In Praise Of The Humble Mac Mini

General belief around these parts is that Tidal lossless offers decent quality, but can’t match downloaded / ripped copies of the same music.

For the past year I’ve owned an entry-level Synology NAS to complement my Tidal subscription. After several experiments with Asset, Minim, Bubble, etc, I’d concur that local streaming does beat Tidal, but not by much. System is N272 / XPS DR / 250 DR.

My next tweak was Audirvana (via Mac OS X), which offered a clear improvement IMO, both for Tidal and locally stored music. On a rainy day last week (and still not satisfied), I dug out an ancient Mac Mini and loaded up some CD rips.

Bingo! With the Synology now out the loop, music was sounding far more natural, with less digital ‘glaze’ – at times even reminiscent of my long-gone LP12 / Prefix / Aro (still my reference for how things ‘should’ sound).

To clarify, I’m using the Mac Mini purely for music storage, connected via ethernet to a Cisco 2960 switch. Audirvana runs on my Macbook, with the various optimisation boxes ticked.

Why an old (2007) Mac Mini should sound so much better than a late-model NAS remains a mystery to me. I know there’s been plenty of praise for this diminutive Apple box as a music server, but still… I’m now at serious risk of falling into the deep rabbit hole of MM tweaks (power supplies, isolation platforms etc.)

I’m also tempted to pick up a less ancient MM (2012-ish?), but worry that a newer model won’t sound as good!

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Another MM fan here.

At first I used it as a silent NAS, running the free Serviio UPnP server software, which worked well with an ND5XS, though no discernible difference in sound quality to a NAS I had used previously.

Then with Audirvana, but I use mine with Audirvana fully optimised (direct mode etc), and with a dedicated USB bus output. When I used a Hugo DAC it needed isolation to prevent Hugo being affected by the inevitable RF content from the computer (I used a Gustard U12), but now with Dave that is unnecessary. I did a very brief comparison of MM+A with Melco N1A into Dave, with no immediately evident difference in sound (through Bryson 4Bst2 amp and PMC Fact 12 speakers in a dealer’s treated room).

Mine is late 2012 model: it has the benefit of non-soldered RAM so easier user upgradability - mine has twin SSDs and expanded RAM (more details in my profile).


I prefer Mac mini to NAS for running music management software too. I use a late 2012 model with 8TB of Thunderbolt disc. I do keep a copy of my music on an Asustor NAS and a couple of off site backups. No Internet required for playing music.

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Just curious if my current setup (music library on Mac Mini, Audirvana on MacBook) might offer any sonic benefits over putting it all on one Mac. (I seem to be applying Naim philosophy to Apple!)

I’ve had to do it this way, as my Mini (OS 10.7) won’t run Audirvana. If / when I pick up a newer MM I can run some comparisons.

I haven’t compared, but MM is said to be better for sound quality than MacBook, with less electrically noisy power supply, and capability to strip back: I run mine ‘headless’, with no monitor or keyboard. It is virtually silent, it’s slow running internal fan needs me to get closer than about 2ft away in a quiet room to hear it, and in its music playing duty with Audirvana, not upsampling or running Audio Units, it has low power consumption and so remains cool and quiet.

The latest model does not have the optical audio out anymore.

Using Audirvana the optical out was said to be not as good as dedicated USB bus, using a separate isolator if the DAC needed, the latter thereby bypassing Mac’s own audio circuitry and drivers. (Info IIRC from Audirvana and also said by some users when I was first setting up.)

Who said it? You can run MacBook from a battery and it has a handy screen and keyboard.

Today I setup Linn DSM to feed Blu2 DAVE with Mac mini running JRiver Network Media Server option. It seems to work very well. Can’t say it has better sound quality as Blu2 DAVE seems transport agnostic. It does let me sync upstairs and downstairs replay.

My view has always been consistent that it is the DAC (including upsampling engine) that determines sound quality rather than what feeds it (MM, MBook, Linn DSM, Melco). I know other can hear differences that I cannot.

I heard no SQ advantage of Audirvana 3.5 over JRiver MC25, but I’m not a Tidal or Qobuz person. I like JRiver Library Manager.

:small_orange_diamond:IB,.You wrote…“I haven’t compared,but MM is said to be better for sound quality than MacBook, with less electrically noisy power supply,”

:small_blue_diamond:@Innocent_Bystander,…If you are using SSD’s in your Mac Mini,then you can mount off the fan (do not do this if you use HDD,.then your MM runs too hot).
It contributes to better soundquality.

You can also pick off your SMPS from your MM, and replace it with an LPS.
It also provides better soundquality.

There is anyway atleast one firm in the UK,.that sells cables and LPS to be able to do this on a Mac Mini.


I use an MM with Audirvana and an ISO regen feeding my Hugo 2. It’s pretty much flawless and sounds fantastic, I doubt I will ever move back to a dedicated streamer.

Peder, thanks for your thoughts. Where the DAC has exemplary rejection of RF, it is doubtful as to whether less noisy power supplies would offer any benefit - which goes for my comment re Mac book as well as thoughts of replacing the MM’s PS. Whilst other DACs are susceptible to RF noise, Dave has been designed with extreme emphasis on RF rejection, so I suspect that replacing the MM’s PS with a linear one may have no benefit. However, if If I was to pursue anything I would go the whole hog and convert to battery operation: relatively simple to do myself. With a suitable capacity battery, recharging when not playing music wouldn’t be a chore and it would have the singular advantage of enabling full ground plane isolation.

I haven’t thought of doing that - but as with the linear PS question, I suspect Dave’s rejection of RF noise may mean any difference would not be audible. If I were to change to battery supply, I would have a go with that at the same time, maybe wiring to an external switch to enable its re-enabling if ever necessary.

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