How to build a music server

May 28, 2014
 by Paul McGowan

Here are instructions on how to build a high quality. easy to use Music Server for less than $1,000.  This article is distilled from Paul’s Post series, starting here.

With the goal of a small, quiet, affordable, lightweight box without a keyboard, mouse or screen, the choices available to us narrow down quickly. Many of you suggested a laptop. I nixed this choice immediately because of size. Even a small 13″ laptop is huge, relative to what we have in mind for our project, and doubles in size when you open it up exposing the screen and keyboard. Besides, it looks like a computer. I don’t want a computer, I want a dedicated music server.

Next comes the choice of platforms. This one’s obvious to me. Apple. Why? Well, if we ignore my dislike for Windows and Windows based machines and focus back on our design goals that include ease of use and setup, that really narrows the choice down. Say what you will about Apple products, they are dead easy to setup and use. In fact, they are so easy, many Windows users don’t like them because of their simplicity. Tough crowd.

The Mac Mini is an easy choice. Retailing for $599 with a 500Gb storage drive inside, this little baby is all you need. Measuring a mere 1.4″ tall and 7″ wide and deep, this little faceless unit weighs in at 2.7 lbs, is machined from a solid billet of aluminum and is about as elegant a “computer” as you can get. It does have a fan inside but you’d never know it. Here’s a picture of this little jewel. It doesn’t even look like a computer.

Mini

To set this product up you will need an old monitor, USB keyboard and mouse (any brand will do). The monitor needs a DVI input (or HDMI) which most in the last 5-years have. If you don’t have a monitor, you can buy one cheap from Amazon: here’s one for $39 used. Apple makes different adapters if yours is ancient enough to not have DVI, check with the guys at the Apple store if you have questions. Remember, you’re only going to need these for setup and perhaps those times when you want to load a big library, but never in use as a music server.

You’ll need internet access to setup the computer and perhaps 15 minutes. Apples are brainless to setup, just follow the instructions that appear on the screen and you’re done. Don’t setup anything other than the basic computer.

For my setup I also purchased Apple’s Super Drive because it looks cool, matches the mini and works great. You can use any USB DVD/CD ROM drive you wish. For me, staying cool and matching’s important, so I spent the $80 to get the rig I showed in the picture yesterday. All in I spent $734.30 with Boulder city tax of 8%.

Using iTunes for the interface

In our music server we’re going to use iTunes as the user interface. iTunes isn’t perfect, but it’s damn good. I’ll put together a tutorial of how to effectively use it as a powerful ally in building your library. iTunes used to be very intuitive in its operation, but they’ve simplified the thing down to the point where it no longer is so. That was a big mistake on their part, dumbing the product down to the point of frustration for anyone wanting to do anything like manage their library. But once you learn a few tricks, it’s easy.  Most of those tricks are included in this How To section of our website.

The good news about iTunes is that once our server’s built, library’s been added and edited to be the way we want, the program is awesome as a simple, gorgeous, easy to use controller. That’s one of the reasons I chose it over any number of other choices. No program is perfect, and there’s a small learning curve needed to manage your library in iTunes, but we’ll get you past these small hurdles quickly.

Another reason I chose the Mini as the platform of choice is iTunes and the Apple ecosystem. Once you’ve made the choice to go with iTunes for your library management and user interface tools, it then makes perfect sense to stay with the ecosystem Apple has created. Apple products work well together. Perhaps better than any other concoction you can imagine. Yes, iTunes works on Windows, but nothing about it is native, the mobile devices that connect with a Windows platform aren’t native and, well, the whole thing is just messy and too fiddly for me. Give me simple, it just works. To do this, stay within the walled garden Apple has created.

Choosing the iPad Mini

So while you’re in the Apple store, decide how much you want to spend on the user interface device. For my money I went with an iPad Mini. This little gem fits easily in the pocket, connects seamlessly with your new server and costs only $299. You can save $100 by going with the iPod Touch if you want really small (or use your iPhone if you have one), and this will work just as well. However, in my experience, it takes a bit of the fun and splendor out of the experience. Sitting in your listening chair with the iPad mini controlling everything you listen to (except the volume) is a real treat.

Using the Mac Mini for sound reproduction

Macs have some of the best sounding outputs between the two platforms, when used just straight out of the box, but there are issues. For example, if we play high resolution audio on our server we want the sample rate and bit depth to be exactly what’s on the recording. Yet both Windows and Macs won’t support this. On our Mac, you are supposed to choose a fixed sample rate for the output of your computer to the DAC via USB. Let’s say you choose 176.2/24 as the output. Whatever you play is then upsampled or downsampled to this rate. In other words, everything you listen to on your DAC is going to be molested by the computer. Not a good thing. Even if you manually set it each time, the computer will molest your music. To complicate the problems, there’s DSD. Neither Windows nor Macs have a clue what to do with DSD. We need to fix all of this if we’re going to build a true high-end music server.

What we want is a program that grabs the audio from iTunes and pulls it out of harm’s way. Not only that, we want to place all our music into the computer’s RAM and play from RAM, not from our hard drive. In addition to that, we don’t want our software to affect, in any way, the iTunes user interface. No, what we want is for a magic program that sits in the background and turns our music server into a bit perfect output, played through the equivalent of a Digital Lens straight and unmolested from any contamination right to our DAC.

Let’s keep it Bit Perfect

What we want in our choice of software is a means for the audio stored on our hard drive to get out of the computer without being altered or molested in any way. Both Apple and Microsoft want to fool with your audio in ways that don’t serve the music and we’re not going to let them do that. We do, however, want to keep iTunes for our music management tool. There are a few excellent software programs out there that do exactly what we want. I am going to tell you about the one I’ve chosen and why.

From the beginning of this project I’ve mentioned my goal was simplicity, no need for keyboards, mice and video screens, high-end performance and ease of use. I want all the features and fun of using iTunes for my music, but I don’t want any hassle or downside to playing it. A tall order actually, but it is achievable. Let me say upfront that none of the available choices for software are perfect, so we have to choose whatever we think is closest to our goals of simplicity without sacrificing the sound quality.

For this task I have chosen Bit Perfect. The program hides in the background as if it didn’t exist and yet is extremely powerful: grabbing the audio from iTunes and forwarding it in perfect form to the computer’s memory. There it fills up the memory until enough has been added, and sends it on its way out the USB port in bit perfect fashion (hence the name). Moreover, it makes sure the sample rate and bit depth remain exactly true to the source material without any intervention from the user. This last bit is certainly not unique amongst the available programs, in fact I don’t know if any of this is unique, but here’s what I do know: it seems to be the least intrusive to the user experience than any of the other programs I tried (and I tried most of the big names) without any compromise in sound quality. In fact, to my ears, the SQ is marvelous and close to that coming from the PerfectWave Transport Memory player.

I am also enamored with the use of the computer’s RAM to mimic what we call a Digital Lens. Again, I don’t know if this is unique to Bit Perfect, but it certainly works, is effective and best of all, Bit Perfect is only $9.95.

So what about DSD? If you’re going to be playing DSD, as certainly I will be doing, here’s where we come into a bit of a hassle. To use DSD files you have to run them through another program Bit Perfect offers called DSD Master. This $29.95 program is used to package DSD files in a form that iTunes can understand. iTunes and Mac or Windows machines can’t natively deal with DSD as I have written before in the series on DoP. Different programs handle this in different ways.

Putting all the pieces together

With this long preamble in mind, here’s the simplest way to build you music server.  You will need the following items:

  • A Mac Mini computer.  Use the most basic of models, or upgrade to the next step up in RAM and storage if you wish.  Increasing the RAM to as high as 16GB can help the sound.
  • A Mac iPad Mini.  Purchase the lowest cost one without the better screen
  • An Airport Express router
  • Apple Super Drive DVD player
  • Bit Perfect software
  • Bit Perfect DSD Master software
  • An excellent USB Cable.  For my server is Used a JCat
  • An old USB computer keyboard
  • An old monitor and mouse
  • An internet connection

As described earlier, connect the new Mac Mini to the computer keyboard and mouse for setup.  Follow the instructions on the Mac to set it up, register it, get the latest operating system etc.  This make take a few hours, be patient and get it the way you want.  Do not load any other programs.

Load your library into your new server

iTunes will come pre-installed on the computer.  Prepare to load your library into the Mac Mini.  You can do what I do, use the internal Hard drive, or you can use an external hard drive, one that is either on your home network or connected to the computer itself through USB.

If you wish to use the Mac’s internal hard drive, iTunes is already preconfigured for this.  Your files will be located in the iTunes Library, which you can access using the Mac’s Finder program.

If you wish to use an external hard drive to store your media, follow these instructions:

Open iTunes->Preferences->Advanced to see the location of the iTunes library.  You may select Change if you wish to use an external hard drive or NAS.  You must first make sure the desired drive is attached and recognized by your computer.  Once you select this drive, all music that iTunes manages will be accessed on this drive.

You will also note there is a checkbox that allows for iTunes to always copy any new additions to the iTunes to this location or not.

Screen shot 2014-05-25 at 7.04.09 AM

Set the import options

When iTunes imports a CD or music from any source, it will save it in the way you select.  My preference is to use AIFF, which is the same as WAV, only you are able to keep cover art and track titles.  This setting does not compress the music at all and because memory is inexpensive, highly recommended you do not compress the media, even with a lossless compression.

To select AIFF as the import setting:

Open iTunes Preferences.  Go to iTunes->preferences.  Go to the General preferences are and select Import Settings.

Screen shot 2014-05-24 at 10.13.58 AM

From the drop down list, choose the file type you want to convert to.  This is also the place where you set how you wish iTunes to import (rip) your media.  Select OK.

Import your entire library

Following the aforementioned guidelines, import your entire library, either onto your internal hard drive or your external hard drive.

Once imported, spend a good day making sure you have cover art that is correct, song titles, composers and artists labeled correctly.  Time spent on polishing and perfecting your music library is time well spent.

To manage the tracks and albums in your library, you can refer to this How To in our support section.

Purchase and load Bit Perfect

The next step, after your library has been uploaded, edited and ready to go, is to load Bit Perfect onto the Mac and launch it.  There are very few settings to adjust in Bit Perfect, but perhaps the most important is setting up RAM and Integer mode.  Open Bit Perfect Preferences menu:

Bit-perfect-preference

Set the memory buffer to no more than 25% of the total RAM size of your computer.  If your computer has 2GB of RAM, then this setting of 512MB is perfect.  Assign more if you have more RAM.

Setup the Airport Express

To set up the Airport Express router, which we recommend using as a separate router dedicated only to communicating between the iPad Mini controller and the Mac and iTunes, simply plug the AE into the wall.  Take a Cat 5 Ethernet cable and connect it between the Mac’s Ethernet input and the AE’s Ethernet LAN (Local Area Network) input as shown in this photo.

apple-12q2-airportexpress-schematic-lg

Once connected and powered up, open the Mac iPad Mini.

Connecting the iPad Mini

If you followed the previous instructions and loaded the free Apple Remote program on the Mini, all you will now need to do is configure the Airport Express to communicate with your iPad.  On the iPad, go to Settings->WiFi.  The Airport Express will appear as a choice.  Simply choose the AE as your WiFi choice and configure it as the system walks you through the simple setup.

Open Apple Remote

Once connected to the AE and your Mac music server, download and open the Apple Remote app.  The app will see your Mac and ask you to pair it.  You will need the computer monitor and keyboard connected for this part of the operation.  Follow the simple instructions to pair the iPad to iTunes and you should be good to go.

Connect your DAC

Using the USB cable you’ve chosen, connect one of the USB outputs on the Mac to the DAC’s USB input.  Launch Bit Perfect and open its Preferences.  You should now be able to select your DAC from the drop down list.  If your DAC is not recognized, we would recommend leaving the DAC connected and rebooting the Music Server, leaving Bit Perfect open.  The program should open automatically (if you didn’t close Bit Perfect) and your DAC should be seen.  Choose it and you are done.

have fun!

153 comments on “How to build a music server”

  1. What about the WAN? If you want to have a broader connection to the internet and a NAS would you connect the WAN in the Airport Express to your home router? In the article, you mention using a NAS to access files. Are you suggesting it is better to connect the NAS directly to the Mac Mini? Some clarity on this would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

  2. Similar question to acaro’s. Why not let the Mac Mini log onto your home network and then have access to it (from your iPad) from anywhere in your entire house/network, rather than just via the one AE directly connected to it? This way, while you will naturally use the Mac Mini’s USB to DAC connection for your main system and any serious listening, you can use the toslink off AEs throughout the house into other DACs so you can play “whole house music”, especially when entertaining.
    Just a thought, recognizing the other DACs will have compromised audio (sadly – though I have never tried to measure the bit-for-bit stream coming off a remote toslink on an AE), while your main system remains fully entact.
    Thanks for an awesome article, web site, emails, and all around cool company.
    See you at the NY show (Brooklyn this year!) shortly,
    David Curtin

  3. Ok found your post I have a few questions. I know you have no love for the Microsoft operating system. But I am on a very limited budget (retired and had to go back to work just to put food on the table) was wondering can this be duplicated on the Windows platform? I don’t own a Mac mini or any Apple hardware for that matter. I do have a windows 8.1 Tablet a Mini PC and a NAS. I am new to the digital music scene and I would very much like to save my music collection down to a NAS and be able to play in back to my ancient music system. Any suggestions (other than buying a Mac Mini) would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

    1. Sure. This could be done with any computer. The trick is to make sure you have a good program. Bit Perfect doesn’t work with Windows, but JRiver does. It’s $35 and sounds great. Just load that onto your hard drive and set it up according to its instructions. Then use JRemote on an iPod if you can or use the screen on your computer.

      1. Thanks have been using the trial of Jriver but don’t see where is does what Bit Perfect does which is put the music in memory in bit perfect format before it is sent to the audio input of the Stereo system. Do you know of a program that does.

        1. JRiver certainly does this as well. In fact, you can adjust the amount of memory it uses for this from a little to a lot. JRiver has more options than Carter has pills, so I don’t remember where that option is, but it’s there.

      2. Great article Paul! My plan is to use a 21″ iMac instead of the Mac Mini. With that being the case, would you recommend any changes to what you recommended for a Mac Mini pertaining to processor, amount of RAM or using either a HDD, flash storage or a fusion drive?
        Thanks!

  4. Dear Paul,

    You’ve mentioned that “Increasing the RAM to as high as 16GB can help the sound”

    I understand that in general more memory is always better. But taking into account that more memory is more money, could you please confirm (based on your experience) if the basic 4 Gb memory will be enough for playing flac files (up to 24/96). Thank you. By the way, I am a happy owner of your Nuwave DAC.
    Regards,
    Igor

    1. The direct answer is yes, from a memory standpoint. The other answer is no.

      Yes, there’s enough RAM, but no because a Mac will not play FLAC. The only way you can do this, if you do not wish to convert all your FLAC files to ALAC, is install a program like JRiver on the Mac, which can do this.

      1. Thank you Paul for prompt reply. As I understand there is no any native way to play flac files on mac mini (Itunes does not support this format). Adding Bit Perfect software also does not help in this case. The problem is that all my music collection (more than 1 Tb) is in flac format. To reformat such an amount is not very reliable way. If I will use any external software (like JRiver) the question is how Bit Perfect software will be compatible with it.
        thanks
        Igor

        1. These are fine but will take a good amount of time.

          I think the better solution is using JRiver. JRiver does this automatically and has the same sound quality as Bit Perfect does. It’s really a great solution.

  5. Paul, I have a Mac mini with a SSD drive internally and a thunderbolt drive for my music. I’m using a audioquest coffee USB cable to my dac. I have audirvana software installed with iTunes. Can I play DSD files using the audirvana software into the perfect wave dac? The software supports DSD but I was curious if the output from the Mac mini will work on the PW dac using PCM? I’m looking to purchase the ps audio dac and memory player.

    1. I am not that familiar with Audirvana (although many say it’s great) so I don’t know. The PerfectWave DAC will not play DSD, the DirectStream DAC will. If you stay with the PWD, I suspect the program would have to convert DSD to PCM and then yes, it could.

  6. Great Article Paul….

    I’m wondering if a Mac Mini with SSD Drive would bear any weight, and/or one with a larger Hard Drive. I assume the dollars for a larger hard drive should likely be put into an external unit with more ‘bang for the buck’, so to speak.

    Also, What is the purpose of the Airport Express? I am under the impression that one could control the Mac mini via the remote app alone….without the need for the extra hardware. If you were to select ‘computer’ on the remote app….I believe t hat you would have a direct connection to the Mac Mini….thoughts?

    1. I agree that “Paul’s how to build a music server” is just a great article. Very elaborate and clear about the functions and how it works. With today’s Mac mini’s I would opt (and I think I am gonna build it in the near future) for a Mac mini with a 2TB Fusion drive, which can hold my entire CD collection in AIFF-format. That turns out to be a nice compact solution for not much more money than buying a fast 2TB external drive.
      Timmaay, the purpose of the airport Express is (among other uses you could have for it) to keep your iPad with the remote app connected to the mini where the iTunes library is stored.

  7. I think you can go one step further and also use the mac as a video streamer! The only problem is that mac os doesn”t support the HD audio streams only windows does. So my idea was to install a dualboot, mac for music and smart tv/internet and windows for video streaming. I will be connecting it by hdmi for video and toslink for audio to a marantz sr7008. It uses burr browns 1792dsd dacs so i’m going to test the sq first without a dedicated dac. What are your 2cents on my idea? I will be using a 2010 mac mini with 8gb ram and will be swapping the hd with a 256gb ssd and use an external 7200rpm hd for my data…

  8. Paul,
    I am very close to starting to build this thing. One question arises with the new Mac Mini. It has an HDMI-port. So wouldn’t it make sense to connect the Mac Mini thru HDMI to my AV-receiver (most HDMI-inputs aren’t used), or would I loose something (quality, flexibility, ?????) where I didn’t think of.
    I am very curious for your response. and thanks for all the work you put into this.
    Lodewijk

      1. Paul, Thanks you for you reaction.
        Actually, I have some additional information/experience regarding using the HDMI port. It can be used, it will transfer the audio signal, but there is problem. When tracks have an audio signal from 00:00:00 the very first bit of music (perhaps no more than 1/20 of a second) will not sound. I guess this has to do with the way the signaling of what to transmit is done (as if the receiver needs a trigger to recognize the audio signal). This is anyway very annoying so I am going for the USB/DAC solution you described.
        Thanks again for describing the process of building a music server in this very clear way. I am very happy with the result.

        PS iTunes/bitPerfect works fine, but I decided to use jRiver MC instead, only because of the fast and friendly interface.

  9. thanks for your article. this all seems great for the cost-conscious consumer. however, i must admit you’ve lost me at the recommendation of a USB cable that costs nearly as much as the Mac Mini.
    What’s the measurable/statistical difference in audio quality between a bit perfect stream delivered via a “decent” shielded $10 USB cable and one that costs 30-50 times more? I don’t understand how there could be an audible different when we’re talking about bit-perfect 0s and 1s. muchos garcias.

    1. I don’t know if there’s a measurable difference I am aware of but there certainly is an audible one. Start with just a good one and the benefits of the Mini itself will be fine. You can always play with cables later.

      1. I’ve got some shielded twisted pair wire on order as well as some USB connectors. I’m going to try and knit my own cable and use an external 5v power supply to cut down on any noise.

        I’ll let you know what kind of smoke comes out when I’m done.

  10. I am thinking of making the mac mini music server, but I have an older PS Audio Digital Link III should I use the optical output of the Mini or the USB with the Bit Perfect software?

  11. “You will need the following items:

    An excellent USB Cable. For my server is Used a JCat
    …”

    Would you please clarify?

    I understand that the higher capacitance of a longer cable can create bit errors by closing the eye. But shouldn’t transmission be error-free over a short cable, regardless of cable make/model?

  12. I personnolay already found their SW expensive as you know that foobar 2000 is free and gives the same results. But their Jcat products are way overpriced, I would love to see their usb cable stripped to the core to compare to a descent 10€ usb cable and see/hear the difference if any… Especially their network cable at 350€/m, I cant imagine how they can justify that price compared to a s or f /ftp cat 6a double shielded network cable, even mora at the minute length of 1 meter!

    UTP stands for Unshielded Twisted Pair, STP for Shielded Twisted Pair, FTP for Foiled Twisted Pair and SFTP stands for Shielded and Foiled Twisted Pair. Shielding can be made from a metallic or polyester foil, or metallic braid, either around individual conductor pairs, all 4 pairs, or both.

    How do you justify a price for a cable which is half the price of the product you are connecting?
    Just my 2 cent…

    1. A cable may help to reject noise and/or reduce bit errors. In which case, it’s worth more. But how expensive could it possibly be to build a cable with better materials, to improve a twist and/or shield? I bet it cost them less than $10. Even if it costs more, I’m sure it’s not hundreds. But the price isn’t determined by that. The price is whatever people will pay. Therefore, there is no interest in educating the customer. But companies like PS Audio and Blue Jean Cable are above that. They understand the value in treating the customer with respect.

  13. Paul , I am thinking of making the Mac Mini music server, but I have an older PS Audio Digital Link III ,should I use the optical output of the Mini or the USB with the Bit Perfect software?

  14. Hello Paul,
    Happy Windows and JPlay guy, but a Weiss DAC202 w/ a high end firewire cable fell into my lap, so I decided to build your server, with a few differences, the most notable of course will be the use of the Apple thunderbolt to firewire adaptor and then feeding the Weiss w/ the firewire cable. I’ve got the MacMini on the way, but do you have any idea if the Bit Perfect software will allow the use of the firewire interface.
    thanks, Crazy Bill

    1. Hello all,
      If anyone is interested, Bit Perfect and Amarra play flawlessly using the Thunderbolt to firewire adaptor into the Weiss DAC202. Sounds slammin’ to boot.
      Thanks for a great article Paul.
      Crazy Bill

  15. Hi Paul
    So I went ahead and purchased a Mac Mini and I’ve installed Bit Perfect and DSD Master. I’m now trying to install my DSF files from my portable hard drive and it looks like iTunes will not allow these files to be installed, as they do not transfer to the Library. There is no error message.
    The DSD files are in .DSF format and were made on JRiver MC and are 2.8 MHz. I have tried iTunes 7 and latest 12.
    Any insights ?
    Many thanks Neil M

    Thanks

  16. Okay well I finally read the manual and I’ve got to the part where you have to convert it to the hybrid file which is what I’m currently doing and I guessing it will import perfectly fine as an M4 a file so disregard thanks

  17. Thank you for the informative article. What about using my Apple TV to interface with a Mac mini as my music and media (from iTunes) server?
    Would it be be best to plug in my Mac mini directly to apple TV?
    Thanks

    1. Oops – We currently use Apple TV to connect wirelessly to a Mac mini’s iTunes library for music and movies. We don’t really use the other channels or features on Apple TV. So maybe we should just do the same by connecting the extra mac mini directly to TV and not even using Apple TV.
      Of course a new Apple TV may be announced in a week so that may change things.

  18. Hi. I do’t understand this statement “This setting does not compress the music at all and because memory is inexpensive, highly recommended you do not compress the media, even with a lossless compression.” with regards to ripping the media. I see no disadvantage of ripping to ALAC, and the huge advantage of saving a lot of disc space. The Mac processor and memory can easily handle dealing with the slight, and lossless (so no audible difference) compression ALAC provides, and the benefit is double the hard disc space.

  19. Hi Paul,
    Is it true that the set up of a “music server” is required hardware and software so that the Bridge2 can be used.

    Can you advise a total computer moron like myself the absolute “EASIEST WAY” to use my brand new DS DAC, Bridge2, Transport, Platform I just bought accordingly.

    .

    1. Of course the transport and DS DAC are easy – connect via HDMI cable, hit play and go. So I suppose your question is really how do I get Bridge II to work. Bridge II requires a UPnP server and controller to operate. iTunes is not UPnP based and so will not work.

      Easiest is JRiver for a computer or buy a NAS, like a Qnap, and place your music on the NAS. For the computer option, purchase a copy of JRiver, put it on to the computer with your music and follow the instructions. JRemote is the best controller for JRiver, but you can use others. A good place for advice is our forums where lots of people will help.

      If you go the NAS route, use MConnect for the controller – available through the Apple apps store or as an Android download too. The server is on the Qnap NAS, so you only need the controller on your iPad.

      Bridge II comes with instructions that cover all this – or you can call us on Monday and Alex will walk you through.

  20. Paul, Awesome article, thank you! Any recommendations on selecting a DAC? Basis of this article was “building a music server for less than $1,000”, but I don’t see any recommendations on a DAC. Not even sure how much to spend. I’m building a pretty solid system, not sure how much I need to spend to get a quality DAC for this. Any way to use my AV receiver’s (~$1,700 receiver) internal DAC for this? If my receiver has a CAT5 network connection to connect to a NAS unit, will that take the audio straight from the Mac Mini and use the receiver DAC? Thanks again for posting this article!

    Phoenix

    1. How much do you want to spend for the DAC? We have an excellent one for $1200, but that’s still pricey. You could go used, our older NuWave goes for about half of that these days. But a good DAC is what makes this music server project worth doing – without it, you haven’t much.

      Other manufacturers of DACs are many, and a lot of good sounding one. This is where a good dealer can come and help a lot. You could call Audio Advisor or Music Direct and tell them your budget, and they’d make some good recommendations for your price range.

  21. people need to be warned about using i-tunes as a music server. If after loading all of your files, you try to sync to the cloud, and the number of songs or size of the files are bigger than the limit that apple places on cloud storage, i tunes will start deleting files off of your hard drive. It just happened to me this morning, i called apple and there is nothing they could or would do about it. No warning will come up before your files are deleted from i tunes. Imagine my dismay after spending a solid week loading and organizing my music to have a lot of it disappear.

    consider another program.

    1. This will happen when you are load your file from iCloud, disable this option and you will back again your library and files ready to use. For music server I preffer full aiff files.

      1. I loaded everything with discs, not from iCloud. i loaded AIFF files. I turned on the icloud matching service when i finished and that is when the files were deleted. apparently i had too many songs, too big a file. still, imo, this is very intrusive on the part of apple. now i have reloaded what was deleted and backed up, and turned off the service. I also had to delete my iTunes library on my other computer, because the remote continued recognize the old library.

        i don’t really think the remote works very well. most of the time I am using screen sharing on my laptop instead, which gives me full control over the mini and any audio programs that are loaded on it, plus i can play spotify from the mini, which I prefer to iTunes for sound quality.

        Some other issues i have noticed. I am not able to connect to my stereo via the usb and stream to other outputs at the same time. to stream to multiple sources, everything needs to be airplay. therefore you have to use an airport to stream to your stereo as well, degrading the sound. not a huge sacrifice, since i often listen to just the stereo, but still less than ideal.

    2. I’m so glad you posted that. I was about to push the button on a purchase aimed at following this post’s instructions. Feel sympathy for you and hope you had a backup to repair the damage. Do you know if the icloud limit dependant on how much you have paid for or is there a set limit on the number of music files it will allow you to upload?

  22. good article I followed your advice and I have the music server that you did(like copy and paste), one thing I wondering how you avoid the incoming message about the lack of communication with the keyboard? are you let always on your mac mini?

  23. Hi Paul
    I have built a music server to your specs and purchased a PS audio Nu wave dac and have been very happy with the result. Just recently I have notices that iTunes doesn’t seem to allow gapless playback anymore. I was playing Beck’s ‘morning phase’ and noticed track 1 “cycle” no longer merged into track 2 ‘morning”. I then played “Dark side of the Moon” and noticed that there is now an annoying gap between every track! . Do you know if this is a bug in the latest ITunes and if there is a way of fixing this.
    regards
    Rob

    1. Paul
      With regards to gapless playback post from yesterday, I think the problem lies with bit perfect or at least the way it interfaces with iTunes. When I play albums directly from iTunes, gapless playback works ok; but when I play through bit perfect gaps are placed between tracks. Have you heard of this? Do you know of a solution? I may follow up with Bit perfect for a solution.
      cheers

      1. Yes, I would check with Bit Perfect. Much has changed when Mac changed OS and there have been a number of complaints. The guys at Bit Perfect are really quite helpful. Let them know you installed it upon my advice. 🙂

  24. Paul thank you for writing this series of articles. I find them and the replies to be informative and useful information even though I’ve been ripping my CD’s and streaming for a number of years.

    In my music room I use a DirectStream DAC with Bridge, and an iPad Mini with JRemote. In another room is an iMac with JRiver, connected via Firewire to an external HD used only for music files. The iMac is connected with Cat 5 to an Airport Time capsule which is both our router and backup device. It backs up the external HD as well as everything on the iMac internal drive. Cat 5 runs from the Time Capsule (router) to the Bridge.

    Because the iMac is also used for all our computing needs, my question is would it be better to use a Mac Mini with JRiver and no other programs installed so it is dedicated to music, connected with Cat 5 to the Bridge? And use a separate Airport Express router. Or would a NAS be a better option?

    1. A dedicated box is always preferred if sound quality is the number one goal. The less the box has to do the better it will sound.

      I am not a big fan of NAS because they are typically slow and can be problematic over the network. Having said that, NAS probably sound better than attached drives – but that’s just speculation.

      1. Hi Paul (I am a UK resident and have just come across this very interesting article). I have a pair of AVI DM10 active speakers with inbuilt DAC (and very good they are too, exceptional for the price). I am using cd’s ripped to my iMac, then using iMatch + Apple TV (3rd generation, using Toslink connection) to play via iPad/iPhone as remotes. Very pleased with the results.
        Is there any benefit in building a dedicated system using the MacMini as described above?
        Cheers

        1. Perhaps not in your case with the built in DAC. I don’t know of its quality. In a separates situation where you have a DAC of known quality (like one of ours) then there’s great sonic benefit. The TV and other Apple device digital outputs are limited in what they can stream, upsampled always, and highly jittered. Using the USB output of the Mini into a known high end DAC is always best, but with the speakers and internal DAC, I don’t know.

    1. I also read on Audiophilia that a mac Mini can be connected directly to the Bridge with a “crossover” ethernet cable. But then I’m not sure how JRemote would controll it?

      Quote from the article:

      “You can connect the PS Audio PerfectWave MKII DAC directly to a Mac Mini (as music server) with one (1) ethernet cable; no need for an internet connection, routers, switches, or hubs! No need for the internet at all. And you get the same outstanding better-than-USB mode quality of sound that I wrote about in the initial publication of this review.”

      1. Using the front-panel touch screen on the DAC in Bridge Mode, go to ‘Home’, then to ‘Media Bridge’. Now turn off DHCP (at the bottom): This stops the DAC from requesting an IP Address; instead it uses a self-assigned one (which is visible on the screen; make note of it, and make note of its Subnet Address).

      2. Now, go to your Mac Mini (in ‘System Preferences’ under ‘Network’) and manually assign it an IP address (different from the DAC’s) but use the same Subnet Address as the DAC’s. For example, if the DAC’s IP Address is 192.175.1.300, and its Subnet Address is 255.255.255.0, then manually assign the Mac Mini an IP Address such as 192.175.1.301 and the same Subnet Address (Mask) 255.255.255.0.

      3. Power off the DAC (on the back) and then power it back on. The software will re-initialize and the touch panel at it’s top will now say ‘Network: Connected’. You are now up and running.

      http://www.audiophilia.com/wp/?p=11352

  25. Hello Paul,

    Your article has inspired me to set up a similar server for my sound system (wired 4 sound mAMP and monoblocks with 1.7 magnaplanar speakers). I noticed that you chose to go with a basic “off the shelf” Mac Mini… Would the addition of an external power supply improve the overall sound or would I be better off improving or adding other components such as a reclocker.

    Many thanks,

    Domnic

  26. So I set everything up as instructed. The system worked great for a few days. Now, however, when i try to play an audio file, it plays for about 3 seconds, then stops, goes back to the last point where it played in a loop. I don’t know how to reset things without having to reattach the monitor and set everything up in the system. Is there something I am doing wrong with the remote program? Have I set too much buffer or too little buffer memory? Help!!

  27. Hi Paul, late to the party but excited to read through all this! I am using a Mac Mini and only using it to stream Tidal on the HiFi setting, then using USB to an Exogal Dac. Can you offer insight as to the best settings on the Mac for this kind of use? Much appreciated!

    1. Better late than never as they say. Welcome.

      The problem with the Mac (and Windows) is that they mess with the sound and fix the sample rate. It’s ok if you always match it by hand, which shouldn’t be a problem with Tidal as they always stream the same bandwidth. Tidal and Macs don’t usually mesh too well because high resolution Tidal streams as FLAC which Macs do not support – so whatever you’re doing, just be sure the output is the same sample rate as whatever Tidal’s streaming. Also, use a high end good sounding USB cable – and one of our LANRover USB Transporter devices will help too.

  28. Hi Paul – Great article. I’ve been planning on doing this for a couple of years and was looking for something that laid out the entire process they way you have.

    I’m about to pull the trigger on a used Mac Mini to do this and plan to upgrade the hard drive, since the stock one is far too small to hold my entire music collection. I was wondering if the kind of hard drive you use impacts the sound quality much? Is it worth spending the extra money on an SSD, which is more expensive than an HDD? Is there much difference in sound quality between the two? Or would I be better advised to spend that money on more RAM? Thanks!

    1. If the choice came down to HD or RAM go RAM. I still use a 500gB HD of standard vintage and haven’t yet gone SSD. I understand from those that should know SSD is better, but haven’t spent the time to investigate. RAM makes a difference, for sure.

      1. Just thought of something else. How do you deal with the issue of backups? (or do you?). Having had all of my music files get corrupted once upon a time and having had to re-rip my entire collection, I religiously back up all of my files on two different hard drives (one with Time Machine, one just the files themselves). If you are running a mini with no monitor, how can you initiate the backups?

  29. I’m hoping this thread is still being monitored. I have ordered all the components to do this with an exception or two – I bought a refurbed Mac Mini (i5, mid 2011) with 16GIG, and 1TB fusion drive for $700, the Apple Superdrive, and a 3TB WD drive for backup via Time Machine. I plan to re-rip my CDs as AIFF files. I have a Classe SSP-600 that feeds a CA-5200 (5X200W) and lifted the following from an old review “The digital signal processing is handled by Motorola 32-bit processors, while the digital to analog conversion is taken care of by differential 24-bit multi-bit delta-sigma DACs (eight of them), said to provide extremely low-level linearity while maintaining the integrity of the resolution through the conversion process. ” My plan is to use the optical out mini-Toslink to Toslink directly to the SSP optical input, reasoning that the audio processing in SSP is already damn good. Am I sacrificing anything by omitting the external DAC? Any other comments? My other input option is coax SPDIF

    1. You’re probably ok but I would caution you to the limitations you have imposed upon yourself by foregoing USB. TOSLINK is limited in sample rates. So as long as you are planning only on ripping CDs you should be ok.

      The SSP is an external DAC though most in SSPs weren’t all that high-end despite their romantic claims. I am sure an external purpose-built audio DAC might get you better results, but what you’re proposing is a good start. Have fun!

    2. I too have ordered a refurbished Mac Mini (2014 2.6GHz i5, 1 TB fusion drive). Connection will be to a Peachtree Audio Nova150, probably direct from the Mini through a short, inexpensive USB A-to-B cable. I’ll be using iTunes with the music library either on the fusion drive or on an external SSD. Control will be via the Apple Remote app from iOS devices (or VNC from a MacBook Pro for admin.) I also have a small (24″) Samsung LED TV connected to an AppleTV in the same cabinet, which I believe can be pointed to the Mini’s music library for control using the Apple TV remote (in which case, the audio signal will pass from the Samsung TV to optical or analog input on the Nova150). I don’t think adding an Airport Express would be worth the extra power consumption and cabling (although I might spring for the Nova150’s new WiFi module when it becomes available). This rig is primarily for listening to a pair of Totem Arro floorstanding speakers (stereo music, no surround or sub).

  30. I was looking around the web at music servers and noticed this thread about DIY audio servers was still current, and most interesting.

    At the danger of hawking my own wares, the free version of SeeDeClip4 gives you an immediate jump over iTunes (one reason for writing it was iTunes limitations). Everyone mentions iTunes, Winamp etc. so I guess we’re allowed to mention product here.

    For free you get a multi-user, multi-client home audio solution that allows you to use a bigger (noisier) server PC (running Win, OS X or Linux) to do the serving donkeywork that you can then put into a different room. I’ve spent a long time DIYing PC’s into silence and decided it’s easier and cheaper to simply re-locate them.

    The client(s) are then just any smaller, quieter, slower machine with any modern web browser with HiFi output (so not Microsoft IE). You then just feed the output into a Sprout ELAC or similar – ideally with an optical cable.

    You can even use a cheap Android Tablet to feed the signal in through a 3.5mm to RCA adapter, they make quite neat clients with their touch screens being particularly handy – and some of them sound quite good too. Cheap and totally silent, it’s a win-win, I use a Lenovo 7″ one here. A cheap Chromebook like the Acer 14 would also be perfect as a client.

    SeeDeClip4 is freely downloadable at http://www.cutestudio.net/

  31. The good news … I’ve started re-recording all my CDs, hearing music I’d forgotten I had at a level of quality I haven’t heard since selling my CDP. The bad news – I have some higher def music and it sounds like shit – some SACD and some downloaded @ 256.

    So I’m going to have to spring for an external DAC, and I’d like to keep it under $500 if that is feasible. Questions – with USB 2.0 as a given input to the DAC, the outputs seem to range from line-level to digital coax to XLR on higher priced units. When choosing output from DAC:
    Does sound quality of XLR exceed RCA?
    Does only digital coax convey the multiple channel music?
    Should output availability drive (in whole or part) my DAC choice?
    Anyone have a suggestion? I’d love to buy PS Audio, but this is a component I hadn’t planned on, funds are too constrained to permit that.

    1. You might get lucky and find one of our used DACs for this price. I would look for a DLIII.

      USB is how you want to connect. Make sure you install Bit Perfect as I have described in the article. That way different sample rates get honored.

      XLR generally sounds better than RCA but that depends a lot on where you are plugging the DAC output into. Usually a preamplifier then feeding a power amp.

  32. I’ve now set up a music server using a refurbished Mac Mini (2014 2.6GHz i5, 1 TB fusion drive). I’m using iTunes with the music library on the fusion drive. BitPerfect is installed. I can control this rig from the Apple Remote app on iOS devices. For greater control, including for system administration, I log in remotely using screen sharing and Apple’s “Back to My Mac” setup. That gives me a screen-within-screen view of my jukebox, with full control, as if I’m sitting in front of a second computer. I don’t have an Airport Express in the loop. With this system, iTiunes must be running on the headless Mac Mini for an iOS device to see the music library. To cast music to another room(s), I believe it is necessary to go into the Mac Mini (via screen sharing) and control that feature through iTunes. Having an Airport Express hooked to the Mini might add a little more flexibility in controlling the system from iOS devices.

  33. Paul – please see question at end of post.

    So I’ll chime in with a bone-headed mistake I made while building this in the hopes of helping someone else avoid the same.

    I started with a Mac Mini and ran mini-toslink to my SSP. When I needed to see what was happening, and to set up the Mac and Bitperfect, I used my 65″ LG TV as a monitor. I only have 2 optical inputs to the SSP, the TV uses one, DVD uses one, so I had to plug/unplug one optical input to change devices. LG suggested I run all audio through the TV using HDMI, but I wasn’t thrilled with that idea, and the sound via mini-toslink was good, not great, so I decided to spend money on a DAC.

    I bought (stole) a barely used PS Audio NuWave DSD for $700 and some balanced cables to run to my SSP, removed the mini-TOSLINK and fired it all up. There was noticeable musical improvement, we heard chimes in the Eagles “The Last Resort”, in places we’d never heard before.

    I noticed a few songs were skipping or repeating several seconds of music, and starting diagnosing the cause – only to realize that we were not hearing ANY music thru the DAC. The HDMI cable I was using for the monitor/TV was carrying sound and outputting it via its TOSLINK output. After a fair amount of checking, re-checking, and swearing, I realized that the Mac SOUND setting had picked-up the HDMI – a quick change to that setting back to the PS-Audio and all worked fine.

    I have to do more listening but I did hear a skip this morning in a CD – may have to go back to BitPerfect to diagnose problem.

    Paul – if you have any thoughts on what might cause a skip during playback, they are welcome. All CDs were freshly recorded onto the Mac-Mini as AIFF files. Mac Mini has 16GB memory, BitPerfect set to integer and 4096 as you outlined. I do not recall hearing this issue when I was using the mini-TOSLINK route.

    1. Skipping problem seems to be solved – I took a pass thru Bit-Perfect’s user guide, knocked down the memory buffer from 4096 to 1028, changed other settings as they recommended, and the problem is solved.

  34. Thanks for the comprehensive “how-to”. I put my total music collection onto a Mac Mini back in 2012. I set up a RAID format with 2 one TB Hard Drives, 8 gigs of RAM and 2.3. I also use bit perfect but have found it doesn’t improve music that noticeably and sometimes skips. I am using a optical cable to connect to my Rega Dac and then to my two Cyrus amps. This all works well with only one frustration. A lot of my music is 96 or 192. The 96 is handled well, but the 192 – while it plays won’t be sent as 192 to my DAC. The mini seems to be the limitation. Unfortunately my DAC does not have a USB connection. Any tips on how I can get my higher resolution files over to the DAC?
    Thank You

    1. You’re kind of screwed, unfortunately. Optical won’t support that high resolution. You need USB. You might consider upgrading your DAC to something like our new Stellar Gain Cell DAC – or something esle with USB

  35. I just re-checekd my REGA Dac and am a bit embarrassed . It in fact does have a digital USB input, but the socket is not a typical USB? If I find the correct wire and use it to input music from my Mini then how do I get the Mini’s Audio MIDI setup to let me select 192?

    1. That’s where Bit Perfect comes in. Using Bit Perfect is a must – it selects the proper sample rate automatically.

      You’ll need to install the Rega’s USB driver on the Mac. Once that’s installed, you go to Bit Perfect’s setup menu, then choose the Rega to play to. The rest is automatic.

      1. Thanks Paul. My audio tech who sold me the Rega says its USB driver is installed in the DAC itself. He says the Rega only needs software downloaded to a Microsoft computer, but not a MAC?

            1. Macs actually have the drivers built in. Windows does not.

              The DAC can’t have the driver, as the installer suggested. A driver is software that tells the computer how to deal with an attached device. Macs work hard at making things easy, Windows not so much.

              1. Paul I just installed the USB and I am able to play music thru it. But the system tells me it can only send 16 bit 44kz? I tried increasing this in audio setup on Mini without effect. Bitperfect is set to send up to 192, but isn’t? I am currently playing a 96kz song but its playing at 44?

                1. Make sure you open Bit Perfect and it is running. Then, click on the Bit Perfect icon in the upper right hand top of the Mac desktop and a menu appears. Go to setup. Choose the driver for your DAC. This is how Bit Perfect knows what to do.

                  If you have any problems, Bit Perfect has a wonderfully responsive customer service department you can email questions to.

                  1. I recently purchased a M2-tech HiFace 2 to try and deal with the problems I told you about (above). I have it plugged into a Mac Mini and then connected to a Rega DAC. I have bitperfect on the computer to manage the 96 and 192 music files. When it works the sound is wonderful. BUT over the last two days I have had frequent issues where the sound just stopped playing (although iTunes showed the track was still playing). This occurred when I switched the source to compare sound. It also occurred when I played an mp3 (I only have 151/17,000 tracks) and then on last occasion just stopped when songs changed (and they were either 96 or 192). I was only able to get the sound back by taking the M2 out of its USB socket and placing it into another one.

                    Can you help me to understand what is happening and how to fi it so the playing is consistent? I have also sent a query to Bitperfect

                    1. This same thing happens to me on occasion – especially when I switch between DACs. The computer and Bit Perfect get confused. They don’t know the DAC has switched. I routinely have to go into Bit Perfect settings and select the right DAC. Sometimes when I do this, it shows the correct DAC but still there is not sound. In that case, I toggle between the internal DAC and the right DAC in that same settings menu. This seems to wake up the Mac Mini. A pain in the butt, but such is life.

  36. Ok, maybe this is a silly question but why do all this trouble when you can stream from your Macbook, or Mac via Airplay to a Airplay enabled receiver? Or stream to your Apple TV which would be connected to the receiver via HDMI? Would I notice a difference if i had a dedicated music server? I have a Pioneer Elite SC-87. P.S. Copper Magazine ROCKS!

    1. Never a silly question. It matters for a couple of reasons. The first is quality. AirPlay isn’t going to sound the same. Second is high resolution. AirPlay has limited resolution and sample rate.

      The dedicated music server, implemented properly, gives the best sound quality to a great DAC. AirPlay, Apple TV, HDMI and the decoding electronics for that type of system and signal are compromised in what they can stream and how they sound.

      No need to go through any of this if you’re not all that interested in high-end audio, but if great and uncompromised sound quality is what you’re after, then this is one low cost way to go and get there.

      1. Hi Paul! Hope this is still active and have made it through many comments until I got here. I am very interested in building a Mac Mini music server. What benefit does this have over playing music files through my home network that live on my Macbook in iTunes? I currently have a mix of ALAC, MP3 and some other Apple compressed files. I access these on DLNA enabled devices through my home network using TVMobili (UPNP) installed on my Macbook. It basically catalogs and makes the files available on my network. I can play the files on my iPad, Samsung Galaxy S10, Playstation 3, XBOX ONE X and Denon AVR-X4400H Receiver. Most devices that I have tried are capable of playing the ALAC files, but I will have to try AIFF in the near future so I can maintain this functionality in my new setup.

        My PS3 is currently connected to my TV through HDMI and then to my Sprout100 through optical. I’m using my Sprout for all sound that comes from my TV in my secondary TV/Music listening room. I also have an Echo Dot connected on the Analog input and play Amazon Prime Music which sounds decent for background music. My streamed ALAC files do seem to sound better though. In my main Home Theater/ Listening room the Denon plays the files directly.

        I was considering installing the Mac Mini in the room with the Sprout100 while still accessing the files over my network in my other rooms. Are the bits different when played over my home network instead of the USB cable? Thanks for any help you can provide and love watching your YouTube channel.

        Djembeman- CO Springs

  37. Great article. Ive been thinking to do this for years. I was confused with regards to the airport express also. Is it necessary to incorporate the AE into this server setup? If I already have an iPad mini with remote app installed, can’t I just control the mini via remote app on the iPad once the mini is configured? Or from my macbook air via screen share, or other admin app etc…?

    My iPad mini is currently running Universal Remote Control app over wifi house router, which is apple 3tb time capsule. I would prefer to not have to switch the wifi network on the iPad every time I want to control the mini or stereo and vice versa… If that makes sense?

    I like iTunes for my hi res files. I usually download in AIFF from HD tracks and store on my macbook air. Which I connect via USB to my mcintosh c2500 tube pre. The sound from the focal scala utopia’s is incredible. I would much prefer a dedicated server setup like this mini.

    Many years ago I acquired the Mcintosh MS750 and was disappointed with its limitations. I read many articles about the hi res server builds incorporating the mac mini but never took the plunge. Many audiophiles will agree that this is a solid rig. Certainly a better deal than what Mcintosh MB100 retails for;) Im a diehard Mcintosh guy however, Ive already got the good DAC thanks to the c2500. No reason to spend any more coin than this as Ive auditioned the MB100 heads up with mac mini via USB as well as macbook air to c2500 in a treated room. No audible difference IMO.. I hear a lot of concern about the PS in the mini but I honestly don’t think its an issue. The mini sounds amazing if your outputting the proper res to a quality DAC. Thanks for providing such a detailed article. Im definitely going to build this server project.

    I also enjoy Pandora. Typically I stream pandora from my iPad mini via airplay to toslink connected apple tv. I have been ok with the sound quality at 44khz usually for background music not critical listening however, I subscribe to pandora one and subscriptions get the 24/192 hi res format. As we know, the difference is quite significant. Can I run a browser or pandora desktop app on the mini server and stream from it? Then I can sit back enjoy the hi res music server/streaming while cruising the web on my laptop;)

    Thank you kindly for your reply,

    Warm regards from California and happy listening.

    1. You don’t need to add an AE. You’re already home free with the router you have and the way you communicate with the Mini is fine. I use the remote app to control iTunes as well and it is just fine.

      The power supply in the Mini is fine too. You want to try and have as much RAM as you can afford.

      I would not use iTunes without Bit Perfect installed. Seriously. iTunes runs all the music through an upsampler that does not sound good. Bit Perfect is, what, $10? Break down and buy it.

      And, if you can’t hear the difference between the output of the Mini when you’re using Bit Perfect, then your next project might be to get some better resolving speakers. 🙂

      Do make sure you’re also using a decent external DAC to feed through USB from the Mini to complete your server. Have fun!

      1. I also use the iTunes Remote and it works great. My only frustration is that it wont display the Album cover being played on a locked screen. Other music apps I use like SONOS and Sirrus show the tune playing on the locked screen of an iPhone or iPad

  38. I sort of understand how the Mac Mini might get confused when toggling between sources. But It also stops playing sound occasionally just when a track changes and no fiddling has been done?

  39. Today I use iTunes to stream from my Mac through router connected to 2 Apple TV’s via Cat 6 Ethernet then optical from the Apple TV’s to external DAC’s on two separate systems in my house. I like this set-up because I can control it all via Remote App on my iPhone. I would like to upgrade to higher res audio files using the same configuration. I’m interested in burning higher res files from LP to Digital and loading the larger files into my iTunes library. I understand the need for BitPerfect but is there a way to do this without using USB out of the Mac? This would seem to limit my ability to serve the music to more than one DAC. What am I missing and thanks for any help.

  40. Hi Paul,
    I have a Directstream DAC with Bridge installed, 6000+ CD’s ripped as FLAC, Wav or even MP3, they are all stored on a nas thats getting full, the computer that ran everything is old and slow. I did buy a all-in-one music server running Roon but that’s gone back as the server was a disaster. Is PS going to bring out a music server that will run Roon or any thoughts how I could build a window’s server just don’t fancy converting all files to ALAC to use a Mac Mini.

    Thanks

  41. Almost all of my librarie is in flac files. So when I’m inserting my library to iTunes only a 10% of mp3s files is been loaded. The other 90%of flacs are not. How this problem can be solved; I certainly won’t convert all my files to AIFF or ALAC…

    1. You use a program like Screens on your iPad. Screens connects you to the Mini through the iPad and allows you full control. It’s not perfect but it works and fortunately, you don’t have to do this often.

  42. Dear Paul,
    I am amazed at the amount of time you give freely to all of us,between Podcasts.YouTube Video and forum support.I happen to be a very happy owner of the Directstream DAC. I just built the Music Server exactly as you recommended.Everything works and sounds amazing EXCEPT the DSD Master is SO SLOW in converting the music files…Its really awful. My MAcMini is an i7 Quad core with 8 gigs of ram and an SSD internal drive, so its’NOT my hardware.
    My other more important point that I would appreciate your comment on is:
    I primarily listen to 70s rock. I love Miles Davis etc but Im a boomer….I LOVE the sound of DSDs but there aren’t enough titles. 90+ % of Digital Downloads are 48/96 or 48/192. Id this going to be format that goes by the way of my beloved MIniDIsc ???
    I am very lucky being s Springsteen Nut.and he is releasing a ton of his best concerts in EVERY format including DSD,except they are expensive.
    Do I have to convert to Jazz and Classical format,in order to be deep into DSD fomat?
    Thank you again form a VERY appreciative customer and follower.

    Mike Siegel
    Livingston, New Jersey

  43. Hi Paul, I have a couple of iMacs and a large library of SACDs. My apple DVD/CD burners do not play or read SACD (DSD), and my Macs don’t have an input for OPPO bluray devices. How do you get DSD files into iTunes? I have your DSD and transport, but my audio system is in a different room than my iMacs, and I don’t see a USB output on the PS Audio gear that can be controlled by JRiver on my Mac? How do you get DSD into iTunes?

  44. Dear Paul, thank you very much indeed.
    I followed your advice and have now a wonderful installation which surpasses my initial expectations. (PSAudio P5, PWDII, BridgeII, your power cables, MacMini, NAS etc… CD and Amp are Accuphase)
    The only point of frustration were the cables. I hate them: mainly because of the prices asked related to the cost of manufacturing, but I have to admit they do know their products and the market.
    For your USB solution I started out with a decent office cable and well, an ordinary CD played very much more dynamic, with more soundstage, clarity and enthusiasm than the MacMini and the PWD did 192 kHz files. Ough!
    Out that cable and an Audioquest Carbon cable in. This made a very impressive upgrade but still a tad below expectations. So a few months ago the Carbon got replaced by an Audioquest Coffee and WOW!!! Sad (because of the extra outlay) but true.
    With the NAS and the AirportExpress it’s a similar story. A few Cat 6 cables were rather underwhelming. An Audioquest Forest ethernet cable for € 50 was a major upgrade, but still well below the actual USB solution. So I added a € 30 Ethernet Gigabit switched hub, let the NAS feed the Forrest cable into the hub and put an Audioquest Vodka (Ough) to feed the PWD. Walhalla!
    You have no idea how happy I am with the result. There are certainly cables out there that perform even better, but I’ve got an itchy rash already.
    So, Thank you one more time for your enthusiasm, evangelism, the knowledge that you share and the excellent products.
    Frans

  45. I would like my MacMini music server to come up after power failures, with no user intervention. So I have Preferences set to automatically log in after power failure. With iTunes and iTunes Helper in “login items” under SystemPrefs->Users&Groups. I assume I should put BitPerfect there too; does it matter in what sequence it is, i.e. before or after iTunes ?

  46. Hi Paul,

    I installed the server as advised and am very happy with it. I now want to use it to stream Tidal. Is it possible using the apple remote amd mac ipad as controller? Thanks.

    Mike

  47. Great Article! Thanks Paul! I followed your instructions verbatim (Mac Mini running High Sierra, Bit Perfect, Apple Express, iPad Mini with the addition of the Cambridge DacMagic 100) and am very happy with the sound and ease of use.

    I am having an issue with playing some of my music. I’m able to play music from my old iTunes library through the DAC and stereo. However, when I try to play music downloaded from Apple Music, it will play only through the TV via HDMI and not the DAC/stereo. I’ve disconnected the HDMI cable and also moved the Apple Music files to my iTunes Music folder and get the same results. Has anyone else run into this problem? Any help would be greatly appreciated!

    Kirk

      1. MPEG-4 for both my iTunes library and Apple Music. I just found a potential answer in Bit Perfect’s FAQ section on their website. It says that Bit Perfect doesn’t support Apple Home Sharing protocol because it is proprietary. Should I turn off Home Sharing on my Mac Mini or will this affect my ability to control the Mac Mini from my iPad Mini?

        If there is an issue with Bit Perfect supporting Apple Home Sharing and affecting the way I can access ALL of my music, do you know of an alternative to Bit Perfect that would?

        1. OK. Digging a little deeper here, it appears that Apple Music uses Protected MPEG-4 (m.4.p). These types of files use Digital Management Rights (DRM). Bit Perfect cannot play music with DRM and will hand back the file to iTunes for playback. That would explain why the Apple Music will play to my TV. Bummer. Anyone know of another audio player that will work with m.4.p files?

  48. I found the Noteburner iTunes DRM Audio Converter and was able to convert my Apple Music (m.4p) files to m.4a files. Now I can playback from both my iTunes Library and my Apple Music. The $39.95 was money well spent. Thanks for letting me lie on the PS Audio couch and talk through my issues!

  49. Good afternoon Paul,
    I can’t think of any person in the industry that devouts so much of his time educating us users on electronics as much as you. I’m Happy to let you know my PerfectWave DAC is still going strong and very pleased with its performance.
    Just out of curiosity would you do things differently in 2018, this thread is closing in on 4 years any changes from your original post regarding music servers and digital music playback.
    The Mac Mini is a good start for a music server, I took your advice back then and adopted an old Dell with a faster SDD, more RAM running Foobar, then to JRiver that does a decent job. Reason being, everyone is talking about noise from power supplies, hard drives, and USB cables.
    Would you still opted for a computer or recommend one of these dedicated music server/player/streamers in the $1000 range?

    1. Yes. And here’s why. First, I still use my Mac Mini quite a lot, though recently I’ve been able to use the new PS server which is clearly a step up in sound quality.

      Though there have been many advances since I wrote this article, none have been so big that I would change much that is written here.

  50. I created a music player on the cheap by using an external hard drive connected to my OPPO blu ray player. The Oppo is connected to my integrated amp with a digital coax and to my tv via HDMI. Is this a compromised system in your opinion? Curious what suggestions you might have. Thanks.

  51. I might add that my music is ripped full strength in AIFF format. Also, I already had the Oppo (doesn’t everybody?) and the tv so the cost of my system aside from the music was only $75 for a 3 TB hard drive.

  52. 3 questions please, Paul:
    1. Any update to your 2016 post about a preference for SSD vs HHD, now that prices for SSD are down?
    2. After the initial installation of music files and cleaning up the info, album art and settings etc. with a monitor, mouse and keyboard, do you then use ‘Screens’ when you add new music to iTunes and to continue to manage music files, art, settings etc.?
    3. Understanding that Mac>USB>DAC>Amp is the preferred connection of the server to the system, if I want my server to ‘serve’ other amps in other rooms [in a wired system, not wireless], would you recommend Mac>USB>Router>USB>Apple TV>DAC [via toslink or HDMI?]….or something else…or wireless?

    1. I prefer SSD but only because of less mechanical and electrical noise. To be honest, I am not convinced there’s a sonic difference.

      When I want to add new music I pull out the video screen, mouse and keyboard. Screens is a pain in the ass for this.

      I haven’t any clue about serving other amps.

      1. Hi Paul,

        I posted a question above under another reader, but had one other unrelated question. With the 2019 versions of Mac Minis available they have gone to all SSD storage which adds quite a lot to the price of building one of these with any decent amount of storage. I would buy a base model and upgrade the RAM and hard drive myself, but it looks like a project similar to brain surgery. Older mac models will soon become obsolete and won’t take the latest Mac OS. 2011 Macs cannot take the latest Mac OS right now.

        For the purposes of the music server, would you be concerned with the Apple planned obsolescence every 8 years or so?

        1. If you are using iTunes, and the Mac mini is used solely as a music server, why continue to update the OS? The iTunes updates never seem to be better than the previous version anyway. Just use the latest version of iTunes that works for you existing OS, and turn off auto update. Same for any iTunes alternatives.

          As for cost, I bought a fairly recent refurbished mini, added a 1TB SSD for $130. You only need so much RAM to stream music, but you can get 8GB for $70, if 4 GB is not enough for you. Total cost was a bit over $500.

          1. Network and computer security is a decent reason to upgrade the OS. The music server will be connected to your home network. You may introduce vulnerabilities to your other devices if you don’t maintain your server’s software.

    2. @CE3,

      I’d say you could figure out a way to make your Mac Mini server reachable through your home network. I don’t know about super high quality, but I installed an application called TVMOBiLi that allows DLNA enabled devices to connect and stream my ALAC files throughout my house. My home network is mostly CAT6 cable connected but seems to work fine over WiFi as well.

  53. In light of Mac’s Catalina OS, does anything change with your recommendations? We’re stuck on Mojave due to the deprecation of formats supported under Catalina. Please advise.

  54. Paul and Ray,
    Thank you. Deeply appreciate your help. Currently using AQ Slate spkr. cables. Even though I only need half the length on the right side (where the racked equip. sits), both cables are the same length. They cost under $1k, but I want to investigate up to $3k. I can look at both AQ and Morrow.

    Paul, you would appreciate a visit to the raw beauty of the Tibetan Plateau. Even as it modernizes, the Chinese gov’t. has been ecologically and culturally sensitive. (Ignore much of the ignorant Western press.) The place is a time warp, with development routed away from the stark beauty and animal migration patterns.

  55. In light of Mac’s Catalina OS, does anything change with your recommendations? We’re stuck on Mojave due to the deprecation of formats supported under Catalina. Please advise.

  56. Paul and Ray,
    Thank you. Deeply appreciate your help. Currently using AQ Slate spkr. cables. Even though I only need half the length on the right side (where the racked equip. sits), both cables are the same length. They cost under $1k, but I want to investigate up to $3k. I can look at both AQ and Morrow.

    Paul, you would appreciate a visit to the raw beauty of the Tibetan Plateau. Even as it modernizes, the Chinese gov’t. has been ecologically and culturally sensitive. (Ignore much of the ignorant Western press.) The place is a time warp, with development routed away from the stark beauty and animal migration patterns.

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