Why would look at a MacMini and not the AppleTV? Cheaper, and does exactly what you want.
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Yes the iPhone/touch will control, as will your universal remote. Also, the AppleTV will take content off of all of your iTunes accounts, I think up to 5, and stream them wirelessly. I love mine, I switched from a MacMini because the interface was just so easy to use, and the other entertainment options are just awesome. Oh yeah, it was cheap too.
a few points and corrections
1. optical from the laptop and USB will both do 24/96
2. airport express is limited to 16/44.1
3. go to Wavelength audio site for info on setting it up
4. go to Audio Asylum and prowl around the PC Audio board
5. there are a lot of options to control the mini, see 4 above
6. everything changes the sound on a high resolution system
7. optical is likely to have more jitter and should be reclocked or use a DAC with good jitter rejection for optimum performance (Altmann Attraction DAC is very nice)
good luck, have fum
Thanks to all who responded.
I think I have it narrowed down. I have ruled out the apple tv because, this will just be adding an interface, while I still will need a computer running somewhere for this all to operate well.
also the airport express is ruled out if it is in fact limited to 16/44.1
Making my top choice right now the mac mini, with a nas storage device put away in a closet or back room. I will also use the remote program for the iphone to control. After I get it all setup, I will get a Wireworld supernova glass toslink cable and do some critical listening vs. my kimber usb cable. Also hopefully then I can explore 24/96 which I have been very excited to listen to.
Thanks again for your input, this definitely helped me narrow down my decision.
* the only other thing I would think about is a transporter or modwright transporter. I would have to use it as a pre though also. i'll have to do some research on this.
I don't think your options will work for 24bit/96khz audio. Cos first of all the Duet doesn't support that bit rate, I know cos I tried it and I happen to use the DAC3 too. Neither does an airport express if I am not wrong. So the best bet will be getting the Olive Melody which happens to support 24bit/96khz and it looks way cooler than the Duet too.