Which Old Mac is Best - (seeking advice)

Hello Mac peoples:
I have two different Macs I can earmark to use solely as a dedicated music server with Audirvana. I have a Topping D-10 DAC (USB between Mac and DAC).

  1. 2011 MacBook Pro 2.2Ghz, i7 processor,16GB memory and 1TB internal SSD
  2. Late 2012 MacMini 2.3 GHz Core i7 processor, 16GB memory and 1TB internal hybrid drive.
    Other than aesthetics, is there any compelling reason to use one over the other? As computers, their performance is similar. I don’t have the experience and full understanding of each of their architecture to know if one would be better over the other.
    Side note: both would function headless with a OWC Headless Accelerator gizmo

Any fellow Mac geeks out there with an opinion to share?

Thanks in advance

Mac Mini, because it’s a desktop system. More thermal headroom. Wire it through Ethernet and enjoy.

Hi Bitracer -
Wire it through Ethernet? Do you mean to connect it to my network and internet?
Thermal headroom… due to Audirvana generating a lot of processor heat?


Unless you do some crazy processing you should be fine. Still with i7 CPU, it’s better cooled in a desktop chassis. It’s more about longevity of the hardware.

Over the years I’ve used the MacBook for heavy, fans-blasting processing but never with the screen down. I’m questioning how heavy a processing toll Audirvana takes. Especially with the machine dedicated to being a music server only. I suppose the 16GB of RAM should be a help.

Do you have any feedback on how much of a processing load to expect with Audirvana running in Direct Mode?

Depends on how you use it. For a normal playback it’s not much. It depends how much processing you apply. The MacMini will be plenty enough, especially the i7 version.

I’d definitely go with the mini too, a desktop is always better when going headless, but ditch that hybrid drive in favour of a big enough SSD. Yes, wired ethernet and disable wifi.

Also, I think that a late 2012 mini can run Mojave, the 2011 mbp probably won’t.

Can run Catalina easily also, direct mode too if needed for you

What is the advantage of SSD over the Hybrid in this specific application (a dedicated music server)? Sure the SSD is faster but for this usage, it’s not really necessary… Or, is it for some reason I’m not thinking of?

Is there a problem with connecting the mac via WiFi that would effect it’s performance as a music server (via USB to DAC to receiver)?

Inquiring mind here

I would go the Mac Mini route as well, another benefit would be to remove the optical drive in it and add a secondary storage hard drive in a drive caddy, in addition to swapping the hybrid for an SSD. That will speed it up a bit and you could have an extra couple of TB of storage for FLAC files all in the one unit.

Yes! In my experience connecting the mini via wifi results in issues with the Audirvana Remote app. For me, connecting my mini with a cable resolved all problems.

Any feedback on how much of a processing load to expect with Audirvana running in Direct Mode?

Regarding the latest system (Mojave / Catalina), I don’t see any real advantage in pairing Audirvana with the latest OSX. Am I missing something?

No additional load. If anything it’s slightly less.

Newer OS won’t bring you sonic differences, but it’s always advisable to run up to date system.

My macmini late 2012 with 16 gb i5 not i7 like yours requires near zero process when playing songs like they are… 16/44 to 16/44 or 24/192 to 24/192, dsd64 to dsd…
putting memory at 13gb for loading (by default) out of 16gb in Audirvana loads a song of 20 mins in 3 seconds :slight_smile: then the computer play by memory at 1% approx. of cpu… so don’t worry.

Direct Mode doesn’t change anything for that, for some sound is better with that extension on, that can be put back in macos after 10.11.6 easily, still in latest catalina 10.15.2

If you want to upsample all your songs to like pcm384 or all to DSD256, that i7 will work much more for not so much different in sound for me and much more complicatated to adjust the upsampling settings if you don’t know what you do there… all in your ears :slight_smile: and the risk of getting tics or skipping for a second will increase by a lot… free to try :slight_smile:

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I would go for the Mac Mini, which is what I used (before I switched over to Roon).
If you are going to use it as a dedicated server, with Ethernet, try this script out from Computer Audio Design (OSX Optimization Scripts). It disables pretty much anything not required in OS for Mac to function as an Audirvana server (you can always run the other script downloaded that puts everything back as it was…)
Computer Audio Design OSX Optimization Scripts

Crazy CPU and memory Are not really needed when playing music with a audirvana

However I have read that the power supply of a laptop is preferable to one of the desktop computer like the Mac mini, because some filtering occurs through the transformer

That said I use a Mac mini mid 2011 and it works like a charm. Depending how much music you have, you may soon prefer a set up with storage on a NAS, In which case ethernet would be preferable to wireless

The Mac mini is a better option. Audirvana uses very little CPU processing power so i7 is really overkill to some degree. The Mac Mini will run cooler than the MBP 2011. MBP is end of life in terms of upgrades to the OS beyond High Sierra unless you do a DosDude rebirth to install Catalina.

Bigger issues for you are the power supplies for both the Mac Mini and the Topping Dac. Switching AC power supplies are inherently noisy. So if you want to improve things you can buy power supplies for your DAC and Mac Mini, i.e., ultra low noise linear DC power supplies:


You can also convert the fan in the mac mini to an ultra low noise power supply which I have done:

I would also suggest installing your library drive in the second drive bay slot (you’ll need something like an OWC doubler kit for that task)


I don’t have personal experience with using a MacMini for audio - I use Audirvana on MacBook Pro (2013 model), but a lot of reviewers have talked about using simpler computers and MacMinis as exclusive music players, I believe there may be some advantages due to the simplicity of the machines (less internal noise):

However, specifically to Audirvana, would one have any advantage over the other as far as processing power for upsampling? By your specs, the MacMini looks like a good bet. You are allowed to use your Audirvana key on a second laptop or personal computer as long as they are not running at the same time, so you could possibly try both and A-B as well.

There was similar discussion recently. Have a look in the forums.

I would definitely go with 2012 MacMini 2.3 GHz Core i7