PC vs MAC laptop as music server

Hi All,
Looking for a laptop exclusively for surfing the web and use as a music server.
Will use for ripping CD's and downloading Hi Rez music files (HD Tracks etc..)
Would also use to sync to my IPOD 160gb and connect laptop to ARC DAC7 using USB cable. DAC7 connected to an all Reference ARC system.
Speakers are Verity Audio Parsifal.

Should I go PC or MAC ?
From your two choices, I agree, definitely Mac.

However, I question the use of a laptop for a music server. Laptops typically don't operate 24/7, which is a desirable quality in a music server. Additionally, internal hard drive space (which is abundantly needed in a music server) is much more expensive than for a desktop machine. Granted, you could connect an external hard drive.

A true music server should be a reliable, accessible machine with plenty of storage (and backups). I support the use of a laptop for controlling the music server, or offering a conduit for the music, but I'd reconsider using a laptop exclusively as a music server.

Just my 2 cents.


On a non-audiophile note:

I've had my macbook (knock on wood) for nearly 2 years, and it's on pretty much 24/7 and I have absolutely no problems with it.

Also you don't need a new operating system every year like Windows (this is huge in my books... no rushed glitchy operating system to learn every year), very little worry about viruses (I don't use an anti=virus program) and very cool little programs (widgets) that every smart egg head seems to like to write as a hobby.

I've had the memory down to O (120 gb hard-drive) and it never slowed or bogged down. Actually, before I went OSX I used to hate computers, slow etc. With the Mac a whole new world has opened up. Fast and easy to navigate. It's been my media center... downloading movies, iTunes as my music server... you name it.

I use an Airport Express into a DAC and wirelessly stream music into my system for casual listening. Super convenient.

.. a laptop will probably not have enough memory for you. Especially if you're thinking of high rez movies.

Maybe an Imac --super small footprint, it's the size of a brick--(look on Craigslist) with an external hardrive (you can get terrabyte drives for cheap these days) and a wireless keyboard/mouse hooked up to your LCD TV would be a better choice.

You could probably get a used imac with a terrabyte external hard drive for less than $1000..

I use the old tiger program (probably what will come with a used imac) and it is excellent. The new Leopard OS has a program that automatically backs up your hard drive every 24 hours or something like that, which would be very very useful.

Hook it up to a USB DAC or via optical using an VanDenHul Optocoupler cable and you will be a good to go.

The "front row" program with OSX would work awesome as a media interface... pictures, movies, itunes.. whatever.

The only downside is that I've had some friends who've had problems with the battery life on their Macbooks...

And supposedly the EAC (Exact Audio Copy) program (free on the net) is the best way to rip/copy CDs. It doesn't work on the Mac OSX.. but you can also run Windows, both OSs on your system, with a flick of a button.


Get a Mac, it's a no brainer.
mac! i would recommend using an older mac mini with a raid disk subsystem to hold your files with a separate disk for backups. all you need is an older g4 with 2 gb ram. i use a new imac and used an intel mac mini before this. you can go to frys and pick up a 2tb raid 0 or 1 disk subsystem for $199. set it up as a raid 1 and you have a 1tb mirrored setup. also, skip the usb hookups and go with a jitter device along with a good quality dac using coax cable. as for ripping cd's, go with xld. it is one of the best programs to rip cd's and it allows you to use itunes as the repository. using xld, i have increased my bit rate from 1100k to over 1400k with better quality sound.
Hey Smoff'

In light of some of the suggestions already posted, I'll suggest this: Mac Mini. I've used both a Macbook and Mini. The Mini has useful advantages already mentioned and honestly (if it's a priority to you...), it sounds better! Macbook sounds good but the Mini sounds better.

Then, I'd eventually upgrade the Hard Drive to a Solid State Hard Drive. With this the Mini performs even better - faster - and it again sounds better than the stock drive.

Hope that helps a bit.


Thank You all with those informative responses.

Suppose i go with a mac mini as Robert and others have suggested, and use my LCD TV as a monitor with wireless keyboard/mouse.
From my sitting location, the TV would be 10 feet away and the main audio system (DAC) about 15 feet the other direction so approx. 25 feet between the TV and Audio system.
Where would i position the mac mini?
I would need 2 USB cables (one to the TV one to the DAC). I would like to use the best quality/shortest USB cable to my DAC like a RSAD Poemia or better.
I want absolutely no compromise in sound quality.
Again, thanks for all your help!!!! Sly.

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I would go with a PC.

1 - You can build it yourself to your specifications. Better power supplies for a music server make all the difference in the world.
2 - You can select your case and motherboard. With a PC, you have have insane expansion.
3 - I am not sure Exact Audio Copy (EAC) is MAC compatible. EAC is the best way to rip music from a CD.
4 - Foobar2000 - I am not sure if it is MAC compatible as well. Foobar2000 is the best way to play music on a computer. It even has an Apple Lossless plugin to play these (Apple Lossless) files.
5 - Empirical Audio's Offramp Turbo2 or 3 device for exporting the digital data off your computer - I do not think this is MAC compatible either.
6 - PC will most likely be less expensive

I have over 7 years of experience in computer music server playback. I will confess that I have never used a MAC for it. But because of the above reasons, I'd go with a PC.

iMac for me. I upgraded the memory and added an external 1TB hard drive. Toslink from the iMac to the Processor. Works great. iTunes is a breeze.
Ripping with iTunes does not compete with ripping with EAC.
Playback with iTunes does not compete with playback with Foobar2000.

As a Verity Audio Parisifal Ovation owner and someone who recently set up a music server in my system, I vote the LT. I purchased a "refurbished" MacBokk that is used exclusively as my music server. I ended up attaching a 1 TB Licie Ext HD to get all my music copied and that is working out well.

Everyone I talked to before I made the jump said there is a "natural" compatibility with iTunes and Mac. I certainly have not had a problem.

Overall I am so impressed with the state of digital music servers, etc. Going this route has totally transformed the way I listen to music and, more importantly, rejuvenated my love for music! Since getting involved in computer audio my set is going every night and my wife is loving have such an variety of music that is available at the touch of a finger...

To-wit, make sure you have some money in the budget for an iTouch iPod to use for your remote control...its a must!!

Good luck, John
Re Tok20000's first post, above. The following is from Empirical Audio's Web site:
The USB Off-Ramp 3 provides provides a USB computer interface to your audio system with unprecedented sound quality. With support for 24/96 resolution and bit perfect playback from PCs and Macs it is simply the best USB converter.
Keith, with all respect for your opinion and knowledge, you stated that Mac/iTunes can't compare to EAC and Foobar playback. But you further state that you haven't used a Mac for computer music payback. So, theoretical concerns aside, what is your statement based on? Can we assume you have listened to these alternatives side by side at a show or someone's system?

Again, not trying to be a butt- just trying to learn more.
Fair enough Danlib, I guess I need some explanation.

The software iTunes is pretty similar for both the PC and MAC.
I know for a fact that the Mac version of iTunes does not have the error correction that EAC has.
I do have a lot of experience with iTunes for the PC.
On a PC, I do know that playback through Foobar2000 is superior to iTunes on the PC.

Now on a Mac, I will admit that I have not compared iTunes playback vs. a PC's Foobar2000 playback. This comparison is difficult (at best) to make. Because you would be playing back music on two entirely different machines. This adds too many variables into the mix. However, because one can easily build a PC to their specifications (esp. power supply makes a big difference), the PC should sound better.

This being said, I would goto Empirical Audio's website and read their white papers on computer digital. They agree that foobar2000 is the best player. They also agree that EAC is the best ripper. My findings were independent of their's.

One thing about foobar2000: The guys who have developed it have been working on it for 8+ years. Their sole intent is to develop the best player possible. This is not the case with iTunes. If you think iTunes was coded for the best playback possible, think again. It is a mass market program that is more geared to manage music and to make Apple money. Foobar2000 was coded by audiophiles who have a passion for computer playback. Who would you trust more?

The main questions you need to ask yourself when deciding on a PC or MAC for music playback:
- Do I want to be locked into one box? (MAC)
- Do I want to be able to build my own machine to my own specifications? (PC)
- Do I want to run EAC (the best ripper available)? (PC)
- Do I want to be able to run foobar2000
- Do you want to pay a premium for your computer? (MAC)

I know people (MAC people and PC people alike)complain about Microsoft operating systems; however, if you are just using a computer as a music server, operationally a PC even running Vista is very stable.

This and $4 will get you an overpriced large coffee at Starbucks. But I have been into computer audio 2 channel playback for going on 8 years. I have built 8 music servers (even a few Linux based machines) in that time and tried all sorts of different music players and rippers. Until someone I respect out there (a computer digital playback expert) who definitively says that there is playback software for the MAC that bests foobar2000 and ripping software for the MAC that bests EAC, I'll keep using Windows based PCs for music servers.

According to Steve Nugent at Empirical, playback from a Mac with iTunes is indeed a little less good than with Foobar. He does say that it is still excellent, though.

I switched computer platforms way back at DOS 3.3. I can handle Windows if I have to. Now that Macs have Intel processors and run both systems, I may one day try EAC and Foobar in order to hear for myself what the degree of difference is.

Steve Nugent's claim for the quality of EAC and Foobar is IMO the best and really the only argument for choosing a Windows platform for music, if your level of experience is the same with both operating systems. If you want to assemble your computer yourself from parts, that's another hobby and a different set of concerns.
Steve Nugent has 26 years of digital experience. He has forgotten more about digital than I could probably hope to ever learn.

Assembling a computer is not that hard.
First one would take a weekend or so.
There are also so many options for PCs to make them quiet. Now that is a hobby unto itself: building a quiet PC. I used to be obsessed with it. No longer though because I have my music server in another room and run all the cables through the wall and use a blue tooth keyboard with integrated touchpad (Logitech).

tok2000 - if you want better error correction for ripping cds on a mac use xld or others. you are biased toward pc's, its obvious. but if you don't now how a mac works or how the GUI performs, then you shouldn't say anything about the mac. Microsoft is so far behind the times its funny. all of your statements mac vs. pc are unfounded. some of the most critical issues of all pc users are: how stable is the OS, how stable is the hardware, how user friendly is the OS, etc... all of these items the mac wins hands down. the mac doesn't have a blue screen of death, etc... when you use a mac, you know it is going to work.

there are many other ripping programs that run on a mac so that is a non issue, and if you wait, there will be a new 1 tomorrow. also, i run vmware so i can run any other operating system if needed.
BTW: i don't want to hook up my computer directly to a dac or use a usb cable, i like isolating the computer. and also, if you were to hook up a computer or network device, i would use a toslink cable to further isolate the 2.
Rbstehno, you almost had me until you recommended toslink to hook a computer up to a DAC.

I have been into computer for quite some time, and toslink sucks for transporting data from a computer to a DAC. I have tried it, and the current way I am doing it (with Empirical Audio's Offramp Turbo2 via USB port) is so superior, it is not even funny.

Microsoft has little to do with my ripping and playback per se. Foobar2000, my playback program, was developed by a 3rd party and is very stable (in it's current version). Exact Audio Copy was also developed by a 3rd party, and is ultimately stable as well. These programs have been developed over 8+ years by people who are extremely dedicated to both. I have never gotten a blue screen running either EAC or foobar2000.

"there are many other ripping programs that run on a mac so that is a non issue, and if you wait, there will be a new 1 tomorrow" - 1,000,000 bad rippers do not equal 1 excellent ripper. Please name a ripper on the Mac that has over 8 years of development behind it. Ripping programs for the PC are a dime a dozen as well, but I freely admit, most of them are not that good or just average. I have tried quite a few for comparison.

Also, do you realize how much of a difference a great aftermarket power supply makes for a music server for playback? Unless you have disassembled your Mac and changed out the power supply (I imagine it voids the warranty like most other Apple products if you take them apart), you have no idea.

Interestingly, I do like Macs. And if someone demonstrated to me on a Mac a playback program as good as foobar20000 and a ripper as good as EAC, I'd consider switching to a Mac. I would still want to change out the power supply.

Heck, if I could get better playback and ripping using LINUX, I'd do it in a heartbeat. Last I checked, there are quite a few rippers and players for LINUX. Still, none as good as the ones I mention above.
Great suggestions regarding EAC. Being a Mac guy myself, maybe I will consider running EAC on Paralells/Win XP.

A far as players, since OSX has direct access to the underlying core audio, I don't think any special player is needed.
Tok20000, it's interesting what you say about the importance of the computer's power supply. My brother runs a home studio built 'round an iMac. I gave him a good isolation transformer. He plugged the computer into that and the overall sound gained noticeably in clarity and smoothness.

Would you want to change out the whole supply for a new subassembly, or just change parts, and to what?
I change out the entire supply for another.
I have found going with larger power supplies is better (800 watt+). The last one I installed in my music server was an 850 watt Thermalake Black Widow (~$185). It sounds better than the 650 watt Corsair I had in there before. I just upgraded graphics cards so I could display 1080p on a front projector, and I was pushing the Corsair too hard.

PC power supplies are pretty complex devices (it is amazing how inexpensive they can be), and I do not recommend modifying them unless you know EXACTLY what you are doing (e.g. you are a highly skilled electrical engineer, and power supplies are your life's work).

I do believe you that power does make a difference sonically with a computer. However, I would only recommend plugging a computer into passive power filtration (as opposed something like PS Audio's regenerators) without consulting the maker of the regenerator.


There is another ripper for Mac besides Itunes called Max (sbooth.org). It also converts between almost every format you can think of, including FLAC. An alternative player by the same guy is called Play. I haven't compared them but you are not stuck just with Itunes.

I use a Core 2 Duo Mac Mini running firewire out to an Apogee Duet ($500). I control it either with a laptop running JollysfastVNC or with an Ipod Touch. JollysfastVNC is faster than Chicken of the VNC and in active development.

I haven't compared Max to EAC but I get great sound and it's very reliable and easy to set up and use. Being a die-hard PC person there was a bit of a learning curve but now I really like OS X, especially not having to spend so much time on troubleshooting and maintenance.

The Mini is also hooked up to the LCD TV and I use it to watch DVDs and internet video.

Whichever way you go, having all of your music on a hard drive is so much better than using a disc player.
If you decide to go Mac, which I also recommend, get a new Mac Mini. It will sound much better in comparison to the laptop. Also try this ripper: XLD.
tok20000 - you have xld and max for the mac. they are excellent rippers.
as for toslink, i like using coax when going from a quality cd player in to a dac. as for a music server, i isolate the computer from the audio room (from any room that is served from the server for that matter). i don't want a computer in my audio room. you have raid disks spinning, backup disks spinning, fan noises, etc..
so i use devices that allow me to stream the signal over ecat5 or wireless (audio rooms are wired using gige speed). to further isolate any noise from these devices, i use toslink into a jitter device. then i use coax into the dac. no noise, dead quiet.
even in my den where i use the music server, i don't go directly into the jitter device from the computer. i still route the signal over the net (5ft away).
using toslink in network devices that are hooked up to electricity and to the network, toslink is less susceptible to pick up any em or rf interference like you would with a copper cable. also, you might have to run a longer cable to your dac which toslink would be a better choice for longer runs.
More lossless formats on PC, and there is nothing that comes close to J. River Media Center for the Mac...iTunes in the Windows of the Mac world.....
So much disagreement. Here's what I use and why. An older ibook (maybe 800mghz)..I use it because it's virtually silent...you never hear the fan...the mini that I'm typing on now gets plenty loud. I don't use the hard drive on the ibook for much except OS. I use several laptop (2.5") drives in MacAlly cases daisy chained together via firewire. Why? Because I can't hear them. You'll also need a backup which can be a regular sized loud hard drive because you can power it off when not in use.
I use Mac because its what I know. I don't know if windows sounds better. It's also easy for me to integrate ipods, iphones, and an Airport Express that streams to a different stereo in the house. It all works together with not too much fuss.
But honestly, I think the dac you use is much more important. I used to go thru dacs like some people go thru socks, and I never found one (no matter what the reviewers said) that sounded like real music. Now that I have one I like and it uses usb, I'm done for a long time. The rest (speed and cpu usage,etc) doesn't really matter to me.

It is true that PC is cheaper than Mac in general. However if you try to build a silent PC with solid state drive, it will actually cost you a lot (nice looking enclosure, solid state drive, lots of heat pipes etc). I have tried to play itune on Windows notebook through Apple Airport Express (wireless) > optical Toslink cable > PS Audio DLiii > Amp, but for some unknown reason, it didn't sound that good. I ripped my CDs to Flac and Wav using EAC so I am sure the ripped audio file quality is as good as the one on my CDs.

So I bought a Mac mini (Intel core duo) and upgraded the memory to 4GB. What a nice machine it is. I play same files directly out of external hard drive through USB to mini through firewire to Apogee duet to amp, and the sound is much better than before. Mac mini is very quiet and the interface is excellent. You can even have basic control of itune using the accompanying small remote controller. I know I can install XP to run music file on Foobar if I want although it won't work with Duet. So I have another option and it is definitely future proof.

My next trial will be downloading 24/96 flac files from HD Track and convert them to different format such as 24/96 Wav or AIFF to play on itune. Apogee Duet can handle 24/96 data through firewire so it must be very nice.

I hope Apple release a special version of Mac mini with decent size solid state drive (about 64GB or 128GB just for OS and applications) and of course, I2S. It will be a killer music server platform.

My 2 Cents...
Yoyodyne, I would like to do the same but how do you convert those HD Tracks 24/96 flac files into AIFF to play on itunes? Unfortunately HD Tracks does not give the option to download those in AIFF. Only Flac.
Is there a convertion software available for MAC.
I would like to put them on my 160gb ipod and play them on my audio system through my Wadia dock and ARC DAC7.
Smoffatt - how do you like your ARC dac7? i heard it at rmaf and it sounded nice. have you compared coax vs usb to see if there is any difference in the quality?
I'd be concerned about keeping an archive on either type of laptop. I've had harddrives go out on two of my laptop PCs and one of my PowerBook Pros. If you back up with a RAID (preferably wireless and automatically) then you'll be fine with either well selected laptop, IMHO. My Sony Viao is as expensive as a Powerbook but much better suited to audio, but either will serve your needs.

Mac - I'm just putting a music server together. I noticed that no-one answered one of the Smoffatt's requirements - i.e., 24 bit/96 khz playback from Hi Rez downloads from HD Tracks.
I've just installed a PCI card from M-Audio (Audiophile 2496) that inputs and outputs 24/96 data. I have it in my Dual 1.42 GHz Processor PowerPC G4 Deskside, running OS-10.5.7. I intend to insert 2 internal 1 GB drives in a RAID configuration - it will hold up to 4 internal drives (ATA/EIDE). My intention is to build up a HiDef digital library. I intend to transfer my thousands of records by sampling them at 24/96 from a very good vinyl playback system. I intend to sample the output from my $30,000 Audio Note DAC 5, rather than rip them from the CD - I'm hoping this will produce better sound thru the 24/96 DAC than I would get thru a cheaper CD-DAC when I sell my DAC 5.
I don't know what music library management system to use. iTunes won't hold the 24/96 audio. I also plan to purchase all future music from HD Tracks (HDtracks.com) in 24/96 format (FLAC because of it's error correction capabilities for downloads & lossless compression on my HD). I don't know what s/w will convert the FLAC to 24/96 on the fly as I play the music. If I can't find such an on the fly converter, I may have to store them on my HD in the full 24/96 format, which will take up substantially more space.
I don't know for sure yet, but I think my 24/96 M-Audio card will also playback 24 bit/88 kHz as well as 44 & 48 kHz and iPod music.
Any thoughts on any of the above would be appreciated.
Music library/playback server s/w - FLAC convertor - Audiophile 2496 capabilities - ... - all for a Mac - PC is not an option
I would like to close this thread with an update. I have acquired a MacBook Pro. More convenient to me than a Mini. I have downloaded some albums from HD Tracks into Itunes. Playing those through Ipod>Wadia dock>ARC Dac7.
Sounds pretty darn good. I have yet to play the 96/24 tracks i downloaded. Need to convert them to AIFF first so i can play via Itunes.

Next, i would like to hook up my Mac directly to my Dac7 via USB to assess the sonic differences vs Ipod/Dock.
Thank You All for the feedback.
Nice thread.
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Sound wise the two are very close. A more appropriate question to ask is which type of HD should you use. SS HD wins hands down vs. traditional spinning HD.