Should I upgrade from a Mac Mini to a dedicated server or should I upgrade my dac?

I would like to upgrade my digital audio and I have had some interesting discussions on the matter.  I mostly use Roon with Qobuz and Tidal via Mac Mini to a Moon 280D with Mind2 as a Roon endpoint (so I am using Ethernet rather than USB which was one of my 1st upgrade paths); I have been told that to get a significant improvement in sound I should upgrade from the Mac Mini to a Roon Nucleus or Small Green Computer etc before upgrading the dac.  The dac would be the following step.  
I think this is an interesting thought that I had not considered- I always assumed the most critical component would be a better a dac,   I am curious about your opinions on this.

Source (analog): VPI Aries 1,  Lyra. Etna, PS Audio Stellar phono; Amplification: Vinnie Rossi LIO Preamp, Pass Labs XA60.5; Speakers:AvantGarde Duo's, Thiel 3.7; Cables: Nordost Heimdall II.



My thought is if you’re using Roon and you DAC is connected via Ethernet like a streamer then it’s not as a noticeable upgrade (if at all) by adding a Roon NUC, SGC, etc. the big difference comes when using USB out of your mini, which you’d then definitely want a NUC, SGC, etc to eliminate the Mac. I use a mini into a etherRegen, into my streamer. 

Thanks Kray.
This was my thought when I moved away from USB and went to Ethernet (ie all Ethernet connections from router to switch and then to Mac Mini on the one hand, to the dac on the other).
I was surprised when several other audiophiles mentioned that the Mac Mini would continue to be detrimental compared to a dedicated server- basically suggesting that there would still be a high level noise or digital hash being passed on by the Mac. 

Admittedly this stuff is well beyond my competence and I am trying to assess if indeed a Mac vs dac upgrade path makes sense.

And I should have added to my original post that compared to my analog set up I always have a sense that my system has a certain digital "homogenous" sound, if that makes any sense,  This is something that bothers me about it and it doesn't sound right.  I have heard called digital glaze and other such descriptions and to my ears its there,  I am no way trying to suggest that one source is necessarily better than the other but with my current set-up I think there is room for improvement- but how?

IME a lowly Bluesound will be an improvement on the Mini. 

My CD player sounds much better than both into same Dac. I have not yet gone down the rabbit hole of all the different things you can apparently do to clean up all the internet crap. Maybe it’s worth it, I just don’t have the time or patience. Cds for me keep it simple. 

to get really excellent sound from a digital system, i think you need to do both - go to a roon nucleus or equivalent, and also, a high performing dac

in addition you will need noise filtration and management for the network feed... 

in my experience all are needed... 

One thing I'm not clear on. Are you connecting mini to ethernet switch or bridging thunderbolt out directly to Moon? Mini direct out to Moon would likely be preferable. You're doing well by doing no rendering with mini, could still benefit greatly with powering mini with lps, such as Uptone MMK and JS-2. So take thunderbolt bridge direct out to Moon with quality power supply, add operating system optimization and you have first rate non rendering server, essentially you have network device. Would take really top flight server to beat this setup. The issue with all this requires much diy work.


Keep the Mac Mini.I have one and hate the MAC OS but you d not need to replace it to get great sound.

Read the John Swenson white paper on streaming. If you want to try his approach, get a media converter such as a Sonore OpticalModule, Uptone EtherRegen (use reverse), etc.. Then get a Sonore OpticalRendu to take the FibreOptical from the media converter int the OpticalRendu and then tale USB into the DAC.

If you want to save some cash for a slight los in quality then get a network switch that has a Fibre Optical output. Take the Fibre directly into the OpticalRendu and then USB into your DAC.

Fibre cannot carry analog noise like Ethernet can and pollute your DAC. I was under the impression that the very best method to stream was Fibre directly into a DAC (like Lumin X1 DAC) or second best the Sonore OpticalRendu. However, after reading John Swenson’s comments about adding a media convertor in front of the OpticalRendu I tried it and my tunes sounded even more focused so now I also do that for 2 or my 3 OpticalRendu’s.

Ethernet streaming is easier but most DACs do not have this and the DACs that I have heard with it sound better streaming via an OpticalRendu to the USB input of a DAC.

All the Rendu’s are ROON READY.






I’m using Mac Mini as a roon core (I think it’s the 2018 version with 128gb SSD). No issues. 
I would keep the roon core away from the system and use it purely as Roon Core. Then run Ethernet into the streaming DAC from either the router or an access point. In both cases use EtherREGEN or a network filter between router/access point and the streaming DAC. 
Now to your question…upgrading the DAC in your setup, IMO, will reward you with a more noticeable improvement than upgrading the Roon Core. There are good options for a streaming DAC that are certified Roon endpoints,  either within or outside of Moon product line. 

@mofojo: I agree that trying all possible combinations is simply too time consuming but I certainly will continue to use Tidal/Qobuz. through Roon....hence my question of what is the most reasonable upgrade path.

@jjss49: I am sure that everything ultimately matters to some degree but I like to move incrementally and see how the system evolves.  And since there seem to be various approaches I am just trying to get a sense from others who have more experience and expertise than I do on where they think is the best place to start.

@sns: thanks for the tip but yes this may be a little more DIYing than I would feel comfortable tackling.  And just to clarify the system is set up as follows
Router -> Switch (2 outputs) -> (1) Mac Mini
                                              -> (2) Dac (newtork/endpoint)
All these are ethernet connection- switch has separate LPS.

@yyzsantabarbara: this sounds like an option and I'll look at the white paper.  The move to optical would cost some $2-2,5k so this would open the upgrade choices to three- either mac mini or dac or optical stream ...sounds like your last option would be a better choice than changing the mac mini- would go that route also if the choice were between this and getting a better dac?

@audphile1: this is what I always thought but then several times others told me that I would get a bigger improvement by switching out the mac.  Even verdantaudio brought this up on his very extensive dac resting post when I queried him on some of the dacs he was discussing- and as a dealer I thought I should take heed because from that perspective he, or any other dealer would probably stand to gain more if there were to sell a high end dac,  I have to say I have always found his input invaluable,  In any event I was looking to get some more feedback,

And btw thanks for all the inputs thus far- all very helpful !! 



@pgastone  Moving to Fibre is at most $1500 on the Rendu lineup. I have 3 of them with LPS. Including a used one for half that price.

Baby step would be to get a network switch with Fibre output and a $1500  (or less) package of the OpticalRendu + LPS. You can get it for less and I do not think you need to get the audiophile upgrades (I have both the upgraded and standard).

I have the ROON ONLY model since I do not do any else with the stream outside of ROON.


If you’re looking for a simpler yet high performance streaming source, consider Grimm Audio MU1.

I am using a Network DAC with Roon Core and Endpoint (all in one box) and couldn’t be any happier. If you’re interested in learning more about this amazing DAC/Roon player, check out Merging Technologies +player. 



@jjss49: I am sure that everything ultimately matters to some degree but I like to move incrementally and see how the system evolves. And since there seem to be various approaches I am just trying to get a sense from others who have more experience and expertise than I do on where they think is the best place to start.

you can start wherever you want, but based on the component list you shared in your initial post, and assuming it is set up right, your system should definitely be good enough to hear the sonic advantages of each improvement step (streamer, dac, core/network)

in my own experience, i did the dac upgrade first, it was kind of an obvious place to start... but the streamer upgrade and core/network purification/filtering steps were each quite significant in sound quality... if put gun to head to put numbers on apportion degrees of improvement to each step, i would say 50% dac, streamer 20-25%, core/network 25-30% -- so given that, if you want the full monty, you can’t really skip any of the above, especially as the improvements are cumulative in nature

longer version of what i was trying to say earlier...

You could benefit from dedicated server vs stock mini, but with no rendering things aren't as bad as they could be. Stock mini is noisy environment for a streaming component so there are some losses you'll never recover further down the chain, this even though doing no rendering. Certainly, there are nice benefits with a quieter network, but optimizing rendering is bigger bang for buck. You could continue with a streamer/dac combo or separate the two, either way has potential to be greatest improvement over what you have now.


Personally, I think you're on right track not doing any rendering within server, continue this into future. Still, after upgrade of dac or streamer this may become weak link in chain. Your mini is noisy, could be bested with dedicated server, but cost/benefit ratio is relatively low since you're not doing rendering. If I was in your position at this point, I'd think about bypassing switch with server with two network ports, second network port goes directly to streamer or streamer dac. Benefits would be twofold, simpler more direct network path best for eliminating noise, dedicated server with lps quieter environment vs mini. As I mentioned above, any dedicated server WITHOUT TWO ethernet ports would provide much less benefit.


The Roon Nucleus wouldn't provide enough benefit being designed as rendering server, and would need lps for best performance. Of the SMG, only the SMG I9 optical would be substantial upgrade, and here paying for capabilities you don't appear to need. Custom built or Antipodes K series server way to go down the road, server designed to be partnered with streamer is what you're looking for.





Moving the ROON core from my Mac Mini to an SGC ST was the right move for me. Already had a Pi based streamer and a descent DAC.

I can't thank all of you enough for this great advice. 
This is great!
Based on everything you mentioned right now I am leaning towards my initial impulse of starting with a better dac and implementing the other upgrades over time,

I like the idea of integration but only to a point- as appealing as a single box solution may be I'd rather retain the ability to upgrade single components .  That said, I would probably opt for a dac with a bridge/network Roon endpoint- I was thinking of a Bricasti M3 or maybe an M1 SE (really stretching budget here); another audiophile I know well swears by the Manhattan II.  I believe any of these these should be a good step-up from the Moon 280D (though it remains a very competent dac).
The other option of course is a dac without any network card (maybe Aqua La Scala or Holo May) and investing in a separate Roon endpoint- Sonore etc as discussed above.  In other words, spending less on the dac itself and to give more room to an endpoint upgrade. At this stage I'd probably leave the Mac Mini for last in the upgrade process.

In all of this I should mention what I am looking for; first and foremost I would like to eliminate that electronic hash that bothers me, and second I'd focus on a believable soundstage.  Many often refer to soundstage width as an essential element but given the choice I tend to care more about depth,.  And as I have experienced with analog when properly set-up, that sense of space goes hand in hand with "forgetting" about the speakers and all the equipment upstream.  For this I can also forfeit some microdynamics for a better sense of the overall musical event (I sound like an analog person! but don't want to go overboard either as I do care about transparency, detail...and dynamics).

Thank you!
And if you have any thoughts on the dacs I mentioned or any others that I should consider please let me know.  I am trying to keep myself to a limited budget ($5k-$6k at the very max - preferably $4k or thereabouts) so I will probably look at a preowned dac.
I already mentioned that my priority is a believable soundstage- the other aspect I need to consider is brightness- both the Thiels and Omega Duo horns can become a little hot in the treble if not carefully matched with appropriate electronics upstream.  This is something I will need to look out for.

I have had customers have tons of issues with Mac Minis.  Literally, it created a network issue for a customer so his DAC could not get an IP address.  The mini had to be off whenever he turned on the DAC.  It is not my favorite device. 

Bricasti makes and awesome DAC.  It is very musical and one of the most engaging, enjoyable products I have heard.  I have not heard the Mytek.  The M3 sound bigger but is less refined than the M1 SE.  Bricasti is about dead neutral.  It is warm compared to many units (Chord, Weiss, etc...) but not warm.  

In the $4K range, the Canor DAC 2.10 is a nice unit and has a tube output stage.  It does not have a roon end point incorporated into it.  Highly detailed and a touch warm, it is a nice and easy sounding DAC to listen too.  

The Rockna Wavelight is another good option for a new DAC that will give you a warmer sound profile.  It also lacks a roon endpoint and is a little pricier ($4950 list) but stunningly good.  It is a R2R and delivers what most people think R2Rs should sound like.  

I have never heard a Mytek product outside of an audio show and have not POV on them.  Aqua is supposed to make a great DAC.  It is definitely warmer and would do the job for you considering your speakers.  This definitely should be a brand you should consider. 

I am a dealer for Bricasti, Canor and Rockna and have listened to all of the units extensively.  I am not a Mytek or Aqua dealer.  


we are a server importer and sell many dacs as well


if you are using ethernet to an endpoint you would not hear an appreciable difference upgrading a seperate streamer or Roon core


however if you are directly connected to a dac then you would hear a large difference 

as per dacs vs streaming dacs it depends on model and price

we sell chord aqua atoll bicasti mytek t+aand are demoing  the new Mojo


the aqua dacs are particularly good and 100% modular and upgradable 


our 432Evo servers produce amazing sound via usb and when used via usb into a suitable dac can easily rival a very expensive analog  rig


Dave and Troy

audio intellect nj

432evo us importers




Post removed 

mytek’s ime are on the bright side of neutral, lack ultimate treble refinement, can often cross the line into being a little harsh

i agree the chords in the sub $5k price range present a little lean and forward sounding, one needs to get the m-scaler in front in order to get the uber-refined yet specific and dynamic sound that is what chord brings at its very finest

i’d suggest the msb analog dac w powerbase, available around $5-6 grand used on a good day, is the warmest (yet still holographic and well detailed) toned dac in my stable, the weiss 501 is closer to the m scaler/hugo tt2 combo in tonality (dead neutral, not warm nor lean, ultra pure and refined) - the other slightly warm sounding dac that i liked, but exited, due to ergonomics rather than sound, was the mojo mystique v3, which when available falls within the op's stated budget

side note -- i am currently trying a bricasti m1se and a musetec 005 against the references above (weiss, chord stock, msb), i have not tried rockna nor aqua

i just own these dacs, i don’t sell them...

I've not read all the reply's, but i went through this and still going through this.

-I started with a PC based custom computer for dedicated streaming. I thought I'd try a Roon nucleus and it was not an upgrade if anything it was a down grade in sound, i sold it and lost $600 in one month.

-I thought i'd buy a much better streamer so i bought an Aurender A 10 ($5000 later) and still its not really any better than the PC I was using prior if anything its more difficult to use, nice DAC in it i suppose. I find its good but its a pain to use in comparison to the PC.

I've tried the Blue sound node prior to the Aurender and it wasn't better then the Roon Nucleus. 

Sound wise I'd try a good DAC first. in my experience the streamer in some cases sound worse then a computer based system, well lets face it they are all computer based systems.

I'd try optimizing your computer first for streaming before a new streamer. Then make the decision about upgrading the computer. 

The streamers can give you easier interface though depending on how you got your mac mini set up i.e. tablet control etc. 


I have had customers have tons of issues with Mac Minis.  Literally, it created a network issue for a customer so his DAC could not get an IP address.  The mini had to be off whenever he turned on the DAC.  It is not my favorite device. 

Was this with a Bricasti DAC? And was it with Roon?

@audphile1 it was definitely with Roon.  It has happened with Bricasti and Weiss.  I discovered it was a problem with the Mac Mini when I saw people complaining about not getting IP addresses on TVs and Printers in other types of forums. This is not just an audio problem.  The Mac Mini creates problems in lots of applications.

the weirdest part is it is only the Mac Mini.  Other apple laptops and desktops do not create the same issue.  It is very bizarre.   

@verdantaudio Interesting, I've never heard of such issues. I'm in IT and I've got lots of Mac endpoints out there. First option should be static IP addresses, next...dhcp reservations.

It's unfortunate that Apple ditched the SP/DIF optical output years ago. We're now forced to deal with USB/C and all the baggage that comes with it.

The new Mini M1 is an amazing computer in of itself. I've played around with it to explore its potential as a streamer. I enjoyed using Audirvana Studio and a trial of Roon. Ultimately I didn't spend too much time on it to wring out its best sound quality.....but it did sound good, not great. 

As an office streamer I think it has great potential with USB conditioning. What I tried to do was dead-head it (no monitor, keyboard or mouse) in my stereo rack. I'd remote into it to launch the mentioned software and use the IOS app to control it. That's what I found frustrating. Roon was pretty good, Audirvana not so much. 



@treynolds155 I hope Apple has improved the Mini and these weird issues go away with it. That said, when I have a customer who tells me a network device doesn’t work, first question is do they have a Mac Mini on the network? If the answer is yes, whether part of audio chain or not, turn it off and then start the device.

@verdantaudio that’s strange. I’ve been using Mac Mini in my system since 2008. First one died after 11 years of pretty much non stop service. The 2018 version is still going strong and is being used only as Roon core.
Granted, the Mini isn’t an awesome streamer by any stretch of imagination but it’s totally fine as a Roon core.

I never ran into network problems with it. Other issues like Mac OS upgrade induced Roon bugs yes, could be annoying.

What you’re describing sounds like some sort of a firewall and or compatibility problem with ISP, DACs etc

@audphile1 That is what makes this even worse.  It is only some mac mini's that have this issue.  But here is the thing, it does not need to be part of the audio chain to create the problem.  I have no good explanation for why or how this happens.  Just a good thing to know from a troubleshooting perspective.  

I like audphile1 have used different iterations of mini for years without issue. Also been used in various network setups, I experiment a lot. Whenever mini has disappeared has been network issue, my streaming setups can become pretty complex, many causes for various issues, never mini. Whenever I see any disappearing server issues, and this with any brand server, nearly always network issues, lots of computer network novices are getting into streaming, steep learning curve!


And I agree, the mini can be pretty nice as server alone, forget about using it for rendering/streaming. Run dual ethernet ports on it avoids complexity and rendering, lps cleans up noise, optimize OS, again lowers noise, disable system integrity protection (SIP) same benefit as optimizing OS. Get I7 processor model, run PCIe SSD instead of sata, add all above nice little server.

IME, it’s the subpar and lazy approach in the design and implementation of most ROON compatible devices that leading us to believe that a single device serving as Roon core and end point is not optimal. To name a few, take a look at Taiko, Pink Faun, Grimm Audio and Merging Technologies. All these are prime example of how both Roon Core and Renderer can co-exist in a single device and yet yield to a sublime streaming audio experience, provided your rest of the system is up to par. I am just amazed by my Merging Technologies +player abilities to render captivating ROON experience, all from a single box.