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Superdad

ATTENTION Current Mac mini/A+ users: Boot Mavericks from an SD card, load a RAMdisk, dismount your internal SATA drives, and pour a drink for the musicians walking out of your speakers!

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Superdad   

The results of my experiment this afternoon compel me to start another thread.

 

This builds on what we have been discussing since Saturday over at: http://www.computeraudiophile.com/f8-general-forum/my-deep-dive-media-storage-interfaces-musical-differences-heard-between-chipsets-firewire-400-800-usb-sata-flash-drives-sd-cards-and-network-shares-warning-may-cause-seizures-dbt-crowd-and-flat-earth-naysayers-18108/

 

It is about just what the new thread title says. After finding that the slowest/quietest/simplest storage/transport methods sounded best--due to reduced activity we think--and not having a SSD drive internal (on my 2010 Mac mini), which would still be running the SATA bus, I did the following:

a) Cloned my Mavericks boot partition to a 32GB SDHC card (format to Mac OS Extended/Journaled w/GUID partition table);

b) Assigned that card as the boot drive in System Prefs>Startup Disk; Booted back up from the SD card;

c) In Disk Utility I unmounted both of my internal hard drive partitions (I have a Mavericks and a ML partition);

d) Made a 1GB RAM disk (my machine has just 8GB RAM at present); Copied favorite test tracks to it;

e) Ejected external FW drive that holds my big music library; Unplugged FW cable from computer and unplugged drive PS from wall;

f) Lauched A+ in Playlist mode (cloned SD card of course nicely retains all prior settings from HD); Deleted current tracks from playlist; Dragged test tracks in from RAMdisk Finder window;

g) Quit Finder (just one of my usual tweaks, doesn't do much;

h) Played tracks;

i) Soiled my pants.

 

The best sound I have EVER gotten. Alive with real energy, but so much quiet and detail that I can hear things going on on old tapes that have never been revealed before. And this in in comparison (several times booting back and forth in astonishment) to what already was the very best method I had: Playing from RAM disk but booted normally from 2.5 inch internal SATA drive (also with externals disconnected).

 

Be advised that only the 2010 and onward Mac minis (i.e. all the thin ones) are certain to have their SD card slot (actually an SDXC slot) on their own bus (actually shared with the Ethernet port on a Broadcom chip). The SD card slot on many (most? all?) of the Macbook Pros are on the USB bus, so results for such users might not be as dramatic.

(Check by going to About This Mac>System Report>USB; expand all the triangles for the USB bus branches to see if the SD Card Reader shows; Just looking at System Report>Card Reader won't tell you if it is/is-not on the USB bus.)

 

The next time I do surgery on my Mac mini (to yank out the switching power supply), I will probably pull the SATA HD entirely, and also plug in 16GB of RAM so can load longer playlists.

 

I know a number of you recently bought SD cards based on my other report. Now install the OS on them and enjoy!

 

Regards,

ALEX C.

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While you are inside the Mini, install a SSD. Get a fast one 500MB/sec R/W and low power draw. Some are 2w active and others are around 0.1 watt active.

The SD card may still be better sounding. But a fast, low power draw SSD should narrow the gap in performance.

I used a better supply with a 2009 model. Not gutsy enough to pull the switcher out of the 2011 currently used.

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sandyk   
The best sound I have EVER gotten. Alive with real energy, but so much quiet and detail that I can hear things going on on old tapes that have never been revealed before. And this in in comparison (several times booting back and forth in astonishment) to what already was the very best method I had: Playing from RAM disk but booted normally from 2.5 inch internal SATA drive (also with externals disconnected).

 

But are the checksums of the tracks still the same ? (grin)

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Superdad   
But are the checksums of the tracks still the same ? (grin)

 

Indeed they are. It is the act--and method--of playing the bits that affects the computer and the music!

I know you are just being Sly; so go Danse à la Musique! (inside joke)

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Superdad   
While you are inside the Mini, install a SSD. Get a fast one 500MB/sec R/W and low power draw. Some are 2w active and others are around 0.1 watt active.

The SD card may still be better sounding. But a fast, low power draw SSD should narrow the gap in performance.

I used a better supply with a 2009 model. Not gutsy enough to pull the switcher out of the 2011 currently used.

 

Well, I probably should try an SSD, just so I know. But since:

a) for the music tracks RAM disk already beat SD card, and the SD card beat the internal SATA;

AND

b) the OS on the SD card allowed the SATA bus to sleep almost completely (at least as much as unmounting the internal HD allows);

AND

c) I could never afford to put my whole library on an internal SSD;

AND

d) Mavericks, A+, and my utilities are only taking up 14GB of the 32GB SD card;

AND

e) I've spent too much already this year and the holidays with the kids is coming…

 

So it's kind of cool to be booted from the SD and play from RAM disk.

Moving over to a linear supply (the very elegant 2-rail, 12V/5A choke-filtered one with remote voltage sense line that John Swenson designed and which I will commercially produce) will be the next big leap for my system. We have come up with a slick PCB for inside the mini which does not require any wire cutting or goofiness; just plug the existing motherboard power cable connector into it and stick nuts on the two PCB-mounted jacks (DC barrel and SMA for Kelvin-sense) that will stick out through the old power-cord oval hole.

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Superdad   
Alex, when you get the 16gb ram upgrade, what size do you expect that your RAMdisk will go to ...?

 

That's a tough question. Mavericks and A+ run great with just the 8GB (well 7 if you take out for the RAM disk I am playing with), and with the OS on the SD card I am obviously not getting speed from it (the Class 10 32GB is 22MB/sec; 2x what my camera's 2GB card was but still a slug). I know that it is good to leave extra space on any drive, though I'm not sure if this applies to ones being used just to read tunes from. And of course the OS and A+ might enjoy more room.

 

I currently give A+ 6.4GB allocation for track preload. Which brings up a question I e-mailed Damien about a few days ago but have yet to receive an answer. Maybe someone here knows. To quote from part of my e-mail:

 

"In playlist mode, when the grey bar finishes loading into memory the track that is playing, does A+ continue to load more tracks into memory--namely the next up track on the playlist? It certainly behaves like does preload the next track since if I stop a first track halfway through playing and select the next in-order track to play, it starts immediately and the is no grey bar moving to indicate memory loading activity. Am I correct? How many tracks get preloaded? Up to whatever RAM allocation is set in A+ preferences? Is this part of supporting gapless playback?

 

I ask this because some other user has insisted to me that A+ sounds better if you let it load the whole track before playback, or that while playing, once the grey bar finishes loading the track then the music gets better. To preload, I start the track, pause, and then start playing after the grey bar gets to the end. I can't really say I have heard that much difference doing this. And if A+ is actually continuing to load more tracks even after the grey bar finishes, then that would explain why I don't hear a difference (unless none is to be heard anyway).

Certainly I have watched Activity Monitor before and see that A+ uses lots of processor time during the loading, then settles down to almost nothing. I did it just now and see that it settles down right away after the grey bar is filled. Maybe the grey bar is indicating loading of more than just the track that is playing.

 

This would seem the only logical explanation, but I just did a test: I timed the grey bar filling first for a track in a long playlist, and then deleted all other tracks in the playlist and reloaded and timed the same track. Both times it took 16 seconds for the grey bar to fill. So now I am confused."

 

Anyone?

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Great, something new for me to try... I appreciate the creativity it took to come up with this idea and the time you spent doing it. I have a question though, how did you make a RAMDisk?

 

I was wondering the same thing since i have not seen instructions for a mini

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Superdad   
Great, something new for me to try... I appreciate the creativity it took to come up with this idea and the time you spent doing it. I have a question though, how did you make a RAMDisk?

 

There are lots of easy GUI front end for making a RAM disk (its just one command line in Terminal, but that's not usually my bag). Here is a link to the one I'm using: OS X: How to create a RAM disk – the easy way » bogner.sh

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Superdad   
Try putting A+ on RAMdisk once you've got the 16GB?

 

XXHE sounds best to me with both app and music on RAMdisk. (One each for app & music.)

 

Oh man Jud! I just tried it, and while I don't have time right now for a proper A/B (got to hit the BBQ), just the first track I played with A+ launched from the RAM disk sound like MORE of the same kind of improvement. I'll know (and report) tomorrow if it is a little or a lot. I am suspecting the latter. Thanks!

 

Can't believe this week. Such huge leaps for my system for next to zero $. I've been grinning all day.

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sandyk   

So much for those that don't believe that well implemented Computer Audio can eat for breakfast the vast majority of affordable CD players, as well as those tiny thing-a-ma jigs so beloved of Eloise and many others.

Alex

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

P.S.

All in good fun Eloise. You are one smart lady, even if you are highly sceptical of many things reported in C.A.

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This would seem the only logical explanation, but I just did a test: I timed the grey bar filling first for a track in a long playlist, and then deleted all other tracks in the playlist and reloaded and timed the same track. Both times it took 16 seconds for the grey bar to fill. So now I am confused."

 

Anyone?

 

Damien mentioned when Audirvana was first released that it preloads the currently playing track and the next track in the queue (so only 2 tracks will be stored in memory at any given time). The grey bar only shows the progress for the currently playing track - there's no visual feedback on the progress of the next track in the queue. You can confirm this by playing a short redbook file followed by a long DSD file; you'll see A+ continues to use a lot of CPU long after the redbook file has been preloaded.

 

Maybe we should request that Damien change how A+ works so that it preloads all tracks in the queue when playback starts (memory permitting). This would allow all processor intensive preloading to take place at once and it would also allow our hard drives to spin down as they wouldn't need to serve up the next song every 5 minutes or so.

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While you are inside the Mini, install a SSD. Get a fast one 500MB/sec R/W and low power draw. Some are 2w active and others are around 0.1 watt active.

The SD card may still be better sounding. But a fast, low power draw SSD should narrow the gap in performance.

 

I agree that an internal SSD brings a nice improvement in sound compared to a spinning HD, not only due to the lower power draw of an SSD but also IMO because of its lack of moving parts. I read Barry Diament's post about the effect of mechanical vibrations on system performance and I have to say I agree 100% that vibrations have a detrimental effect. And computers are a big source of vibrational pollution with their spinning hard drives and fans. I've tried lots of vibration control methods and while most haven't improved the sound of my system, they all have a sonic impact, contributing their own sonic signature. I wasn't expecting this to be the case, especially with solid state gear which isn't microphonic like tubes but I've now had a drink of the Kool-Aid. :-) BTW, mass loading, as Barry says, is just a means of vibration control - extra mass lowers the resonant frequency and also acts as a vibration reservoir, releasing the vibration back over time; it doesn't make the sound more accurate but for many the change in sound is pleasing.

 

BTW, vibration control is another one of the reasons I use ethernet for file access rather than a direct connection via USB or FW - I don't want my computer directly attached to a vibrating, spinning hard drive.

 

My $.02 and sorry for the tangent.

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Jud   
BTW, to put the amount of memory needed for preloading into perspective, a 300MB album in redbook FLAC once decompressed to WAV and upsampled to 88.2kHz needs about 2GB of RAM, or about 8GB at 352.8kHz! :-o

 

Yes, PeterSt has some very good discussion of this in his typically long and thorough post about RAMdisks over at his forum.

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NOMBEDES   

"c) In Disk Utility I unmounted both of my internal hard drive partitions (I have a Mavericks and a ML partition);" (Quote from Superdad)

 

 

I wish I had a ML Partition. (or was more thoughtful and just not upgraded) Then I could use my W4S DAC 2! Although the DAC in my new AVM C8 sounds good.

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Superdad   
Idea: use an external usb wireless network card (D-Link DWA-160). Access music library without galvanic contact or wifi inside the computer enclosure.

 

Nice idea, but then I'd have to put an active data interface on the USB bus with my DAC. And I know what that sounds like. Even a USB flash drive did not sound as good as SD card or a shared network drive on wired ethernet.

 

Now I suppose I could directly attach a standard wireless router to the computer (with ethernet cable) and have it wirelessly retrieve music from elsewhere (either bridged to another wifi router or to a computer talking to the music machine's wifi point). Seems a stretch just to eliminate galvanic connection between the ethernet port and my Cisco switch. The Mac has some sort of LAN filter chip in it already. But I might give it a try for fun.

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OK, so you got me. This is real. This is VERY real. Last night I took a sip from the glass by finding a 2 GB SD card that I had and used that with my Mac Mini. I copied over some music from my external USB 3 hard drive and then un mounted the USB drive and disconnected the cable. Playing A+ from my Mini drive with the music on the SD card took the experience to another level in a very exciting way.

 

I am very eager to try SuperDad’s suggestion of a SD card with Mavericks (although my Mini is still running Mountain Lion) and booting from the SD card with Audirvana +, music, and the OS all on the same card (or with the music on a RAM disk). I have a question:

 

After doing some internet research on making a bootable copy of Mavericks on an SC card, I could not find a clear step by step walkthrough on the process. I understand Mavericks to be an upgrade, not a complete new OS and the apple page says that OS 10.6.8 is a requirement. Will I need that version of the OS on the SD card first? Lastly it would be appreciated if someone could point to a trusted step by step walkthrough on installing a bootable OS on an SD card from the web it would be appreciated. I want to get it right the first time without too much of an issue. Many thanks!

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Superdad   

I am very eager to try SuperDad’s suggestion of a SD card with Mavericks (although my Mini is still running Mountain Lion) and booting from the SD card with Audirvana +, music, and the OS all on the same card (or with the music on a RAM disk). I have a question:

 

After doing some internet research on making a bootable copy of Mavericks on an SC card, I could not find a clear step by step walkthrough on the process. I understand Mavericks to be an upgrade, not a complete new OS and the apple page says that OS 10.6.8 is a requirement. Will I need that version of the OS on the SD card first? Lastly it would be appreciated if someone could point to a trusted step by step walkthrough on installing a bootable OS on an SD card from the web it would be appreciated. I want to get it right the first time without too much of an issue. Many thanks!

 

Booster, so glad you are enjoying it. Yes, having the OS on an SD, dismounting the internal SATA drive (you will have to do that in Disk Utility--run from the SD after you boot from the SD), creating a RAM disk for some music AND putting Audirvana on the RAM disk (thanks Jud!) will indeed take you to another amazing level.

 

Once you get a 32GB SDHC card (I bought this one for $21: Amazon.com: Transcend 32 GB Class 10 SDHC Flash Memory Card (TS32GSDHC10E): Electronics ; it's Class 10 so about 22MB/sec in the mini), download a trial version of Carbon Copy Cloner. You must first format the SD card with Disk Utility to be a Mac OS Extended Journaled drive (GUID should be the default partition table which is also required). Then use CCC to clone your Mountain Lion boot drive to the SD card (it should easily fit unless you use your machine for other things and have a bunch of apps on it; be sure that it will fit with about 8-10GB to spare). Once you clone is done and mounted, you can set it as the Startup Disk and reboot.

 

If you want to do a clean Mavericks install (and yes, I greatly prefer the "sound" of Mavericks over ML, but some others feel otherwise), then you first need to read: How to make your own bootable OS X 10.9 Mavericks USB install drive | Ars Technica

 

Apple changed how the installer works with Mavericks. With ML you actually could follow some of the widely published steps and use just Disk Utility to make a USB OS X installer. That does not work with Mavericks but that's okay since the free "DiskMaker X" utility does now work with Mavericks--I used it last month. Get it at: DiskMaker X.

 

So yes, you will need/want an 8GB thumb drive that you can dedicate to being a Mavericks installer (a good thing to have around). And you will download Mavericks (from the app store on any machine) as if you were going to upgrade. But then DON'T upgrade, don't launch the Mavericks installer; copy it out of your Applications folder and follow the instructions in the article I linked.

 

After all that, then you can do a clean install of Mavericks whenever and wherever you want; in your case, to an SD card. But don't forget to do all the usual optimizations after you boot into Mavericks (all those command lines to permanently turn off Spotlight, Mission Control, Notifications, etc., etc.). I should clean up my text file list of all those that I do so I can share them around. Most are pretty well known.

 

Have fun!

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