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General information for potential iMac / Mac Mini buyer


cgbissett
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I started experimenting with my 7 year old Dell laptop, via a Fubar III into an Arcam A85 over a year ago. I have tried

several media players, and rippers (Foobar, Media Monkey, jRiver, iTunes & dbPoweramp). I currently have around 1000 CD's stored on a western digital elements hard drive, playing through this system. The Fubar was purchased to trial computer audio and it was close enough to my Arcam DV79 to convince me it was my future listening experience.

After much experimenting and trials, I settled on iTunes for playback, and have spent a few hours with Snow Leopard which convinced me to go down the mac route. My final decision is between the Mac Mini and iMac, and I have a few questions for mac users that may help with my final choice.

 

1: Does the iMac have superior components to the mini, if so will it enhance audio playback?

2: Is the iMac quiet enough to use in my lounge near my system, the screen would be off during playback?

3: If the mini is used via my Panasonic Plasma PZ85 42", will the the PZ 85 make a suitable computer monitor?

4: Are all USB's equal on the iMac and mini, I read a post a while ago about a Macbook pro, and not all USB's were suitable for a USB Dac?

5: I will be using an external HDD for storage, a new one, will firewire give better playback results than USB, for audio playback, speed is not an issue for me, unless it has an impact on the audio.

6: Can Firewire external HDD's be daisy chained, to allow one to copy the other?

 

Apologies for the many questions, any help would be appreciated, I like to be thorough before making a purchase.

 

Cheers Craig

 

C G Bissett

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Some answers:

 

1. Depends what you mean by 'superior'. The iMac is a generally faster computer in all areas, but nothing that will make a real difference to audio playback. Except the iMac has better internal speakers :-) Audacity's benchmark test shows my iMac is capable of replaying 99 simultaneous channels of 44.1ksps audio...

 

2. I have just bought a latest model 21.5" iMac and it is VERY quiet: also it tends to push noise out of the 'back' rather than the front. The mini is probably a bit noisier but I only have an old PPC mini to compare it with. Certainly when the mini is working hard, the fan noise is noticeable. I have not been able to get the iMac working 'hard' yet. That said, I keep the mini (which is my audio server) in another room entirely. Neither machine is totally silent.

 

3. Don't know

 

4. They do differ: however I don't think any of the external ports is shared with anything inside the computer (such as the iSight). You can check this using the 'about this mac/more information' tool to explore what is connected to each USB interface. AFAIK any external USB will be OK for a DAC, so long as the (internal) hub isn't being shared with a bandwidth hog like a disk, TV tuner, or network interface.

 

5. In the past it made a difference, but current USB controllers are plenty good enough for audio. Fireware still gives a better transfer rate, but even hi-res audio is nowhere near pushing the limits of USB. The iMac is available with a 1Tb internal disk - how much audio do you have?

 

6. Yes. But you don't need to daisy-chain disks physically to copy data between them.

 

Cheers

 

Max

 

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1: Does the iMac have superior components to the mini, if so will it enhance audio playback?

 

Both are made with laptop parts - that's how they fit them all inside such a small enclosure. In my experience one is not better than the other as far as audio is concerned.

 

2: Is the iMac quiet enough to use in my lounge near my system, the screen would be off during playback?

 

Yes, I've had a few iMacs and the new intel ones are extremely quiet. As Craig mentioned, any fan or hard drive noise is emitted out the back.

 

3: If the mini is used via my Panasonic Plasma PZ85 42", will the the PZ 85 make a suitable computer monitor?

 

Snow Leopard has added resolutions for TVs in the display settings - with Leopard you had to get software to hack the resolution. So yes this display should work fine with a mini-displayport to HDMI adapter.

 

4: Are all USB's equal on the iMac and mini, I read a post a while ago about a Macbook pro, and not all USB's were suitable for a USB Dac?

 

The macbrook pro has two USB ports: one on its own bus and one shared with the keyboard and mouse. This caused problems for lots of microphones and things that needed a lot of power. I have not heard of any minis or imacs having this issue.

 

5: I will be using an external HDD for storage, a new one, will firewire give better playback results than USB, for audio playback, speed is not an issue for me, unless it has an impact on the audio.

 

If using a USB DAC it would be better to have a firewire drive so the incoming and outgoing data is traveling on a different bus.

 

6: Can Firewire external HDD's be daisy chained, to allow one to copy the other?

 

Yes, this works very well. I've used this setup for years with FW400 (and now 800) with three drives.

 

Corey[br]Apple TV[br]Peachtree Audio nova[br]PS Audio Trio A100[br]B&W 602 s2

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Corey,

 

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, it is much appreciated. I think the iMac suits my needs better, my main concern was how quiet it was. How does the daisy chain connection work, once connected to one another does the iMac see them as two separate drives?

 

Regards Craig

 

C G Bissett

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Max,

 

Thanks for the reply to my many questions. I have around 1000 CD's and a 1TB is large enough even using AIFF, however the 1TB iMac is an extra £250, and I don't really need the upgraded graphics card. My music is currently stored on a Western digital Elements drive, which is FAT 32. The files are in ALAC and AIFF, will the iMac be able to play these files once plugged in, long term my intention is to re-rip my collection.

 

Regards Craig

 

C G Bissett

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Craig,

 

The drives appear just as they would if you plugged them in separately. Depending on the enclosures you have and where you keep them, two external drives will be louder than the iMac.

 

btw...this is why firewire drives always have two connections - daisy chaining is part of the spec.

 

Corey[br]Apple TV[br]Peachtree Audio nova[br]PS Audio Trio A100[br]B&W 602 s2

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Hi Craig,

 

In addition to the feedback you have already received, below are my thoughts.

 

1: “Does the iMac have superior components to the mini…?”

As Max has pointed out, the iMac has faster operating speeds and larger internal hard drive options. I prefer the iMac’s processing power and storage capabilities.

 

“…will this enhance audio playback?”

The equipment differences may be measurable, but it’s unlikely you will hear a difference. I too am interested and curious to know if anyone thinks the iMac will enhance audio playback.

 

2: “Is the iMac quiet enough to use in my lounge near my system…?”

I use an iMac in my listening environment. It’s very quiet and virtually unnoticeable. The iMac also performs very well with iTunes and I recommend it.

 

3: “If the mini is used via my Panasonic Plasma PZ85 42", will the the PZ 85 make a suitable computer monitor?”

I use a 46” Samsung as an iTunes display monitor connected to a 20” iMac. Looking at the specs of your PZ85, it will likely make a very fine and impressive monitor. The extra screen space is great for viewing detailed library information (like bit rate, sample rate, file size, etc.) when using iTunes without having to scroll left and right.

 

4: “Are all USB's equal on the iMac and mini…?”

I have ear-checked each USB on my iMac. I hear no difference. I think the differences may be more of a potential issue when connecting multiple USB devices with MacBooks.

 

5: “…will firewire give better playback results than USB?”

I have used both and prefer connecting to an external hard drive via FW800. USB is fine for audio playback, but you may want to perform a backup or transfer large amounts of data and firwire will likely speed the process. If you have the firewire option available, why not use it?

 

6: “Can Firewire external HDD's be daisy chained, to allow one to copy the other?”

As Max suggested, why daisy chain multiple devices when you can view, access and copy files from one hard drive to another by connecting each to your computer (iMac or mini)? A limitation may be available ports. The mini has one FW800 port and five USB 2.0 ports. The iMac has one FW800 port and four USB 2.0 ports. If you have more than one firewire device and you’re not using a hub, then daisy-chaining hard drives makes a lot of sense.

 

Best regards,

Chris

 

 

 

Amarra 3.0.3/iTunes-->AQVOX USB PS-->Acromag USB Isolator-->Ayre QB-9-->Ayre K-5xeMP-->W4S SX-500-->Tyler Acoustics Linbrook Super Towers-->SVS SB12-Plus (L&R). Cables: Nordost, Transparent, LessLoss, Analysis Plus & Pangea. Dedicated line with isolated power conditioning per component: PS Audio & Furman. Late 2012 Mac Mini 2.6GHz Quad-Core i7 (16 GB, 1TB Fusion, 6TB ext via Tbolt). External drives enclosure http://www.computeraudiophile.com/f7-disk-storage-music-library-storage/silent-enclosure-external-hard-drives-7178/

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On 5 & 6: Chaining firewire storage devices works very well in my experience. On the flipside TC Electronics and others advise against using hard drives on the same firewire connection as their interfaces. It would be prudent to base your choice of interface for you hard drives on this advice

 

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"I will try and find the quietest HDD's I can."

 

Since you seem to be a fan of WD, I'd reommend the new Green Series, with much less power, less heat, less noise. I believe it's called the Studio II for external. I just picked up the internal version - Caviar Green - to install in my G5.

 

I've not noticed ANY noise with my Mac Mini, FWIW.

 

enjoy

clay

 

 

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Clay,

 

Thanks for the comments, the WD Elements I am currently using has a WD Green drive, and its virtually silent. I think the Verbatim Quad Drive may also house a WD Green, and its passively cooled. I Have looked at the Studio, however I prefer drives that can lie flat, and therefore I could use them on my Hi fi Rack. The research starts now.

 

Cheers Craig

 

C G Bissett

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