I have tried both PC's and 2009, 2011 Mac Minis, including Mach2Music. By far the best playback I have found is using my 2009 Mac Mini using the USB port next to the center one. A major difference in these computers is the USB port electronics IME. All Minis were DC powered or battery powered (even the 2011) and had 120GB SSD installed, no spinning hard disks.
I use not the latest version, but an older version of Amarra, 4318/19:
I have had a number of servers here and so far none of them challenge the 2009 Mini using this version of Amarra. Won best sound of show from TAS for 2 years at RMAF using this combo.
I would buy a late 2009 Mini on ebay and then add the SSD from Other World Computing to it. Takes 30 minutes. Then consider a power supply from Paul Hynes Design for it.
Next thing to do is ditch the MP3's and play AIFF files on the Mac. Rip CD's using XLD (freeware).
Which 2009 model are you referring to? MC238LLA or MC239LLA or other?
What differences are there between a 2009 and 2012 mini in terms of sound?
What hard drive, usb to dac cable and dac would you recommend?
Chuck - this mini:
With Snow Leopard on it.
CDC2 - sound differences are: 2011 sounds a bit flat, uninteresting, not vivid, without weight. A bit threadbare. Also 2011 only works decent with short USB cable.
SSD I recommend is:
USB cable: I like the Revelation Audio Labs. Also heard that the Wireworld is good, but have not compred it. If you can find a used Locus Design Polestar or Axis, these are very good. Get at least 1.5m long.
As for DAC, I manufacture one, so this is what I recommend. Gets rid of your preamp without needing to go to digital volume control.
Just so I understand.
Mac Mini - late 2009
Add 120 GB SSD (how important is brand - one place I found that has the mac available sells 128GB Apple branded Toshibas, a 160GB Intel)?
Need, external drive for music storage (any recommendations here?)
The Intel SSD will probably work fine.
For external Drive, I recommend a RAID 1 preferably removable, connected by Firewire.
I would not characterize the 2011 mini as lacking weight or threadbare, but I do have mine heavily tweaked. And that was a big change from stock (even then it sounded better than my Macbook). And this is even without the addition of a ssd.
Lion and Snow Leopard also sounded different and in the end I went with Lion. Players make much more difference and I ha ve heard all of the contenders and feel Audirvana Plus to be the best of the bunch to my ears.
Steve, for your new Override SE DAC (looks great btw), what front end do your recommend? Does simple window based loptop with no additional sound card will be enough for best sound? Any USB based outout from that laptop will be input to the Override SE DAC. Correct? Are you plannning to build and sell any front end simple plug and play solution , so one can insert the CD and the device will rip it and it will play from SSD or HD and controlled by IPOD or IPAD, so one dont have to do any tweeks or software manipulatinos?
"Steve, for your new Override SE DAC (looks great btw), what front end do your recommend?"
Mac Mini late 2009 running Amarra 4318/19 -> USB cable to DAC
"Does simple window based loptop with no additional sound card will be enough for best sound? "
Yes, if you load XXhighend or JRiver plus Jplay on it.
"Any USB based outout from that laptop will be input to the Override SE DAC. Correct? "
Correct, but some USB ports may sound better than others. A good USB cable is necessary.
"Are you plannning to build and sell any front end simple plug and play solution , so one can insert the CD and the device will rip it and it will play from SSD or HD and controlled by IPOD or IPAD, so one dont have to do any tweeks or software manipulatinos?"
Probably not myself, but I am working with colleagues that want to offer this. They are in the prototyping stages. It's essentially a computer with all of the optimum ripping and playback software on it and some scripts to start everything on power-up.
The problem with most all-in-one solutions in the market is that they either dont have the right ripper/playback software for good SQ or they are not flexible enough to handle all devices or all file formats etc.
Steve, thank you for a feedback, this all in one solution that will be reliable plug and play and done right is what still missing for many to jump on computer based front end.
Ideally many audiophiles want simple box that they will put a CD in, it will rip that cd to the best format (FLAC or WAF or others) to its internal drive and it will have wireless and wired internet connection and preloaded and tested apps to use IPOD or IPAD, so all one have to do is turn everything on and insert cd and remotely control it, connecting to Overrride (or others) USB DACs and get a great sound.
Its quite a few solutions on the market already, but either they not done properly, require a lot of tweaking and sound is not SOTA , or they too expensive because they include functionality what your override DAC SE does and still require a lot of tweaking and preparation.
Denon1 - its Overdrive SE BTW.
I find the basic computer is the best way to go. If you buy one of these all-in-one servers, you are trapped into their software, hardware and feature-set. I like the computer and software to be a "separate", so I can improve sound quality and capability over time without needing to replace everything. Its kind of like buying separate processor, preamp and amps versus a SS Receiver.
Steve, even connecting to your Overdrive SE, the basic computer needs to be tweaked to get the best sound out of it, isn't it? Simply loading ripping software, playing software and connecting usb will not be enough. I doubt it. How about power supply? How about other programs that are running on that computer and may interfere with the sound? How about quality of HD and dvd ROM? All those things may become important to get not just a sound but a reference quality sound comparable with upper level cd players like DCS, esoteric k-3, k-01, ARC CD8, ayon cd-5s, and others. I would like to have plug and play solution simple and reliable, without spending hours on tweaking and reading forums and manuals and calling for help.
Is the SSD that you have linked to an internal solid state drive or is it external? The case is throwing me off as it looks like an external drive.
@Denon 1 -- The best place to start is at the Emprical Audio Website, click on the tab *Computer Audio Info*, follow the instructions and you'll learn the optimum set up for your pc/mac and how best to rip your cd's. Many thanks to Steve for having this information available for free on his website.
"Steve, even connecting to your Overdrive SE, the basic computer needs to be tweaked to get the best sound out of it, isn't it?"
The optimum sound, yes, however really good sound is possible without all of this. Both best of shows at RMAF I used a standard Mac Mini.
"Simply loading ripping software, playing software and connecting usb will not be enough. I doubt it. How about power supply? "
I still use the standard floor-wart on my Mac Mini and used this at the Newport Beach show. I'm planning to give a Hynes supply a try however.
"How about other programs that are running on that computer and may interfere with the sound?"
These do make a difference. It is fairly easy to follow instructions to eliminate these if you want to get the very best SQ.
Mr Bill - it's an internal drive. As I said, the case allows you to format the drive using the computer before you open-up the computer and install the drive. You can even copy the disk image you have now.