Computer music server PC or Apple????

From reading several reviews it appears that Apple has the edge. I'm thinking of building a system with the following:

MiniMac with wireless keyboard and mouse
Iomega 500GB Desktop Hard Drive firewire
PS Audio Digital Link III USB
Cheap 15inch flat screen monitor

Does anyone have anything close to this?
Does the choice of the MiniMac make sense over a Laptop?
How loud is the MiniMac? Can I have it in the same room?
I plan to use cables and hard wire, not wireless.

Cost is an object but don't want to have to replace pieces in the near future.

Any feedback is welcome.
This is a fine way to go.

Ther Mini is very quiet. Not familiar with it but I am sure that the hard drive you chose is fine - size is certainly right, will hold a couple of thousand CDs. Firewire is fine, USB2 will also work and there are more choices available.

There are a number of hard drives designed to match the Mini form factor you might want to check out if you haven't purchased yet. Makes a nice tidy installation

BTW - You will need two drives - one for back-up. That one need not live in the same room - in fact part of the idea of back-up is to physically separate the two. It's not just about hardware failure, it's also about environmental threats.

The biggest single thing you can do to ensure quality is to make sure you rip all your music in iTunes lossless with error correction on.

USB DAC is definitely the way to go for what you want to accomplish. The PS unit looks like a nice piece but is expensive and doesn't seem to have much buzz.

Lots of choices out there. One recent hot one that is a few hundred less is the Paradisea from Taiwan - google for the review. The Benchmark Media Systems DAC 1 has been the hot ticket at the same price point as the PS Audio unit. The other long time favorite at this price point is the Apogee Mini-DAC which came out of the recording studio side of things and has been on the market for several years. You might also be able to find a used Wavelength Brick at the pricepoint which is a very fine unit with a tube buffer.

Two schools of thought on oversampling, many of us don't like it... Fun to play with as long as you can turn it off. Personally it would not be a must have.

Look to NewEgg,Frys or Dell for the monitor and think about how you want to mount it. Samsung makes fine stuff that looks very clean. Wait till after New Years and you should save a few bux.

Finally (and forgive me if this is obvious) if the Mini is going to be your ripping station, you need to make sure that the Mini is on the Internet. Couple of reasons: first that's how it populates the database with all the information about the CD - something you don't want to do by hand. Second, Internet radio might suit you. Also the easiest way to handle software upgrades, sample downloads, look for album cover art etc

Once you get set up, you might want to try some isolation under the Mini/drive stack - Herbies tender feet or Vibrapods would be a low end way to go or try whatever you have lying around to see if it makes a difference. Also use at least as good a pair of ICs from the DAC to your pre as you use on your other sources - makes a big difference.

If you want to drill into any specific aspect of this, there are huge amounts of info here and on the Audio Asylum Digital PC Audio Forum
I have considered the same route, and would really like it if I could use a remote control to control Itunes on the Apple. I know that's available with later model Apples, not sure about the mini. I guess if you're using a wireless mouse and keyboard, you might be fine, though I'm not sure if you get the same enlarged graphics as with the remote. Any thoughts or info?
The Mac Mini can be used with a remote control and monitor. It is called Front Row. As far as using the Mini with an outboard DAC, Benchmark told me that a Mini running Toslink into their DAC will sound as good as the USB. That way there would be no need to go with the USB version of their DAC. You could get their DAC without the USB capability and save a couple hundred bucks should you go that way. Also, one of the last issues of The Absolute Sound had many articles on music servers including setting up a PC for the task. I heard a PC using Windows XP with CD's ripped using Exact Audio Copy and an IMac running CD's ripped with Apple Lossless into an outboard USB DAC. In my opinion, the Apple sounded superior with better imaging and tonal color.
One barrier I've had to a Mac server system is the necessity of a keyboard and monitor to change music.

Signal is software that turns the iPhone into a remote control for iTunes. It seems to be the solution to freeing one from a keyboard and monitor, and reports from many happy end users can be found on the website.
I bought a macbook because it has wifi and a monitor already built in. If I'm not ripping its silent and I can turn off the wifi and the monitor will sleep without interrupting the music.

I use the Mini Toslink to my PS Audio DL III and It sounds better than my Primare CD21 as a transport. I like the sexy form factor of the Mac Mini, but the Macbook made more sense to me. To each his own.

My goal was to have the features of a server and the sound of a sub $5K CD Player. While I have not paraded a bunch of CD players through my system to double check, I think I have that. I do wish I would have sprung the extra 250 for a black macbook though.
the setup in my den consists of: totem speakers, definitive technology supercube sub, sony 9000es dvd/cd/sacd, nikko fm tuner, dk design vs-1, adcom gda-700 dac, audio alchemy dti, mac mini, and airport express. i have both the dvp9000es and the airport express hooked up to the dti to cleanup the jitter, and then a digital cable from the dti to the dac.
i have other rooms in the house with airport express units hooked up to receivers in those rooms. i have my macbook control the mac mini running itunes from the other parts of the house (wireless). i'm purchasing an ipod touch that will also allow me to control the mac mini running itunes from anywhere in the house using remote buddy.
once the mac mini is up and running, you don't need the keyboard or mouse any longer. put the mini in the rac with your equipment and use the toslink cable from the mac mini to an external dac or use the cable from the mini with rca terminations hooked up straight into your preamp/receiver.
i use apple's airport express devices (wireless or wired) to distribute music to the whole house. you can tell itunes which speakers you want to play.
i think if you get a good quality external dac with toslink input, you will be happy. i did hookup my digital transmission interface between the mac or airport express and the external dac and the sound was more fluid, more bass, more clean.
there are other options too. also, you need another disk drive to backup the 500gb disk you have. use the internal mac drive for your operating system, and programs, use the 500gb drive for all your data, documents, itunes stuff, etc... and then get another 500gb drive or larger and backup both of these disks to it each night. use time machine with leopard, it does it automatically once you set it up.
don't use a laptop, they get too hot and the heat will damage the laptop after a while. my macbook get really warm after a couple hours usage.
if all you are going to use the mini for is an audio server, you can get an older one, you don't need the core duo intel processor. if you want to run applications on here besides itunes and if you think you will need to win windows (why go backwards), then go for the newer intel models. i have all intel macs and use either parallels or vmware to run linux,solaris, or windows (i have 1 app that needs windows).
if you think you might want to use this server as a whole house central server to run your file/print/itunes/hvac/security system/etc.., go for the macpro or older power mac, these are made for 24x365 servers.
good luck.
Jwmazur - not even close. The DAC-1 USB is a lot better.
Let me quote from a thread that is running concurrently on the issue of remote control:

4est who seems to be a real Mac fan wrote:

"The (i)Mac will come with a remote for "Front Row" (a mac media management program) and you will be able to play iTunes from your chair. If you need a better remote, there are many bluetooth (built into the mac) devices (palm pilots, cell phones) that can control itunes or for $140 or so, there are wireless usb remotes with screens."

Tvad has found what looks to be a great app in Signal.

Note that earlier Macs do not support Front Row (it is IR based which is not supported) - however you can get an application called Remote Buddy and a IR remote control unit and USB IR receiver by Keyspan that lets you control iTunes and many other applications as well.

BTW I had very good success running a Toslink out of my G5 into a TriVista - just be sure to use a high quality glass cable. But all things being equal, a USB solution - especially one that goes directly to I2S (thus avoiding any possible issue with SPDIF or Toslink) is technically cleaner and more jitter free. A long time ago (12 months) there were only a couple available but there are more coming everyday.
This is NOT my opinion. You need to let the guys at Benchmark know what you think. This is what they told me when I asked them. To be more specific, this is the opinion of Rory Rall at Benchmark. Maybe you should initiate a dialog with him on this matter. However, I do appreciate knowing what your opinion is. Could you be more specific on the differences you heard? I was always under the impression that Toslink was inferior. I also conveyed this opinion to Rory at Benchmark.
Jwmazur - The Benchmark guys know what I think and they dont give a hoot. I know Rory. Hes a really nice guy. Benchmark makes a great product at this pricepoint. Benchmark also makes a lot of marketing claims that I simply dont believe because I have a lot of experience with their units. They dont believe that it can be improved substantially for one. I've been modding them for about 4 years now and a hundred customers have my modded DAC-1. I think the reason is that they are from a Pro Audio background, so it is likely that their systems are not up to the standards we are accustomed to, not as revealing, not as extended, not as quiet, with relatively poor imaging. There is some sibilance in these systems which tends to mask the effects of jitter as well. It is their own experience, and you cannot fault them for this. Until they are shown better, this is all they know. I have heard it before from Pro audio guys, Crown amps, JBL speakers, cheap IC's and speaker cables etc... Pro audio guys are mostly cable non-believers I have found. Most rely too much on measurements and too little on listening IMO. I have battled with Pro Audio Sound guys extensively on the pro-audio forums until I finally gave up.

This is the case with a lot of jitter non-believers as well. Their systems are just not good enough to hear these differences, much less obtain a solid, focused stereo image. The same folks think we are blowing smoke when we speak of images placed horizontally beyond the speaker edges. Until they hear a really resolving system set up acoustically correctly, it is like beating our heads against the wall. My head already has a big bump on it from this. Time to go skiing....

Moral of the story is "listen to it and make your own judgements". Dont rely on marketing hype and reviews. If anything, listen to other audiophiles and learn from their experiences, but be careful that you dont make decisions based on the guy that just sold his Bose, bought his first decent stereo system, and he's writing glowing reviews on all the forums. Pick someone that has been doing it for 20-30 years, has gone through a lot of components and knows their stuff.

BTW, I found the USB input on the DAC-1 USB to be much more focused and clear than the other inputs. I never recommend using Toslink, unless it is input to a reclocker, where jitter is a dont-care.

Steve N.
I had a feeling it might be you when I started reading your detailed response. I have been dipping my toes in the water with regard to moving to a newer (better?)USB DAC. I am just a little hesitant because it still seems like such a narrow market and the claims made by the three major players all seem to contradict one another when I correspond one-on-one with a company rep.
Jwmazur - the Benchmark has a money-back guarantee. The DAC-1 USB is pretty good. If your system is tipped-up, then it may be too bright for you.

Steve N.
Thanks for all the help. This will help me narrow things down.

Happy Holidays
Thanks, Steve. I am moving very cautiously in these waters.
i just read the review in stereophile on the new benchmark dac with usb. the reviewer also used a mac mini as a transport and compared the newer dac to the older benchmark dac without usb (also to a bel canto). he stated that he liked the sound of the toslink hookup better than the usb hookup.

if i was looking to purchase a dac and it came with a usb port at no extra charge, why not go for it. if you have to pay extra for the usb port or they have to take away a toslink/rca/balanced port to put the usb in, i wouldn't do it, it might limit you in the future. I also would not make a statement that usb ports are better than toslink because of jitter issues. Simply not true in all cases. You need to listen for yourself to see if you can hear the difference.
Rbstehno - I am in communication with JA about this review. He did not know that with the Centrance firmware one needs to send either 24/44.1 or 24/96, but never 16/44.1 on the USB connection. I know this because I use similar firmware on my products. I believe with 24-bit data, the sound quality of the USB should be better than the Toslink or Coax input.

I'm sure there will be a follow with more listening tests. He alluded to this.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
hi steve, i wouldn't say that just because its 24 bit that it will be better than the 16 or 20 bit dacs. when i did evals of dacs around 2 years ago, i liked the 20 bit dacs more than the 24 bit ones. i evaluated a few 24bit and a few 20 bit and ended up with an audio research 20bit dac. i have seen other threads stating the same. Bottom line, an eval needs to take place using their own equipment and whatever sounds the best to them, they should pursue it.
Rbstehno - You dont understand. What I am saying is that the USB firmware that Empirical and Benchmark uses needs to have 24/44.1 streamed over the USB cable rather than 16/44.1. Has nothing to do with 24-bit DAC's. This has to do with how Windows and Vista handle the USB interface with audio streaming and getting bit-perfect playback.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
So if you were putting together a system today, it appears the overwhelming choice is a Mac over a PC?

I was thinking of having a pc built with an audio case,(this puts your pc into a case that looks like an audio component, it looked much more like something an audiophile would have, much better than the Mac look) with a blue ray multi function transport that supports DVD Audio(I think), and Redbook CD. I would also have several drives built in for backup and 1 gig of memory, from what I've read I should pick Vista as the operating system. This would be used for my audio system only. I was going to use ITunes with the new Touch Screen Ipod to control this then use a USB converter into my Levinson DAC. Will this work as well as MAC Apple TV system as outlined in the Absolute Sound which consists of a MAC, Apple airport Extreme, Apple TV, and DAC?
I'm not out of the 20th century in terms of audio gear (late 90's Adcom) but I've recent experiences with PCs I'd like to share.

About a year ago I decided to replace the XP machine in my home office with a machine that could handle general computing chores (something it did quite well) and povide better audio. I decide on a MacMini but never got one and eventually replaced the XP with an almost new Vista machine.

The Vista machine's audio was dramatically better than the XPs. But it was too unrelialbe and unstable for me to use for everyday home office chores. So I did a clean renstallation of Vista, disabled most of the Windows programs that are a permanent part of Vista, and installed various third party audio software. Now it is a reliable (so far), good sounding, music player and music server. And I've ordered a MacMini to serve as a general purpose machine in my home office.

I know many people have not had difficulty with Vista. I had a great deal of difficulty with Vista and am not going to use it for anything other than audio (not even other media).

The only experience I have with Apple computers is with my son-in-law's all Apple home infrastructure. It does everything I would want a system to do and sounds great on his high end Denon HT rig. And there are several computers sharing various files including audio and video and includes an Apple TV and a couple of Airports. This system is completely reliable. I'm not an Apple fanboy, but this system's performance is impressive.

My personal bottom line (based on my own experience): I'm very pleased with my dedicated Vista music server/player but I'm migrating to Apple.

vista is terrible, unstable, slow, kludgy, typical microsoft. i have had 3 users come up to me asking how they can go back to xp. the problem going back to xp on new machines is the vendors are not supporting xp on the newer machines and when you try to install the xp OS, you get errors. there are ways around this but it is a hassle.

now for mac releases, i had leopard up and running on all my macs in a couple hours after the official release. plus leopard is so much more advanced than anything windows has. (just my opinion).