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ozaristov300
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Taking the Mac plunge

The death of my Yamaha CD player is the catalyst to move into the 21st century, reduce the box count in the media cabinet and more importantly make space for coffee cups on the coffee table by reducing the remote control count from 7 to 1.

First, my sincere thanks to many contributers who have already saved me much money and months of trial and effort. After 3 days of almost solid reading the head is spinning with your collective wisdom. So, the current thinking is:

- Mac Mini to Benchmark DAC1 to Yamaha AX-750 to Dynaudios & Whatmough (See signature)
- Ripped CDs to FLAC format in iTunes

The Mac Mini approach is attractive (more so than Squeezebox, etc) because it also serves up DVD, MPEG video, TV/PVR, Web browsing and digital photos, all from the comfort of the couch and the Apple remote control.

Now the questions:

1. Given the choice, is Toslink the better option (price/performance) over USB for the Mac to DAC1?
2. How noisy is a Mac Mini? Will it interfere with listening enjoyment if not hidden behind glass?
3. Is there a Secret Rabbit Mac software equivalent to upscale ripped FLACs from 16bit/44.1kHZ to 24/96 or 24/192?
4. If I follow the setting rules for MIDI/iTunes, including setting volume to Max, does this mean volume can't be controlled by the Apple remote? If so, would a Harmony remote do the job of the Apple and Yamaha remotes?

Thanks in advance.

Listener
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Re: Taking the Mac plunge


Quote:

So, the current thinking is:

- Mac Mini to Benchmark DAC1 to ...
- Ripped CDs to FLAC format in iTunes

The Mac Mini approach is attractive (more so than Squeezebox, etc) because it also serves up DVD, MPEG video, TV/PVR, Web browsing and digital photos, .

You need to read some more before committing. iTunes doesn't support ripping to Flac or Flac playback. You may find a reference to a Quicktime component to play Flac but the last time I looked that was just for Flac inside an Ogg wrapper. Not the same.

iTunes is probably not the right approach if you know that you want to upsample. Neither is the Squeezebox.

The Max ripper runs on Macs and allows you to rip to Flac. (http://sbooth.org/Max/) The Tag program edits Flac and the Play player plays Flac. These programs are a separate off-the-beaten-path approach compared to the iTunes approach.

If you understand what you are getting from iTunes, then the mac is a good choice. If you want to mess around with different players and tweak stuff like upsampling, the Windows platform has many more choices. If you already have some kind of personal computer, try using it before you spend serious money.

Bill

If you are going to store audio and video on the mac mini, plan on getting one or more BIG external hard disks. Not completely silent.

josepdarcy
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Re: Taking the Mac plunge

I did a lot of reading and research on options around Macs as music servers, DAC's, lossless formats etc at the end of last year. I was starting from a position where my main set up is mainly used for AV and has all the boxes you would expect: Marantz DV7001 for SD DVD and CD, Playstation 3 for gaming and BluRay, Satellite TV mostly Pal with limited HD and all going through a Sony ES 5200 to Monitor Audio Radius Speakers. I had a seperate older rig in an office upstairs where I also had a PC and a new iMac. As I do most of my listening in the office and tended to use iTunes for convenience, I was looking at upgrading this set up. The intention was to set up a good headphone rig and source a good DAC and decide on the optimum way to store and play lossless audio files. As I had recently invested in a new iMac, it had to be a Mac as opposed to a PC solution.
In the end I went with Apple Lossless on iTunes. It is not as flexible as FLAC and is proprietary as opposed to open source. Also, if you want to source audio files at higher bit sizes and sample frequencies than standard CD it is much more limited than other (mainly PC based) options. But I like iTunes and Macs, so it is the best solution for me. I opted for a Paradisea+ USB DAC from MHDT Labs in Taiwan. It is an excellent DAC but I cannot comment on how it compares to others as it is my first external DAC and I bought it as a result of reading reviews and forum threads rather than listening comparisons. Currently I use the USB out from the Mac and I intend to buy an optical cable soon so as to compare it to the optical out. I got a Musical Fidelity X-Can V3 headphone amp and Sennheiser HD650's. The sound quality is excellent from the Apple lossless files and is probably better than I get from using the CD transport on a Marantz CD63 Ki Signature over digital co-ax through the DAC. Also invested in an Apple TV box which I use as a server and streaming device in the the big rig.
I realise that my set up is very different to your requirement, but I spent almost 2 months being confused by the amount of advise/information/opinion out there on this subject. In the end there is no "best solution". Read the threads in all of the forums you can find. I personally think your proposed set up is a good choice. You just need to be happy about the limitations of the Mac solution wrt lossless files and players other than ALAC and iTunes.

ozaristov300
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Re: Taking the Mac plunge

Thanks Bill and Joe. My head must be spinning more than I thought. I missed the no FLAC in iTunes! This week I've been testing iTunes on a Dell laptop through an USB Audigy 2 into the Yammy. I've tried Apple lossless, AIFF and WAV and to be honest I can't pick much difference between them. A Mac with direct out and better DAC will hopefully step up the quality so I can actually hear a difference. A computer with a fan quieter than an FA18 Hornet will also help.

Joe - I might just follow your lead though and stay with Apple lossless. I'm keen to hear your view on the optical connect. The non-USB version of the Benchmark DAC-1 is several hundred Aussie dollars cheaper down here.

Bill - Storage for all media will be via a dedicated PC with 4 * 500GB Seagate drives in RAID5 config located in a room on the other side of the house, connected by CAT5 and 100MB ethernet. I was going to go NAS but in Australia at least the NAS boxes cost the same as a mid-range PC with on-board RAID, so why would you? I might also leave the upsampling for now to those whose ears still work above 16KHz;(

I'll hold off on any Apple purchases until Steve does his thing at MacWorld on Monday. What chance a new media server box of our dreams? Assuming not, I'm also thinking MacBook rather than Mac Mini so I don't have to run the plasma or buy an external monitor to select music. BluRay may also come into the picture now that Warner has euthanased the HD-DVD.

While on the media server options, am I missing something with the Squeezebox or would someone as old as me have to get off the couch to read the display? At least the Sonos puts the screen in your hands - albeit for me still needing my reading glasses 8)

josepdarcy
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Re: Taking the Mac plunge

Forgot to mention in my first post that I came across some open source software for the Mac that you might want to look at. The site is http://sbooth.org/ They have an encoder called "max" which was recommended to me as a better way of creating Apple lossless files than using the iTunes encoder. They also have a player called "play". I didn't get a chance to try either but you might want to investigate what they offer. If i get a chance this weekend I will get a Toslink cable and compare it to USB in my set up. From what I have read, the theory seems to be that USB is better, but I have also read a lot of stuff on forums where people have preferred the optical connection. I will update you when I get a chance to try it. My guess is that the difference will be marginal if it is even noticeable!!

ROLO46
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Re: Taking the Mac plunge

The Apogee Duet (500 USD) is a great DAC for cans and line level
Also its an interface to Garage Band and Logic 8...

I-Mac is a natural platform for Tunes and Apple lossless is a more than adequate codec

I have 3G memory and 500G HD.

Leopard is so fast...

Toslink is fine

I go into a Meridian processer (518) and DSP speakers(6000)

Its easy

Roger
IMHO

Elk
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Re: Taking the Mac plunge

The Apogee Duet is amazing for the money! Even the mic pres are good. A very, very cool gadget.

kees
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Re: Taking the Mac plunge
ozaristov300
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Re: Taking the Mac plunge

Please excuse my ignorance but I'm lost with the Apogee. All the reading I could find, including the www.apogeedigital.com website suggests the Apogee if for recording musical instruments and/or playing music through the headphone output. I was looking for a DAC to suck digital output from iTunes/Play etc and feed into my Yamaha amp. Is this a better/faster/cheaper way than the Benchmark DAC1 to do this? Assuming the Apogee does this job, how would it perform against the Benchmark? Thanks.

Elk
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Re: Taking the Mac plunge

The Apogee has both a headphone out and, via is connector cable, two unbalanced 1/4" outs for speakers. These run at typical consumer levels.

Thus, all you need is a two adapters for male 1/4" to female RCA. Plug your RCA cables into the adapters and connect the other end to your amp. Easy!

The Apogee sounds very good. I haven't directly compared it to a Benchmark DAC1, but my impression is that it is competitive. The Duet is much cheaper of course, partially because it relies upon the PC's power supply.

ROLO46
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Re: Taking the Mac plunge

The Duet sounds excellent

Best headphone sound yet

Looks cool

Very nice pot driving cans and line out

Firewire which loads drivers as soon as you plug Duet in

Very good value (Apogee may be making a loss on this item!)

As a bonus you get a Grade A interface to Garage Band for tweaks and edits

Roger
IMHO

BlackstoneJD
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Re: Taking the Mac plunge

The Squeezebox + .Wav is the best sounding option. There is a difference between Apple Lossless and .Wav. I can hear it. With hard drives as cheap as they are now (you can get 750GB for $150 or so) there is no reason to use any sort of compression. A few years ago, compression was necessary. Not now.

The best sounding combination would be a Squeezebox into a quality D/A converter via its SPDIF coax output, using a quality digital cable and .Wav files.

Now, these USB DACs and mac minis are very popular, and very trendy, but the bottom line is that , you can get a better sounding setup. From what I hear, the only DAC that does USB decently is the Wavelength. But coax is better. USB has issues. Jitter issues, ect.

It also is not the best idea to have your audio system coupled directly to a computer because of the hard drive's moving parts ect.

I would put a Squeezebox's digital output against some of the best transports on the market any day of the week. It is simply a fantastic value. I run one into a dCS Delius/Purcell combo with B&W N802 speakers and it is simply fantastic. It replaced a very good Goldmund transport.

You might want to check out the PS Audio Digital Link III DAC as well.

As for computers, you get more bang for your buck with a PC or NAS. The important thing is that you have enough storage space for WAV files. A good sounding audio server means UNCOMPRESSED FILES.

All you really need is a Squeezebox, DAC, and either a NAS storage unit or a PC with a Core2Duo 2.0GHz CPU, 2GIGS of Ram, XP or Vista, and 500 or 750 GB of storage.

If I had to build a setup from scratch it would look like this:

PC/NAS -----(WIFI)----->SQUEEZEBOX/TRANSPORTER---(COAX)-->PS AUDIO DL3 (upsamples to 192)----->PREAMP

dwiggins
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Re: Taking the Mac plunge


Quote:
A good sounding audio server means UNCOMPRESSED FILES.

This is certainly true for lossy formats such as MP3 but is not the case for lossless formats such as FLAC, APE, Apple Lossless, etc. A wave file stored in a lossless format is the same data stored in fewer bytes. When a player processes the file it uncompresses the data back to its original form before delivering it to the soundcard. It's a similar process to compressing a PC file into a zip archive - you get the same data file back when you uncompress it.

The Linn on-line record store provides its high resolution downloads in lossless compressed formats such as FLAC and WMA.

Dave

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Re: Taking the Mac plunge

There is absolutely no difference between ALAC, FLAC and wav,
None, nada , zip, zero :-)

A lossless file when uncompressed is bit identical to the wav file. This has been demonstrated numerous time, check the slim forums.

There are 2 possibilities to explain why you may have heard a dif.

1 You are imagining it. eg. expectation bias.

2 Slim server is converting the file to a lossy file to send it to the SB.
You have to go into slimserver settings and uncheck this option to make sure that is not the case.

RGibran
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Re: Taking the Mac plunge

I would agree buddy, but you never know!

RG

tomjtx
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Re: Taking the Mac plunge


Quote:
I would agree buddy, but you never know!

RG

Thanks for that , RG.
That is very interesting.

I have compared wav, aif and alac and can't hear a dif.

The only dif I have ever heard in my system is comparing ALAC to the original CD with my CDT feeding Transporter.

The ALAC file sounded better to me . I think this is due to the spdif connection when using the CDT.

Do you hear a dif comparing alac to aif etc. ?

It would have been fun being at that demo.

Elk
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Re: Taking the Mac plunge

I can imagine that a well ripped and encoded file could sound better could sound better than the original CD.

If the pressed CD contains a lot of errors (not all that uncommon), EAC and other good ripping programs re-read the damaged portions of the CD until they get it right. CD players do not have this luxury of repeated reads.

This higher quality file saved in a lossless format could sound better than the CD itself. This is one of the reasons a burned CD-ROM can sound better than the original pressed CD.

comp.audiophile
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Re: Taking the Mac plunge

I actually prefer aiff uncompressed to any compressed format.

Elk
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Re: Taking the Mac plunge


Quote:
I actually prefer aiff uncompressed to any compressed format.


Can you tell a difference between AIF and lossless compression such as FLAC?

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