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macrumors 6502a
Original poster
Jun 7, 2011
Hi all,

I wanted to share my "RackMini / whole house audio" build. My goal is achieve whole house audio with primarily Apple products, along with whole house iTunes-based distribution of movies, music, and TV shows.

Middle Atlantic 29U Slim-5 Rack
4 x AudioSource AMP-100
4 x Airport Express
1 x Sonnet RackMac Mini rackmount
1 x Cisco SG200-26 Gigabit ethernet switch
1 x Apple Mac Mini
1 x WesternDigital MyBook Thunderbolt Duo (2x3TB drives)
1 x WesternDigital FireWire 800 3TB drive
2 x (who cares) 1TB USB drives
1 x CyberPower UPS
Multiple rackmount power strips, shelfs, screws, network cables, etc

There are two main parts to this build: 1. the whole house audio, and 2. the whole house media. They are intertwined. Let me start off with 1:

1. For whole house audio, 4 Airport Expresses will provide wireless audio to different parts of the house (kitchen, living room, garage, and backyard.) The concept is simple, using any iDevice, you can AirPlay audio to the Airport Express of your choosing. The Airport Express's audio-out goes to an amplifier (AudioSource AMP-100), and the amplifier powers the speakers which are located either in the ceiling or on the wall of their respective rooms. The amps I'm using have "auto on" and "auto off", so they only produce audio and use electricity when there is signal going to them from the Airport Expresses. Once there is no signal, the amps shut off (I think it's a 5-10 minute timer.)

I haven't bought all the amps or the airport expresses yet. You can see in one of the photos the single airport express mounted on a powerstrip. The wall warts next to it will be moved up in the rack, so the other airport expresses will mount there, and the amps will plug in next to them. I'm also missing a shelf. (Monday!)

We are still building the house where this setup will go (so don't laugh at the nasty carpet in our rental!), but I've tested it with external speakers and it works perfectly.

2: The second aspect to this build is the whole house networking to serve media, audio, etc. Every room gets a Cat6 network drop (bedrooms get two pairs). They will all terminate at a patch panel located next to my rack. They will be wired to the Cisco SG200-26 gigabit ethernet switch. Attached to the switch is a Mac mini in the RackMac mini housing that serves as a file server, iTunes server, screen sharing, and anything else you want it to do for the house.

Attached to the Mac mini is the array of hard drives listed in the equipment section. I don't like that it's a mix of HDs, but I've spent so much on them I simply cannot justify buying something else because these work perfectly fine for now. The disks act as a file server with double backup, and also as a backup destination for 3 different computer's TimeMachine backups, and also one is a bootable clone for the server's hard drive.

I actually have the Mac mini hosting my iTunes library (along with the media) instead of just storing my iTunes media on the file server and hosting the library XML locally. My reason for that was the server will always be on, so let it go ahead and actually serve iTunes too. I can still access my entire library from my other computers through home sharing (in iTunes.) My only complaint with this setup is that iTunes will not remember playback positions on shared music, so it sucks for listening to lengthy radio shows that I enjoy (O&A!)

To add to the library, I've "shared" the "Automatically add to iTunes" folder on the server to my computer. I just drop stuff in it and it gets added to iTunes on the server. I've configured a couple of scripts, along with Hazel app, to automatically convert any torrent downloaded TV shows to .m4v, and send to iDentify. All I have to do in iDentify is verify the metadata, click 1 button, then it gets sent to the server. So the whole thing is pretty smooth and automated.

You can see the Mac mini and the switch are plugged into the CyberPower UPS, which provides more than enough backup power to run these devices in case of a power outage. I just realized I hadn't hooked up the USB cable yet, but the CyberPower can communicate with the Mac mini in case of an outage and tell it to shut down gracefully. It's pretty dang great, and anybody running a mac should get something similar. There is a great non-rackmount product made by APC that every desktop Mac should have (link here) that does the exact same thing - it's pretty cool to unplug your Mac and see it keeps running just fine.

The Airport expresses will be wired directly to the switch.

To clarify how the network is setup:
Cable Modem -> Airport Extreme Base Station -> Cat6 cable to Cisco switch (the yellow cable) -> Rest of the house will plug into the switch as well (the server is the red cable.)

Please note: I know the wiring is still messy. I debated for weeks about the right lacing strips to get, and they should be coming in soon, and I'm still waiting on lots of cables from Monoprice, and still have a lot more parts to order. It's a build in progress.

I hope someone finds this interesting. I think it's pretty badass. It's a rock solid setup, and it works just great.

I still have to buy some equipment, and side panels for the rack, and figure out what to do with all that space in the middle. I may buy a shelf and dump the printer in there, but I'd really like to eventually get a real rackmount hard disk setup. It's just that I have 3x the space I need now, with double backups. I just don't need it at all, so that will wait a long time.


Showing the base of the Middle Atlantic Slim-5 rack. It's pretty dang solid. I went with the casters so it can easily be rolled around and turned around to work on it once it's in a closet somewhere.



Close up of the bottom, showing the mounting hardware and a side rail installed. I had not yet installed two front pan-head screws at this point:



The basic rack, assembled:



The primary power strip of the unit installed. This is the master one that controls everything (although, if you turn this off, the UPS will still continue to run until the battery in it is drained! You can turn the UPS off separately.)



This is the good stuff. It's the top part of the rack. At the very top is the CyberPower UPS system. It is a surge protector and UPS. It has 4 power outlets that run on battery, and 2 extra outlets that are surge protected only. Below that is a "brush panel" to allow cables to exit the rack. Below that is the Cisco SG-200-26 26 port gigabit ethernet switch. Below that is an empty space where another brush panel will go. And finally below that is the Sonnect RackMac mini rack, and you can see the Mac mini mounted inside of it. This rack actually holds two Mac minis, but I only need one. It allows for access of all ports on the back, and it also routes a USB cable up front in case you need to easily plug in a keyboard or something. Finally, it has a little power switch that manipulates a lever to turn the power on or off on the Mac mini. The "strip of silver" that is horizontal on the ride side of the RackMac mini is actually the Mac mini itself. That tiny little dot next to it is the power light for the mini.



This shows the back of the Mac mini, seeing that you can easily access all ports.



This is the hard drive shelf. It's just a normal shelf with all the drives on it. This actually faces the back of the rack. I didn't want to waste any space on the front of the rack with the drives. They get plenty of airflow back there (I'll eventually add a fan panel), and there is enough space on the shelf to turn the drives around and access their ports.



Finally, the entire rack. It's a little top-heavy as of now because I haven't filled in the bottom with amps yet. You can see the power strip above the amp area where 4 airport expresses will eventually go. Currently the wall warts of the stupid hard drives are taking up all the space. I purchased one of those 1->4 "space saver" things that allows you to slightly remotely locate the wall warts, and that will go back up top and get rid of the big wall warts and free up the spaces here. Also, I did not purchase the Middle Atlantic custom rack shelfs for the amps. I was able to purchase 4 shelves for the amps for the price of 1 custom rack shelf. This is literally going in a closet.


Anyway, I hope someone finds this interesting. I'm having fun with it, but damn is this thing sucking up money. Anything with the word "rack mount" in it is extra expensive. If anyone owns a boat, you know what I'm talking about (Oh it's for marine use? Add an extra $50!)


macrumors 68030
Dec 14, 2010
The heavy UPS should go at the bottom of the rack.


macrumors member
Nov 9, 2009
Toronto Canada
Good post, thanks for explaining.

Do you have much experience with the amps? I really like the idea of an amp that I don't need to turn on and off for using with my airport express. Can you combine two amps so that one powers a pair of speakers and one powers a sub?
I'm looking to do something similar only on a much smaller scale, with a central server then all my airport expresses and amps in each room.


macrumors 6502
Jun 9, 2006
Houston, TX
Sounds like an awesome and fun project to work on.

Can you go into more detail about the setup of the mini as an iTunes server? Specifically, how did you do the scripts for adding downloads to the iTunes library and having them properly tagged? I have a macbook pro and a hackintosh server, and I'd like to have all of my iTunes on the server, as well as do my downloads on the server. Is the easiest method with screen sharing? I would like to try to automate the downloads folder so when a torrent has finished downloading, a script will take that file, import it into handbrake, convert it for Apple TV, send it to a tagging program, then add it to iTunes. Is this what you have?

Also, since your iTunes library is on your server, do you sync iPhones and iPods with it? Or do you do that with your laptop instead?


macrumors 6502
Nov 7, 2009
Just curious as to what you do when you take your laptop (I'm assuming you use one) away from home - do you have a local copy of your iTunes music library on there too so you can access it?


macrumors member
Jan 15, 2004
Very, very cool! I'm a home recorder so anything like this is awesome to see!

What's the purpose behind having multiple Airport express boxes? Is this to allow a different connection to each room (or zone) in the house?
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