in 2015 I wrote that
I had good experiences with Windows Storage Server 2012R2.
But I didn't realised at that time of writing that Microsoft had decided
to not sell these licenses separately to the customers...
This Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials software was only available in combination with buying
a new NAS of the brand "Thecus" ...
But later I found out that other people were also experimenting with the "standard" edition
of Windows Server 2012 R2.
For Audiophile streaming this edition is also very good, and it's much easier to buy.
So why I like the Windows 2012 R2 operating system?

Let me explain, here are my arguments:


Apple (Mac Mini) with Mac OS?

The Mac Mini is a very popular mini computer by Audiophiles, because it works very easy
 and you have a lot of choices for installing streaming software: like ROON, JRiver, Audirvana Plus, etc.
 It sound also very good, because the Mac OS supports UAC2 compatible USB DAC's
 but...
 
 Yes, there are some buts...
 First of all, Apple has a new policy that users cannot upgrade, modify their Mac Mini's any more.
 So want you want to place more memory for example than you have a problem...
 also the problem for the Mac Mini is that it's not a 100% passive cooled computer
 therefore the Mac Mini could generate some noise,
because the computer is so small, there is also little or no space
for placing extra internal storage devices (like 3.5 inch hard-disks)
 Because of these reasons you can't make a "DAS" (Direct Attached Storage)
streamer with a Mac Mini.
 You can only use the Mac Mini in combination with a NAS.
 and if you have read this article from the beginning, you know that a NAS (for me)
 didn't work...too slow for SACD.ISO streaming...
 So for me a Mac Mini is not an option...


Intel (NUC) with Linux?

Currently the Intel NUC's are very popular, these small mini PC's are very powerfull
 and Intel is working on a passive cooled version!
 So that's good news, and also a Intel NUC gives you more freedom so you can
 choose to install Windows 10 or even Linux on it.
 
 I like Linux very much, it support (just like Mac OS) UAC2 compatible USB DAC's.
 so you bypass the internal sound architecture of the operating system.
 This is the preferred solution.
 But Linux has some disadvantages too...
 
 The most import one (for when you want to create a DAS streamer with Linux)
 is that Linux doesn't support storages spaces of multiple hard-disks.
 It can be done, but then you need advanced Linux configuration skills
 and not everybody have these.
 Maybe in the near future Linux will have the possibility to  create "graphically" and "easily"
 Btrfs storage space with multiple devices.
 But for now it's only possible with the command line, and for most users
 this is a bridge too far...

So what option do we have left?


Windows 10 ?

In my earlier article I wrote that I liked Windows 10, and I still think it's
a good operating system for Audiophile audio streaming,
but I'm a perfectionist.

I found Windows 10 too cumbersome, there are too many unnecessary processes
running on the background.
Also there are some privacy issues with this operating system, so for me personally
this operating system didn't gave me a satisfactory feeling.


The solution: Windows Server 2012 R2



I liked using Windows Server 2012 R2 for Audiophile streaming because:
- less unnecessary processes running on the background (and most of them can be disabled)
- very solid, reliable operating system with extended support on future updates
- Good driver support for most devices (USB cards, DAC's, storage HBA's, etc)
- Highly configurable to your own wishes
- less overhead (it uses less resources) from your CPU than Windows 10
so it's faster.

and it sounds also very good :-)
I was lucky that my Audio-Gd Master 7 DAC with Amanero Combo384 module comes with
a WASAPI driver that is compatible with Windows Server 2012R2 Standard.



JRiver works very good on Windows Server 2012 R2,
Windows Server 2012R2 gets the most out of my Audio-Gd Master 7 DAC,
Default output: 2 channel 32bit 192 kHz studio quality!




Buy second-hand software licenses!

It sounds maybe logical, but what I didn't know is that it's also possible to buy secondhand
software licenses, 100% legal and with warranty that the license code will work.

Windows Server Licenses are expensive, for example a Windows Server 2012R2 Standard license costs
822 dollar, but if you buy a second hand license you pay 135 euro (166 Dollar)
That's a big difference, so you can save some money here, I bought my licenses by this company:
https://www.digitallicense.nl (but there are also many others to find with Google)
I receive a download link for a big ISO image file, and ofcourse the serial code, and official documentation.
I didn't use the big ISO file, but instead the official evalution edition of Microsoft Server 2012 R2
and with the serial I bought I could active it without any problems.
So now I have a legal en fine working solid operating system for my streamer!

 


My Audio Dandy streamer (running now Windows Server 2012 R2 Standard)
standing on the floor next to my stereo rack with amplifier and DAC.



Fast and easily controllable with the "JRemote" app on my Ipad


What we do with the NAS?

Your old NAS is still useful device, not for streaming but for creating
 a solid backup of our music collection.
 The Audio Dandy DAS streamer also contains a copy of your entire music collection;
 but because of performance choices (RAID 0) there is no redundancy.
 So if one drive fails you will loose everything
 Therefore it wise to use the following workflow:
 First store all your music on the NAS.
 Then copy all the music back the Audio Dandy DAS streamer.
 Turn off your NAS, and only turn it on to add new music.
 Now if something happens on your streamer, you always
 can copy back your music.
 So now you can securely enjoy the full speed of RAID 0, without being afraid
 of loosing your music collection.
 

 

 

The Future


In the near future our streamers will make use of the NVMe.
NVMe is an open logical device interface specification
for accessing non-volatile storage media attached via a PCI Express (PCIe) bus.
The speeds of these solid state storage devices are very fast, even faster than SSD's connected
with SATA.
The prices of these NVMe solid-state drives are still high, but in the future they will
be cheaper.
Luckily the Audio Dandy streamer is modular from design, and totally upgradable
so when the NVMe Solid-State Drives will be more accessible
then we have no problems any more with slow storage speeds
of our big music collection ;-)


In my next article I will write about how to Install and Configure
Windows Server 2012 R2 optimally on your Audio Dandy streamer!


               
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Last edit
6-3-2018:
Changed my opinion about Windows 10 for Audiophile streaming, I prefer Windows Server 2012 R2 instead
added WD 6 TB Red hard-disk for more quiet music storage solution

14-2-2018:
changed harddisk WD121KRYZ (GOLD) for WD100EFAX (RED) because this harddisk makes less noise, and is therefore better
for internal audio streaming solutions.