MacMini help for a beginner audiophile

Hi There,

Sorry to be a noob, but if anyone could help me out with a quick question I’d be really grateful.

I’m currently using an Apple Mac to play Roon going directly into a USB DAC. I’m looking to upgrade by taking my Mac out of the system and swapping it with a MacMini, using the USB out on that to go into my DAC, and controlling Roon with an iPad.

My question is, does this MacMini have to be my Roon Core, or can I keep my core on my Mac and use my iPad to send the music on my Mac to my MacMini, and from there into the DAC? I ask because my Mac has 1TB of storage, whereas the MacMinis come in either 256 or 512GB. I’d like to buy the 256 option if I can keep the storage side of things on the Mac.

Thanks for the help, and stay safe!

The Roon Core can stay on the Mac. The only condition is that they have to be on the same LAN.

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However, if you keep the core on your Mac, there are probably much cheaper and/or better options than a mac mini to operate as a Roon endpoint. The usual recommendation seems to be a Pi if you don’t mind a bit of diy.

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+1 to buy a Raspberry Pi 4b instead of the Mac Mini. Saves money and energy.

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Welcome to the community, @Chris_I!

What Mac do you have? You say you’re looking to upgrade yet go on to say that you’d prefer to keep the Mac. Therefore, can you tell us a little more about your current setup.

If you need a new Core then an Intel NUC may be a better option than the Mac Mini. If you simply need a Roon endpoint (running Roon Bridge) a Raspberry Pi does the job just as well as a Mac Mini for a fraction of the cost. Also, it’s preferable to have the media attached to your Core, which should use a wired Ethernet connection.

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Hi @Chris_I… you might like to tell us a bit more about your system and where you want to go with it before this gets too complicated…

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So…my two cents.

  1. You can keep using your Mac as your Roon Core, but then you would need an ethernet capable streaming device to send the signal to your USB DAC, which I assume is in a different location than your Mac

  2. You could add a MacMini and keep your old Mac as your Roon Core, but that kind of defeats the purpose of buying a MacMini. You’re better off in that case buying a less expensive Roon capable streamer.

  3. You don’t have to be limited by a MacMini’s hard drive size. Just add an external SSD drive like a Samsung T7 to the MacMini and have your music files/folder on the external drive. I’ve been doing this with a MacMini for nearly ten years, and it works great.

FWIW…I recently replaced a 2008 MacMini with a base model 2018 MacMini configured with 8Gb RAM and 128Gb SSD. It’s working quite well, is a simple set-up, and it sounds excellent. It was on sale at B&H Photo…might still be so.

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Hi Martin,

Thanks for the reply, and sorry for not being clear - I meant it’s an upgrade in that I’m getting my Mac away from my HiFi, and using a streaming device instead.

Hi Andy,

Thanks for the reply. I have a headphone system at the moment, but looking to add speakers when space and budget permits! I have a Linn turntable, a Luxman phono stage, Luxman DAC / Preamp, Luxman headphone amplifier, Sony headphones.

As I say space is a premium, which is one reason I like the Mac Mini option - it will tuck in my rack on the shelf next to my DAC. And as much as I’m ashamed to admit it, I’m a bit of a design junkie - I like things to look nice as well as sound nice, which is why I won’t buy a Raspberry Pi or most of the other streamers on the market. (Sorry if I’ve inadvertently offended some Pi users!)

Thanks, Jim. My Mac is just using WiFi at the moment, and I was hoping I could use the MacMini on WiFi mode as well. (I’m trying to keep my system as minimalist as possible, so adding a router and ethernet cable would really bug me.)

Well, you already have a router if you have WIFI. Just build a NUC or purchase a MacMini and load Roon core on it. Plug it into your router, wherever it is. Then, assemble a Raspberry Pi 4 and plug it into your DAC using USB. You can connect to the RPi4 using WIFI. Then, control it all with an iPad, iPhone, Android device, or your Mac. If you have a music library of your own, you can load that onto a USB drive and plug that into your Roon core device.

I actually have a RPi 4 for sale on eBay, but it would be cheaper to build your own. It is listed under Roon.

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Hi Grant,

Thanks for this answer, I didn’t think about adding storage to the MacMini. Is it reasonably inexpensive and easy to do? I’m just wondering, since I buy music from the Mac from sites like HDTracks, is it easy to transfer these files to the mini’s storage? Is this something you can do wirelessly, or do you need to plug it in every time?

Chris,

Adding an external Thunderbolt SSD drive is very easy. Plug it in. The Mac recognizes it immediately. Copy your iTunes Music folder (or whatever you call the folder where you store your music files) onto the external drive (you will have to connect the drive to your old Mac to copy the music folder). Unmount the SSD, unplug it and plug it into the MacMini.

Tell Roon in the set-up menu where your music files are located. Done.

I assume you will download your new HDTracks files onto the MacMini rather than your old Mac, yes? Of course you will. :wink:

You’ll simply tell HDTracks the location of the music folder on the external SSD to download the new files.

No need to unplug the SSD once you have it set up on the MacMini. You’ll keep it plugged in.

I’m no IT specialist (but my wife thinks I am, LOL). It was pretty easy.

A Samsung 1Tb T7 goes for around $230. A less expensive Samsung 1Tb T5 sells for $180.

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A couple of thoughts…

If it works wireless now, it will probably continue to work.
You can get some pretty cases for a Pi.
If you drop it down the back of the rack you can’t see it.
If you do use a new computer as core, you could co-locate it with the (WiFi) router and wire it - it doesn’t have to sit next to the hifi rack - though you then still need an endpoint to connect to the DAC.
Ideally you leave the core on 24/7.

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Ah of course, it never occurred to me that I could download any new tracks I bought directly on to the mini; I guess I can do this with screen sharing. Thanks!

Ha! Yes. That was the one I spotted…

Chris,

Yes, you can do it with screen sharing. If your new MacMini has the Catalina OS, and if you have the latest iOS on your iPad, then you can screen share using the iPad via SideCar (which is included in Catalina and the latest iOS).

You will need to set-up your MacMini using your present monitor/keyboard and mouse. Once the MacMini is set up, then you can control it via screen share (or SideCar).

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Sorry - not a mac user… is it simpler to use a network share?

There is no need to get a new Mac/Nuc if all you need is an endpoint to connect your DAC (USB) to. Even a recent up to 4 year old MacMini would be fine probably as a remote or core, refurbished or 2nd hand. See my last comment. even really old like 2010 machine can be a remote running roon bridge (not as a core).

There is also no need to move your core if you happy with it on your current Mac and have space for files.

There is also no need at all to use an expensive SSD to put music on…a cheaper USB Hard Disk (HDD) will do just fine.

DO look at the ropieee.org site for getting started with a Raspberry Pi setup.

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Thanks, Mr Fix It!

Yep, my intention was to get a second hand MacMini on eBay for ~ £500 or so. But what does ‘1020’ refer to? Is that a particular model Apple made?

The other thing I’m thinking about is, as I said, I’d love to be able to run the Mini with WiFi rather than Ethernet to keep things simple - will an older model MacMini be able to do this as well as a newer (say 2018) model can?