Advice on best upgrade path for a Mac Mini setup


Hi all,

My beloved PWT transport was shipped out for service last week, so in the mean time I decided to experiment with the Mac Mini which usually resides in my 2nd system. It was no surprise that it doesn't even come close to the PWT, but it sounds OK, and now i'm curious as of what I can achieve with it without spending another $2K.

It's a stock Mac Mini about 2 years old with an SSD drive.
I'm using it to stream TIDAL Hi-Fi.
I have it hooked up to a Schiit Wyrd USB re-generator via a Pangea silver USB 2 cable, which in turn is feeding my DSD via a WireWorld Starlight 7 USB 2 cable.
My thinking was that the Mac-to-Schiit path will be less critical in terms of cables, as it gets regenerated anyway, but I'm open to listen and learn...
That "Wyrd Schiit" re-generator did make quite a noticeable positive impact when I hooked it up in my 2nd system.

My question is - what will be the best bang-for-the-buck upgrades? 

I guess the switching power supply is a weak link so I looked at Mojo Audio stuff and those prices seem unreasonable - they want more for their power supply than what I paid for my PWT (including its superb power supply).
Any other recommended power supply upgrade kits?
I'm good with DIY and can probably do the upgrade myself.

Perhaps go with much better cables? Better isolation? Better re-generator?
What did you guys try that proved to really do the "magic" for similar setups?
Perhaps it is a 'losing battle' and it will never sound nearly as good as my PWT without spending $2K in upgrades?

Thanks for your advice!

Ami

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Perhaps moving the MacMini to a different location and using something like the Sonore Microrendu (or DIY equivalent) to provide noise (audible and electrical) isolation?

Schiit has some of the best understanding of reclocking and regenerating of a signal on the market.

To follow up on @dbtom2 's idea, You might also try the PS Audio LAN Rover.

A quick test to see if you could benefit from power isolation is to run the Mini on battery power and see if you hear a difference.

Best,

Erik
@erik_squires 

I have a Mac Mini. It has a 120v input.

How would I run it on battery power? (To investigate the same thing: see if there's a benefit to isolation.)
Agree that microRendu is incredible and only $650 + choice of power supple; it can stream Tidal, but you will want a NAS to store your own library. You won't need the mac at all unless you choose to use it for running HQ Player or similar to do DSD upsampling and/or EQ. Read the online reviews, especially Connaker's. It's a real Swiss Army knife! Cheers,
Spencer
@dbtom2

Whoops! My bad.  I was thinking "macbook air"

Wrong advice. If running in the same room, I'd put it on a separate surge protector, or separate bank of protectors if available.

Best,

Erik
@erik_squires 

Darn. Thought I'd be able to do a cheap investigation. Thanks for replying.
T.
Well, you could always cobble together a motorcycle battery and DC to AC inverter to power your Mini off-grid. I think it would probably last at least half an hour. :) However since most inverters buzz mechanically while working.... maybe not. :)

Best,

Erik
@erik_squires 

LOL I had already thought of that. 

Folks - is there a sub-$1000 option for NON-computer based playback of ripped CDs from hard drive? Stuff like Antipodes and Aurender are way more $ than I’m prepared to spend. Thanks. Hoping this might be of interest to the OP too.

Working on saving my CDs to hard drive. Have 400 of ’em there so far. Playback via ALAC/iTunes/BitPerfect from MacBook Air (USB>>Musical Fidelity V-Link 192>>SPDIF>>Schiit Gungnir>>Amp) sounds darn good now. Curious what "better" lower cost options there might be.

I'm looking at the microRendu site but not sure this will do what I'm asking about.  

Thanks in advance.
@ghosthouse
YES!

Why are you against computer based playback, exactly? I mean every single streamer is a computer.

For around $600 you could build a very nice Linux based music server with Android and iPhone app support and 2 TB of storage.

Best,

Erik
Hey, Erik - thanks.  I could have been clearer in my question.  I am NOT against computer-based playback at all, 'cept I keep hearing how dedicated/non-multipurpose music servers provide better sound than a general purpose computer.  I do appreciate that, at their heart, such music servers have a processor.  I really am enjoying music from audio files played back with support of the MacBook - just looking for a step up on the cheap and to save processor time on the MBA.  Wish I were more tech savvy and competent DIY-wise, I'd pursue your Linnux-based suggestion.  That's right in the price range I'm hoping for.
@ghosthouse  I am using an Auralic Aries Mini streaming files from a Synology NAS no computer needed except an ipad or iphone for remote control. The Aries Mini is around $500 and I think I paid between $5-600 for my NAS that price including two 4TB drives, so say $1000-1200 total. And there are certainly other devices out there similar to the Aries, Sonos and Bluesound Node come to mind.
Good timing! @jond .  Auralic Aries Mini - that just might be the ticket.  Do you know whether I'd be able to play my ALAC formatted burned CDs direct from a 2TB Western Digital powered hard drive?  I see it supposed to be able to recognize ALAD, just not sure about the hard drive.  

I had looked previously at the Aries Mini but it required an iPad to support the Lightning control app.  I didn't want to spend for an iPad.  Now the app is available for an iPhone which I've got.  I just got off the Audio Advisor site (they carry the Aries Mini) before I saw your post.  

Thanks.  Let me know what you think about working with an external hard drive and sound quality.   I'll be very pleased if it works out.


The microRendu seems interesting as i'm in a simular situation. question for people that use it how do you get a display/ Interface to work with it ie; HDMI, Wirless Keyboard  other?

I currently use an Asus Vivo mini PC (Win 10 based) with 500g hard drive internal, 2x2TB external Hard drives for storage, SPDF optical out as well as a half dozen USB's,HDMI for display. I use the optical out to an older MSB Link 3 Dac with Burston Audio Descrete OP-Amps. this directly to my Integrated. Its desent sounding but not ultimatly what i want. new DAC is in the near future though.  

@ghosthouse 

My recommendation to you is to look seriously at a MacMini to hold and play your rips. You can run it headless and control it from your MacBook using Screenshare and / or iPad//iPhone using Apple's remote app. You already know the operating system and could have it up and running in no time. Eventually you could use it (with an Apple Superdrive or equivalent) to rip CDs. All told, still well under $1000.00.

That WD Hard Drive will connect right up to the Mini.

You'd have the iTunes software and the Apple remote app to control selection and playback - no costs there.

No, a MacMini is not a dedicated music server and yes, it IS a computer but they work great, sound great and you already know how the operating system works. It has an HDMI port so you can connect a TV when you need to do any troubleshooting. I have mine sitting under my 60" flatscreen, a Magic Mouse and Wireless keyboard handy. So I use my Mini for more than music. But it plays all my music and I control it wherever I am with my iMac, iPad, iPhone.

Just my free advice. ;)



@ghosthouse yes it plays ALAC this is cut and pasted from the Auralic website:

The Tesla platform has a calculation ability of 25,000 MIPS, more than enough to decode a vast spectrum of audio formats, including AAC, AIFF, ALAC, APE, DIFF, DSF, FLAC, MP3, OGG, WAV, WV and WMA.
Tom -  BTW-read you post about sonics during the Sunday service at the old Baptist church.  Well written.  Felt like I had been there.  

Thanks for your input.  The Apple Mac Mini is something I have been thinking about too.  Thought the Aries Mini might be cheaper.  Did not know there was a remote app for the Mac Mini.  I was thinking wireless mouse and keyboard needed to do initial set up.  Would screenshare allow that to be done from my Macbook?    

There are pluses for staying with Apple besides familiarity.  BitPerfect is one of them....low cost music playback software that improves over iTunes alone.  Only $10 but it does seem to make things sound better.  AND with a Mac Mini I'd be able to watch YouTube music videos on the flatscreen with sound into the main system.  

The upside to the Aries is it's dedicated and would save me a few bucks on the mouse and keyboard since I could control from an iPhone.  Downside is no BitPerfect and no YouTube.  

The good news right now is I can sit tight and do nothing for a while.  Of course, prices always seem to rise over time.  Thanks again for the input.


Hi @jond. Thanks.  I had read that and did understand it could do ALAC. My uncertainty was about whether it could read those files from a powered, external Western Digital hard drive. Wasn’t sure I could assume that simply from your NAS experience.
@ghosthouse

On your iPhone go to appstore and download free Apple iTunes remote app.

Set up iTunes for remote (in preferences) and voila, you can control your Itunes on macbook from your phone.

Yes you can use screenshare to control macmini but its nice to have a keyboard, mouse and monitor handy to set it up first. If your mini will be close to tv anyway, then there you go. (I surf on the big screen all the time. Great for youtube and Tidal videos too.)

Let me add that the MacMini is a very quiet machine. I've only made the fan run a few times, usually when using HQPlayer to upsample to DSD. Even then, it doesn't occur each time. 

@ghosthouse yes it decodes all those files from a NAS.
I had a really nice setup using my Mac mini with 16G of ram and using a 5TB NAS 100' away for my disk so you would not get any noise from the HDD's. I have used a few different programs to play my ripped music and I liked the sound of Audirvana 2.x the best without using iTunes in the background. I have a reclocker and the audioquest diamond USB cable feeding into my DAC and the MAC was optimized by turning off spotlight and time machine. This setup sounded better than my $3000 classe CD player. 6 months ago, I did some testing and ended up purchasing the Auralic Aries music player/streamer. What an improvement in sound and in the playback software to control what I'm playing. 
The Aries still needs some type of disk to hold all of your ripped music. So what I did was to take my Mac mini and turn it into an OSX server with 16TB of disk attached to it (10TB in a raid 1 configuration that I use for my music) and I installed minimserver that allows the Aries to connect. The Mac OS X server allows me to use this server for many other things besides surfacing music, it's a little work horse now.
The Aries also gives you streaming capabilities tidal and others and gives you access to 10,000 web radio stations in all genres. 
The Aries comes with the DS Lightning software for your iPad that you use to configure the Aries and also control what you want to listen to. Very nice! But I was playing around and started to use the Lumin iPad software to control the Aries and I think it actually sounds better than using the DS Lightning software. A new release of the DS software was just released and it promise to sound better than the prior release.
so what I'm trying to say is to look outside of using your Mac mini as a music server and look at products like the Auralic. IMO, don't get sucked into the players that contain internal hard disks, use your Mac mini OS X server to house all your hard disks and then take advantage of this server for all the other things it can do.
@rbstehno 
Hi and thanks for that detailed history.  The Aries Mini does sound interesting.  My music is on a Western Digital powered external hard drive so I'm not tied to a device with internal drive to hold it.  

The good news now is that Auralic's control app can be downloaded to an iPhone.    

rbstehno - Running the Aries, do you miss the Audirvana software at all? Does the DS Lightning and now Lumin software provide similar functionality with the Aries?  OR are these simply control programs doing nothing to enhance the "bits to music" conversion process? Let me know please.  

Thanks to everyone for their input.
Internal or external are the same in regards to noise in your audio room. You don't want any spinning disk in the same room you listen to music in. Buy either a NAS drive or mount the drive on another computer in another part of your home.
1 thing I should have mentioned is that I designed and implemented a switched Gb network that all routers and devices attach to. Very fast for both audio and video.
as far as the GUI goes, the Lumin and DS Lightning software is light years ahead of the Mac based audio programs. I was using the 1st release of audirvana on the iPad and it was crude but I knew it is a work in progress. I like the DS software better but Lumin sounds better. What's nice I can pick which 1 to use.
With audirvana, I got rid of iTunes and let audirvana control everything which sounded better.


rbstehno is correct, ideally you want your NAS drive or music server elsewhere, my NAS drive is in my office and I listen in my listening room. And that's interesting info on the Lumin app I may have to check that out. One thing about the Lightning DS app for me at least I thought it sounded better on Ipad then Iphone.  I didn't have an Ipad when I got the Aries originally but I was able to pick up an Ipad Mini for around $200 very cost effective and I just use it as a remote control.
Thanks for your thoughts everybody.

Other than replacing the Mac with some dedicated streamer, what in your opinion would be the best value upgrade if I want to keep using it?
:-)


I have a Mac Mini with iTunes and Audiovana. How do you get rid of iTunes and just use the Audivana. Do I just buy the app from the iTunes Store. Thanks for any info or help. I'm using an iPad 2 to play music from its itune app.
Wow look away for a day and now I feel obligated to reply to  many posts in this thread! 

First, thanks to @rbstehno for a couple of well informed great posts.

Let me say that from my firsthand experience is based on using MacMini, Audirvana+, (as well as Amarra & Pure Music) Apple Remote for years. I had shootouts in my system with Aurelic Aries (not Aries Mini) including its linear power supply, other servers. I upgraded to Sonore microRendu & a linear power supply as streamer/renderer with my files stored on a Synology NAS in the next room. I run ethernet CAT6A cable to the Sonore(although you don't have to). I use Lumin app on iPad (or Android phone) for controlling the music. The improvement is TREMENDOUS!

IMHO, the advice to run a headless MacMini with internal or external harddrives, use iTunes (or Audirvana+) & Apple remote is good advice FIVE YEARS AGO, but not any longer. Sorry, but the disadvantages mentioned in a few posts are significant. Get the full purpose computer running a big mac O/S or Windows O/S out. Get the big noisy switching psu for the bigger computer out. Get any spinning discs out. Get optical isolation in. Use a single purpose computing solution( e.g microRendu, Aurelic, Aurender,  all running O/S with fewer processes. The mR also has optimized audio board with improved USB output which helps keep noise from getting to your DAC. This stuff is discussed in gory detail daily on a computer audiophile related forum that you should all read before recommending ten year old computing solutions. This stuff has changed too fast! 

Audirvana+ whether running atop iTunes or in its own mode(which sounds better, but introduces many painful database management issues) is not as user friendly as Lumin, Linn Kazoo or Aurelic's DS Lightning app. Library files get corrupted for many users and the fixes are painful; I've been there. 

The Aries Mini is a good product but needs a better power supply to perform at a high level. It's built in DAC is inferior to most audiophile DACS, but good for a starter system on a tight budget. The Aries at $1600 including a good LPS sounds excellent and is closer to the microRendu in sound quality IMHE. The Aurenders also sound good if you don't mind their cost.

As I posted last week, the  microRendu is incredible and only $650 + choice of power supple; it can stream Tidal, but you will want a NAS to store your own library. You won't need the mac at all unless you choose to use it for running HQ Player or similar to do DSD upsampling and/or EQ. Read the online reviews, especially Connaker's. It's a real Swiss Army knife! Cheers,
Spencer 

 
@ryriken66  To switch to A+ without iTunes, you don't need to download anything else. There is a mention option to toggle. The mode using iTunes is called INTEGRATED. You just need to toggle that off. If you don't like their database, you can just as easily toggle back.
Word of caution, many switch then complain about loss of artwork. That's because music ripped/dowloaded via iTunes doesn't imbed art in each track, it keeps it in a separate file. This format is different than A+ and most other software, so you have to add artwork to each song's file if it's missing. Search archives for Dougscripts and/or Yate tag editor for help fixing missing art. Cheers,
Spencer
@sbank

This stuff is discussed in gory detail daily on a computer audiophile related forum that you should all read before recommending ten year old computing solutions. This stuff has changed too fast!

Guilty as charged. Excuses stifled. Heck, in my eagerness to share I sometimes fail to read (or reread) the whole thread. :)
In dbtom’s defense, his comments were on the mark relative to the OP’s inquiry.

(not that he needs my defense)
@sbank do you output the Sonore to a DAC? Looks like the output is USB only. I had my DAC, Yamamoto YDA-1, before I had a streamer so needed something with an RCA spdif output. I've added the Sbooster power supply to the Aries, $370 from Acoustic Sounds. That combo Sbooster/Aries/Yammie DAC sounds great to me and just as importantly has been glitch free.
@jond Yes, I have the microRendu USB output connected directly to the USB input on the back of my Schiit Gungnir Multibit, with the hard adapter that is included with purchase. You can see pic on my system page. It's smaller than a deck of cards. 
Heard good things about Sbooster psu, but haven't heard it myself. Cheers, 
Spencer 
Perhaps go with much better cables? Better isolation? Better re-generator? What did you guys try that proved to really do the "magic" for similar setups?
Along with many tweaks, my Tidal source uses a linear psu (from Ebay) plugged into a balanced power conditioner - with some outlets having a digital filter. Look into Symposium Point Pods, Fat Padz or a Svelte Shelf for isolation - under everything. A Synergistic Research Black fuse in the re-clocker added a noticeable improvement - as did shorting plugs in the preamp. My streaming has a 3D presentation.
@sbank Great looking room and system thanks for sharing and love the title! That's some badass looking power supply you have for the microRendu, similarly the Sbooster dwarfs the little Aries 10x5x3 and 4 pounds where the Aries is like two cd's stacked.
Gents - FWIW, have ordered the Aries Mini.  Hoping set up is not too problematic.  Downloaded Lightning DS to my iPhone.  Plan to the feed ALAC files to the Aries from a an external powered USB Hard Drive and output via Coax to my Gungnir.  A bit anxious about set up and time to index the hard drive files.  Going to live with the stock power supply a while before any move towards a PSU upgrade.  
@ghosthouse  congrats! Setup was very easy should not take long at all plus Auralic has a good support staff who answered a few questions I had quickly. It sounds fine with the stock power supply, one thing I would recommend run it on the 5ghz band, that's what I do and have not had a single dropout since setting it up. I can't remember how long it took to import and index my library but I feel like it was much quicker than Sonos which I had before the Aries. Happy listening!
Thanks @jond 

Should be here later today for Saturday.  

I take it 5 ghz is a wireless channel choice in the set up menu?  I will look for that option and keep your recommendation in mind.  

Later.
@ghosthouse there are only two wireless bands available to everyone 3.4ghz and 5ghz the 3.4 is the "legacy" network so to speak and carries much more traffic. Not all devices are 5ghz compatible but the Aries is as is your iphone. When you look for your 5ghz network it will be the same name as your regular network with the number 5 after, my network is called JamNet, so it's JamNet5, pretty simple.
@jond Have you compared wifi to ethernet using the Aries Mini? With many devices, wifi degrades the sound quality. If wiring is inconvenient, some have reported good results using adapters that pass the signal over your home's copper electrical wiring from the router to the streamer. Just a thought...Cheers,
Spencer 
@sbank Spencer I have not compared ethernet to wifi, my modem is in my office it would be about a 30 foot run of cable to wire up the Aries which to me sort of defeats the purpose of its functionality. My Synology NAS is hardwired to the modem/router via ethernet. I am very pleased with the sound quality via wifi it compares very well to cd's through my same DAC both my ripped files, flacs, and Tidal.
Cheers,
Jon
Post removed 
I have a mac mini running roon server, files on external hard drive, roon database and os on SSD with a microrendu.
The setup is straight forward, plug the cat5 connection into your router / network, usb output to your dac and you tell the roon server that the microrendu is the output device.
Full info here:- http://www.sonore.us/microRendu.html 
The device can also be set up using other protocols, I have had mine for a short while and I am delighted with it, hasn't missed a beat.
I have in the past used a Naim NDS setup and Aurender S10, I would have to say this little box of tricks gives them a hell of a run for their money.
In the UK they are just over £600.00 if you live in the US they are around $600.00 which makes them a real bargin.
I was a bit sceptical as there is a bit of hype surrounding these but I am not aware of another device that can have such an impact at this price point.
For the record I would consider myself a voracious consumer of audio equipment!
Matthew Lewis
I found the most  improvement in my, quite old mac mini (approx 8yr), was to replace the hd with a ssd loaded with linux. the sound quality was probably 25% better. Subjective I know - however I compared it directly with the dell lap top I previously used, which has been on a par with the original mac mini, no contest.
@erik_squires 

"For around $600 you could build a very nice Linux based music server with Android and iPhone app support and 2 TB of storage. "

Could you please expound a bit on the android apps (which apps) and how one would use them with linux?

Thanks 
Thanks again all,

Has anyone here directly compared the MicroRendu to the PS Audio bridge 2 or the PS Audio LANRover?
i know they are not exactly direct functionality-wise competitors, but all are valid Mac-to-DAC paths that I would like to explore.
FYI- PS audio offer 30 day return "buy and try-at-home" option. 
Do you know if MicroRendu offers something similar?
It will be an interesting tri-audition.

Ami
Hi GIC,

I wrote a blog about it actually. The short answer is, you use Ubuntu with Logitech Media Server.  The complementary Android app I use is Squeezer but I believe there are others as well.

 http://inatinear.blogspot.com/2016/08/ubuntu-mytek-brooklyn-dsd-setup-guide.html

Best!

Erik