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upgrades in what order? Newbie alert!

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Hi all,

I am new to this. Will spare you the details of my listening habits but only this much: I am looking for convenience (next to my CD/vinyl/SET amp setup) which suits everyday listening while doing other stuff; hence no true audiophile, probably more an 'overall acceptable Hi-Fi sound'.


I am sure the question has been answered here before (...but it quickly gets into detailed and specific recommendations) but I am wondering in what order I should approach things (Mac/Itunes based, files are 50% MP3s and 50% Apple Lossless, amp and speakers exist):


1st step / low-fi:

Listening to part MP3s (streaming from an Ipad/Iphone)

through Airport Express.

Does an external DAC make sense or should I just use the headphone out w. an o.k. interconnect?


If the DAC does make sense in combo w. Airport Express, is optical-out-to-DAC better than USB-to-DAC?


Next step up: If finally going for a Mac Mini 'music server'(using Iphone as remote), what would come first / second in your experience?










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If you're sticking with the Airport Express, the (mini-toslink) optical output is your only option. The usb on the unit is just for a printer and will not output to a dac. Playback software is (in my experience) not a factor in this configuration, but will make a difference if you move to a mac mini feeding your dac directly.


Regarding interconnects, personally I couldn't detect much difference between a £20 Cambridge toslink with the ugly adapter, and a £60 Van den Hul optocoupler with mini-toslink in the Airport Express to dac configuration. But I thought there was some benefit with the more expensive cable when going direct from macbook to dac (and with higher res material than redbook). Dac was a Cambridge DACMagic.


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Kool. Sounds like my order will be DAC (w. airport), then Mac Mini, then interconnects (if at all, not sure if I want to go down that path again...). As for software, I am quite happy with Itunes. And (again, I am sure 'what DAC' had been discusseed here, but...) is there a solid and proven configuration with Mac Mini (optical, FireWire or USB) below -let's say- $ 300,00 (for the DAC)?

Non-oversampling has worked well for me so far but I am not set on it.

I am sure there is lots out there and I have read the 'CASH' list but this is supposed to be for 'doing dishes or playing with my son' audio...


thanks again!


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It isn't. At this point 50% MP3s and 50% Apple Lossless, tendency to more lossless in future so the whole Mac Mini DAC thing will built more and more on lossless files. But what also interests me: Does MP3 automatically render all upgrades useless? No audio experience in this but from other areas (photography) I know that you do see the difference in how an image was taken (large format, good lens...) even when displayed in 72 DPI browser resolution...


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I use the HRT Musicstreamer II and highly recommend it; I also like the Nuforce uDac-2. Both are very solid; I think the musicstreamer is is more musical but the uDac has more bells and whistles (a volume control and a headphone amp).


Macmini (as server)-> AE Express/SB Touch-> Dacmagic plus -> Outlaw RR2150 -> PSB Image T6 (dedicated 2 channel audio system)

Macmini (via toslink)-> NAD T747 -> PSB Imagine B/SVS SB2000 subwoofer (home theater)

Macbook Pro-> Peachtree idecco->PSB Imagine Minis, Energy ESW-M8 subwoofer, Beyerdynamic DT880 (home office)

IMac->audioengine D1 dac->airmotiv 4 (work system)

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You cannot turn a turd into a diamond no matter how you polish it..


I am not saying you cannot make MP3 sound better, perhaps one can, but you begin so far down the audio quality scale that the final results are still far below mediocre CD playback. I have two MP3 files in my entire library, and only because they specific songs do not exist on any CD I can find...


I have found you an argument; I am not obliged to find you any understanding – Samuel Johnson

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Yeah. And I have more than two. But for similar reasons. But still I would want the rest (lossless, as mentioned) to sound the best they can at a given investment. And this won't make the MP3s sound worse, right?

At the end of the day all this is supposed to be an o.k. playback system for my mixed bag of files for everyday use. No climbing up the curve of diminishing returns here...




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A common mis-conception is that all MP3s sound the same: lousy. Not so. I used to use LAME or CoolEdit to create my MP3s from CDs and they were not that bad at all for 192 to 256 kbps, and especially at 320 kbps. The iTunes AAC downloads are also OK. I have heard some lousy MP3s, and they are unfortunately the most common on the internet, so in that respect it is understandable the negative opinions that MP3s garner.


That said, Schotter, if you go the USB or Firewire route, that immediately retires your airport express. Of course it can remain as an extra device in your setup, too.


If you decide to stick with the airport express, definitely take advantage of its optical output. The advantage of the airport is it ability to keep the stereo and computer far away from each other. Get a glass toslink cable like this;




Reasonably priced DACs you can look into are the Matrix Mini I and the Bereford Caiman. I have the Mini I now and I used to own the Caiman "jr." so to speak, the Beresford TC-7520. The main reason I went from the Beresford to the Mini I was because I wanted balanced outputs. The Matrix seems to produce its best performance thru the balanced out as well. The advantage to these DACs is that they can be used as a pre-amp as well. They have a volume control and can be plugged directly into a power amp. That setup can bring you much closer to the music.



Also, make sure you set your iTunes for bit -perfect or bit transparent data transfer.Volume to maximum or 100%. No EQ, soundcheck off etc. Bit perfect is benefifical to whatever setup you decide to use, whether sticking with airport or getting a USB or Firewire DAC. This Benchmark media link goes into deeper detail;




I have an airport and went one step further: added a jitterbuster Theta TLC. That little black box did wonders for the AE's optical output.


Hope this helps.








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Schotter, your welcome; I love the HRT musicstreamer and it is inexpensive. James, I disagree with you about the utility of MP3 files and whether the sound will improve with a better DAC and speakers. My library is ripped to lossless but I have quite a few high bit rate MP3s and the sound is very good through my system. Heck, I use MP3s exclusively for the netbook I use for traveling to save space and the sound isn't half bad through my Grado SR60 headphones (but I need to find a good amp to travel with). Plus I use a Logitech boombox to listen to internet radio (mainly Pandora) at night. The sound is pretty good and internet radio streams at a low bit rate. To each his own, eh? If you like MP3 files, then enjoy them and get whatever equipment you like. Miguel


Macmini (as server)-> AE Express/SB Touch-> Dacmagic plus -> Outlaw RR2150 -> PSB Image T6 (dedicated 2 channel audio system)

Macmini (via toslink)-> NAD T747 -> PSB Imagine B/SVS SB2000 subwoofer (home theater)

Macbook Pro-> Peachtree idecco->PSB Imagine Minis, Energy ESW-M8 subwoofer, Beyerdynamic DT880 (home office)

IMac->audioengine D1 dac->airmotiv 4 (work system)

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Codifus, thanks. That's actually some very valuable 'how to'. Simply where to start and how to continue...

Any objection towards staying with the optical on a Mac Mini after retiring the Airport Express? Or is Fire Wire / USB recommended when coming from a server?



Yes, absolutely. I am not going to stop banging my head because it's MP3.



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Of course you can use the Mac Mini's optical as well. The airport express is 16/44.1 only whereas with the Mac Mini's optical you can go up to 24/96.


Keep in mind that the Mac mini and AE's optical outputs are known to be notoriously jittery. This jitter can be addressed by an additional device (Theta TLC, digital lens, Empirical pace car etc) or by using a DAC that's very good at reducing jitter. Both those options increase the cost, though. Generally, good jitter reducing DACs start at about $1000.00 The Theta TLC is a product that's well over 10 years old and is no longer made. I picked up a used one for $100.00 recently.


Qualitywise I would put things in this order (1 being best etc);


1. Firewire or USB DAC connected directly to Mac Mini

2. Optical out of Mac mini to a DAC

3. Airport Express.


Option 1 and 2 have to keep the computer right there with the stereo whereas option 3 can keep things remote. The computer can be somewhere and the stereo can be somewhere else with the AE.






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Urgh, jitter (had to look it up, though. Doesn't sound good)!

So I will probably be leaning towards one w. both toslink and USB to cover the Airport (optical) now and Mac Mini (USB) option for later.


Not too concerned about the Mac next to the other components since this will be dedicated to Music only and won't have a Monitor or keyboard.


thanks again!




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Bikemig, I am not saying MP3 cannot be made so sound better, just that the sound is limited by the format to a good bit less than even CD quality. It is a convenient media, not a high end one. WAV files on an iPod have more pretense to the high end than MP3 on anything and with anything done to it.


Remember, the better the system the MP3 is played through the more obvious its faults are.


My travel rig is an iPOD Classic (160GB or ram) using Ultimate Ear Pro 10 earphones. 99% of the files are WAV...that rig is only limited by the limits of CD sound played through an iPOD DAC...


I have found you an argument; I am not obliged to find you any understanding – Samuel Johnson

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You cannot turn a turd into a diamond no matter how you polish it..



@james1776, just thought you should know that the MythBusters did a whole segment on polishing turds. While they did not produce any diamonds, they did get some pretty impressive shiny turd balls!


New guy here - old guy elsewhere...Mac Mini - BitPerfect - USB - Schiit Bifrost DAC - shit cable - Musical Fidelity A3.5 - home-brew speakers designed to prioritize phase and time response (Accuton ceramic dome drivers and first-order crossovers) and a very cheaply but well corrected room...old head, old ears, conventionally connected to an old brain with outdated software.


"It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled." -- Mark Twain

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the more I research the more options pop up. Just when I started entertaining the last gen Apple TV / reasonably priced DAC option, I realized i do have a DAC and I could just use something like the Musical Fidelity V-Link Async USB Converter (of course not with ATV, but with a Mac Mini). My DAC is a very simple NOS 47Labs Shigaraki DAC w. RCA. Does this work?


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I just started back up in the world of being a pseudo audiophile after a long layoff...it seems like CD's will prob go the way of vinyl soon enough...so we must learn a new language with being a computer audiophile now.


After researching this same subject for a few days(hence newbie myself) now I have decided to return the Onkyo(Japan version) ipod transport just bought but will keep the Musical Fidelity V-DAC....just preordered the MF asynchronous USB to SPDIF box(V-Link) so I can use my laptop/itunes as music source...you're lucky, at least you have some lossless files but I threw away most of my CD's so I only have AAC MP3's on itunes for now...will prob download some lossless music from Rhino.com.


Decided to not incorporate my ipod at all since its just introducing a "middleman" for lack of better word...then I was going to stream music from either apple imac or laptop using Airport Express(optical out to DAC) but this didnt seem like the best solution either.


So I decided I need to download some lossless music first and use my extra laptop as a dedicated music source... then I will use the asynch USB MF piece which should start shipping next week and using it with the MF VDAC...will use this setup with a 50w tube amp and Martin-Logan CLS's(original).


mac mini/pure music, MF VLINK, PS DL III DAC, Pass X1, Pass X250, ML CLS I

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welcome back then...hehe. Nice setup btw. I enjoyed my modded (Red Wine Audio) Ipod for a couple of years now but I guess this middleman is now going, too.


I have got to say I am slowly working my way back to being an almost regular music nerd (definitively pseudo since I probably never was the audiophile I thought I was) who wants access to new musical inspiration via the web and cheap convenience in form of a remote.


My wet phantasy right now is to do away with the tube amp in this system, bring in the sexy little chip amp I already have and hook up a cheapish music server or streaming solution (and be done with it).


After reviewing all the new possibilities I felt like putting my own habits to the test and I came to the conclusion that my musical interests are widespread and a lot of what I hear won't be released on anything higher than CD resolution.

'Serious' listening happens rarely in my life and if it does, I have yet to hear something that beats my vinyl, it sounds sort of 'right' to me (disclaimer: This is me and me only in my little world).

So for my everyday listening, streaming from Mac or even Iphone will probably suffice.


Something like the V-Link USB Converter will require me to plug back and forth the two digital sources and that's already one step too many.


So with files/Mac/Iphone/Airport in place, the only thing missing is a DAC w. optical-in that sounds like music (not bells and whistles).


There were a lot of good suggestions in this thread but one final question: Which one is known to be 'organic' sounding (with optical)?







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  • 1 month later...

...I am happily listening to my 'Medium Res' doitall setup now as I write this. Apple lossless and some MP3/LAME playlists, internet radio, Last FM...I am pretty impressed how much is possible for small change in computer audio. I know, there's much more to refine but for now I am keeping my redbook / vinyl for the quiet hours (happens prob. once a month) and this for everyday listening: Ipad to Apple Airport Express (the older one) via optical to Valab Tera Dak NOS (unmodded, basic one) to 47 Labs Shigaraki Amp and Audio Note AN-J speakers (the latter two were already here, I sold the SET amp). It sounds airy enough but well 'grounded' and together. The Valabs tendency to be on the lighter side matches nicely with my sub-mid heavy Audio Notes. Overall there's a touch 'layering' missing and the individual instruments have a little less body than in the music coming from my Shigaraki CD/DAC or Garrard. Less of what I would call 'inner resolution'. But by far less so than I would have expected. Visually nice since the Ipad is displaying what I listen to and I actually do find my albums quicker...so yeah, this is about convenience as much as listenability (and obviously a bit of gadgetry). Mission accomplished for now. Next step could be to completely go for a Mac Mini server and lose the CD player, hook up my Shigaraki DAC (also NOS) via a V-Link or such...I hope upgraditis won't be upon me this soon...

Thanks for your input!



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