PC/Squeezebox v Mac Mini

O.K. I've got two options for a music server setup. Since I'll be using the DAC in my Rotel tuner, my goal is simply to get the music data cleanly from the HD to the Rotel, and to control the music jukebox in the living room (where the stereo equipment is) with a nice GUI ("graphical user interface" or "menu" for non computer geeks).

Option 1: PC/Squeezebox - Purchase a Slim Devices Squeezebox 3 for my living room (where the audio equipment is) and an additional HD for my existing PC in my den. Communicate wirelessly between the two and connect the SB to the Rotel via toslink (optical cable).

This option is about $400. From what I've read, sound quality should be excellent, but computer in the den will always need to be on and the door of the desk it is in will always need to be open. GUI (menus) on the SB may be small on the couch (18 feet away).

Option 2: Mac Mini - Purchase a Mac Mini and place in the living room with the Rotel. Connect the mini to the rotel with a "mini optical-to-toslink" cable, and to the Plasma display via DVI.

This option is about $700 (with cable). Better GUI for music selection plus DVD and photo capability. There is some question as to the quality of the digital out (which I'm not sure if that is a legitimate question or not). "Always on" should not be a problem as the box will not be in a closed environment, and should be quiet in the living room). The question here is really sound quality and price.

Option 3: Other devices. Are there other network wireless devices with toslink out that have a GUI that can control the player in the living room?

Any opinions and/or experience using the above equipment would be appreciated.
I have the squeeze box and it is a great little device. There are other options like the olive musica is soemthing to look forward too especially if people start modding them like Redwine audio has started too. Aparently sound quality is better than a modded SB and you don't have to have your computer on and Olive is supposedly going to allow usb connectivity to outboard harddrive. Check it out.
In your Option #2, how will you interface with the computer?
The Squeezebox can be controlled with a wireless PDA from the listening chair. I use a Dell wireless PDA which I picked up new on Ebay for about $100. Works great and I can browse through the 1300+ CD's on my HD in seconds. In addition, I can check my email and play games while listening.
I have been using the Roku Soundbridge M1001 for the past couple of months and love it. It's quite similar to the Squeezebox, but a little cheaper. While Mac addicts will likely swear by the Mac Mini, I think that a device having its own display is preferrable. You won't have as many control options with a Roku or Squeezebox, but you won't have to turn on your plasma every time you want to change a song.
The Roku has both optical and RCA digital outputs, and coupled with a good DAC (I use a Bel Canto DAC 2) and lossless file format (I use FLAC) it is very comparable to original CD quality.

Whichever option you choose, I would recommend ripping your discs at the highest possible quality, and get an extra drive to back everything up.

Good luck,

Derek Stewart
Vancouver, BC
Drubin - Mac Mini is the computer/server, so the only interlink would be the optical cable to the Rotel. That's really a big part of the question: is the optical output on the mini through the mini/toslink cable 100% "lossless"?

Others -- can you see the squeezebox display 20 feet away?
That's not what I mean. With the SB, it functions as the user interface for selecting songs or albums or whatever from your computer. If you use the Mac Mini solution, how will you make those selections? What is the user interface to the music?
The new intel based mac mini comes with a remote and has its own interface called front row. It basically looks and feels like the ipod menu system and allows you to chose DVD, Music, Video, or Pictures, and then control each with simple up, down, right and left on your remote.

(Since all my audio and HT components are run by my harmony remote, I'd prefer not to have to use an extra remote like a PDA. The harmony will handle the mac or squeezebox flawlessly.
Thanks, makes sense. So you'll hook the Mini up to your TV I guess.
Hi Baylorgator,

I have been looking at the Squeezebox or the Opus Musica as my main options. I ruled out having a computer in the stereo cabinet because it was too hard to figure out how to do a remote. Your Mac Mini option sounds intriguing. Questions:

1. Is the remote infrared, or RF?

2. How noisy is the Mac Mini? Note that the Squeezebox is completely silent (no moving parts). The Musica is said to be pretty quiet (no fan, and hard drive chosen for low volume). If the Mini has a fan, it may be considerably noisier than the other two options.

Finally, comments on the network piece of the squeezebox. First, why do you think you'd need to leave the door where your computer is stored open? Second, can you run wire and skip the wireless part?


Mini facts:

* remote is IR
* no fan and a quiet hard drive but can be a bit noisy playing a CD, but not a problem if they're on a hard drive.
* you have to have a mouse and keyboard hooked up whether you use them or not or it won't past self test
* the Front Row is pretty slick but you will have to have the display on to navigate it. Once you make a selection you can put it in the background and use the display for other stuff, surf the net, display pictures, whatever.
* if you use the internal drive to rip your CDs the Mini gets pretty hot after a little while but runs pretty cool otherwise. I am using an external Plextor drive to rip.

I am using mine with a USB DAC so I don't know anything about the optical output.

I'm using a series of external firewire hard drives right now but I think I'm going with something like this http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/SearchTools/item-details.asp?EdpNo=1338702&CatId=0

Herman answered the remote question. As for the fan, it does have one (note the vent holes on the back), but it is virtually silent, so most people think it doesn't. Either way, there is no ambient noise produced by the mini, so it becomes a moot point. As for the networking/door issue, my computer is stored in a computer desk which has no ventilation; when I use the computer I must open the door of the desk in order to vent the fan exhaust. It's not a networking issue, it's a "keep the chip cool" issue. If there was some cheap easy way to put the computer in the closet and run both monitors wirelessly with two GUIs (one for the media center and one for the computer), I'd do it, but frankly, it's cheaper and easier to buy a second computer at that point.

The bottom line is that if the squeezebox had a video out option so that I could control it from the TV (i.e. see it across the room), I'd buy it in a heartbeat. Is there anything that does this?
IMHO, the far you place noisy PC from the system - the better (I don't mean just fan noise, but all kinds of electric noise, plus added vibration, etc).
Squeezebox is supposed to perform a single simple function - get the data feed, and pass it to SPDIF, that's it, it shouldn't cost $10K to do just that. AFAIK it does it pretty good, so I see no reason to throw any kind of computer into your system.
I agree that I shouldn't need another computer in the system. And I agree that it shouldn't cost big bucks to pass a digital signal from my computer to my receiver. However, until I find a device that has a video out to the TV so I can select songs, artists, etc. through a menu that can be read legibly from 20+ feet away, I'm not sure that there are other options. That really continues to be the main question of the post. Is there a basic wireless device that will pass the digital signal to my tuner and have a GUI (menu interface) that can be read across the room?
Set to "large", the SB display may be readable from that distance if your vision is decent. I sit only 10 feet from mine so it's hard to say for sure.
I just was suggested XBox 360 - can do everything. I haven't did any research sound quality wise - jitter etc, but this option, considering price and features, sounds pretty amazing.