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Laptop v. Desktop - Audiophile Music Server

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I recently read some discussions about using a laptop v. a desktop and many people are saying desktops sound better in audiophile music systems. I think a laptop running on batteries would be pretty hard to beat. I really can't think of a solid reason why the desktop would sound better. I have a few small possibilities, but they are not even worth mentioning. Let's assume everything is going to an external DAC.





- Chris

Computer Audiophile | Turn Down The Silence


Founder of Audiophile Style | My Audio Systems AudiophileStyleStickerWhite2.0.png AudiophileStyleStickerWhite7.1.4.png

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I bought a Macbook a few weeks ago to use exclusively as a music server. I already had a PS Audio Digital Link III and I needed at least 350Gig to store all my music. I already had about 120Gig of Apple Lossless so a Mac product seemed the way to go.


As far as Macbook vs MacMini goes, the Macbook already has wireless, a display, keyboard, and a mouse. I'm using 2 WD 500gig Mybook hard drives for storage.


How does it sound? Very nice! I was using a Primare CD21 as a transport and the Macbook brings more detail to the music, but at the cost of less bass and less slam. The display sleeps after about 15 minutes and I can turn wireless off to eliminate any RFI. The Macbook is virtually silent if I'm not ripping music. I am reluctant to invest any money in an expensive disc player right now as its obvious everything is going to a computer based format.


The rest of my system is:


MacIntosh C220

Macintosh 252

Sonus Faber Cremona Auditors

PS Audio Digital Link III


Oppo 980

Technics SL-1210 M5G KABUSA

Guerrilla Audio Cables


Great Site! I look forward to more posts!



McIntosh C500T&P, MC501s, Sonus Faber Cremona M, Ayre QB-9, Oppo BDP-83 Mac Mini

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Hey Gonzo - Welcome and thanks for becoming a pioneering member. Great post, all the details are awesome.


I agree the MacBook is the way to go. I am considering the PS Audio DAC that you are using along with the PS Audio headphone amp. It is nice to read that it is a good sounding unit. I have to say I am really jealous of your current system. You are absolutely correct that computer based is the way everything is going. Even the big format war between HD-DVD and Bluray is not that important. They will be the last physical disc formats and won't be around that long.


I highly suggest you read my article on Linn Records audiophile downloads and try them yourself. These are absolutely great recordings and really got me believing in computer based audio as a true audiophile solution.


Thanks again for joining the group!


- Chris

Computer Audiophile | Turn Down The Silence


Founder of Audiophile Style | My Audio Systems AudiophileStyleStickerWhite2.0.png AudiophileStyleStickerWhite7.1.4.png

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I went with a Mac Mini.

I had a Keyboard, Monitor and Mouse. I added to two Seagate 750 gig. external storage drives. One for music storage and playback and the other for backup. I connect with USB to a HagUSB converter then SPDIF into my DAC. My older DAC does not have a USB input. The total cost was around $1400.00 and it sounds pretty good. It is so easy to access and play music I do not use my high $ multi format disc player anymore. I am thinking about selling it soon.




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Thanks for the new audio site and the place to just talk about/ find out about what others who appreciate great sound are doing these days - found this site from a usenet post-. I too believe that the days of dedicated hardware music playback devices are numbered. There will of course always be the 'hardware' there, but more and more it will be just something to ease or enable the use of the software and amplify the media that makes it all possible.


I think that it makes little difference whether a laptop or desktop is used. The key to the best sound definitely seems to me to be external DAC's (and ADC's). Admittedly while my (growing) setup is intended more for content creation. It sounds very nice for playback too. Let me share a bit of it:


The sound unit is an RME Fireface 400 firewire sound 'card' - this can be connected to either my desktop Windows PC or my MacBookPro - to me it sounds identical either way.


This normally, but doesn't have to, output to one of two 16 channel mixing boards (Mackie or Behringer)


The amplification is usually an old QSC MX700 (for live audio ruggedness), but can also be my vintage US made Marantz 250 amp (I love this thing). Don't get me wrong - I love tube sound too. I just don't own any right now.


This power then pushes my early 1990's Klipsh LaScala speakers. I do have other speaker setups, but vastly prefer the Klipsh when properly 'tuned in' for the source and room.


Everything is connected with shielded pro-level connectors and the system is designed to run at +4dbU rather than the usual consumer -10dbV


I guess what I am most interested in learning about and doing next is setting up a 'real' server for efficient handling of the files for both playback of media and the management of created content. Notice that I keep not limiting 'media' to just audio though.... hmmm: MacMini and OSX server anyone?




"There are only two kinds of people: Those who understand binary and those who don't"

hear here


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Thanks a lot Mark! Those are the kind of details people need and the kind of details that are hard to find out there. I too love the old school equipment like your Klipsch and Marantz 250. If it sounds good don't change it!


Do you want to elaborate on your thoughts about setting up a "real server"? This could be a great discussion that many people are wondering about, but have yet to find the answers. I think the Mac Mini and MacBook platforms are certainly the way to go.


Thanks again Mark!


- Chris

Computer Audiophile | Turn Down The Silence


Founder of Audiophile Style | My Audio Systems AudiophileStyleStickerWhite2.0.png AudiophileStyleStickerWhite7.1.4.png

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  • 2 months later...

why use a macbook when a desktop will outlast a laptop if it is constantly on. have you ever felt a macbook after it has been on for a while? they get pretty hot whereas the mac mini, imac, or macpro don't get that warm. i have 1 of each. plus, the cost of a mini is 1/2 to 2/3 the price of a laptop. i use my mac mini as a music server along with multiple airport express units wired and wireless throughout the house. i control the mac mini itunes from a macbook or an ipod touch from different rooms. in my den, i use an audio alchemy dti device to reduce jitter before going into dac using a digital coax cable. very nice sound.


also, using a mac mini in different rooms in your audio cabinets, you can share the central itunes repository and the mini can be used to surf the net or do other functions.


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Hey rs350z - I think the mackbook is an attractive option because it has the built-in monitor and fits in with the other equipment very well. The macbooks do get pretty hot, but I think any unit will be in sleep mode for most of its life.


Anway, I'm glad you have a great sounding system and I think many readers are actually going the same route you went. Thanks for your opinion rs350z.


Founder of Audiophile Style | My Audio Systems AudiophileStyleStickerWhite2.0.png AudiophileStyleStickerWhite7.1.4.png

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hey Chris. Now that you don't own it any more I can tell you that your Lexicon universal player was a Marantz in a very nice box. Absolutely no changes made to anything other than cosmetics. Sometimes high end is very nice. Sometimes it is scary. The Marantz was a decent piece. It's just that the cosmetics were very expensive.


Audio Research DAC8, Mac mini w/8g ram, SSD, Amarra full version, Audio Research REF 5SE Preamp, Sutherland Phd, Ayre V-5, Vandersteen 5A\'s, Audioquest Wild and Redwood cabling, VPI Classic 3 w/Dynavector XX2MkII

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  • 2 years later...

Hey Guys,


I am in the process of setting up a high end audiophile purely digital source for music. I am not sure if you know it, but the end of spinning media as input devices for music is near at hand. There are companies offering downloads of music in 24bit96khz to 24/192 format as WAV and FLAC etc. The sound of these is incredible compared to standard CD format. So, what you need is a high quality sound card such as from Digigram - these run you around $300 and up, so if you are serious about your music, then these cards are for you. Don't even think USB if you are an audiophile.


So, now we have the sound card which could be for laptop if you have PCMICA slot, or desktop. I take it that your computer has decent hard disk space. The next thing that you will need is software to playback FLAC or WAV; MediaMonkey, or Foobar is pretty good.


An external DAC of your choice that has digital inputs. The output of the DAC will feed into a preamp etc. Mine is setup to a STAX earspeaker system, so the DAC output goes to the STAX driver amp unit.


All of this in terms of sound quality would be equivalent to maybe $20,000 traditional equipment to get similar quality in sound.


All the equipment that I listen to is modified to sound as close to live music as possible.


I hope this puts you on the path to high end music.


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My only hesitation about using a laptop/desktop would be the fan noise. I use a fanless "desktop" (it actually has some notebook parts in it) as it is next to my listening position.


I think the position of the computer is critical in computer audio setups. (Obviously one way of overcoming this is remote computer/wireless, which doesn't apply to you.)




Main listening (small home office):

Main setup: Surge protectors +>Isol-8 Mini sub Axis Power Strip/Protection>QuietPC Low Noise Server>Roon (Audiolense DRC)>Stack Audio Link II>Kii Control>Kii Three BXT (on their own electric circuit) >GIK Room Treatments.

Secondary Path: Server with Audiolense RC>RPi4 or analog>Cayin iDAC6 MKII (tube mode) (XLR)>Kii Three BXT

Bedroom: SBTouch to Cambridge Soundworks Desktop Setup.
Living Room/Kitchen: Ropieee (RPi3b+ with touchscreen) + Schiit Modi3E to a pair of Morel Hogtalare. 

All absolute statements about audio are false :)

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I agree, fan noise would be a problem if you are using a desktop with fans. Eventhough I use headphones, I can still hear the computer fan. I am prsently constructing a system with the Onkyo NDS1 and the apple ipod, and external DAC. It will be completley quiet and my computer doesn't have to be on.


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