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MacMini 2014 and High Sierra as a test bed music server!


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I have been reading a lot here and learning both from the forums and about myself.  I have used my 2012 Mac mini in my system before and I have decided to jump back in for a winter swim!  I have a new PCIE SSD based Mac mini on order and my JS-2 is on the way.  I will have one side of the JS-2 wired to my Mytek Brooklyn DAC + and the other side to the MacMini.  I have several idea threads to run through.  Here is a partial list:

 

Digital music delivery process ideas:

 

  • USB direct between the Mac and the DAC and with an ISO-Regen + LPS-1 and maybe more....
  • Ethernet - USB with my SOtM SMS-200 ultra. (several threads of setup here to test)
  • Test with the DC grounded NetGear GS105  switch to the network. Using an LPS-1
  • Start with High Sierra in the default Apple configuration and work through reducing processes.  
  • I want to listen to Apple Music with this DAC.  I use Apple Music for discovery and mobile listening.
  • I use Audirvana and Roon: How does optimization in Audirvana do before we even tweet the OS.
  • I want to figure out voice control for music. "Hey Siri" or the like.....
  • SOtM clock testing since I already have it!

 

Other possible / probable testing and learning

 

  • Do I play with Isolation transformers on the AC side?
  • Do I make other cabling improvements?
  • Will I l test with my Rotel power amp to see how it compares to the Mytek Amp?
  • ..... more ....

 

 

So in summary my music will be stored on a  Synology NAS outside of the stereo system so there is no SATA stuff going on in the MacMini.  Attached is the basic layout of the stereo system for reference. I am building a few more pages with test outlines.  Eventually I want to make an FAQ/WIKI/KB of this as finding stuff in these threads on the forums is really time consuming and  I want to make this simpler.  

 

So the goals  are as follows:

 

  1. Reduce operating complexity.  (I dare. you to teach a non- audiophile how to switch inputs on a Mytek DAC +)
  2. Improve sound quality
  3. Have fun and listen more
  4. ???Simplify??? the systems design (I am not sure if changing power supplies and edit Mac processes is simple)
  5. Share my experience to help others.

 

 

 

Stereo Overview.pdf

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It would be interesting if this can be done with comprehensive experimental controls and some sort of objective means to measure or detect changes or improvements.  Many claims have been made in the past on an anecdotal level, so it would be good to have something a bit more rigorous in approach.

 

Best of luck!

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The first setup is shown in the attached PDF.  I have started a Trello project to help me organize the project.  I am working pretty hard to figure out what the test / decision points will be.  I do not know how I will measure the performance differences.  I am looking for someone else to listen with me.  My son is very good at this and my wife is a good skeptic !!

 

It is very hard to "measure" perception but I understand the "need" to have control points that tell us something.

MacMini (USB Basic Front End).pdf

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Phase “one” starting!  My PS-2 has arrived and after it gets warmed up from being shipped it will get installed in the system.  To start with it will only power the DAC + as the new MacMini has not arrived.  I will do some before and after listening ....

 

 

B424DB26-4A18-4F5A-819B-1C344C382150.jpeg

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Ok, that’s where the glow comes from!

Mine is hidden at the back, in the middle of the WWI-war-zone spaghetti labyrinth of stuff ...

I aim to sort it when we move house.

mb pro>ethernet / elgar iso tran(2.5kVa, .0005pfd)>consonance pw-3 boards>ghent ethernet(et linkway cat8 jssg360)>etherRegen B-side(js-2)>ghent ethernet(et linkway cat8 jssg360) >ultraRendu A-side(clones lpsu split>lps1.2)>uspbc>iso regen(clones lpsu split>lps1.2)>curious regen link>rme adi-2 dac(js-2)>cawsey cables>naquadria sp2 passive pre> 1.naquadria lucien mkII.5 power>elac fs249be + elac 4pi plus.2> 2.perreaux9000b(mods)>2xnaq12” passive subs.

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33 minutes ago, Superdad said:

 

Cool pic!  Only wish you had had the JS-2 powered on when you took it so that the small amber LED in the 'p' was lit.  :D 

Bob the Genie pops over and takes another picture,...   You are right, it was sitting on top of the cabinet warming up...  Here is one that fixes that missing touch! With a different color light on the front also:88B03828-6086-453F-AAA8-80A357CB8FF4.thumb.jpeg.93bb7e642cf7e816a0f76b8b7a9c6584.jpeg

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And it is up and running driving the DAC+ right now.  I have been A/B ing two amps today.  I am thinking that the Mytek Amp might be a tad to bright or forward to me.  I am testing with my Rotel RB-1582.  I was running the Mytek on balanced cables and the Rotel on unbalanced.  I will test some more with the Mytek  on unbalanced.  I think the Rotel is “smoother” 

71904722-4C8B-49E4-B5B2-763AD5D90343.thumb.jpeg.95d73b944148552d87e46b70e970811d.jpeg

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The MacMini arrived and I have started setting it up. I got the Core I7 with 16GB RAM and 512 PCIESSD.  I will not pull the power supply for now.  I do not want to void a warranty for a couple of weeks at least.  B|

 

I setup the machine with a master account that is linked to all my Apple stuff and created a second account that is a normal user account that is being used for playing music.  I have to check to see if that actually reduces processes.  

 

I setup the machine and installed Roon.  The music is not on the internal drive it is on my little NAS.  

 

 

For the first test I was running with the SMS200 ultra on the normal network.  Really I think the sound is not as good as what I get from the Sonic Transporter but I did not really take a lot of time yet as switching Roon licenses between two Cores is a problem for AB listening.

 

After a day or so of just listening and making sure things are stable I went to bridged networking using the Apple thunderbolt to ethernet dongle..  In the stereo there is a GS105 switch powered by an SOtM SMS500 power supply.  There is also a ethernet isolation transformer in-line between the switch and the SMS-200ultra.

 

There is an immediate and "significant" difference in sound quality.  I will cover it in more detail shortly but is too late now to write it all up. :D  Guitars and strings sound much more natural, the harmonics are much fuller.  I just do not understand why!!!!

 

--RJF

 

OH and there are like 297 processes running on High Sierra.  I will detail that out later.  (big challenge)

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I have been running the MacMini as a Roon Core networked to my system.  I have not yet removed the stock power supply as I do not want to invalidate the warranty for a bit yet.  Today I made an interesting two steps forward one step back.....

 

I finished setting up the Mini for remote control and brought it up to the stereo.  It was still hooked up to the system via Ethernet and the switch bridged.  The first song I played did not sound right.  The "grunge" in the voices and in the guitars, etc  had started to come back.  Now I had not turned off the wireless radios and all that so I am sure that may have something to do with the problem.  Anyway it is back in the basement away from the stereo and my audio quality is back...  More steps to do before I try again.  I am now prepped with the ability to A/B by physically moving the Mini.  Just two ethernet connections and the power cord.

 

I HATE going backwards...

 

 

--RJF

 

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In the spirit of not going backwards late last evening I installed the UpTone Audio MMK power supply and fan controller upgrade into my 2014 Mac mini.  The process went well with one little misstep on my part.  I had the Mac most of the way back together when I discovered I forgot to put the screw back in that held the original power supply in.  So,.... open install close!  Lesson learned.

 

I now have the Mac installed in the rack with the rest of the gear and I am able to swap between the SOtM stack and direct USB.  I have started listening to Roon and Audirvana + and a bit more.  I have not tried iTunes Music yet.  

 

I am not ready to give you a long set of conclusions but lets say we made forward progress and this evening I am enjoying my listening a lot.  My son also has some very favorable comments when we listened to some of the music he likes.

 

Bob

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I have now had a few days to listen to the system for longer periods.  I am only testing one setup.  The DAC+ is connected to the MacMini via a Transparent Audio High Performace USB Ethernet cable.  I am using port 1  (closest to the left rear of the computer).  I have a USB 3 Sandisk SSD attached to USB power “4”.   Both the DAC and the Mac are connected to the JS-2.

 

5C3AC34F-BE7C-41FF-84B4-279C230A18C1.thumb.jpeg.467dc2d4ad6b0fb66252bf69c60b5435.jpeg

 

I have the music stored on the internal PCieSSD and the external USB SSD.  I also have a duplicate of the music library on my Synology NAS.  I use Roon and the manager and player.  

 

The Mac is running High Sierra and I am logged into the Mac as a “normal” user that does not have any cloud accounts.  I have not done any other OS optimization’s.  There is a lot to review and test as far as the OS and I am not ready to start on that part of the project yet.

 

*** My initial listening was using the NAS as the music storage sorce and the overall sound of the system has been significantly improved.  I did some basic testing using networked audio stack with my SMS-200 ultra.  I am reserving judgement on the network stack until my modified network switch arrives.    Again this is a second phase.

 

 

I started doing direct comparisons between the music stored on the PCieSSD in the Mac vs the NAS. There is a “distinct” improvement when played from the SSD.  One example is the first little bit of the track “The Internal Locus” from “This Binary Universe”.  The rain and the dripping on what sounds like a tin roof is amazingly realistic. The staging and the realism on “Stairway to Heaven” by Rodrigo y Gabriela is more natural and open than any other systems designs I have used.  There is significant improvement in sibilance in several of my Loreena McKennit albums.  The opening track “Blacksmith” from “Elemental”  is a good example.

 

I have moved all of my 44K x16 albums to the internal drive on the Mac!  All of my higher res music is currently on the USB SSD and that will need review.  

 

The next major thing for me to test will be and ISO-Regen with the new LPS-1.2 that should be here in a few weeks.  I have to do a lot more listening to really evaluate these changes and get a couple of other listeners in here to [email protected]

 

-RJF

 

 

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  • 3 weeks later...

While waiting for the ISOREGN I have my SOTM SPS200 ultra in the system with a modified switch and the Mac Mini running in bridge mode.  Both my son an I are really enjoying the system setup this way..  I do not want to provide any detailed reports as of yet.    I have not had anyone else listen in this setup yet and I have not had my son audition the system with the Mac Mini directly connected to the DAC+ yet.

 

I wil be testing direct USB when the ISOREGN arrives.  Meanwhile just listening and enjoying the system

 

—RJF

 

Oh and testing Apple HomePods for fun!

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  • 3 weeks later...

Today I received an new interconnect cable set to put between the Brooklyn DAC+ to the AMP.  I have been running a Transparent Cable MM2 Plus balanced cable that I have had on loan.  The new cable set is a  Transparent Cable  Generation 5 Super balanced cable.    There is already a rather big improvement in bass response and dynamics.  At very low volume levels the dynamics are markedly improved.  They will take a while to break in!

 

NOTE:

As I have been making improvements to the system a couple of things are standing out. The system sounds better at all volume levels.  I also note that at higher levels the sound is not fatiguing.  I can see how folks blow up speaker drivers when things sound this good.  Care is needed.

 

I think I am done for this year!!!  Now to get my for sale list together!

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Just now, mozes said:

It feels great when you finally feel that your system reproduces music that moves you.

Yes it does.  I was listening this evening after babysitting the grandkids all afternoon and with the music just sort of in the background, AHHHH!

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On 2/28/2018 at 9:36 PM, bobfa said:

Today I received an new interconnect cable set to put between the Brooklyn DAC+ to the AMP.  I have been running a Transparent Cable MM2 Plus balanced cable that I have had on loan.  The new cable set is a  Transparent Cable  Generation 5 Super balanced cable.    There is already a rather big improvement in bass response and dynamics.  At very low volume levels the dynamics are markedly improved.  They will take a while to break in!

 

NOTE:

As I have been making improvements to the system a couple of things are standing out. The system sounds better at all volume levels.  I also note that at higher levels the sound is not fatiguing.  I can see how folks blow up speaker drivers when things sound this good.  Care is needed.

 

I think I am done for this year!!!  Now to get my for sale list together!

Every now and they things happen that just blow you away.  A very good friend of mine called the other day and said that there was a very good price on a used Ayre AX-5 Twenty available.... and so the changes continue...   Extremely un-expected!  

IMG_0692.thumb.jpg.84ff661d319719e0e2051673044515cc.jpg

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  • 2 months later...

Hi Bob,

Thanks for a very informative post! I was not happy with the sound coming from my Mac Mini High Sierra, running iTunes with Bitperfect, so I started to look around  for possible improvements. I discovered this forum and a wealth of information here, and your post was pretty much spot on what I was looking for.

 

As I live in Europe, availabilty and cost of equipment is somewhat different from the US so in my optimization journey I will likely go a slightly different route. Will post the results as I go along. Hope this will help others too.

 

Optimizations so far:

Replaced Bitperfect with Audirvana+:Noticable improvement in clarity and resolution. And most important, totally stable. BitPerfect with iTunes was not.

 

Optimized OS as per http://www.co-bw.com/Audio_OSX_Optimal_Audio.htm:

Note this is written for earlier OS, so did  what I could in High Sierra. This gave a subtle improvement in clarity.

 

So far the MM is not touching my analog reference, but the two steps above helped significantly.

 

This is my first post here, so I posted my system details below. 

 

All the best,

Svein 

 

Current system:

Digital: GTech external FW drive - MM 2014, 8GB, 500GB HDD, High Sierra - Audioquest USB Carbon - Bel Canto Dac 1.7 - Nordost Heimdall - Lavardin IS ReferenceLavardin Speaker Cable - Harbeth 30.1

 

Analog reference:

Linn LP12 (Radikal, Ittok IV II, Adikt) - Linn Tonearm Cable - Lejonclou Slipstik - Nordost Heimdall - Lavardin IS Ref

 

Other:

Isotek EVO3 power conditioner (for all audio, incl MM), Nordost, Audioquest and OEM power cables

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Svein,

 

It is nice to see others working on these problems.  I have modified what I am doing and have moved to a different system design.  My system has been in great flux due to a couple of nice turns of fate.  I have found; like many others removing the server from the local of the music system can have sonic advantages.  

 

Cleaning up the USB interfaces with something like the UpTone Audio ISOREGEN can be VERY helpful.  

Power supplies on some of the equipment can also make a difference.

 

Good luck in your testing, learning, etc..

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks Bob, 

I continued my process by adding the Intona USB isolator and running OS from an SDXC card as done by a number of others. I also tuned Audirvana according to the recommendations in this post. Overall the Mac Mini now sounds much better, for a not too significant cost. 

 

 

 

Some notes that may be of use to others:

- The Intona USB isolator make a significant difference. I previously used two Audioquest Jitterbugs, but the Intona is in a different class. More relaxed sound and less listening fatigue. Everything sounds tighter and more accurate, and I find myself listening at higher volume. I kept one of the Jitterbugs in an unused USB port on the Mac Mini. The Jitterbug gave the system a slightly rounder bass. I do not know if this is more accurate, but I prefer this so far. Running a Jitterbug before the Intona did not work well. The Intona is sensitive to cable quality both on the inlet and outlet side. I tried with an old Apogee USB cable on the inlet first and was somewhat underwhelmed. I then changed to the same Audioquest Carbon I had on the outlet, and this made a significant improvement. 

 

- Running the OS from the SDXC card gave some improvement, but less significant than the Intona. This was a bit tricky to do in High Sierra, as formatting the card and installing OS was not straightforward (Setting the partition table to GUID require you to format the parent of the card in Disk Utility. There is also some conflicting information on how to install OS on the card on Apple support pages. I found downloading OS to the hard drive and then select do the install on the card in the "Installer MacOS High Sierra" tool worked, not the procedure suggested by Apple here https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201372)

 

- Optimising Audirvana izotope settings gave further improvements, although not as significant as adding the Intona. I posted in the thread referenced above my settings.

 

Next step is to install an internal 1TB SSD and move my library there...

 

Svein 

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  • 1 month later...

Completed the process above, installed a 1TB SSD in place of the FW hard drive (powered by a wall wart...)  - a breeze thanks to the iFixit tools and instructions. Further improvement. I am enjoying the sound of digital much more now - and find myself listening at higher volume settings.

 

Other tweaks:

- all audio, including computer is powered from the Isotek EVO3

- use of the Apple Firewire to Ethernet adapter to connect to the internet, rather than the built in plug

- upgraded the power cable to my amp and DAC. Especially the amp power cable was a noticeable improvement.

- I have two versions of OS on the computer, a slim version on the SDXC card, and a full version on its own small partition on the 1 TB SSD. Convenient if I want to run other applications than Audirvana. 

 

So conclusions (which should not come as a surprise to anyone at this site)

- To release the potential of the MacMini as a music server, cleaning up the USB is a required step

- Removal of spinning drives help the sound

- optimising OS by simplifying the OS and splitting OS and audio files help the sound

- Refinement of the power system (including the computer) yield a significant sound improvement

 

Thanks to bobfa for starting this thread and sharing his experience. 

 

Svein

 

 

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