Mac Mini or Nucleus for Tidal streaming?


I’m looking to install roon in my audio system.
My thoughts are to purchase a Mac Mini which will run the roon software and connect the Mac Mini via USB to my DAC. The Mac will be connected to the network via Lan cable. Control would be via Ipad with the roon app. I review hi-end audio gear, thus I am looking for a sustainable and practical solution for streaming from Tidal. My music sources are CD’s and Tidal streaming and this is where I am thinking roon would be my best choice .
My questions are:

  1. Am I missing anything in the loom path described above?
  2. What are your thoughts on the solution I am considering?
  3. What specs are vital to be aware for selecting the correct and suitable Mac Mini?
  4. Or perhaps Nucleus would best???
    Please feel free to share any additional info and insights. Don’t hold back :slight_smile:

The MacMini is a good option, but Roon Nucleus is probably better, but more expensive. Another option would be to build a NUC with Roon ROCK if you’re into DIY computer projects. Roon will be great for streaming from Tidal and/or Qobuz and playing your own music files. It will be of no use playing your CD’s.

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If a nucleus is an option for you then absolutely get one otherwise I would get a NUC before I would get a Mac mini.

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A new Mac Mini is likely more than you need to run Roon, particularly given its price point. If you want to buy something new, I agree that a NUC is a better option. However, if cost is a consideration then another option would be to buy a used Mac Mini, which a lot of Roon users have done. I picked up a 2009 one for $200 and it works fine.

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Thanks. DIY computers isn’t really my thing. Setting costs aside, I’m trying to understand what would be better, a Mac Mini or Nucleus for streaming Tidal, both sonic wise and use. I have no need for data storage so a large drive capacity is of no use for me.

Thank you. Why NUC and not a Mac Mini? My intent is Tidal streaming via roon. Thats it.

I have a Roon Nucleus I purchased from Roon last November during a Black Friday sale for $1119. It has been flawless for 10 months running 24/7. I stream Tidal and Qobuz and have no music of my own. These are computers, so SQ is not an issue. I have my Nucleus connected to my router by ethernet and also directly to my Oppo 203 using HDMI. I can’t hear any difference between the two connection methods.

As far as Roon control devices, I use a Dell XPS 15 laptop, Apple iPad Mini 4, and Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max. All three work perfectly, but I prefer using the Dell.

Given your previous answer about no interest in DIY alternative then go for the Nucleus since money is not an issue. If it is however then get the mini. The other two options only run Roon but a mini is a computer and it would be waisted resources to use it to run only Roon. On the other hand if you plan to use it for other things then go for it. There is no sonic difference in any of them.

Thank you.

If you buy a NUC or Nucleus and later stop using Roon, you can always sell it. It won’t depreciate by much.

Thanks Jim.

The NUC route gives a better re use path, Nucleus is a Roon only device, a NUC could be reimaged with Windows should you quit Roon, as @Jim_F says you could sell the Nuclues or install Windows on it but it’s an expensive route

Hi @Guy_Azrouel,

Welcome. :slight_smile:

I imagine that sound quality will be high priority for your use case. Although both are packaged nicely and are tempting to put into an audio rack, neither the Apple Mac mini nor Roon Nucleus were designed to function as a high-performance digital audio transport for a USB connected DAC. These devices are not audio components.

Roon Labs has published a guide on how to get the best sound quality from their platform. Here’s a link: I highly recommend spending some time digesting what’s there, but the short version is that, for zones where sound quality is important, you don’t want to connect a DAC to a device that is functioning as the Core or a Control.

Each Roon subscription can have, at most, one active Core. Core is sort-of like the mainframe of your Roon system, and popular solutions include Nucleus (runs Roon OS), ROCK (DIY for Roon OS on an Intel NUC), and running Roon Server on any reasonably modern desktop PC or Mac (Windows 10, macOS, Linux)

If you already have a suitable computer with a wired network connection (eg., in your office or home theater), I’d suggest starting with that to run Core. You can always upgrade to a dedicated solution if needed. (When deployed properly, there’s no difference in sound quality among Core solutions.) Just go to Roon’s Downloads section, scroll down to “Roon Server” and install the suitable version for your computer. Roon Server just runs in the background, after you login to your computer, so you’ll hardly know it’s there.

The computer running Core works best when it has a wired connection to your home network and is located as far as possible from your audio system and other gear that you are evaluating for review.

To get the music to your audio system, you’ll need a dedicated Output device. I call these things “Network Audio Transports”. Sort-of like the old CD Transports from the previous century, but instead of reading music from a shiny silver disc, they read it from your home network. These are Ethernet in, Digital Audio out.

Popular solutions for network audio transports include the SOtM sMS-200 and Sonore microRendu. Both start at around $500 or so, depending on power options. These things are super quiet and will feed the DAC with a clean USB signal with minimal leakage current and other nasties.

Of course, you could go with Nucleus for your Core solution and an sMS-200 + USB DAC for your Output. If you do, again, I’d put the Nucleus in the closet next to your router or other networking gear. Have a cable pulled from there to your listening room where the sMS-200 is located.

Hoping this helps. Looking forward to reading/watching your reviews.

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A Nucleus or fanless NUC are totally silent if you use SSD’s, not HDD’s. My Nucleus sits next to my Oppo 203 and right below my Bose. I would not put it in a closet unless you use a NUC or computer with a fan and/or HDD. Of course, there is no reason not to put it in a closet if that makes sense for you.

Hey David,

Thank you very much for the detailed reply. This is very informative. What I am actually looking for is the best audiophile solution. The roon’s sole purpose for me would be to run and manage streaming form Tidal. I do not run any music files thus memory storage is not relevant in my case. I acknowledge that a new Mac Mini is an overkill just for running roon. I don’t mind it at all. Not sure I fully follow you on the “Network Audio Transports” issue. I run a hi-end audio system so any component I bring in to my system is after considerable thought and must be up to the game. My main music source is CD’s. I’m looking to add Tidal as another music source, though I fully acknowledge that it will not be as good as my CD source, I know it can get pretty close. I’ve listened to systems based on Tidal so I know the potential is there. From looks of it, the Mac Mini will cost me significantly less than a Nucleus since I have access to dealer prices. But is this the best audio performance option for me? What do you think?

A Mac mini will be fine… most importantly, you will want to turn off (disable) automatic Software and App Store updates, drag-drop you music volume source into the Time Machine “excluded items” list, and disable any energy saving measures.

Thank you Mike.

Also no point to do time machine on your ~/Library/Roon related folders either

Others will argue, but my resolute answer is, no.

I hope you will consider a proper audio component rather than a general purpose computer to drive your DAC. I’ve suggested products from SOtM and Sonore. There are many others, including dCS, Pro-Ject, Weiss, Inuous, etc. Don’t sell yourself and your Roon experience short by driving your DAC with a crappy computer.

I’m running Nucleus+ via USB to my PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell and to me it sounds clearly better than other options I’ve tried, including Sonore microrendu. Of course I’m using Curious USB cable and Cruious hard drive cable for external drive, so those are factors in my setup as well. In any event, I’m very happy using the Nucleus + as what you might call a server/streamer.

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