Ipad or Mac Mini. Which would sound better?

Discussion in 'Computer Audiophile: Software, Configs, Tools' started by crazychile, Feb 15, 2016.

  1. crazychile

    crazychile Eastern Iowa's Spiciest Pepper

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    Option 1:
    Ipad (iTunes)-> Apple USB Camera Adapter -> Wyrd or Regen->DAC -> AMP-> Headphones.

    Option 2:
    New Mac Mini w/ SSD and 8GB RAM (itunes and Amarra 3.0)->Wyrd or Regen->DAC -> AMP-> Headphones.

    Hypothetical question:
    How comparable would these two setups be? I will probably buy a new Mac Mini in a few months (to replace a MBPro), but I could buy the iPad adapter now and try the iPad approach to tide me over for a bit. I guess I'm wondering how much the power (DC vs. AC) , RAM (? in iPad and 8GB in Mini), and iTunes vs. iTunes+Amarra 3.0 would make in sound between the two configurations. Or if there are other factors that I'm overlooking that would affect sound quality.

    Thanks.
     
  2. ktmracer12345

    ktmracer12345 New

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    Honestly, the difference will likely be minimal if using the same files on the same player (iTunes). You would probably have a hard time telling the difference with a straight up A/B test. I'd say for $30 it's worth picking up the camera kit while waiting. That being said, if you are moving past iTunes, the computer is going to have a lot more options. EQ, lots of FLAC, etc. is hard on an iPad. Especially if you don't have a ton of hard drive space.
     
  3. crazychile

    crazychile Eastern Iowa's Spiciest Pepper

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    Thats sort of what I was thinking, but my motive was more to see what sort of performance I might get with the new Mini, (by trying the iPad), before I actually replace it. Meaning, if it wasn't a real noticeable improvement over the MBpro, then I might hold off for a while.

    I've been commited to iTunes for over a decade and exclusively use .wav files. I've thought about using something else but haven't wanted to go through converting my iTunes library over to something else. I've read a little bit on how to do it but it seems like a major hassle, and requires a Windows machine to do it, but I don't use Windows at home. So for now I'm pretty commited to using iTunes on a Mac.

    Thanks for your input.
     
  4. Nateman831

    Nateman831 Friend

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    I've done many comparisons between my Mac Mini and my iPad (Gen 1) and the Mac Mini always wins hands down - pretty much regardless of how the rest of the chain is set up. There are lots of other factors here - such as what DAC you're using, and how it's powered, but all else being optimal, the iDevices (iPad or iPhone) never have as good a SNR as my computers do (esp when compared to the Mac Mini). But I still found the iPad to be very enjoyable - especially since I use an Intona to clean up the noise. The Wyrd will also do that a little, but for me the Wyrd also caused a major penalty in resolution - so I left it out.

    If you're interested, there are other things you can do to optimize the playback on your iPad another 5% - which is to limit the amount of background processes running. If it's on iOS 5, I wouldn't do any more than just setting it into airplane mode, but anything later and you might want to try reducing background processes. You can force the iDevice to quit background processes by opening lots of memory intensive applications (games, 1080 or 4K videos) then closing all applications and playing the music. On later versions of iOS this can cut the amount of background processes from 140+ to as few as 60-70.

    The iDevices can sound pretty good! But the MM can sound even better still. This has been my experience...
     
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2016
  5. techboy

    techboy New

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    All Apple products should be absolutely identical. The only difference will be in gain/volume.
     
  6. crazychile

    crazychile Eastern Iowa's Spiciest Pepper

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    So on a whim I bought the Apple Camera kit and hooked up the iPad (pro) to my Uptone Regen feeding a Bifrost Multibit. The Bifrost goes into my Lyr 2 to run dynamic headphones like Senn HD598s, and I also use the Lyr 2 as a preamp to feed my electrostatic rig (mjolnir Exstata and Koss ESP-950s. The only thing that changed from before was that I normally use a MacBook Pro.

    With the HD598s, the sound was a little cleaner and more distinct, but I spent most of my time with the electrostatic system. Low level detail was better, and the sound was more dynamic with punchier bass. This was not subtle....go figure.

    A few months ago I used an older Mac Mini with only 4GB RAM. The sound was slightly better than using my MacBook Pro. Nothing like the difference with the iPad.

    The iPad was a temporary experiment and not very convenient. But it was enough to show me how an optimized new Mini might be an upgrade to the MBP.
     
  7. Cos

    Cos Acquaintance

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    I am a lazy mac user and would not got through anything complicated. I am using Fidelia - an audio app you can get in the app store. Seems to be one level up from iTunes in terms of music engine and it borrows the library/files from iTunes with no transfer needed. The interface is not as sexy asiTunes but works great and I use it all the time. Give it a try if bored of iTunes and not keen on doing to much work to change.
     
  8. Nateman831

    Nateman831 Friend

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    Thanks for posting your results back... so the iPad Pro sounded better than your old MM and the MBP? Going into it, I wouldn't have guessed that since none of my iDevices sounded as full, and as quiet as any desktop or laptop I compared them to (but I've never tried an iPad Pro).

    I actually really like the idea of using an iPad as source. Seems like a really great form factor to me...

    I currently use my iDevices as source at the office, but that will eventually change when I get my Mac Mini setup headless. In my experience, the gains to be had in software optimizations alone are not at all subtle. But then, I have the curiosity for messing around with that probably more than most ppl do...

    If the iPad Pro is your preferred device so far, I wonder how it will compare to your new Mac Mini?
     
  9. crazychile

    crazychile Eastern Iowa's Spiciest Pepper

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    I 'm using Amarra right now and like it. I tried Fidelia but had issues with it being kinda buggy. It did sound decent and was my first app to try which made me realize that there were other approaches other than using plain iTunes.
     
  10. Nateman831

    Nateman831 Friend

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    Sounds like you're in a good place then... I don't spend much time on the OS X side, but I've tried Amarra, Audirvana, and Pure Music. I was probably most wowed by Pure Music, but my rabbit hole has taken me to windows which IME goes even deeper still...
     
  11. mtoc

    mtoc SBAF's Resident Shit-Stirrer

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    MAC Mini + Mojo PSU, one of the best.
     
  12. crazychile

    crazychile Eastern Iowa's Spiciest Pepper

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    So here's my theory on why the iPad Pro beat the MacBook Pro, (w/ SSD and 8GB RAM) and my old Mac Mini (no SSD, 4GB RAM).

    iPad Pro - Battery powered, has SSD, limited processes running, Wi-Fi was disabled. This seems to have all the right things working in it's favor. Very simple approach, that reduces the extra garbage that isn't needed for audio.

    I've heard from many people, Including Alex from Uptone, that the Mini pretty much beats the MacBook Pro every time. There could be some fundamental hardware advantages with the Mini, and jamming a bunch of crap into a small enclosure (with the MBP) usually works against you. (But then I guess you could say the same about the iPad but at least there's no Superdrive involved). Both computers could be optimized with the same RAM, SSD, playback software, and process limiting to where the only substantial variables are the hardware components. The Mini will supposedly still sound better than the MBP. So this is why I think the disadvantage in the MBP lies in the hardware.

    I think I paid about $700 for the iPad Pro. A Mac Mini with SSD and 8GB RAM runs around $1000 if I remember correctly. Then if I want to even the playing field with the iPad I'd need to add the DC conversion kit from Uptone Audio ($135) to the Mini, and then there's the cost of Amarra (or whatever), and a hardwired Airport Express ($99) so I could turn off wi-fi in the mini but still run it headless using an iPhone or iPad to remote control the music. Then I also need to mess around with the Mini to shut off , or remove any apps that might hog up resources.

    So when it's all done the Mini would roughly cost 2x what the iPad did, and you have to mess around with it a bit to theoretically make it comparable to the iPad. I'm not mentioning this as an argument to use an iPad over the Mini, as the Mini has additional capabilities and is more versatile. Just to point out what I think it may take to equal out the performance as much as possible between the two.

    Eventually I will probably use the iPad at work to run a dac/amp/headphones, so this is encouraging to know the level of sound thats possible for an office system.

    I would love to hear from someone else that had tried a similar iPad configuration to see if they are hearing the same sort of results.
     
  13. crazychile

    crazychile Eastern Iowa's Spiciest Pepper

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    Watt or Joule? I know that power supplies can make a difference, but this is where you can end up doubling the cost of the computer side of things...This would need to be an addition for me after a lot of other upgrades were in place because of limited $$.
     
  14. mtoc

    mtoc SBAF's Resident Shit-Stirrer

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    Actually I prefer a common PC.
     
  15. hellwhynot

    hellwhynot Friend

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    Not sure if I missed it; but are you using Home Sharing to stream off of you library (presumably on your MBP) or are you just limiting yourself to the memory on the iPad?
     
  16. crazychile

    crazychile Eastern Iowa's Spiciest Pepper

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    To keep things simple, I just use whatever I have loaded into the internal iPad memory.

    Ipad-> camera adapter -> wireworld ultraviolet 7 USB-> Uptone Regen-> Schiit Bifrost MB -> Schiit Lyr 2.-> headphone,

    Or the above but running the Lyr 2 preouts to feed the electrostatic rig.
     
  17. George Mhmmm

    George Mhmmm Acquaintance

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    Get the computer. You have greater control over the USB output and will be able to verify if it is outputting at 192/24, assuming this is important to you. However if your music is CD quality then both should operate about the same.

    EDIT: Also looks like you are using Amarra. Don't waste your money on their crap software, it is FULL of bugs. I've tried multiple versions and it was beyond frustrating. Biggest issue is extremely long loading times and terrible gapless playback.

    Just get BitPerfect from the Mac App Store for $10. It changes the sample rate of your computer to match that of the song being played. Seemless integration with iTunes, and lets you keep your playlists, organizations, and synchronization between all Apple devices. But again this only matters if you have higher def audio, like 192/24.
     
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2016
  18. crazychile

    crazychile Eastern Iowa's Spiciest Pepper

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    I plan on eventually getting a new Mini. This was just an experiment. All of my music is redbook/.wav files. so the hi-rez stuff doesn't mean much to me. I have noticed that Amarra can be a little clunky at times and have considered doing a trial of some of the other options. I'll add Bitperfect to the list of ones to try. Thanks for the tip.
     
  19. George Mhmmm

    George Mhmmm Acquaintance

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    If it's just red book stuff don't waste your money on a different player. iTunes works just fine. The only time that the 3rd party player comes into effect is if you have high-Rez files that need the sample rate switched of the computer audio clock. These programs just do it automatically for you since iTunes does not have access, or rather, by design it does not want to change the sample rate of your system's audio clock.

    If you manually change the sample rate thru OS X's midi control app, iTunes plays identical as other programs. You will not find an audible difference because programmatically they all do virtually the same thing unde the hood to play your music. Only difference would be any equalization, etc, that you choose to use in a 3rd party program.

    just my 0.02
     
  20. Nateman831

    Nateman831 Friend

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    I planned on adding a small comment, but now this has kinda grown. To put my conclusion up front: you may find it beneficial to reduce the number of running processes through a trick I describe - or even better yet opt for an older device like the iPad 1 (if you want a dedicated "portable" device).

    Quick note - You can also jailbreak and reduce processes that way, which can get you a little further, but it it’s for the more experimentally-inclined and for those who don't mind reinstalling their device - but iDevices are not really end-game playback options anyways.

    On my office setup, I'm back to using my iPad Gen 1 rather than the iPhone 6 Plus, and probably for good – at least until I eventually get my Mac Mini set up headless. I thought I would have switched to my Mac Mini by now, but anyways here we are...

    A quick preface: my biggest takeaway from my overloads of experience futzing around with iOS is that with each successive release of iOS, they keep adding more layers of software on top, and IT IS done at the cost of overall clarity. I'm well aware that some think that music playback is a very simple process that can't be messed up by whatever else is running. But my own ears tell me a different story - and I've messed around with this a lot! IME, the non-audio-related running processes can definitely affect overall clarity even though it doesn't cause overt problems like music skipping. And I’ve observed the same effect on various versions of Windows. Today, I'm just sharing my own subjective experience as it relates to the amount of running processes without diving headlong into the fringe and esoteric conversations few are truly qualified to hold concerning why or why not that may or may not be technically possible. I've already looked into the explanations enough to satisfy my own curiosity, but today I'm sticking to my own observations as it correlates with the amount of running processes.

    So my observations: I was using my iPhone 6 Plus for several months by now (and updating up the iOS 9 ladder as new versions were released), and then one day I switched back to the iPad 1 - which has the distinction of being limited to nothing later than iOS 5.1.1. Apple’s devices today ship with an OS that is many times more complex and “heavy” than iOS 5.1.1 is – and that’s the beauty of the iPad 1.

    The difference was immediately very clear (pun intended) and apparent: much more detail and clarity - and no more strange bass hump that had appeared with iOS 9. Apparently the sound quality on iOS 9 had gotten pretty bad but because it happened steps at a time – I had underestimated just how far. When I had last done comparisons of my up-to-date iPhone 6 Plus to my iPad 1, my iPhone was running early versions of iOS 8, and with a trick I discovered, I could bring the two devices in line with one another (otherwise, the iPad had the edge).

    Essentially, the trick is to overload the device by opening up lots of large games and 4K videos which overloads the memory and causes the memory management system to start shutting down “unnecessary” processes. Then you close all the apps you just opened – and what was 140+ running processes is now about 64 (figures are for iOS 8 – iOS 9 is worse). The result – music has more detail. Unfortunately, it’s a lot harder to do this in iOS 9 due to a change in the memory management system, and with each successive software release, you can’t bring the number down as low anyways. Then there’s the strange (bloated) bass hump that appeared in iOS 9… All of which is why my iDevice on iOS 9 doesn't sound as nice as the iPad 1.

    BTW, my iPhone 6+ has 1 GB of RAM. You would have to work a lot harder to use the trick on a device with 2 GB or especially 4 GB... Which leads me to where I landed - much easier to just use an iPad 1, which is stuck on a system that has far less background processes running.

    Some quick figures about average number of running processes which come from my own measurements:

    iOS 4 - 22 processes
    iOS 5 - 32 processes
    iOS 6 - 60+ processes
    iOS 7 - no data of my own
    iOS 8 - 130-150 processes - brought down to 64 processes by tricks, with a boost in musicality, and detail
    iOS 9 - no data ATM, and I'm probably just not interested anymore

    With each successive iOS release, the numbers increase - and in my experience the music playback quality degrades with it. The earliest versions of iOS 4 would occupy about 35 MB of RAM with 22 processes, whereas iOS 8 would occupy about 800 MB of RAM on my 6 Plus with 140+ running processes. On every computer (and mobile device) where I've compared a trimmed OS vs a fat OS, the trimmed one has always sounded better, all else being equal.

    Side comment - Actually, when I had a DAC that I could use on my iPhone 4, on iOS 4.0.1 (jailbroken, further reduced processes to only 10) it sounded pretty amazing for a mobile device. I'd explore it further, but it's expensive to do so because for a DAC to work with any iOS before 7, the DAC needed to be Apple certified. It was expensive, and few DACs took the trouble. Essentially, I’d just want a digital out to use with my existing equipment and it’s just more trouble than it’s worth.

    So I guess, it's back to the iPad 1 for good - until I eventually replace it with my Mac Mini.

    Another side comment - the lighting vs 30-pin CCK is a non-conversation IME because at it's best my iPhone 6+ was capable of about the same quality as the iPad 1 when it was on earlier versions of iOS 8, and I used the trick.

    Hopefully this nerdery is helpful to somebody... It seemed wasteful to have invested so much time and energy into this for a time, without sharing my observations with the rest of the community. Probably most people are looking elsewhere for music playback options - and understandably so, but this iPad setup actually sounds really decent, and besides that, it's cheap (my 64 GB cost me $60 on CL), easy to use, convenient, and green too – since you’re recycling old electronics that truthfully wouldn’t be good for much else…
     
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2016

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