Mac Minis have received high praise as a music server. Particularly the metal unibody versions introduced in 2010 or so. The current model doesn't have a CD/DVD drive, so you would either need to buy an external one or buy a used model that has one. Also, it is rumored that new Mac Mini models are coming out in the next month or so. Might want to wait until they come out.
Another bonus of Macs is that there is some excellent playback software available for them, such as Amarra, PureMusic, Fidelia and others. Some are standalone programs, some integrate fairly seamlessly with iTunes.
There are a hundred or so threads on the subject, the good news is that there are only about 95 opinions for every 100 threads....
I believe the largest consensus today is that the MAC Mini is a good buy, you would then need an optical drive (cd drive) of some sort to download cd's and you would need a good DAC. My problem with the above is to do it right, you most likely would also need additional programs, like Amarra to use in conjunction with it...
Myself, I use a windows machine. With windows you would need to use JRiver, Foobar or Media Monkey.... I have listended to all. JRiver is the easiest and most versital, but once completely set up with the latest beta version of Foobar, I find sound quality equal... I didn't like Media Monkey as good as either.
Any Windows machine will include an optical drive, so you would need a USB DAC.
Many have touted JPlay as an additional source to play through, It runs your files directly off of RAM. When I first tried it, I was blown away.. I got rid of anti virus, deleted a bunch of programs and turned off everything else that I could, after this, Jplay was negligable... Obviously I am speaking from Windows experience. Overall If I had the funds, I'd probably try the MAC route. Don't have the funds, but I can tell you that I have a very nice Tubed CD player that I have modded to the hilt and my server/DAC combo is every bit as good.
Get a used late 2009 Mac Mini on ebay and then buy a 120GB SSD from Other World Computing and 8GB of DRAM from them and install it yourself.
Then do all of these SW tweaks:
Then put this older version of Amarra on it:
Then plug your USB cable in the slot next to the center slot.
All of these optimizations result in a spectacular SQ.
Get any HTPC that features an Intel Core "TM" processor without built-in video, meaning the video is NVIDIA, ATI, etc. Memory can be 4GB+ (usually up to 8GB). Depending on the HTPC input power required (usually 12V or 19.5V), find a proper all-linear power supply. Use Windows 7 (x64) with JRiver MC17 and the new XMOS based hiFace Two USB to S/PDIF interface with its own ASIO driver set at low latency. Rip CDs to uncompressed WAV. Do not use any DSP effects. Try JPlay with JRiver or with its own JPlay Mini Player.
I am very happy using my Apple MacBook Pro with 8gb of RAM and 500gb hard drive as a music server. I just use iTunes and connect to a PSAudio Perfectwave DAC using the optical connection, but USB works fine too. I store my music as Apple Loseless files. The advantage for me of using a MacBook is that I can pick it up and use it elsewhere and for other purposes without needing to connect to another screen. Of course with iTunes you can also control it remotely using the iTunes remote app on an iPhone or iPad.
Thank you, Roscoeiii, Audioengr, and Timlub,
I think I am inclined toward a Windows laptop at this point, but I am considering a Mac laptop. I haven't researched Macs yet, but I have a friend who loves her Mac Pro. This computer is going to be used for everything, so I don't think I am going to want a Mac Mini (which I'm assuming is small :) Can I do everything I need to do with a Mac laptop? Seems reasonable to me that a larger laptop would have everything the mini has; and maybe more.
I am thinking about getting an Oppo 95 modified by Modwright. The Oppo has a USB input, so is that all I would need? (it also has an eStat input..I have no idea what that is). I've learned that Dan Wright is working on a digital input, but I have no idea what that means, i.e., I don't know what advantage that is. Wouldn't a USB drive be all one would need? See what I mean? I'm a real rookie.
Timlub: why would you go Mac if you had the funds?
Thanks again - very much.
You could not use you PC/Mac with an Oppo. It can take hard drives or flash drives and then you choose music on screen with the remote.
Yes a laptop would work as standalone but you'd want to pair it with an approproate DAC.
p.s. Timlub - I too have a very heavily modded tube-output CD player (Exemplar/Denon). I'm puzzled by your comment that "my server/DAC is every bit as good". Puzzled because I thought the point of computer down-loaded hi-rez music was to get much better sound.
John, I'd only try the Mac because there is so much in the threads about it... overall with the tweeks, i'm quite happy with my PC. I didn't mention, but the consensus is that on Windows, you need a 64 bit version. I have also heard that windows 8 has better drivers and is audibly better than windows 7. I have a developers copy, I may try that soon. I bought a cheap 3gb 320, removed a 1 gb stick of ram and added a 4gb stick, so I have 6gb 320 and also have a 1 terrabit external.
JFZ, Your puzzled that a good cd player might not sound as good?.. I have a MHZS, that i've done alot of work on, it is very good indeed... As far as high res. I listen to a ton of Jazz. My excellent recordings are excellent regardless of bit rate... For Duke... Duke Ellington all stars is Fabulous, Jazz at the Pawnshop... Excellent and many others that I have are 16/44.1. I do own about 50 Hi res recordings, but even in hi res a crappy recording sounds crappy... For me, the addition of Hi Res and the utter convenience of a computer, I won't leave this format.
thank you for so many responses. I have to admit, though, that I am overwhelmed already. For example, I dont have a clue what some of the acronyms and abbreviations mean. I am having difficulty even forming questions, but Ill start with the most obvious ones.
Roscoe: I dont understand You could not use you PC/Mac with an Oppo. It can take hard drives or flash drives and then you choose music on screen with the remote. Whats the point of the Oppo having a USB input (or eStat, whatever that is) if it cant be used "with" a PC/Mac? And I dont understand what your second sentence means at all. I guess Im dumber than I thought when it comes to computer audio.
I guess a question is what is a digital input? Dan Wright is working on a digital input for the Oppo 95, and people are excited about it. If USB (or eStat again) isnt already a digital input, what the heck is it? I think I must be missing some very fundamental knowledge that most everyone takes for granted?
Alex: Im not sure what this - (x64) - next to Windows 7 means? That I want a 64 bit computer to play hi-rez files? Also, whats the HTin front PC - i.e., HTPC mean? (just Googled this
man, this gets complicated to think about
I have separate audio and video systems
the video not nearly as good for audio
and dont have much room or flexibility to adjust)
I just noticed this: Timlub says Any Windows machine will include an optical drive, so you would need a USB DAC. Again, why couldnt I use the Oppo, since it has a USB input?
Alex mentions ripping CDs. I dont care about doing that, although I suppose people might be thinking that down the road Im going to want to do that. For now, though, Im just interested in being able to access hi-rez files and play them through a high-end audio system. On the other hand, based on what Timlub is saying, maybe I dont need to do this at all. ??? (Ive been assuming that I could potentially get much better sound with hi-rez files
maybe even sounding as good as great analog? Maybe the differences between truly great Redbook on todays best players (e.g., Playback Designs, the Modwright Oppo, etc) and hi-rez files is not that big? Maybe I should just get a Modwright Oppo (considered by at least one guy on Agon to be significantly better than the Playback Designs player), and forget about computer audio.
A final thought:
I clearly do not know what I dont know.
Sorry for so many questions. ALL your answers are much appreciated!
You should think about ripping CDs, with dbpoweramp on PC or XLD on Mac. You will not find very much of the music you like and are familiar in hi-res downloads. Very limited IME.
Yes, 64 bit Windows 7 "sounds" a lot better than 32 bit.
You can also use a laptop with great results (I personally like the newer Core i3/5/7 Toshiba laptops) but make sure it comes with a separate graphics card, not using the Intel integrated graphics. Then you can use a DAC with USB input, or get USB to S/PDIF interface and use with any DAC.
I've tried all available ripping software programs (both PC and Mac) and did not find anything better than JRiver MC16/17 in "secure 4x" mode ripping to WAV.
Thanks Steve. That's very helpful information.
If you are going the PC route I would look into both JRiver and JPlay. JRiver is a nice program that will manage your music library, let your rip CD's and allows you to convert music formats(among other things). JPlay is (to my ears) the best sounding music player for windows. It can be used as a stand alone version or as a plug in to JRiver. I've tried most of the alternative free versions out there but am happy I invested in these two programs.
Other things I would recommend - Don't skimp on system memory. Minimum of 4G and more if you can. I use a separate 2TB USB drive for all my music. Some folks swear by Solid State Drives with no moving parts. Windows 7 (64 bit) is probably your best bet now until Windows 8 comes along.
Steve, have you tried Amarra 2.4 yet?
For the OP, I'd look at getting a Mach2Mini with the battery PSU option. I'm not sure what the guys at M2M do exactly but even with similar specs, I found my friend's AC powered M2M sound better than mine (factory MacMini 2010 with 8GB RAM and 120GB SSD and software tweaks to disable background processes and unneeded peripherals)
Is there a sonic advantage to ripping one's CDs? Or is it a matter of convenience?
Doggie - Yes I've tried Amarra 2.4. Dont like it, and I've given feedback to Jon Reichbach. He fixed the bugs, but nixed the SQ unfortunately.
I am trying 2.3.3 4344 today. I also really like 2.3.2 4319.
Differences in MINI SQ can be easily caused by break-in and even using different USB ports. Also power grounding and ground-loops can have a big influence. If you compare two of them, they need to be in exactly the same system and configuration.
Jfz - sonic improvements of CD ripping depend on the hardware and software that you are using for playback. With the right combination, it can beat even the best CD transports. I personally dont do it for convenience, nor do I design products for this goal. Its all about sound quality.
Thanks Steve. I'll skip 2.4 for now ;)
Doggie - dowload this one and install it. Its the best I have heard. Really live, airy and clear. Better than 4344 or 4347, the latest release. Unfortunatley troublesome for 176 and 192 tracks. Otherwise behaves okay:
Already downloaded that version after your reading yr recommendations in Stereo Net