Dummy Guide on What's Needed to hook up Mini Mac

I have read many post on this issue, but am still utterly confused.

Current system Mini Mac will be hooked up to:
YBA stereo integrated amp
Oppo universal player
Madisound home made speaker system

1.) What exactly do I need to buy and how do I hook up a Mini Mac digital playback system to my current system for CD playback?

2.) How do I get CD's into it?

3.) Do I need external DAC and transport?

4.) How much memory in hard drive is needed?

5.) Can it operate with a remote?

6.) Will this system act like a music server?

7.) Is the sound quality as good as high end CD player?


8.) I don't know what questions to ask, as I'm a real dummy on this issue, so please tell me what to buy (on a budget) and what to do?
There's a whole section at AudioAsylum devoted to PC Audio you might want to check out. I'll make the answers brief and simple.

1. For better reproduction you will need a USB DAC and likely an external hard drive to store your music. DAC's are available in a wide range of budget.

2. You get a CD into your computer using a software interface like iTunes which should come with the operating system on your MiniMac. That software will give you access to all your music. You insert a CD into your computer and instruct the software to "import" (some say "rip") the CD onto the hard drive in either a bit-for-bit format like WAV, or one of several various compressed formats which are generally not as desirable if you are going for the best audio quality (AppleLossless is a compressed format that does retain a bit-for-bit quality taking up half the space of a WAV). You should probably try ripping the same music in several different formats and see where your own preferences/discrimination lies. Uncompressed files take up much more hard disc space.

3. As above; you need a USB DAC (the simple approach), and the transport in your MacMini. No additional transport would be necessary unless you wanted to play CD's outside of your Mini.

4. This depends on how much music you want to store and which format you choose to store it in. I have about 800 CD's ripped in both WAV and Apple Lossless and they fit on a 400gb drive. Storage is very cheap. A backup drive is a very good idea (identical to your main drive) in case of failure you won't have to rip your entire library a second time. You can find 500gb drives for around $130 these days.

5. The newer MacMinis do come with a remote that you can use with iTunes. You'll need a screen as well.

6. You can use the system as the core of a music server. You'll need more components to form a network around your house though.

7. Given a good USB DAC and Lossless files, I have a very difficult time telling the difference myself.

8. I really like the Paradisea+ USB DAC which sells on eBay for around $600 from the designer in Taiwan. Occasionally they show up used here for less. Make sure it is the USB version though or you will need an additional interface. There are many other options as well. A respected friend just recommended the April Music DA100 which is also available direct for around the same price. No experience there myself.

Good luck!



Let me recap.

I need a MiniMac, back up HD, USB DAC, small flat monitor, 2 USB cables, 1 pair anologue cables, and I'm ready to go.

Is this correct?
Do I also need a keyboard and mouse? Say wireless units.
Save yourself and just buy an iMAC and the USB DAC. It will save space if all you will use this unit for is music and it comes with the monitor, remote, mouse, keyboard.

I did some looking at the Apple web site and saw the Mac Book laptop. It has it all. Does this seem like a good option?

I can get a Mac Book laptop for $1099 and a PS Audio Link III USB DAC for $995. Is this a good option?

Can I send a signal wireless from the Mac Book to the USB DAC or is there sound quality loss?
I am not sure about the Mac books, but I was thinking the iMac would have larger hard drives...I only know b.c I looked into it. I believe you can send wireless signals through a squeezebox, but I am unsure about sound degredation. I have not done coputer audio yet, this is just what I have researched. I am still on the fence.
Good thread.

Is there a way to get 24 bit/96 kHz PCM out of a Mac? A sound card? Software? I have a G5.


Bob R.
Rmrobinson1957, your Mac with iTunes will output 24/96 over USB and Firewire but if your DAC won't convert it you're out of luck. Just make sure you get an appropriate external DAC.

I use an M-Audio Audiophile USB and an Apogee Mini-DAC. The M-Audio is OK for the money and converts both ways (I use it to rip cassettes) while the DAC-only Apogee is a top contender at its price point. Both will do 24/96. I have no personal experience with such hi-res files, though.

You configure the computer's output with the Audio MIDI Setup application in the Utilities folder of your Mac.

Mjcmt, I like a laptop for use in the listening room but a noisy hard drive would bother me. The internal drive in my Mac PowerBook is quiet enough but it is too small for a large collection of music, even using Apple Lossless compression. YMMV of course. I myself would look for a couple of whisper-quiet externals (main and backup) with large capacity and a FireWire interface.
"I did some looking at the Apple web site and saw the Mac Book laptop. It has it all. Does this seem like a good option?

I can get a Mac Book laptop for $1099 and a PS Audio Link III USB DAC for $995. Is this a good option?

Can I send a signal wireless from the Mac Book to the USB DAC or is there sound quality loss? "

That's what I have as of last friday. The PS Audio sounds great. I do have twin Western Digital 500G HDs for storage and backup. You can use a sonos or Squeezebox to get the music to the DAC wirelessly but this does add some more hardware. I found the squeezebox on its own in stock form did not sound as good as the Macbook directly into the dac. If I'm not ripping music I can not hear the Macbbok.

Next will be top get an ipod touch to remote control itunes.
The advantage of the MacMini and MacBook and iMac is that all are very quiet. The latest Mac operating system requires 512mb just to run the OS, so you need a gig of ram to really run smoothly. MacBook should work just fine, but native hard drive space is a bit more limited. That should not matter if you are ripping your iTunes to an external drive. I don't know anything at all about the PS Audio DAC you mentioned. I can tell you that in general, and in my experience, you get more bang for you $ buying from small, passionate manufacturers who don't spend big bucks on advertising and frills (fancy packing and slick hardware). On your recap of what you need: yes, keyboard and mouse necessary with MacMini and come with iMac. None necessary with MacBook. USB cable needed if one does not come with DAC. Not sure what you need a second one for since the peripherals all have them included (keyboard and mouse). Analog RCA cables to go from DAC to amp. My suggestion was that you get two external hard drives, one of which is for backup of your music library. I don't suggest you store you music library on your native hard drive if it is of any significant size and you are ripping lossless files. It tends to grow, in my experience. I haven't owned any external hard drives that have been so noisy as to bother me when listening to music. I don't think you need a firewire drive for storing and accessing a music library via itunes, but that interface is certainly fast. iTunes and music streaming are not at all very demanding on a computer or memory. A USB interface hard drive, even USB 1.0 should be more than adequate on a Mac, especially if dedicated to music. I say that in light of someone's recommendation for firewire in that a Firewire drive is likely to cost more. It would be my preference too, but if I were trying to save money, I'd just look for a quiet USB drive. There are plenty out there.

On the question regarding a G5 tower and soundcards; it is my understanding that it is best to do all your conversions outside of the otherwise noisy electronic environment of your computer in a dedicated converter as opposed to using a sound card inside the computer. For your upsampling question regarding the G5 I'd suggest asking Steve Nugent at Empirical Audio, and or checking out what he has to offer in that realm. Definitely take the conversion outside the computer, though. This is not specific to the question of the original poster though - a USB DAC suits this purpose in your case.

IMO, don't use a laptop for a music server. imac's are great (i got my wife a new 24" imac, very fast) but i think a little mac mini (a g4, g5, or an intel based) would work better. most servers (music,file/print/etc..) are dedicated machines. if you get a mini, you can store it in a closet, you don't need a keyboard/mouse or monitor. you can use another mac to control the mini. the best option would be to look for a used powermac or newer macpro, those are designed to be a file server.

also, you can always use a toslink cable from your mini to an external dac. that is what i use. you have many more DAC options if you use toslink instead of usb. another option is to use an airport express unit wired or wireless to hook up to your stereo system using a toslink cable to a dac or using rca output directly into your preamp. i also use this method.
try to pick up a used mac mini g4 for around $300 and put 1gb ram in it and attach a couple of large drives to it for your shared data (music,files,etc..) and backup the 1 drive to the other every couple of days. the other option is to purchase a NAS unit (network attached server) that hooks up to the network and stores your files in 1 location. (this is the route i'm going to).
it is not that hard to accomplish, and you don't have to go new, there are plenty of older macs that you can get to accomplish this.
Marco, great info and advice. Concerning FireWire, IME a FireWire drive will cost more if it has a USB interface as well, but a drive with only FireWire is comparable in price to a USB-only drive.

I recommend FireWire for a laptop because in the past some Apple laptops--just like some Windows laptops--have had an issue with the USB port not supplying enough power for an external drive. Anyone who is considering such a setup should IMHO make sure this is not a concern.
Good points, Tobias. One other might be that you will be taking up one USB port with your DAC and if you only have two on a Mini and need one for keyboard and the other for a DAC...may be time for a hub. Anyway, I'm a Mac guy and have had two iBooks. Never had an issue with any USB externals. YMMV.

Regarding using the Toslink on a MacMini or Tower - wouldn't be my choice. I'd do that conversion (to SPDIF) via USB inside the DAC rather than inside the computer. Again, Too much going on in the lively electronic environment inside a computer. Take it out of the box and give it to the folks who are all about audio - that's what I'd do. Just one opinion though.

jax2 - i don't understand about not using toslink, do that conversion out of the box. what conversion? it is a digital signal coming out of the mini or airport express going into a external dac via a toslink cable. no different than going out a usb port except i can use any dac that uses a toslink connection instead of the few that use usb.
I don't think it's the same thing, Rbstehno. Someone can correct me if I'm wrong - The digital signal generated by the computer needs to be converted to a signal that is 'understood' by the DAC... The data coming through USB needs to be converted to S/PDIF in order for the DAC to understand it. In the case of a USB DAC that is done in the DAC. The way you're doing it it is done in your computer. There are many folks here who know a whole lot more than me on this subject. Perhaps someone else can chime in on the subject. I am not certain that where the conversion is done makes a big difference, but my gut instinct tells me, as I said, to give it to the folks who are passionate about the music, and take it out of the noisy electronic environment of the computer. Perhaps I'm wrong. Stranger things have happened.


You have a nice simple system that is the direction I would like to go except for the YBA amplification that I like very much - very musical.

Now a few questions for anyone:

1.) How convientient is the Mac Book for playing cds?

2.) Can you play DCDs as well with another USB cable for the picture to the HDTV?

3.) How many cds can be saved on an 80 gig internal drive in lossless?
"Now a few questions for anyone:

1.) How convientient is the Mac Book for playing cds?

2.) Can you play DCDs as well with another USB cable for the picture to the HDTV?

3.) How many cds can be saved on an 80 gig internal drive in lossless?"

1. It's not. The only way I will be using the Macbook is with the music ripped in Itunes, stored on my hard drive, and replayed from the hard drive. If I need to play a disc without ripping it, I will play it on my Oppo.

2. While It will output video to a TV through the mini-dvi port, I probably will not use it for that, again, that is what the Oppo is for. I will have it hooked up though to watch tv shows downloaded from Itunes.

3. 80 G? maybe 150 to 175 albums. I'd still use an external HD though.

I really like it so far. I ripped all the new Donald Fagen discs from his new box set "The Nightfly Trilogy", created a "smart playlist" with only those songs and hit play. The monitor went to "sleep," the music kept playing through all three albums.

I haven't yet sold my Primare CD player. The sound is more full and the bass is deeper with the spinner, but there is more detail with the Macbook/PSaudio. And of course the Macbook is so much easier to use and its nice not having discs laying around.
1. The MacBook will play CD's through its slot drive (also how you would rip them). I would say you'll have to put up with a bit of whirring noise in that case (not as quiet as your average CD player but I'd venture to guess not that annoying to most unless you listen to a lot of quiet music). Not sure why you'd choose playing the CD over ripping it and playing the content off of iTunes in that case.

2.Can't answer the question about DCD's, but the digital input on a DAC definitely does not decode a digital video signal. There is a device called MacTV that you should look into for those kinds of purposes, though I don't know specifically if it will do what you're asking. Video content takes up a huge amount of space on a hard drive.

3. It depends on the compression scheme you use. Generally, as a WAV file the average audio CD takes up around 600mb of space (110 cd's on your 80gig drive). In apple lossless a CD will take up about half that amount of space so you can practically double the number of CD's the drive would hold. I would definitely buy a drive that you can expand on if you get new CD's.
Thanx Jax2,

I'm not familiar with the terminology. I ment ripping my cd collection to the computer with apple lossless and then playing them from the computer.

I had a typo also. I ment playing DVDs not DCDs from the computer.

So I probably can get 220 lossless cds on a 80 gig hard drive. Correct?
No whirring noise if playing from iTunes. Yes, you'd rip them via the CD drive on the computer. Yes, you could play DVD's on the MacBook - the software comes with the operating system. Yep around 220+ lossless CD's on your 80gb drive....correct.

If you are wanting to get the best sound for the least investment using a Mac as your source, see my thread: Digital Playback Comparison which I posted yesterday. There is a significant difference in sound quality from the different methods of using a Mac in the system.
Interesting review, Bruce_1. Thanks for posting your comments. My experiences have been somewhat similar to what you observed, and I agree, a burned CD can frequently sound better than the original. I tried my friends HAG USB converter and didn't much like it - preferred the Waveterminal U24 I was using at the time (no longer available). Airport Express has certainly not been much of a thrill to me either, and has occurred as a major compromise to me (fine for non-critical listening and convenience). I also have marginally preferred coaxial over toslink in most applications, while in others could not hear a difference. I'm sure this depends upon the actual components involved as well as the cables. Thanks for posting that - it's always good to hear what others' experiences are like with this stuff.

laptops would be the worst type of computers to use for a constant music source, they get hot, fan gets really noisy, and the life of the computer will be shortened. Heat is the worst thing for a laptop. why do you think they make those cool pads with fans in them, so they can cool your laptop. I know, i have a macbook and have friends that have macbook pro's. if you look at a true server type of machine, you will find multiple fans or in the case of the mini, a design that gets the heat out.
there was a review of the airport express a few years ago that a stereophile guy wrote on the airport express using his mark levinson dac and he raved about it. a good dac or a great dac will improve the sound whether it is from a toslink or coax cable more so than a $100 usb dac will provide.
Rbsteho, you are right--I wouldn't recommend for anyone to use a laptop as their primary source. I used mine solely for the purpose of the test. My plan is to get 30ft of coaxial cable and use my iMac desktop computer as a source (iMac-->USB cable-->HagUSB-->coax-->Trivista as DAC-->preamp).

Marco, thanks for your comments. I think I should be able to do better than the HagUSB, but I'm not sure what that would be. I need to cover 30ft of distance from my computer to the TriVista, and the HagUSB solution is better than the Airport Express with Toslink out. I might go with an Empirical Audio Pace Car reclocker between the AE and the TriVista if I knew that the $1500 for it would be a significant improvement over the HagUsb and 30ft of coax.

Does anyone want to comment on the best solution to using a remote computer as a source, given that you can't use a run of USB cable for long distances?
iBook is dead quiet when streaming music. Like all laptops it does get hot when doing intense processing. Heat is definitely not good for computers, and this is a drawback of laptops. I do not know if it's a better or worse means of streaming music than the other choices. I can tell you that I've had some strange digital artifacts happen when ripping on my laptop, which do not occur when ripping the same CD's on my tower. This has happened on about 3% of my rips and I have been to the Genius Bar for a Mensa Martini and still have not figured out why. I'd venture to say the MacMinis get quite hot also, and the iMacs marginally less so. Anytime you put that much computing power in a small container it's going to get hot. Towers have space and cooling fans and do the best in that regard, but are also generally the noisiest. Streaming music is not a processor intensive function and when I do use my laptop to stream (only) it does not get very hot. If I am doing other things on it, like running Photoshop at the same time, it does get hot. If you have your library on an external hard disk you can use any computer in your house to stream music as long as that computer has itunes (or whatever software you use on it). Bruce_1, there are plenty of threads on which USB DACs are best. Personally I think the Pardisea+ has huge bang for the buck and is a wonderful solution. As far as a USB conversion interface I'd say its a strong bet that Empiricals stuff will be a great way to go and will likely be a step up from the HAG USB device you're using (as I said, I didn't have good results using my friends version of that device...YMMV). I find it very hard to believe, based upon what I've heard trying the Airport Express, that any DAC would make a digital stream coming out of it acceptable for critical listening. It sure did not sound good with the various DACs I've tried it with (Benchmark, Muse, CAL). Which brings me back to that computer digital to SPDIF conversion - I do think it makes a very significant difference what devices is actually doing that conversion, and whatever is in the Airport Express is not doing it very well evidently. I think there are devices that Empirical and Wavelength make that convert USB directly to an I2S stream which is somehow a better method. Look to others with more knowledge on the subject to explain why, or just write to Steve Nugent or Gordon Rankin. Here's the Wiki on I2S:

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

I2S, or Inter-IC Sound, or Integrated Interchip Sound, is an electrical serial bus interface standard used for connecting digital audio devices together. It is most commonly used to carry PCM information between the CD transport and the DAC in a CD player. The I2S bus separates clock and data signals, resulting in a very low jitter connection. Jitter can cause distortion in a digital-to-analog converter. The bus consists of at least three lines:

1. Bit clock line
2. Word clock line (also called word select line)
3. And at least one multiplexed data line

You may also find the following lines:

1. Master clock (typical 256 x bitclk)
2. A multiplexed data line for upload

[edit] Normal I²S

I²S consists, as stated above, of a bit clock, a word select and the data line. The bit clock pulses every time new data is placed on the lines. The bit clock will operate at 64*samplerate. So, for example, CD Audio (at 44.1kHz) will have a bit clock of 2.8224MHz. The word select clock lets the device know whether channel 1 or channel 2 is currently being sent, since I²S allows two channels to be sent on the same data line. Transitions on the word select clock also serve as a start-of-word indicator. Each channel can transmit up to 32 bits, so it is easy to see that the word select clock will operate at a frequency equal to the sample rate.

I²S data is sent from MSB to LSB, starting at the left edge of the word select clock, with one bit clock delay. There are also Left Justified I²S streams, where there is no bit clock delay, and the data starts right on the edge of the word select clock. There is also right justified I²S streams, where the data will line up with the right edge of the word select clock.

I²S signal can easily be transferred via Ethernet-spec connection hardware (8P8C plugs and jacks, and Cat-5e and above cabling).
here is what my den setup consists of:
totem speakers, definitive technology supercube sub, nikko fm tuner, sony dvp9000es dvd/cd/sacd player, dk design vs-1, adcom gda-700 dac, audio alchemy dti, mac mini running itunes, and airport express in multiple rooms. i go from the sony player and the airport express into the dti unit (cleans up the jitter), then out of the dti to the dac. sounds very good. there was a big improvement using the external dac and an improvement again using the dti.
as for distributing music to other rooms, i have airport express unit hooked up wired and wireless to other systems and i currently control them with my macbook. the macbook allows me to control the mac mini to run selections from itunes. i am in the middle of buying an ipod touch which i will use to control the mac mini running itunes from other parts of the house instead of using the macbook.
my mac mini does not get hot and it sits on top of a acomdata 500gb drive enclosure that fits under the mac mini. i had 1 cd sound like crap after ripping it to itunes. i narrowed it down to ripping it at the same time i was listening from itunes and i was in parallels running quicken. i ripped it again without running anything else and it was fine. i have noticed that sometimes it takes much longer to rip a cd into itunes when playing back selections.