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Hi,

 

I am looking to start up a Mac-based music (and possible some video) server.

 

I've read through a bunch of threads on this site, trying to find as many answers, or at least basic knowledge as possible before posting. However, I am brand new to Macs, and have never been one to be on the cutting edge of technology. I listen to a lot of vinyl, but a lot of music I like isn't on vinyl (and some newer releases mastered for CD, then cut to vinyl don't sound that great.) Using Itunes and Ipod has spoiled me though as far as music accessibility and storage, and hooking up the Ipod to my stereo obviously doesn’t cut it.

 

I will need to buy a Mac, a DAC (tube-based I hope), and external storage (I assume) and backup. I have Dell laptop that serves as our one computer at the moment, a docking bay with peripherals in the office, and taking the laptop to other rooms in the house for general use as needed. It is physically starting to fall apart though, so we are looking to replace this, or at least supplement with another laptop. We are not averse to going Mac for all our computer needs.

 

I mostly need advice on which MAC (possible more than one, if needed) and storage device, and how they can all work together. I also intend to get an iTouch to use as remote.

 

I have a 24" LCD TV in my listening (living) room where we watch some TV and DVD’s (another room has big TV and cheap surround sound set-up), so with a wireless mouse and keyboard, a Mac Mini could be used; I like the price and the fact that its always there as part of the system. However, while the initial primary use for this Mac will be a music server, it would/could also be used for internet use. Ideally, it would be nice to go with the Macbook, as it is much better for general use, rather than sitting on the couch with keyboard and mouse with the monitor across the room, sometimes having to move closer, on a chair. But if I go with a Macbook, I am wary of having to plug things in each time I want to listen to music. Is there a way to use the Macbook, with the music on an external drive, without having to “plug it in”? With a Mini, I would just have the computer/external hard drive/DAC always connected. If I wanted to use Macbook, I would have to physically plug into a DAC, correct?

 

It seems like external storage is the way to go, even though I’m probably only dealing with ~150-200 CD’s currently (and only 50 in regular rotation), but I want to leave room to grow, and possibly add video. I don’t really have a sense of how much space lossless music takes up. I could probably (?) get away with starting with 120/160 GB mini or macbook memory, backed up onto my 120 GB external hard drive.

 

I think one can use Airport Express to wirelessly get your music to the DAC, but does the sound qualify suffer? Is it too slow?

 

If going the Macbook route, do wireless hard drives work well, or do most people prefer a hard connection? What kind of money are we talking for the external/backup storage?

 

So I guess these questions are a good start. I’m excited to build this system.

 

 

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Welcome to C/A Sandman.

 

Sounds like you're bout to take the plunge! You'll certainly get some opinions here, and here are mine -

 

"However, I am brand new to Macs, and have never been one to be on the cutting edge of technology. I listen to a lot of vinyl, but a lot of music I like isn't on vinyl (and some newer releases mastered for CD, then cut to vinyl don't sound that great.) Using Itunes and Ipod has spoiled me though as far as music accessibility and storage, and hooking up the Ipod to my stereo obviously doesn’t cut it."

 

You sound exactly like me! I used windows since mid 80's and just switched to Mac this year. It will be pretty easy for you I suspect. I bought the extended service coverage so I can call. I understand how to deal with my Windows files and registry, but Mac was/is new to me. You'll do fine.

 

"I will need to buy a Mac, a DAC (tube-based I hope), and external storage (I assume) and backup. I have Dell laptop that serves as our one computer at the moment, a docking bay with peripherals in the office, and taking the laptop to other rooms in the house for general use as needed. It is physically starting to fall apart though, so we are looking to replace this, or at least supplement with another laptop. We are not averse to going Mac for all our computer needs."

 

All good stuff above, but I think there are many DACs w/o tubes that are great too. When you have a budget somebody will make suggestions. Several reviews here too. Also, when you get to external storage, most of the folks here use mirror images so it kinda solves the backup issue on its own. I use Drobo cause I'm fat and lazy and sleep in green meadows. Go read about Drobo and you will get an understanding of what it does. Others here have different ways of doing similar solutions, but I'm not as geeky as they are. Hahahaha. I would get lost and screw it up.

 

"a Mac Mini could be used; However, ... Macbook, as it is much better for general use" - that about sums it up. I went black Macbook for that very reason. iMac is nice but gets hotter. Plus, you can move the Macbook easily to your server someday and rip direct via USB or firewire.

 

"I am wary ... I would have to physically plug into a DAC, correct?" Yes, don't be wary. I run my Macbook without the battery plugged into the wall. USB cord to DAC. They magnetically connect and you could do it in the dark I suspect. No worries there. I sometimes have to reboot the DAC when I unplug it.

 

I'd guess I have about 800 cds on 500 GB uncompressed. Somebody can do the math, that's an estimate. I think you can start out with an internal drive and when too full take it to the next step and move everything to remote storage.

 

"backed up onto my 120 GB external hard drive." - should work fine for a while

 

"I think one can use Airport Express to wirelessly get your music to the DAC, but does the sound qualify suffer? Is it too slow?"- works fine

 

"If going the Macbook route, do wireless hard drives work well, or do most people prefer a hard connection? What kind of money are we talking for the external/backup storage?" - Airport extreme wireless networks with the external storage residing on the base station work fine. Wireless signal to the laptop then into the DAC. If you just want to backup the laptop and run it direct wired to a DAC or receiver that's pretty cheap. I'd guess $150 or so. If you want a wireless music server with 4TB storage for thousands of CDs I'd guess $1,000 to $1,500.

 

All said, I like to suggest the MacBooks, but some folks really like mini's. If you don't want to drag it around ... Ever ... the mini is neat, but the no screen for me is a pain. Both are quiet.

 

Good luck

George

 

opps ps edit - I've never tried video over my wireless yet so no clue there.

 

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Hi Sandman - Welcome to Computer Audiophile. You're in the same situation as many readers here on CA.

 

A MacBook might be a really nice solution for you to start with, but it's hard to know exactly what will work for each person. I have a MacBook Pro, MacBook (black), MacBook Air, and Mac Pro. The Mac Pro is my reference music server because the options are unlimited. It accepts FireWire 400 & 800, USB, and PCI-Express cards. Considering what you've mentioned I really think the MacBook will be better than the Mini for you. If you really like tube DACs you should look at Gordon Rankin's Wavelength Audio DACs. The Brick is a tube design that may fit your needs. For starters you can always use the internal disk and then migrate to a NAS unit that has mirrored drives. This way you are up and running without too much dificulty, especially since you may move to a Mac which you're not used to. You certainly can use wireless to a DAC. The Airport Express and Squeezebox type products will work and some people really love them. They just aren't my cup of tea.

 

There is a lot of info here and there are ten questions that could be asked for each suggestion I'm sure. Let us know what you're thinking based on the suggestions and we'll be here to keep the discussion going until your system is up and running or you decide it's not for you. The later is not very likely though :-)

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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I was in your situation a few weeks ago. You have come to the best site in all of cyberspace for this type of info. This is the way I decided to go, despite my being a Microsoft user since the days of DOS.

 

I purchased a Mac Mini as it was nice and compact and would easily fit in my audio cabinet. It is dead quiet! I wanted a stationary setup as I did not want to be continuously hooking and unhooking my USB DAC. I will also get a MacBook or a MacBook Pro (when the soon to be updated models are released) to use as a control for the Mac Mini. OS X has a great little application called Screen Sharing, which allows a Mac notebook to control the Mac Mini from your listening position. The iPod Touch while it can control your music selection (it works well even from my patio), I don't think it will allow you to edit tags, add album art etc. After I load my 800 or so CD's I will remove the temporary monitor connected to the Mac Mini, thereby requiring some way to access the Mac Mini.

 

As far as storage is concerned, there are many ways to go from remote NAS (expensive, but secure in RAID 5) to a quiet external drive that resides next to the Mac Mini. Storage is cheap now days. I picked up a 1 TB external firewire HD for under $200.

 

The only warning for those of us that are not familiar with OS X, is there is a learning curve and some frustrations to be expected. The help that you will receive here at this site with OS X will be worth making the jump. From my limited experience, the sound from a Mac has been worth the initial frustrations. The real joy is immediate access to all your music!

 

Whatever way you go...enjoy the journey.

 

 

 

Alan B

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"The Airport Express and Squeezebox type products will work and some people really love them. They just aren't my cup of tea."

 

Why is that?

 

I do agree with the thought of starting off using local harddrive for storage (and back-up onto current 120GB external), then moving to bigger and better external storage once I get used to everything and/or need the space.

 

So my first thoughts after reading these relpies are that if I were to do just one Mac, it should be Macbook, as it would allow for use other than as music server, i.e., computer to roam the house with, and the Dell can stay docked in the office. And I would then go with Airport Express so as to not have to deal with plugging and unplugging into DAC. Especially since there are no issues with speed of playback or soundquality when transmitting wirelss (correct?)

 

The other good thing about the Macbook is that I would be eligible for the educational offer they have going that give a free iTouch. (Mac mini isn't included in that offer.) Which is a good segue ...

 

Let's say my wife is using the Macbook. If I have the iTouch and iTunes is open on the computer while she is websurfing, can I still control the music without interupting her experience?

 

If I find the Macbook unsuitable for my tastes in relation to its function as a music server and/or the Dell dies, then I can add a Mini. But I am still open to arguements for the mini!

 

Thanks,

Stephen

 

 

 

 

 

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Hi sandman - I'm not a fan of the wireless transport products for a couple reasons. The biggest reason is I don't like the sound. To me it is very un-involving and I get bored listening to this sound. many people don't even notice a difference however and this is not to suggest anything about my system versus theirs or my hearing versus theirs. The other reason I don't like the wireless systems is the bad software interface (with the exception of the Airport Express). To me the Squeezebox interface is terrible and I can't stand using it for a period longer than it takes me to review a product that requires it. But, the wireless functionality is absolutely fabulous if you need it.

 

Getting one MacBook is smart for another reason as well. When you need to make a quick adjustment you have a monitor and keyboard physically attached. Sometimes this can't be beat.

 

you will be able to control the music and it should not effect your wife's web surfing. However, her web surfing may effect your sound quality and possibly cause dropouts.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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Hi Sandman - I'm a recent convert to this whole Mac based server thing as well, so we are in the same boat. I've recently purchased a Macbook and an Airport Extreme (as opposed to Express) to which I'll attach a 1TB hard drive for my storage. I'm still pondering my DAC choices, but for now I'm just running via toslink from the Macbook right into my Yamaha AVR which has a pretty decent DAC. That piece is still a work in progress.

 

My comment here, however, is more of a question for you, then maybe one for the rest of the gang here. Can you clarify where in the chain you are thinking of putting an Airport Express? It sounds like, after your computer and before your DAC. Chris, if you're reading this, isn't that not the preferable thing? I recall you saying something like "before iTunes=good, after iTunes=bad". Not a showstopper but not the best, from what I've been told. Sandman, if I've got this completely wrong, my apologies, just wanted to clarify.

 

TheOtherTim

 

 

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Exactly right Tim. Before iTunes = good, after iTunes = bad. Using wireless to transfer files to your music server has no negative effect on the sound. Using wireless to send music to your audio system defintely has an effect on the sound. Many people don't mind it, it's just not my cup of tea.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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Using Airport is at the crux of how I approach building a digital system.

 

To use a macbook rather than a mac mini, I am wary of having to plug the computer into the DAC each time I want to listen to music.

 

Yes, my thought was to use the Airport after Itunes, thus freeing me from having to plug into the DAC. Opinions seem to differ as to sound quality here in my initial research into the subject. If there are differences amoung those who consider themselves audiophiles, then I am guessing it really is a subjective issue, and I ultimately will have to see for myself, A/B'ing between the Airport and hardwiring from computer to DAC.

 

However, I am still trying to get some opinions on this before deciding on what direction to go.

 

As for using the Airport/wireless between the computer and any external storage, that is something I haven't fully explored yet, as I will probably start off ripping to the local mac drive (whichever type of mac it may be), and backing up via USB to my current 120GB external drive.

 

 

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I completely understand where you are coming from Sandman. Ease of use and a technical term used around here called "WAF" (wife acceptance factor) are a huge part of this project. I thought I'd just mention that point with the Express since it's been tossed around here before and you may not have seen it.

 

The big mantra around here is, "if it sounds good to you, then that's the perfect solution". So your idea of A/B-ing the different setups would be the thing to do. I'm going to be doing the same sort of analysis of the DAC in my receiver vs. a standalone DAC like the Benchmark. A/B and see if I perceive the value there.

 

TheOtherTim

 

 

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  • 1 month later...

Well, I picked up Macbook (black) yesterday. Have MHDT Paradisea tube DAC with USB on the way. Mac store was out of Airport Express, but its on order. I plan on ABing computer to DAC USB connection vs wireless, either way, I'm all set I think.

 

Am I missing anything here? I think I have what I need to get started.

 

Only thing left to do will be to get external storage/backup.

 

Is there anything wrong with going with Apple Timecapsule for that? Are there considerable better options than that for the money considering the Timecapsule is doubles as router.

 

Thanks,

Stephen

 

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Hi Stephen - You should be all set. It's really that simple to get a music server going with really good sound. You can use the Time Capsule in your situation and the router function of it. There are better NAS options, but nothing easier for the price.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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  • 4 weeks later...

A big thanks to Chris and others who posted their thoughts in this thread. I am up and running: Macbook black, MHDT Paradisea USB Tube DAC. This sound quality is better than my Arcam CD-92, which I sold. Overall, I still prefer the sounds of sqeaky clean vinyl (to redbook CD), but the convenience, low maintenence, music browseing capability, and high-res content have left my turntable mostly unused the past couple of weeks. Speaking of high-res .... wow!! I downloaded some of the free content from various sites, in particular the stuff from 2L, and its amazing. I will be ordering some titles from them soon.

 

Quick question on high-res ... with limited content available for download, can DVD-based music disks be burned to my mac and played back at its native quality?

 

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