Better music player alternative to Mac Air / laptop

I am currently using Apple Macbook Air and/or Ms. Window based laptop as the hardware player, and pairing either “Foobar 2000” or “VLC” with the Mac/laptop for music playing.  I prefer Mac Air to laptop because it has no fan.  I collect lawful 16/24 bits, 44.1/88.2 khz flac and good recordings from Youtube and store them in a solid state drive as the source. 

Although I felt the noise floor from this combination is quite dark and satisfactory, I am open to a possibly “cleaner” music player alternative/device (with display preferrably) than my current Apple Mac/laptop that the audiophiles continuously claim to be “dirty.”  The “player” may include both hardware and software because the software I am currently using may not be able to run on the new device.  I heard Mac Mini is a good choice so please share your experience if you had it.  I do not stream and I do not intend to invest in the streamer in the near future.  Thank you.


I started digital at the introduction of the CD. In the late 2000’s I got seriously into assembling great file serving using a PC, MacBook…. Using all sorts of different software. I have used so many different combinations of storage, DACs, and media it is ridiculous.

The first 25 years have been CD only, then ripped files on a computer, then ripped files on NAS, owning high Rez files, files on a streamer, and finally now streaming. Each in its turn has been the contemporary technology slowly eclipsing the previous technology, first reaching parody… then achieving greater sound quality.


Let me be very clear on where we are at this moment in time and where the future is. Streaming. Streaming through a dedicated streamer… allowing higher sound quality than available through CD, ripped CDs and in most cases than purchased high resolution files. For $14.99 / month you can access about 1/2 million high resolution albums and millions more at red book CD quality ( using Qobuz streaming service). With an appropriate quality streamer (not a Mac or PC) and DAC you can meet or exceed the quality of vinyl.

Assuming you are interested in high quality sound and spending less money versus more in the long termed, i would recommend consider reconsidering streaming. Old farts like me have large vinyl collections. I had 2,000 CDs, I gave them away. I have ripped copies on my streamers (which I never use). So, depending on your associated system at most system cost ‘ performance levels you can implement streaming that will sound as good or better than CDs or stored files for the same or ~ < 20% premium.

The biggest improvement in my systems digital end was taking my MacBook out of my system and putting a real streamer (Auralic Aries G2) into it. I quickly found Aurender Streamers and switched to them… great streamers at all levels. Blue sound and lumix are well respected budget streamers.

I do not like mac mini as a streamer it just doesn’t sounds good. Tried it. It’s now my Roon core. 

I know you said you are not interested in streaming music from internet but a network player such as Lumin U1 Mini or Auralic Aries G1 will sound better than the mac mini or the laptop. Just connect your hard drive to the back of these units and you’re set. Used these can be picked up at a reasonable price. 

Travel similar road as @ghdprentice. Still buy vinyl .....rarely. have hundreds of ripped CDs and play them ......rarely.  Stream most of the time. 


I was in your shoes too like @ghdprentice and ​​​​@jbuhl except I didn’t give up my digital files collection for streaming. I stream in addition to listening to my collection. Do a search for Melco audio and familiarize yourself with their music players then look on line for a used Melco N1A or later music server. Although not a streamer, it will refine your streaming if and when you decide to go that route. It is SOTA and one of the best out there, much better than my tricked out Mac Mini. They are built to last. You won’t regret it.

Thank you all for the advices. Before proceeding with streaming route, I would like to explore the use of the streamer / file server for playing music out of the HDD / SSD. Based on my research, most of the streamer comes with the USB port for connecting with the HD and support the PCM file up to 24/192 and/or DSD (vary in res.) I only need a streamer / server do two things and do them well, which are (1) deliver the digital signal from HD to the DAC and (2) convenient file retrieval / management. I read the user reviews on several more affordable streamers with good feedback, including ifi Zen streamer ($400), BS Node 2i ($600) and Cambridge CXN v1 ($800). If none of these more affordable gears sound good, I will consider going with (much) more pricey options as you have mentioned. Your opinions in terms of the sound quality, friendliness of the sever, etc.? Do these options stand up to the challenge?

If you're using an external DAC with the Macbook then there's no reason to switch to something else.


If you're using the onboard audio and are considering a Mac mini, you might want to get a late 2014 model. The latest M1 based model doesn't support any sampling rate besides 48 kHz. See this link for more details.

Before proceeding with streaming route, I would like to explore the use of the streamer / file server for playing music out of the HDD / SSD.


You don’t need to spend anything to try out streaming. You can install the free Kodi app on your Mac - link. It has add-ons for popular streaming services like Qobuz and Tidal. It also turns your Mac into a UPnP server and renderer so your music library can be accessed by external streamers (assuming your music collection is on your Mac). You can control music playback via the web client or through an app called Yatse (if you have an Android phone). I’ve also streamed YouTube Music from my Android phone to Kodi using an app called BubbleUPnP. On my iOS devices, I use mconnect.

Yes, as mentioned, I was using the Mac Air with external DAC but wonder if the circuitry inside the Mac / laptop is "dirty" as claimed and switching to cleaner streamer/player will render better SQ. So, are you saying that switching to streamer as the player won’t render better SQ based on your experience? Please confirm.

I was using the old (2013) Mac Air that has the option for higher sampling rates but you need to change it every time. Also you need to switch it to highest rate in order to accommodate all the high-res. PCM files I had. So it means some of the lower sampling-rate audio music will be over-sampled. I heard the Asio plug-in in foobar 2000 could get around the issue but I do not have luck to get it working yet.

While I was done with replying your first msg, your 2nd msg pops up.  I will try that.  Sound exciting although I am not tech savy.


In general, you get what you pay for. Blue sound and the Cambridge you mention are budget streamers. I forgot if we know your associated equipment.. but you need to move up to a Aurender N150 if you want mid-tier performance. Or something better. 

Thanks, @ghdprentice. Thanks to this fellow’s review on Aurender N150 and the comparison with the Mac Air as the player, I was finally convinced thru my ears that noticeable part of spatial / SS information was indeed missing from using Mac Air as the music player. So, Aurender costs $3500 and can only be considered as a mid-tier performer, I am not sure if I have deep pockets for that kind of money to refine my system. My current system is worth only two-third of price for single component. I may choose to give up because I will end up with chasing my own tail with incremental upgrades.


So, are you saying that switching to streamer as the player won’t render better SQ based on your experience?


Correct. I’ve used a variety of PCs, Macs, Raspberry Pi’s over the years to play back audio and I’ve never noticed a difference. I’ve even compared a track ripped to FLAC and played back over a $39 Raspberry Pi to the same track played from the disc on my Oppo UDP-203 modded with a special board (Vanity203 HD) to reduce jitter on the SPDIF interface and it sounds exactly the same.


That’s the beauty of digital data.


Here are a few links if you want to learn more about digital audio and detecting real problems with digital playback.

Digital Show and Tell -

What does a bad USB (or other digital cable) sound like?

Let’s listen to some jitter effects

The 16 bit vs 8 bit blind listening test


I heard the Asio plug-in in foobar 2000 could get around the issue but I do not have luck to get it working yet.


You don’t need an ASIO device to get good sound. This particular output device is meant to reduce latency, important for mixing and mastering. These days, you can use WASAPI output for bit perfect playback. Just download the foobar component, install it, and select it in the Preferences menu.

Lots of options out there for less than $3500.00 Innuos Zen Mini, Simaudio Mind 2, Bel Canto Stream. …… all will sound better and laptop streaming and not cost a right lung. 



Thanks. That is why I asked about your equipment.


My general rule of thumb is that  each component should be carefully chosen and at roughly the same cost; streamer, DAC, preamp, amp, phono stage. While a single component can raise the performance of the whole system. Typically that only makes sense when going through an upgrade cycle and you will be upgrading all components to a new level. 

So, you may be fishing in the right pond. 

Finally, I tried out the iFi Zen Streamer when it is on sale for $299. I still has not streamed hi-res music from those music providers but simply played out the flac files from HDD. Wow, I wish I try earlier. The SQ is improved in every way as compared to playing from Mac or laptop. Music is more airy and open. SS is wider/deeper with darker background and better separation. Clarity is improved too, making low volume level music listening more enjoyable.  For example, cymbal sound more real with extended reverb. I was fully convinced.

Congrats!  Upgrading the power supply should get you a further increase in performance if desired.

Yep, I plan to try iFi iPower 2 or possibly LPS 12 volts next.  Let me know please if you have positive experience with them.   

I used the iPowerX because it was all that was in my budget. I’d go with an LPS if it was in my budget as I’d guess it’d be even better.  I didn’t compare it to the stock unit because it all came together and as I’ve heard so many positive reviews of using upgraded power supplies with streamers and like the sound I’m getting so much now I can’t bring myself to pull it out and put in the stock power supply. If I ever do I’ll report back, but right now my streaming sound through Qobuz sounds better than spinning discs so I’m not even questioning it at this point.