Guide to Using a Mac Mini for Audio

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Initial posting but will edit later...I was going to stick a "how to" guide here for reference as I've lost count of the PM's I've had on setting this up...no offence to the recent PM's but a post to refer to might be of use

Edited post below:

Ok so whats the point:

What’s the attraction compared to a PC based solution? Although not the only solution the Mac mini makes a great audio machine due to its size, reliability and very quiet operation. The Mac mini once set-up can be used as a headless machine without the need for trailing wires, keyboard, mouse, monitor etc. The other great thing going for a Mac is obviously iTunes and using the Remote App via an iPhone or iPod touch which allows you to do all the basics you need plus a whole lot more. Getting digital out of a Mac is also straight forward as universally the Mac has a mini jack plug labelled for headphone which more importantly doubles up as a mini jack optical output.

All in all the Mini is about as non-pc as you can get... a big plus as the last thing any music lover wants is some heap of PC taking up loads of space, wires everywhere, fans blazing..with the Mini this simply isn’t the case.

What you need:

A Mac Mini (Obviously) Any spec will do really, If you fancy a new one then go for more RAM, Apple don't offer a solid state drive at the minute and arguable you'll never need one. A decent amount of RAM is desirable if you plan to use Amarra at any point but I've found it works just fine on 2GB of RAM.

The Hard-drive size isn't relevant as you'll need an external solution to store all those ripped CD's you'll spend the next waking hours pumping into the Mac for short time anyway.

Buying used is a good option, Plenty on Ebay, the previous generation machine will same you a few quid and Tiger Mac OX is still valid for computer audio, Snow Leopard (latest OX) hasn’t really created any major advantages so an upgrade isn't a necessity.

iPod Touch/iPhone - No point buying a bigger capacity machine as you don't actually use the iPod for anything apart from controlling the Mac Mini. A decent case is worthwhile as the back especially is easy to scratch

Keyboard/Mouse/Screen (Set-up only)

Out of the box you'll need to connect up all these devices but once you're up and running you can start abandoning these so if you can use anything you can get your hands on rather than shelling out silly money on fancy Apple wireless devices nice as they are. One thing though its worth getting a wireless mouse if you don't have one as a mouse is the one thing that needs to be permanently connected to the Mini otherwise you get an annoying message to connect one which freezes the operation of the machine. A Bluetooth mouse can be hidden away on the other side of the room as long as its in range so again no trailing wires.

Mini jack to Toslink Optical Digital Cable - Some have small adapters so basically it's a standard Toslink cable with a mini jack adapter that fits on the end or you can get a fixed mini jack to Toslink cable. Length wise I would stick to as short as possible.

Firewire Cable (Optional)..This is for some DAC's that accept a firewire cable instead of/as well as Optical digital. Be aware that the Optical mini jack on the Mini is the default output so if you have a jack plug inserted, Firewire wont work. Most DAC's will need a Firewire driver that should be supplied with the DAC which you'll have to load first in order to use this interface

Monitor Cable (Set-up Only)....Again another initial purchase but you'll need a cable to connect the Mini to a screen, TV, projector or whatever. Just make sure you get the right one for your mini to screen as you have a load of choice available

Setting up the Mac Mini:

Setting up a Mac Mini for Audio is pretty straight forward. The Toslink mini jack goes into the headphones socket on the back of the Mini and into the DAC. You plug it in and follow the instructions. Do all the Mac and software updates. If you want to get a bare bones audio PC then you can remove a lot of the unwanted applications you don't need, disable spotlight etc.

Then go into Finder/Applications/Utilities/Audio Midi Set-up This is where you set-up and change the Mac OX audio settings change all the default outputs to built in output and change the Audio Output from Internal Speaker..otherwise you get the sound coming from the Mini's internal speaker,which should make you laugh if nothing else. Its an idea to drag the Audio Midi Set-up icon on to the bottom of the Desktop

In System Preferences click on Accounts and select Login Items. Add to the list iTunes.This will automatically launch iTunes when you re-start the machine

Setting up iTunes

This is the main part of the set-up. Under Store in iTunes log-in or create an iTunes Account. You'll need this if you want iTunes to add Artwork onto your CD and track names. In iTunes/Preferences/Advanced you will see iTunes media folder location, This defaults to the hard drive of the Mini itself so if you're using an external drive (more on that later) this is where you change the default location of any you're iTunes library. Its fine to change it later when you start filling up the Hard Drive on the Mini itself

Again under iTunes/Preferences/General when you insert a CD, change this drop down to Import CD & amp; Eject and tick the box Automatically retrieve CD names from the Internet

Ok on to the contentious bit again still in iTunes/Preferences/General click on Import Setting.This is where you define what format you rip your CD’s in. Lets not go mad here but choose between Apple Lossless and AIFF, I use AIFF. So under the dropdown Import Using select AIFF Encoder or if you want to save a bit of space Apple Lossless Encoder. Make sure the Settings dropdown is set to Automatic and finally but most important make sure the Use Error Correction box is ticked.

Last time under iTunes/Preferences/Playback make sure none of the Cross Fader and Sound Enhancement boxes are ticked.

One final thing and then you're set. Under Window/Equalizer make sure the EQ is turned off.

Setting up the Ipod with remote

Attach you iPod touch and go to Store/Home, click on the App Store and search for Remote. You'll be able to download this and sync it to the iPod touch you have connected. It's a free Application and when you purchase it the instructions on how to pair it with the mini are on the purchase page.

Select the Remote App on your iPod in settings your library should be the default library and selected the stay connected to On which just saves a bit of time when you use the iPod to control the iTunes from the Mini.

Ripping CD's

Ok so now you have set you iTunes library location and import settings up all you need to do is start pumping CDs into the Mac Mini they should automatically create the track names by querying iTunes gracenote database so this should be ok 99.99% of the time. To add Artwork as long as iTune Account is signed in you should automatically get an Artwork attached to the track/cd. If not you can run it by going to Advanced/Get Album Artwork and this will add Covers to your CDs/Tracks. If for some reason the Artwork is wrong then try out the Amazon Artwork widget in the links below.

And Finally

That's the majority of it covered. This is by means exhaustive but should be enough to get started. You can remove the keyboard this will bring a message saying so but just close it.

To switch on/off the Mini press briefly the power button which puts the Mini in standby. Turn it back on!

Cheers! :^


Original post











Running with Wires or Wireless?

The issue of running a wireless network within the overall solution has come up a few times. I don't pretend to be a Network expert but just a few pointers that may help. The main thing to look out for on the new Mac Mini's is that they have been upgraded this year with 802.11n Network capability it was only a few months ago that the newer (and more expensive) Mini became available with this long overdue upgrade. My Mini purchased at the start of the year has 802.11g

So what? Well the only thing to watch out for is that the wireless Network will run at the slowest denominator or in other words the network speed will only run at the speed of lowest spec machine.also these are Specs and in practice performance vary quite a lot.

The good news is that the newer generation of Mini shouldn't in theory run into as many problems as the older generation machines with drop outs etc but double check the capability of all the kit attached to the network.

Running a wireless network with the Mac in simple terms is either streaming data from your storage device/NAS to the Mac Mini and then you need to get the data out of the Mini with a hard wire as described above (Optical/Firewire).This has no impact on sound quality and has the advantage of housing your storage device in a separate room.

The other main type of streaming is once your machine is connected to a library via iTunes, streaming from the Mini to a wireless device such as the Airport Express, Note that this IS limited to 16/44.1 so you wont be able to play the higher resolution music but will still work fine. There are plenty of rumbles about running wireless to an AE and the impact on sound quality, loss of quality etc. but lets not go there.

Airport Express:

The main reason for all the preamble above is that the Airport Express (AE) is a useful little device if you want to house your Mini in a separate room to the listening area. The AE needs to be plugged into a standard wall socket but its useful for:

  1. You can use the AE as an Audio Extender and run iTunes from the main machine to another location So you could put a AE in the bedroom for example. On the AE again same as the Mini itself there is a mini-jack. This allows you to connect the mini jack direct to a system that accepts a line input. There are mini jack to RCA cables available for this or mini jack to mini jack depending on what it is your connecting it to. The good news is this can be controlled via the iPod touch.
    Run the AE exactly the same as above but use the mini-jack/Optical output this is effectively the same as the connector on the Mini itself and you can connect the optical mini-jack/Toslink cable to a DAC. This is a good option if you want to keep Mac/cable/storage completely away from the system. All you need is the AE and cable to connect it to your DAC, Pretty neat IMHO.





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Bump. Have no interest in this myself but I'm sure others will. Given the time and effort Swiss Tony took to put this together, it seemed a shame to have this languish at the bottom of page two.

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Good post Stuart, will no doubt prove invaluable to many members.

Shouldn't this be a sticky?

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Super Wammer


Very nice summary - thanks. Be interesting to see what happens when the rumoured tablet comes out. Sooloos on the cheap?

For those with a Mac Pro, RME have just produced their AIO card with analogue & digital out (up to 192KHz). Cheaper than the Lynx 16e too.

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Super Wammer

Stu - not my choice as you know but a great initiative that will be of use to many.



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Lots of useful info. Even if I don't use it myself, credit and thanks for all the time you must have spent writing it up :^.

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RobsterD wrote:

No mention of Amarra with itunes are you still using it ?

Thought it was best to leave that out...Lots of extra's for the scrappers to get into but thought it was wise to cover the basics that a lot of people have asked over the last few months...Storage is also such a massive area with so many options...for another day me thinks!

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