• Audiophile Optimizer Raises The Bar

    Hi Guys, just a quick update from my travels this week. Iím currently flying over northern California on my way home to Minneapolis. Iíve been in the Bay Area for four days working on a couple music servers. My task was to install Windows Server 2012 R2 and Audiophile Optimizer to squeeze every ounce of sound quality from a computer. The end result surprised me very much. I had some reservations about the install and the efficacy of going to such great lengths tweaking a PC. I figured the sound would improve, but I didnít figure it would improve by so much. This week I heard the best digital playback Iíve ever heard. Period.


    Iím not at liberty to divulge the entire hardware formula used this week, but I will talk about the software and the final outcome. What I found was similar to what many computer audiophiles have been saying for quit a while, the combination of Windows Server 2012 R2 and Audiophile Optimizer is fantastic.



    I started the project by getting a copy of Windows Server Essentials 2012 R2 and downloading Audiophile Optimizer. I prepared the hardware with a new SSD for the operating system and a couple 1TB SSDs for music storage. Installing 2012 R2 was pretty simple and nearly identical to installing any new Windows OS. On the other hand, installing and configuring Audiophile Optimizer is a different story. This software isnít for those who canít or wonít read the 52 page setup guide. Fortunately the setup guide is thorough and provides enough information for users to at least get their systems up and running.


    After installing AO and going through all its options a few times I got the hang of the program. One problem I ran into revolved around AOís Core Mode. Core Mode pretty much turns the PC into an appliance with nothing but a command line or a playback application running. The issue I had was that it took about 30 minutes for AO to get the PC into core mode and another 30 minutes for AO to get the PC out of core mode. This is likely because the low horsepower of the computer I was using rather than a real issue with AO. For most people this may not be an issue because they will put their PCs into Core Mode and call it a day. However, I needed to go into Core Mode and come out of Core Mode several times while I tested different configurations and made software configurations changes that were only possible in AOís GUI Mode. Again, this isnít a big deal but readers should consider the speed of their hardware and try to complete all tasks (other than playing music) before setting their PCs into Core Mode.


    The final configuration of the PCs I setup was AO Ultimate Mode, Core Mode, and JRiver Media Center set as the Shell. In this config the PC booted right into JRMC in an appliance-like fashion.


    Once configured, the PCs were placed in a system with Berkeley Audio Design and Constellation Audio components, and Magico M Project loudspeakers. The sound I heard when the AO optimized PC was played for the first time, and throughout my stay, was stunning. We even had an identical computer setup, but running Windows 7 and without AO and its optimizations, for comparing sound quality. This enabled us to do A/B comparisons between the Windows 7 computer and fully optimized 2012 R2 / AO computer with the only difference being the optimization of software. The sonic differences were easily apparent. The optimized computer made it possible to hear the smallest details in recordings at incredibly low volume levels. For example, we had a microphone placed half way between the loudspeakers and the listening position. The microphone was connected to a small display that showed us the decibel level during our listening sessions. It wasnít uncommon for the display to read volume levels around 60 dB (keep in mind that the listening position was at an even lower level) and for us to hear everything a recording had to offer. Turing up the volume didnít increase our ability to hear details, it just made the music louder.


    We continued to listen to all kinds of music and continued to hear incredible sound quality. Everything from soundstage to reverb trails to the ambiance of a concert hall was improved with these software optimizations. On one track the drummer struck a bell and the sound seemed to hang in the air for ever while at the same time being completely distinct from the rest of the sounds. Every instrument had its place and its space. The listening experience was truly something to behold.


    Iím sure this experience will raise more questions than answers for many people. They will want such an optimized system compared to every server under the sun and I donít blame them. Who wouldnít want that information? However, we must be careful. Just because a system is great for one person doesnít mean anything for someone else. The Windows Server 2012 R2 / Audiophile Optimizer system isnít for the faint of heart. Depending on how far one optimizes the system, there may be no Ethernet connection and it may require a keyboard, mouse, and monitor for operation. Plus, installation is much more involved than purchasing a server like an Aurender and having oneís dealer visit to set it up and get everything running smooth.


    Based on my experience this week, the sound quality bar has been significantly raised.
    Comments 140 Comments
    1. joelha's Avatar
      joelha -
      Chris,
      I'm happy you reviewed Phil's creation.
      It's a remarkable and ongoing piece of work. I would also say it's a must for anyone using Windows who can afford the server software involved. In this hobby, the dollar for dollar return on investment is substantial.
      Finally, Phil is a very good guy and it's nice to see good people get the recognition they deserve.
      Joel
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Joel - I agree about Phil. He was very helpful during the setup process and is genuinely a nice person.
    1. Priaptor's Avatar
      Priaptor -
      One bit of advice for those running in "shell mode" on a headless device.

      Should you want to get to cmd line while running a shell other than windows (JRiver, Roon, etc) the keyboard command for the headless computer is:

      CTL-ALT-END

      Then you can access task manager of the AO headless machine to get control again. At least that is what works for me. Someone who "didn't read the 52 page manual"
    1. AudioPhil's Avatar
      AudioPhil -
      Hi Chris

      Thank you very much for this nice write up of your experiences with AO. I am more than pleased, no I feel truly honored, to read such lines.

      Thanks a lot,
      Phil

      P.S. Yes, switching back and forth to core/minimal-server/GUI mode is a very intensive and sometimes also time consuming process. Depending on the underlying hardware switching can take anything from a few minutes untill more than an hour. My AudioPC for example needs about half an hour, my development machine needs only about 3 minutes.

      www.highend-audiopc.com
    1. ted_b's Avatar
      ted_b -
      Chris, I'm glad you've discovered what many of us have known for quite some time...that Phil is a great developer, a great guy (a new papa for the second time...although, to be honest, we only found that out two weeks ago ) and an unwaveringly patient customer service advocate. Even though I, and a few others, were alpha testers on AO back in early 2013, his attention to detail and his willingness to help has not waned..even when his customer base multiplied by an order of magnitude. AO is a necessary ingredient to a great Windows Server environment, and I look forward to seeing AO on Windows 10 in the very near term (if my poll results are any indication...hint hint).
    1. tranz's Avatar
      tranz -
      Very good to read that you are now experiencing what many of us have been enjoying. And that OS, OS tweaks and fine-tuning, minimal processes etc. do indeed have an impact on noise floor.
    1. EuroDriver's Avatar
      EuroDriver -
      Now we just need the folks at J River to listen to WS2012 + AO

      ;-)
    1. bobflood's Avatar
      bobflood -
      I guess this answers the "bits is bits" argument. It's how those bits are delivered that is really important and that takes great software. Hardware is also very important but it is secondary to proper software.

      With Windows, we all need to remember that we are trying to optimize something that was not designed for us. AO is designed to do this and it does it well. The unfortunate side effect is the loss of functionality and a high level of complexity. Also, as more content comes from the web, as with Tidal and Qobuz, this functionality will need to be restored. The complexity can be dealt with in the future by the use of some automation and AI routines.

      What we really all want is the functionality of Roon coupled with the sound quality of AO. We are not going to get it from JRiver. They have taken a "good enough" approach and their focus now seems to be mostly on the video side. If Phil could get AO to play well with Roon, his market would expand. This might be possible in a two PC approach with AO running at the endpoint.

      If AO is beyond your available time, ability or money; try Fidelizer 6.8 Pro coupled with JPlay 6.1. It will get you a good bit of the way with much less of a time and financial commitment.

      As Ted said above, AO with Windows 10 may make this all a lot easier and more accessible.

      We can only hope!
    1. esldude's Avatar
      esldude -
      So what is it AO does to make the sound different if the bits are the same bits?
    1. fritzg's Avatar
      fritzg -
      Quote Originally Posted by esldude View Post
      So what is it AO does to make the sound different if the bits are the same bits?
      +1

      I just don't get these software improvements of the sound. Seems to me like they're changing it in some way.
    1. AudioPhil's Avatar
      AudioPhil -
      Quote Originally Posted by esldude View Post
      So what is it AO does to make the sound different if the bits are the same bits?
      Hi

      You can get a brief overview here: Highend-AudioPC | Audiophile Optimizer

      Quote Originally Posted by fritzg View Post
      +1

      I just don't get these software improvements of the sound. Seems to me like they're changing it in some way.
      Hi

      AO is at no point of time a part of the signal chain in any way (Remeber, AO is no Mediaplayer or a digital-Transport). So it's simply impossible to alter or change anything, even if i would like to. It's only optimizing of the OS itself.

      Best,
      Phil
    1. AudioPhil's Avatar
      AudioPhil -
      Quote Originally Posted by bobflood View Post
      What we really all want is the functionality of Roon coupled with the sound quality of AO.
      Hi

      This does already work wonderfully. There are a few threads about Windows Server 2012 R2, AO & Roon on the Roon forum.

      Best,
      Phil
    1. DMelby's Avatar
      DMelby -
      Excellent review, and I whole heartily agree that Windows 2012 with AO provides outstanding digital playback, and a nice clear improvement over windows 7 or 8.1. Thank you for shining the light on this excellent solution.
      Looking forward to hearing further details on the PC hardware used during the evaluation.
    1. ElviaCaprice's Avatar
      ElviaCaprice -
      +1 on Windows 10 AO. Never used AO, but will definitely be all over it with Windows 10. I am an avid promo video junkie, so JRiver is my go to media player for both audio and video. I would think a Windows 10 AO version would be a much bigger seller. Looking forward to Phil's new addition.
    1. kaydee6's Avatar
      kaydee6 -
      I am curious how a AO optimized computer compares to a dedicated player like the Aurender or the Auralic? Would it be better or under perform compared to a dedicated player?
    1. firedog's Avatar
      firedog -
      Quote Originally Posted by EuroDriver View Post
      Now we just need the folks at J River to listen to WS2012 + AO

      ;-)
      If you've read their posts on this forum, I'd say they are a clear indication that: 1) highly unlikely they will show any interest; 2) even if they try it, they will say it made no difference - "because it can't"
    1. Sonic77's Avatar
      Sonic77 -
      Jplay.........that is all :~)
    1. One and a half's Avatar
      One and a half -
      Quote Originally Posted by kaydee6 View Post
      I am curious how a AO optimized computer compares to a dedicated player like the Aurender or the Auralic? Would it be better or under perform compared to a dedicated player?
      Mr. Connaker has listened to the Aurender W20 I think it was, but rarely makes a comparison between reviewed equipment, so we will never know that way He does get involved in making "best" statements with a period to conclude.
    1. zenpmd's Avatar
      zenpmd -
      This site is turning into a snake oil pusher. Taken from the Optimisers website. Anyone who is endorsing Jplay cannot be trusted as Jp[lay is a complete joke

      " Does not need JPLAY, but works exceptionally well together with it"


    1. dean70's Avatar
      dean70 -
      ...bits are bits (once you minimize jitter, packet noise, RFI/EMI and other nasties) that finds its way through to the DAC.