2018 mini + 2014 mini + Luna Display + Music | & Sidecar

F-Train

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[I've updated the title of this thread to reflect where it's going.]

I have a 2018 Mac mini and I’ve just been given, out of the blue, an unused 2014 mini with the following specs:

CPU: i7 3.0GHz
RAM: 8GB (not upgradable)
GPU: Intel Iris 5100
Storage: 1TB mechanical + 128GB solid state (Fusion)
Ports: Thunderbolt 2 (2), USB 3.0 (4), HDMI (1)


Assuming that you already have a more powerful computer, and someone gave you one of these, what would you use it for, and what, if any, improvements would you make? Selling it is not an option; it would be extremely rude.

So far, I haven’t figured out what to do with it, apart from maybe using it to store and play my music and film libraries, which are currently on an external drive connected to my 2018 mini. I do have a spare, very good audio interface that I could use for this purpose.

Is there any point in changing out the storage? I’ve just watched a video about doing that with a PNY SATA SSD and I wasn’t wildly impressed with the speed improvement. However, I have a 1TB Samsung 970 EVO Plus NVMe that I could use if the decrease in boot time and increase in application responsiveness are likely to be significant. I should add that I know nothing about Fusion drives, and may be selling the existing performance short. It will be a couple of days before I'm in possession of this machine, at which point I'll try and test it for real world performance.

Cheers
 
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F-Train

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Decisions so far about use of the 2014 mini:

1. Store and play my music and film collection. To effect this, use one of the USB 3.0 ports with one of my audio interfaces (Sound Devices USBPre 2).

I'd like to connect my speakers (Focal Solo6, XLR connections) to a box that would let me switch between the 2014 mini and 2018 mini as inputs. This box has to be sound neutral, no colouration. Does anyone know of something suitable?​

2. Maintain the web site and social media platforms for which I'm about to become responsible. I'll install a code editor and all of the main browsers (Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, Safari). I'm really reluctant to install all of these browsers on my 2018 mini. This addresses that. In addition, I'll install the apps for our accounts with Facebook, Instagram, Slack, Twitter and YouTube. It will be great to keep this stuff off the 2018 mini.​
 
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F-Train

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Set up the new mini this afternoon. For all the rubbishing the 2014 gets, so far I think that it's a pretty capable little machine.

Still trying to identify a suitable audio switch (post #3) if anyone has any ideas.

Cheers
 
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tpivette89

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Set up the new mini this afternoon. For all the rubbishing the 2014 gets, so far I think that it's a pretty capable little machine.

Still trying to identify a suitable audio switch (post #3) if anyone has any ideas.

Cheers
I think most of the hate is directed towards the base 1.4ghz/4gb models. The one you received is a higher end machine.

That being said, I wish someone just gave me one... I've been looking for something around that performance for my wife and kids to use, but didn't want to shell out $800 for another 2018 model.
 
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Zdigital2015

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In a previous post you mentioned that did color correction with digital video...is that correct? If so, would any part of your workflow benefit from setting up the 2014 Mac mini to shared the load of Compressor, Motion or another application that allows for a distributed workload?
 
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F-Train

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In a previous post you mentioned that did color correction with digital video...is that correct? If so, would any part of your workflow benefit from setting up the 2014 Mac mini to shared the load of Compressor, Motion or another application that allows for a distributed workload?
Very cool that you raise this. I'm keenly interested in the idea, even as an experiment. On Compressor, the cursory checking that I did yesterday suggests that the 2014 mini doesn't have the juice, but I want to look at the question more carefully. For the way that I use Motion, it would be more trouble than it's worth even if it can be done. But yes, if it turns out that my initial understanding on Compressor is wrong, I really want to try it.
 
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Duncan68

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Decisions so far about use of the 2014 mini:
I'd like to connect my speakers (Focal Solo6, XLR connections) to a box that would let me switch between the 2014 mini and 2018 mini as inputs. This box has to be sound neutral, no colouration. Does anyone know of something suitable?​

The Schiit SYS is an inexpensive solution that will do what you want. I have not used it, but Schiit equipment generally has good quality.

https://www.schiit.com/products/sys

Edit: eh, never mind. I overlooked that your speakers have XLR inputs.

 
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F-Train

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The Schiit SYS is an inexpensive solution that will do what you want. I have not used it, but Schiit equipment generally has good quality.

https://www.schiit.com/products/sys

Edit: eh, never mind. I overlooked that your speakers have XLR inputs.

Yes, but thanks for that. Looking at that product, I remembered that these things are generically called monitor controllers, and they're made by a few companies - JBL, Mackie, etc. They generally use RCA connections. I think there are also a couple that are seriously expensive, and I remember suggestions that the cheaper ones are more trouble than they're worth.

I have to talk to talk with an audio technical guy. I may just switch out the connections as required. I think that there's a way to do that that won't cause a lot of wear to the XLR connections at the two interfaces and at the speakers, which is what I'm mostly concerned about.
 
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F-Train

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I'm discovering that one of the big pros of the Mac mini is that it's practical to run a couple of them side by side or stacked.

The 2014 is a capable computer, with loads of storage, and it's running Mojave just fine. I'll be using it to run our website and social media accounts, mail, web browsing, playing music and video/films, etc. I'll reserve the 2018 for tasks where speed matters and for games. I don't intend to run the 2018 offline, but the idea is to be close.

Having been spoiled rotten by the 2018 on file transfer, it's amusing how impatient I've become. Just finished moving 170GB of music to the 2014 via USB 3.0, and it felt like watching paint dry.

But once the transfer's done, who cares. Now that I've got the 2014 set up with a music library, an audio interface and some decent headphones, I'm thinking about pairing it with an iPad as a display. Enticingly portable, diminutive footprint.*

* The 2014 and the 2018 would require different Luna Display dongles, the first MiniDisplayPort and the second USB-C. Just sent Astro/Luna an e-mail asking what the price is if I want both.
 
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F-Train

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Three days ago, I didn't know what to do with the 2014. Getting there.

Next step, I've decided to go ahead and pair it with my iPad Pro. A Luna Display unit (Mini DisplayPort version, which plugs into one of the two Thunderbolt 2 ports) should be here in 2-5 days.

Jonathan Morrison shows how it works:


 
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F-Train

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It looks like the Luna Display unit for the 2014 mini will arrive Monday.

The attraction of the Luna is that the iPad will work as a small, portable, high resolution display with touchscreen, Apple Pencil and keyboard functionality. This means broader coverage than iTunes Sharing (or Plex), and a more efficient, smoother experience than a Virtual Network Computing screen sharing application. Having tried VNC, the word that leaps to mind is "painful".

Jonathan Morrison, in the video above, notes that sound will play via the mini rather than the iPad. As it happens, this is exactly what I want; in particular, I want sound to play via the Sound Devices USBPre2 audio interface plugged into the mini. Of course, sound can also be played from the mini via Bluetooth.

I'll update when I've put the Luna through its paces. If it works well, I may also purchase the USB-C version for the 2018 mini.
 
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F-Train

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The Luna Display unit has now been sitting at a DHL facility in Georgia for three days (“Your package experienced a delay”). Hoping for delivery tomorrow, but not holding my breath.

The new role for the 2014 mini includes playing music, and this is as good a time as any to begin to straighten out the metadata attached to my WAV rips from CD and FLAC downloads. I’m considering the MP3TAG and MusicBrainz Picard metadata editors because I don’t want to use an application that employs a proprietary database. MP3TAG is Windows only, but I could use it via my Boot Camp installation.

I’m also looking for a new music player. Currently trying out Audirvana Plus. As with Roon, I’m skeptical about the claims made about improved audio quality, but I’m attracted to the fact that it comes with three month trials of TIDAL and Qobuz. I've already tried TIDAL and took a pass, but I’m interested in Qobuz, which is fairly new to North America, and not only streams music, but sells it for download.
 
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Duncan68

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The Luna Display unit has now been sitting at a DHL facility in Georgia for three days. Hoping for delivery tomorrow, but not holding my breath.

The new role for the 2014 mini includes playing music, and this is as good a time as any to begin to straighten out the metadata attached to my WAV and FLAC albums. I’m considering the MP3TAG and MusicBrainz Picard metadata editors because I don’t want to use an application that employs a proprietary database. MP3TAG is Windows only, but I could use it via my Boot Camp installation.

I’m also looking for a new music player. Currently trying out Audirvana Plus. As with Roon, I’m skeptical about the claims made about improved audio quality, but I’m attracted to the fact that it comes with three month trials of TIDAL and Qobuz. I’m particularly interested in Qobuz, which is fairly new to North America, and not only streams music, but sells it for download.
I moved from Windows to Mac almost two years ago, and I miss MP3Tag. Kid3 is not its equal.
 

F-Train

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I moved from Windows to Mac almost two years ago, and I miss MP3Tag. Kid3 is not its equal.
I think that writing and embedding metadata is pretty simple. In the context of a music library, a utility can only add value if it can speed up the process by importing metadata from existing databases into the collection.

This is something that MP3TAG and MusicBrainz Picard both do. MP3TAG imports information from the Discogs database, which as a music site and database doesn't interest me much, and from - wait for it - the MusicBrainz database.

I was intrigued by this and decided to find out more about MusicBrainz. I wound up on the main site, which is a foundation. The photo below paints a picture. I'm also drawn by the fact that MusicBrainz Picard is open source, appears to have a number of people engaged in its maintenance and development (MP3TAG is a one-man operation) and is better documented.

However, using MusicBrainz Picard, unlike MP3TAG, would require converting my WAVE files to, e.g., FLACK. This is probably worth doing, if only to save storage space, and would avoid the need to move everything into Boot Camp, but it still adds a step. Decisions, decisions :)

I know very little about Kid3, except that it appears to be popular with Linux users.

Screen Shot 2019-03-02 at 10.23.36 PM.png
 
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F-Train

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DHL has finally turned over my Luna Display to the Post Office, which says that it will be delivered tomorrow.

While waiting, I'm setting up the 2014 mini for its role as a music platform. The key here is to start bringing some order to my collection of WAVE, FLAC and AIFF recordings.

While keeping a set of the uncompressed files on an external drive, I've decided to convert them to Apple Lossless (ALAC) for play from the mini. This is resulting in a huge reduction in how much storage the collection requires. For the conversion, I'm going back and forth between XLD, an open source utility, and macOS's own conversion utility, both of which seem to work well.

I've settled on iTunes as a music player after looking at alternatives ranging from free to US$200 per year. For me, the main attraction of iTunes is that it uses the music files themselves to embed metadata. Some players make it possible to write metadata in a way that is more user friendly and nuanced, but this is at the expense of buying into a proprietary database.

For example, Audirvana Plus (US$75), without so much as a reference to it in its user manual, installed an SQLite database on my mini. This goes a long way to explaining the ability to write non-standard metadata. It also ties me to an application that may or may not exist in five years. If I'm going to go down that road, I'll use something like Soundminer or BaseHead, not an app like Audirvana or Roon (US$120 per year) pitched to audio enthusiasts with claims to "cleanse" computer audio pollution before it gets to your digital to analogue converter.

The big find has been the MusicBrainz database and its metadata editor MusicBrainz Picard. This is keeping me on the straight and narrow on what can and can't be done when embedding metadata in audio files. When I ripped my WAVE files from CD, I did a good job of naming the tracks, but apart from basic stuff like duration, bit-depth and sample rate there is no metadata, let alone an album cover photo, anywhere. At the other extreme, I'm discovering that the music that I've purchased and downloaded in FLAC or AIFF format tends to jam too much information into the available tags. For my purposes, the metadata for these files really needs to be simplified. I'm doing the tagging itself in MusicBrainz Picard, with the MusicBrainz database in aid, and then bringing the results into iTunes. There, if I make any adjustments, I do so confident that iTunes is following the "rules" and that the adjustments will be reflected if I go back into MusicBrainz Picard and its database.

Now for some honesty. I think that maybe Music Librarians earn their money. I've already spent the better part of a day figuring out how I'm going to work within the limits that ALAC, and for that matter other formats, place on writing metadata, and I know that I'm not fully there. There are lengthy discussions on the internet about doing this, especially with classical music, which is particularly problematic. As it happens, classical music constitutes much of my collection. If I've learned anything so far, it's that this is a medium to long term project; which reinforces my view that I want nothing to do with music players, including music server applications, that use proprietary databases that make indexing more "user friendly".

In my whole life, I've probably spent less than five hours using iTunes. My first efforts in this project, which I selected because I thought that each of them would help me figure out how to do this, are in the photo below. Note that the Deutsche Grammophon album appears twice. It's an important Martha Argerich recording of piano concertos by Prokofiev and Ravel, made with Claudio Abbado and the Berliner Philharmoniker, and of a solo piano suite by Ravel called Gaspard de la nuit. I was a bit frustrated that iTunes treated this as two different albums, which was the result of how I want to input the data, until I realized that this reflects the history rather well. In 1967, DG issued the piano concertos as an album in itself. In 1974, it re-released those recordings with Argerich's solo recording of Gaspard. So yes, two appearances of the album, one for the orchestral recordings and one for the later solo recording, works for me. Sometimes it doesn't hurt to just roll with it.

Cheers

Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 1.36.32 PM.png
 
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Duncan68

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I find that Swinsian is a great alternative to iTunes and is all I use for music playback on my mini (other than streaming apps). iTunes is only used to sync, backup and update my iPhone.

https://swinsian.com

Swinsian does not use a subscription model; it's a one-time fee of $20 and it's yours.
 
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F-Train

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The Luna Display unit arrived, and I've spent the last couple of hours using my iPad Pro as the display for the 2014 mini.

Below are two iPad screen captures showing Luna Display in use with Safari and iTunes. Yes, I already have iTunes on my iPad, but I want to use the copy of iTunes on my mini to play music that is not synchronised to my iPad.

Tomorrow, I'll try Luna Display with my main display turned off. The following is what I found with both my main display and the iPad turned on.

In short, it works. The iPad functions as an extended display. This is why, during setup, you have to decide whether the iPad display will be treated as if it is to the right or left of your main display. If you select right, as I have, you can drag your cursor from the iPad left to the main display, or right from the main display to the iPad.

Which brings me to controls. When you use your mouse, keyboard or finger on the iPad, you are not interacting with the iPad, but rather with the mini. Consequently, I was unable to bring up the iPad's touch keyboard to type. I had to use the keyboard that I use with the mini. Jonathan Morrison, in his video on the Luna Display (post #11), also uses an external keyboard, but leaves the impression that it is an extension of the iPad. I'm happy to be corrected, but it appears to me that that is not what is happening.

As Morrison suggests in his video, when I ran the mini's copy of iTunes from the iPad screen the music went from the mini to the audio interface that I have plugged into the mini to the headphones that I have plugged into the interface. It did not go through the iPad. In other words, sound worked exactly as I hoped it would.

It took me about 3/4 of an hour to start to understand how Luna Display works. Initially, I found it frustrating, but this is one of those situations where patience pays off.

Some tips.

If you use the macOS Dock, I found that it must be visible. I did not have it visible in the iTunes capture below, and soon learned that this made the dock unreachable, at least when using my finger. I had to uncheck "Automatically hide and show the dock" in System Preferences > Dock. Note that if you use your finger to scroll up from the bottom of the iPad, you are in fact bringing up the iPad's own dock. Touch an icon on that dock, and you will leave Luna Display for whatever iPad app you touch. Yes, I found this out by accident :)

If you want to scroll through a page using your finger, you have to use the page's scrollbar. Dragging your finger over text won't work. That said, the cursor will appear wherever you place your finger on the iPad screen.

I found that an app window will appear on the main display, rather than on the iPad, if the window is too large to fit on the iPad screen. To get iTunes onto the iPad, I made the window smaller than I have it normally. Then I dragged it from the main display, to the right, and onto the iPad screen. Resized, I could quit the application and reopen it directly on the iPad.

Finally, I enabled Retina in the Luna Display's controls. This appears to have improved resolution without much of a hit on latency.

I have a reasonably strong WiFi connection. There is a bit of latency, but I don't think that it's significant. I did lose the connection once, but I don't know whether this was a WiFi issue or whether I did something to precipitate the disconnect. Luna Display repaired the connection itself.

I plan to do more testing tomorrow and will post further. Among the things that I want to test are how dependent Luna Display is on the main display, what impact changes in display scaling have and how well Luna Display works with Apple Pencil, which I suspect is more precise and efficient than using a finger.

So far, I'm impressed.

P.S. I'm using Luna Display with the 10.5" iPad Pro. Would I prefer to be using a larger iPad for this? Yes. Would I use a smaller iPad? I'm not sure.

Cheers

iPad screen captures while using Luna Display:

safari.jpg




itunes.jpg
 
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F-Train

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Having now spent some time playing with Luna Display, here’s what I think is the hard question.

At this point, there is so much integration between macOS and iOS that I wonder how useful Luna Display is. There just aren't that many situations where I need access to macOS because it offers something that iOS doesn't.

Even with applications like Pages and Numbers, it isn't obvious to me that working via Luna Display is a better idea than working with those apps in iOS.

The exception is specialised applications like Final Cut, for which there is no iOS version, and Logic, where there is an iOS app that can be useful, but is quite limited in what it can do. The big question is whether it makes any sense, as a practical matter, to run apps like these from an iPad screen. Jonathan Morrison, in his follow-up to his video on Luna Display (see post #11), took a shot at using Apple's latest iPad, via Luna Display, to edit a video in Final Cut. Interesting experiment, but I doubt that he is doing this regularly.

In my case, I want access to the copy of iTunes that is on my mini because I don't have the same data on iOS, but that is probably a pretty uncommon situation; and iTunes Home Sharing, which I will now compare with Luna Display, may be a perfectly good, and free, solution.

I think that there's a serious question about whether Luna Display is a useful tool or, instead, a clever party trick - fun, but at the end of the day, not very useful.

There's another way of looking at this, which is that Luna Display mostly proves that Apple has done a pretty remarkable job of making it possible to get things done across its hardware platforms. Maybe we take that too much for granted. Perhaps Luna Display would have been a great idea ten years ago, but is a less great idea today.

Anyway, judging from the sparse comment in this thread, I have a feeling that I'm just boring the hell out of people. This post pretty much sums up what I think about Luna Display. I'll shut up now.
 
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zandorf

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Thanks for your reporting; I too am interested in Luna/iPad.

My tentative use case is to airplay my den Mac mini to my living room Apple TV for Photos and Plex server videos stored on my MM, with iPad being super-remote control. MacOS Photos seems to have some nicer features (like searching via facial recognition) not present on the iOS version. Tell me if this is dumb idea.
 
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F-Train

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Thanks for your reporting; I too am interested in Luna/iPad.

My tentative use case is to airplay my den Mac mini to my living room Apple TV for Photos and Plex server videos stored on my MM, with iPad being super-remote control. MacOS Photos seems to have some nicer features (like searching via facial recognition) not present on the iOS version. Tell me if this is dumb idea.
I found that my WiFi works fine with Luna Display, my router being about 8m/25’ away on the other side of a wall.

Luna Display is very cool technology, but the reality is that it is useful in fairly limited circumstances. My view is that an iPad using Luna Display only makes sense as a remote display:

(a) if you want to do something that you can’t already do on your iPad or iPhone; and
(b) it is practical to do it on a screen the size of the one on your iPad.​

Luna Display might also make sense if you want to use your iPad, not as a remote display, but in concert with your primary display. For example, in Lightroom there are a number of ways in which two displays can be useful. However, it should be noted that using two cabled displays will mean less latency than using one of them via Luna Display/WiFi. Luna Display is pretty responsive, but not quite as responsive as a cable connection.

I know very little about the Photo app and I’ve never used Plex. Consequently, I can’t be more specific than the foregoing, but I hope it helps.
 
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F-Train

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Ten days into using both 2014 and 2018 minis, here's where I'm at.

First, the Luna Display unit is going back. More on why below.

More generally, I'm finding that using two computers with small, portable footprints is a pleasure.

I'm using the 2018 only when I want its speed, and the external graphics card, for projects or for gaming. Otherwise, it's turned off.

I'm using the 2014 for routine computing and to play music and films. It's on most of the time. With an i7 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB solid state drive for macOS and applications, the 2014 is more than adequate for day to day tasks; and with 1TB of Fusion storage there is plenty of room for music and copies of completed projects.

The decision to convert my uncompressed music files (WAVE, FLAC, AIFF) to Apple Lossless (ALAC) is resulting in a major reduction in my need for storage. The reduction is so significant that I've decided to copy the ALAC versions to iCloud Drive on a trial basis. I don't believe that the conversion has resulted in reduced sound quality; indeed, I may delete the uncompressed originals, which are currently stored on three external drives (originals, on-site backup, off-site backup) and take up a hell of a lot of space.

I'm happy with iTunes as a music and film player. I appreciate its remote control functionality (discussed in the next paragraph) and its "by the book" approach to metadata. The MusicBrainz Picard metadata editor, which draws on the MusicBrainz music database, is proving to be invaluable, both for ripped (WAVE) and downloaded (ALAC, AIFF) music. XLD, and for that matter macOS's own conversion utility, make short work of the conversions to ALAC. However, this all takes time. As you can see below, so far I've managed to index a grand total of 12 albums. If I do a couple a day, at 20-30 minutes per day, I should finish in about January 2020 :)

I'm afraid that the Luna Display unit that I purchased is not going to have a role in any of this. The combination of the iOS app called iTunes Remote, and iTunes Home Sharing, makes it possible to use my iPad or iPhone to access the music on the mini, and to remotely control what the mini plays. This works extremely well. Luna Display adds nothing, and is by comparison decidedly clunky.

For routine computing, which is how I'm using the 2014 mini, the integration of macOS and iOS is so great that I have been unable to identify a real role for Luna Display. I will either return it (14 days to do so) or exchange it for the USB-C version that works with the 2018 mini. I have to decide whether Luna Display might be useful as a way to turn my iPad into a second display when working with the 2018 on projects. With my 10.5" iPad Pro, this is an iffy proposition. However, I have access to a current 12.9" iPad Pro, which makes the idea at least interesting.


itunes.jpg
 
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F-Train

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Just for fun...

iTunes and other music players don't offer one of the ways that I sometimes like to listen to music, which is to watch a graphic display of the music's dynamics and frequencies while it's playing

For this, I use an application called iZotope RX. The screen captures below show the RX view for a 2016 live, outdoor performance by the conductor Alexander Vedernikov, the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana and pianist Martha Argerich, of Ravel's jazz-inspired Piano Concerto in G Major. The screen captures show the first movement (8.5 minutes) of the performance's three movements.

Argerich made a famous recording of this concerto in 1967, when she was 26. This time, she was 75, but you wouldn't know it. As London's Guardian newspaper said of her performance at the 2016 Proms: "It was an unforgettable performance. Argerich celebrated her 75th birthday in June this year, but that news doesn’t seem to have reached her fingers. Her playing is still as dazzling, as frighteningly precise, as it has always been; her ability to spin gossamer threads of melody as matchless as ever".*

The Ravel performance, which took place at a music festival in Switzerland, was recorded by the Franco-German television network ARTE, and someone has uploaded it to YouTube. In the video, the Piano Concerto is the first 22 minutes, followed by a fun performance of Boléro. If you watch the video, just realize that YouTube compression does the sound no favours:


In the first screen capture, the horizontal axis on the bottom shows time from the beginning of the first movement to its end 8 minutes, 25 seconds later. The vertical axis on the right shows what frequencies can be heard at any given time. These range from 20Hz to 20,000Hz, which is the range of human hearing. The intensity of the colour tells you how loud the sound is. The colours run from black/blue, which is very quiet, to bright orange/yellow, which is quite loud.

The second screen capture lays the performance's waveform over the previous view and adds decibels to the vertical axis. This tells you how loud the performance is at any given point, not via the intensity of colour, but in the more precise decibel scale, although the scale is used here in a way that is particularly suited to sound production. Indeed, there's a pretty good chance that iZotope RX was used during the mix stage of this recording.

If you are a musician, iZotope now offers a reasonably cost-friendly version of RX. Also, if you use Adobe Audition to make videos or podcasts, my understanding is that it has a similar graphical view.


* In the post just above, the iTunes screen capture shows the album covers for both the 1967 and 2016 recordings in the top row.


1.jpg




2.jpg
 
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