Apple Mini 'puter as a CD jukebox?

I've ripped all of my CD's as WAV files on to two 160gb WD external drives and I'm thinking it would be cool to use a 'puter as a "CD Player". It would be really easy to use iTunes as a master play list, scroll, click, listen. The entire system ought to come in under $1000 all told.

The new Mac Mini would be a logical choice since it has two USB 2.0 ports for my hard drives and it's quite small and inexpensive. A small flat panel monitor would be required, and of course a wireless mouse and keyboard. The thing I'm not sure about is the audio output on the Mac Mini; not much info at all on the Apple site. Could you simply run a Y-cable from the Mac Mini to your preamp, or does it require an external DAC?

So, what would the system end up loooking like? I'm guessing:

- two 160gb hard drives ($110 each)
- Mac Mini ($499)
- BenQ wireless mouse ($25)
- Small wireless keyboard. Suggestions?
- Small flat panel monitor.. less than 15". Suggestions?
- DAC (I'm assuming it's required). Suggestions?

When all is said and done this could be a nice alternative, I'm not sure it'll rival $1000 CD players though. I'm intrigued with the concept of using a computer as a dedicated jukebox and would love some feedback/ideas/opinions. Thanks, Jeff
Seems as if the mechanically simplest way to rig it would be to get the optional Airport Extreme wireless card with the Mini, which would be handy for internet surfing anyway, and plug in an Airport Express unit at your stereo location.

I can't comment on the quality/DAC issues, though.
Wouldn't you want to stream the audio over wireless? I can't see running long cables from the Mac box to your system. How would this work with Apple's plug in iPod wall-wart device?

- Eric
USB Dac is really what you need also to get decent audio quality. Did you rip your WAV's with Exact Copy(EAC)?
The "Mini Mac as audio server?" thread is about this very thing. Not so much whether it can be done--a Y-connector will certainly work--but whether it can be done well. Getting the audio out of the Mac is the real thing, and there are a number of options, very few of them $100-cheap. If you haven't bought the Mac mini yet, this is sure worth considering.

If you're ripped all those discs, you must have another computer. Use a Y-connector to hook it up to your system. Are you happy with the sound? The mini won't likely sound much different. This to say, yes I'd expect to buy a solid DAC to rival $1k-CDP sound.

The Mac mini will need some help to support a wireless keyboard--bluetooth or a USB port for an IR adapter or whatever. A bluetooth/wifi setup costs an extra $100. I'd sure recommend 512MB of RAM instead of the stock 256. In other words, getting out the door with the stock $499 is a bit tricky. If you could get an external FireWire HD case, you could open up a USB port. (I do love FireWire, I must admit.)

A whole lot of options out there. If you have a specific budget, that's probably good to state up-front. Best of luck; plenty of other people at least scheming to do the same.

I imported the WAV's using iTunes. Any particular USB DAC come to mind? Thanks, Jeff

Thanks for the responses so far folks. I have a Dell laptop (running XP) but use it for work, the intent of this proposed set up would be to use it as a dedicated audio front end. Put the 'puter, external hard drives, and small screen on my audio rack and leave it set up. So an Airport Express, additional RAM etc. wouldn't be necessary.

I haven't tried this idea with my current laptop since it wouldn't be pressed into service as a jukebox for any length of time. The digital jukebox would be used with my main system: please click on My System and take a look at the associated gear if you're so inclined.

Since I already have the hard drives, USB hub, and decent interconnects I'm thinking I'd spend an additional $1000 for this jukebox rig. The Mac Mini is half of the budget, so I'd allocate $500 for the DAC (if a DAC is really required, it sure would be easier if the Apple site was more informative). I'll wait to hear more, if it seems like a safe bet to take the plunge I'll pick up a Mini in Hong Kong next weekend. Regards, Jeff
You could technically get by without a DAC by using a patch cable, but I wouldn't recommend it.

I also just saw this on Apple's site. Might be of interest to some of you.
My current set-up: G4/iTunes tower>MAudio Transit>Benchmark DAC-1>BAT VK-5SE>Wolcott Presence 220's>Sound Lab M-1's. GREAT results. This morning I tried substituting my XP/iTunes laptop for the G4. VERY inferior sonic results!
I wonder why that is, Twb2. Inferior in what way?

Did you trial any other DACs with your G4? I'm starting the great DAC hunt now. For testing a DAC, could you swap a CD transport for your G4 and get a ballpark-similar sound?
Before the Benchmark DAC-1,I was using an M Audio Firewire Audiophile. Results were Ok. The Benchmark, or course, was a great set up. The SPDIF output from the Audiophile created a hum, so I tried the Transit which solved that problem since the Toslink connection provided galvanic isolation. The Transit was OK, but I now have Empirlacal Audio's modified Transit (Turbo Offramp) which has taken the entire system up many orders of magnitude. The difference is not subtle. Highly reccomended. Here is a link to a review: I am in complete agreement.
I too am running a MAC with iTunes as a digital source. I send the signal wirelessly to an Airport Express plugged into an aux jack in my preamp. The sound is pretty decent but far from the quality I get from my $100 Denon CDP. The DAC in Airport Express just isn't audio-grade.

My next step is to run optical out from the airport express into my new CDP, a Resolution Audio Opus which I chose because it offers a second digital in. This way, I will be able to use the DAC inside the Opus for the computer files and I am expecting a significant improvement in sound. I am now in the process of re-burning all my cds using the lossless format instead of the ACC compressed file format. Lossless offers a bit-for-bit exact copy of the music. You "read" the cd once so there is no concern about not getting a good read and the hard drive transmites a perfect signal. Issues with jitter and reclocking remain but, from what I am reading, solutions for those are at hand.

I think that digital files from computers will be the number one digital source within a few years. Those still using CDP and inserting cds will be a in a similar position to the minority who still prefer vinyl discs. Most of us will have the incredible convenience that computer-based song selection provides.

Going lossless, which you will want, requires ALOT of hard drive space. You'll need 1/2 the space of the native file (somewhere around 300 - 400 MB per cd) and the mini won't be able to hold many cds. But, you can get a 250GB external drive for about $250 so the cost of extra space is very reasonable.

Please post your results with your set-up as it progresses.

You need the airport or some kind of DAC in conjunction with either a USB or firewire audio device. The Mac Mini does not have an audio output or a digital coax. I have a very hard time believing that the performance of the airport going directly into a preamp will rival the quality of going USB or firewire into a decent DAC. There are also some oddball, but highly regarded, DACs like the Apogee that have a built-in USB port. My configuration uses a Waveterminal U24 USB device into a stand alone upsampler and DAC. The sound rivals my DV-50s.

If you are running in an Apple-only environment, you may want to see if you can convert your .wav files to Apple's lossless compressed format. I do not believe you compromise quality, since it is lossless, but you would save significant disk space. (You can then use your second disk as a backup of your first disk--see my thread on having four HD crashes in 2 years).
There is a new wireless remote that is pre-programed for iTunes. It is by a compnay called keyspan. I got my on amazon for like $59 (as I recall). It works through Airport Express. Very nice looking small and compact. It will be a better option than the remote control mouse I was planning to use.
Can you just run the sound from the speaker/headphone jack into DAC or on the cheap, straight into pre-amp?
I use and run it that way into a tape loop on my Rotel, works good for casual music
I run my G4 Cube into an Airport Express and then into a Rotel RSP-1098S AV preamp. Sounds great thrugh an AR VT-100 and then into a Pair of Totem Mani-2s. Try it.
I just setup this PC system as my first 'dabble' into PC audio:

Compaq tower - rip CD's from DVD Rom via Exact Audio Copy software - import WAV files into iTunes - wireless to Airport Express - Monster(Apple Kit) mini-Toslink cable from AE into Audio Alchemy DTi Pro 32 Digital Interface(increased word length 24bit) - coax out from DTi32 to Musical Fidelity Upsampling DAC at 192khz.

It's a lot of hoohah and it doesn't sound as good as just using my Audio Alchemy transport.

Maybe I gotta mess with it more.

Anyone still here? I've been thinking about using a Mac mini as a CD jukebox as suggested above, but with a difference that I need some help on: I use a set of Meridian DSP5000s, which are self-powered, for stereo playback. These take a digital signal from a transport or whatever and go from there. I'm inferring from some of the posts above that it may be possible to get this signal out of the Airport Express directly. Is this true, and if it is, is there any reason to think that the Mac Mini, through Airport, couldn't provide the signal that the Meridians need without further modification (read "money")? Thanks for any help...
Do you need to go wireless? If you don't, I'd skip the AE and use a USB audio output device like the Waveterminal U24 or the Edirol UA-1D or M-Audio Sonica. Wireless is subject to a lot of variables that are environmental. I use the Mac Mini -> Waveterminal -> dCS Purcell/Delius -> ARC amplification -> ProAc speakers. Its stunning.

All in one with Digital out and it's looks cool too.
Hmtc - you can get Toslink out of an AirPort express and with a good glass cable, it is not bad, but dont expect it to be as good as a CD transport. The chip and clock in the AE are just too jittery.

One solution to this is to use a Pace-Car reclocker from Empirical Audio. This allows you to drive the toslink from the AE to the PAce-Car and then an ultra-low jitter S/PDIF signal is driven out of the Pace-Car to your DAC. The jitter from the AE does not matter. You can even use a really cheap plastic Toslink cable. The Pace-Car output will outperform even the best transports. No mods to the AE are necessary. You can even select a variety of clocks, including the new Ultraclock.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Try the new Blue Sky Audio EXO or Audioengine 5s enclosed speakers. Just cable it in and you are good to go.

Red Wine Audio can also "hotrod" an iPod, eliminating the more expensive computer.