Saturday, 23 April 2022

MUSINGS: Myths, clichés and Hi-Fi+'s Taiko Audio SGM Extreme computer review. A hypothetical fast, fanless audio computer build. And "channels/bit-depth/samplerate" labeling convention - a suggestion.


"Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing."
-- Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1890

Once awhile, we in the audio world run into devices that are so ludicrous that it becomes somewhat entertaining reading or watching reviews about them. Like Super Bowl ads, the advertising can be fascinating in themselves regardless of whether you care about or even know how to play American football. The Dutch Taiko Audio SGM Extreme is such a product which I find fascinating - not because the technology is all that mind-blowing (server CPUs, Optane storage, large SSDs, big fanless case) - but in seeing what they're trying to do with the "spin" around the product to try to justify an asking price! (Previously, I've referenced the device in a related discussion as well.)

I thought it was interesting reading this recent Hi-Fi+ review by Alan Sircom and examining the claims. Just because a review might be written in a "subjective" fashion doesn't mean readers can't or should not be critical about the beliefs expressed. To a certain extent, I believe it is the responsibility of "rational audiophiles" to push back against the nonsensical, even mythical, ramblings of certain subjective, supposedly honest, viewpoints. I agree with T.S. Gnu, typically we cannot expect magazine writers to be bluntly honest in today's environment.

For those unaware, The Absolute Sound (North America) and Hi-Fi+ (UK) are glossy, subjective-only, sister publications that IMO read like the unabashed advertising arm of the "high end" industry. Over the years, TAS & Hi-Fi+ have advocated snake-oil of all sorts and TAS even published pseudo-science articles purporting to be empirical research (look up the articles from Charles Zeilig and Jay Clawson around 2011 - I've mentioned this back in the day, and here's an example of what they do/say).

While writers can choose different directions on how they want to express their views when it comes to the Taiko audio computer, the myth/"hook" in this Sircom review centers around this belief:
While streamed audio is extremely good, there’s always a nagging sense of something a little more that can be extracted from a spinning disc.
The "nagging sense" that streamed computer audio (which many of us have been doing for probably 2 decades already) cannot routinely match a physical "spinning disc" CD player is a fascinating meme which has been floated around for years now among certain audiophiles. From there, Sircom then praises this computer to high heavens; apparently unlike any other computer he has used, finally "The SGM Extreme changes the game", he says.

Is there any evidence that a spinning CD player, extracting 16/44.1 digital content, is better than a computer which has the ability to easily stream high-resolution digital (PCM and DSD) to modern DACs? Beyond the mere anecdotes of certain folks like this, as far as I can tell, there is simply no such evidence available, nor is it even plausible these days with high speed computer storage, increasingly efficient yet fast processors, and asynchronous interfaces like USB.

A good primer on Abstract Art...

As you can see, Sircom seems to have difficulty describing what it is he's ostensibly hearing from the Taiko computer that's such a game changer (emphasis mine):
It’s a bit of an abstract property but the SGM Extreme just sounds ‘right’ whatever you play. The order and structure of the music are as you expect they should be, rather than ‘almost’ how they should be. This is something more than accurate tonality, wide dynamic range, precision, vocal articulation, detail, rhythm or any of those regular characteristics. In part because you can get pretty much all of those things to a very high degree from the most basic level streaming. It’s just that the SGM Extreme simply raises the bar on every aspect of music by several notches.
So we have a device that "raises the bar on every aspect", and "by several notches" even, but these are "abstract" qualities, and apparently beyond the "very high degree" already achievable elsewhere. I have no qualms with the concept of something being abstract, but there are 2 issues when applied to this computer.

First, I find the use of the word "abstract" as in "existing in thought or as an idea but not having a physical or concrete existence" inappropriate when talking about difference in sound quality. It's a machine that feeds data to a DAC from its storage. Either physically/concretely it actually impacts the sound, or it doesn't! It should not be about an abstract "idea" that this computer "sounds better", but in truth whether a difference actually exists with the sound reproduction and whether the difference is judged to be better.

Secondly, there is certainly beauty in the impressionistic uncertainties of art in which the abstract invites the perceiver to project feelings and thoughts into the artwork. But this computer is not "art", so the belief that this box imparts some "abstract" quality does not make it any more valuable. In fact, in 5 years when those Xeon processors, SSD storage, and Windows 10 become old news, good luck with finding significant value in this box. Unlike real art which can be a store of value over time, you probably will have trouble even giving this computer away in 10 years as technology marches forward.

I think the word Mr. Sircom is actually searching for is not "abstract", but simply "vague". The idea/belief that this box making a positive difference is more likely than not just his own mental projections. I can see how he doesn't use the word "vague" though because no honest person would also claim the difference "raises the bar... several notches" in the same article. An example I think of how reviewers play with ideas, introducing positive biases in the service of the advertising when in reality they have little to say.

So after all these decades, finally (!!!) it's claimed, in the 2020's we have a very expensive computer with USB output that can surpass the best spinning disc player since the birth of the CD. Can any self-respecting, knowledgeable audiophile accept this claim? As you can see, there is no deeper discussion to be had in the article about why the device is better (not even claims of better jitter!). All we have are talking points about stuff like "carefully selected 4GB DIMM memory modules", "linear power supply with 700,000µF of reservoir capacitance", "OS stored on PCIe Intel Optane non-volatile storage", "panzerholz wood" in the CNC milled chassis, "custom USB board" and "custom drivers" running in Windows 10 Enterprise. Just because a machine uses expensive parts, or the company customized a Windows USB driver (who knows with how many lines of code altered), in what way does any of this result in better sound quality?

In order to find some vague rationale for this stuff, we have to go to the Taiko website on the SGM Extreme to be treated with technical gobbledygook with claims like the dual-CPU somehow nullifying the effect of the Roon GUI interface on sound, SSD sounds worse than PCIe, low-current-draw RAM modules making a difference ("big impact" they say), stuff on OS minimization, stuff on vibration control, and the metal holes on the chassis acting as "waveguides"... Needless to say, none of these factors are discussed with beneficial effects demonstrated in any way, and the CEO/founder's blog just shows pretty pictures without any depth of knowledge nor words of wisdom (I suppose they like leaving it to others with bold imaginations)!


Guys like Sircom seem to love dragging out fancy car analogies trying to dissuade readers from thinking that this is "just" a computer, but rather, more of a "Rolls-Royce Phantom VIII". The reality is of course much more pedestrian. Does a gold plated toilet handle flush any better than a nice firm brass lever?

With this TAS/Hi-Fi+ crew, one never expects any objective results to show the "several notches" improvement (never mind even showing a single notch), and their opinions are typically predictable based on price tag and physical characteristics (appearance, weight, etc.). You, dear audiophile readers, just have to take the claims on faith.

A review like this, IMO, is effectively a very poor infomercial. For me, it's hard not to cringe at the plethora of clichés used in the article: the concept of "un-digital" sound (I guess compared to LP playback), the idea that this device is somehow better able to make the sound more "live", digital audio sounding "grey" (whatever that means), that this device "resets" expectations, providing a "musical revelation". All this simply from a Windows 10 based, warm-running, expensive, fanless computer sending USB data to the DAC! Is this not an embarrassment of a review for a technological product? Honestly, how does Mr. Sircom and a magazine like this expect to find any respect among technologically astute hobbyists and the generations well-versed with modern electronics, Internet hype, and fake news?
[Seriously folks, what else can you expect from TAS and Hi-Fi+ when at the top, the CEO of the publishing company, Lee Scoggins, is clearly a name-dropping Industry salesman who apparently loves Synergistic Research nonsense. He even believes that AudioQuest Diamond Ethernet cables (not even HDMI!) improves the picture quality of his Samsung TV playback (1:42:29). "I don't know why that is, but it works!", he says. He comes across as a guy who would say and do anything to make a sale. A man who has been banned at places like AudiophileStyle for basically being a shill for MQA for example. Audiophiles, this is the level of intellect and maturity managing these publications.]
As entertaining as magazine articles are at times, it's potentially just as entertaining seeing and listening to the personalities selling these products. For example, Emile Bok, the smiley founder of Taiko Audio is fascinating to watch as is the uncritical, overly effusive interviewer (here's Part II). Beautiful example, I think, of a man selling modern snake oil and his shill. Remember the audiophile psychology that permeates through all this, and how the Industry tries to benefit from the market created of fetishisms, fantasies and apparently milking quite a bit of disposable income out there.

Unfortunately, these days I don't have much time to participate on audio forums. It was fun recently jumping into the AudiophileStyle "Subjectivist Despair" thread (starting on Page 2) chatting with the denizens. In the thread, there was a discussion of setting up a blind test with the Taiko SGM Extreme versus a Raspberry Pi streamer (maybe something like this). I think this would be a nice experiment although highly unlikely to ever happen for all kinds of reasons. I don't think most rational audiophiles would care to purchase such an expensive computer for a bit of testing (imagine the shipping these days and who knows about restocking fee for Taiko's 99lb monster on a return), plus extreme subjectivists don't want to believe in blind testing results anyways unless I suppose it supports their faith; what's the point other than likely proving the obvious?

I know some audiophiles claim that one needs to "try" and listen before passing judgment (and often claiming the need for extended listening due to "break in"). In reality, this is simply not a wise way to live life unless you have a dealer nearby to pop in for a visit for something like this. Imagine if one needed surgery and you came across an article claiming that "psychic surgery" produces amazing results (at a price of course). Must a rational individual entertain such a belief or even try it in order to "know" it's not a good idea before standing firm against such techniques? So it is the same that there is no need to try a computer like this if we know already how these devices work and why. Let's leave it to our would-be psychic surgeon equivalent, Emile Bok, to show us that this thing is worthwhile first. For the record, IMO, generally "Bits Are Bits" and there would be no difference in the audible sound quality for bit-identical playback with the Taiko computer or the Raspberry Pi to the same high quality, modern USB DAC (consistent with previous testing).

Personally, I think it would be more interesting comparing the multichannel HDMI output of the inexpensive MeLE Quieter2Q also running Windows 10/11 versus the Taiko SGM Extreme. Oops... Hang on... It looks like the Taiko is missing HDMI and only has VGA output for video - rather limited functionality for a computer these days at this price point!

I would recommend staying clear of the unsubstantiated, the unlikely, the "abstract", and the mystical audio claims. At £25,000 (US$32,500) for what Sircom reviewed, the value proposition here is indeed "Extreme", as in supremely poor value for the money that could otherwise be used in countless ways, or simply saved wisely.

[You might also be interested in this older related article on the "computer audio mythos".]

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For fun, let's price out a fast, fanless audio computer / server in 2022 which I think would work very nicely.

While I don't believe it's a good idea to have a high-power computer in the sound room and much prefer a "Type 2 Distributed Server-Streamer model" of computer audio, I wondered how much it would cost to put together a fanless fast machine using current-generation CPU and components.

I think this would work beautifully (approximate street price on Amazon as of April 21, 2022):
Intel i7-11700 CPU 8-cores, 16 threads with UHD Graphics 750 (US$325)
   - fast with CPUMark of ~20700
   - 2.5-4.4GHz, only 65W TDP 
ASUS Prime Z590M-Plus microATX motherboard (US$170)
   - plenty of USB ports including USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 Type C
   - M.2 for higher speed storage, HDMI output for multichannel audio
32GB DDR4 3600 DRAM (2x16GB Corsair Vengence LPX - US$150)
   - 32GB is overkill for any audio streamer/server, but inexpensive
WD_Black SN750 SE 1TB M.2 (US$100) storage for OS
   - 1TB for Windows 11 install and Roon would be plenty
   - Sure, get 1TB Optane-accelerated if you want; I don't see the point
Crucial MX500 4TB 3D NAND SSD x 2 for 8TB music storage (2 x US$400)
   - Crucial SSDs are based on Micron chips, should be reliable for years
   - plenty fast SSD, low latency, low power and 8TB is a great start
HDPLEX H5 passive cooling case + 400W HiFi DC-ATX+HDPLEX 300W linear PSU
   - US$1100; nice looking 18lb box, supports up to 95W TDP CPU, linear PSU

Conservatively, we can budget a total price of less than US$3,500 with taxes and shipping for a computer like this. Speed-wise, this i7 CPU would be about 2/3 that of the Taiko's dual-Xeon Silver 4210 but requires <50% the power (lower electrical noise). The i7 would have significantly faster single-threaded performance (>60% faster) with its newer 11th Gen Core architecture so it will feel quicker and perform overall better than those Xeons unless you're hammering the system with tasks like video encoding or rendering that can be efficiently multi-core optimized (not the case in audio, I presume Mr. Bok knows this). The DIY build should also run significantly cooler.

Gigabit motherboard ethernet is plenty fast enough for audio purposes and some audiophile companies are still peddling slow 100Mbps stuff (like this recent £1,100 Network Acoustics muon "filter"!). Feel free to upgrade with a 10GbE network card (~US$100) if you have the need for network speed; "sounds" awesome with no noise issues here at home (these days my network also has mixed 2.5GbE speeds). I see the Taiko has an SFP port for fiber networks - no biggie, just get a PCIe card if you need that. As SSD prices drop, try 8TB drives like the Samsung 879 QVO (~US$750 currently so not bad).

Going on the Taiko Audio site, if I want to order one of their SGM Extreme base units with 8TB storage, without any special USB card (I fail to see the need, and again no evidence it will make any difference), this is how much it costs:


They're asking €24,660 = US$26,700 before taxes and shipping. Wadda steal!

I'll happily take my chances on the $3,500 computer as way more reasonable with useful features like HDMI 4K video (great as HTPC) and multichannel/Atmos audio output, modern 20Gbps USB-C, plus I think it's better to start with Windows 11 these days rather than Windows 10 Enterprise (on a relatively small 280GB Optane drive, probably one of these discontinued 900P Series PCIe cards).

BTW, I see that all they're doing for the music library storage is using the ASUS Hyper M.2 X16 PCIe x 4 NVMe M.2 V2 card (less than US$60, notice small fan). Filling that with some M.2 drives like maybe a couple of WD_BLACK 4TB SN750 (~US$700 each) for an 8TB build. So, apparently doing this transforms the sound (negatively IMO) to become "only matched by the very best vinyl and tape playback systems" - sure, Emile...

One more thing about the SGM Extreme, it looks like it's based on an ASUS WS C621E Sage motherboard (US$650) released in late 2017. Apparently, recent BIOS updates turned off the Intel Platform Trust Technology on the board. Might need to grab a dedicated TPM 2.0 module to install Windows 11 if needed one day with the latest BIOS; bit of a pain.

I guess it would be fun building something like the HDPLEX machine with the kids, and enjoying the satisfaction of getting it working. If anyone has built something like this, let me know in the comments! With the $20k saved, one could upgrade the DAC / amp / speakers / headphones / room treatments - all of which are way more likely than any computer (without DSP processing) to make a sonic difference.

Or put the money into the down payment for that Rolls-Royce. ;-)

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To end, I just wanted to discuss a minor quibble; a little suggestion around labeling conventions for albums of different channels, bit-depth, and sample rates.

With the flexibility of computer audio, I bet like many of you, the music library consists of all kinds of files including lossy, standard CD-resolution lossless, hi-res downloads, maybe some DSD, and even multichannel albums. Often, I will also have more than one copy of the same album in different resolutions. Here are the 3 main parameters for defining the nature of digital albums:

Channel Layout: Stereo (2.0) vs. Multichannel (3.0, 4.0, 5.1, 7.1...)
Bit-Depth: 16 vs. 24 vs. 32-bits (vs. 1-bit DSD)
Sample Rate: 44.1 / 48 / 88.2 / 96kHz... (vs. DSD64/128/256...)

Of the 3 parameters above, how would you prioritize them when it comes to potential sound quality?

A number of years ago in 2017, I spoke about how I labelled/tagged my music library. To achieve consistency is IMO the most important housekeeping task so that I can effectively search out and categorize a large library of thousands of albums. Depending on how one prioritizes the 3 parameters above, this will determine the convention we might want to label an album whether it's in the filename or how it's tagged.

The other day I added a Blu-Ray rip of The Doors' The Singles (2017, DR11 stereo, DR13 4.0/Quad) into Roon, this is what it looks like after the import:

As you can see, I found no value in keeping this rip 24-bit since the noise floor is high - dithered down to 16-bits. Discussed in the "post hi-res" article awhile back.

Notice that I always label as "channels bit-depth/sample rate" as in "4.0 16/48". This is the opposite of Roon's "48kHz 16bit Quad" ordering displayed.

And here's another with Gregorian's Pure Chants (2021, DR9 stereo, DR11 in 5.1):


I like the "Archimago convention" more than the "Roon convention" ordering for these parameters. ;-)

IMO, the most significant sound difference comes with the jump from stereo/"2.0" to multichannel layouts. If it's a multichannel mix, that's the first thing I want to know! Then the bit-depth IMO makes more difference than sample rate as a reflection of potentially lower noise when fed into hi-res DACs.

As for sample rate, even 44.1kHz already can provide better frequency response than human hearing, so I see this as the least likely to be important for audible effect. As discussed previously, if we look at album data in an audio editor, especially older analogue-sourced recordings, there are often ultrasonic anomalies present in high sample rate albums that would be better filtered out with downsampling (for example bringing 192kHz --> 48kHz). This will also in the process save storage space. I typically still target 16/48 as the sweet-spot for the majority of non-hi-res recordings especially analogue-sourced stuff; usually high-quality resampled and dithered transparently with iZotope RX.

I've been consistent with the "16/44" and "24/96" convention for years; it just always made more sense than some folks using "44/16". And whenever I have multichannel, I'll use "4.0 24/48" (or "Quad 24/48") as the convention, capturing better the essence of potential sound quality for the format. Yeah, I know this is a "nit pick" - this is what "perfectionistic" audiophiles do... ;-)

Needless to say, I would love if Roon has a setting to reorder those parameters in the user interface for those who might think they currently have it all totally backwards!

That's all for now, dear audiophiles. Until next time, I hope you're enjoying the music, staying rational, and honestly evaluating the value of some of the audio hardware up for sale out there!

47 comments:

  1. Hi Arch,
    Great post as usual.
    If you're thinking of going ahead with a fanless build, here's my experience, which you can take or leave (of course.)
    First, don't take the heat dissipation specs of case manufacturers at face value. Look for objective (of course) reviews in SilentPC or elsewhere. I eventually gave up on fanless because the case I had (from Streacom) couldn't cope with video playback and I just stressed out worrying about overheating. I'm now using 2 very quiet fans from Noctua, which are below the noise level here, but I think they'd be audible in your AV bunker.
    Second, stay away from the picoPSU-type DC-DC supplies. If they can't be grounded, there could be audible noise coming through HDMI. This was my experience. A little board like this can be grounded and it cured the problem: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B071P3HMNK/ref=pe_3034960_233709270_TE_item
    A fanless ATX supply will cost quite a lot, but probably best if you're going for a high-end implementation.
    All for now. Keep the great content flowing,
    Phil

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    1. Great Phil,
      Thanks for the tips! Yeah, I'm not surprised to keep in mind the heat dissipation and manufacturer specs. I had this in mind thinking about the choice of the Intel i7-11700 and the HDPLEX H5.

      The H5 is known to handle passive GPU cooling as well (up to something like an nVidia GTX1060) which the build will not even need so should be plenty of headroom here!

      Thanks for the tip on the picoPSU. Have personally never played with those. Curious to hear about what you're running these days as a quiet PC!

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    2. Since you asked...
      My last build is from 2017, so all obsolete now, but obviously serviceable since I haven't felt the need to upgrade.
      The CPU is an i5-8400 (odd-ball 6 core) on an ASRock Mini-ITX motherboard. The case is a vented Streacom, similar to this: https://streacom.com/products/f7c-mini-itx-case/. CPU and case fans are Noctua. Power supply is a 120w AC-DC brick and the RGeek DC-DC unit above. It required some slight case mods to accommodate it. I started with a 250GB Samsung SSD and an outboard USB drive, but bought a 1TB Intel NVMe to house my music collection. Now that Apple music has upped their game, my collection is not growing very quickly: I usually only purchase surround content now. So this should do me for the foreseeable...
      Initially, I had a Sony slim drive OD but it died, and compatible replacements are impossible to find, so I make do with an external BD player to rip disks.
      The display is 4K 30Hz, good enough for my setup, as I am not a gamer.
      Ambient noise in my place is about 30 dB A-weighted on a Sunday morning, and the fans are inaudible unless I get very close to the box.
      CPU temp rarely gets above 40C, and only when playing videos.
      I'm good with this build until something dies, I guess.
      Looking forward to your build, should it happen: nice to have an alternative to the Audiophile Style tricked-out-with-useless-audiophile-extras implementations.
      Cheers
      P

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    3. Thanks for the details Phil.

      Looks like a good build and the Streacom is quite nice in appearance as well. Yeah, for audio applications, definitely won't need more! Some of the folks on AS still hang on to needless stuff like wasteful PGGB upsampling and as I've expressed previously, I've tried and find little need for heavy CPU processing with HQPlayer (especially upsampling to DSD).

      For streaming, I'm quite happy with the <10W MeLE Quieter2Q Celeron machine. So far running very stable 24/7 for playback as Roon endpoint to the RME ADI-2 Pro FS R Black for pure stereo or direct to the multichannel receiver. And the 4K/60 is fine for the occasional YouTube or web browsing on the TV.

      I'm certainly tempted to build the fanless powerful HTPC above but will look around to find a "need" to do so, otherwise it'll sit idle for that kind of money. I really like low-power machines these days and running a fanless i7 just for music is kinda pushing my sense of being a good steward of one's energy footprint!

      Also, from a needs perspective, it's kind of neither here nor there... A powerful computer like that is more than what's needed for audio but without a modern discreet GPU, it's not really good enough for 4K gaming + VR. If I want a discreet GPU, I would want something at least like an nVidia GTX 1080 which I have in my HTPC with fans and there's no need for a silent PC when gaming! So overall, IMO, an expensive fanless PC (as in >$1500) is doable, but the big question is more "why"?

      Certainly I would not answer that "why" question with audiophile claims that it could "sound better" with whatever specious reason any of us can just make up!

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    4. Lots of options out there. I would not argue that one needs a lot of processing power for excellent audio, but would add the following rationale for my compromise solution:
      A low-power CPU may run hotter than a higher-power low wattage CPU that's just coasting.
      I don't want to run a high-consumption server all the time, so wanted a single box that would meet both audio and video requirements.
      Experimenting with a Pi4 was not very successful: it couldn't read smoothly from a USB drive while outputting MCH audio over HDMI. It also overheated badly.
      I have yet to find any configuration that will stream audio from Spotify e.g. to the JRMC engine implementing convolution, even with 300mbps internet and full 1-sec. buffering.
      My current configuration will play HD video in JRMC from NAS with convolution applied and perfect lipsync while keeping its cool. I don't have any 4K content to try with this, but it might not work.
      I'm in a condo, so I don't have separate audio and video rooms.
      So for me, a single-box, multi-use solution is ideal. A low power fanless i7 implementation is tantalizing for future use, should my current hardware fail (or become obsolete, as it can't be upgraded to Win11.)

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  2. Thanks for another bracing hit of rationality Archimago!

    I was on an audio forum and the subject of music servers came up. I questioned the claims about high end music servers and the Taiko came up (used by the owner of the forum IIRC). After expressing my reasons for skepticism that it would sound any better than my Raspberry Pi server, and asking for some sort of objective evidence (or even controlled listening tests), of course I was patted on the head as a mere bottom-feeder, shown pictures of the expensive music servers the owner gets to play with, as if I were supposed to be cowed in to awe and envy simply at the expense or something.

    Just imagine how hollowed out much of the high end audio industry would be if, to quote J. Gordon Holt's rant, they submitted "to the kind of basic honesty controls (double-blind testing, for example) that had legitimized every other serious scientific endeavor since Pascal."

    The audiophile world is the perfect storm for pseudoscience. It's made up mostly of males with our techno lust fully pinned to "11," and we are told loving technical stories about those gadgets. At the same time most audiophiles aren't technically knowledgeable enough to vet those claims, so they sound like cat nip to our brain's "gadget modules," and then they are evaluated in a manner perfectly conducive to fulfilling those desires and biases.

    And most of us don't want our pleasant subjective balloons pricked with any needles. So...here we are.

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    1. Well said Vaal!

      There's an important psychology here indeed about men, our passions, our tendency towards techno obsessions which I find fascinating. Part of that too is the element of competitiveness, and hierarchy which we probably don't talk about enough maybe.

      This comes through when the guy with the "big guns" comes out that he has the Taiko computer as if suddenly this brings with it a level of respect, or experience, or knowledge... Hence the dude with the DYI Raspberry Pi ends up being the "bottom-feeder". ;-)

      The truth of the matter is in fact that the guy with the Raspberry Pi streamer probably knows more about getting a good audio system running with a server computer elsewhere and appreciates the network system involved than the guy who IMO just wasted a bunch of money and had Emile Bok come over to set up, never smelling the BS.

      Such is the perversity of this world I think. A lot of it too has to do with the perception of money as well. Plus the fact that there is an Industry here that funds people like Lee Scoggins. The job is sales and achieving growth as the bottom line - vague concepts like truth / ethics / morality / honesty can easily take a back seat when dollars are on the line.

      I could if I wanted to just order a Taiko SGM Extreme and pay Emile Bok the full price in cash today and my wife wouldn't care. That's a statement of fact. But I would never do such a thing out of my own conscience regardless of how much money is in the bank account. It's just morally wrong IMO.

      There's nothing gained in this world to just fall in line with the nonsense of so much of the audiophile talk! To do so IMO would make me less of a decent human being to side with falsehoods, encourage people to waste money, or continue having folks selling mainly snake oil not be looking for more respectable careers.

      In time, it would be nice to "rehabilitate" what it means to be "audiophiles"; whether this is possible as an "audiophile culture" is unclear but one should maintain hope I think. And I cannot help but feel that to change things is as the "motivational poster" suggested at the top of the article - let's make sure we all "question and fight the snake oil" - and the (typically) men who appear shameless in their desire to promote this nonsense.

      Obviously we cannot expect to never have the odd snake oil pop up once awhile, but I do hope that an honest, respectable hobby will have most of the hobbyists jump on such falsehoods quickly to put them to rest before they take root and damage credibility. The fight is of course one of intellect, maintaining decency, and showing that there's no need to back down although sometimes one has to "let it go" if it's pretty clear that we're facing dishonest or delusional opponents. ;-)

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  3. Wow,that Sircom review should be put on a plaque and saved - as the greatest example of expectation bias and "for the industry" shilling yet recorded.....
    Oh, wait! No, it doesn't match Robert Harley favorably comparing the invention of MQA to the Copernican revolution in science.

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    1. You're right Unknown...

      Not quite up to the MQA peak of craziness whether it's about the Copernican revolution of "birth of a new world" level of advocacy that infected the mainstream audiophile magazine media.

      But in the level of "truthlessness", certainly just as bad if not worse although this is not as sneaky about using words like "deblurring", twisting the meaning of "lossless", trotting out BS (literally and the man) and pointing to meaningless impulse response graphs.

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  4. Hey Arch, another great article! How do you do it! ;-)

    Wrt fanless computers for audio, some of my clients have pointed out https://up-shop.org/up-squared-gateway-pentium-n4200-w-8g-memory-64g-emmc-board-w-ovesa-plate.html

    Apparently it can be set up using the USB 3.1 micro b as the input and USB 2.0 type a as the output which can be used to provide standalone convolution for example. Another type of setup is using HQPlayer embedded to stream to. It's that 3.1 micro b to type a port combination with this unit that allows for auto sample rate changing within HQPlayer os in the unit.

    Keep up the great writings!

    Mitch

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    1. Thanks Mitch,
      Yup, the fanless Pentium N4200 will do the job as well for audio streaming and certainly would be fast enough for convolution processing! My only concern (as with the MeLE's Celeron J4125) is that I don't think it supports AVX2 instructions which I brought up previously with HQPlayer and Windows if that's important for users:
      http://archimago.blogspot.com/2022/02/using-mele-mini-pc-for.html

      This IMO is a sore point about HQPlayer. I still don't see the point of the software (since version 4.14) needlessly preventing low-power fanless computers like these to be used when they're definitely fast enough for PCM upsampling to 768kHz+!

      Likewise Mitch, keep up the great work with spreading the news, developing the software, and practical demonstrations of achieving excellent sound with modern DSP techniques.

      As for "how do you do it", not to be melodramatic, and in reference to pop entertainment these days, I was watching The Batman the other day and afterwards got to talking with the family about the message in the movie.

      Thinking about the motivations that we each have for what we do, personally it does have something to do with the transformation in that movie of the Batman who says "I am vengeance" (in reference to forum wars against extreme subjectivists in audiophilia), to the Batman at the end who recognizes that we are all part of the same system, and hopefully the roles we each play in history will be to act boldly declaring "I am justice". Of course I'm not suggesting some kind of militant justice, but more in line with acting nobly in speaking up against nonsense and the injustice of frauds!

      As I've noted many times over the years, I see audiophilia in a way like a microcosm of life. It provides for us an opportunity to ask ourselves "What kind of audiophile do I want to be?" which is a fun choice to consider... Based on that, plus the fact that this isn't a big hobby, I think there are opportunities for each of us to make a difference in what we say, what we do, and what we buy! I still think there's an opportunity for "audiophiles" to be respected yet.

      Anyhow, beyond the idealistic, I guess I have free time in the evenings after work, when the kids go to bed, and my wife is unwinding with the latest episode of some drama. :-) Having said this, there should also be a time to take a sabbatical in the days ahead!

      PS: Looking forward to meeting up again soon!

      Delete
    2. Well said Arch! And Bravo!

      Just finished watching The Batman on HBO Max last night (goodbye Netflix) and like you say interesting (and changing) messages around motivations.

      Re computers in audio. I have been using computers in audio for a long time, starting with a Mac in the recording studio in the late 80's for MIDI recording and console automation. And throughout the years both on the music production and reproduction side.

      I have built, bought, and repaired literally hundreds of computers over +35 years, not only for audio, but for home, businesses, servers, etc. My software development shop I ran in the early 2000's used SCSI 15K RPM drives, as we were one of the first to adopt. Man, they were fast!

      But in all of that time, I have only come across one computer that was audibly and measurably noisy, a Shuttle XPC with a Sound Blaster card installed. Awful! But every other computer has been quiet, including you measuring my old Lynx L22 PCI sound cards in one of your PC's.

      Wrt computer power, I can run Reaper (a DAW) on a miniPC that is an old i3 2 GHz CPU with 8 GIG RAM with 32 tracks of recording and dozens of VST3 plugins providing compression, delay, reverb, etc., and sounds perfect. CPU around 20% utilization. That's a $250 computer.

      Folks should know that the vast majority of recording studios are using "stock" PC's or Mac's. No special cables or power supplies or anything really, and sure as heck not using dual Zeon procs Lol!

      As an audio DSP C++ software developer I work with audio buffers, audio streams, convolution and other audio processing algorithms daily. I get to see, measure and hear first-hand how little processing power is actually required when working with digital audio. Even a Raspberry Pi has more than enough power to process high quality digital audio...

      Thanks for answering the "how do you do it" I am in a similar situation, but you are way more efficient :-)

      Yes, looking forward to meeting up again soon Arch! It has been too long!

      Delete
    3. Thanks for the note Mitch!

      Love the comment with a background of 35 years of hardware experience plus doing the C++ software coding these days. Not to mention your experience in the studio over the years...

      While my work these days take me far from the old days of C and assembly coding, I too am perplexed by the "need" that some claim as benefits of computer audio with expensive and fast processors, storage, memory, etc. In fact, some of these recommendations not only seem wasteful but I think can worsen noise - such as running dual 85W TDP Xeon processors! Why?!

      Furthermore, the hassles of PGGB processing - as previously discussed:
      http://archimago.blogspot.com/2021/07/mega-taps-upsampling-remasteros-pan.html
      makes no sense to be so extreme with the tap lengths, and sending USB DACs with high bitrate data like 768kHz data can also subtly increase noise level in some of my testing (also DSD256/512 often don't have as good noise floor).

      Oh well, I guess there are all kinds of mysteries out there in the purely-subjective Audiophile Zone that might only be answerable with metaphysical means. ;-)

      Delete
    4. You will still need a high quality delta-sigma modulator for a modern converter. And that needs a good quality input at the modulator rate. I know some implementations of ES9038PRO are broken (Topping) with DSD, using bad analog hardware design. But for example SMSL M500 mkII (with ES9038PRO) can provide lower noise floors with DSD inputs than with PCM inputs and beats D90SE at half the price. In any case, there are many other converters out there.

      In addition, SINAD is not the only figure

      You can notice that running good quality filters to 11.2 MHz or higher rates can take a bit more than mere 768k. Then add advanced delta-sigma modulators on top and you can see where all the processing power goes.

      But if you have a small Atom, just boot up HQPlayer OS "x64gen" image, and it works fine. And without all the Windows bloat.

      Delete
    5. Thanks for the tip Miska,
      Hmmm, maybe I'll have a peek at the SMSL M500 Mk II. Looks like a very high performance device and would certainly be curious to see how they handle the DSD noise floor on that model!

      Delete
  5. Wow, I've obviously spent waaaaay under-budget with my tiny, old, just about dead quiet i5 NUC. It does a stirling audio serving and streaming job for the princely sum of $0. Granted, it doesn't look nearly as good as the nice looking case in this article, but then again, it's squirreled away and nigh-on invisible anyway.

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    1. Greetings Pixelthief,
      Well indeed, it looks you're infinitely underbudget at $0!

      Good job. ;-)

      Delete
  6. Great article as always, Arch! Whenever I read/watch reviews like the one you mentioned, Hitchen's Razor comes to mind: What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.

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    1. Thanks Arthur,
      Good one. Didn't know that Christopher Hitchens had one of these "razors".

      I find it fascinating to think that despite how obviously absurd something like the claims of the Taiko computer are, so many folks that I would think are knowledgeable and intelligent appear to be "taken" by this - all without evidence. It's almost like logical reality-testing goes out the window when they're shown a 100lb machine with a price tag of >$10,000! Not cool...

      Delete
  7. Type3:

    1) Chromecast audio or WiiM Mini (or Raspberry Pi)
    2) Dac
    3) Subscription to loseless streaming service (Tidal, Deezer etc.)

    Seems to deliver the goods for much less at the quality of the DAC?

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    1. Yup, that'll do Steve!

      Type 3 indeed with today's streaming with "wide area network" distribution of the music library!

      Delete
  8. We techies all know that serving audio for a computer is a non demanding task and doesn't need at all a powerful computer with tons of memory. I remember your test when you loaded your computer to get close of 100% of the CPU usage and even in that extreme condition, that did not make any difference on the measurements of the audio quality at the DAC output: what else is needed to prove that serving audio files doesn't need a $32K server? Why would you buy a Ferrari if you never drive faster than 50km/hr ? Answer: to impress your subjective audiophile friends...

    I'm using a very small I5 fanless Kingdel low power mini computer found on Amazon for approx $600. No fan, no hard disk (only SSD), 4K HDMI video for managing my JRiver on my 65" screen, CPU running merely at 5% for a few seconds when loading a new track file into the memory, and the job is done; it is then my DAC that has the delicate task to bring back accurately this data to its original analog state.

    These guys (reviewers and subjectivists) seems to understand digital transmission the analog way, where each tiny tweak you can think of may correct some flaws in the signal travelling path and hopefully improve the resolution of recorded details. What happen with digital video when the quality of the data received is not bit perfect ? The image gets pixelized and if things gets worse, you loose it all: you don't loose tiny details such as the eye's color of the performer !

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    1. Nice DColby,
      Looks like a good range of fanless "industrial" machines out there by Kingdel.

      Good discussion on the way digital transmission works. As a flashback from 2014, here's an article on errors in digital transmission using a crappy USB cable I had that dropped bits connected to USB2 devices:
      http://archimago.blogspot.com/2014/01/demo-measurements-what-does-bad-usb-or.html

      I needed to do a facepalm when I heard the CEO of the publishing company talk like this about his AudioQuest ethernet cable streaming to his Samsung TV and making it look "better". That right there is evidence that the subjective impressions are not trustworthy.

      Where do they find these guys to put in the position of "leadership" for these audiophile mags!? Shameless... (I guess to feel shame one must at least have awareness of the problem. Maybe there's no insight here at all!!!)

      Delete
    2. I just remembered one more thing. Even to this day, I hear on forums how some people believe that making bit-perfect copies will "degrade" or "change" sound quality. And that there are somehow generational effects/losses!

      A classic example of applying analog transmission ideas to the digital world.

      Delete
  9. As an example of just how much overkill these multi-thousand dollar music servers really are: My current music server is a Dell Optiplex 990 (i7-2600) built in 2011. It runs all manner of DSP in JRiver on my music that's then streamed via WiFi as 16/48 PCM to the various network players/endpoints/renderers in my apartment.
    I've stress-tested it on occasion by streaming to all the devices at once - I've six in total ranging from smartphones to Chromecasts to integrated streaming amplifiers. I've never seen the server's CPU reach over 8% utilization while doing so and the sound is as high fidelity as I could ask for... 😏

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    1. Nice Art,
      A good example of how fast computers have become for audio purposes, even machines from a decade back!

      I'm sure some of the extreme subjective audiophiles will complain about the fact you're streaming by WiFi. That must be so "noisy". ;-)

      Delete
  10. I built my music server with the HDPlex H1 V3 case, an old Asus Q87T motherboard, and used 2.8 GHz Celleron G1840 processor. SSD for Windows 10 and Roon. USB drive for my 6TB of music. The original intent was to make it a music streamer and build a higher powered server at a later date, once I figured out how I wanted to manage my migration to streaming music. Turns out that this has enough horse power that I didn't need a separate server. I found your blog around this time and learned, contrary to various subjective opinions, that there's nothing to gain from something more powerful. Would be good to build something more energy optimal down the road. Chassis was $224, CPU $69, SSD $130, $40 DDR3 RAM, and and the cost for Windows 10. Power supply is an old laptop supply.

    The only problem I've had is that using the USB out from the computer to the DAC isn't reliable with DSD (DOP) or 352 kHz FLAC (DSD files I converted to FLAC at unnecessarily high sampling rates - rookie mistakes). I get drop outs and haven't been able to figure out where the bottleneck is on the USB out with ASIO or WASAPI.

    I wound up building a Pi streamer with display and remote (also thanks to this blog) and have been using that for the DAC connection. The RasPi display and the remote give me playback (play, pause, next/prev) and digital volume control so I could remove my preamp from the system. This also fixed the drop out problem I had with higher bit rate files.

    In hindsight, a fanless NUC would have been just fine and less work. This way was more interesting and helped me figure out the setup that works best for me. As for sound quality, I get the same from PC to DAC, Pi to DAC, SPDIF, and CoAx. I'd fee pretty stupid buying a >$20k music server given my experience. I'm much more interested in efficiency and optimization these days.

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    1. Thanks for the description Doug,
      The good 'ol Celeron G1840! Very decent CPU for the day with low cost and relatively low power demands at around 50W.

      Indeed, since processing speed isn't generally a big factor for audio streamers/servers, the benefits of a modern build is mainly factors like size, power efficiency, 4K integrated video, and speed will typically come as a perk.

      For comparison, the small MeLE Quieter2Q computer with its Celeron J4125 runs almost twice the speed (quad core) of the G1840 (dual core) and has a 10W TDP (vs. 50W)! Having said this, I note that the G1840 still has faster single-threaded performance.

      Yeah, I can see spending >$20k on some nice speakers or maybe even a "statement" super amp. But that kind of cash on a Windows computer given the speed of obsolescence in the computing world puts us in a different league when it comes to poor "bang for buck".

      Delete
  11. As always, great article. I've wanted to post a ridiculous article from TAS but it didn't seem to be on point for the last several posts. But now, since they have been brought up, I think that it's appropriate.

    Here the "TAS Staff" discuss the Law of Accelerating Returns:

    https://www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/the-law-of-accelerating-returns

    The article itself is something else but what I also found interesting was that this is the first result that came up when I googled it:

    https://www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/from-the-editor-the-law-of-accelerating-returns

    It seems that they are just recycling old articles to fill the advertising book that they call a magazine.

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    1. Hilarious Hogues!

      Wow recycling a 2014 article as if April 2022. Looks like the well's running dry...

      Needless to say, usually when we discuss the "law of diminishing returns", we're talking about the relative performance of similar items and making that comparison.

      $50 --> $100 DAC could be a big difference. $500 --> $600 obviously would be very little if any meaningful difference. $1000 --> $2000 which would be a 2x increase in price (like 50 --> 100) would make an even less difference yet, assuming we're talking about a modern $1000 aimed at accurate reproduction.

      Relative positive returns of course will depend on the type of component we're talking about. Whether $50 --> $200 speaker wires of the same length makes any difference is questionable of course. If we're talking some decent $50 10' 12AWG OFC speaker cables with good connectors, I would argue this increase in cost already makes no difference assuming the $200 set isn't purposely changing parameters like using a filter network to roll-off the top!

      The idea that because one has a kickass system and just happen to be using the phone output as DAC and then spent $500 to get a proper hi-res balanced DAC, claiming this is evidence of "accelerated returns" is ridiculous. This is just "user error" for not choosing even a decent $150 DAC to begin with rather than the phone.

      Hilarious how guys like Harley go through contortions to write meaningless articles like this just to sway the audiophile consumer psychology. Can't blame 'em IMO - this is what they're paid to do. This is their role in the advertising machine...

      Delete
    2. As the Simpsons once said, "It's funny, but not ha-ha funny." The argument that you need expensive components to really let your other expensive components shine can get you to the poor house quickly. I believe it's called the Law of Accelerating Bankruptcy. I always love when they review lower priced speakers because they always say that the speaker "punches above it's weight class" and compares it to a speaker in the next price point, which also punches above it's weight class. If you keep following that line you end up with the conclusion that the value speaker is just as good as the $20,000 speaker. Which would seem to negate the Law of Accelerating Returns.

      Delete
    3. I once sold a pair of KEF T27 tweeters to a guy whose wife had intervened in his 'hobby' after he sold his Mercedes to buy some hyper-priced piece of equipment. He found that he could have as much fun (I think probably more) refurbishing used, modestly priced equipment, so he was working on a pair of vintage KEF 102aBs.
      This kind of thinking, and publishing of illusory upgrades (accelerating returns, yeah right) are not harmless. Men particularly (seems to me) are susceptible to these kinds of addictions/compulsions and people like Hartley are feeding them. Are these flim-flam guys themselves addicts or cynical pushers?
      I've thought quite a bit about this since the 'commodity fetish' post a few months back, and although I never got hooked quite as badly as Mr. T27, I have wasted a considerable amount of money (to me) over the years, but am now better armed, thanks to this blog and a very few other sites (ASR, Erin's Audio Corner, Audioholics), to recognize and combat these irrational compulsions. Sounds like AA (audioholics anonymous) maybe, but I think many of us need this kind of intervention, and the relentless calling of BS to these hucksters.
      Best wishes to all seekers of truth in audio and elsewhere.

      Delete
  12. Just so happens I recently built my new HTPC in the HDPlex, the newest revision with 1kg copper block, they claim that now the case supports up to 125W TDP. Let me explain my hardware choices.

    Ryzen 5 5700G
    - 65W TDP, ~25000 Passmark, integrated graphics much more powerful than any intel (usefull for video performance, like a low end dedicated graphics card)
    Gigabyte B550I Pro AX
    - 2.5GbE port on board, PCIe 4.0
    DDR4 4000 CL16 (Patriot Viper Steel)
    - Ryzen integrated graphic card performance is somewhat dependent on memory speed
    WD Black SN850 1TB M.2
    - 7000MB/s / 4300MB/s, most of my files are on a dedicated NAS (Synology DS1821+)
    Seasonic PRIME Titanium Fanless 600 W
    - totally pointless and overkill, don't use that, at least it retains good efficiency even on very low load

    Overall very happy with the performance, it's overkill for just audio so I use it as a somewhat multipurpose machine. I undervolted the CPU in BIOS and disabled boost features, now it doesn't even get much hot.

    I agree that Multichannel music is game changer, it's a superior experience to stereo in ever metric, also multisub setup with DSP is the most optimal way to achieve supreme bass quality.

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    1. Wow. Nice Tacet!

      Just to double check - that's a Ryzen 7 5700G, right? 8 cores / 16 threads, great graphics performance, excellent single-threaded performance that also trounces the Taiko's Xeon processors (>70% better)! TDP 65W very impressive. Best of all less than US$300.

      Excellent how you can then underclock/volt and save even more power when starting with a device like this. And plenty of overhead for that fanless 1kg copper block ;-).

      Yeah, total overkill for just audio. I don't understand by what metric the Taiko Audio SGM Extreme server/player even desires to compete other than claim that their labour cost and customer service accounts for the huge price difference!

      Delete
  13. Hi Arch,
    Thanks for the great article as usual.

    Even if I don't have the experience to put a fancy computer and case together, I'm sure I can give $500 to my techie nephew for him to do a great job with the high quality parts.

    I think you're being *too diplomatic* with these Taiko people. Look at their marketing material and these low-ball reviewers, clearly this is a scam at $30k claiming that such a thing could make the system sound better.

    I guess PT Barnum was right, "There's a sucker born every minute". i honestly think the people talking about this computer like it's the greatest digital source on Audiophile Style and What's Best Forum must have more dollars than brain cells. Then again, I wonder how many of them actually bought this at MSRP. I really hope they all got major discounts rather than the real suckers who listen to their advice and actually paid the big bucks.

    Crazy stuff. This is the kind of thing that makes me sick about the so-called "high end" - maybe more like "audiophools" or "suckerphiles".

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    1. Yowzas Stax, you're on fire today. ;-)

      Suckerphiles - haven't heard of that one before! Many ways we can interpret the meaning of that word - "sucker" + "lover of".

      I guess scam manufacturers must love the suckerphile ;-). Or perhaps since the word "audio" is taken away and replaced by "sucker", it does shed light on some folks who talk about audio but are not really listening with both heart and mind, hence turned into a lover of being a sucker.

      Must be many ways of being a "suckerphile" beyond the hobby of audiophilia!

      Delete
    2. Hey Arch,
      As a guy with professional background in computers, this kind of stuff just makes me sick when I see it. Some folks might call it 'triggering' I guess, lol.

      Clearly the claims are fake from this Emile guy. I love audio and to see companies and people like this mindlessly glorifying the machine and selling it as some kind of spiritual antidote at insane prices is not just distasteful but also shameful.

      I agree Arch, as audiophiles in the 21st Century, and just reasonable people, it is a *duty* to question this stuff and if needed *fight* against snake oil companies like this that cannot seem to prove their claims of better sound or even any difference in sound.

      Thanks for all the work you've done for this hobby.

      Delete
    3. Yeah, I know what you mean Stax,
      Sometimes when I read these audiophile reviews and product descriptions, especially of something like fancy computers, I feel like I'm listening to an astrologer trying to sell high quality telescopes claiming that this will improve the accuracy of astrological predictions!

      A nasty, dissonant mess of science and pseudoscience which assumes the audiophile reader/viewer can't tell the difference. I assume that there might be quite a few audio lovers out there unable to tell the difference means there's still much education to be done.

      Anyhow, audiophiles, when you run into this kind of stuff, I think it's important to say something for the sake of being honest (no need to be nasty of course). Silence might seem polite, but in reality there's also complicity in not standing up.

      Delete
  14. While I agree with much of what you say here (I complained loudly and frequently about the Zeilig/Clawson series at the time, I have a fanless i7 server similar to the one you describe, although I use a less expensive HDPlex LPS, and both TAS and HiFi+ drive me to distraction with some of their reviews and columns) I do think it is somewhat inappropriate to so severely criticize a product that you have never used or tested. That isn't to say your conclusions aren't correct, only that the path you use to make them is not even close to scientific (or technical). There are enough of these Taiko's around now that it shouldn't be that difficult for you to either borrow one or go to an owner's house to test and listen.

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    1. Hi Rob,
      Thanks for the note! I disagree with this comment though:
      "I do think it is somewhat inappropriate to so severely criticize a product that you have never used or tested."

      There are many things in this world we should not have to personally test out in order to "call a spade a spade". Some of these things might even be dangerous to try! Nonetheless, as reasonable and educated people, we *must* regard these items with critical attitudes if not contempt.

      I don't know how many Taiko computers there are out there. Maybe someone locally can send me a note. Regardless, the point remains that Emile Bok should show us some data on how his claims are true. This is engineering and computer science. Show audiophiles that he knows what he's doing to justify some of the claims, then maybe it's worth having a second look.

      The first impression is clearly very poor.

      Delete
    2. He is selling more than he can make, there is apparently a 3-6 month waiting list. We may be skeptics but he has little incentive to indulge our skepticism.

      Delete
    3. Yeah, no worries Rob,
      I do not expect an article like this or my opinions would necessarily change his waitlist or how much money he might be able to make on the Taiko box.

      What's more important IMO is to just be open as audiophiles to talk about this stuff. My hope is that "audiophiles" at large are aware that they're not alone if they come across reviews and videos of products like this thinking there's something clearly odd about all this! That there are actually many reasons to be skeptical.

      As a body of hobbyists, let's make sure to be smarter, more questioning, and always I hope reasonable and rational.

      (Oh yeah, and make sure to say something about it when possible so the Industry knows to address concerns - otherwise they might think we're all accepting of such products! :-)

      Delete
  15. Fanless computers have come of age. Last year I replaced the desktop computer in my home office by an energy saving Intel NUC I7 10th generation, with a lof of memory and a SSD. I decided to add the Akasa Turing FX fanless case because I hate noise when I am working, and also when the computer serves as a music streamer. It works fine, is all I can say. It is fast enough for my desktop applications, and it certainly reduces my energy bill compared to my old computer. I had some as yet unresolved with my ODAC, so I am now using the inbuilt audio and that seems fine as well (Quad 405-2 amplifier and Harbeth P3ESR desktop speakers).

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    1. Thanks for mentioning the Turing FX case Willem,
      Looks like a very nice little replacement fanless case for the i7 NUC! I'll have to look into that at some point when replacing the desktop at work. Glad the computer DAC also serves your purposes without the ODAC.

      That's certainly realistic... While internal DACs typically don't measure well compared to good external devices, the definitely will do the job most of the time.

      Delete
  16. Hi Arch:
    I tried the Mele Quieter 2 and it died after around 5 weeks. In any case, it didn't work well for me because I use a PC as a home theater server to stream both Qobuz and Netflix in 5.1, and use Dirac Live to serve as DSP for the Netflix soundtrack. Unfortunately, the Mele didn't support HDR 10 or DolbyVision Video, and would not support 4k playback for Netflix, so it was barely acceptable. When it died, I got my refund from Amazon and put a slightly noisier Dell laptop which will at least support 4k playback.

    I am thinking, however, that something like a base model Mac M1 Mini which should run around $700 would do almost everything your proposed $3k fanless PC build would do. Though it does have a fan, I'm of the impression it almost never goes above idle, and with it's superior integration of graphic, cpu and memory will do everything a Windows PC will do, only faster. Any thoughts?

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    1. Thanks for the comment Phoenix,
      Great that you tried the MeLE out for HTPC purposes with 4K Netflix and such. Unfortunate to hear it stopped working for you. I still have my AppleTV which I use for videos and streaming; the role the MeLE plays is still just multichannel playback as a Roon endpoint and occasional web surfing and 4K YouTube on the screen.

      Yeah, the Mac M1 Mini should be great so long as very quiet. Alas, have not tried one yet...

      Delete