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24-inch iMac with M1 chip?

Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Main system: Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac (4GHz quad-core with Turbo, 32GB RAM, 3TB FusionDrive, OSX Yosemite. iTunes 14.4), PureMusic 3.02, Audirvana 3, Qobuz, Tidal, Singxer SU-6 USB bridge, LHY Audio SW-8 switch, Sonnet Pasithea DAC; Active filter: icOn Gradient Box 2; Power amplifiers: Kinki Studio EX-B7 monos, Goldmund/Job 225 on subwoofer; Headamp: Cen.Grand Silver Fox; Phones: HifiMan Susvara, Meze 109 Pro; Loudspeakers: sound|kaos Vox 3awf + sound|kaos DSUB15 on Carbide Audio footers, Audio Physic Codex, Qualio IQ [on loan] Cables: Complete loom of Allnic Audio ZL; Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all source components, Vibex One 11R on amps, Furutech DPS-4.1 between wall and conditioners; Equipment rack: Artesanía Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc amp stands; Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators, LessLoss Firewall for loudspeakers, Furutech NCF Signal Boosters; Room: 6 x 8m with open door behind listening seat
2nd system: Source: Shanling M3 Ultra into Soundaware D300Ref SD transport to Cen.Grand DSDAC 1.0 Deluxe; Preamp/filter: Vinnie Rossie L2 Signature and icOn 4th-order/80Hz; Amplifier: Enleum AMP-23R; Loudspeakers: MonAcoustic SuperMon Mini or Acelec Model One + Dynaudio S18 sub; Power delivery: Furutech GTO 2D NCF, Akiko Audio Corelli; Equipment rack: Hifistay Mythology Transform X-Frame [on extended loan]; Sundry accessories: Audioquest Fog Lifters; Furutech NFC Clear Lines; Room: ~3.5 x 8m
Desktop system: Source: HP Z230 work station Win10/64; USB bridge: Singxer SU-2; Headamp/DAC: iFi iDSD Pro Signature;  Headphones: Final D-8000; Active speakers: DMAX SC5
Upstairs headfi/speaker system: Source: smsl Dp5 transport; DAC: Auralic Vega; Integrated amplifier: Schiit Jotunheim R; Phones: Raal-Requisite SR1a; Active DSP speakers: Fram Midi 120
2-channel video system: Source: Oppo BDP-105; All-in-One: Gold Note IS-1000 Deluxe; Loudspeakers: Zu Soul VI; Subwoofer: Zu Submission; Power delivery: Furutech eTP-8, Room: ~6x4m

Review component retail: €2'065 w. 16GB/RAM, 256GB SSD and Swiss keyboard, €585 for external SanDisk 4TB SSD with Thunderbolt 3

The king lives on. Long live the new king. Time to rewrite tradition. My 9-year-old possibly older 27" maxed-out iMac with Audirvana, Lhy Audio network bridge and Singxer SU-6 USB bridge keeps happily serving and streaming my main rig's tunes. Its OS is simply long past any Apple support. That also puts it beyond installing Audirvana Studio. Having entered PCfi with first PureMusic then Audirvana, I was keenly aware how during the early days, iOS updates routinely glitched those software players. Now their designers had to play quick catch-up and rewrite code. Fixing anything that ain't broke has never been my idea of a good time; nor letting the bugs in just to have the most current features I never use. Since my iMac is dedicated to just playback of local files, I defeated its auto updater and lived with my ancient Sierra iOS and Audirvana 3 in the last-supported version ever since. Kowtowing to the notion that all computing hardware fails eventually, over the past few months I've given my local library host a good think. I just can't get myself to invest in an 'audiophile' headless solution. To compete with my iMac's stunning display next to my chair would still need the equivalent €1'800 standalone Apple monitor. For €300 more, I can get a complete new iMac. And really, in the many years since my trusty 27" first became my official digital front end, I've not come across any Antipodes, Aurender, Innuos, Lumin & Bros. I'd rather have. Never mind that most of them rely on a tablet remote which is taboo in our WiFi-alllergic crib. And I did review a few headless horsemen up to €20K. I can't say that I'm one bit sold on their concept.

Upstairs this Shanling M3Ultra serves up local files as a battery-power minimum-OS deck USB out into an ultra-cap powered Soundaware D300Ref USB bridge which forwards AES/EBU to a 1'024DSD DAC.

My office machine is an HP Z230 Win10/64 workstation. Should I go after a Windows-based iMac equivalent and finally escape the Appleverse? Weighing the options—it loves me, it loves me not—my sterling experience with Apple's hardware proved insurmountable. Because my oldie can't leapfrog into the present to host the most current music-player programs, I decided on a new 24" iMac with 16GB RAM and 256GB onboard SSD plus Swiss keyboard. 27" versions are currently unavailable. For storing my library I ordered a SanDisk Professional 4TB G-Drive SSD with USB 3.2 Gen2 and Thunderbolt 3. Total damage delivered? Well south of €3K. Which makes the point. Why spend a lot more to get far less just to play up audiophile cred? I trust my ears. They know from many A/B comparisons that at best, a big-name server/streamer in our sector makes a difference rather more marginal than properly isolating my big dual 15-inch sub from the floor does. Really, I couldn't bother. With the new outboard SSD, copying my library over went quicker than expected. With M1 not Intel iMacs, iTunes for local files is out, Apple Music for cloud files in. It's why I eyed Audirvana Studio. It'd be my new library-view GUI in lieu of iTunes behind which Audirvana 3 on my 27 incher had taken over all signal routing, buffering, FusionDrive spin down and bypass of redundant computing threads. The other practical 24" difference aside from a smaller screen was the external SSD. I could have optioned the new iMac with 2TB SSD for an extra €920 but for €585 netted double capacity, easier swaps in case of a mishap and ability to bring it upstairs; or anywhere else for that matter. With the new setup, the local library and OS/player have their very own drives which techno geeks should presume benefits sonics?

Best-laid plans. Mice, men and their Macs. All ready to pick up my 24" unit across the river in Co. Kerry, I detoured a few doors down to a competing Big Box store just for a final look-see. And there sat a 27" iMac on display. Gosh, were they still selling them? Yes, they had a few stragglers in an Irish warehouse. They could order one in but not ship direct. I'd have to pick it up. With their late 2020 unit on active display, I checked its macOS. Monterey. A quick Google search confirmed that it could be updated to the most current Ventura 13.3. Armed with this entirely unexpected new option, I hustled back to my first guy. Even though his shop only had the 24" iMac and standalone monitor on show, I asked whether they too had NOS 27" inventory nobody knew about. They did. In stock. Ready to roll. For identical coin to a 24" with 256GB SSD. This sales guy knew his stuff. We chewed the fat on my particular use which he'd never heard of before. Who does so little with such a capable machine then consumes so much local music? He agreed that I didn't need the faster M1 processor. He agreed that installing extra RAM well past the M1's allowance was attractive. He agreed that with only the OS on the internal SSD, I didn't need more than Apple's i5. So I picked up a 256GB November 2020 27" 5K Retina iMac new in the sealed box. As such it still comes with the familiar SD card slot, 2 x Thunderbolt and 4 x USB3 inputs plus RJ45.

The next two screen shots also use the mouse-over loupe enlarger; or right-click each to open in a new tab for full size.

Once home, I overwrote its preloaded macOS Monterey with the most recent Ventura, then set things to henceforth auto update. That rewrite took a bit. Then I saw that my annual Audirvana Origin license on the Windows 10/64 work PC could extend to the iMac as long as I'd not run both machines off the same license simultaneously. Fat chance of that with only two ears. So Origin is what I installed when I really don't want any Roon-type integration of local and cloud files; nor want to make a live Internet connection mandatory.