• Computer Audiophile Pocket Server C.A.P.S. v3 Introduction

    The Computer Audiophile Pocket Server CAPS v3 is finally hear! More specifically all four of the CAPS v3 servers are finally here! Version three marks a departure from previous designs (CAPS v1 and CAPS v2 ) in the recognition that one size doesn't fit all. Yet, staying true to my audiophile roots I designed each of the four new servers with the singular focus of music playback. Differences between v3 designs are in areas such as ease of assembly, expansion capability, size, sound quality, computing power, and cost. In addition to launching CAPS v3 I'm also requesting that CA readers around the world use these designs as references from which to push the limits of what's possible. The collective brain capacity of this community continues to astonish me every day. I can only imagine what CA readers will come up with to make our collective listening experiences even better.

    What's In A Name?

    New CA readers may be asking if the CAPS v3 servers can really squeeze into a pocket or if I've use my creative liberty too liberally when naming the servers. The following quote from the CAPS v1 article comments will hopefully answer questions related to the name. "The title does not reference the literal size of the music server. The name Pocket Server is no less accurate than the name Compact Car. Along the way this server was named the Pocket Server by a colleague who was very surprise at its small size when I pulled it out of my carry-on luggage. The server is a bit larger today than it was at that time but the name hasn't changed. This colleague named the server because it was so small not because it actually fits into a pocket. I elected to keep the name, going with the spirit of the name not the letter of the name." Near the end of CAPS v3 testing I received the new Intel Next Unit of Computing (NUC ). This small computer does fit into a large pocket but thus far I don't see a reason to use it in a CAPS design. The NUC doesn't meet the requirement of a fanless design. Plus, there's no way I would select a retail packaged computer that only requires RAM and a hard drive and call it a CAPS design.

    Goals and Requirements

    My goals when designing CAPS v3 were to design servers that are fairly easy to assemble and servers that I will use in my reference system. These goals sound straight forward to the layman or computer geek. However, meeting both goals involves satisfying a stiff set of requirements that are nothing to scoff at for even the learned computer audiophile. Over the years I've built many computers and used many music servers both custom and canned. I've placed enough Arctic Silver® thermal compound on CPUs to know that 99% of computer audiophiles have no desire to get that involved in custom PC building. Thus, three of the four CAPS v3 designs are thermal compound-free for the end user. I realize that DIY projects can be fun and rewarding but I also realize they can end up as unfinished dust collectors with very frustrated owners. To that end all CAPS v3 designs will be available for purchase completely assembled and tested from Small Green Computer. I want to be as inclusive as possible by making the v3 servers available to everyone to build or buy. My experience with several canned music servers such as Aurender, Sooloos, and Sonore to name a few has given me a good idea of what I and other computer audiophiles want in both performance and remote control. Given one of the goals is to design servers I will use in my system the CAPS v3 servers must compete with all the canned server options. I didn't design these servers for everyone else to use while I sit in an Ivory Tower listening to something else. I designed these servers for myself and all the CA readers.

    The requirements, both objective and subjective, for CAPS v3 servers are identical to the first two Pocket Servers, but with an asterisk. If I was a politician seeking reelection I could talk my way around the requirements and explain that CAPS v3 really does satisfy the each one. Fortunately I'm no politician and I will address a few requirements where the v3 designs may bend the rules just a bit.

    1. Absolutely silent.
    2. Capable of great sound.
    3. Great looking.
    4. No moving parts.
    5. Fairly inexpensive.
    6. No legacy components.
    7. Easy to operate.
      1. Directly or
      2. Remotely

    8. Easy to assemble / install
      1. Assembly / installation by one's self or
      2. Assembly / installation by local computer shop, son, daughter, neighbor, or friend.

    9. Small size.
    10. Low power consumption.
    11. Low heat.
    12. Accept an add-in card for audio or additional capabilities. Hardware & Software must accept appropriate add-in cards.
    13. Play 16/44.1, 24/44.1, 24/88.2, 24/96, 24/176.4, and 24/192 all bit perfect.

    Easy is a Relative Term

    The first item I'll address is the Easy to assemble / install requirement. My only hesitation calling v3 easy to assemble / install is the fact that one of the v3 designs requires installation of a CPU and heat sink. This isn't rocket science, but it can be difficult for a novice. I have no doubt assembling all four designs is pretty easy for Small Green Computer, any local computer shop, or the computer savvy kid down the street. I believe the CAPS v3 designs satisfy the Easy to assemble / install requirement because it includes the second line mentioning assembly / installation by local shop, or other persons.

    Small is a Relative Term

    Two of the v3 designs are small compared to any computer. The two remaining designs are more thin than small, but can be considered small compared to full size tower computer chassis. The larger CAPS v3 designs are likely the same width as many readers' audio components and will fit nicely in an audio rack. I believe this requirement is bent as far as I can bend it without breaking. I consider the requirement satisfied. I hope the CA readers will as well once the larger designs are revealed.

    Low is a Relative Term

    The CAPS v3 design requiring installation of a CPU with heat sink consumes more power and puts out more heat than previous CAPS designs. However, the CPU is capable of fairly low power compared to the most powerful CPUs available. At less than half of the TDP of a high power processor I consider it at the high end of low power or mid power. This CPU also puts out more heat than other CAPS designs. This heat is drawn from the processor through copper pipes and sent into the chassis. More heat at the processor doesn't equate to more heat for the end user. Running this server for several days shouldn't produce much external heat or make the chassis hot to the touch. Requirements satisfied? I believe so but it's not as clear cut as I'd like.

    What CAPS v3 Isn't

    CAPS v3 designs are not meant to replace or make obsolete the previous CAPS designs. CAPS v2 was good when it was release and is just as good today. The main reasons for replacing v2 are the availability of parts and expanded design options. If I were using a v2 server I wouldn't be in a rush to replace it unless something specific in a v3 design really caught my eye.

    CAPS v3 designs are not published for Home Theater PC use although the servers may make fine HTPCs. CAPS may be called a one trick pony with the capability of many more tricks.

    CAPS v3 designs are not for everybody. Attempting to please everybody pleases nobody.

    CAPS v3 Hardware Brief

    The four CAPS v3 servers will each be featured in a separate article detailing all the specs and reasoning for the design decisions. This is a tiny hardware tease listing some detail about each server. Prices listed below are for parts only and will vary over time. There is a theme to the server names if anyone is wondering.

    1. CAPS v3 Topanga $493
    This is a very basic server that anyone can assemble. There are no internal cables required. Only four screws for the motherboard, two screws for the hard drive, and two screws for the case. Once the photos are published readers will see how simple this design is to assemble. Depending on one's use of the server sound quality may not be as good as the other CAPS v3 designs. This design is terrific for an entry level server that can be upgraded to the next v3 design level Lagoon with relatively little added cost.

    2. CAPS v3 Lagoon $896
    This server should hit the sweet spot for many CA readers. An unassuming compact design that's relatively inexpensive, sounds great, uses little power, and can be taken to the next level with any number of power supply upgrades. I will explain the PSU upgrade I've been using and why I think it's a must for all music servers. The PSU upgrade isn't included in the cost listed above as it's optional on this server and the next CAPS design Carbon.

    3. CAPS v3 Carbon $1,080
    This server uses a larger chassis with most of the same parts found in the Lagoon server. It's also relatively inexpensive, sounds great, uses little power, and can be taken to the next level with any number of power supply upgrades. The major benefit to this design is a more audio component looking chassis and plenty of room for internal and external expansion or creativity. I have some ideas as to what can be done inside this case. I think CA readers with a bit of knowledge can really make this into something special. The server also has a unique external expansion capability I haven't seen on any other server to date.

    4. CAPS v3 Zuma $1,535
    This is the higher power server many readers have asked for over the last couple years. It's not simple to assemble but readers who have built computers in the past will have no problems. Small Green Computer will also have this for sale on the day the design is published. The server will have enough power for almost any music playback configuration. I haven't tested everything but I'm willing to bet transcoding on the fly, room correction, sample rate conversion, and similar applications won't be an issue for CAPS v3 Zuma.

    E Pluribus Unum

    As part of the CAPS v3 launch I'm asking Computer Audiophile readers to use these designs as a reference from which to push the limits of what's possible. The entire CA Community has a great opportunity to get involved and make the CAPS servers something far better than I or anyone of us could make on our own. This community has the intelligence and ability to make CAPS a standard by which all servers are measured. There's nothing more powerful than many people working together with a common goal. Nothing can improve the CAPS v3 designs more than the entire Computer Audiophile community contributing to design improvements and tweaks. For example, a reader who designs RAM for a living and knows a certain memory module can lower power consumption and decrease latency may want to contribute this information to the community. Other readers may want to suggest power supplies, software refinements and adjustments, or some other improvement capable of taking CAPS to another level. All subjective and objective contributions are welcome but not all contributions can be put into use or a design. Someone has to be the arbiter and decide what if anything should be added or removed from a CAPS design. I'll take on that duty in order to keep tight control on the entire design and reassure CA readers that a new suggestion not only works but may improve the server. Part of this whole project is about offering readers a music server solution that simply works. Thus, tweaks that require placing the server on a depleted Uranium base and reinstalling the operating system every other day will be welcome but not necessarily accepted in to a design update.

    I believe the Computer Audiophile Community really has a great opportunity to set the bar for music servers. If we want more people to hear what we hear or experience wonderful sound quality and music collection enjoyment we must be willing to step up and offer an inviting solution.

    Like the previous CAPS designs I will never accept money for anything related to a CAPS v3 server. That means I won't sell v3 servers or license the design for use by another entity. Small Green Computer follows the CAPS designs exactly as published and sells the servers. I've talked to Andrew at SGC and know he can be trusted and he does quality work. No money is kicked back to me. No free server comes my way. These designs are owned by the CA Community. I couldn't have created CAPS without help from several readers. Some know who they are while others likely don't realize how helpful they have been by contributing so much to the CA forum.

    CAPS v3 To Be Continued...

    All the CAPS v3 designs have been tested and in use here at CA. The only thing left to do is publish the designs. Stick around CA for all the exciting CAPS v3 details to come :~)

    Comments 30 Comments
    1. harry26's Avatar
      harry26 -
      phenomenal write up chris in terms of objectives and guiding principles for caps 3..no better way to kickstart the launch..with four different versions I am sure caps 3 would have something for everyone at diff. price points.
      now i guess the devil is in the details. now eagerly waiting for the spec/details on each of the models listed above.
      great job chris.
    1. Petestorms's Avatar
      Petestorms -
      Besides focussing on the hardware side of this server, I would like to mention that OS and software are as critical to squeeze every bit perfectly out of a music server. I am a happy CAPS 2 server user, but only recently got the best out of it by installing and heavily tweaking Linux on it. Wasn't as happy with Windows (and ,even, tried (H)Macintosh/Amarra on it). But perhaps some other community members have even beter suggestions in this area. I suggest a part of the community will try to find out the best practices. Especially when I read Chris' notes on capacity for room correction etc which will not be trivial to set up software-wise.

      Chris, looking forward to read about the 4 new servers and thank you very much for your effort so far.
    1. drdanb's Avatar
      drdanb -
      Sounds like there's (may be) good consideration for storage, would be good to have at least 1TB available w/lagoon on up for those who want to burn in their CD collections in AIFF or something far better than lossless. And also, a summary of or at least some consideration for how much difference (if any) using only SSD for storage actually makes to the sound? e.g. Meridien Sooloos base level now has a 1TB capacity built in (as well as their excellent software), but at $4,000 SooLong to SooLoos - it's beyond (most) of us. So are we looking at C.A.P.S. 3 PLUS network attached storage still? $2-$3K. Or will any of this levels provide for drives built-in?

      Denon 3930 CD > Arcam AVR 350 >>; iPod Classic (Apple Lossless)>PeachTree iDac>>Arcam AVR 350; Spotify Premium>PeachTree iDac>>Arcam AVR 350; to GoldenEar Triton 3 (main) and Sonos Play 5's (study, kitchen)
    1. Oystein's Avatar
      Oystein -
      I am curious how the final implementation will look like.

      Have you considered designing a model (or maybe you have already) with real tweaks in (electrical) design instead of using of the shelf computer parts ?

      I made myself a clean 5V USB power based on a LM317 regulated supply using the internal 12 Volt from the ATX power.

      My Lindemann DAC needs this 5 Volt for the USB receiver chip.
      With clean power - and less disturbance on the signal leads - it is a cheap upgrade if you build it yourself.
    1. ted_b's Avatar
      ted_b -
      I can't thank you enough, from the CA community, that you have put together this V3 series of implementations, and that you have nicely spelled out the goals and objectives. This is no cut-n-paste from V2, and is clearly not just a tech update. As one who learns a lot from you (especially when building the V2+ as I called it) I am excited to see the new ideas. This is great stuff!!
    1. firedog's Avatar
      firedog -

      Sounds great. It's pretty clear that you've taken to heart the varying needs and desires of the CA community by making the 4 different designs.
      Can't wait to see the designs. Thanks
    1. mbovaird's Avatar
      mbovaird -
      Chris - THANK YOU! This is super exciting. Looking forward to the published designs.

    1. ackcheng's Avatar
      ackcheng -

      Thanks! Really looking forward to it!
    1. agillis's Avatar
      agillis -
      Oystein, I like your little 5v mod. I know a lot of CA readers have used different power supplies and even batteries to power their USB devices. The CAPS v2 has the SOtM USB card that provides super clean 5v to the USB port as well as precision oscillators for USB timing. But it's not as cheap as your mod.
    1. av_passion's Avatar
      av_passion -
      Chris, I echo Ted's comments above. I am especially looking forward to seeing the specs of the Carbon and Zuma as either will make a great Christmas project.
    1. alsterfan's Avatar
      alsterfan -
      Hello Chris, even though I havn´t even got my CAPS v2.1 yet, as US and German customs need their time to handle it, I perused your words about the models of the new CAPS v3. Apart from the technical aspects we are looking forward to it has been a pleasure to read about your almost philosophical attitude as to whom CAPS belongs and how it´s boundaries can be pushed to the next audiophile level. Calling on for everybody "to join in the party" and make competent contributions to the project is a great idea and the basis for further success, I am convinced. All the best, Uwe
    1. dlbeck's Avatar
      dlbeck -
      Can't wait to see the Carbon bill of material. Hopefully I can get all the components ordered and here in time for Christmas. My project over the holidays as well. Nice timing Chris.
    1. Listener's Avatar
      Listener -
      Topanga, Lagoon, Carbon, Zuma.

      Malibu beaches?

      Maybe not, cannot find Lagoon.

      It's nice there anyway.

    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Quote Originally Posted by Listener View Post
      Topanga, Lagoon, Carbon, Zuma.

      Malibu beaches?

      Maybe not, cannot find Lagoon.

      It's nice there anyway.

      You got it Steven!
    1. TJHUB's Avatar
      TJHUB -
      I too would like to express sincere gratitude for your efforts with the CAPS designs. My CAPS v2 is one of the best audio purchases I've ever made. I had no idea what I was missing until I heard it in my system.

      I'm really hoping to see interesting cases and a tweak guide for Windows 8 with the v3 designs.
    1. Audio_ELF's Avatar
      Audio_ELF -
      Quote Originally Posted by Diogenes View Post
      Why don't you publish the design under a GPL or creative commons. That way you'll be sure no one else can seize the work.
      Very good idea...
    1. Flavio Lanteri's Avatar
      Flavio Lanteri -
      I have a scoop!!! The first image of Topanga C.A.P.S.
    1. Flavio Lanteri's Avatar
      Flavio Lanteri -
      I have the first image of Topanga CAPS:

      Very good on low frequency!!!
    1. ted_b's Avatar
      ted_b -
      No! That second one would then be the "second image of Topanga".
    1. Flavio Lanteri's Avatar
      Flavio Lanteri -
      Sorry for the double post :-(