Mac-Mini to Home Stereo Sounds Harsh

Hi all-

I am making the move to lossless music on network storage device, pull it off with Mac-Mini and then run it into pre-amp. I have been reading the threads on music storage formats and for this discussion I have used raw PCM packaged as .aiff, .wav, and also Apple lossless (.m4a) and all appear to have the same issue. They sound somewhat harsh and the soundstage is not the same when A/B with my Rotel CD/DVD player.

My Rotel pre-amp has 2-digital optical iinputs. One for my Mac-Mini and one for my flat panel over-the-air input. Neither of these sources have optional connections so must use the digital optical.

The Rotel CD/DVD player can be connected by digital coax or digital optical (tos) but since no more digtal optical on my preamp, it is connedted to the Rotel pre-amp with digital coax.

Both cables are Tributaries cables.

Obvious difference is Toslink vs coax. Again, this is done b/c of limited ports on Rotel pre-amp.

I am want to convert my entire collection to some type of perfect source (like many others). I need to pick a format (another discussion within itself) and will most likely use .aiff or .wav or the Apple lossless .m4a BUT all exhibit the same problemof thin soundstage, edgey/harsh musick so I am kinda bummed.

Any ideas? Is digit coax really better than tos? I didn't think so. No sharp bends in my fiber cable. I am using Tributaries cables. Perhaps the interfaces on the components?

I ripped the soucre with iTunes using the Advanced tab to choose the various formats.

My goal: Perfect source (hehe) on Gigabit eithernet Network drive. Mac-Mini is hard wired to gigabit ethernet. Pipe the music from network into pre=amp via Mac-mini and have all my music at my fingertips with no loss of quality.

I do plan to upgrade my Rotel Pre-Amp/Amp later but for now want to get my source nailed down and choose the proper connections.

Advvice, help, opinions? I would REALLY appreciate your help.

I did see something about connecting the Mac-Mini to pre-amp via some type of USB converter but do not understand this method and not sure if it would improve the scenario or introduce more confusing variables. Saw a post about a certain converter (HagUSB or something like that).

Think that sums it up, again...appreciate your help and value your thoughts.
I agree that you have isolated it to the toslink, which most folks find is less desirable than coax. I have not tried it, but Hagerman makes great products at a good price:performance point so I would give the HagUSB a try. He might even offer a home trial.
I haven't tried the Mini's optical digital output, but the MacBook's optical digital output sounds excellent.

Could be the Toslink input on your Rotel pre-amp isn't that great.

If you're not using the Rotel in a HT system, take look at the TacT S/M2150.
it has to be your rotel unit or the cable. hook your cd player up to the pre using the toslink cable you used for the mac and see if you have the same problem. i have both a mac mini and a macbook and have not had these issues. the cable you have for the mac must be made for the mac to allow toslink out. another option that i am doing is going from the mac mini (or you can also use an airport express unit wireless) and go thru a separate dac. that will give you better quality.
You might find Karl Schuster's article on pp 79-85 of the December 2007 issue of TAS helpful, although it seems PC oriented. He stresses the need for a sound card with appropriate jacks, and seems high on the Echo Mia MIDI. I'm not a fan of TAS, but this seems to be a pretty good article. A caveat is that I know nothing about this stuff, so might easily impressed.

I'm running a mac mini optical to a behringer src2496 dac - then to my integrated(arcam a90) - I have never had a brightness problem with this combo - the Behringer is low cost solution as a DAC (about $175 new) I did have to get balanced to unbalanced cable to connect to arcam - I like the sound better than the MSB link III it replaced - I tried going straight from the mac mini to the Arcam but he sound was brighter and the soundstage suffered.hope this helps
Thanks to all for your help! It does appear my TOSLINK setup is introducing the problem. I have ordered the HAG USB which will hopefully remedy the problem. Thanks again.
Toslink certainly adds a lot to the jitter. Another thing may be that your system has a component/cables that are causing a lot of sibilance. I woudl not rule this out. If there is a lot of jitter, this tends to mask things like sibilance. Once you have good clarity in the source, it often shows up another deficient component, and even speakers. You may have to replace more than you think.

You will probably take a lot of baby steps in trying to get to something that sounds as good as your CD player. IMO you wont get there spending a few hundred bux. If your CD player was $150 would you expect it to be world-class?

Steve N.
Empirical Audio