Mac Mini vs Endpoint vs Nucleus

I could use some guidance in my attempt to wring the best performance out of my rig.

I currently run Roon on a modified Mac Mini, having removed the SMPS and replaced it with a high quality LPS. The Mini is dedicated to the music, and all possible software functions have been turned off. I run USB out to a Matrix X SPDIF powered by an UpTone LPS, the I2S to a Directstream DAC. It sounds pretty darned good, and it’s super simple to understand.

But now I wonder: Should I get a Nucleus? Could I run the Nucleus direct to the Dac (I.e., core and output both on the Nucleus)? Bad choice?

Should I get a Nucleus and use the Mac Mini as an endpoint?

Should I focus on getting a new endpoint (whatever that might be), and using the Mini or Nucleus for core, and if so, what’s the real difference between the Mini - a computer - and the Nucleus - another computer?

Thanks!

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What is the issue you are trying to solve? Why waste more money for no benefit?

What sort of spec is the Mac Mini? There is probably no aural advantage in adding a Nucleus. The Mac with LPS and Matrix with LPS have taken care of that. I would want to run a core on something up to spec but assuming your core achieves that you seem to have your bases covered.

No issue that I’m trying to solve per se, but always looking to improve the sonics.

As I sit here thinking, “that sounds pretty good”, I also think, “could it be better”? You know, like most audiophiles do.

Thanks.

The Mini is maxed out. Everything one could want except for the SMPS. It’s a little beast.

My query was based on the notion that Core and Output shouldn’t be on the same box. I was wondering if separating functions would yield a discernible improvement.

Perhaps there are other places where improvements could be made, if I’m approaching this the right way. Thing is, I don’t know if I’m approaching this the right way… I have nothing to compare to.

I prefer the dedicated Roon Core talking to a Roon Endpoint over Ethernet model. I like to keep the electronically noisy general purpose Core system in another room and utilize Ethernet to isolate much of the noise from the low noise purpose-built Endpoint connected to the DAC.

Your Mac Mini seems to be working for you as a Core. So all you need is an Endpoint. I prefer something in the Rendu family and personally use an ultraRendu.

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I think some people use the term “audiophile” to justify spending huge amounts of money for no perceptible benefit.

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Thanks. I appreciate your input.

It’s a hobby.

I’m retiring from my flying hobby so I will have more time and resources to devote to this new hobby.

The endpoint argument is reasonable in that it is an easy way to achieve what has already been done. But isolating USB using the Matrix has a similar impact in my experience. It may seem counter intuitive but the next place I looked was the network. For a one box solution there is a new product just into its first production run called the Uptone EtherRegen. You are familiar with the company’s product as you use one of their LPS’s. They are sold out until January, and there isn’t yet any testimony out there and won’t be until the first batch hits the streets in November. But I think it is promising, and you have a 30 day money back guarantee.

The final option is to abandon OSX. Take a look at an OS package called Euphony.

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In my testing using the Matrix with the USB from a noisy PC is not as good as using the Matrix with the super quiet USB from an ultraRendu. The noise passed along over Ethernet is massively insignificant compared to using no Ethernet and directly connecting via USB from a noisy general purpose computer. Get a properly grounded switch and that noise is even less of a factor. The UpTone EtherREGEN may or may not make a significant difference. I have not used one so I cannot say.

I have one on order from the 2nd shipment so I will be trying to see if this makes any difference too

I would not opt for both options, but I would opt for a 100% passively cooled mini PC such as the cirrus7 PC or better build you own audio streamer/endpoint your self!

This has the following advantages over the Mac Mini:

  • lack of fans, cirrus7 makes absolutely no noise
    (Mac Mini is not completely silent with its fans there!)

  • With the Nucleus and Mac Mini you can only stream to a USB DAC.
    With a DIY PC you still have the option to insert other PCIe cards, so that you can also stream over “i2S”
    I have such a card (Pink Faun I2S Bridge) and I think it sounds much better than steaming over USB

  • They sound better, last longer, and you can repair it yourself :wink:

I would go for 100% passively cooled DIY PC like this:
Build your own!
http://modelpromo.nl/Audio%20Dandy%20Streamer%20Part%201.htm

or buy configured: by the German comany called “Cirrus7”

mini mac with LPS … Please eleborate … to see what i can learn and adapt ( no tech background)

There are kits available from various sources that will enable a linear power supply to be used with a Mac Mini. Uptone Audio make one such kit.
DC Conversion Kit

Respectfully

It is my firm belief that Mac minis suck as audio sources. I love Apple. I’m an Apple universe guy. That’s why I bought a dedicated Mac pro 12 core solid state 6 TB Audio Core.

Pure silence.

USB2 connected directly to Mytek MQA enabled Brooklyn +

Remote using Pro miniPad

Entire soft library is Tidal via synced Apps with full remote access by all devices and control of other endpoints and sessions independently.

(As a reference years ago I was actually amazed at how much clearer tidal streaming into my network was over the 128 k streams or even direct inputs from iPads or Bluetooth into my crappy garden speakers. It was a good unintended realty check. )

In my room;

Result is Spatial purity. Resounding clarity of complex low frequencies and presence with full dynamics.

You can discern quality of mics, studio,reverberation room sends, artist, mix, pan placement, lateral channel feeds, mastering and compression.

Especially overcompressive production effects for ‘pop’ by producers. Or noisy mics.

It’s also disturbing how many cds are bitpukeable.

Brandi Carlyle’s rip was awful for years on Tidal - unlistenable- while Aimee Mann’s UK producer distorted the mastering for her pop sales. Intentionally.

Your system should exude as much of these abilities as possible. Mine does.

A “bit of reference“ history (that was an attempt at audio humor again. )

My friends mini Mac from 07 was disgusting. This is what started my investigation 4 years ago.

Mine from 2010 passable for introducing audio to speakers. Ha.

( p. s. do not drink the “ but I own a 4-core 3.2 gig mini Mac “)

His new 2015 was much improved.

My 2015 was slightly better.

My PRO Darth Vader Tower purrs… silently.

Exceptional sound. Yes I heard better. Let’s talk 35k starting with DAC to $99k. Sure.

I’m talking less than $8500 total. All in.

Have fun. It’s not the OSX.

And stay away from turboeffected Windows 10 Enhanced audio products.

Disreputable audiophile “manufacturing” has included using Electronic steroids in the processing of audio files without you even knowing it is being done. Windows 10 includes both audio and video digital signal processing which means both insertion and processing of signals based on the supplier without keeping the original files in tact sonically.

One manufacturer who I forgo naming produced a product in which every single CD file ripped sounded the same, leaning to my observation that they had intentionally sweetened the sound to sell more units.

When I confronted the owner of the company a deep silence occurred and he asked that the unit be sent back. It was my friends and I was alarmed because I had just did some studying On this in our company.

Turns out The same thing that you were able to do with video, you were able to do with audio. (Actually the same capabilities will be in cars within the next two years and are already in many of the higher level cars for for 5.1 surround with the full effects that I’m talking about),

However. but it’s now software inside the OS system consumers can’t see. Before forewarned people.
Make sure you know what’s under the hood before you buy. Anything that’s not embedded, question it.

Obviously that’s one of the preferences for not using a Mac tower, I just don’t feel like spending that kind of money and getting a divorce. The divorce would cost many times more-easily.

Hey, more audio file humor.

Keep on filin’

Last year I directly compared my MacBook Air (2013 i7 highend model - dated but very similar innards to a Roon Nucleus) to an i7 Roon Nucleus and the result was that the difference was negligible. The DAC was a Chord Dave being driven by USB. I also tested an Aurender server (no Roon) and found it to sound the best via USB, but again not by much and I very much like Roon and am sticking with it. The difference could be Roon software, but Roon is always improving so I’m not sure the Aurender would beat a current Roon implementation.

I have found several improvements to overall sound with my MacBook Pro / Roon source which have much more effect than Nucleus vs MacBook as a server:

  • USB noise reduction (better cables and devices like the iFi iPurifier3). Result: notable improvement

  • power supply improvements to my DAC and power cable changes to my DAC. Result: significant improvement

  • I added a Chord M Scaler (a digital upscaler, quite amazing) to the system such that the M Scaler is now connected directly via USB to the MacBook Pro (sometimes via a USB hub that also has better power supplies and USB filtering) and then the M Scaler output is connected to the Chord Dave DAC with really good SPDIF cables. Result: huge improvement in every aspect of the sound. Hard to overstate the improvement. This is not a fair comparison since the M Scaler does a lot, but even when the M Scaler is set to not upscale at all, the benefit of SPDIF connection to the DAC (instead of USB) is still significant.

So I’ll conclude with my perspective that there are a lot of things you can do for the price of a Roon Nucleus that will make more sonic improvements than using a Nucleus instead of a Mac Mini. But the Nucleus is indeed good for sure if you’ve already done the other things…

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At this point, I’m strongly considering the following as a cost-effective setup change.

  • Move the Mac Mini/LPS off the equipment rack and put it in another room.

  • Run Roon Core on the Mac Mini.

  • Get an ultraRendu/UpTone LPS 1.2 combination to use as a Roon endpoint on the rack, which will feed USB to the existing Matrix/LPS 1.2 to output I2S, (which was a HUGE improvement over straight USB.)

  • EtherRegen is on order, but not due in until January.

All of these new components are reasonably affordable and have return policies in case they don’t work out or are not effective.

And they seem to serve the purpose of getting the Mini away from the rack, moving Roon Output off the Core machine, and isolating the output from various negative influences.

This is all kinda new to me, so I’d like to check on whether there are any flaws in my approach. Thanks for taking a look at my plan.

That is where I was before I found a one box streaming solution. It will sound glorious. But it is a lot of boxes, PSU’s and cables. They wore me down in the end!

@Henry_McLeod

And that one-box solution is…?

I don’t think you’re referring to the etherRegen you mentioned earlier.