Mac Mini as a music server

I would love to hear your thoughts, experiences [positive and negative] as well as words of caution for using a Mac Mini as a music server.  It seem that most all of the audio-magazine reviewers that use a computer for a music server use a Mac Mini.  A few the economically elite swing for dedicated, purpose-specific computers that are optimized for music, but I <unfortunately> do not fall into that privileged company.

Topics of interest: 
> Which music sever app do you use?  I have read & received recommendation for JWRivers, Channel D, Roon & others.  What has been your experiences?
> Any particular shortcomings of the Mac Mini vs other platforms?
> Words of wisdom in making this work?

Thanks in advance for taking the time to provide your insight.
128x128Ag insider logo xs@2xoldmandave
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I love my Mac Mini as a server. . . I use JRiver as my backbone and take advantage of the optical out of the headphone jack directly into my Mini DSP. I opted for an older model 2.6GHz i7 Quad Core 16GB RAM and upgraded the drives to super quiet and fast dual 500GB SSD. Mac operating system on one and Windows on the other. All my audio applications run on Windows so that’s what I use almost 100% of the time. My albums are loaded in FLAC format. It’s dead quiet and sounds amazing. There are no downsides in my opinion.
No experience with the Mac Mini but I recently put together a low budget system with a 10+ year old iMac. I'm currently using just iTunes because I could not hear a significant difference between that and iTunes with BitPerfect or Audirvana. This is through a low end Schiit Modi 2 Uber.

The advantages? Cheap. Simple. Apple Remote works great. 

A/B testing vs straight CD reveals clear differences. CD is brighter but sometimes too bright compared to iTunes/Schiit. In blind A/B testing my wife preferred the iTunes/Schiit to CD.

One advantage of the Mac Mini is its size and this article explains how to set one up and even ditch the monitor once it is done.
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Sorry about the double posts. Audiogon has been functioning poorly for about a week now. Can't even delete the duplicate. Audiogon needs to fix the mess.
I'm using a Mac Mini as a cheap point of entry to computer audio. Didn't buy one with a flash drive, and am not sure you even need to spend the money for more processing power. I use Audirvana, which sounds good (i haven't compared to others) and allows me to use an iPad to control it. I run it headless so once set up, no clutter. I didn't modify the PS to a linear type, b/c I didn't plan on investing a lot of money in this- if and when I upgrade (I'm new to digital on my main system, though have been around the bend a few times in hi-fi), I don't think I'd want to hack into it but invest instead in a better overall server set up.
 I do plug it into a separate set of outlets that are isolated from the system power. I went through several different websites that had suggested settings to reduce clutter and interfere (and potentially taxing the processor); the Audirvana software has a setting for extreme priority as well. What else? The Schitt Eitr converts the usb to coax for my NOS DAC. Cheaply and effectively. I use a modest USB from Analysis Plus. It sounds surprisingly good. The rest of my system is pretty way beyond this, budget wise, and I've been vinyl forever, but I've been very pleased with the sonics using the Border Patrol DAC and a CEC transport as well.
I think those who have ventured into deeper digital waters will tell you there are profound improvements to be had, and I don't doubt it based on my analog life, but I'm mainly using this for access to music I otherwise wouldn't have on vinyl and it's great! 
The deeper digital part where it will manage the particular aspects which are going to get it around the process for such way you need to get it and this will be going to provide the valuable way for the user because it is necessary for them as music server not able to work properly so need to contact Microsft for the issue .
I use a 2010 MAc Mini with Pure Music program. Output USB via Audiophellieo 2 with Pure Power into a Bryston BDA-1. Works fine for me. 
I use a Mac Mini with SSD to send files from Roon via ethernet to an Ayre QX-5 Twenty digital hub.  The interface to Roon is an iPad.  The sound quality is superb.
I recently re-purposed an old Mac mini (2010) to server duty and have been pretty happy with the outcome. I'm using Asset UPnP in conjunction with either Hi-Fi Cast or BubbleUPnP apps for control to a Chromecast Audio. Works and sounds great. Just ordered a Sonore microRendu (Christmas present to self) which should arrive next week. 
Thanks everyone for your input & Merry Christmas/Happy New Year to all of you.

From what I have read thus far, the Mac-mini music server seems like a very logical point of entry that also has substantial upgradeability.  In the fairly recent past, I used a Marantz N-7004 & was pleased with its sound, but not happy about its lack of upgradeability.  I currently run a Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6, v2 in my home office vintage system [Carver + Theil].  It sounds much better than the Marantz did & does an excellent job as a DAC as well...but I am wanting more power & potential for my reference system in my 'Man Cave'.

Again, many thanks to all of you.  You have given me much to consider.  I hope this discussion continues!
Am also thinking about a new Mac mini or a iMac that also can handle my photo editing, thinking using Ethernet to a pro-ject endpoint into my Primare Dac 
I recently got the new 2018 Mac Mini to replace an old Macbook Pro and am considering returning it. I'm wondering if anyone else has tried it in their system. Maybe I got a lemon and I need to try a new unit? 

I'm using the i5 / 8GB / 256GB, 2018 Mac Mini to stream iTunes and Spotify (via airplay - AEX series g - Toslink or direct connect via USB) to my Peachtree that's feeding a vintage McIntosh system.

When I A/B it against my 2017 Macbook pro, I lose a lot of detail and staging. The lows from the Mac Mini is sloppy and rounded with the mid's sounding thin.

I also A/B'd it using headphones and IEM's via audio jack and get same results. In fact, the Mac Mini sounds worse than my iPhone XS - how's this possible?

Would be interested in anyone else's thoughts who may have similar set up. I love the Mac Mini form factor and bought it with the idea that I would add RAM and external storage as needed. But the lacking sound output quality (maybe its the T2 chip that's causing the issue?) is a deal breaker.

I had a Mac mini in my audio system for several years before exploring other options. I replaced a 2010 model with another in 2012. The 2012 model was spec'd much higher .. I went all-in .. quad-core i7, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD. I have a license for Audirvana +, Amarra Luxe, JRiver, HQPlayer, and Pure Music. They all have strengths and weaknesses. (Personally, I'm fond of the Amarra sound quality.) You can tweak the settings to your hearts content for each (less so with Amarra) if you so enjoy. You can't go wrong with any of these IMO. That being said, I grew tired of the endless cycle of Apple updates breaking something audio related. It can be very frustrating when, say, a USB driver is suddenly useless. Of course, one can just ignore the updates and leave everything as is but in my case, the Mac mini was also my every day computer and keeping it updated was important to me. 

Nearly 3 years ago, after said frustration, I decided to try a streamer and purchased a Bluesound Node 2. Easy to set up and use. Stable. No more Apple nonsense. Not that Bluesound is without some issues either, but they are normally quick with a fix. A streamer is nothing but a purpose-built computer and Bluesound's Node 2 (or the current 2i) is a nice affordable ($500) solution. However, it's not the utmost in sound quality. Paired with a better DAC, it shines.

As of late I've moved in a different direction entirely with UPnP and re-purposed my old Mac mini as mentioned earlier in this thread. After purchasing a new router (mesh type) I finally ordered a Sonore microRendu ethernet to USB renderer. I'll just say I'm very happy with this approach.

So, there are many options for you, the Mac mini being a very good one. My advice to you is to wait a short time before applying any updates Apple will inevitably offer. Check online for problems before you do anything. Apple's own support forum and various audio forums should give you enough of a heads-up. Best of luck to you.
I’d recommend you contact Eric Hider at dB Audiolabs. I have his modified Mac mini server which has significant changes in the Mac OS for audio playback, latest hardware upgrades, with option for battery power supply.  It’s a night and day difference over stock mac mini and other Mac mini servers.  And he doesn’t charge you arm and a leg and offers no hassle  trial period. You can PM me if you want further details.
@wtf +1
I used a Mac Mini with all the mentioned software too. Audirvana+ was my fav, but between the Apple updates you already explained and A+ trouble with library files getting periodically corrupted, it was frequently not allowing me to just sit down & listen when I  wanted it most. I tried a jillion USB cables from cheap to $1k Lightspeed. I tweaked with iFi filters, Schiit Wyrd decrapifier and some double-headed cables to separate the power leg from the signal leg. It all made some difference, but was ultimately unsatisfying.
Moving to a  Sonore microRendu with a good linear power supply, Synology NAS and Lumin app on iPad is in a completely league. Better sound by far, better reliability with less maintainence and a comparable friendly user interface. 
A much clearer optional  future path with Roon compatibility, HQ Player NAA, and hardware upgradeability all make it feel like a good investment. From the day of the first Mac O/S update, I was counting the days until my Mini became obsolete. Cheers,
Disappointingly, a few of you have mentioned that the combination of "Apple updates" & the software rendering program <Audirvana, JRiver, Channel D and so on> seem to have "lover's quarrels".  Can any of you expound further on this?  Having read quite a few reviews & 'How To' articles, this is the first I have heard of this problem...although, if several have & are having this problem, it is probably not rare.

Do you think it stems from Apple's penchant for not providing ancillary vendors pre-knowledge of impending changes/updates & the subsequent lag as the ancillary vendor "catches up" to make their program compatible?
You can disable updates on a Mac. Go to App Store and uncheck the "automatically check for updates" box.
Sure, but when you turn automatic updates off, security updates aren't installed. If streaming or internet radio are part of why you use the Mac, you become more vulnerable to attack every day. You get annoying prompts daily suggesting updating. Most updates bloat the OS with crap neutral or detrimental to audio playback. ITUNES never goes away and it opens every time you load a disc even just to rip it. 

My trouble with Audirvana+ mostly boiled down to library indexing hidden files getting screwed up. This causes library appearing totally gone when it really isn't (scary!). Support is by one smart busy guy in France...replies are friendly but take a while. The fix usually entailed finding hidden files, deleting them, reinstalling, then reloading library which took almost a day for me with about 3TB of music at the time, connected directly to a Lacie Firewire drive, not across a network. It wasn't the worst audio trauma I have dealt with, but why bother?!!

Do you think it stems from Apple's penchant for not providing ancillary vendors pre-knowledge of impending changes/updates & the subsequent lag as the ancillary vendor "catches up" to make their program compatible?

Yes, absolutely. Over the years each and every music player program I've used has been impacted by an Apple update. (I have licences for Amarra, Audirvana+, BitPerfect, Fidelia, HQPlayer, JRMC, and Pure Music.) Very frustrating indeed. From my experience HQPlayer has seen fewer issues than the others. Eventually the problems get fixed, for the most part anyway. I stopped using Pure Music entirely after one such update .. the problem was never resolved and I gave up. Don't even get me started on Amarra!

Of course the easy option is, as @thaluza mentioned, to turn off auto updates but I'm with @sbank on this one. 
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I've been running Roon on my 2012 mini for about 5 years. It feeds an Allo USBridge in another room which in turn feeds my NuPrime integrated. I haven't bothered to update the OS in quite some time. I use it strictly as a music server. It is always on and functions beautifully. Everything sounds great. I'm actually considering buying another one now to have ready when this one inevitably dies. 
I have just replaced my Pono that was driving Hegel integrated amp with an Auralic Vega DAC.

I have built Mac Mini i7 quad core with internal SSD & external firewire 800 SSD and got all audio in FLAC form on the Mac Mini.

I got JRiver MC25 working on the Mac Min with the library etc.  All is working great so far.

Now I get remote shutdown working with Mac Mini in headless config with the Mac Mini tucked behind all the stereo stuff.

Now I get MC25 installed on Win laptop and get server/client config so that I can see the Mac Mini library etc.

All seems good until I try to control the Mac Mini server remotely from the win machine.  I can pick things from the library, but MC app architecture seems to be to 'suck' the data from the server and pipe to an O/P device connected to the win machine.  Bummer!  Why would I want to pull the hi res audio from the server and pipe it to a 'toy' of a dac? 

I can't even understand the reasoning of the design.  One invests a few $k in a stereo; where does the idea of this kind of network transmission of digital streaming of data fit in with that?

Just getting a wired connection direct to DAC to faithfully keep up with 24/192 audio is enough of an issue for the Mac Mini. I'd like to see it stream bit-perfect at 24/192, but it's not quite there.

I haven't bought JRiver MC25 yet, I'm on a 'trial' period.  I'm a little disillusioned at this architecture though.

My vision is to have remote Select; Play; Start/Stop; Access to Supporting data of the Mac Mini sending digital audio direct to its wired DAC connection.

I think the JR MC UI has good potential to satisfy these aspects, but the design does not seem to be there to support the desired function.

I know I can do screen share from Mac to Win client using VNC, etc.  That just seems like adding more unnecessary work on to the Mac Mini.

Is JR MC simply the wrong app for what I want?  What else should I look at?