I have a 2011 Mac Mini running on battery with a SSD hard drive. It is very very good. I have not done an A-B comparison between the current Mac Book Pro and my Mac Mini. I would think that the Mac Mini would sound better because of not having a voltage DC to DC converter to power the screen. I have also found that the type of battery used has a direct effect on the sound of the Mac Mini. I have developed a battery for my battery powered Mac Mini that sounds better than the current crop of AGM batteries everybody else uses. There is one linear power supply that sound pretty good. It is available from Balance Power Technology. I have recently been playing with other types of music servers other than the Mac Mini and I am finding better results with some of these other type server systems. I am evaluating an Olive 06HD, an Aurnder S10, and the Yamaha NP 2000 network player. I received the Olive 06HD on Wednesday for evaluation and it has broken in quite nicely. Sonically speaking it is much better than my highly modified Mac Mini and it is a hell of a lot easier to use. I received the Aurender S10 Thursday after work and that out of the box sounded better than the Olive 06HD but was a little more complex in its set up. I brought the Yamaha NP 2000 network player home from RMAF and set it up Monday night. It was the most difficult to set up it required that I set up a network drive but its ease of use is great. I was not expecting the Yamaha to sound as good as it does. At $2000.00 it is a bargain. Sonically speaking it is as good as the Olive 06HD. The nice thing about these music server set ups is that we are on the cusp of huge leaps in performance over the current computer based music servers and will not be required to purchase batteries and chargers and having to worry every time there is a software update whether you still have your software optimization.
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You talk about the sound of the Mini vs. the servers but don't mention your DAC. You say the Olive sounds better than the Mini but aren't you really saying it sounds better than whatever DAC you are using?
I have developed a battery for my battery powered Mac Mini
Could you talk a little more about the mystery battery and how it is connected since the Mini has a built in supply?
I am borrowing a Audio Research DAC 8. The Yamaha and olive have their own DACS built in however they both have high end Burr Brown DAC Chips like DAC 8 and I will add they sounded better than my modified Mac Mini using using the Audio Research DAC 8. But when I put on the Olive 06HD, then the Aurender S10 and the Yamaha NP 2000 on the AR DAC 8 it is pure magic. All three the Olive the Yamaha and especially the Aurender S10. I found out quickly how bad the Mac Mini was by comparison. I suspect that the week link is the USB interface and the software i.e music player (Pure Music, Amara.) The fact that you can use your Mac Mini to write a term paper and balance your check book and listen to music might also have something to do with the difference in sound quality. I found that the Mac Mini with a music streamer pro is very good, and as good as you will need with the limitations of the Mac Mini. The Mac Mini is not world class. For the price the Mac Mini is not bad but if you are going to spend money on modifying your Mac Mini you would be better suited buying the the middle Olive or the Yamaha NP 2000 and a good DAC outside of USB.
In the 6Moons reviews this month there is a discussion of the mac mini use as a server. The author pointed out that one of the keys to getting great performance is have lots of memory, say 8GB. So, your Pro should have at least the 8GB to give you a good comparison. Noted is that the processor takes second place in getting great sound. A minus of the Pro is that if has an optical drive which can add jitter to the DAC. So, with your SSD it would be difficult to tell if the larger memory or SSD drive would be better. I don't the 'battery is better' would make that much difference. Software can edge out the battery issue.
I don't buy the argument that the mac is limited in audio because it does other things. There is no reason for that to be true.
So you compare the mac usb to the others doing spdif or ??? If so your conclusion that the mac is not world class is invalid. A single DAC that might not be optimized for usb compared to other sources with a different interface and cables and you make a definitive conclusion?
Too many variables to conclude much of anything.
I'm confused by the discussion of using a Macbook Pro vs a Mac Mini as a music server. Laptops in general aren't designed to be 24/7 servers; they are designed to be portable and intermittently used. Most laptops go to sleep when you close the screen.
I think the Mac Mini is the much better unit for the job. Keep it on 24/7, hook up a good external HD to it, have an effective backup mechanism in place, and control it through a laptop that you can use in the listening position to direct the playing of the music. (You can often use an iPad for this purpose, too.)
So I see the two being used together, not just one or the other. I would simply run the Mac mini as the server in a headless (ie, no monitor) configuration, and use the portable machine to select the music to play. You'll gain so much more flexibility.
I use a Linux-based server in my basement that functions as my music server, and it's done that job incredibly well for over 5 years now. But a Mac Mini should be able to perform a similar function. I control it with a Macbook Pro or iPad. I can play different music simultaneously in each of my rooms (I use multiple Squeezeboxes) if I desire. It works great.
That's my 2 cents, anyway.
I have an I7 Mac Mini with 8Gigs of Ram using Amarra. The Mini is optimized for music. I have as much stuff turned off as possible. Herman my point is very valid the Audio Research DAC accepts USB in fact it has one of the best USB input receiver of any DAC. Its performance is one of the best I have tried in my system. I have tried so many DACS look at my prior post. You have so much stuff going on in a computer that you cannot see. All that stuff running down in the operating system uses resources that take away from the sound. To get off a personal computer based music server will be a huge step in the right direction. The price will soon drop on dedicated music playback systems and the Mac Mini will not be the answer. At this point the Yamaha NP 2000 sounds much better than my Highly Modified Mac Mini with out having to buy a DAC with a USB input. I tried the Mac Mini with the best I could find USB cable and with the good optical cable for my comparison. The other inputs I used SPDIF coaxile and AES balanced. My system is very resolving and it will tell you if something is not right. The Mac Mini is very good but it is not world class like my Turntable or the other music servers I have tried as of recent. I just bought a Krell CD player the S350A at $2500.00 Retail it blows the doors of my Mac Mini. I bought the CD player for clients that come over with CDs just for the quick and easy demo. I found much more air and presence around the instruments and the voices to be more correct than with my Mac Mini. I cannot wait for the newer music players to come down in price and increase their performance.
You have so much stuff going on in a computer that you cannot see. All that stuff running down in the operating system uses resources that take away from the sound.
That is typical audiophile nervosa. It sounds logical but you have no idea if it is correct because you have no way to test it.
How do you know that DAC is so good with USB? Sounds like it may not be if the others are feeding it spdif and they sound better, and I don't think the Mini optical is a fair comparison.
There are too many of us that are getting world class performance with the Mini and Pro and other DACs. I have no doubt you like the other servers feeding the DACs you tried but there are too many other possible ways to do it to make a definitive conclusion based on your limited experiments.
A few months ago you said your Mac Mini was almost the equal of your vinyl. Now it is getting bested by servers.
It has come very close to my turntable. I cannot convey how deep and wide the soundstage has gotten,how perfect the tonal balance and did I mention the detail stuff I have never heard in the digital domain
That's a bit different than today when you say
The Mac Mini is very good but it is not world class like my Turntable or the other music servers I have tried as of recent.
I now have a better turntable and I have upped the performance of my system by a good bit with upgrades. Also keep in what happens with technology and time? I think technology gets better and these new music servers have been developed for a specific purpose and that is what happens with technology. I hope that continuing strides in performance continue to happen. To me it sounds like you are attached to you Mac Mini. Being attached to equipment is not good because you are then putting an emotional attachment to a specific item in your system that might not be the performance you could have if you were to try something new. Do not get me wrong I am assuming that you use Pure Vinyl for ripping your records and that cannot be done with all the other music servers I mentioned above than the Mac Mini with Pure Vinyl. They all have a purpose but what I am hearing right now is what I said is better. So Herman do think that technology does not change over time? I did not even know about the Aurender S10 and the Yamaha NP 2000 until I got to RMAF last week.
There are too many of us that are getting world class performance with the Mini and Pro and other DACs.
I wandered around RMAF for a couple of days recently and heard a few rooms that had systems in them the cost of which could otherwise buy a house or put someone through college. The best of them used all matter of front ends, including digital. In fact, my vote for best sound would probably come down to three, and in that group is a room using a MacMini source (with SSD - actually it was modded by a company called Mach2Music, which were in more than one room - I have no knowledge of what else they do to the Mini but you can google it and find out) - the Empirical Audio / YG Acoustics room: Just a beautifully sorted out system and the sound, throughout several cuts of diverse music on more than one occasion, was spot-on. Nothing to flaw, and I did not want to get up and leave. There were many rooms that had me leaving after a brief listen as well.
I'm very happy with the sound from my digital front end. Don't know if it's "world class" but it certainly sounds great to me. Haven't had the experience of CD players surpassing the sound, and have done a bit of comparisons, though not enough to write home about. The better vinyl rigs would probably take my vote, but I don't think the gap is such a chasm as many make it out to be. I guess it depends on the individual. I don't miss vinyl.
No, not attached to anything except my speakers because I built them in the room and they are too big to get through the door. I've only ripped a few records. The main reason I use Pure Vinyl is because I'm triamping with amps connected directly to the drivers. I modded my RME to bypass the output opamps and built my own 6 channel amp. PV allows me to do the crossover digitally before the amps and to time align the woofer. There are very few options for getting that done. From the output of the DAC chip I have only a transformer, 2 stages of triode amplification directly coupled, and the output transformer direct to the spekaer.
I am interested in the modified Mini but not convinced it is worth the extra $$. If you are moving on perhaps you could send it over so I could try it out :>)
Yes sir, things do advance but I don't think there has been a huge leap in the past few months that surpasses what you can do with a computer (not just the mini) and a DAC that mates well with one.
Glad to hear you are making progress and pleased with it.
This is a bit off subject but I just want to say THANK YOU to Thehouseofsound for your opinion and experience and your conclusions. I've only been into computer audio for a short time and it always made sense to go the music server route. Computers are just too noisy, there's the inherent limits of USB (although it can sound great, for the time being), and just the use of a well done music add on shows just how much competition there is for that sound card in a computer. There is no way of getting around that. Also, the Mach2Music is a heavily modified MacMini that has practically everything not related to audio taken out so as to not sully the sound.
Right now you can get dedicated music servers that are really good for about $1500. Ex: http://shop.smallgreencomputer.com/main.sc
For someone who has only been in it for a short time it is amazing that you have reached such definitive conclusions against when so many of us are getting excellent results. With limited experience one can only conclude that your conclusion is based on what others have told you, not what you have found out for yourself. I encourage you to keep an open mind, not everything you hear or read on the internet is true.
Have you actually used the server you say is really good? Why should it be better than a PC or Mac if all are properly set up? It is after all just another computer. In fact, it is just an "optimized" windows based computer which is exactly what you just told us was inferior.
I know it is an optimized windows based computer and yes, I am relying on the folk who go before me as they have the expertise and from the various sites I've looked at there seems to be a general consensus about what I averred to, to the best of my understanding. To me, it simply makes sense.
And yes, they have all tried the formats discussed that most here find perfectly acceptable and go on to state that there is better out there.
And no, I haven't heard them all and it seems that most here haven't, as well. But that doesn't stop folk from proclaiming that 'this is the best' or 'this blows away that'.
There is an old saw that I like to go back to and it goes something like this:
"I will defend anyone who is searching for the truth but I'll fight anyone who claims to have found it'.
This is not to knock anyone who hasn't tried it due to lack of availability or funds. I'm just saying that there is more out there and there are those who are tried it and I, for myself, don't have to go through a process of constant upgrading, at considerable cost, when its been done by others.
I also take it, from your response (and I could be wrong) that what I've stated was meant to disparage or demean, which was never my intention. Its just that, in one form or another, one type of audio or another, this has gone through a similar gestation but the same learning curve applies and by now, one can see a way through it all at a cheaper outlay of one's hard earned cash.
The cost of these "opitmized" servers will come down and the quality will definitely go up in short order is all that I was trying to say.
Its not really all the amazing a conclusion to reach.
Point taken, but I believe if you would take the time to do a little research you would find there are just as many people if not more who advocate the opposite. They believe the definitive solution IS a PC or Mac based system.
A lot of them hang out over here
Yeah, I know. It's what prompted me to do a simple experiment and try what I thought was the best thought out DAC for the money just to see how much an improvement I'd get running it from my iMac to my main stereo and my jaw dropped, again, and its held up with some particularly thick skin. Right then and there, I knew something like computer audio was the way to go. I haven't even used my CDP for almost two months now and when I did use it, just this week, I could only listen for a few minutes.
The improvement is so dramatic that I can see why its the talk of the town but I want a better way to get there, once and for all, without the trial and error and that learning curve that's going to occur. I'm seeing ways around 'this' and how to bypass 'that' and it seems to be pointing to a dedicated server, at least as far as I can tell.
I'm just going to try to be as content as I can (and its not easy, as you know) and just wait it out a bit to see what can of standardization will be reached, the development curve that will follow, and then decide with my wallet.
All the best,
I have a question about "stripped of internal power supply"
Correct me if I'm wrong but the supply is a single DC voltage. Doesn't that mean there are some DC-DC converters to supply the 5V for USB and Firewire, I imagine the processor runs off a lower voltage, and I don't know what else. Doesn't seem likely they would just use some inefficient linear regulators. How can it help to replace the supply if it has converters after it anyway?
AND do you have a link to how it is done, what voltage to feed it, and what type of connector is needed in case one wanted to try it?
Herman, one of the advantages of an externalized power supply (linear or otherwise) is to cut down the heat generated in the computer which can a) cause the CPU to slow down, b) turn on the fan (s) if there is one, and c) cause the computer boards and hard drive to die faster. You raise some good questions re the voltage and I'm asking someone more knowledgeable for an answer. Personally, I use a John Kenny modded M2hiface out the USB (which provides battery power to the M2hiface, etc) and results in major sound improvement. See stereo reviewer John Darko's review at the web at
A couple of comments. There are many ways to skin the digital cat, and digital audio continues to improve. Like most things in this hobby, I doubt there is one "best" anything - depends on your taste and values. Having said that, please note that in Steven Stones RMAF 2011 wrap up on digital audio (http://www.avguide.com/blog/rmaf-2011-report-digital?page=2), he gave various flavors of "best of show" awards to 4 different rooms. Three of the four rooms used Mach2music servers, which are MacMini based. The most significant product introduction award was given to Amarra 2.3, which was widely used and judged a substantial improvement. As far as I am aware, Amarra only runs on the Mac platform.
I can tell you from personal experience that it is easy to hear the difference between DACs even using an older (2009) Mac Mini. I started a couple of years ago with a music streamer to get my feet wet and fairly rapidly moved through an Ayre QB-9 (VERY much better!) to a Metric Halo LIO-8 (better still IMO + the ability to record and do so much more . .).
It is also worthwhile noting that the Mini comes standard with Firewire and USB, so you open up the possibility of easily using Firewire DACs like the Weiss and Metric Halo products. Unlike USB, Firewire was developed with the express purpose of moving streaming data like video and audio quickly and reliably.
I'm not questioning the opinions above - we hear what we hear and like what we like - but a number of folks both liked and continue to like the Mac platform. Without hearing for myself the other "superior" solutions, I would be hesitant discount it yet.