Advice re Upgrading Digital Front End


I’ve been using a Mac Mini and an older Teac DSD DAC to stream Qobuz along with CDs (aiff) and SACDs (dsf) stored on a local NAS. I use Room as the main interface.

I’d like to eliminate the Mac Mini and move to a dedicated streamer and new DAC or, alternatively, a streamer/DAC combination. This is in part because the thinking seems to be that a dedicated streamer (for various technical reasons) will contribute to better sonics compared to the Mac Mini which might be detrimental. Secondly, the DAC is outdated and can likely be improved. Third, I like the aesthetics of some of the modern streamers with their LCD screens etc.

I’ve moved away from CD players and vinyl (they’re just not for me anymore) and want to setup a digital only/steaming service/local file front end. I can rip Cds, SACDs and vinyl in the event I am looking for a particular mastering etc. These days I tend to stream from Qobuz about 80% more than my local NAS. In that regard, I am somewhat on the fence as to whether streaming from Qobuz and possibly Tidal is really all I need.

I don’t have any experience with MQA, but I think I would like to have the ability to decode it in full. I’d like to retain the ability to play .dsf/SACD files but I’m much less committed to that than I used to be.

As examples, I’ve looked into Bluesound and the Eversolo dmp-a6. The features of the Eversolo seem to check many boxes, however, the reviews are mixed as to the sonics–of course, it could be paired with a new DAC.

All of the foregoing as a long way to get to the point of asking what other’s might consider where better sonics and modern equipment (with en eye to upgrading along the way) are the goals, be it a streamer/DAC or separate devices. My budget would be in the $1000 to $2000 range to start, new or used–although with used I don’t know how long it might take for used equipment to age out. At the higher end I would have to upgrade in steps.

I suppose the options might be to keep the Mac Mini, and improve the DAC; get out of both devices and upgrade gradually (maybe the Eversolo or another recommended device) with a new DAC; or a new steamer/DAC combo (like the Bluesound or Eversolo or something similar). I’ll never have a $10,000 budget for this in one lump sum, but i’d like to get on the road to the best digital front end I can put together. Not sure whether Roon will always be necessary.

My solicitation for advice is the fact that there are just so many products out there that it’s difficult to know what devices to consider and which tones to eliminate.

Any opinions are welcome.



Hello John

Welcome back to the forum.

You might look at getting a Naim DAC, or even a Naim DAC v1, e.g. on eBay or PFM.

To get the best out of these wonderful dacs you would want to combine them with vintage Naim sources and amps, and perhaps even vintage Naim speakers, such as SBLs.

Naim amps can be serviced by Naim and by Darran at Class A hifi in Sheffield, and will give you decades of great listening.

Naim streamers convert DSD to PCM, as discussed here: DSD, where and why do we use it?


Go to a shop and listen to a Naim streamer.

Are you in the U.S.?

Another option is a Naim NAC 272.

I only just spotted that you have a Nait!

Within your budget, you could get NAC 272 into NAP 150X. :notes::dart:

Yes, I am. Near Boston.

Hi John,

What sort of music do you listen to most?

Have you checked in Roon, it might be interesting :wink:


Running Audirvana on a Mac Mini, set up fully optimised and dedicated without screen or keyboard (“headless”), with a dedicated USB bus connected directly to a DAC, is capable of remarkably good sound quality provided that the DAC has exemplary RF blocking, or otherwise inserting a blocker between the Mac and DAC. When I had Chord Hugo DAC I found the inexpensive Gustard U12 to be very effective at providing the necessary isolation). At least that is the case playing music stored within the Mac mini. I don’t know what sound quality is like on music streamed from the Internet because I don’t use it that way other than for sampling of new music, when sound quality is not important. As Audirvana is inexpensive that might be worth exploring first if you have/get a DAC. Re DACs I can recommend the Chord range, from Hugo, Though I’ve heard good reports about the Mojo, the base model below Hugo.

If you are streaming from your own stored music, whether or not as well as online streaming, I recommend a combined store/renderer plus separate DAC. Popular self-contained (less DIY) ones include those made by Melco and Innuos. Also Naim have their own, called Uniti Core, though reports tend to suggest it may not be good as good as some of the others. I did compare my Mac Mini/Audirvana with the base Melco a few years ago, with no evident difference in sound when played through Chord Dave DAC, though that was only a brief comparison.

The DAC is the most significant component in the digital replay, and key to naturalness or otherwise of the sound, harshness, clarity etc, Keeping it separate from the renderer, rather than combining as in a streamer, gives you the flexibility to choose the best sounding DAC to your ears, with flexibility to upgrade just that if you ever wish, and/or flexibility to change the renderer and its software, which can be very significant when streaming online, keeping up when streaming services change and new ones appear


I like fusion and acoustic jazz, smaller scale classical (solo piano, cello, guitar), some classic rock, some folk. I do use Roon with Qobuz.

I run the Mac Mini headless and use Roon to direct the outgoing signal to a USB cable attached, 9-10 year old, Teac UD-301 DSD DAC. I really don’t know whether the Teac is a good dac or not—I bought it for its DSD function. The advice I’ve been offered, which is frequently echoed in the forums, is that power supplies, rf noise, and other interference make the Mac Mini less than optimal, at least when not modified, and also when compared to modern electronics. Also, the Mini I use I’ve had since 2012 although I have upgraded it to the max 16gb of ram and a sd drive. It works flalessly, but I think its time to move on, unless there are really good arguments to buy a 2023 Mini.

My preference would be for a separate streamer and dac, but given budget constraints, I’m interested in the all in one options as well.

I also use a 2012 Mac Mini - the model that was the last of the user- customisable ones (I fitted 2x SSDs and 16GB RAM). Audirvana gives excellent sound quality - I’ve read that Roon’s sound quality isn’t as good as other software, but can’t confirm myself. RF noise can have a negative impact, but as I noted in my previous post that can be blocked very effectively - and with effective blocking the “need” for fancy things like linear power supplies goes away (in any case of hugely doubtful value as computer is a major source of RF - which is true also of streamers, as they are all computers inside with multiple RF frequency generators etc, though the latter have some degree of RF filtering built in, the better ones more effectively than the less good ones, or at least that is my understanding.j Certainly

If/when my Mac Mini dies, which might not be for a long time, I will probably go for something like a Melco, or perhaps better an Innuos, with the same functions of store + renderer so that I can avoid streaming music across a network from my music store. I would not be expecting any significant uplift in sound quality, but perhaps the library software would be better than Audirvana, which would be a bonus, and also being purpose-built would likely be easier for others to deal with should it outlast me. The negative aspect is cost, which I don’t like paying for no or negligible sound improvement!

In case it is of interest, before Mac Mini I used the Naim ND5XS (mk1), fed from a cheap NAS. Adding Chord Hugo DAC (in place of a disappointing attempt at upgrade with an XP5XS power supply), using the ND5XS front end doing the rendering, gave a marked improvement in sound quality to my ears, noticeably more natural sounding.

The cheap NAS was noisy (acoustically), so I replaced it with a Mac Mini running free Serviio file serving software, still into ND5XS and Hugo. With thar setup I tried Audirvana on the MM in place of ND5XS doing the rendering and it was disappointing - but having read about Hugo’s significant susceptibility to RF, I took a punt on the Gustard U12 and it worked wonder. MM/Audirvana was certainly no worse than using ND5XS for rendering, and I felt marginally better though it was hard to pinpoint in what way. The combination of Mac Mini+Audirvana+Gustard+Hugo cost less than the ND5XS plus a silent NAS to replace my cheap noisy one, and with the benefit of better sound quality I was very happy! (Later I upgraded Hugo to Dave, and the rest, as they say, is history).

What does the Gustard do? My dac is a usb dac (also coaxial and optical) and connects directly to a usb port on the mini. I looked at one but can’t see how it connects to the mini. If I understand correctly, the dac connects to the Gustard and the Gustard to the mini?

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It’s an isolator/converter: USB in, S/PDIF, optical and AES/EBU. I used the S/PDIF it Hugo. Some people said the optical sounded better.
I don’t use it with Dave

Good questions John, I think I have some understanding of where you’re coming from (except for the Roon bit).

Some notes of the bat: In my opinion Mac stuff is wonderful, Audirvana 3.5 is great, keeping things simple is what I learned, and your budget is ample to do so.

My history was my older thick Macbook Pro 15" updated with 16Gb ram and a 1Tb Crucial ssd. Running Audirvana 3.5 playing my AIFF cd-rips and Qobuz. Via a 2 meter Chord usb cable into a Naim DAC-V1, which uses the Audiophilleo asynchronous-usb interface. It just works and sounded really great in the best Naim tradition.
Almost two years ago I compared that to a ND5 XS2, with the cd-rips on a usb stick and also using Qobuz. It was the same style of sound just significantly better. And more elegant through the Naim app on a basic iPad instead of having my MacBook around with the usb-cable.

Hence my two recommendations: Either replace the Mac Mini with a cheap-as-chips 2013 onwards Macbook Pro 15" running the Audirvana 3.5 on your screen. Pair it with a used Naim DAC-V1 at around $1100, plenty of those around, and budget Chord cables. The alternative: look carefully for a used/demo Naim ND5 XS2 at around $2200. Bought one myself and can very much recommend it.

Hope this helps, good luck!

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Thanks for your feedback. I use the mac mini headless running roon which I control with the ipad app. I also have Audirvana 3.5 installed which I can also control with the ipad. One of the advantages of Roon is that it also streams my local radio stations, which, if I remember correctly, Audirvana doesn’t.

How would a macbook pro differ from my current setup?

My preference would be for someone to tell me that the mac mini isn’t really as weak a link in the chain as I’ve read it to be so that I can put my money toward the best dac I can afford. Innocent_Bystander suggested a dac with rf isolation or something like the Gustard U12 as remedies for any rf problems (if I understand correctly, the Gustard is placed in between the mini and the dac, which in this case, would have to connect to coaxial or optical inputs because the Gustard does not appear to have a usb input).

I was hoping that keeping the mini in place (at least for the time being, or performing some modest upgrade to it) and getting the best dac I can afford would be the best way to move upward sonically. Right now, the Roon app on my ipad works perfectly. My assumption has been that the dac makes the most difference, and hence my quest for a good dac. However, I recognize that there are differing opinions on that.

For example there’s a Chord Hugo 2 for $1300 and a Naim Dac V1 for $1200 in my area. My assumption would be that keeping the mini and upgrading to the Chord or Naim would be the right approach.

Hello :slightly_smiling_face:
You can remove the internal power supply from your Mac Mini and replace it with an external linear power supply.

Then also remove the fan from your Mac Mini,.you don’t need it if you remove the internal power supply.
These two actions will significantly improve the sound quality of your Mac Mini.

AND,.2012 Mac Mini is perfect to do this on,.instructions are on Youtube.
A simpler linear power supply like the one in the picture is enough…
VoltCraft FPS-1134.
Then you can spend a larger part of your budget on a DAC.

Right. This. This is precisely why you get ill fitting advice or read things people telling you that you don’t want to hear. And if you follow through, you will be disappointed.

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Mac can be a good front end but not with roon in my experience. I ran a 2012 into a Hugo 2 for quite a while with a noise reducer in between and it was very capable but you need Audirvana rather than roon if you want the best quality.

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It doesn’t have a built-in power supply and you can even run it on battery. You can see Audirvana on your screen. The architecture of the old 15" Pro has a higher level processor and architecture with big throughput and buffers everywhere. At the time I did the comparison iMac/Mini/MBP15 as I had all three at home. To my ears there was an audible difference in favour of the latter into the DAC-V1.

Just to clarify my earlier comment. Nowadays I would do a streamer anyway, the tech has moved on.