Mini Mac as audio server?

OK, I've existed in blissful ignorance of the OSX world, being a Windows dude. But, this little miniMac thing might change my world. Small enuf to stick next to the stereo... Cheap enuf too... With DVI and DVD, probably eliminates my DVD player as well. Check it out:

Sooo, someone wanna educate a non-OSX user on audio via Macs? Right now I'm 70% through ripping over 1K CDs to WAV files. I'm thinking the files will eventually end up on one of the Buffalo Terabyte NAS RAID 5 devices when they become available next month. So... the questions...

- Can I play the WAV files via iTunes?
- Is iTunes smart enuf to recognize that I've dropped the files into /Artist/Album directory format and create tags?
- Anyone using an Edirol UA-1D via USB out of the Mac? Any compatibility issues?
- Anything better to do PCM output from the Mac than the Edirol?
- If I watch a DVD, and output the video to my plasma via the DVI port, will the Apple media software recognize that I want PCM output, not multichannel?

Any help appreciated.
Hey Ed,


Welcome aboard, heheh.

So you saw the info coming in from MacWorld and their new announcements, eh? Cool!

I'm not sure, but I think you should have no problem playing WAV files through iTunes. I downloaded an album from in WAV format and burned it to CD. I never played it through iTunes though. Every CD I import through iTunes I do so in Apple Lossless format, and that's what gets burned onto my iPod.

RAID 5?!! Wholly shit! Not taking any chances with speed or loss of data are you?

On initial launch, iTunes will ask you to locate the library from which you want to import all your songs from. In OSX, just navigate to that folder and import those songs. You'll then be able to organize them according to genre, artist, album, etc. in iTunes.

As for the Edirol, I'm no help there. I've been hearing questions about how best to interface it with a Mac, but still no answers.

I use a fast multi-processor machine at work for Photoshop retouching, but at home a hotrodded Apple Cube works fine for me when using iTunes, iDVD, iMovie, and sometimes even Maya. But, this Mac Mini occupies about one fourth the volume of my little Cube. Pretty neat. I can see it being an ideal web hosting machine, data or music server.

I'm waiting for an announcement that a university is buying 10,000 of these little fellas to cluster into the fastest computer on earth.
Thx Gunbei... I think I'm going to pull the trigger. I like the DVI output->EDTV Plasma/iTunes concept. I've been using Edirol UA-1Ds for USB audio, but this seems like a good opportunity to pick up a waveterminal and do a comparison (I gather the U24 does not, like the Edirol, resample to 48 kHz sampling rate). Should be fun to play with in any event.
You guys are makin' my brain smoke with all this high falutin' computer talk... :)

But the little Mac Mini does look does the new Mini Ipod.
By iPod mini, do you mean iPod Shuffle? That is the new one--the iPod mini has been out a while..

iPod Shuffle has no display -> no track selection -> :(

Gunbei, RAID 5 is a lot more efficient than mirroring and gets you redundancy... B'sides, given how bloody long its taken me to rip 700+ CDs (I'm about 70% of the way done), I am *not* doing this again. $1K for the new Buffalo thingamajiggie (don't worry Tvad, more computer talk) seems a small price to pay for piece of mind... Hot swappable drives, etc. With the RAID 5, it only nets you 700 GB of storage or so, but it is NAS as well, so I can get at 'em from anywhere on my home ethernet...
Yes, I was about to edit my post...I was referring to the iPod Shuffle.
True, it lacks some features, but for a basic digital playback machine it
appears to be ideal for active use, i.e. at the gym. The Shuffle could be
another home run for Apple...especially the 1 gig version that will sell
for $149.

Apologies for hi-jacking the thread...

...back to the originally scheduled discussion...

Welcome on (MAC-) board!
--Can I play the WAV files via iTunes? Of course you can.

-- Is iTunes smart enuf to recognize that I've dropped the files into /Artist/Album directory format and create tags?
Yes it is, you can tell iTunes a lot of criteria for sorting which is esp. handy on the iPod.

The limitation for working "as audio server" might be the (small) harddisk (40GB).
That's what the one terabyte Firewire drive is for!
The Grace unit is leagues beyond the performance of the Edirol and has coax and AES/EBU interfaces as well as analogue outs. I am not sure if it will accept a USB input but that s/b easy enough to find out. Of course, it is a tad more expensive than the Edirol.
After doing some further research, I think I'm actually going to use one of the Waveterminal U24s. I'm curious though, since the Edirol is just a USB audio device (i.e., routes audio out to USB and converts to PCM), how can you say the Grace is better if you don't know whether it has a USB? Better at what? What is the Grace?
The best output from a computer that I have heard has been the lynx 2 soundcard, comes with eight channels, 4in 4out, 2in 6out, 6in 2out depending on the model. Any computer with itunes and a lynx and youv'e got a world beater.
I think with the miniMac, you are limited to firewire or USB audio out, since it doesn't seem to permit installation of cards...
Definitely no room for a PCI card in the mini, or in any other recent Mac besides a tower. Firewire and USB are the only way out. I have a Tascam US-122 (USB) that I use for a little home recording. Works fine for recording demos and messing around, and playback certainly sounds better than plugging into the headphone jack. But A/B it against a mid-line Arcam and the Tascam wasn't even close.

I'm considering the Apogee USB MiniDAC, which is a big step up in price at about $1k. It has features I just wouldn't use, but if the sound quality's really up to snuff, I'd pay it. Anyone have a chance to demo this, or any other USB DACs? I'd love to turn my Mac into a media server.
Why not get one with a wireless card installed, get an Airport Express and use an optical cable into a DAC? That would be ideal, imo. That way you can control your music where you're sitting and still use a quality DAC.
Madmilkman -- that is my plan. I am in the process of upgrading my cd player (looking at resolution audio cd-55 or audio aero prima for about $1,000 used) and I plan to run my G5 through airport express into the "digital in" jack and use the cd player's internal DAC. Both of these players have volume controls so I can bypass using a pre-amp. Although the mini does sound like a fun was to go but it is just duplication if I can run it off my G5. Do you think there will be any lost quality by going through a wireless connection?
Depends what else is happening on the network and what kind of files you're sending. If you're playing back uncompressed audio and grabbing a couple shows from, you'll probably have some problems.

Can I ask why you're still buying a CD player instead a DAC? Just to bypass the pre?
Why would a Mini Mac be better than, say, a used G4 iBook? A used iBook can be purchased for around $1000, and already includes a screen and keyboard, unlike the Mini Mac which would require the purchase of additional display and keyboard.
A mini is a G4, and clocks in at less than $600 w/the BT keyboard and mouse.

Besides, I hear its quieter than the G4 notebooks.

Besides, it just looks *cool*!

A laptop just looks like a laptop.

Edesilva, no doubt the Mini Mac looks cool, and has a small footprint, but don't you need a screen to see what you're doing? And where does that bring the price of the Mini Mac when that is included. What's a BT keyboard?
BT=bluetooth... wireless.

The mini has a DVI out--plugs into my HDTV so I can run iTunes from the couch. The visualizer on a 42" plasma is pretty trippy.

It is not a complete computer... Needs an audio interface like the Waveterminal, needs a keyboard/mouse and monitor. It is really marketed at those Win users who already have keyboards/mice/monitors, or so I am told.
BT=Bluetooth. I understand why you don't need a separate monitor.

What Bluetooth device would do you use operate the Mini Mac from your sofa?

Rsbeck uses a Mac with an Apogee Mini DAC ($975). This concept has piqued my interest, and since my reference two channel rig is in a room without a TV, the iBook is more along what I would need since it's compact and has it's own keyboard and screen.
I've got an apple BT wireless keyboard & mouse. For couch-type use, however, I think a BT trackball would be a better "fit"... unfortunately, I don't seem to be able to find one...

I've got the miniMac attached to my reference rig... The USB out through the Waveterminal goes to a dCS Purcell/Delius combo, which then goes into an ARC LS-16 Mk II, and into a pair of ARC VT-100 Mk IIIs biamping Proac 3.8s. The quality of the sound is pretty stunning, and the accessibility of songs is hard to beat...

You might also consider the Airport solution, which would allow you to operate the iBook from your listening position. I gather there is some way of using the Airport Extreme to output PCM or something. Haven't tried that.

BTW, Apple just (quietly) lowered the price of the build-to-order options on the miniMac, dropping the price of a maxed out mini (airport/BT/wireless kbd and mouse/1.4 GHz processor/1GB/80 GB HDD/Superdrive) from about $1350 to about $1220.
Fishpatrol - I'm getting a cd player instead of just a DAC for critical listening. Won't a cd player give better quality than a computer file?
Mcmanus-- There are too many variables to give an easy answer to that question. Basically, your CD player is going Drive --> DAC --> Analog output. All the computer is doing is replacing the CD drive with a hard drive. So the answer will depend on the quality of the design of all the different components more than saying "This > that."

That said, I would give the nod to the computer. Plus, it's just cool to have all your music right there.
Anyone know what kind of fan noise this thing has when its processing and all?
Well, I'm talking beyond my knowledge here, but I haven't seen a computer upsample to 24/96. If you've had really good results with oversampling compared with 16/44, maybe that's worth considering. Also, if you're ripping a CD at 48x, your bit order might not be as pristine as you'd wish. But if you get a good initial rip, you should have good playback every time. Just with there was an EAC equivalent for the Mac.

Hitchhike, my iBook's fan kicks in when the going gets rough, heavy work in Photoshop or other really processor-intensive tasks. The fan is certainly audible, though not bothersome if I'm also listening to music at the same time. I've heard similar reports about the mini. Silent during normal tasks; when it's working hard enough to kick in the fan it's definitely audible. For normal iTunes playback, I wouldn't expect it to be an issue. If you're playing back a full-quality divx file from the hard drive, it might be a different story. In short, your mileage will surely vary with the task.
Fishpatrol is right on. I've used the mini to playback some 720p and 1080i files, and the fan kicks in almost immediately--it is quiet for a computer, but it is audible to me 9 ft away without any soundtrack.

Apparently iTunes doesn't require the mini to think hard enuf to get hot and bothered. It will sit there quietly pumping out tunes w/o any background noise.
In-store yesterday with a Mac mini 1.42 w/512 RAM, I took it to task. iTunes playing music, large-size visualizer, QT playing back a trailer, Photoshop Elements 3 rasterizing a PDF, and me goofing around in Pages. With this little RAM, switching between apps was exceedingly slow, but once to an app it performed admirably. Never actually heard the fan, and I did stick my ear down to it once. (You know, trying not to look too suspicious.) Obviously there was plenty of room noise, but I can sure hear my iBook's fan when it kicks in, noisy room or not. I'd take this as a good sign.

I dearly want to sell my MDD Tower, it's noisy as sin. But for what I'm likely to get for it, it's a pretty lateral move. MDD: faster, room for internal drives, PCI slots, more RAM slots. Mini: smaller form factor, iLife '05, much quieter...
I'm guessing you didn't get the fan to kick on. Mine's a 1.4 GHz w/1 GB, but it takes a lot--like HD video rendering--to get the fan to kick on. I'll run iTunes/visualizer without hearing a peep. When it comes on, its audible. Trust me on this one.

Dunno what the MDD is, or how fast, but the mini is basically a G4. Its got a DVI output, which works great for me and the plasma in my living room. Yeah, needs some more disk space, but that is what NAS is for...
Modern computers are designed to handle video processing, which is far more data-intensive than audio. If audio kicked the fan on, video would probably melt it!
Hey guys,

Here's a good article on using the new mini as a HD video box.
How-to at Engadget as well:

Several new websites trying to create a home theater software package to use with the Mac mini. Hopefully they'll actually get some programmers and not just people sending lists of this-is-what-it-should-do.

If playing back 720p video doesn't crank up the fan, I'd be real impressed. Maybe even enough to sell my setup. (MDD = Apple's "Mirrored Drive-Door" G4 tower; mine was co-released with the first G5s. 1.25Ghz, faster video/HD, DVI, and a case full of fans)

Does a NAS accessed via 802.11g deliver the goods in a reasonable amount of time? Transferring files by 802.11b is agonizingly slow.
My NAS is hardwired ethernet. iTunes pulls wav files through w/o any stutters. Took me a while to figure out how to automatically tag the files (which show up as just song title w/o artist or album) from the directory structure, but thanks to applescript, its now working fine.

As far as 802.11g, the answer is probably "it depends." 802.11g runs in the same spectrum band as 11b, so if you have bad interference issues with 11b, 11g is probably going to have some issues as well. That said, it is supposed to run faster in an ideal setup. Ideal set up, in this case, meaning short distance, no walls, low interference, etc. It will be totally environment dependent.

720p playback causes my mM fan to turn on, even with nothing else running. For those who are interested, there is a Mac-specific subchat on the website on HTPCs that has a lot of info in it.
11b iBook sitting about 6 feet from the Airport, direct line of sight, still super slow. A little less than 1MB/sec, I think. With a 800MB folder of FLAC files, that's gonna take a while.

Great thread over at Ars about HD playback on various Mac systems. A bit off-topic, per se, but let's say it's close enough. Gonna have to pay El Gato a visit before the Broadcast Flag, crawls to the top of the hill.
1 mbps? That does seem slow... I thought the nominal spec on 11b was 10 mbps. Does the Airport let you change channels? 11b in the US runs on either channel 6 or 11--the channel nos. are 5 MHz apart, but you need a 25 MHz channel, so 1-5 don't work (bleed into a band that isn't wifi), 6-10 don't work (interfere with either 6 or 11), and the ones above 11 bleed into a band above the wifi band. You running an industrial plywood heater? Microwave on all the time? 2 GHz cordless phone?

Seems like a bad connection... Lots of neighbors with WiFi?
This has turned into a great thread guys. Great info and links. Keep 'em coming. Thanks!
I've set up my iBook back-to-back with a PowerBook (11g) and still gotten the same ballpark speed. I agree this seems super-slow. No cordless phones around, no WiFi signal, etc. Haven't really tried channel-surfing for a better speed. But then, Mbps is 1/8 as fast as MBps, right? So 10Mbps = ~1.25MBps and actually I'm doing pretty well. It's fine for web surfing; my cable connection tops out well before the Airport does.

Finally tried to network via FireWire (not Target Disk mode) from the iBook to the G4. Worked like a breeze and wicked fast (Just turn on the ports in the Network pref pane). Definitely my method of choice from now on if there's no Ethernet available.

Hoping to head to CompUSA in the next day or two and check out one of the Syntax Olevia LCD HDTVs, since they sport a standard computer DVI in. Hoping they'll be amenable to hooking one up to a Mac for a test or two. Grabbed a couple of the HD samples at to try. Really hoping to be wowwed. That's nice, once in a while.
Fishpatrol, so you made sure the "Built-In Ethernet" [green] was turned on in your Network Preference pane? How did you connect the firewire drive between the two computers? Regular ethernet[blue] cable or a crossover[gray] cable?

Regarding Air Ports. I've never used them, but when I was a serious Quake 3 Arena player online, a guy I knew in Ohio was playing through an Air Port on his Powerbook and was getting excellent frame rates. He said just about the same as running direct into his hub. Video speed for online gaming is always a critical element, and if he found an Air Port sufficent, my guess is that it could work in some applications for audio. Blue Tooth may be better though.
Gunbei, actually I just ran a FireWire (400) cable from the iBook to the G4 Tower. Opened up the Network prefs. From the "Show" dropdown select "Network Port Configurations". FireWire should be listed as an option (only if you've plugged in the cable). Make FireWire active.

You have to do this on both machines, of course. I started with the Tower and then did the iBook. It sets up DHCP like a regular network. I couldn't "see" the iBook from the Tower, but the iBook easily "saw" the Tower. Logged into the home directory and started copying files over. Easy cheesy. Then ejected the networked drive and unplugged.

Airport = 802.11b, Airport Extreme = 802.11g, no surprise they'd be fast enough for gaming. The more data a game has to move over the network, the harder it is to keep multiple systems in sync. So they try hard to require as little network activity as possible for low pings, etc. (At least, with FPS games that come on CDs, as opposed to MMORPGs where much of the world can exist on servers).

Check my math here, but I believe full CD quality is 1.44Mbps. 802.11b's ideal rate is about 10Mbps. So yes, that should be plenty to send full-quality audio files. But what happens when other traffic hits, say you're downloading a file at the same time? Does the computer compress the files on the fly? Does audio playback stutter? And will it do the same thing under all conditions? Wireless is cool, I use it all the time. But I'm definitely not above running an extra cable to get 100baseT.

Went to MicroCenter the other night to look at
Duhhh?!! Hooking up a Firewire with an ethernet cable? What have I been sniffing? I only use the damn things all day. I think I need to go home and listen to some music. Work must be making punchy, heheh.

Fish, yeah, I've done what you said, but in OS9. I gotta give it a try they way you arranged it under OSX. We were wondering how to do that here at work.

Thanks for the explanation!
Just got my Mini Mac and I'm using it as music server as I type.
iTunes does do WAV, no problem. Why bother bwith Edirol when you can get Firewire and/or USB interfaces for Apogee's line of convertors?
I'd save the money for the RAID and get those instead, you ears will thank you! You could always get two harddrives as they are cheap enough and use one for back up only.
Fish, I think replay will stutter.
Striping and mirroring with removable portable drives. Who would have thunk it 10 years ago? And a music source to boot. Cool.
No worries Gunbei, though I believe this is a new feature in Panther (10.3). Target Disk Mode is still nothing to sniff at. Just nice to escape a shutdown.

I only wish iTunes did Shorten/FLAC playback, mainly for all these EasyTree shows. I've read mutterings about not all lossless compression schemes being equal in playback: Apple's Lossless sounding worse than FLAC, etc. Anyone have a story on this that's more than anecdotal?

Any such thing as an ATX case built just to house FireWire drives? $80 per external FW case is absurd.

Golix, are you using Apogee gear? Any reviews?
Fishpatrol--I've never seen data rates given as megabytes per second; I did mean megabits per second, but I'm guessing that if you are reading some log, its probably also megabits per second.

Gunbei--I would love it if keeping my ethernet cables straight was as simple as color coding... I've got normal ethernet cables with gray jackets and crossover cables with blue. No standard there, unfortunately.

802.11b = MAX of 10 mbps. 802.11a/g = MAX of 54 mbps. The maximums are pretty difficult to obtain in real life. Airport is 11b, AE is 11g. I recall that the Audiotron community indicated there were problems (stutters, etc) with 11b when trying to pass wavs wirelessly and would expect the same result with an Airport and iTunes. Oddly, normal ethernet is 10 mbps and passes wav fine...

Golix, the Apogee may be a fine piece of gear, but its not a panacea. I've got a dCS Purcell and Delius in the same room as my miniMac. Spending $1K on an Apogee DAC is a really dumb idea in that context when I can spend $150, get a Waveterminal U24, and pass bit perfect data to my dCS stack. Please don't take this the wrong way, b/c you may be the exception, but Apogee people are like fundamentalists--they love their gear to the extent that there is now only one true God.

I also highly recommend use of RAID, although I may have gone overboard--I'm using a 1TB HW RAID 5 NAS, a Dell Powervault 745N, inside a vCab acoustic rack. Not a cheap solution. Just backing up isn't enough. I've had at least four major disk crashes with large capacity internal and external drives in the last two years. The last one meant reripping 300+ CDs. I feel much more comfortable with RAID 5 and a backup.

As far as anecotal stories re: compression formats, there was a guy on head-fi that was trying to compare EAC ripped wavs and Apple lossless outta iTunes. He claimed he uncompressed the Apple files into wavs and found that they matched, bit for bit, with the EAC ripped version. He conclusion was therefore that iTunes is a decent ripper. My conclusion would be that, if that is the case, its hard for me to believe that Apple lossless sounds worse than a wav, since it is a wav. Although, I have not compared and stranger things have happened.
Ed, is that right?

I just assumed so because all the ethernet cables at work are blue and the ones I bought were as well. And all the gray ones I've seen were crossover.

Damn, I can't trust Office Depot for jack then! LOL!
Actually, its Eric...

My house if far less color coded w.r.t. ethernet cables, I got gray, blue, yellow, white, green, orange, red...

I never thought, as joe-average-consumer, that I'd be acting as the IT department for a home network that involves three desktop PCs, one mini Mac, one tablet PC, two laptops, one Xbox, one PS2, one NAS, four routers, two serial port servers, one USB server, one 802.11 AP, three audiotrons, and one CD30. I have IP address conflicts in my friggin' house.
Gunbei, most big companies buy ethernet cabling in bulk, slice off what they need where they need it. Belkin sells a rainbow of choices. Happy happy CAT 5.

Edesilva, regarding Apple Lossless I'm mostly interested in playback, AL vs. WAV. Does decoding AL dirty it up somehow. Don't know what I'm looking for or how that comparison would be made. But if I'm going to move to a Mac for playback, I only want to make that move once.

I've been looking at the Apogee MiniDAC as well. Seems like the Waveterminal would sure open up the options. You're happy with it? (And where'd you find it for $150?)
I just saw this on Apple's site. Might be nice for some of you guys.