How to set up a Mac mini for music only?


I'm new to computer audio and am thinking of using a Mac mini exclusively for music. I am mostly illiterate when it comes to computers and would really appreciate your ideas regarding the optimal configuration of such a mini. I will be running it through an as yet unknown USB/SPDIF converter (maybe Bryston?) to a first generation Berkeley Alpha DAC to my Audio Research VSi75 integrated to my Dali Euphonia MS 4 speakers.
Any suggestions regarding memory, processor speed, backing up, best auxiliary programs to use with Itunes, cabling, you name it would be greatly appreciated.
Also I understand that I can use my ipad to control the whole thing?
Help please?
bixx
Some info on this:

http://www.empiricalaudio.com/computer-audio/

http://www.empiricalaudio.com/computer-audio/recommended-systems

Optimizing any Mini should include powering it from and external DC linear supply, and a good one, like paulhynesdesign.com.

BTW, the USB converter to beat is the Off-Ramp 5:

http://www.empiricalaudio.com/products/off-ramp-converter

5th generation product which has earned a number of best shows at RMAF and Newport and golden ear award from TAS.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Thanks Audioengr...will check out the external power and that USB converter
Please note: Apple recently upgraded the Mac Mini line and it appears RAM memory in not user upgradable. Apple store states:

This Mac mini comes standard with 4GB of 1600MHz LPDDR3 memory. Please note that the memory is built into the computer, so if you think you may need more memory in the future, it is important to upgrade at the time of purchase.
If you don't already have a Mini, I recommend getting an Oct 2009 Mini on ebay with keyboard and mouse for around $375 that can be powered from DC supply. This was the last generation that could be DC powered without having to do mods to it. You can put a SSD and 16gigs in this one for about $200.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
From a hardware perspective:

I'd start with upping the RAM to as large as possible. With the 2014 Minis, this means getting the factory upgrade as the RAM is no longer user replaceable. Not an issue with the 2012 and earlier models.

I'd go with an SSD option (not spinning HDDs or hybrid/Fusion drives).

You can opt for a linear PSU transplant later on - the switch mode PSU inside is replaced with a cable or DC filter board and you'd need an external PSU.

Unlike Steve, I don't find the older Minis a good match - I've found in my PC builds that a faster i7 QuadCore sounded better than my Atom based servers so I'd say go for the fastest CPU you can get.

From a software perspective - it USED to be difficult. You needed to use sudo/terminal commands to disable a lot of the background processes.

But here's the good news - Amarra now includes a Wizard based optimiser that does this automatically for you. It disables Spotlight, enables Finder Quit, Spaces etc. The same Wizard allows you to re-enable the services if you wish.

Audirvana Plus also provides something similar but I think it is not as extensive as Amarra's. On the other hand, it is a lot simpler to use (just a check box and a restart).

=============

USB-SPDIF devices

I know the Offramp is highly regarded but up till the previous model, it still used an M2Tech USB converter IIRC which had two major downsides.
a. it wasn't USB Audio Class 2.0 compliant which meant it needed custom drivers from M2Tech for OS X. OS X from 10.6.8 and up had not needed drivers for USB Audio Class 2.0 drivers - they just worked when you plugged it in.

Mavericks (the previous version of OS X) broke compatibility with M2Tech's drivers for 10.8). And it took over 6 months for a new version to arrive. I'd just go for an Audio Class 2.0 compliant converter for the hassle-free experience. I don't know if M2Tech's driver works with Yosemite but I know Mytek (which also needed its own driver for Mavericks) doesn't work in Yosemite now either.

b. A consequence of USB Audio Class 2.0 compliance is that most apps like Audirvana Plus, BitPerfect and Pure Music can enable Integer modes which IMHO brings the performance up a fair notch.

If you have a Bryston BUC-1, I'd keep it. It is quite a well regarded converter as well.
Doggie - these drivers are not the problem that you say they are. Takes a minute to install one and then you are done. The reliability and sound quality of the M2Tech solution makes it worth a minute of your time.

The XMOS interface does not need drivers for Mac, but does for PC, so it isn't much better. I have mine running and its a lot more sensitive to USB cables than the M2tech. There are always tradeoffs. My M2Tech-based interface is solid and works great with all 5m USB cables. Beats every XMOS interface, even in integer mode.

If you want the best sounding USB interface, its Empirical Audio. It wins every shootout, including the latest:
http://forum.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/fr.pl?ddgtl&1398132150&&&/Absolute-top-tier-DAC-for-standard-res-R

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
"Unlike Steve, I don't find the older Minis a good match - I've found in my PC builds that a faster i7 QuadCore sounded better than my Atom based servers so I'd say go for the fastest CPU you can get."

I don't understand why that would be. Playing music on a computer can't be all that resource intensive for a modern PC. CD's came out in 1982. If you rip one to an equivalent lossless file, why would you need all that processing power?
Disclosures plz
zd542

It's not something I can explain. I don't know how to explain why Windows 8.1 sounded better than Windows 7 to me either. As you said, even an Atom processor has more than enough power to play back music files but there was a noticeable improvement when we upgraded the music server.

Steve
Yosemite has broken compatibility with a lot of proprietary audio drivers including Myteks and Weiss. And you should also remember that when Mavericks first launched, there was no driver from M2Tech for almost 6 months IIRC. Hence my recommendation for an Audio Class 2.0 compliant device.

PLUS the ability to use Integer/Direct/Exclusive mode also provides a notch up in playback.
10-25-14: Zd542
"Unlike Steve, I don't find the older Minis a good match - I've found in my PC builds that a faster i7 QuadCore sounded better than my Atom based servers so I'd say go for the fastest CPU you can get."

I don't understand why that would be. Playing music on a computer can't be all that resource intensive for a modern PC. CD's came out in 1982. If you rip one to an equivalent lossless file, why would you need all that processing power?
There are countless design differences between fast i7-based computers and older Mac Minis. Which can in turn affect electrical noise, waveform quality, and ultimately jitter in countless unpredictable ways. So the resulting differences in sound quality most likely have nothing to do with processing power in itself, and can only be determined, um, empirically :-)

Best regards,
-- Al
FWIW I thought my 2012 i7 2.6GHz QC Mini sounded better than my other 2010 C2D 2.4GHz. Plus the Atom vs i7 on the PC side - I started seeing a pattern.
Newer processors like a quality i7 has tighter tolerance and are more stable and accurate.Xeon server grade processors are even better. Stability and accuracy are more inmportant in audio than sheer comuptational speed.
"Stability and accuracy are more inmportant in audio than sheer computational speed."

When you say stability and accuracy, what exactly do you mean? Stable, as in not crashing, or something else? I done get accuracy either. Unless you are talking about something like jitter.