Streamer vs. new mac mini for 2 channel system

Hi audio friends,

I LOVE the functionality of my mac mini with my 2 channel system: Exasound 62e DAC, Modwright ls100 pre, Coda continuum 8 power amp and Wilson Sabrina speakers.  Being able to navigate with mouse and keyboard from my listening position is infinitely better than using a tablet or some mickey mouse app with my phone.  

The issue is the mac mini.  Clearly this is not the best transport, however I want to use my 2 channel system for more than just streaming roon.  I listen to soundcloud a lot to learn about new music and when I watch tv I want to utilize the stereo for netflix, crave etc.  My Dac has only 1 usb in and obviously an optical + s/pdif, but the fidelity is just not as good with the other inputs.  

I almost pulled the trigger on a Lumin U1 mini, but again I do not see how this transport will improve fidelity, without limiting overall functionality.  How do I bring a new mac mini to a place where it can compete with a dedicated transport like the lumin, or is this even a reasonable suggestion?  

Looking to optimize the system in the most efficient way.
Confused - any suggestions would be much appreciated.

The key benefit of a streamer on SQ is reduced EMI and RFI. In my experience it takes a good amount of workarounds such as USB noise reducers to clean up the quality of output from a computer. Apparently Macs do have less EMI and RFI than do most PCs though.

My suggestion. If you have the Mac already. Bring your digital setup to a dealer and compare to the streamer that he/she is selling. If you hear a difference, consider buying the streamer.

Or, buy a streamer used so you can try it and resell it if you see no benefit over a Mac. FWIW, the Pro-ject Stream Box S2 Ultra has been working well for me for both SQ & connecting to a variety of sources.
+2 on buying a used dedicated streamer and compare to Mini.  I had roon core running on a mini and just got tired of all the upgrades and garbage affecting my rig.  Bought an SGC ST to run the Roon core and put  it in my cabinet and barely have to touch it.  I think its gone through one upgrade.  Mini was doing updates monthly.

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@tvad One solution that I found to optimize sound quality was to turn off the WiFi in my streamer and to use an Ethernet cable connected to a WiFi extender that provides an Ethernet access point. That provides the benefit of not having miles of Ethernet cable in my house, cuts out EMI/RFI running through the Ethernet cable, as well as reducing a source of RFI in my streamer.

The audible improvement over connecting my Pro-ject streamer via WiFi was immediately noticeable and not at all subtle.
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I tried to make my MacMini work with ROON Core (could not install properly) then regular ROON server and client which did install. The crap MAC OS was crashing regularly. I was not sure if it was ROON taking it down or just the OS itself. I removed the MacMini from audio server duties and put my ROON Core onto a DELL mini computer. The DELL is a bit nosier than the MacMini. So I keep the DELL in the closet of another room. I have Ethernet wired streaming using Sonore Rendu products.

I do not recommend MACs for anything other than consumer grade computing tasks.

Fidelity is improved greatly by removing the computer from the DAC. Both my MacMini and DELL never touch the DAC(s) directly. The streamers from Sonore convert from Ethernet-to-USB. Now if you want the best option use fibre optical streaming. It is not too difficult and cheaper than the costly audio optimized music servers. 

BTW - I can use a tablet, phone, and computer for my streaming. I normally use the computer. I use ROON but you could leverage something like Remote Desktop (RDP) to use cheaper software options.
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@steakster’s suggestion sounds like exactly what I'm looking for...

Need to learn more and thank you!
Means to keep macmini, Uptone  Audio MMK internal dc power supply with Uptone JS-2 linear power supply. And then convert to server duty only by turning off all non-critical services, or you can keep general computer capabilities by not turning off services. Requires a modicum of diy ability.
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I cannot speak about the Lumin. However after fiddling with Macs an PCs as streamers / transports for over ten years my streaming end was grossly inferior until I purchases a good dedicated streamer. I just didn’t understand how it could make a big difference. Well, it did and does. My digital end now rivals my analog end. PCs and Macs are very noisy devices and it transmits the noise into the system which translates into inferior SQ which is then amplified. A good streamer is built from the ground up to be quiet. As you go up the chain in streamers much of the cost goes into the power supply and internal isolation. My streamer’s audio circuit actually works on battery power. I highly recommend looking at Aurender. Worthy of buying used for their great sound. Also, everyone likes their iPad / iPhone interface, it integrates all music, streamed and local.
Computer=noise.  Streamer all the way. Plus no upkeep with patches and versions. 
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Build a RasPi for <$100. You can control it any you want but personally I hate being tied down to a Mickey Mouse keyboard and mouse. SQ will blow out yer Mac.
I did the exact same thing with the same result (though with different hardware). Easy and cheap upgrade for sure.
Take a look at the Bricasti dacs-Streamers 
they truly know their digital, used  in many mastering studios around 
the world for their realism in playback ,and having the linear 
streamer and a bunch of pre,post voltage regulation and filtering 
your getting a very clean  digital signal.
“I use this Empirical Audio Off-Ramp 5 between my laptop and DAC. It does exactly what you’re looking for. Substantial improvement - especially, with an aftermarket LPS”.

+1, @ghdprentice.
Using a Laptop or Mac for streaming is equivalent to listening Vinyl on a Crosley. And a ‘device’ to optimize streaming from a PC or Mac is like putting a lipstick on a pig.

Have at it, you will eventually see the day light!
I started with a Mac Mini. Not sure if I had a optimal setup. I bought a modest Bluesound Node 2. Even with it's mediocre onboard Dac, it just blew the Mini away. I hooked up a Ayre Codex dac to the Node2 and have never looked back, although I may look for a quality one box music server such as Lumin or Innuous.
Check out my ad on USA Audiomart for a U-1 mini.  I had it acting as a transport to my Lampizator Pacific DAC.  I have had 4 different Lumin products.  I love the App and the performance
In the past I also wanted a Mac Mini for streaming sollution but a few things kept me back,
First of all the Mac Mini is not passively cooled, meaning that will hear always a hum, or fan blowing when listening to music...
Second is constant change of hardware by Apple, and when you buy a newer version will be probably out already, making it a short therm investment

I found my sollution in the Germany made silent PC's called "Cirrus7"
these 100% silent PC's are configurable when ordering, more memory, better cpu, etc. and they come with Windows or Ubuntu LinuxRoon, JRiver Media Center works on both of these operating systems

Also these PC's have multiple USB portsmaking them excellent Audiophile audio/video streaming PC's

I'm very happy with them, they are rock solid build made in Germany!
Wolf Audio Luna R. Made in the usa. Family biz. And unleash the power of sq of your dac.. also its a super powerful mini computer. 
I think there are a couple of re-clockers and electrical filters you can add between your Mac Mini and your dac. This could improve the sound. 

Sonore also has optical networks that will reduce the risk of any electrical noise going into your dac. A bit expensive but may be a perfect solution.
you are looking at this the wrong way. Its not the Mac that is the issue (in over a dozen years running over multiple Macs, never have had any crashing/issues), its USB. If you look at the different threads about using USB, you will see hundreds if not thousands of $$$ of hardware to try to make USB sound any good. 
The other issue, why would anybody have a computer/streamer (its just a computer running a proprietary OS) in their audio room? Its because most people use USB. 
I've been thru using Macs with pure music/audirvana over a dozen years ago, then went the music server/usb Mac route, then back to using Roon on Mac or linux but using ethernet to the dac.
There are other things to think about like using fiber not copper for internet, never use wifi, and get a good ethernet cable.
If you have to use a server in your audio room, then use I2S instead of USB.

Who says the mac mini is not the best transport? Not me. Many have noted that when you compare power supply noise in major PC platforms Apple is tops for audio, and supports the full HD USB profiles.

Paul McGowan, who sells a transport, uses one at home.

The issue is not the transport itself, but rather clocking and ground noise. Both are handled independently - most transports are not so great in either respect either - jitter for the simple reason that clocking over distance has issues and is better done at the destination than the source - and typically is with USB.

You ought to make sure the USB is isolated from ground; and if you wish to spend money get a good, linear DC power supply for the mini.

I have both.
that is, a Mac Mini and also a streamer/DAC/preamp
(the Matrix Element X), in addition to a now-unused streamer (the Bluesound Node 2i).  FWIW, I almost never use the streaming function of the Element X (even though it's a very good Roon endpoint). The Mini is my usual Roon endpoint. The main reason is to run DSP on the Mac (BACCH4Mac spatial audio processing).  I do also have a separate Roon server, though.

I'm not experiencing (or at least not perceiving) issues with noise, drop-outs, or control functions.  I'll say this, though:  all else being equal, I'd prefer ethernet over USB connections. The problem I've experienced with USB isn't sound quality but reliability.  After a power outage, the USB-connected functions don't necessarily come back up gracefully.  So it sometimes takes a little trouble-shooting.

I just installed DAC between my Mini and pre amp, now I have fully balanced system and result is stunning ! At these moment I don't see reason spending big $$ on streamer that might sound better but if it does I have to convince myself that in fact I can hear difference just so I can justify spending big $$ for not much of the improvement 
FWIW, Apple is rumored to be introducing an all new Mac Mini in the very near future.
10 years ago the Mac Mini was pretty much THE go-to solution for so many of us.

Today I am happy owning a dedicated streamer. It does want to do its firmware updates from time to time, but that's it. It's built-for-purpose and I don't have to deal with the extraneous 'stuff' of OS X.  It's Roon-Ready, and on its own or via Roon integrates the major streaming services.  And it's built by hi fi people and from the ground up is meant to be "hi fi."

Some people are happy or don't mind dealing with the Mini, or maybe have been doing it for 10 years and find no need to change.
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I had an iPad as my source going into my Schiit Yggy via an Audioquest Diamond usb.  Then balanced the rest of the way.

 I got an Innuos Zen MK III on trial and was absolutely floored by the improvements in clarity, transparency and bass dynamics.

iPads and Mac mini’s are full of noise that screws up the SQ.  Find a dealer who will let you try out an Innuos or Lumin and, if the rest of your system is good enough, you should hear a dramatic difference too.

I’ve seen people put tons of money into trying to isolate their Macs and they still suck as a source IMO.
Today I am happy owning a dedicated streamer. It does want to do its firmware updates from time to time, but that’s it. It’s built-for-purpose and I don’t have to deal with the extraneous ’stuff’ of OS X.

Plenty of people on this site , me included, have gone from Mini to dedicated streamer as a progression. How many have gone the other way?

I’ve seen people put tons of money into trying to isolate their Macs and they still suck as a source IMO.
   I can't speak for other people but mine certainly sucked.

In his post, the OP wishes to access URL’s that are not available on dedicated streamers - such as Soundcloud. Yet, seeking to improve the SQ as much as possible - within those parameters.
For me the trade-off would probably have me use AirPlay or similar for 'streaming' that platform to my dedicated streamer.  Soundcloud appears to accept a wide variety of files; for lossy files my solution is better than for lossless. It would come down to how important a lossless non-supported platform was to me.
You got it right. AND a $100 worth of Ras Pi and a good DAC leaves leaves the BluNode behind.
At least I left mine. 
Paul McGowan uses a Mac because he’s an Apple head, he’s had it for years and there’s no money in cheap superior solutions.
Any one who thinks streamers are "big bucks" while Apple is not is non credible.
I was streaming music via Tidal and Qobuz while using my MacBook Pro as my ROON Core. And when I told my hi-fi guy that he asked if I was crazy, or did I just enjoy listening to music whose sound was exceedingly poor. So I bought a ROON Nucleus Rev B, put a 2TB storage card in it, and got an Sbooster 19v LPS to power it. The sound quality is really quite good. Now I can pick up my iPad or iPhone and play music anywhere in my house. 
Lumin D2 user here. 
I’m a retiring IT consultant and hardware person. I have several notebooks around that could be used as a transport feeding a DAC. 
The D2 frees me from messing with a computer tied to my audio system, and the maintenance, updates, and configuration of same. 
I messed with 5 different streamers before I finally bought the D2. 
One small box
Decent app (far from perfect)
Excellent sound quality - easily surpassing what can be stored in a digital file. Upsamples most anything to DSD
Plays most file formats (except for WMA)
Decent price point. 
Requires some sort of UPNP server. I have a Synology NAS which has a basic UPNP server, and the free version of Lumin’s recommendation of MinimServer is available as a “package” from Synology. Takes some messing - especially with a few TB of poorly tagged and mixed file formats. 
As I have cleaned up my music library, I’ve gotten used to the shuffle: UPNP rescan, reload music library, check app for proper tagging, album art, etc. 

Pull the trigger! Open box prices are 10-15% below retail. 
@fuzztone, McGowan uses a Mac Mini until his long promised streamer comes to market.
That’s what I said, Apple. He stresses that the only thing that makes it tolerable is BitPerfect.

BTW I also retired my Synology, a pita.
I have relegated my Synology and QNAP nas boxes to backup duty.  Roon running on a Roon Nuc with ssd's now and a complete copy in Dropbox (although I'm teetering at the 2tb Dropbox limit and last I looked the next size up was a lot more per month as a 'business' account.)
Thank you everyone for your responses.   I think I'm going to get the lumin u1 mini for streaming Roon and find some computer alternative for streaming YouTube, SoundCloud and Netflix etc.  

Does anyone know if I can access the lumin through my laptop? Or does it have to be a tablet, phone etc?

The latter part of my question is still mysterious to me.   Is there a mac option that allows me to use an optical out so I can switch from USB to optical and at least get a half ass signal to my Dac? 

Going full digital is not as convenient as I imagined.
I have just upgraded my MacMini 2012 model which was a dedicated music server having Roon core for my Bricasti DAC M12 with a Roon Nucleus Plus and the performance gain was very noticeable. It was not like a day and night difference but good enough for me to replace the MacMini.
My MacMini was a dedicated music server having Roon core. It had dual SSD drives, one drive dedicated to the OS and the other one had the music files. It had just one user application installed, Roon, and it was configured to stay on forever to ensure no interruption to music. I was using the ethernet route to talk to Bricasti DAC which is also an excellent Roon endpoint. The MacMini was placed in a different room to provide further noise isolation. Additionally I had Etherregen, an audiophile switch from Uptone Audio to filter out all network related noise from getting into Bricasti. I couldn’t be happier with the performance of my digital system and thought that I would have to spend a lot of money buying dedicated music servers like Antipodes or Innuos to beat this performance. However out of curiosity I tried a moderately priced Roon Nucleus Plus unit to compare its performance with MacMini and found it to be quite good. Compared to Nucleus Plus the MacMini sounded thin and edgy revealing the noise issue that most audiophiles attribute it to noisy computer processing environment.
My Nucleus Plus uses a dedicated Linear Power supply Keces P8 which in turn uses a moderately good power cable Nordost Heimdall II to connect to a Nordost distribution box. So there is a difference between MacMini and Nucleus Plus in the way they are powered. Whether a better power supply to the Nucleus Plus compared to the MacMini or Nucleus Plus being a purpose built component or both brings the performance improvement, I don’t know. Further I am not using the USB interface to connect to Bricasti DAC in either case and I have Etherregen in the chain to filter out any Network noise. So, in theory, there shouldn’t have been any performance difference between these two components but there is and I can’t explain the difference. What I can say for sure is that if I didn’t try Nucleus Plus I wouldn’t be dissatisfied with the performance of MacMini at all.

My MacMini 2012 model (with 4 cores) regularly crashed with ROON. Now I was also running Convolution filters at that time on ROON. So maybe my extra requirements was the cause of all the crashes. I switched to a noisier DELL mini computer but put that on in another room.

I also have Fibre Optical streaming to USB. So my computer noise does not get into my DACs.
You might consider using both sources in your system. I also have a DAC with only one input, however the Inday Digital audio Switcher allows you to switch between 4 different digital sources. In my case the Mac Mini, a Node 2i, and Rega CD player. 
Running a Mac Mini as server vs Mac mini with top grade linear power supply is simply not remotely comparable. The issue with mm as server is it requires a lot of diy, not an out of the box solution. Audiophilelifesyle forum will point way to maximize mm as server, steep learning curve. Get it right and you have first rate server, no crashes, no issues. I can run dsd, way oversample, no Roon, Tidal, Qobuz, Synology NAS issues ever. Linear power supplies on ever single streaming component is where it gets really good.
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@tvad-  You can try Keces P8 Linear Power supply or Uptone Audio JS-2 Linear Power Supply. Either one would work but the stock MacMini 2012 model needs an internal power supply upgrade to be able to use the 12V Linear Power Supply input. The Uptone Audio MacMini DC conversion kit would be an easy way to upgrade the internal power supply of a MaxMini 2012 model. Here is the link.
I don't know how to upgrade the internal power supply of a newer version of a MacMini but there are vendors in the market who could do that for you.