I’m running a Mac Mini 2012 as my music server. It’s connected directly to my Nagra DAC via USB and I control it through the Roon desktop and iOS apps. In addition to the 500GB internal hard disk drive, I have a 3TB external drive connected to the Mac Mini via USB and that external drive contains most of my high resolution music. I love how easily this system works. I typically launch the Roon app on one of my devices and enjoy the music.
The concern I have is that my MM is getting a little long in the tooth. In computer years it is positively ancient and Apple doesn’t seem very committed to the Mac Mini over the long term. In fact there hasn’t been a refresh of the line in several years. What I’m wondering is what other setups I should consider. I’ve read a little bit about the sonicTransporter line of music servers, but I’m not sure I understand how it would work with my current setup. What I love about the MM is how easy it is to setup. I installed the Roon core software and it serves my music to my DAC flawlessly. I’m not terribly computer savvy, so I’d hate to get myself into new hardware that is fussy and difficult to configure.
Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
Actually the 2012 Mac Mini is a pretty good little machine. It’s the last Mac Mini where you can upgrade both the RAM and the hard drive.
What spec is it? You may get more bang for your buck upgrading to an SSD and maxing out the RAM (I think it goes to 16GB) than spending a lot more on a NUC.
a 2012 and a 2010 quad core i7 minis, here: one for just music and one as network server for everything else
both have an SSD and 16GB RAM and they’re running great
not even bothered installing Sierra on the 2012 running Roon Server
I got the 2014 Mac mini to run Roon Core. I agree it’s old and it’s a bit embarrassing for Apple, really, but it’s still a great machine. With an SSD it’s super quick, completely silent, good looking and runs cool. Can’t think of anything else that matches those attributes.
I was headed towards a used 2012 Mac mini until I read the review on AudioStream that said the sonic transporters sounded better.
Don’t be afraid…I think I had to send one email to Andrew and he was quick and helpful. Its super easy to set up and has been rock solid.
The one thing you will need to add is a music player. Some device attached via ethernet to hook up your Nagra. I’m using Raspberry Pi’s and they sound great…I haven’t even started tweeking them yet. You can go upmarket with a Sonic Orbiter or mRendu.
Digital has never sounded better here.
Stephen, what you mentioned about sound quality is also a driver for me, in addition to the age of my Mac Mini. From reviews I’ve read online it appears that using a dedicated music device like the sonic transporter is a better sounding option than either the Mac or the Intel NUC, both primarily computers co-opted by people like us for music server purposes. After spending a fortune on the Nagra, I don’t want to compromise the source if there’s a better sounding option. I don’t think I understand the music player piece. From what you’re describing, I’d start with a sonic transporter that would house the music files and then feed that via ethernet to a music player with usb out that could then connect to the Nagra. Have I got that right?
Mostly. You will need to attach a hard drive with your music to the ST. In my case its a NAS drive thats attached via ethernet to the same switch as the ST and the player. You can also use usb to connect a hard drive with your music. Somewhere on Audiostream, ML diagramed his system and it really helped me figure out what was going on. I then had that aha moment and realized it wasn’t all that difficult.
The Sonic Transporter can also be used with the USB 3.0 port to attach a USB hard drive if you don’t want to mess with a NAS or ordered with a larger internal drive so you can load your music to that for the simplest solution. Also, you can configure Roon on the ST for local playback. So, if you’re ST is close enough to your DAC, you can run a USB straight from the ST to your DAC and avoid the cost of a player. Using local playback with an internal or USB hard drive would be the dead easiest way to go, although probably not the ultimate in SQ.
don’t trust those “reviews”
(or read veeeery carefully between the lines )
last year, thinking of something to replace my 2012 Mac mini, I bought an Auralic Aries (not Mini nor LE)
It only bested the Mac after powering it from the same UpTone JS-2 I was already using for the mini
(running on its stock LPS it was only close to the mini, but not as good)
for sure a stock “dedicated device” sounds better than the computer one might be using also for music playback, but not necessarily better than a dedicated one, carefully set up and powered by a really good PS
Peter - power supplies, hard drives, RAM, USB cables and operating systems (set up for bit-perfect playback) have no sound signature whatsoever. They cannot possibly have, and there’s yet to be a single measurement to show any improvement whatsoever.
Please, don’t buy into the snake oil salesmen spiel.
Let me give you an example.
One review/website/salesman will try to convince you that you need a powerful last-gen Intel Core i7 - because faster CPUs obviously will make the bits arrive more timely to your DAC, improving imaging and air…
On the next page or shop, someone else (or the same person on a different day even) swears that a microRendu is the answer to all your audiophile prayers. Insert vague buzzwords here, and most definitely no measurements.
The reader is apparently oblivious to the fact that the microRendu is a hobby SBC, with less processing power than a quarter of one of your Mac Mini cores.
Have a look at a microRendu tear-down and see for yourself.
Your Mac Mini is fine, it’s great in fact, as many have pointed out. The one issue is the hard disk dying on you, but that’s a problem with all single disk computers.
I’d back up regularly and worry about other things. I have a 2010 mac mini. Hard disk went out and so i replaced it (easy to do!) and restored from my backup. Back and running in about 30 minutes. BTW, I ran a similar setup to you into an Ayre DAC. Now I’m using the MM as a core/music server only with a Microrendu as an endpoint. Works beautifully. It’s probably a better way to spend your money.
I saw a youtube video of the HDD change procedure on the 2012 model that I have… Not really difficult, but great care needs to be taken at times to not damage some fragile looking connectors - WiFi antenna, if I remember correctly.
the tiny LED/IR connector is the hardest and most delicate one
on the other hand… nothing really serious if you break it: just no remote nor on/off led
(as it happened to my first Mac mini )
If you are replacing the drive make sure you use a fast SSD. A fast SSD makes a huge difference in the performance of Roon. That’s why we use the fastest SSDs available on the sonicTransporter.
I appreciate the many thoughtful responses! Thank you to all who’ve shared your valuable insights. I’ve invested in a what I regard as a very musical system over the years and have up until recently mostly listened to an analog front end (I have all Shindo components throughout my system), but have only recently begun to explore digital music with any degree of seriousness. At the end of last year I purchased the Nagra HD DAC in order to get an experience that comes close to vinyl. I think my little Mac Mini that I only halfheartedly set up for digital music a few years back is now the weak link.
At the very least, I think, an upgrade of the mechanical HDD to a fast SSD makes sense for an improvement in both reliability and sound quality. While I am intrigued with the sonicTransporter as a more dedicated music server than my all-purpose MM (Andrew can weigh in here!), the setup of this device is still a bit of a mystery to me and I’m afraid to lose the straight up simplicity of controlling Roon through the MM and the iPad/iPhone/MacBook universe.
@AMP could you help explain to Peter the basics?
I’m probably the wrong person to explain the basics of the Sonic Transporter.
@Peter_Blandino, any chance you’re in Phoenix (guessing based on the Shindo and Nagra combo)? If so feel free to drop me a line directly as I may be able to help you put together a source worthy of the rest of the system.
I bought a used Mac that has that issue …no biggie at all really.
I’ve been running a 2012 MM for some time, and I love it. Easy to setup and maintain, works with my other Macs, and pretty easy to understand the whole setup.
Over time, I’ve done a lot with and to it. It’s powered by a Mojo Audio Joule 5 PS, which also powers a modified external FW800 4TB drive, which is double backed up, something I needed recently. Internal SSD is fast, and I upped the memory to 16GB. Stripped out all unnecessary software and functions, e.g. Spotlight, auto-update, etc.
Rather than go straight USB to my DAC (PS Audio DirectStream), I feed USB out to an Ethernet transmitter, and back to USB just before the DAC. World of difference.
When I’m not playing Roon, I use PureMusic as a front to iTunes, which I consider mandatory.
I’ve settled in and am thoroughly enjoying the music. No more mods… for now.