Question on Streamer/Dac and Roon


I'm fairly new to digital and am building a system that's both MQA capable and Roon ready. I currently use a 2014 Mac Mini as roon server + streamer connected by USB to the Mytek Brooklyn Dac+, which then feeds balanced into a Mac pre and amp. I keep reading the mac mini is noisy as a streamer and hence the post. If I were to re-engineer a bit there are a couple of choices I can make, assuming my original goals of MQA and Roon remain. 

Should I:
1. Get a Lumin U1 mini, which can act as a Roon endpoint, and feed into the Mytek DAC (ESS 9028)
2. Combine the streamer and Dac functionality into the Lumin T2. I'm not sure if this is indeed a step up since the T2 also has the same ESS 9028 chipset as the Mytek. 
3. Keep the current setup and be done. 

I use the mac mini as the roon server, and that comes to my last question. If I get either of the Lumins, they would be the roon endpoint. I will still need the mac mini or a NUC to act as the roon server. I'm not able to comprehend the point of a streamer other than acting as an endpoint for Roon, sort of like a catcher to what Roon throws at it. If Roon is going to be the front end, does the Lumin really provide me with a benefit? I like the Roon software and being a lifetime member unlikely to switch over to the Lumin app. And I do not have Lumin dealers nearby to audition them. 

And some footnotes. I dont want to spend too much, the Lumin U1 mini or T2 is the max I would like to go, if I can justify their point of existence within my system. Also, not a Nucleus fan if a NUC can do the job for cheaper, and so can the mac mini. 

What would you do and why?

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I am going to setup a RaspberryPI with a Benchmark DAC3 tomorrow for someone. I never used that streamer but it is supposed to be good and cheap.

3 - A Raspberry Pi Roon endpoint with OS based on ROPIEEE. This is the smaller box that is a Raspberry Pi. It is plug in and play and ready to go with the OS on it and configured.


An alternative approach is to simplify your setup by selling the MyTek DAC and using the MacMini with a ROON READY MQA DAC with built-in streaming., such as this one for $800. Do not let the low price fool you.
https://soundnews.net/sources/dacs/matrix-audio-mini-i-pro-3-third-time-s-a-charm/

I have this DAC in my bedroom system. It is close in sound quality to my Benchmark DAC3B (which is similar to the MyTek).

In this setup you may want to also consider an EtherREGEN that some folks say cleans up Ethernet noise.

For my best streaming I use Fibre Optical wires to an Sonore OpticalRendu (no Ethernet). I have written a few posts on this. If you are interested look at my posting history.
That Mac Mini makes a nice Roon Core (Server and Streamer). Add an external hard drive to store your music files (if the size of your local library exceeds the size of the hard drive in the Mini).

The noise mentioned about the Mini (as I hear it) is when the fan on the Mini kicks in. This only happens with Roon if you’re doing upsampling or converting files to DSD. It can also happen if the Mini gets warm due to dust accumulating in the vents. If you don’t do any up conversion - just keep the vents clean around the Mini and you’ll be good; it will be silent.

Now if you are upconverting and the fan on the Mini kicks in and it annoys you, then you’ll need to move it someplace where you can’t hear it and get an endpoint for your listening space. But I’m not sure if it makes sense to up convert MQA files - most sound pretty darn good to me after decode and render.

I would try the setup you have now (Mini into Brooklyn +)  before spending any more money - it may be all you need. And, in my opinion, it's a sweet hookup.

Good luck,

Tom

PS: I’ve read a lot about how non-dedicated server/streamers are "noisy" because of all the other unrelated CPU processes being run. I’ve had no issues with my 2012 Mac mini running Yosemite. I sometimes stream video with it to the big TV (via HDMI output). I haven’t ever been able to hear that kind of noise (or fan noise) or experienced issues with the Mac Mini and streaming. Others may disagree and hear stuff - I don’t dispute that. Mine runs very well and I love how silent it is.
The biggest problems with any PC is the power supplies which are very noisy, and ground loops in the USB connection.

Your Mac mini will work fine as a Roon core, but I would recommend a streamer that is not directly attached.  If you are at all PC savvy, consider making a Roon endpoind out of a Pi 4 with Ubuntu.  That's what I use. 
Roon recommends using a separate device for the core and endpoint since the core is much more compute intensive than the endpoint, and thus a device that is doing less computing (and thus theoretically quieter) can handle the endpoint duties to deliver data to the DAC. 

Erik's suggestion of using a Rasberry PI is probably the most cost effective solution for this and many people have found this to be an excellent solution (particularly for the cost). 

I will suggest one other option which can be used your Mac Mini is colocated with your audio system. I replaced my Bryston streamer (a $3K+ device that has a good reputation) with a Denafrips Gaia DDC. This device accepts digital data in numerous different formats (I am using USB from my Roon Rock server) and then outputs in many different formats. In addition to possible format conversion, it's primary functions are noise isolation and reclocking. 

There are a few different companies producing these kinds of devices, but the only one I have experience with is the Gaia. I am connection my DAC using i2s from the Gaia, and the sound quality improvement compared to using the Bryston was VERY apparent. I think a lot of this was switching to i2s which my DAC (Denafrips Terminator at the time, now upgraded to Terminator Plus) seems to really thrive on. 

A conventional streamer may work better in your particular situation, but wanted to offer this as another option to consider.
Roon Nucleus, or even better, an SGC Sonictransporter for your Roon core. Endpoint/streamer of your choice.
https://www.smallgreencomputer.com/collections/music-players
In a roon system the server handles any local music and communication with your streaming service and the player/renderer processes your tracks, and applies DSPs.  

I had a dedicated PC just to running Roon and when I moved from it to a Nucleus+, I was SHOCKED at the difference it made.  Everything became quieter and more dynamic.  

Now, the Nucleus or Nucleus+ are very nice and will connect to your DAC and serve as Server and Player.  I would be surprised if you don't find this to be an improvement over your Mac Mini.  The difference between the two is driven by two factors, library size and whether you intend to apply a DSP to DSD vs PCM or no DSP at all.  

If your library is greater than 120K tracks or you want to use a DSP on DSD, you need the Nucleus+.  Otherwise and Nucleus will be fine.  This is a lovely unit but has limited upgradability.   

Another alternative would be to look at something like an Antipodes S30.  It can server as a player and server but has a nice upgrade path where you can add a second one or an S40 as a separate server and player, it has a separate power supply available and even an external clock available if you ever need one.  
Take a lot of what you read about "noise" in digital with a grain of salt. Do you have a problem now with noise in your system? If not don't sweat it the Mytek is more than capable of dealing with USB. If the fan is audible from the mini then move it to another room and connect it by ethernet and use a roon endpoint like a raspberry pi4 running Ropiee connected to the Mytek or any other endpoint that's roon ready. If having one box is more to your liking there are a number of streamer-dac solutions. 
When I mentioned "noise" I meant the digital one that others speak of, I personally have not heard the fan of my mac mini come on for the files that I have on it, around 10K. And no DSPs as well. 

My objective is to understand if I'm missing out on the sound quality due to the setup I have now, while at the same time not invest a boat load to attain nirvana. If the mac mini is the compromising factor then for around 3-4K move up to the next level. Thanks for the feedback so far. 


I would Stay with your current Mac mini..  Don’t under estimate how good a music server it is. try to split up ports by using thunderbolt and USB. Have you tried an LPS for the PS ? I’m not advocating that as I have not tried it myself on the Mac.. but I am using a SMPS in my other music setup with no negative affects, that was compared to a LPS of the same rating. many swear by the LPS effects on the mini. I use a MBP and a MBA bettering all the various CD players and transport/dac’s I’ve tried, but I did enjoy the Cary 306 SACD player and used it as a DAC for many years, just never trouble free.

Thanks all for your inputs. Anybody has experience comparing the Mytek Brooklyn DAC+ vs the DAC in the T2? 
+1 on the SGC Sonic Transport. I moved off a Mac Mini to that and have been purdy happy.   I am a believer now in getting the Roon Core onto a dedicated music server device.

You could do this combo for fairly cost effective Roon server,endpoint.https://www.smallgreencomputer.com/collections/audio-server/products/essential-server-player-solutio...
Notice how most that moved away from MacMini or similar are happier and that those suggesting sticking with it, haven't tried the more effective alternative?
Running Roon core in a separate room on a Nuc(cheap!), Sonictransporter(medium cost, but play and play) or Nucleus(higher cost) with a renderer/endpoint in the listening room is the solid approach. 
With renderer network player is a topic well covered in many threads. Agree that a good LPS on the renderer is a key factor in getting high sound quality. 
FWIW, I went from MacMini to Sonore microRendu w/LPS to Sonore opticalRendu w/LPS as Roon endpoint and run Roon Core on a SGC Sonictransporter i5 in the other room. Library is on a Synology NAS. Details on my system page.

Straighten out your issue before worrying about DAC upgrade. Hell, in another couple of months, something newer, better, cheaper will always be coming...
Cheers,
Spencer