Setting up a Mac mini as a music server, and other digital music questions

Hi All,

I'm sure this topic has been covered a bazillion times before, but thought I'd ask the Audiogon community as I don't see much up-to-date info on the web. I just purchased a DAC (Ares II) and my old Macbook Air that has been serving as my music server won't run the latest Mac OS, so probably time for a replacement. I'd like to set up a computer to store my music files on SSD, and probably handle some high-res streaming down the line. I'm currently subscribed to Apple Music, and seems hard to get out of the Apple ecosystem.

What does everyone recommend to get the best sound? Mac Mini + some kind of music software/service into the DAC?

Thanks for your help!
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Congratulations on your purchase of Ares II. Great sounding DAC, personally I would not use Mac-mini or MAC book as your source for music. Look into Aurender N100H or Innuos Zen MKII used or new and sign up for Tidal or Qobuz for high resolution streaming. Both of these components also offer internal storage for your music. 

I used to be in Apple eco-system and have not looked back since switching to Aurender 5 years ago. A dedicated server or streamer will yield much better sound with Ares over Mac-mini or any laptop. 
I think the Mac mini is an excellent choice as a music server at this point on your hi-fi journey. You already know how to run it. It runs headless and can be accessed easily from any other Mac on the same network. It can run other music streaming services and can also be an excellent source for video streaming since it has an HDMI port. I have a wireless keyboard and Magic Mouse and watch YouTube videos and concerts. Austin City Limits is a favorite.

At some point you may wish to have a dedicated music server built for that purpose exclusively. That Mac mini will still have value. It's versatile, so finding a buyer for it will be easy and thus offset part of the cost of a dedicated streamer. 

Good luck. 
I also don't see any significant reasons not to simply upgrade your computer since that's what you're currently using and probably has the most convenient upgrade path. I also don't see any issue with staying within the Apple ecosystem, and all of the other music streaming services have Apple client applications anyway.

There are other options but it can get confusing and will require you to learn a new UI to play your music.
Get the most from your DAC, buy a purpose built music server.  The better the server the better you DAC will sound.   Something like

get Roon and Qobuz/Tidal and get going!
Hi All,

Thanks for the helpful replies. Actually hadn't realized how far behind I was with the times. I've always focused on speakers and my amp, and not given much attention to the source, with the idea that I'd get everything else sounding good first. So - my new plan is to go with Tidal -> Bluesound Node 2i streamer -> Ares II DAC -> integrated tubeamp (Reisong Boyuu A50 - taking a chance after watching Audiophiliac review) -> GoldenEar Triton 2+.

Will see if it all works!
I use a Mac Mini with Channel D's Pure Music. This is the program Michael Fremer uses. I use a 6 TB hard drive and a USB to SPDIF converter. The sound and features are excellent and Channel D's customer service is excellent. There is only one problem. There is a port leak that causes the program to crash every three hours. This is an Apple problem they say will be fixed soon. It does not occur with the older operating systems. 
Get a proper server: I changed from a tricked out Mac Mini (mach2music) to an Innuos Zenith Mk3 and there is no comparison. The Mini suffers from too much noise and vibration everywhere and all the tweaks (isolation platform, LPS et al) can’t do enough to clean it up.
I use a Mac Mini as a server with a DAC and have for years.  I started with a Windows based machine and a wazoo sound card back when streaming was in it's infancy.  My first DAC was a Audio Alchemy Digital Decoding Engine V1.1 and I've changed/upgraded DAC's many times. Since going to Apple my interface has remained pretty much the same, iTunes in Gird now Swinsian in grid mode. By staying with the combination of a Computer & DAC  and avoiding the single box upgrade game  and I've been able to reach into the lower end Esoteric DAC. That said, I'm done with Apple Products and their Eco system. My next computer will have Ubuntu on it.
Mac Mini on Google MESH runs Roon with Qobuz & Tidal.  UpTone LPS 1.2 powers Senore ultraRendu with USB through an Ayre QB-9 DSD DAC and balanced analog to an Ayre A7e integrated amp driving KEF LS50s.  Sounds very good to me.

I have used a Mac-mini for a long time as my music server. And is old enough (HighSierra) it will not support the newer IOS. 
I run the music through a toslink connection to a Cary Xciter DAC.
Audirvana software to my ears is the bomb.
I see no reason to change.

Seriously listen to a Lumin, Innuos, Aurender, Auralic server and you‘ll never go back to the Macmini
A Mac mini is $699 and most of those servers are several thousands of dollars. A raspberry pi or volumio is probably a better comparison/alternative. 
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Hello JoshinDC, I do not have a solution for your question, but a question myself. May I ask for your expertise and guidance? ow can I connect my music collection on a FLAC USB to my pre-amp listed here? My sound system is an early 80s ‘stack’ system.

None of the components are digital: Bryston 2B solid state amp, Conrad-Johnson PV-11 pre-amp, MIT 330 interconnects, MusicWave phase-equalized speaker cables, California Audio Labs CD Alpha and Delta drive, Dual 1129 turntable. B&W 803 speakers.

I would appreciate your suggestions and guidance on the matter.Thank you.

Mark Saracino

@sar67 assuming "FLAC USB" means a USB drive like an external hard disk or stick, you need a DAC or network streamer or processor/receiver that accepts USB drives. The analog output of that unit would then go into your pre-amp, alongside your CD player and turntable.

I’m a bit out of touch on PC audio, I’ve hardly changed much in the 10+ years I’ve been in it. I don’t stream, I acquire music in a few ways and keep it on a hard drive. Currently over 2 TB. I started with a Mac Mini and the two I now use are vintage 2011 & 2014. I use iTunes mainly for it’s library. I use Audirvana Plus. 

What I thot I learned when I started this is that there are two basic stages, the digital and the analog. In the digital phase the objective is to acquire the best source you can and then not allow it to degrade on the way to the analog stage. Supposedly Apple did this. If this is true and the original source is not degraded then what would be better by another alternative. Before going to PC audio I was big into dCS and upsamplng. If  something like that is “making it better” I think that is a different issue. If this is not true I’d like to understand what happens to degrade the signal.

I currently use the Esoteric D-07x as my dac. I like to believe that from the dac on what you spend is worth the added cost. For digital I use MC 501 monos for amps and MIT cables, for analog VPI,  Atma-sphere amps and Audioquest cables. Vandersteen Quatro speakers for both. It’s clear to me the cables and speakers have a big impact, the amps I might fail a listening test. 

So I’ve been with Apple since around 2008. In addition to the Minis I’ve two desk tops and an Ipad. All vintage around 2011 to  2014. All work fine for what I do. Apple disabled my Ipad and when I called them they said sorry nothing we can do (meaning there is nothing they are willing to do.) YouTube solved the problem.

I heard something on a business channel that made the picture clear, Apple sees the future where they offer hardware as a service so you pay a monthly charge for your equipment and replace it every couple of years. That leaves me out.

So now for my question. With what I’m doing I think the minis will need to go. Probably iTunes as well as Apple is dropping it. Given what I currently have in the iTunes library what would be good alternatives for removing the Apple piece and not losing the iTunes library? Appreciate any thots. Thx.


There is a problem in the system you posted above as your plan.
It shows two DACs sequentially in your signal path:  The Bluesound Node 2i feeding the Ares DAC is redundant and inoperable.  You don't need the Bluesound if you have the properly configured Mac-Mini and your Ares.


I think using a Mac Mini is fine, especially if only using for music playback, get one of these 

between Mini and dac and you be fine, later you could always update to something else if need be.

@hortense   the component that makes the biggest difference to a digital signal is jitter which when taken away to appreciable levels makes you do a double take. I would advise you to look at all digital insertions to see how you can make each of these display as little as possible.  

I recently removed an ultraRendu and LPS 1.2 and now go USB direct from a Mini to an asynchronous Ayre QB-9 DSD DAC then balanced analog through an Ayre KX-5xeMP preamp to a pair of Parasound JC 1 monoblocks driving KEF LS50s. I think the sound is excellent with less clutter.

I had my old MacBook Pro as the source on my system, using a Halide Bridge USB-SPIDF converter to my Dac. Had ALAC files on iTunes, a few 24/96 files and Tidal playing through Audirvana. Was pretty happy with what that gave.


Had considered upgrading to a Mac Mini. That certainly would improve things, but aware there would still be limitations to this.

Have ended up changing to a Project Stream Box Ultra 2, with positive reviews, small footprint, and two USB inputs for external drives.

A stock mac mini may or may not be upgrade from any other general service computer. Only highly  modded mac mini is worthwhile as a top notch server. I'd pick a NUC over stock mac mini or any other general service computer for that matter.

I’ve been using a mini with hdmi out to my Oppo 205, then balanced out to the pre-pro. I have Roon on the mini, and it is very stable. I’m sure it’s far from the last word in source quality, but I’m clueless as to what next step I’d take. Reliable ease of use is primary, I’ve gotten used to that:)

I used USB from the Mini to the Oppo 205 then balanced to JC 1 monoblocks.  The sound was very good with minimal clutter.  Replacing the the 205 with the Ayre QB-9 DSD DAC and Ayre K-5xeMP preamp certainly improved the sound, but it did add a bit of clutter.  I decided the improved sound was worth the clutter, i.e., the DAC and another pair of XLRs.  I didn't try HDMI from the Mini to the 205.

Josh your plan is sound the only suggestion I would make is Qobuz over Tidal. Otherwise enjoy and happy streaming!