Many computer audiophiles have been discovering that optimization of the operating system can lead to significant improvements in the sound of their music systems. I have previously reviewed Fidelizer Pro (see review); a program that I found made sonic improvements to the sound of music software utilizing the Windows Operating System. I have also reviewed the Playback Designs Syrah Server (see review) that employed a modified Windows 10 Pro that was stripped and configured so that it could only be used to play audio files and utilize network access.
Enter the creator of AudiophileOptimizer, Philipp Hobi, the owner of Highend-AudioPC who resides near Zurich, Switzerland. Phil and his wife Claudia run a business that not only offers AudiophileOptimizer, but numerous hardware and software solutions for the computer audiophile.
Phil, also known by his customers as AudioPhil, first offered AudiophileOptimizer in 2013 to be used with Windows Server 2012. Why Windows Server 2012? Windows Server 2012 runs fewer services and processes than the standard versions of Windows as well as having the ability to completely remove the desktop environment. It was the operating system of choice for optimization that allowed Phil to include over 300 additional modifications of various operating system elements including disabling of unnecessary drivers and services that aren’t needed for audio playback.
AudioPhil’s rationale for use of the AudiophileOptimzier:
"A typical Windows operating system has about 50 to 100 processes and about 500 to 1000 or more threads all running at the same time. The CPU is involved in every single thread and process and, unfortunately, all of this processing must take place in real-time, resulting in jitter. By dramatically reducing the number of processes and threads run by your CPU, your music server will greatly minimize noise and jitter, allowing for a far more accurate and natural sound."Use of AudiophileOptimizer results in over 300 optimizations for best music reproduction including the following:
- Disable unnecessary system services and drivers
- Optimization of your hard drive and file system
- Optimization of USB and PCIe power management
- Optimized power and performance settings
- Optimized CPU and memory management
- Optimization of task and IRQ priorities
- Optimization of TCP/IP protocol
- WASAPI/MMCSS optimization
- USB Optimization
- Additional registry tuning
With the release of AudiophileOptimizer 2.00 and the 2.10 beta releases, Windows 10 Anniversary and Windows Server 2016 are now supported. While AudioPhil believes that the best results can be obtained with Windows Server 2012 and 2016, the ubiquitous Windows 10 offers a more affordable solution for the typical computer audiophile. I decided to concentrate my evaluation efforts on Windows 10 Pro as opposed to the Server versions since a greater number of our readers would be able to use the AudiophileOptimizer without being intimidated by an unfamiliar operating system.
For those of you wishing to use Windows 10, AudioPhil feels that Windows 10 Pro will offer the greatest potential for sonic improvement over the Home version. The Home version is not able to process group policies and offers less potential for optimization. Also, it should be noted that the client versions of Windows 10 only offer a Graphical User Interface (GUI) and not the Core or Minimal-Server modes such as those offered in Windows Server 2012 R2.
Comments From AudioPhil
I asked AudioPhil several questions that I thought would be of interest to us:
Please tell us your real name and a little about your background.
My real name is Philipp Hobi. I am working in the Server Engineering Team of a well-known Swiss private bank and I hold a senior position. I’m still considered “young” at 35 years of age, but old enough to have witnessed all and each iterations of Windows that have existed.Please provide some background about Highend-AudioPC and the other services you offer besides AudiophileOptimizer.
My excitement for computers started before the very first version of Windows was released. During the past two decades, I gathered a very deep knowledge about the Windows architecture; mainly in the server area. I further specialized on Microsoft Exchange and other Microsoft Server Technologies such as Lync / Skype for business, System Center Operations Manager, and all kinds of virtualization platforms like VMware and Microsoft’s Hyer-V. I hold over 40 certifications from companies like Microsoft, VMware, Citrix, and many others.
On my private side, I have had a huge interest and fascination for music since I was a very small child. Music helped me get through my entire life-through good and bad times. Music seems to be one of the most important things in my life.
After the last 4-5 years of technology evolution, it was possible for the first time to listen to music through a computer with good sound quality. As you know, computer audio sounded flat and completely lifeless for the past decade. This gathered my interest so my own journey into computer audio started then. Soon I realized that there was much more than 0’s and 1’s in the computer audio world. The total opposite of what I had learned during my professional career. It was quite a mind struggle to accept that there was more than zeros and ones, but I accepted the challenge and freed my mind. I started to experiment to find if there might be more in computer systems that allowed the sound to be better. I built my own theories about what matters in computer audio and about how I could influence sound quality with my technical knowledge. Then I started to code AudiophileOptimizer, which leads to the next question.
The company was not founded with profit in mind. The company got started quite a bit after AudiophileOptimizer was already on the market. Initially, we had no commercial interest at all. All I wanted was to have the very best computer audio system. I initially created AudiophileOptimizer not for the money, but because I was able given my deep knowledge about Windows architecture. AudiophileOptimizer was a way to give something beautiful to the world; something that was created more out of passion than simply for money.What can users of AudiophileOptimizer expect with the 3 different operating systems: Windows 10 Pro, Windows Server 2012, and Windows Server 2016?
AudiophileOptimizer proved to be very successful given that we never had intended to create a commercial product. After a while, it was pretty clear that we had a worldwide unique product and decided to form a company around it. Once we built the company and had a working product, we expanded our services to include the hardware area that resulted in our WebShop. As of today, we serve around 2500 customers in more than 90 countries on all continents. We still don’t do any merchandising besides one simple ad on ComputerAudiophile. Com. As of today, my wife mainly runs our WebShop. She also does the first level support for all our customers allowing me to focus on developing AudiophileOptimizer given the demands of rapidly changing trends and playback constructs.
I assume that his question is aimed at the sound quality. My personal favorite is still Windows Server 2012 R2 (2012 is a bit old now). It is the most robust and mature Microsoft platform. The same applies to AudiophileOptimizer, as it was initially built for Server 2012 and later on adapted for Server 2012 R2. This is a rock solid combination that works very well in all possible constellations. Further, it provides simply stunning sound quality especially in Server Core or “Core Mode”. With “simply stunning”, I mean that you get goose bumps and the shape of your pupils start to change because it sounds so unbelievably good.Is there anything else you think our readers would be interested in concerning AudiophileOptimizer?
AudiophileOptimizer was not available for Client OS like Windows 7 or Windows 8, 8.1, etc. There were many reasons for this. A Server grade OS is much simpler to install and maintain than a client side OS. A Client OS wants and must be everything to everyone right out of the box. That’s good for functionality, but it’s very bad for sound quality. On the other hand, a Server grade OS comes in its smallest form and has nothing installed aside from the OS itself. Everything else a Server grade can do must be installed separately. But the typical computer audio customer doesn’t need any of the extra features a Client OS offers, hence a Server OS is much easier to install and also much better suited for the audio playback task. On top of that, Windows Server offers Core Mode. This is a special version of Windows that is further reduced to the absolute minimum for running an OS. It does not even have the desktop environment you normally expect from Windows. This limited OS is the perfect place for computer audio. All of the media players one could want still work in this limited mode (but honestly often only through the help of AudiophileOptimizer).
AudiophileOptimizer support or compatibility with Windows 10 was made due to the countless requests of the audiophile community. Another factor that lead to the adaptability of Windows 10 was that Windows had changed a bit. Honestly, there are a lot of bad things about Windows 10, but Microsoft generally delivers better audio performance in Windows 10 and Server 2016 “out of the box” than it did with all the previous Windows versions. Add in the much lower price point of Windows 10 with AudiophileOptimizer, and this offers an inexpensive way to start with computer audio. It’s somewhat limited in sound quality compared to its Server brothers, but an AudiophileOptimizer version of Windows 10 still sounds a lot better than Windows 10 “out of the box”.
Windows Server 2016 is very new and as always, not yet finished by Microsoft. But AudiophileOptimizer works with Server 2016 in our current Beta 5 of AO 2.10. Not everything is working, but for those interested in running the newest thing, the Beta will work with Server 2016. I have no doubt that Windows Server 2016 in Core Mode will be the new “king in the house”. For those drivers that already work in Core Mode, it already is.
I have mentioned Core Mode a few times, but this is one big problem for a computer audiophile. This Core Mode has no audio architecture at all. I was the first one who reinserted parts of the Window Audio Architecture back into Windows Server Core Mode. Many have tried and failed before me and may have copied my work. AudiophileOptimizer 2.10 Beta 5 is the only solution in the world to make Kernel-Streaming work in Windows Server 2016 Core Mode. I think this is a very special feature of Audiophile Optimizer and I am very proud of this accomplishment.
The Computer and Associated Components
I employed my Asus G501 JW laptop running Windows 10 Pro 64 to run Roon Server and act as my Roon Core to stream to a Sonore microRendu. The Asus G501 JW possesses an Intel Core i7 4720HQ 2.6 GHz processor with 16 GB RAM and a very fast PCE Express X4 SSD. This laptop has 3 USB 3.0 ports as well as a Thunderbolt port. The Asus laptop was plugged into a Shunyata Research Hydra DPC-6 v2 distribution center to firewall the noise generated by this computer from contaminating my AC line.
The Core was remotely controlled by an iPad Air 2 that replicated all of the functions of the standard Roon program. I also used the Roon Server to stream to the on-board Signalyst HQPlayer with all files converted to DSD256, which in turn, were streamed to the microRendu powered by the Sonore Signature Series Power Supply.
The Asus was placed on a Synergistic Research Tranquility Base UEF grounded with the Synergistic Research High Definition Ground Cable / Grounding Block as was the computer. A G-Technology 16 TB G|RAID Thunderbolt 2 / USB 3 drive was connected to the Asus with an AudioQuest Coffee Thunderbolt cable. The G|RAID Thunderbolt drive was powered by an HDPlex 100w linear power supply plugged into a Shunyata Denali power conditioner. The G|RAID Thunderbolt drive and its HDPlex power supply were placed on a Synergistic Research Tranquility Base. The Sonore Microrendu and its Signature Series Power Supply were also placed on a Synergistic Research Tranquility Base. The Signature Power Supply was connected to a Shunyata Triton v2 / Typhon by a Shunyata Alpha Analog AC cord.
The MSB Technology Analog DAC and Analog Power Supply was engaged for DAC duties with it plugged into a Shunyata Triton v2 / Typhon with a Shunyata Sigma Digital AC cord. The DAC and its power supply were placed on a Synergistic Research Tranquility Base UEF.
Installing The AudiophileOptimizer
A few caveats are in order before installing the AudiophileOptimizer. Once the AudiophileOptimizer is installed, it cannot be uninstalled to restore Windows 10 to its previous state. This means that you should back up your computer image or use an image program like Acronis True Image or Macrium Reflect to easily restore your Windows partition. AudioPhil suggested that I create a 2nd Windows partition for Windows 10 Pro allowing me to retain the original Windows operating system unaltered. I followed his advice and created a 2nd Windows 10 Pro partition on my Asus laptop.
I strongly recommend that you read the AudiophileOptimizer manual before proceeding with the installation. It is well written and will provide the necessary insights to obtain the best results from the program.
After the program is installed on your drive and activated, you will see two shortcuts on your desktop; the AudiophileOptimizer and the ServiceTool. Running the AudiophileOptimizer makes the changes to your Windows 10 operating system. It will then ask a series of questions to fine-tune the installation. The program will help you make decisions by often indicating its recommendations. Other selections include things like the Sound Signature, Digital-Filter, and disabling Drivers and Services. AudioPhil told me that Disabling Drivers and Services is roughly 5% of what AudiophileOptimizer does with a system. These things make a difference in sound quality, but it's a rather small one.
The other 95% of AudiophileOptimizer changes are far more important. The Sound Signatures and Digital-Filters have a prominent effect on the sound quality heard. Both Sound Signatures as well as Digital-Filters are 100% bit-perfect. They only change the way the operating systems handles the running tasks and their priorities as they relate to the operational state of the CPU. AudiophileOptimizer is not part of the signal chain and there is no alteration of the source at any given time. Everything is always 100% bit-perfect.
Selecting the ServiceTool shortcut brings up a number of selections that allow you to reset the changes made to services and drivers by the AudiophileOptimizer.
Another Windows 10 selection found in the ServiceTool was the Strip Down Windows 10 option. This feature removes most of the unnecessary pre-installed Windows 10 components. The ServiceTool will also allow you to restore these components if desired. I encountered no issues running Roon Server / HQPlayer with Strip Down Windows 10 and Disabling Drivers and Services selections.
Changing Sound Signatures and Digital-Filter Settings
Running AudiophileOptimizer again allows one to select different Sound Signatures and Digital-Filter settings without doing a full reset. I found this to be a powerful application as it allowed me to select the best sounding Sound Signature and Digital-Filter selections for my system and my personal preferences. AudioPhil likes Sound Signature 4 and Digital-Filter D. I found this combination to be a bit warm sounding and bass prominent for my system and taste. I ended up selecting Sound Signature 2 and Digital-Filter C as my personal favorites.
Having 2 Windows 10 Pro partitions made it easy to hear the differences between AudiophileOptimizer and an unmodified Window 10 Pro running the Roon Server as well as combined with the HQPlayer.
The first thing I noticed running the AudiophileOptimizer partition was the improvements to the size of the stage I heard. AudiophileOptimizer opened up the sound in terms of side-to-side staging as well as front-to-back. In fact, the unmodified partition sound was compressed sounding and “less alive” compared to the AudiophileOptimizer partition. Well-recorded classical music demonstrated the superior layered soundstage and spatial resolution that could be achieved with the AudiophileOptimizer.
The unmodified partition was less revealing in terms of mid range and high-end detail. The unmodified partition just seemed too smooth and rounded sounding at the high end. AudiophileOptimizer removed a subtle veil to the sound that obscured resolution of transient detail. Bass was very tight, well controlled, and impactful with the AudiophileOptimizer; far superior to that heard with the unmodified partition. The ServiceTool allowed me to achieve the perfect balance of deep bass and mid bass definition that allowed midrange information to emerge less colored. This was no small accomplishment.
Voices and instruments were superior in terms of focus and resolution without the electronic haze I heard in the unmodified Windows 10 Pro partition. It was hard to go back to listening to the unmodified partition; AudiophileOptimizer is just that effective in transforming the sound heard from a Windows 10 computer.
The overall-all clarity of sound with AudiophileOptimizer was not difficult to discern. David Crosby’s new release Lighthouse (24/88.2) was a wonderful example of just how good a vocal can sound. David’s voice at 75 years of age still sounded terrific with this recording’s closely miked vocals. AudiophileOptimizer opened up the sound with image stability and pinpoint focus with the additional elements of purity and liquidity to the sound.
Moving on to Chuck Loeb’s new album Unspoken (24/44.1) displayed AudiophileOptimizer ability to handle jazz that was really exciting compared to what I heard with unmodified Windows 10. Chuck Loeb, jazz guitarist, producer, and arranger delivered another smooth jazz recording that I found to be very engaging. The recording had dynamic life and detail with visceral bass transients. The lifelike sense of instrumental body and weight was well portrayed with AudiophileOptimizer.
Nareh Arghamanyan’s Rachmaninov: Morceaux de Fantasie; Etdues-Tableaux; Corelli Variations (DSD64) was a perfect example of how AudiophileOptimizer allowed the delicate and nuanced properties of the solo piano to shine. By removing the unmodified Windows 10 veil, AudiophileOptimizer allowed this recording to have dynamic life and detail that was thrilling to hear. The piano’s weight and authority was well reproduced in this recording.
An Indispensible Piece of Software
AudiophileOptimizer made a significant improvement to the sound of my music programs when applied to Windows 10 Pro. Given AudioPhil’s enthusiasm for Windows Server 2016, I suspect that you will see a follow-up review from me in the near future. I have found AudiophileOptimizer to be an indispensible component of my music system and strongly recommend the use of this software.