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Starting from scratch help


dbw1
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I need to get a computer and a dac. A friend who spent some time on this site said that many/most go with a mac mini and that a Rega Dac-R is a good choice. I'd like to go used for both and would love to use my ipad3 to control the system, though I'll hook it up to my tv and use a wireless keyboard and mouse as well. If that makes sense, what minimum specs (and how old) am I looking for in the mini? Secondarily, am I just using itunes to rip the music and play it back? Is Apple lossless OK or should I do wav or flac? I can get an external drive with whatever storage amount I'd need (are there issues I should think about there, like what type of drive and how to connect it?). Thanks in advance for helping out someone completely new to computer audio. -Dave

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Welcome!

 

I wouldn't go earlier than a 2010 mini; 2012 would be ideal.

 

ALAC is probably going to be the easiest to rip to, and iTunes should be fine. You can losslessly convert between any two lossless codecs, so you aren't locked into this initial choice. If you stray from the Apple stuff, FLAC might be a better idea.

 

Permit me to provide a couple of links in answer to your other questions ...

 

Absolute beginner's guide to using Apple's OS X for computer audio, the easy way - Blogs - Computer Audiophile

 

An absolute beginner's guide to seting up computer audio on Apple OS X, Part II - Blogs - Computer Audiophile

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If you don't need a PC and you already have your music on a HDD then consider something like the Raspberry Pi. If you really need something more powerful than a Pi, then consider a NAS. Offers a lot more than a PC/Mac for media streaming.

 

I'd simply spend/allocate more $$$ for a better DAC - than splitting it up with the cost of a PC/Mac, especially if its not needed or the intended use is only as a source/transport.

 

An app will let you control the Raspberry Pi via the iPad.

Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world - Martin Luther

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I need to get a computer and a dac. A friend who spent some time on this site said that many/most go with a mac mini and that a Rega Dac-R is a good choice. I'd like to go used for both and would love to use my ipad3 to control the system, though I'll hook it up to my tv and use a wireless keyboard and mouse as well. If that makes sense, what minimum specs (and how old) am I looking for in the mini? Secondarily, am I just using itunes to rip the music and play it back? Is Apple lossless OK or should I do wav or flac? I can get an external drive with whatever storage amount I'd need (are there issues I should think about there, like what type of drive and how to connect it?). Thanks in advance for helping out someone completely new to computer audio. -Dave

 

I think that's a pretty good plan. The Mini is very versatile and makes a great media center. I have pretty much the same setup as you propose for music, movies, YouTube etc. Looking ahead, I'd probably opt for FLAC files as they will work on more advanced software--but you can also convert them later. You might want to try some of the more advanced playback software for better sonic results than iTunes. Jriver Media Center is a very good player, ripper and library management tool.

 

In terms of storage, there's a pretty strong consensus that you want to keep the USB ports clear for the DAC to perform at it's best. I use a Seagate PersonalCloud connected to my network.

 

The Rega is a good choice, IMO, versatile and very musical. It can act as a hub for all your sources.

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When you say "keep the USB ports clear," do you mean that I shouldn't have anything else plugged into any of the other USB ports (other than the DAC)? If so, I'm assuming that when you refer to the Seagate PersonalCloud, that is a device that is not directly connected to the mini, but rather the mini steams the data from the device over the network. Does streaming like that not affect the sound quality? Thanks. -Dave

 

I think that's a pretty good plan. The Mini is very versatile and makes a great media center. I have pretty much the same setup as you propose for music, movies, YouTube etc. Looking ahead, I'd probably opt for FLAC files as they will work on more advanced software--but you can also convert them later. You might want to try some of the more advanced playback software for better sonic results than iTunes. Jriver Media Center is a very good player, ripper and library management tool.

 

In terms of storage, there's a pretty strong consensus that you want to keep the USB ports clear for the DAC to perform at it's best. I use a Seagate PersonalCloud connected to my network.

 

The Rega is a good choice, IMO, versatile and very musical. It can act as a hub for all your sources.

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I really like my Mini, and I control it from my laptop using Screen Sharing. I'm sure you can use a iPad.

 

With a remote hard drive carrying the library, the specs of the Mini are almost irrelevant--streaming music from a hard drive to a DAC is really simple.

 

I find iTunes to be fine and I stick with ALAC.

 

I like Amarra as a digital transport and both the hard drive and DAC (through an Audiophilleo) run off the Mini USB--two different busses (system info will tell you which ports use which bus). I did notice a slight improvement using the Audiophilleo via a split USB cable with a battery for power rather than the Mini.

 

Greg

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When you say "keep the USB ports clear," do you mean that I shouldn't have anything else plugged into any of the other USB ports (other than the DAC)? If so, I'm assuming that when you refer to the Seagate PersonalCloud, that is a device that is not directly connected to the mini, but rather the mini steams the data from the device over the network. Does streaming like that not affect the sound quality? Thanks. -Dave

 

Yes, try not to have anything else plugged into the USB ports.

 

The Seagate is a consumer-level NAS. How it effects the sound depends on whether your player buffers the files into memory. Because HQ Player doesn't do that, I load a few albums into a ram-disk and play them from there. To my ears it sound much better. JRiver has an option to play from memory. It's all a bit tweaky, but they're cheap, simple tweaks. :-)

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Thanks so much everyone for the responses so far.

 

Does itunes play from memory as well? (i.e. does it buffer first). For either itunes or jriver, if they buffer the music and then play it from memory (if I'm even saying that right), then the specs on the mini do matter, right? (I'm thinking processor speed and ram). -Dave

 

Yes, try not to have anything else plugged into the USB ports.

 

The Seagate is a consumer-level NAS. How it effects the sound depends on whether your player buffers the files into memory. Because HQ Player doesn't do that, I load a few albums into a ram-disk and play them from there. To my ears it sound much better. JRiver has an option to play from memory. It's all a bit tweaky, but they're cheap, simple tweaks. :-)

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iTunes does not buffer the track into memory. It plays it in real time, however, you don't need much computer power for audio. I have several setups; My oldest PowerBook G4 has a slow PowerPC processor, just 2GB of RAM, and is running iTunes 9. My AIFF files are fed from an external FireWire 800 HD and it plays fine with no dropouts, and sounds great.

However, if you want to get a bit more into it, you should plan on buying a third party music player app that detects and outputs different sample rates automatically, i.e., 16/44.1, 24/96, 24/192, etc., (I recommend Audirvana Plus) to run on a modern Mac, because the Mac/iTunes will not automatically adjust the audio output for the differing rates. You would need to go into the Audio MIDI Setup app and select the bit and sample rates manually, which controls the Mac's internal DAC. You could set it at the maximum setting, but then you would be sending an upsampled file to your external DAC, which will then upsample it a second time. Is this a bad thing? I'll let others here debate that one. I prefer to send a native, unaltered file to my DAC and let it do its thing.

 

Thanks so much everyone for the responses so far.

 

Does itunes play from memory as well? (i.e. does it buffer first). For either itunes or jriver, if they buffer the music and then play it from memory (if I'm even saying that right), then the specs on the mini do matter, right? (I'm thinking processor speed and ram). -Dave

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Thanks so much everyone for the responses so far.

 

Does itunes play from memory as well? (i.e. does it buffer first). For either itunes or jriver, if they buffer the music and then play it from memory (if I'm even saying that right), then the specs on the mini do matter, right? (I'm thinking processor speed and ram). -Dave

 

The mid-level Mini is fine for all but the super-tweakiest high-end software. And those tend to be Windows.

 

I actually use W10 via Boot Camp with Audiophile Optimizer 2.0 and it's amazing. But these are upgrades you can pursue down the line without any problem.

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