PC

A Pc is an excellent platform for multimedia.
In case of audio, you don't need much power for play back.

There are many different strategies to obtain best sound quality.

You can choose between a sound card or an outboard DAC

 

If the PC is located close to your audio silent operation is required.

Laptop or desktop

In general laptops make less noise but there are exceptions to this rule.
You lack the space to add a soundcard of your choice to a laptop.
You need an outboard DAC if you want to improve on sound quality.

Storage

HD's in laptops are 2.5” quiet but limited in capacity compared with the 3.5” models.
SSD (Solid State Disk) is the ideal choice, no moving parts at all but 1Tb in SSD is a bit expensive. OS on the SSD, music on a HD (if on a NAS, you don't have to worry about noise) might be an affordable solution.

HTPC

There are Home Theatre PCs build with silence in mind.
Fanless PSU (power supply), heat sinks to cool the processor, silent kits for HD's, etc.

Performance

For play back you don't need much power. Any MP3 player or cellular phone proves this point. There are claims that it is even better to go for low power.

Less electrical noise is generated and this might be beneficial for the sound quality.

Intel NUC

Intel NUC Kit NUC5PGYH - Pentium N3700 / 2 GB RAM / 32 GB SSD / Windows 10 € 297,99

Intel® NUC Mini PC NUC5PGYH is the first offered as a complete system by Intel. A complete Mini PC in a tiny but mighty package, this Intel® NUC with a quad-core Intel® Pentium processor delivers the same performance and visuals you can get in a full sized tower. The system is preinstalled with Windows® 10, giving you the latest Windows right out of the box. 8-channel audio, built-in WiFi, and Bluetooth along with HDMI and wireless display capabilities makes NUC5PGYH an excellent HTPC. The NUC5PGYH also includes 32 GB of on-board storage, with room for an SSD or HDD drive for storing all your music, media, and other data.

Source: Intel

Added 2015

 

fit-PC2 Win7 Pro $499
1.6 GHz, 1GB RAM, 160GB HDD, Wi-Fi, Windows 7 Professional

VortexBox 500GB Micro NAS $399

  • Draws only 6 watts of power when fully on. Costs about $5 a year to run all the time.
  • Automatically rip CDs using external USB DVD (Not Included).
  • Automatically tags all files from online music database.
  • Automatically downloads the cover art.
  • Automatic sharing of file to SMB (Microsoft) file shares.
  • Sqeezebox Server pre-loaded for use with Logitech SqueezeBox media players.
  • Automatic reindexing of Squeezebox Server after every CD is ripped.
  • AppleTalk - for OSX or Bonjour for Windows.
  • DAAP - Automatically shares all MP3s for streaming to iTunes and Roku Soundbridge.
  • NFS - For Linux boxes and almost anything else, Solaris etc.
  • Easy installation of mplayer for AlianBBC support.
  • Works well as a backend server for XBMC (XBOX Media Center) running on XBOX, Widnows, OSX, AppleTV, or Linux.
  • Good support for Sonos music players.
  • Auto select 120v or 240v power. Works in any country.

More about low power PC.

 

Seagate FreeAgent DockStar

 

Two Dockstars, one acting as a NAS the other as a MPD server feeding a USB converter.

According to the owner:

15 € le NAS Dockstar, micro PC Linux fanless avec port Ethernet, ram et processeur ARM.
- 75 € le disque usb Free Agent Go silver de 500 Go, ce dernier étant posé sur la base du Dockstar NAS
- 11 € clé WiFi au standard n (parce ce que l'ampli est loin du routeur Ethernet Freebox)

- 15 € le Dockstar serveur de son MPD
- 0 € le logiciel libre MPD, serveur de son
- 40 € le câble usb Ultraviolet

A petit peu plus

A little bit more

Ok, they were so cheap because the product is fased out but it shows the potential of these small boxes.

Android/Linux

Small form factor PC running Android are appearing on the market.
This might be your dedicated audio PC in the near future.

A $70 Bit-Perfect Audio Player - HeadFi

Laptop

Gary Koh simply took a Toshiba laptop ($ 415)
He swapped the HD for a SSD.
His argument: with asynchronous USB the source becomes of lesser importance.

Music server

A music server is a PC dressed up as audio gear.
More about music servers can be found here.

Parts

You can get all kind of parts to reduce noise level.

Big, low speed fans make less noise.

 

CPU cooler HD silencer

Motherboard

Gigabyte is the first company known to me selling a mobo with audio quality as a sales argument.
It features a dedicated USB port with clean power.
The onboard audio has socketed op-amps and adjustable gain.
They also claim to shield the analog components from noise at PCB level.

Gigabytes GA-H81.Amp-UP

PCI to USB Cards

SOtM tx-USB US$ 300

 

A audiophile PCI to USB card with ultra low noise regulator for digital, clock, PLL and USB power circuit and ultra low jitter clock for USB clock.

Compliant with USB 2.0
All ports can handle high-speed (480 Mbps), full-speed (12 Mbps), and low-speed (1.5 Mbps)
32-bit 33 MHz host interface compliant with PCI specification revision 2.2

Forum

From practical to esoteric, all possible tweaks can be found on the PC section of this forum.

References