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Thread: Mach2Music MacMini Music Server

  1. #1
    [WBF Founding Member] Moderator RBFC's Avatar
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    Thumbs up Mach2Music MacMini Music Server

    I am in the final stages of sorting out my computer-based music server. I purchased a MacMini from Mach2Music (www.mach2music.com), along with a 2TB hard drive and FireWire connecting cable. I also purchased Amarra player software from them, as they are one of Amarra's largest dealers (IIRC). I am using a Calyx Audio DAC24/192 (www.calyxaudio.com) as the DAC in the system. It uses USB (preferred) and coaxial inputs. I will discuss this DAC in another thread.

    The service I received has been exemplary. Since I began this computer journey as a complete imbecile, it was extremely helpful to have much of the complex configuration already done out-of-the-box. Mach2Music sets up the MacMini primarily as a music server, deleting any programs and/or processes from the Mac that tend to decrease sound quality by stressing the CPU unnecessarily. They have written scripts to open several of the popular music player software packages, some free and some that you must purchase before use. For example, if you initially purchase PureMusic software (for which there is a script already in place) and you decide to try Amarra, the script for that is already there as well. XLD, a high-quality CD ripping program, is also on the computer when delivered.

    I chose to have the optional upgrade to 8GB of RAM installed, so that I would have more room for large playlists when using cached "memory playback" in the player software. This amount allows for an entire album (typically) of 24/192 files to be played from RAM, with enough left over for background processes, etc. They replaced the internal hard drive with a 60GB SSD model, using the original drive as a backup start-up disc in case of system crashes, etc.

    They supplied a 2TB Oyen external drive with a DataTale enclosure for connection to the MacMini for storage of the music files. All I had to do was connect the two via the supplied FireWire cable. Since the drive is self powered, the FireWire cable has the power lead inside it cut. Having no power travel on the data line is thought to reduce noise in the data stream and improve performance of the drive, resulting in better sound.

    I am fortunate, since I live in the same city as Mach2Music. Therefore, I was treated to a visit by their Director of Sales, Kevin Burke. He came by the house and brought his own MacMini for a demo before I made my purchase decision. I got the opportunity to see many of the special features first-hand, and also began to learn my way around in this computer-playback/storage world.

    Before I discuss the sound quality of the Mach2Music MacMini, I should say that the price of $1495 is pretty fair if you ask me. The MacMini itself retails for $699, so the programming time that goes into the transformation of the MacMini by them is a relative bargain. I'd imagine that if one were a proficient UNIX programmer, etc., then you might be able to get 75% of the performance out of the unit compared to what they achieve. They test slight alterations in the Mac's setup constantly, immediately adding any new revisions to all products leaving the build site. Since they've done extensive listening tests to their MacMini for each revision they perform, much of the guesswork and time has already been done for the end user.

    Instead of simply using a mouse and keyboard, as well as using either my Pioneer plasma or a separate display to run the server, I chose to purchase a new MacBook Pro 13" to act as the controller for the system (as well as to finally have a laptop computer for other tasks). I use the "screen sharing' application to achieve real-time control of the MacMini from the comfort of my listening chair.

    Sound Quality:

    I compared ripped files of redbook CDs (many of my personal "reference" CDs that I use for equipment evaluation) to the actual CD. The system used is listed in my profile. All that was needed to switch between the inputs for the computer and the CD player was one button, resulting in almost instantaneous changes from one input to the other.

    There was not much of a contest. The computer playback surpassed my CD playback in virtually every facet of sound reproduction. There was more impact, more space, more detail, and more "quiet" to the background. And yes, the levels were matched as close as the Radio Shack SPL meter would allow when referencing one particular note from both playbacks.

    To say that I was shocked at the results would be an understatement. As a computer audio neophyte, I didn't expect the difference to be so large. I began this undertaking looking at the computer as a convenient way to have all my music (~2000 CDs) easily at hand, thus reducing my storage space crunch in the house. My wife has always hated the piles of CDs that litter my listening space, and I felt that this would be a great answer.

    As I continued learning my way through all this data handling, ripping, etc., Kevin Burke was generous with his time and assisted me when I got confused (chronic condition, it seemed).

    The end result is that I have:

    1. An extremely convenient method of playing all my CDs (ripped about 100+ GB so far), without all the trips to the cabinets when trying to find that certain CD.

    2. A playback method that exceeds traditional CD player playback quite handily.

    3. The ability to download, transfer, and play files up to 24/192 resolution using my choice of playback software.

    I still have a long way to go before I could possibly be considered "proficient" with computer audio, and I expect to continue on this learning curve for some time. By having much of the hard work done for me, I was able to be up and running with high-quality computer audio very quickly. Working two jobs, I personally appreciate the time savings that buying a "ready-made" music server (that is also a perfectly competent computer with internet browsing, email, etc. if I wish) provided me. I want to publicly commend Mach2Music and Kevin Burke for doing things right.

    I'll have pictures up sometime soon.

    Lee
    Last edited by RBFC; 03-28-2011 at 08:54 PM.
    Lee Aldridge

    I post my own opinions except when posting as a moderator in green.

  2. #2
    [WBF Founding Member] Moderator RBFC's Avatar
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    I will also say that I'm hoping to have the Mach2Music guys stop into the forum to comment on this review, as well as correct any errors I made in my descriptions.

    Lee
    Lee Aldridge

    I post my own opinions except when posting as a moderator in green.

  3. #3
    Site Founder And Administrator Steve Williams's Avatar
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    Lee

    why would the ripped version sound better than the original CD?

    The new sound card or ???
    Steve Williams
    aka oneobgyn
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  4. #4
    [WBF Founding Member] Moderator RBFC's Avatar
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    Steve,

    My best guess is that my CD playback system has more jitter and electrical noise than the computer playback. Without a CD drive spinning, a servo motor correcting the laser's position, and the jitter of either HDMI or coaxial connection to the DACs in my Krell S-1200, the computer just injects less crap into the chain. I compared a Krell EVO 505 CD player and feel that the computer is still better. (And I'm an unabashed Krell fanboy.)

    Lee
    Lee Aldridge

    I post my own opinions except when posting as a moderator in green.

  5. #5
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    Nice write-up Lee. There is definitely something to be said about pre-configured configured for the job at hand.

  6. #6
    VIP/Donor [WBF Founding Member] ack's Avatar
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    Thanks Lee... A couple of questions - what's the audio card and does it also feature AES/EBU, do you need a monitor, can you control it remotely from an iPad/pod, and can you rip and play back hi-rez files as well?
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  7. #7
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    He doesn't use a sound card. His DAC has a USB input and that is the way he is transferring the audio.

  8. #8
    [WBF Founding Member] Moderator RBFC's Avatar
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    I'll try to address all the above questions.

    1. I compared the Mach2Mini to a standard MacMini and to my MacBook Pro laptop. In both cases, the background of the music was "darker" or "quieter" die to less electrical interference (I assume). The MacBook was a little better than the standard Mini, probably because of battery power.

    2. With storage space so cheap, I see no reason to compress the files. I'm using .aiff mostly, to retain metadata and album art. I compared .wav to .aiff and actually prefer .wav for sonic quality. I'm in no position to say why, but the .wav files have a larger soundstage and just plain sound a bit better. Chesky and Reference Recordings have both chosen .wav as the format for their DVD-R releases, so perhaps there is something to this. So, I also rip my "favorites" to .wav, to appease my lust for the "what's best".

    3. There are applications, like iTap, that will allow a wifi device such as an iPad or smartphone to control the Mini. However, the response from the MacBook's screen sharing is virtually instantaneous... such that you wouldn't know you were controlling a separate computer on your laptop screen. Also, once you go below 13" screen (smallest MacBook Pro), the screen becomes a bit hard to read clearly for me. It bears examination before you buy an iPad to control a computer.

    4. Yes, I can rip and download high-resolution files for playback. I've done this with the Chesky DVD-Rs and with downloaded files from 2L.no and HDTracks.com, as well as the Nu-Force demo tracks in another thread here. I'm also going to get started on Bruce B.'s demo tracks in his forum here. All the software I need is pre-installed on the Mach2Music.

    The Calyx DAC handles 24/192 (actually, it's compatible with up to 400 kHz sampling rates with a new driver, and already is 32-bit compatible for when source material is available). The Calyx uses balanced XLR connection to the preamp, a bonus for me.

    Lee
    Last edited by RBFC; 03-28-2011 at 08:58 PM.
    Lee Aldridge

    I post my own opinions except when posting as a moderator in green.

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