Advice re Upgrading Digital Front End

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.

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.

So perhaps this thread is also of interest to you @jlhi2001 - another Mac Mini / Sonos / Roon user and discussions on the Innuos Zen MK3. Hope you keep us posted on your next moves, good luck!

@daddycool Thanks for prompting me (again) .
Just quickly read the thread and got the idea. Here’s my " two pennies worth "…

Mac Mini as Source
IMO, the Mac mini is a decent digital source. Maybe consider just adding the best DAC you can afford.

[ Note : You may already be aware that a “connectivity solution” might be required, between Mac mini and external DAC. Such as the Gustard already suggested in one approach. Maybe check with a local audio dealer, when looking at DAC’s ]

For new pieces, consider the Chord Quest, which is such excellent value and a brilliant DAC (at that price point). It’s small enough to hide out of the way, if you prefer.

For pre-loved, the local Chord Hugo @ $1,300 looks a good option
If you can find a pre loved Naim DAC (nDAC) that might be a nice option too

Would it be possible for you to use such a streamer (over your LAN) with your Mac Mini ?
Take a look at two products : (1) Innous Pulse Mini ; (2) Naim ND5 XS2.

Upgrade Note : It’s possible to improve the basic Pulse Mini with two further steps : (1) add the Innous external LPSU. (This is maybe not widely known yet, but the ZENmini LPSU also works with the Pulse Mini too ; (2) add a better external DAC, (such as a Chord Qutest or a Hugo)

Ripper / Server / Streamer
If you wish to consider a separate and dedicated music server, you can’t do much better than an Innous ZENmini, (at about £1k). It acts as a ripper / server. It also has a streamer included, allowing connections over the internet to online streaming platforms such as Qobuz, etc. Lastly, it has a built in DAC, providing an analogue audio output. So it’s a complete audio source by itself too.

Upgrade Note : The ZM also allows several upgrades, if you wish to improve things, by adding : (1) an external LPSU (2) a better external DAC, (such as a Chord Qutest or a Hugo).

FWIW, I use mine with a Naim DAC (nDAC) which can be found pre-loved for £1,000 or so.

The ZM also works well with Roon.

As well as suggested options for you, also pointed out how that option might grow, with additional upgrades steps to improve SQ.

This thread might be useful as background reading…

Hope that all helps?
Good luck with your journey.


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As you mention that you like the idea of a streamer with a display, here is something else to consider: The Atom Head Phone Edition (or Atom HE). That gives you the same streamer as the ND5XS2, but with a display, the same DAC, and throws in a very good headphone amp. It also costs less than the ND5XS2.

If it is just the DAC you want to upgrade for now, Naim don’t make a standalone DAC, but you can find many reviews of Topping (for example) which are state of the art, don’t cost too much, and they are easy to obtain new in the US. Personally, I like the Naim streamer user interface, so I stick with that, but you really need to ‘test drive’ the software/interface more than the DAC. Getting a great DAC is easy these days.


Sure, lots of DAC options available.
Chord Qutest and Hugo work well :+1:

The Naim DAC (nDAC) is also an option, if you can find a pre-loved example.

Best wishes

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I decided to go with a new dac, I ordered the new Denafrips Ares 12th-1 R2R dac. I’ll start there and think on the transport side of things for a while. The mini works well and does what I want it to do. The Ares is a dac only, no preamp/headphone features. In my situation, I think the separate dac/streamer makes the most sense right now. While there may be technical reasons, such as rf noise etc, to move from the mini, functionally it works well, and I think it does sound better with Audirvana.

My interest in a streamer probably has more to do with moving to a device intended for audio use only—that can wait for now. I’ll put aside for now the question as to what impact a streamer may have on audio quality.

That one gets good reviews (ASR for example), so I’m sure you will be happy with it. See you in two years…:smile:

What about usb cables?

Good to read you found a way forward! Hope we didn’t confuse you too much :wink: Enjoy the dac.

That question is worth a thread of its own, and there have been many such threads.
In a Naim context at my level I always use either Naim cables or the basic offerings from Chord Company. So in this case the C-USB, leaves the house sound intact.
Since you didn’t pick a Naim or Innuos dac and/or streamer, you’re probably moving in a different direction anyway. Something more exotic may then be in order for the cabling as well. Good luck!

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I know there are various lines of thought as to the use of computers as servers—issues of power supplies, rf noise, interference from apps and services, wireless, etc. and some of the solutions—from modifications, to exclusive modes to don’t use them at all.

Having decided to move away from vinyl and CDs, my goal is to start piecing together a good digital only internet and local file streaming front end. I suppose I could, but really don’t want to, get involved in applying fixes to problems associated with the mini. First there’s the learning curve then the implementation. As to the mini, it performs well, as to the degree of sonic improvements that might be realized from a change to anything there, I’d rather move to a dedicated server or streamer. But right now the new dac will be the first step in the process.

After that there are the issues of wired v. wireless connections to the router. Right now it’s wireless and I would have to get a cable into the wall for a wired connection. Some servers, like the Lumins, I believe, are wired only. So, there are those issues. Maybe a wireless extender wired to a computer/streamer is a solution.

Then there’s drive enclosures and ssd drives vs. my aging western digital NAS drives.

Roon ready? I don’t know—I do think Audirvana has better sonics than Roon, or at least differences which I prefer. Roon is a great library management app though and Audirvana is a computer only app, so any non-Roon ready or sans Roon streamer/server option will entail the use of a proprietary app or Roon. I imagine it’s possible that Roon’s impact on sonics might not be as much of an issue with a Roon ready device vs. a computer—idk.

All the above being considered, I’m interested in hearing thoughts on what’s worth doing a not doing. I went with the Denafrips primarily because it had pretty good reviews and was budget friendly. This leaves room to consider transport alternatives or peripheral upgrades. There are plenty of Bluesound dealers around here, but not all that many who sell stand alone dacs and streamers. There might be two Naim dealers, a third if I travel out of state, but they probably offer the same products and new products aren’t so budget friendly. The same is true with other higher end products. I could go listen to dacs and buy what might be considered comparable used products. But I really do have an aversion to using a dealer to audition products I intend to purchase online. I just can’t do it.

My upgrade path will be incremental and will involve sorting out a few baseline considerations. But have to start somewhere.

Here’s an interesting journey:

(For anyone who reads this it’s only an example of an approach to digital not an endorsement of digital vs. vinyl)

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