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What is the lowest grade Mac Mini that will give good service in sole use as a music server?


Brian A

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What is the lowest grade Mac Mini that will give good service in sole use as a music server? I see 1.66GHz Mac Minis available on eBay for about $100. Are these “enough”?

 

Are there Mac Mini hardware/software configurations that I should look for? Are there others that I should steer clear of?

 

I have been using an old Toshiba laptop (Windows Vista) as a dedicated music server for the last few years. I think the thing is finally dying as its USB port seems to be disconnecting itself (the left channel drops) (yes, it is a problem on the digital side of the system). (It is its second passing; we were using it as a doorstop because it had bogged down so badly as a notebook; I reformatted the C: drive, reinstalled Vista, stripped it to only be a music server, which, to my surprise, it has performed well and without complaint.) (Testimony to how little processing power you need for music.)

 

My music files (Apple Lossless) are stored on a Network Server and I have an Ethernet cable connection available for the music server. I connect the Peachtree DAC-iT via USB, but also have a Musical Fidelity V-Link (the original) to connect via RCA coax.

 

I have really liked using a laptop as a server because of the built in screen and keyboard. I presume I have to learn how to “remote” into a Mac Mini somehow. I will continue to use iTunes and iTunes Remote (via iPad and iPhone) on the Mac Mini (if I actually buy one) like I did with the Toshiba.

 

I just read through (a lot of) the currently active “Why Apple”? thread which motivates me to give a Mac Mini a try.

Peachtree Audio DAC-iT, Dynaco Stereo 70 Amp w/ Curcio triode cascode conversion, MCM Systems .7 Monitors

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Any of the 2012 or newer line should be fine. I would recommend 8 gig of memory or more; you can save a bit by upgrading 3rd-party. I would recommend an internal SSD, more for overall performance than anything else (although many claim it is a sonic improvement). I would stay away from anything older than 2010, with a preference for 2012 or newer. I have a disassembled 2009 mini sitting on a shelf here where the SSD I swapped in failed. You can have it for free if you want. I live in Santa Crud.

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Any of the 2012 or newer line should be fine.

 

Bill, you do realize that 2012 is the "newest" Mac mini already? (They are pretty overdue for a refresh--to at least Haswell.)

 

But I mostly agree with your recommendation. 2011 is as far back as I would go. The i5 of the 2011 has advantages over the Core 2 Duo of the 2010. And 8GB should be fine for the OP. Buy used or an Apple refurb, and do a clean install of Mavericks for sure.

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Not sure if it's worth throwing this into the pot, but I seem to recall that Steve from Empirical has a thing for the 2009 model as it was the last one with the external power brick - I had a 2009 Mini and it was a decent all-rounder.

Just one more headphone and I know I can kick this nasty little habit !

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Bill, you do realize that 2012 is the "newest" Mac mini already? (They are pretty overdue for a refresh--to at least Haswell.)

 

Just future-proofing my post...

 

But I mostly agree with your recommendation. 2011 is as far back as I would go. The i5 of the 2011 has advantages over the Core 2 Duo of the 2010. And 8GB should be fine for the OP. Buy used or an Apple refurb, and do a clean install of Mavericks for sure.

 

I didn't know there was a 2011.

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Any of the 2012 or newer line should be fine. I would recommend 8 gig of memory or more; you can save a bit by upgrading 3rd-party. I would recommend an internal SSD, more for overall performance than anything else (although many claim it is a sonic improvement). I would stay away from anything older than 2010, with a preference for 2012 or newer...
... I had a 2009 Mini and it was a decent all-rounder.
...The i5 of the 2011 has advantages over the Core 2 Duo of the 2010. And 8GB should be fine for the OP. Buy used or an Apple refurb, and do a clean install of Mavericks for sure.

This is very helpful advice. Thank you.

 

I have a disassembled 2009 mini sitting on a shelf here where the SSD I swapped in failed. You can have it for free if you want. I live in Santa Crud.
Thanks for the offer. It's tempting just because I need an excuse to go out for a bit of a drive this weekend. I am looking to just plug (it it in) and (have it) play, so I guess I should pass.

 

I would hold up for a few weeks to see what Apple announces in the next couple weeks.
But wifie is out of town this weekend and all the music in my left speaker leaked out!

Peachtree Audio DAC-iT, Dynaco Stereo 70 Amp w/ Curcio triode cascode conversion, MCM Systems .7 Monitors

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I have a 2011 that was the last one to include an optical drive, which I find very useful for ripping CDs and it was also one of the first models to include HDMI. I find both of these traits to be very useful and am very happy with the performance. You may be able to score one of these used for little cost.

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Not sure if it's worth throwing this into the pot, but I seem to recall that Steve from Empirical has a thing for the 2009 model as it was the last one with the external power brick - I had a 2009 Mini and it was a decent all-rounder.

 

Yes, Steve did (does?) have a fondness for the 2009, but I have done multiple, variable-controlled face-offs (reported here somewhere) between Late-2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 minis, both with stock SMPS PS and with external linear supplies, and can promise you that the "thin minis"--especially 2011 and later--completely walk away from the 2009. And with Mavericks running on them, it is not even close.

 

As long as I am casting stones, a few months ago I brought both my wife's MacBook Pro and my daughter's brand new MacBook Air into the studio. Using the same slimmed-Mavericks/Audirvana Plus SD card that I boot my music mini with, I compared all three machines--including trying the laptops on both battery and charger.

Sorry to report that the laptops fell fairly far short of the mini. Bass impact and detail was clearly missing, and there was a "sameness" to tracks that normally have a very different (from each other) presentation. It was pretty disappointing.

 

This weekend I will be comparing my 16GB 2012 i7 mini to the CuBox-i4Pro that I just picked up. But the comparison will be for them both running a very minimal Linux with Signalyst's (Miska's) NAA. My other i7 mini--the one on my desk--will be the one actually running HQ Player, so the comparison machines are just "dumb" endpoints for the high-rate music data coming to them over Ethernet. Both the NAA machines will be powered by our JS-2 LPS. I'll just move the USB and BLueJeans/Belden Cat6a Ethernet cable from one to the other.

 

Miska says an i7 is overkill for an NAA, so maybe the CuBox-i with iMX6 ARM will be a "quieter" overall interface and will win. Should be interesting.

 

But of course this has nothing at all to do with the choice of a computer to use for a player...

 

Cheers,

--Alex C.

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I have a 2011 that was the last one to include an optical drive, which I find very useful for ripping CDs and it was also one of the first models to include HDMI. I find both of these traits to be very useful and am very happy with the performance. You may be able to score one of these used for little cost.

 

Sorry Steve, if it is thin and has the optical drive it is a 2010 Core 2 Duo. (See: Apple Mac mini Specs (All Mac mini Technical Specs) @ EveryMac.com) That's what I was using for my music computer up until about 4 months ago. It was good--better SQ than a 2009--but the 2011/12 machines do edge it out in a revealing system. It is not huge, but for me it is readily apparent.

Also, at some point in the future your optical drive is likely to get fussy. They all seem to, and even though they are supposed to be sealed I think they get more dust in them from the fan drawing it in. That, or the heat kills 'em.

 

If 2010 units were going used for a lot less than the 2011/12, I'd be more inclined to recommend them. But it is a bit nuts what people want for all the recent Mac minis (on eBay) especially since you don't get a warranty or a clean drive. With 3 kids I am always on a tight budget, and every time I need to replace one of their computers (usually by upgrading myself and handing down mine ;-)) I scour eBay for a deal--and end up buying a "refurbished" unit directly from the Apple store. Newer, clean, fresh, warranty--for maybe $75 more than private party.

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I upgraded to a current (in early 2014) MM with an i7 processor and 8GB, as a result of dropouts and pauses when playing mch DSD files on my Exasound E28. George suggested the upgrade and I no longer have the dropouts and pauses. I had been using an earlier 2010 vintage MM with 8GB. I use A+ to play the mch files.

 

Larry

Analog-VPIClas3,3DArm,LyraSkala+MiyajimaZeromono,Herron VTPH2APhono,2AmpexATR-102+MerrillTridentMaster TapePreamp  Dig Rip-Pyramix,IzotopeRX3Adv,MykerinosCard,PacificMicrosonicsModel2; Dig Play-Lampi Pacific, mch NADAC, Roon-HQPlayer,Oppo105  Electronics-DoshiPre,CJ MET1mchPre,Cary2A3monoamps Speakers-AvantgardeDuosLR,3SolosC,LR,RR

Other-2x512EngineerMarutaniSymmetrical Power+Cables Music-15KRecs(90%classical),1.7KR2Rtapes,1.5KCD's,500SACDs,50TBripped files

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So, armed with the decoder wheel, I did a little "Market Research" on eBay.

 

2009s are about $300 and 2012s are about $400. The $100 ones are older clunkers apparently not worth buying. The Apple Reconditionification Store has none in stock. This decision requires financial commitment. I loathe that.

 

Today after breakie, I am going to go with a different plan.

 

My active laptop, a 2009 HP Envy 13 (a Macbook Pro wanabe) hasn't been very active lately, so I am going to wire it into the stereo cabinet, reconfigure it negligibly (basically just map my music library to iTunes and turn on Home Sharing) and see how long it takes before I need it back as a laptop.

 

Back to music. Found a few interesting CDs recently btw: Borrowed Tunes II.

Peachtree Audio DAC-iT, Dynaco Stereo 70 Amp w/ Curcio triode cascode conversion, MCM Systems .7 Monitors

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The only thing mine needs is a working hard drive and reassembly. Apart from the SSD dying (!), it was fine. I wouldn't run anything newer that 10.6 on a 2009 mini, however. If you change your mind, let me know.
I've sent you a PM.

Peachtree Audio DAC-iT, Dynaco Stereo 70 Amp w/ Curcio triode cascode conversion, MCM Systems .7 Monitors

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Ahh; got the "no PMs" PM.

 

I can easily replace the SSD, but my concern is that I wouldn't have the OS. This may just be my unfamiliarity with Apple. Can the OS be restored from the Apple site or something. (I feel bad looking the proverbial 'gift horse in the mouth', but I just don't know how Apple system restoration works.)

 

If this is not a issue, I'll happily scoot out to Santa Cruz to pick it up. This is a perfect project. My wife is out of town and I am otherwise going to let this fine long weekend slip through my fingers.

 

Without PM, it looks like we've be doing this meet-you-on-the-street-corner style. May I buy you a hamburger somewhere?

Peachtree Audio DAC-iT, Dynaco Stereo 70 Amp w/ Curcio triode cascode conversion, MCM Systems .7 Monitors

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The only thing mine needs is a working hard drive and reassembly. Apart from the SSD dying (!), it was fine. I wouldn't run anything newer that 10.6 on a 2009 mini, however. If you change your mind, let me know.

 

That's really very generous of you Bill. I hope you and Brian are able to hook up and that he is able to successfully join the Mac crowd.

 

 

On a separate note:

Care to speculate on any forthcoming Apple computer announcements? The September 9 event looks to be focused on mobile (iPhone6, iWatch, etc.), but I sure hope we soon see something new and interesting from them on the computer front.

 

I personally think their keyboards are due for another redesign, but maybe that's because we had one fail last month just because my wife took a Clorox wipe across the key tops, shorting out a diagonal row of keys with whatever slight bit of juice oozed from the wipe. I would enjoy a keyboard with the Magic Trackpad built in. And maybe backlighting of the keys ala the laptops.

 

Ciao,

--Alex

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Care to speculate on any forthcoming Apple computer announcements?

 

Adding Retina Displays to the Macbook Airs should be coming soon.

Sometimes it's like someone took a knife, baby
Edgy and dull and cut a six inch valley
Through the middle of my skull

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I personally think their keyboards are due for another redesign, but maybe that's because we had one fail last month just because my wife took a Clorox wipe across the key tops, shorting out a diagonal row of keys with whatever slight bit of juice oozed from the wipe. I would enjoy a keyboard with the Magic Trackpad built in. And maybe backlighting of the keys ala the laptops.

 

Ciao,

--Alex

 

If you are referring to the wireless keyboard, based on my experience with the Apple wireless mouse, I would think that backlighting the keyboard would eat up the batteries rather quickly. The first thing I did when I bought both of my iMacs was to ditch the wireless mice and keyboards (stupid for a desktop computer) and get the wired USB versions.

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Adding Retina Displays to the Macbook Airs should be coming soon.

 

I could see that on the 13" but not on the 11" since at native resolution that would make things very small. Then again they do this on the iPads, so maybe the current displays and OS are better at scaling out of the native LCD display matrix and still looking good. I admit to not having spent any time with the "retina" MacBook Pros.

 

I also heard some rumor (probably wrong), that they may drop the 13" MBP and just offer a 12" MB Air--that would be a major consolidating of the two lines. The choices would narrow to either a 12" Air or a 15" MBP--both with "retina" display I would presume.

 

As for the mini, I think the only change we will see this year is Haswell and graphics. Does not need, nor will it get any form factor change.

 

 

If you are referring to the wireless keyboard, based on my experience with the Apple wireless mouse, I would think that backlighting the keyboard would eat up the batteries rather quickly. The first thing I did when I bought both of my iMacs was to ditch the wireless mice and keyboards (stupid for a desktop computer) and get the wired USB versions.

 

No, I meant the wired aluminum keyboard, which is what I use. I need the numeric keypad, but would gladly give up the arrow and page up/down keys to make room for a trackpad. Doing a trackpad in the wired keyboard would also save on the batteries I now go though with the wireless trackpad. I know this is wishful thing and that Apple won't come up with such a device.

But I really wish the current keyboard was at least serviceable. They can't be opened without destroying them! Totally disposable--yuck.

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No, I meant the wired aluminum keyboard, which is what I use. I need the numeric keypad, but would gladly give up the arrow and page up/down keys to make room for a trackpad. Doing a trackpad in the wired keyboard would also save on the batteries I now go though with the wireless trackpad. I know this is wishful thing and that Apple won't come up with such a device.

But I really wish the current keyboard was at least serviceable. They can't be opened without destroying them! Totally disposable--yuck.

 

Yeah, what do you expect for $49 ;>)

I have two of those. One won't work off iMac USB unless I plug it into a powered USB hub. Sheesh. Do like the basic Apple wired mouse, tho (not the Magic Mouse). Have several spares in reserve.

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This weekend I will be comparing my 16GB 2012 i7 mini to the CuBox-i4Pro that I just picked up. But the comparison will be for them both running a very minimal Linux with Signalyst's (Miska's) NAA. My other i7 mini--the one on my desk--will be the one actually running HQ Player, so the comparison machines are just "dumb" endpoints for the high-rate music data coming to them over Ethernet. Both the NAA machines will be powered by our JS-2 LPS. I'll just move the USB and BLueJeans/Belden Cat6a Ethernet cable from one to the other.

 

Miska says an i7 is overkill for an NAA, so maybe the CuBox-i with iMX6 ARM will be a "quieter" overall interface and will win. Should be interesting.

 

But of course this has nothing at all to do with the choice of a computer to use for a player...

 

Cheers,

--Alex C.

 

Looking forward to reading about this comparison. I've just been reading up on using an NAA with HQ Player and it sounds very interesting.

Intel NUC NUC8i7BEH Roon Server running Audio Linux in RAM -> Sonore UltraRendu (Roon Endpoint) -> Uptone ISO Regen -> Singxer SU-1 KTE -> Holo Audio Spring Level 3 DAC -> Nord One UP Monoblocks -> Spendor LS3/5as | Music controlled via iPad (Power Conditioning: Audience adeptResponse aR12).  Twitter: @hirezaudio

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...I have a disassembled 2009 mini sitting on a shelf here where the SSD I swapped in failed...
If anyone is wondering, Bill and I looked into the condition of his 2009 a little further and concluded that testing and refurbishing it was a little more than I could handle as a first-time Mac user. A generous offer but I chose to pass it up.

Peachtree Audio DAC-iT, Dynaco Stereo 70 Amp w/ Curcio triode cascode conversion, MCM Systems .7 Monitors

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INo, I meant the wired aluminum keyboard, which is what I use. I need the numeric keypad, but would gladly give up the arrow and page up/down keys to make room for a trackpad. Doing a trackpad in the wired keyboard would also save on the batteries I now go though with the wireless trackpad. I know this is wishful thing and that Apple won't come up with such a device.

But I really wish the current keyboard was at least serviceable. They can't be opened without destroying them! Totally disposable--yuck.

 

+1! I really want a *wired* keyboard with built-in trackpad. No more separate keyboard / mouse for that one time every six months I actually need physical input devices :/

John Walker - IT Executive

Headphone - MacMini running Roon Server > Netgear Orbi wireless > Blue Jeans Cable Ethernet > mRendu Roon endpoint > Topping D90 > Topping A90 > Dan Clark Aeon 2 Closed / Focal Elegia

Home Theater - Mac Mini running Roon Server / AppleTV > Blue Jeans Cable HDMI > Denon X3700h > Anthem Amp for front channels > Revel F208-based 5.2.4 Atmos speaker system

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