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How I drastically improved the sound on my Mac Mini server


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I don't know if this will help others but I want to share this experience in the hope it will. First off, I'm a PC guy -- been so for over 20 years and know the Windows OS well enough to fix most problems on my own. I have over 4tb of AIFF files and I prefer using Itunes to tag and organize them, so last Spring I purchased a 2010 Mac Mini, had 8gb of RAM installed along with a very good 128gb SSD, and had the internal power supply taken out -- all by a company that does this routinely. I tried 3 linear power supplies, some costing up to $1,500, some less, but made by names known to many of us as quality companies. The only software I was running was Pure Music (tricked out following suggestions from Rob of Channel D), Itunes, Audirvana, Firefox, and programs like Time Machine, Searchlight, etc. (that is, the stock programs that come with the latest version of Snow Leopard).

 

The sound from my Mac Mini playing AIFF files at 16/44 was never very good to start with, even with the various linear power supplies. Certainly not as good as my friend's 2009 Mac Mini running all the same software, OS, with a nearly identical linear power supply. I went from power supply to power supply, thinking that was the problem. But the music got progressively worse over the next months to the point where I was about to give up on the unit and give it away to be used solely as a computer when I noticed that my M2hiface mod was only intermittently working through the USB connection. I spoke to a friend familiar with Macs and he suggested that my problems might not be hardware based at all, but issues with my Mac OS. That even though I hardly had anything on the Mac Mini in terms of software, and used it only for playing music files and Pandora, that somehow my files could have been corrupted.

 

He suggested that I repair the permissions on the Mac (Applications -> Utilities -> Disk Utility -> MacIntosh HD -> Repair Disk Permissions), thinking that I may have somehow got some system files and folders with inconsistent permission settings.

 

I had nothing to lose so I ran the Repair program. An IT guy who was helping me couldn't believe it when, at the end of the process, there were over 50 permissions that had to be readjusted, including many affecting the USB ports.

 

The sonic results were striking. I played the AIFF files from a firewire HD into the Mac Mini using Pure Music and then out of the computer via a USB-ported John Kenny modded M2Hi-face, and on to my DAC via a coax cable. Suddenly, all of the previously unlistenable thin, brittle quality of the music was gone, replaced by full, richly detailed music that for the first time sounded better than the same track played using my Sony CD transport, which was sending a digital coax signal to the very same DAC.

 

I further significantly improved the sound by turning off the Mac's bluetooth, wifi, spotlight, automatic updates, time machine, energy saver, airport utilities, and Dashboard. Following the advice of the IT guy, I'm also not going use a USB keyboard or mouse on the system (so no other device but the M2hiface mod comes out USB from the computer.) Instead, I'll use a VNC rig (virtual network computing) to run the Mac from my main PC (they'll both be linked by their hardwire connection to my home network, which runs over Ethernet over Coax MoCA Adapters since I have a cable TV outlet in all my rooms but don't want to hardwire my house with CAT6.)

 

Frankly, I could have had a unique problem with my Mac Mini and I don't know if what I did will improve the sound on your Mac Mini or Macbook Pro but my IT guy said there's no downside to running Repair Disk Permissions on a Mac.

 

I wish I had known about this months (and hundreds of dollars) ago. Probably somebody else has written about this fix on this site, and I'm sure many other, more experienced Mac Users would have thought of this long ago, but, for whatever reason, as a PC guy, I didn't know about it.

 

I hope the fix helps somebody else.

 

 

MG555

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Interesting....

I just ran the Repair permissions utility as described on my 3 month old 2011 MacMini.... dozens of permission errors.

Will be having a nice long listening session this evening. Will see if anything changes!

 

Roon / JRiver with Audiolense XO -> Chord Hugo TT2 -> Cyrus Mono x200 Signatures -> Audiovector Si3 Avantgarde Arretes

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To tell you the truth, only recently, with the release of Audirvana Plus, have I been experimenting with different software. I have been a strict user of PureMusic believing that how much different could these players be? The last thing I wanted to do was clutter my MacMini with more software. I use my Mini headless

 

 

I am very glad I did. First, Audirvana Plus with iTunes integration is a much better interface, espcially for those us using Apple Remote and in my opinion, believe sounds slightly better, with more natural vocals but with similar timbre, detail and imaging.

 

So I said, what the hell, let me try Amarra Mini. First, let me say, I can't stand the interface. What a piece of crap. Integration with iTunes is basically non-existent and no matter how many hours I spent "optimizing" the program, "pops, crackles, track switching" was driving me crazy. Gapless, forget about it. I hate using a players internal playlist as I want computer audio to be seamless, but I said,what the hell. Turned on screen sharing on my Mini and Air, created playlists, pressed the start button and was blown away. I was not expecting to hear what I heard. I was really amazed at how good it sounded. First album out of the gate, MoFi Santana Abraxas, had so much more air and depth than anything I have ever heard I couldn't believe it. Antonio Forcione's "Live" was literally a mindblowing experience. I could go on, but I was simply amazed.

 

Of course, the clicking of the icon that is supposed to allow your Apple Remote to control the playlist doesn't work as advertised and neither does just about anything else, but for sonics, there is, my opinion, no equal.

 

So, I am now at that crossroads, serious listening, Amarra Mini, creating playlists which plays gapless and allows me to enter sonic bliss with virtually no iTunes and Apple Remote integration OR great (but not best) sonics with PureMusic with fairly good iTunes integration and excellent tweaks or the up and coming star, Audivrina Plus with fantastic integration for Apple Remote and iTunes and improving sonics with every new iteration.

 

Knowing I had an "extra hour" last night, I couldn't pull myself away from Amarra and listened for hours.

 

Lastly, while I haven't taken the whole upgrade MacMini thing too seriously (my bad) that is now next on my list. Can you give us more specifics about the company that modifies the power supplies. I was thinking about ordering a new Mini with SSD but it seems better to use a company like the one you are referencing.

 

Thanks

 

 

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A couple of notes on repairing permissions:

 

In the Mac geek community, repairing permissions has long been proposed as a possible solution to almost any problem. There's some significant debate as to what problems it can actually fix, but regardless, the consensus is that "it couldn't hurt." In the OP's case, it really seems that some stuff related to USB output was munged, so it's great that this solution worked so well.

 

Another thing about repairing permissions is that depending on what system version you're running and how many "dot-rev" updates there have been, you can see a lot of permissions being repaired every single time you repair permissions, even if you repair permissions several times in a row. For example, on my work Mac Pro running 10.6.8, I get the same 50 or so log entries every single time I repair permissions.

 

Within Mac OS X, there are behind-the-scenes scripts that are supposed to run daily, weekly, and monthly maintenance tasks. These tasks clean up temp files, rotate log files, and rebuild some system databases. Unfortunately, the default schedules for these tasks can make them want to run at times when the computer is shut down, and in this situation the tasks simply don't run.

 

Repairing permissions isn't included among the stock maintenance tasks, but I bring them up because there are utilities available that will let you schedule the maintenance tasks, as well as repairing permissions and clearing caches. All of this is helpful in keeping things tidy and system performance optimal.

 

My favorite of these utilities is Cocktail. You'll need a license (US$19 for a single user) if you want to do maintenance on a custom-scheduled basis, but I'm pretty sure the free version will let you do all this stuff on an ad hoc basis.

 

If you're running Dashboard (which I'm not on my Mac mini music server), there's a widget that shows when the daily, weekly, and monthly maintenance tasks were last run and also lets you run them on demand.

 

Finally, this page ...

 

http://www.thexlab.com/faqs/maintscripts.html

 

... has a lot of good information on the maintenance scripts (aka the cron scripts).

 

--David

 

Listening Room: Mac mini (Roon Core) > iMac (HQP) > exaSound PlayPoint (as NAA) > exaSound e32 > W4S STP-SE > Benchmark AHB2 > Wilson Sophia Series 2 (Details)

Office: Mac Pro >  AudioQuest DragonFly Red > JBL LSR305

Mobile: iPhone 6S > AudioQuest DragonFly Black > JH Audio JH5

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I heard very good things about Wayne at Bolder Cable Company. He can mod your Mac Mini and also build you a linear power supply. He built my current power supply which is excellent. In all my dealings with him, I've been very impressed by Wayne's honesty, quality of work, and his refreshing dedication to customer satisfaction and service. He's been doing this a long time and really knows his stuff. Numerous friends have products of his or have dealt with him and they all feel Wayne is top-notch. I've also heard very good things about Paul Hynes in England, but I have no direct experience with him other than knowing he will build you a power supply and maybe even mod your Mac Mini.

 

MG555

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Claude & Mike, I found it's better to Shut Down and start again the Mac, than a simple Restart, since some caches are cleaned completely.

 

The other thing I found, is to stay only in one music player app between Shut Downs. Sometime we try make SQ comparisons between players, switching between them, and this is not a good practice.

 

I do 'Repair Disk Permissions' from time to time, and always after new software install, or where some process is slow, or music SQ is not as always.

 

There is an excellent app "MacKeeper" that removes orphan files, caches, etc.

Another excellent one is "iDefrag", for fragmentation in HDs, but backup first! and is time consuming, then don't it if you have too much computer work to do.

 

Regarding Mac Mini PSUs, there is a lot of other circuits inside the Mini, that can affect SQ, even if you install an LPSU on it. I use an hospital grade isolation transformer for the Mini, to get the noise the Mini produce out the mains, with good comparative results, at a better price that a LPSU and with less complications, like to send the Mini to the LPSU builder.

 

Roch

 

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