• Computer Audiophile Pocket Server C.A.P.S. v4 Introduction

    Two years have passed since version three CAPS servers were announced. Over this period of time many of the server parts went out of production, leading to CAPS lookalikes. I am happy to see people coming up with their own solutions to the lack of parts problem. Unfortunately people's CAPS servers move further apart from a similar design. This fragmentation can increase troubleshooting time and compatibility with the many third party software and hardware solutions the CA Community is now using. Addressing the issue of parts unavailability is difficult, if not impossible, without ordering massive quantities of items like motherboards, hard drives, and RAM. In the CAPS v4 designs I've addressed the issue with parts that have long term support and parts from well established companies when possible. In addition, I'd like the CA Community to look at the CAPS designs as part formula and part platform from which to build the worlds best music servers. Readers who just want a formula for successful playback can build or order a CAPS server and be happily playing music with the knowledge their servers are very good and will last a relatively long time. On the other hand, the CA Community has grown and knowledge about music servers has increased greatly since the first few CAPS designs were published. Because of this, I'd like those in the CA Community with imaginations and skills to consider CAPS v4 a platform from which to expand and perfect their very own server. As long as the foundation is a CAPS design and the individual changes aren't too drastic, we'll avoid the fragmentation of the PC world at large. For the first time members of the CA Community will have the opportunity to submit their CAPS designs for full CA Community endorsement and the right to attach their own names as a suffix to the CAPS "platform" server from which the design was created. I'll start us off with my four CAPS v4 designs and let the CA Community take them to new heights. This is a great opportunity to use the collective knowledge of the global CA Community to further this wonderful hobby of ours.

    A Note About Sponsorship

    Before going further I'd like to thank JRiver for sponsoring the entire CAPS v4 project. Researching and purchasing all the parts for CAPS servers takes time and money. In the past I spent over $10,000 just trying different motherboards, memory, SSDs, cases, etc… This time around I thought it would be prudent and a win-win for everybody if I obtained sponsorship for CAPS v4. I sought sponsorship from a handfull of companies and before the "ink" on the email was dry JRiver stepped up to sponsor the whole project. This sponsorship enabled me to take the CAPS project further in a shorter period of time than I would have been able to on my own. The bottom line is that members of the CA Community benefitted from this sponsorship. Without this benefit to the entire Community I wouldn't have sought sponsorship. Period. Also, JRiver had no input on the design of the servers' hardware or software. Prior to contacting JRiver I had already decided what playback applications would be used for the CAPS v4 project. I also didn't let JRiver know this software decision, thus avoiding any semblance of impropriety. Again, thanks to JRiver for supporting CAPS v4 and the CA Community.

    CAPS - Computer Audiophile Pocket Server

    As usual I should address the reasoning behind the CAPS name. Here is what I wrote two years ago. There is no need to make any changes as the reason hasn't changed.
    "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."

    In addition to reasoning above, I mentioned the Intel NUC in my paragraph from CAPS version three. It's funny how times change. CAPS v4 features two servers that are based on the Intel NUC platform! One has a new custom USB board created specifically for this server and the other uses all external solutions to high end computer audio issues such as USB and power.

    Goals and Requirements

    My goals and requirements for the CAPS v4 project differ from the first three projects. My main goal of CAPS v4 is to provide a formula or platform for great sound. The advancement of the CA Community, online companies who build and sell CAPS servers, and the changing needs of computer audiophile's had a major impact on my requirements. The reasons for changing the requirements are many and I will address each one below.

    List of requirements from CAPS v1 through v3 with comments about v4.
    1. Absolutely silent. - Three of the four v4 servers are silent. The non-silent server is designed to go outside the listening room, negating the silent requirement.
    2. Capable of great sound.
    3. Great looking. - This is too subjective and doesn't really matter for one of the v4 servers as it will not reside near the audio components.
    4. No moving parts. - The CAPS v4 project features three fanless servers and one server with fans and spinning hard drives. The server with fans and HDDs isn't designed for a listening room and thus doesn't require a quiet environment.
    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. - This requirement is too relative and subjective. One of the v4 servers is housed in a mid sized tower chassis that isn't meant for the listening environment. The other servers range from small to full "a/v component" size.
    10. Low power consumption. - The most required feature of the last few CAPS designs was more power. Thus, I have removed the low power requirement because more processing power equates to more power consumption. Fortunately none of the servers in the v4 project have high 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, 24/192 and DSD all bit perfect.

    CAPS v4 Hardware Brief

    CAPS v4 Cortes - This server is a response to computer audiophiles' changing playback methods and the addition of many more network based players. Cortes is a Windows based Network Attached Storage (NAS) replacement. Members of the CA Community no longer have to wait for NAS enabled versions of their favorite software. Running Windows enables installation of almost any audio application and additional diagnostic tools. Cortes runs JRiver Media Center out of the box and can take advantage of all the UPnP / DLNA capabilities of JRMC. I've been running a Cortes server for months with JRMC, MinimServer, Devialet AIR, TIDAL, Sonos, Logitech Media Server, Twonky, and UPnP Tools without a single issue. This server is as stable as a Linux based NAS, but endlessly more flexible.

    CAPS v4 Pipeline - This is a more traditional CAPS server in that it can connect directly to one's audio system. The chassis is similar to a full size A/V component. This enables use of a number of audio cards (AES, S/PDIF, etc..) or USB cards. The chassis has room for add-on cards, power filters, power supplies, and more. The motherboard has a minimum seven year life. I've been using this server with a linear power supply and it has been rock solid. I believe this server has the most potential for derivative designs and to be pushed to the max for sound quality.

    CAPS v4 Maroubra - This is an Intel NUC based server in a fanless chassis. It has a custom USB card designed specifically of this server, wireless capability, and a surprising amount of internal storage.

    CAPS v4 Bundoran - This is also an Intel NUC based server in a fanless chassis. The main difference between this and the Pipeline server is that Bundoran uses external USB power "conditioning", enabling users to experiment and even bypass this feature when using a DAC that is immune to external power such as the Ayre Acoustics QB-9 DSD.

    CAPS v4 Software

    All four CAPS servers will run Windows 8.1 Professional 64-bit and JRiver Media Center v20. At this point in time Windows 8.1 is the only stable game in town that's compatible with any number of applications and audio components. I'm excited to see what members of the CA Community will do when they install Linux, but for now my four main designs are Windows based. I selected JRiver Media Center v20 because it's very stable, has great support, is widely used in the CA Community, and is capable of great sound quality for all PCM and DSD sample rates as well as multi-channel audio. There are other applications available that I consider a bit more fringe at this moment in time. I'll leave it to the CA Community to use and tweak those applications and share results with everyone. As a formula and platform I believe Windows 8.1 Professional and JRiver Media Center v20 is the best combination.

    A Bit About Derivative Designs

    As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, members of the CA Community can come up with derivative designs based on any of the four CAPS v4 servers and submit them for CA endorsement. A derivative server based on the Pipeline design would be called CAPS v4 Pipeline (Name of your choice here). I am very excited to see what users from around the world come up with and submit for endorsement. There aren't hard and fast rules for endorsement, but the server should be derived from one of the four CAPS v4 servers, be very stable unless noted as a bleeding edge design, and meet most of the CAPS requirements. It's not a requirement to ship hardware to CA for endorsement. We will use the forums to discuss current and proposed CAPS derivatives. Servers be endorsed by the entire CA Community.

    Wrap Up

    In the coming weeks I will release individual articles for each CAPS v4 servers. These articles will detail the hardware I selected and my reasons for selecting each component. I hope everyone is as excited as I am. It's CAPS season!

    Comments 32 Comments
    1. christopher3393's Avatar
      christopher3393 -
      Great intro, Chris. Thanks. Looking forward to building one.
    1. monteverdi's Avatar
      monteverdi -
      I am looking forward to these designs especially if they are in a small form factor but somewhat wished that there would be also some Linux options.
    1. blownsi's Avatar
      blownsi -
      While this is excellent for the person just starting out, is there an advantage in sound quality upgrading from V3 to V4 considering that a V3 can already run Win8.1/JRMC?
    1. beetlemania's Avatar
      beetlemania -
      I'm looking forward to reading more about these designs. I'm especially curious about your current choice of MB.
    1. mrvco's Avatar
      mrvco -
      Why associate a single, specific playback software product with the CAPS build? I would expect the software player selection to be wholly independent of the hardware selection process, unlike (potentially) the OS.
    1. Audio_ELF's Avatar
      Audio_ELF -
      Chris - can I suggest a slight variation to your naming - for example it might be useful for some if you would refer to a CAPS v4-1 Pipeline.

      Okay I admit it's a selfish request as I always had to look up the names of the CAPSv3 even though I knew I was wanting to refer to a "level 1" CAPS I had to check it was a CAPS v3 Carbon.
    1. Audio_ELF's Avatar
      Audio_ELF -
      Quote Originally Posted by mrvco View Post
      Why associate a single, specific playback software product with the CAPS build? I would expect the software player selection to be wholly independent of the hardware selection process, unlike (potentially) the OS.
      Because the CAPS concept is (to my mind) a complete hardware AND software solution.

      I agree that an alternative CAPS running a variant of Linux would be interesting that would be in addition to the 4 models rather than tacking on to the existing CAPS (again IMO).
    1. One and a half's Avatar
      One and a half -
      Maybe there is something hidden in Windows 8.1 pro and the regular version that's of better sound quality?

      Apart from bitlocker, remote desktop access, and domain joining capability (which I'm sure every house has Windows Server running), regular Windows 8.1 on its own should be adequate for the task. For the price difference between the two (2.6 times), a 3rd party VNC app would be an easy justification to stick with the 'regular' version and save the change.

      8.1 is a toxic version anyway, Windows 10 may offer some improvement in less annoyances factor and is due in 2015, not that far away.
    1. Antoine's Avatar
      Antoine -
      @Chris, suggestion for CAPS v5 and sponsoring: crowd funding!

      Reading that this has all been sponsored by JRiver who, as I found out recently, have had the unbelievable nerve to build in a intermittently recurring "JPlay is a hoax" warning (which can't be loaded on my W2012R2 server because there is no browser installed and thus hangs with an error message that I have to click away first before I can start playback) has me worried. Especially now you mention that: "there are other applications available that I consider a bit more fringe at this moment in time." Would JPlay be such a "fringe application"?

      And Windows 8.1 Pro? Most people have already moved on to Windows Server 2012 R2 by now, with Audiophile Optimizer. Probably "fringe" too, bits are, after all, only bits according to JRiver right?

      Well at least your apparent escape to let the community make the designs possibly more objective is brilliant... "I'll leave it to the CA Community to use and tweak those applications and share results with everyone." Yeah thanks for that, like this who needs CAPS anymore, anyway...
    1. mrvco's Avatar
      mrvco -
      Quote Originally Posted by Audio_ELF View Post
      Because the CAPS concept is (to my mind) a complete hardware AND software solution.

      I agree that an alternative CAPS running a variant of Linux would be interesting that would be in addition to the 4 models rather than tacking on to the existing CAPS (again IMO).

      Assuming Windows is the OS, I was mostly wondering whether there were any specific hardware choices made that suite one player over another.
    1. ecwl's Avatar
      ecwl -
      To me the most interesting part is the linear power supply for CAPS v4 Pipeline. I've been debating whether to upgrade my CAPS v3 Carbon with battery or linear power supply for a while but using a dedicated power conditioner for the SMPS seems to be okay for now. Can't wait to read the new articles. I wonder if most people are going to upgrade right away or if it'll be like smartphones where people skip a generation for upgrades...
    1. firedog's Avatar
      firedog -
      Quote Originally Posted by Antoine View Post

      And Windows 8.1 Pro? Most people have already moved on to Windows Server 2012 R2 by now, with Audiophile Optimizer. Probably "fringe" too, bits are, after all, only bits according to JRiver right?
      If you think about it, clearly not true. Just a very small subset of audiophiles. Most people don't want the expense or hassle of switching to WS 2012.

      We often confuse on this site something that is very popular among early adopter audiophiles - like many participants here - with the rest of the audiophile community. And let's not even consider those just getting into computer audio who come across this site.
    1. Antoine's Avatar
      Antoine -
      @Firedog, you are absolutely right. Earlier I've looked for a way to edit or even delete my post but it looks like that's not an option. My post is way too harsh and poorly thought through. I guess I needed a good night's sleep...
    1. firedog's Avatar
      firedog -

      When are you going to start revealing the setups? Will it be once a week like last time (AFAIR)?
    1. stuarth's Avatar
      stuarth -
      Awaiting the new setups with interest. I'm happy with my CAPS V2 server (with linear PS) and skipped on V3, but four may be the lucky number.
      Like others here I am interested in Linux developments especially now that JRMC can run on this platform.
    1. wappinghigh's Avatar
      wappinghigh -
      I dont think everyone quite gets where music delivery is going...

      It's going Streaming SERVICES people!!!\\

      Their aint no going back...

      So How does CAPS 4 fit in with streaming services?

      We need a small silent CAPS renderer running Linux and we need to be able to be shown how to set this up with all the streaming services built in..


      should just about do it..

      (and maybe HQplayer upsampling these services or embedded delivering the odd difficult to source or "special" recording DSD/PCM track we might have)

      That is *all* we need

      We don;t need Jriver (no disrespect). We don't need massive big servers. And we definitely *don;t* need Windows servers!!!

      Geeeezz Am I missing something here?

      Is this like back to a 20C "future"?
    1. wappinghigh's Avatar
      wappinghigh -
      So I wish someone could just rip the guts out of a Sonos Zone player, unbrick it, mod all the CAPS4 like hardware into it...maybe even load on a different version of Linux, , find a Spotify connect and Pandora and Tidal app to load on as well.. but still keep it syncing with Sonosmesh... but allow it to play out dsd/24bit and be an NAA.... Kinda like a "Sonos" version of the Sonore MiniServer (rather than it using LMS).. with all the CAPS4 hardware built in.. LOL that would just about do it!
    1. bobflood's Avatar
      bobflood -
      What a lot of the responders are describing is something very much like the AURLiC ARIES which would be a project beyond most home builders.
    1. Superdad's Avatar
      Superdad -
      Horses for courses people! This article is about Chris' recommendations for new CAPS computer builds--and based on Windows.

      If you want to build or purchase different hardware/software solutions to handle your music playback and library management, then by all means do so--and start or join a discussionn thread about it. Linux, OS X, embedded SoC (system on chip), Aeries, Sonos, Squeezebox, renderers, etc.--the possibilities are endless. But complaining in this thread about how Chris' new CAPS designs are not meeting your desires for something else seems to me to be a pointless distraction.
    1. Card R's Avatar
      Card R -
      Stop this project right now. I am perfectly happy with my V.3 Zuma outfit and do not want to be tempted to purchase something better.
      My only gripe is that waking-up the Zuma wiith the JRiver Ipad app is sometimes problematical: I am often required to go over and push the button on the unit! What a nightmare.
      A. Troglodyte