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Using an out board firewire drive


ggraff
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I inserted a Ministack out board firewire drive in my system about a month ago and it made a very substantial difference. I had been using the internal drive in the Mac Mini for the music storage but a friend suggested using the Ministack. The Ministack arrived just as I had finished auditioning Bruce Brisson's Magnum 1.3 speaker cable (to say the least they were awesome -see our entire review in the Colorado Audio Society's latest Journal). I was trying to figure out how to scrape up $6,500 for the 1.3s when UPS came to my door with the Ministack. Since my friends were still there I said lets see what this does in the system. I loaded up my I-Tunes library and set the Mac to default to the Ministack. I turned it on and in the first five notes I said. "Damn, this is almost as good as the Magnum 1.3s." My friends couldn't believe the difference- great holographic soundstage, very good detail and dynamics. For about 3% the cost of the 1.3's I was getting about 70-80% the sound. A great $200 investment. Later that day I went on-line to see if I could find "audiophile" firewires and ordered a couple from MacGurus. They came a few days later and I put them in the system. They made a positive impact, not to the extent of the 1.3s, but a very nice compliment to what I was getting from the Ministack. At $35, a very cost effective addition to the system. I hope this helps some of you who are using Macs in your systems.

 

BTW, I have created a journal documenting all of the experiments we have tried while transitioning to computer based audio. Its far too long to post here, but will e-mail you if you are interested.

 

Good listening

 

 

 

gjg

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Just trying to understand what you are saying. So you feel the firewire drive itself sounds way better than the internal drive on the mini?

 

And the audiophile grade firewire cable also made a noticeable difference?

 

Interesting, I have been running an external firewire drive for years and don't recall hearing a difference between internal on my macbook, but then again I am using a run of the mill firewire cable.

 

ALSO, I went to the CO audio society site and don't see any public link to the journal you are referring to.

 

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When we first installed it, I had been using just the hard drive on the Mac Mini. When we switched over to listening to the firewire out board, it made a very substantial difference. We got a much more holographic soundstage with blacker blacks between the instruments. The soundstage was much wider and deeper. Also, there was better detail and bloom off the instruments. I had just finished using the MIT Magnum 1.3s in the system which gave all of what I described above and better bass. What I got when I switched those cables out and put the Ministack in was most of the soundstage and holography from the MIT, but not the bass. Considering I spent $239 for the Ministack vs $6,500 for the MIT, it was a very good investment. BTW, its an 800 firewire, not the 400.

 

When I switched to the MacGurus firewire, I got a better fundamental accuracy and a more "relaxed" sound with better detail. This change was not as significant as the MIT or Ministack, but was quite noticeable. For $32, its a great high end investment.

 

I am using Straightwire 6 for the toslink feed between my Mini and the PS Audio DLIII. I don't know how you are configured with the MacBook. BTW, I tried the MacBook in my system and it didn't not sound nearly as good as the Mini. I think this is because the MacBook uses a different toslink. Also, because the computer/DAC are in between my speakers, the notebook caused some reflection issues.

 

I think the reason for the better sound with the outboard is because firewire uses its own chip set and clocking mechanism.

 

Send me your e-mail and I will send you the article when I get someone to resent it to me. I dumped mine in the garbage- probably a mistake. My e-mail is [email protected] The two others that co-wrote the article (it was a collaboration) were the one's that were with me when we put the Ministack in. Hope this helps.

 

gjg

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Hi Greg:

 

I just confirmed what you experienced with my setup. Thanks for bringing it up.

 

I have long used an external FW 400 hard drive. I went back and listened to a number of files on my internal Macbook hard drive vs the external hard drive. Much better clarity, space, definition, etc. While an experienced listener would classify the differences as big, new listeners may not find the differences that big. But for me it is like AIFF vs medium rate MP3 files.

 

thanks for the observation an hope others give it a try if they have not already. I am looking forward to see if FW 800 connection does even better.

 

Now I am thinking, what about using a small usb connected solid state drive and copying over the few folders you wish to listen to in an evening from the hard disk and point itunes to that for listening? Even better than the Firewire drive?

 

Any comments from the ss drive owners and am I missing something this seems fairly convenient if you have a few minutes, right?

 

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Thanks for posting your experiences. I'll be switching to external storage for music files in the next few weeks and I'm hoping to experience results like you did. I wasn't sure what my first tweak on a stock Mac Mini would or should be. Upgrade from 2 to 4 GB of memory. External storage. SSD for the OS. I think I'll start with the external storage.

 

Bryan

 

Dedicated 240V balanced power, Torus RM20-BAL. Mac Mini/Ayre QB-9. LSA Group Signature integrated. Eminent Tech LFT8B speakers. Real Trap and GIK bass traps.

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I think the reason we are hearing a significant quality increase is because firewire uses its own chip set and clocking. This gives us less jitter which manifests itself as better detail and definition. I don't think we will find much difference between 400 and 800, but who knows. I sure didn't think we would hear this difference using firewire to begin with. Let us know what you find.

 

As for SSD, we plan to experiment with it eventually, but haven't tried it yet. I suspect it will not offer the same level of music performance as the firewire. I have used a USB thumb drive and didn't get much in the way of improved sound compared to firewire which is why I am holding off on SSD until they become more reasonably priced.

 

gjg

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I hope this helps you. Make sure its a firewire out board drive (I used a fw800 Ministack which also looks real cool sitting on top of the Mac Mini). I had previously upgraded from 1 to 4 GB of memory on my mini and it made a substantial difference, but not as much as the Ministack. However, my results may have been from a synergy from both changes. At some point in the next month or so, I plan to upgrade to 8 GB and see if that makes a significant difference. I will keep you posted. BTW, I have written a journal about what I have done to date. If you are interested in it, send me an e-mail at [email protected]

 

gjg

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I've used outboard Firewire at both 400 and 800, usb, and eSata versus slow, fast, and ultra fast internal disks for no gains. I assume that the outboard drive (if it makes a real difference) is doing so because it uses more CPU or a different driver, but that wouldn't affect sound for the better. The problem is that you cannot use them back to back or blindly to differentiate the sound.

 

There may be a difference, but I don't believe it would be for the better, or even properly noticeable outside of placebo. Still, I love outboard firewire drives.

 

TouchMyApps headphones reviews

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Shig, I don't believe there is much audible differrence related to what type of drive interface you use or how fast the bus is. I believe that the idea is two fold. First is to isolate the music file storage from the OS local storage. This would prevent I/O contention. And most stock local OS drives are low quality so the less this drive does, the better. The second idea is to isolate the storage and DAC buses. If you have a USB DAC, go with a fireware disk. If you have a firewire DAC, go with USB storage. In theory, and by the sounds of what has been posted here, I should expect some nice results by moving the music files to external storage using firewire since my DAC is USB based. That's the big benefit. After that, I suspect tweaking things like what type of drive or how fast of a drive is really going to be next to no benefit.

 

Bryan

 

Dedicated 240V balanced power, Torus RM20-BAL. Mac Mini/Ayre QB-9. LSA Group Signature integrated. Eminent Tech LFT8B speakers. Real Trap and GIK bass traps.

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I am not qualified to respond to either Shig's or Bryan's comments. I do not pretend to be a computer geek and in fact have had to depend on other geeks to help experiment with my system. However, despite what Shig's comment suggests, the change was real and fairly dramatic in my system.

 

I am qualified to respond to the question of whether I was imagining the change or not. I've been in high end audio for over 30 years; doing studio/live recordings, setting up systems at CES, and designing audio components. Through all of this, I have learned how to listen, and more importantly, not to believe something will or won't work because of some theoretical paradigm. For instance, physics suggests the best wire would be one with minimum capacitance, inductance, and resistance along with a dielectric co-efficient of air (1.0). However, some of the best wire I have heard (MIT) purposely adds capacitance and inductance to tailor the sound. Counter- intuitive? Yes, but it works.

 

The whole point of this is to try things in your system and see if it works for you. There is no one right component in a system, which is why we have so many to chose from. Each system is different as are the rooms in which they reside. High end audio is about trying to achieve the unachievable- the re-creation of a music event. Along the way you have to chose trade-offs that suit your tastes. You focus on things such as sound stage, detail, or micro/macro dynamics that allow you to suspend your reality and imagine you are at the performance.

 

Shig, I offered my observation on the Ministack so that people would be aware of a potential way to upgrade their sound. I hoped that some people would want to try it and see if it works in their system. If it does, great. If not, they can probably send it back or worst case, have a back up storage device. However, it is rather disingenuous of you to say this could not work without having tried it in a similar set up (Mac Mini powering a DAC through toslink) and offering instead that I must have been imagining the changes. I am willing to believe that this may not work for everyone and would hope that people would share that information as well. However, to dismiss this without trying it is argumentative at best and based on intuitive not experiential knowledge. I thought the purpose of this group was to exchange experiences with computer audio, not to pontificate on theory.

 

gjg

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Sorry about the theories, but there is too much sting in the audio world which has no way of testing the truth or not of a matter. This method cannot be proven or disproven because in order to do so, a person would have to have two identical mac mini's, DAC, amps, pre amps and speakers/headphones plus the extras, then volume balance the whole lot and blind test it.

 

As that is impossible, I am just ready to call it another way to spend money. It sounds cool and if I hadn't spent more time with audio interfaces, I'd readily believe you. As it is, there isn't any way to reliably tell as the test would be too expensive. The Ministack is something I would definitely buy if I had a Mac Mini - it is sexy and the extra storage is important. But the Ministack isn't by itself any better of an interface than the internal disk.

 

TouchMyApps headphones reviews

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I will be the first to admit that high end audio has more than its share of snake oil being sold and its probably migrating to computer audio. However, what I was suggesting was not another snake oil solution. I had originally bought the Ministack just as an outboard backup; however, my resident geek suggested we try it as a replacement to the on-board hard disk. That was when we discovered that it sounded much better in this configuration. I though I would be helpful and post my finding here.

 

What makes me unhappy about your comment is not that you don't agree, but rather the part about placebo, which calls in to question either my capabilities in listening or my integrity. Rather than start a flame, I tried to take the high road and explain that it was neither.

 

Lets compromise and leave it at nothing in your experience or knowledge base would lead you to believe that this is something that would make a significant musical difference. That way we can keep personalities out of what should be an intellectual exchange.

 

BTW, we plan to replace the (mediocre) hard drive on the Mini and see if we get the same results with the Ministack. It may very well be that the Ministack isn't so much great as the stock hard drive is that bad.

 

gjg

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I know it wasn't a crackpot idea; I know that you are genuinely interested in this ministack or outboard drive for musical experience and it wasn't my place to call it placebo. I still come at it from the experience that it won't be sussed out by changing a drive, but that is probably because my experiences with similar setups lead me to different conclusions.

 

Still, your experimentation and flare for the hobby are great. But better yet, the fact that you are still patient with me after my attacks is the best part. I apologise and hope the best for your experiment.

 

TouchMyApps headphones reviews

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the findings of ggraff forum member.

 

I've tested today my MacBook (first gen. white MacBook, Intel based) connected in optical format [Mini-Toslink] to my LAVRY DA10 DAC. Using an external IOMEGA 500Go connected to the Mac via FireWire 400 (stock and basic FW cable). The external HDD has a pure copy of the files stored on the internal HDD since it's my back-up drive.

 

There is a significant improvement in soundstage, depth, precision of placement for instrument, 3D effect and more naturalness overal.

It sounds also a bit more dynamic, but I think it's more a twister perception due to better imaging/ease of music flow than a true reality.

 

Since it costs nothing for me, I'm very please to realize that reading the file from an external HDD is bringing nice SQ improvements.

 

ps: the "player" used was Wave Editor, from Audiofile Enginering, that is much more 'transparent' to the source/file than iTunes, at least to my ears. ;-)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daphile or VortexBox based audio player with ASUS MB and fanless Streacom case. Paul Hynes and Teddy Pardo linear supplies. SSD drive. Paul Pang SATA cable on its way...

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Glad you were able to achieve in your system what I heard in my system by making the change. Several others have as well. What is unclear to me is whether the outboard drives are better than the internal drives or if by by-passing the Northbridge/Southbridge with fw and using its chips instead we are getting better sound.

 

Thanks for confirming.

 

gjg

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Guest WATERLOGIC

We tried today with DROBO (has both firewire 800 and USB2) blindtesting.

No sonic difference.

Most probably the internal harddisk, fan etc are to blame that Ministack sounds better to you ?

 

External drives are less influenced. Try to compare Ministack (firewire) with an external USB 2.0 HDD.

(important: you should be not not allowed to see what is playing, ok?)

 

Cheers !

 

 

WL

 

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I am glad you tried this in your system, but am sorry you were unable to replicate my experiences. I found out a long time ago in audio there is no one universal truth. There are too many variable to assume that one thing will work in every system. Thanks for verifying what I had suspected, that this may not work for everyone. Lets keep trying to achieve the unachievable - replicating live music in your room.

 

Good Listening

 

gjg

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Guest WATERLOGIC

You have compared apples to bananas.

 

Have you tried what I suggest ? External firewire HDD and External USB 2.0 ?

Obviously not. If you do - you will see no difference.

 

... and we will never be able to replicate live music - not even close, not in the wildest dreams.

 

Take care.

 

WL

 

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My experiment was comparing the internal drive to an external fw drive and I got a significant improvement with that. I have not tried, nor do I intend to try comparing the Ministack's fw and USB feeds to the Mini. I have already tried USB from the Mini going directly to my DAC and it sounded like crap. Unless/until I get a USB specific DAC, I have written off USB as a serious music data transfer methodology.

 

I absolutely agree its highly unlikely (I try not to say never, because I have been proven wrong before) we will ever be able to replicate a live performance. But then again, isn't that the ultimate objective of high end? Paradoxical?

 

Good Listening

 

gjg

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Guest WATERLOGIC

Comparing: DAC to the comp USB to connecting a DATA carrier (HDD) to comp USB (or firewire).

 

No, this is worse, like comparing a cherry to 10 watermelons. !?

 

WL

 

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