Mac Mini as a music server


I would love to hear your thoughts, experiences [positive and negative] as well as words of caution for using a Mac Mini as a music server.  It seem that most all of the audio-magazine reviewers that use a computer for a music server use a Mac Mini.  A few the economically elite swing for dedicated, purpose-specific computers that are optimized for music, but I <unfortunately> do not fall into that privileged company.

Topics of interest: 
> Which music sever app do you use?  I have read & received recommendation for JWRivers, Channel D, Roon & others.  What has been your experiences?
> Any particular shortcomings of the Mac Mini vs other platforms?
> Words of wisdom in making this work?

Thanks in advance for taking the time to provide your insight.
PreviewAg insider logo xs@2xoldmandave
I recently got the new 2018 Mac Mini to replace an old Macbook Pro and am considering returning it. I'm wondering if anyone else has tried it in their system. Maybe I got a lemon and I need to try a new unit? 

I'm using the i5 / 8GB / 256GB, 2018 Mac Mini to stream iTunes and Spotify (via airplay - AEX series g - Toslink or direct connect via USB) to my Peachtree Dac.it that's feeding a vintage McIntosh system.

When I A/B it against my 2017 Macbook pro, I lose a lot of detail and staging. The lows from the Mac Mini is sloppy and rounded with the mid's sounding thin.

I also A/B'd it using headphones and IEM's via audio jack and get same results. In fact, the Mac Mini sounds worse than my iPhone XS - how's this possible?

Would be interested in anyone else's thoughts who may have similar set up. I love the Mac Mini form factor and bought it with the idea that I would add RAM and external storage as needed. But the lacking sound output quality (maybe its the T2 chip that's causing the issue?) is a deal breaker.











 
I had a Mac mini in my audio system for several years before exploring other options. I replaced a 2010 model with another in 2012. The 2012 model was spec'd much higher .. I went all-in .. quad-core i7, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD. I have a license for Audirvana +, Amarra Luxe, JRiver, HQPlayer, and Pure Music. They all have strengths and weaknesses. (Personally, I'm fond of the Amarra sound quality.) You can tweak the settings to your hearts content for each (less so with Amarra) if you so enjoy. You can't go wrong with any of these IMO. That being said, I grew tired of the endless cycle of Apple updates breaking something audio related. It can be very frustrating when, say, a USB driver is suddenly useless. Of course, one can just ignore the updates and leave everything as is but in my case, the Mac mini was also my every day computer and keeping it updated was important to me. 

Nearly 3 years ago, after said frustration, I decided to try a streamer and purchased a Bluesound Node 2. Easy to set up and use. Stable. No more Apple nonsense. Not that Bluesound is without some issues either, but they are normally quick with a fix. A streamer is nothing but a purpose-built computer and Bluesound's Node 2 (or the current 2i) is a nice affordable ($500) solution. However, it's not the utmost in sound quality. Paired with a better DAC, it shines.

As of late I've moved in a different direction entirely with UPnP and re-purposed my old Mac mini as mentioned earlier in this thread. After purchasing a new router (mesh type) I finally ordered a Sonore microRendu ethernet to USB renderer. I'll just say I'm very happy with this approach.

So, there are many options for you, the Mac mini being a very good one. My advice to you is to wait a short time before applying any updates Apple will inevitably offer. Check online for problems before you do anything. Apple's own support forum and various audio forums should give you enough of a heads-up. Best of luck to you.
I’d recommend you contact Eric Hider at dB Audiolabs. I have his modified Mac mini server which has significant changes in the Mac OS for audio playback, latest hardware upgrades, with option for battery power supply.  It’s a night and day difference over stock mac mini and other Mac mini servers.  And he doesn’t charge you arm and a leg and offers no hassle  trial period. You can PM me if you want further details.
@wtf +1
I used a Mac Mini with all the mentioned software too. Audirvana+ was my fav, but between the Apple updates you already explained and A+ trouble with library files getting periodically corrupted, it was frequently not allowing me to just sit down & listen when I  wanted it most. I tried a jillion USB cables from cheap to $1k Lightspeed. I tweaked with iFi filters, Schiit Wyrd decrapifier and some double-headed cables to separate the power leg from the signal leg. It all made some difference, but was ultimately unsatisfying.
Moving to a  Sonore microRendu with a good linear power supply, Synology NAS and Lumin app on iPad is in a completely league. Better sound by far, better reliability with less maintainence and a comparable friendly user interface. 
A much clearer optional  future path with Roon compatibility, HQ Player NAA, and hardware upgradeability all make it feel like a good investment. From the day of the first Mac O/S update, I was counting the days until my Mini became obsolete. Cheers,
Spencer 
Disappointingly, a few of you have mentioned that the combination of "Apple updates" & the software rendering program <Audirvana, JRiver, Channel D and so on> seem to have "lover's quarrels".  Can any of you expound further on this?  Having read quite a few reviews & 'How To' articles, this is the first I have heard of this problem...although, if several have & are having this problem, it is probably not rare.

Do you think it stems from Apple's penchant for not providing ancillary vendors pre-knowledge of impending changes/updates & the subsequent lag as the ancillary vendor "catches up" to make their program compatible?