My Mac Mini music server (by Peter Truce)

mini-music.jpgI thought I would post what I having been experimenting with for a music server.  I started with an Intel Duo-Core Mac Mini that I purchased on Amazon last December for $550.00 (no tax or shipping).  I upgraded it with a 60GB solid state drive (SSD) from NewEgg.com that was $150 delivered.  Also added 4GB of memory which cost $40.  The SSD seemed to improve the sound, but I was unable to A/B it so not really sure.  Lee Mincy who is running one of those fanless all-out pc’s and the Berkeley dac, tried an SSD and felt if the song was played from it there was definitely and improvement.  In any event, it appears to be faster.

I store my music files on an Iomega Home Server, 360GB.  They had them on sale last December for $80.  It will not do AFP so I am connecting to it as an SMB server.  As long as the music server is the only one connecting to the drive, it works flawlessly.  If another user tries to use it, it suffers dropouts.  If I were going to use multiple users, I would use a LaCie 500 GB, cost $150.  I purchase smaller drives and replace them often rather than buy giant drives and wait for them to fail.  So far my strategy has worked.

As you may infer, I wanted to do this cheap as I am not totally convinced that the quality of the server is up to my vinyl rig.  So far, it has been a total barrel of fun.

The Mini is really a connection machine:

mini.jpg

photo courtesy of Apple’s web site.

As you can see, 4 USB ports, a firewire port and an optical port hiding in the headphone jack.  In addition, it also has Ethernet, Blutooth and Wi-Fi.

You can connect the Mini to a Chord dac with Blutooth, to other dacs with either usb or optical and probably connect other devices with eithernet (Squeezebox) and wi-fi – just haven’t tried that yet.

I can control the mini with my Treo cell phone under Bluetooth using the Salling Clicker program, $23.95:

http://www.salling.com/Clicker/mac/

The program will display iTunes on the phone including album art.  It will search iTunes using its own search program which can be slow if there is a lot of music – my library is approx 10,000 songs, 225GB.  The better way is to setup Playlists and then select them.  It is loads of fun to play with.

You could also control the Mini with an iPhone or iPod Touch with wi-fi and probably have a more stable longer range connection.  Haven’t tried that as I am waiting for my Verizon contract to end.

The Mini also comes with its own IR remote and mini media program, Front Row.  I have the usb out going to my tube dac and my 2 channel system and the optical port goes to my 5.1 home theatre system.  When using the 5.1 system, I sometimes run the Front Row program which works pretty well.  The display of iTunes changes every few seconds so that one doesn’t burn one’s plasma, which is good for my ISF calibrated 58” Samsung.

The output is controlled by an Apple Utility program called Audio Midi.  You can use this program to change the output, say from usb to optical or Firewire.  The program reads the receiver chip in the dac apparently and you can see the highest rate possible with the dac by clicking on the properties button:

The Mini can also record high def video over the air with EyeTV and do the other more mundane Mac things.

But if you are missing Windows, the Mini will also boot natively in XP or Vista using the included Boot Camp program.  You have to allocate part of the hard disk which it does on the fly with no data lass and you have to supply the Windows program of at least XP service pack 2 or higher – you cannot go XP only and upgrade.  I can confirm it works well with XP service pack 3 as I use Windows to run the XTZ room measurement program.

Currently my dacs are limited to 24/96 and I can play the Reference Recordings 24/176.4 music but down converted to 24/96.  I have not purchased a better dac yet as I believe that field is still pretty fluid.  It appears from reading this thread on Audio Asylum:

http://www.audioasylum.com/forums/pcaudio/messages/4/45388.html

that the high end audio world may be waiting until Windows can output 24/192 through usb without custom drivers ala Emu and others.  Probably a good business decision, but it doesn’t really effect the mac world as we already can do this, albeit with custom drivers for firewire.

Bob and Ori at the last demo had indicated that the Mini could output 176.4 through the optical port without custom drivers, but it was not reliable.  Bob can you further expand on this with your experiences?  Also, Gordon Rankin of Wavelength has posted that the Mac can output 24/192 through usb without custom drivers now,  just no dac to take advantage of it yet.  Seems like a great business opportunity.

[Actually, it's the Fireface 400 that can output up to 192khz on optical, but most receivers only go to 96khz reliably. - Bob]

The Mini has been running 24/7 for the last 40 days or so with no problems.  I am having a ball using it as it sounds pretty good and the convenience and “toy factor” is outstanding.  If you haven’t checked out computerAudiophile.com or the PC Audio forum at audioasylum.com, they both offer a wealth of info and plently of people ready to answer your questions.

The next project wil be to see if I can record my vinyl with the Mini and higher quality than my current Alesis Masterlink recorder.  There is a new program Pure Vinyl from Channel-D that looks pretty cool.

[Thanks, Peter. Hopefully more members will donate tips and reviews for BAASnotes!]

Monday, February 9th, 2009 Equipment, Music Server

1 Comment to My Mac Mini music server (by Peter Truce)

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