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New System Setup


csd455

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I am working on setting up a new computer audio system and need help with recommendations of hardware and software to meet my objectives.

 

I will have a new McIntosh C48 preamp which has a USB input and DAC. I would like to be able to sit on my sofa--12 feet from the audio rack--and control playback of iTunes and high-rez flac files from either an iPad/Mac Mini (which can be positioned next to the C48) or a Mac Book Pro. I like the option of controlling with the iPad/Mac Mini so that I do not have to string a USB 12 feet accross the room (actually would need about a 15 foot USB...probably not ideal?) to a MacBook. I plan to use either Pure Music or Amarra for playback.

 

I also currently have an iMac (10.6), and Airport Extreme. The iMac is in my office, far from the audio rooom. It would also be nice to web surf and download music while I'm listening and controlling playback from the sofa, but sounds like I cannot have it all with the iPad/Mini option.

 

What's my best option?

 

2010 MacMini 8GB, iPad with Splashtop & Remote app, McIntosh C48, McIntosh MC302, Sonus Faber Cremona M, Wireworld Starlight Silver, Kimber Hero AG\'s, Kimber 8TC, Pure Music, Audirvana.

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iTunes does not natively play FLAC but see

 

How To Convert HDtracks FLAC High Resolution Downloads and Add to iTunes (Video with Commentary) under "Home" on this website if you want to pursuit this issue

 

Amarra seems to have a workaround of creating a play list but this seems to defeat the purpose of easily selecting music, etc. Depends on how much functionality/relibility/hassle you want/need I suppose.

 

Puremusic seems to want you to convert the files to another format

 

No matter how cheap hard drive space may be, dealing with 2 copies of everything really creates cataloging issues, backup issues, etc

 

There are other software players for Apple that will play FLAC, although they seem to be less popular.

 

I am sure an iPad could control a MAC and iTunes/Amarra/Puremusic, remotely (presuming you resolve the FLAC issue)

 

Another solution would be to get some PC type device (such as the CAPS server [which can be built in few hours for $300-500]) or a small laptop or something else.

 

Any of a zillion PC software players can play FLAC natively. Use the iPAD to control the PC (remotely) with VNC or some flavor of remote desktop software. Works great.

 

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Thanks for the feedback. I was under the impression that Amarra and PureMusic would play high-res Flacs seemlessly (no space between tracks) without conversion or creating a playlist, and it's true that both are not ideal. I currently have been converting these files to ALAC (.m4a) so I can play through iTunes, (or burning as DVD-Audio...again a lot of hassle) but my understanding is that when I convert to ALAC for iTunes, my file is no longer a 24/96, which is the major driver to going Amarra or PM...playing the file natively. I've read some good reviews on Decibel but there seems to be much less talked about than the others.

 

Still not sure which way to go on the hardware side. Maybe best to bring one of the options home and work with it. If one doesn't work, I'm sure Apple has a decent exchange policy.

 

2010 MacMini 8GB, iPad with Splashtop & Remote app, McIntosh C48, McIntosh MC302, Sonus Faber Cremona M, Wireworld Starlight Silver, Kimber Hero AG\'s, Kimber 8TC, Pure Music, Audirvana.

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I use a Mac Mini in my system and control it via an iPad. I also use iTunes and Pure Music. Although iTunes in and of itself doesn’t support FLAC files Pure Music has facility to do so but I do not use it. I convert all FLAC files Hi Res or that I get in FLAC format to Apple Lossless via MAX and that combination plays Hi Res files flawlessly.

 

With your set up you can certainly use a Mac Mini in your system but you should be aware that the Remote App function for the iPad is simply a playback function and does not allow full access to the Mac Mini. You may still have a need for a monitor occassionally for importing CDs via the Mac Mini or other tasks. I have my HDTV on my audio rack and use the HDMI out from the Mac Mini to the HDTV. I then use a wireless keyboard and trackpad to control all functions of the Mac Mini when necessary but for simple playback of music it is the iPad with Remote App.

 

"A mind is like a parachute. It doesn't work if it is not open."
Frank Zappa
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Since you're using iTunes and want to keep it hi-res you could also convert your FLAC files to 24/96 AIFF. Be sure to check that your Audio Midi settings are set to output that and that your DAC can handle it.

 

I do not use Amarra or Pure Music but I do control my library (hi-rez and standard-rez) with the Remote app on my iPhone or iPad.

 

Bill

 

 

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

Mac Mini->Roon + Tidal->KEF LS50W

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"my understanding is that when I convert to ALAC for iTunes, my file is no longer a 24/96,"

 

Just to clarify, this is not so (I routinely convert 24/96 FLAC to 24/96 ALAC with XLD. I've not used MAX but would be shocked if it was any less able to do this.)

 

" I've read some good reviews on Decibel but there seems to be much less talked about than the others."

 

It is new, as is Audirvana. Be sure to check both out.

 

I use a 2010 mac mini. I also recently tried out my wife's new 8-core, fully pimped out laptop. To my ears, during my brief listen, the sound was indistinguishable.

 

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If you're looking for full screen access, the Screens app works fairly well. If I need to do something more substantial (system updates and configurations), use a Mac and the Screen Sharing program to control the Mini.

 

As for FLACs, I too use Max to convert to ALACs. Haven't had any problems yet.

 

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But be wary of using iTunes itself to try to convert to 24-bit AIFF. Although OS X can convert to 24-bit AIFF, as can Max and XLD, iTunes (at least up to version 10.1.2, the latest I've tried) will convert to 8- or 16-bit AIFF files only.

iTunes is fine for converting to 24-bit ALAC, though.

 

 

 

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I like "mwheelerk's" idea of running an HDMI from a Mac Mini to my HDTV, along with a wireless keyboard and mouse for accessing all functions of the mini, (including playback I assume). With a 58" plasma as a monitor, probably no need for an iPad (well, there's always a "need" for more gear, right?)

 

I just got done working more on file conversion with MAX and figured out how to convert high rez FLACS to ALAC or AIFF at 24 bit. I'm sure I can search to find an answer to this--and perhaps it's hotly debated--but for time savings: is there an advantage/disadvantage to ALAC vs. AIFF?

 

2010 MacMini 8GB, iPad with Splashtop & Remote app, McIntosh C48, McIntosh MC302, Sonus Faber Cremona M, Wireworld Starlight Silver, Kimber Hero AG\'s, Kimber 8TC, Pure Music, Audirvana.

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I think there is now consensus that the two files sound the same when played via memory play, as is available in Pure Music (and others).

 

Some claim to hear a difference when played in iTunes (which does not use memory play).

 

 

 

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In effect you do not need to have an iPad if you use your HDTV with wireless keyboard and mouse to control the Mac Mini. It is essentially a full function computer at that point.

 

On the plus side I enjoy having my album artwork shown with coverflow during music playback. Seeing those album covers on an HDTV is pretty cool. I don’t always want my HDTV on and that is when I use the iPad with the Remote App for simple playback control.

 

My system combination has worked very well for me.

 

With regards to AIFF vs ALAC I personally hear no differences and have committed to ALAC.

 

"A mind is like a parachute. It doesn't work if it is not open."
Frank Zappa
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I notice in your gear, you have the upgraded Mini with 4G RAM and way more storage. How important you think to upgrade over the basic Mini? I have the other "McIntosh" expenses to deal with...to bad they don't sell for for $799!

 

Also, I do have AppleTV (streaming from my iMac) already so know the joy of seeing album artwork on the big screen. Whole point of this project though is to move away from current streaming into my home theater, and move up to higher end 2-channel with direct USB.

 

2010 MacMini 8GB, iPad with Splashtop & Remote app, McIntosh C48, McIntosh MC302, Sonus Faber Cremona M, Wireworld Starlight Silver, Kimber Hero AG\'s, Kimber 8TC, Pure Music, Audirvana.

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You are following a path I have already taken. I started off with the Apple TV and the move to the Mac Mini was to eliminate streaming. I highly recommend the 4GB of RAM as a minimum and buy 8GB if you can afford it. I started with the basic Mac Mini with 2GB RAM and that was not sufficient to run Pure Music with its primary features engaged. 4GB seems fine but if I was starting from scratch I would have stretched for 8GB.

 

The additional reason to leave the Apple TV behind was the want to play high res files which it does not support.

 

I use (3) 1TB Western Digital HDD. One of the WD HDD is my primary location for my iTunes library. The second is my primary back up which using Time Machine occurs routinely and automatically. The third WD HDD is a portable that I use as a redundant back up on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis depending on how much I have added or changed to my library. It is stored in a firesafe when not in use.

 

"A mind is like a parachute. It doesn't work if it is not open."
Frank Zappa
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If you have the 2010 mini, you might as well get 8 gig of memory. Third party (OWC) was about $100.

 

I kept the HHD. I notice no difference between it and a laptop with an SSD. So you might want to check this first, since it is an expensive upgrade.

 

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/****Protection shield deactivated

 

I prefer the PC [so I know what's probably coming], but reasonably assuming that the sound between a well setup PC and MAC is probably not substantially different [or at least not more different] than various versions of MAC players/converted software/etc, doesn't anyone can get a little worn out/put off/hassled by having to maintain 2 libraries, having to convert all of these files, using rudimentary interfaces or having to use the workarounds?

 

I thought the beauty of the MAC was "easy-peasy", no hassle, etc.

 

If one has to go through a lot of gyrations, double backups (of file starting to get pretty big now), remote control status of yes/no/partial/maybe - why not just go back to vinyl and be done with it?

 

I have 3 MACs and I can see the attraction of the MAC - ease of use, design, systemness, etc

 

Truly not criticizing - just wondering

 

Protection shield reactivated*****/

 

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Are your comments serious or ‘tongue in cheek’? If your serious then there is some work and planning involved in starting up a computer based system but I don’t see it any different if you were planning a new optical disc or vinyl based system. You have to make some decisions about what will work best for you. Once you made that decision and implemented the system then nothing could be more fun, more accessible and more enjoyable in listening to music without all the monkey business of flipping over albums, changing discs. I have been a huge vinyl collector in my life. I have been a huge CD collector. I would never ever go back to listening to music that way and truly enjoy my music now more than I have in years.

 

It works great for me but your mileage may vary.

 

"A mind is like a parachute. It doesn't work if it is not open."
Frank Zappa
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Multiple libraries aren't so bad. I use Home Sharing in iTunes to pull in songs ripped to my iMac to the library on my MacBook Pro where we sync our iPhones and iPad. It's really not that difficult.

 

As for backups, data redundancy seems to be the future and a nice thing in a way. It's a lot easier than storing multiple copies on vinyl, cassette or CD. With those formats if anything happened most had no choice but to go out and repurchase. Now we can just fire up a backup that was made automatically in the middle of the night and be back in business.

 

As for the remote aspect, the ability to sit across the room, or in another room from the computer, in my favorite chair and hold access to my entire library in my hand with a gorgeous interface (iPad Remote App) still blows my mind.

 

When company comes over and they can pass around the Touch or use their iPhone to play DJ outside on the deck at a BBQ they love it as well.

 

I just bought a turntable. A Rega P2. Comparatively it is a PITA to setup. Mounting it on a wall shelf, making sure it's level, aligning the cartridge, balancing the tonearm, adjusting the tracking force, etc. Then there's having to remove the platter to play a 45RPM record, having no remote, listening to pops and cracks, having to treat the album and table itself so gently etc.

 

It's cool so far...but I don't have much on vinyl. That said, it's not really providing me with anything new or mind blowing. It will come in handy for limited-edition vinyl only releases though and sway me to sit back and listen.

 

I guess what I'm saying is that each format (or OS/software) has it's own quirks and perks. It's about figuring out which finds you more music enjoyment at the end of the day.

 

Bill

 

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

Mac Mini->Roon + Tidal->KEF LS50W

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There is no need to have more than one library. I now have one library that I share amongst at least five devices, and I let iTunes resample on the fly. Others do things different for their own reasons, but there is absolutely no compelling reason to have more than one library with iTunes, whether you use a mac or a pc. I would go so far as to say that is iTunes' greatest strength.

 

The simplicity aesthetic is why I prefer macs, fwiw. But this stuff is not platform dependent.

 

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I have an older MacBook Pro sitting atop my rack, connected to the USB port on my McIntosh C50 (see attached photo below). I have ripped all my CDs to Apple Lossless. High res music in FLAC or AIFF format from HD Tracks gets converted to ALAC as well and imported into the iTunes library. However, I keep a separate directory with all these files in their original formats.

 

I realized early on that there was no perfect all-round solution, so I adopted a good/better/best concept for playback.

 

Casual listening: iTunes + ALAC -> USB port

Remotes: iPhone or iPad with Apple Remote app; screen sharing iPad running iTap VNC; MacBook Air with OSX screen sharing; McIntosh remote for basic transport control

Notes: Pretty straightforward. McIntosh C50 remote provides basic iTunes transport control when the Mac is connected to the Mc's USB port. ;-)

 

More critical listening: iTunes + Decibel + ALAC -> TOSLINK optical port

Remotes: Screen sharing with iPad running iTap VNC; MacBook Air with OSX screen sharing

Notes: Decibel has the ability to play the currently highlighted tracks in iTunes. You simply highlight the tracks you want in iTunes, then click the iTunes icon on Decibel. The tracks appear within decibel, ready to play. I have Decibel configured to output to one of the C50's optical ports and to automatically control bit depth and sample rate to match the track being played. I simply rotate the C50's input selector to the optical port.

 

Most critical listening: Decibel + FLAC -> TOSLINK optical port

Remotes: Screen sharing with iPad running iTap VNC; MacBook Air with OSX screen sharing

Notes: I drag files from my high res folder directly onto Decibel and play from there. As above, Decibel is preconfigured to output to the optical port and adjusts bit depth and sample rate automatically.

 

Like my C50, your C48 only supports 16bit/48kHz on the USB port until McIntosh gets the firmware update out in a few months, allowing for up to 24/192. That's primarily why I adopted the usage scenarios above. I like the ease of use provided by iTunes and the ability to share music from a central server. I like being able to use the C50 remote for transport control. I like being able to stream music from my server to several Apple TVs around the house. iTunes is not perfect, but it offers great utility. And the vast majority of my music is 16/44.1, so USB works fine for that.

 

When I want to get more critical, I use Decibel with the C50's optical ports, which support 24/96 today. Decibel's ability to control bit depth & sample rate is very convenient. It has nice, simple integration with iTunes. And I think the output quality is as good as it gets when you use it to play FLACs and use the memory buffer feature. Decibel is simple, straightforward and high quality - a heck of a value for just $33.

 

Links:

Decibel ($33): http://sbooth.org/Decibel/

iTap VNC ($11.99): http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/itap-vnc-remote-desktop-for/id345580433?mt=8

OSX Screen Sharing: http://mac.appstorm.net/how-to/os-x/using-screen-sharing-in-os-x-leopard/

 

Make sense?

 

 

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AutoFormer - Thanks for the valuable info, photo and links...especially since I will have very similar equipment (delivered next week: C48>MC302>Sonus Faber Cremona M). A few questions/comments on your post:

Until I read your post, I did not know the C48/C50 could handle 24/96 through any port, (you say they will via optical) but did know there will be a Mcintosh update sometime this summer so sounds like I should have an optical option as well until that happens.

I too have always maintained a directory with original FLACS that have been primarily downloaded. Ripped, I just convert to ALAC and file into iTunes libarary.

 

I was trying some of the free demo's of Amarra and PureMusic (just playing through my iMac) last night and was confused as to output bit/depth matching original file. Seems you have to restart in order for them to play in another file with a different sample rate than the last. I will try Decibel as it sounds more straightforward. From what I can tell, I want playback to match the source sample/bit depth. (actually, I'm not sure if upsampling is desired?)

 

Lastly, it looks like you have two screen sharing programs running, one for iPad and one for the Macbook. Is this necessary due to the different OS's? Would that be necessary if I ran a Mac Mini? Please advise.

 

 

 

2010 MacMini 8GB, iPad with Splashtop & Remote app, McIntosh C48, McIntosh MC302, Sonus Faber Cremona M, Wireworld Starlight Silver, Kimber Hero AG\'s, Kimber 8TC, Pure Music, Audirvana.

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I found it advantageous to have multiple libraries in iTunes for multiple users and multiple devices.

 

I have a music library limited to my MacBook Pro and another limited to my external hard drive. I have both lossy (MP3)files and lossless (AIFF and WAV) files at resolutions from 16/44.1 to 24/192. I need to sync with two iPhones and two iPods that all have different capacities.

 

I find it very difficult to maintain the libraries or syncing with multiple devices unless I have different User Accounts and different iTunes libraries. Apple especially does not make it easy to share music libraries despite the fact that most reasonable people would see a big difference between household family members sharing an iTunes library and all the CA readers here sharing one iTunes library.

 

In addition to having MP3s of many of my 16/44.1 resolution albums, I also have several high rez versions, from 24/88.2 to 24/192. iTunes often treats different resolution versions of the same album as duplicates and if contained in one music library you will often get multiple playback of the album tracks at each different resolutions unless you use playlists.

 

I am not saying this is the best way or that there isn't a better way but personally I find iTunes proprietary database and methods to be some of its greatest weaknesses. To me iTunes greatest strength is that it's easy to use and works on so many computer platforms and devices to be the universal de facto player. iTunes other weaknesses include not handling album cover art very well, no native playback of FLAC and less than satisfactory import/export capabilities to other software players. Some also feel that iTunes does not sound as good as some other players on Macs and even more feel that iTunes sounds inferior under Windows.

 

I have about as much praise and criticism for iTunes as I do for Windows. Blessings and curses for both these programs, but I use both despite their limits or faults since they are universal standard programs.

 

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