Aug 4, 201641078 views

If you have a MAC, you don't need a DAC

If your music library is coming out of a MacBook Pro, the internal DAC is already extremely good. Adding a dedicated DAC will not yield meaningful improvement. Thoughts? Discuss.
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Hussam Salem, PeteMtl, and 10 others
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By the way, you don't need a DAC if you have an iPhone 7, 8, X (or up) either! Check out Ken Rockwell's post on the iPhone's audio quality:
https://kenrockwell.com/apple/lightning-adapter-audio-quality.htm
Do you ever really "need" a DAC? I mean, technically, if you have a computer, you have a DAC already :P. The point here is that you're going to be paying the same amount as anybody else with a basic onboard DAC, but getting less of an improvement. People have different needs (especially musicians and other content creators), and actual hearing varies a fair bit too. Some mid-range and all high end PC motherboards also have good audio, probably better than at least some apple products. And of course, it's not just the chip that matters, but the overall electronic package.
Unlike many Audiophiles, Macs evolve! Check this Apple publication to find out what your particular Mac model is outputting through the SE Earphone jack--you may be surprised!
https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT204392
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RayF
Is there one of these pages for the Macbook Pro? I can't seem to find it.
It's not "extremely good" just better than most motherboards. If you're used to say high end NOS R2R DACs or Chord's recent high end DACs then there is a world of difference.
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Been seeing a lot of your posts lately, it's pretty evident you have a very high opinion of yourself and enjoy mocking anyone who actually have a different opinion. Should try playing nice sometime, it will do you some good.
Jemma
I'm confused
As to the charges: 1. Guilty 2. Not especially guilty. 3. Happens all the time.
I'm sort of the Take it or Leave it type. You're welcome to join either club.
Quite right indeed, Sounds amazing without any external DAC accessories. I noticed one only issue: My mid. 2011 MacBook Pro's (El Captain) fan is loader, spinning almost every time I'm playing TIDAL's Masters only, (MQA files). A lot more data for processing at 24/96 rate for its aging i5 processor. Absolutely no need for some DAC, TIDAL's own software decoder works perfect with most of Macs, even my old 2011's iMac 22.5"/ i5 too, silently
lordiaco
This is natures way of telling you to turn up the volume--or buy a new computer ;- )
Maybe the DAC is fine, but you still have to rely on the built-in OP-AMP to drive the headphone jack on a Mac. I prefer to have a proper headphone amp driven by a DAC line out (not headphone out). This means I need an external DAC and amp.
Saeulf
Oh..."propper is is then"? Pity the largest technology company in the world couldn't figure out how to build a computer with a proper OP-AMP! I suppose they just couldn't afford to buy the good stuff, you know , second quarter earnings being what they were. Might have added another fifty cents to the cost of every iMac and MacBook Pro--christ who would buy them then?!
RayF
I'm sure they're fine for most folks (apple's main audience). I said I PREFER a headphone amp. Not that other people can't enjoy built in audio.
I've never been impressed by Apple audio anything. Going back to the iPods sound was poor. iRiver had them beat and the ZUNE (yes ZUNE) was a substantial improvement to the Apple products. I can't say MBP's are great either. Depending on the HP's you're using, you'll benefit from a DAC and Amp.
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I love your imagination, and tremendous capacity for denial.
You...complete me. *heart*
Motorrad
I'm sure you meant detail, as in: -- "...my tremendous capacity for detail." It's a gift.
Technically, you do not ever need a DAC. Though you may prefer one. The Mac DAC is not horrible. Yet, it is not better than most aftermarket ones. People, choose what you enjoy most. It's a hobby; it is supposed to be fun. Buy both :)
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JonnyModena
Well, you might need a DAC for some kind of professional application... though even for most of those you could probably get away with not using one in most cases.
Mayflower_Man
Make sense will ya?! "You might need for some kind of professional use?"
He said it's a hobby and he's having fun--not much Pro in that statement!
"...though even for most of those you could probably get away without using one?"
So what the hell's left? You canceled all those uses out in your second statement?! What, exactly is the occasion you were referring to?
The dac is quite terrible actually. Worse than most phones. Atleast the 2015 MacBook hasn’t terrible sounding dac and I am not even an audiophile and yet I could tell the difference With my Dt 770, the audio output is quite harsh. Now I know beyerdynamic is brighter than most headphones But that doesn’t give the MacBook a free pass. My friends one plus, my iPhone and my own Alienware all have much better flatter(but not harsh) sound . Not to mention the fact that it’s output power is again less than all the three devices I just mentioned. Yes the one plus 3t at 500 dollars sounds better and LOUDER than a MacBook Pro of 1300 dollars. I am not bashing Apple, it is honestly peculiar that their iPads and iPhones both sound better than their macs, they sound pretty good actually.
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I have used VLC to play FLAC on iPad. I view the iPad as a portable solution and not a mobile one. Mostly I use it if I'm listening away from my normal listening area (my office) Around the house.
mindhead1
I agree--portable, rather than mobile--but I'd rather read email and respond to my many MD detractors on an iPad, rather than my phone ;- )
I have compared the audio output from my Windows PCs, Macintosh Macbook pro 2012 I7 quad core 17", MacbookPro 15" I7 dual core and Old white Macbook., old Mac g-4 Powerpc RISK chip PC all were outputted to a Marantz 7 restored preamp (all signal and coupling capacitors replaced by me), connected to a McIntosh MA-7270 amp connected to Magneplanar speakers. I also compared the Apple iPod video (V5.5 with the famous but quite old Wolfson DAC internal). IMHO the Mac pro G-4 sounded the best. The sound resembled the iPod video v5.5 but was better yet. I wonder if the Macintosh G-4 has a Wolfson DAC? My Asus Z-87 Quad deluxe MOBO with Realtek DAC was second best connected to a very upgraded Dynaco PAT 4 (See updatemyDynaco.com) and a Marantz , 8B tube amp (all signal caps and Power Supply caps replaced also),
SuperMatt
It's good to be old--especially when you have no other options.
Absolutel not true. The internal Macbook Pro dac arrives maximum at 96khz while an audiophile dac arrives minimum at 32 bit/192khz. And the difference is very noticeble if you listen to high resolution such from Flac files or Tidal Master streaming
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Beyer73
Play high sample rate digital audio on Mac computers The audio hardware in some MacBook Pro, Mac Pro, and iMac computers supports 176.4 kHz and 192 kHz digital audio when connected using optical output.These computers support up to 192 kHz sample rate for audio playback:
  • MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Late 2013) through MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Early 2015)
  • MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Late 2013) through MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Mid 2015)
  • iMac (21.5-inch, Mid 2014) through iMac (21.5-inch, Late 2014)
  • iMac (Retina 4K, 21.5-inch, Late 2015)
  • iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Late 2014) through iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Late 2015)
  • Mac Pro (Late 2013) 
  • Mac mini (Late 2014) 
To set your Mac to play high sample rate audio:
  1. Connect one end of a TOSLINK optical cable to the headphone port on your Mac, and connect the other end to your audio device, such as an AV receiver.
  2. Open Audio MIDI Setup, which is in the Utilities folder of your Applications folder.
  3. Select your audio device from the list on the left side of the Audio Devices window.
  4. If necessary, choose “Use this device for sound output” from the Action pop-up menu  .
  5. Select a sample rate, such as 176400.0 Hz or 192000.0 Hz, from the Format pop-up menu.
If the audio hardware in your Mac doesn't support high sample rate audio, you can use a third-party digital audio interface.Information about products not manufactured by Apple, or independent websites not controlled or tested by Apple, is provided without recommendation or endorsement. Apple assumes no responsibility with regard to the selection, performance, or use of third-party websites or products. Apple makes no representations regarding third-party website accuracy or reliability. Risks are inherent in the use of the Internet. Contact the vendor for additional information. Other company and product names may be trademarks of their respective owners.Published Date:June 6, 2017
Beyer73
That was true when you were little tike roaming around the decks of the Santa Maria. Since then, things have improved.
I had a FiiO K1 that I sold becauseI found it made my Beoplay H6s sound worse than the MBP output. Before that I had the Audioengine D2 which did sound better than the MBP output.
I’m new to all this but do tests like this guy have done confirm what the op was saying?
https://kenrockwell.com/apple/iphone-6s-plus-audio-quality.htm
Khaphora
Absolutely.
What a moron
vegasf1
Can you provide some insight? Its often fun to have a discussion around topics, such as this, with people of varying opinions. People might agree with your reasoning, it's just that there is no reasoning, facts, or logic presented in your statement. Do you hate Apple's integrated DACs and believe that all external DACs are better or is there something else?
vegasf1
Toxic sob
First let me address some misinformation I am seeing. "Headphone out can't drive high impedance headphones " A DAC is not an amp, and has literally nothing to do with the ability to drive high impedance headphones.
It's kinda complicated, but in general no. If you are willing to spend >$200 on a good DAC then yeah there might be an improvement, but to be honest the built in DACs on newer (I know they were good as far back as 2014) mbps is phenomenal compared to the competition, and it will very likely out perform almost any sub $200 DAC.
I learned this the hard way. I bought an external DAC and as a test I tried a couple of "pick out the higher bitrate tests". I was better at it while using the internal DAC across the board.
Here is the thing. Apple cares very deeply about the audio quality of their devices because musicians are one of their primary targets. As a result they put in very, very good Dacs.
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I wrote a LONG post in boredom last night (knew it at the time and posted anyway) so PLEASE don't read that as me being overly combative. I could rage about a litany of things Apple has done over the years. I don't hold Apple up as an ideal organization. That said, I generally have faith in their overall commitment to making best-of-class hardware. I think they're ultimate driven by the work of a lot of individual engineers who have the best intentions in mind.
I honestly think that decisions like any made around the on-board DAC are driven by more practical matters than shaving a few pennies off the bottom-line.. particularly when we're talking about the Pro lines. I suspect they'd take into account that serious users (like Audio Engineers) would connect their devices to superior external hardware anyway and that would factor into the calculations, but I don't think they'd cripple the on-board hardware just to save a few pennies, or even a dollar or two, on a $1500+ (average retail) laptop model.
Cheers, and my apologies if previous comment came across as harsh or defensive... Steven
sbandyk
I got you bro, it's easy to get carried away, if you talk about something your passionate about. I'm also sorry If I sound a bit hard. And there on-board dac might not be bad, but it also obviously isn't the the endgame some people see it as
Mac internal DAC maxes out at 96kHz + Headphone out can't drive high impedance headphones + Electrical interference can occur with onboard DAC
My Mac Pro at work has a hissing sound in the headphones when connected directly to the trash can computer. And so far, every Mac I've tried has had issues with hissing and noise in the headphones while moving the mouse cursor around or if the CPU is processing something heavy. It's kind of funny.
Anyway... can't beat having an external DAC/AMP. Things sound better through my WA7
Excuse me. I have a specific question. Is it possible to drive an HD6xx with an Macbook Air mid 2013 without needing an external amplifier?
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Sounds like working at a See's Candy factory--I suppose there has to come a point in your career where you just couldn't possibly eat one more Dark Chocolate Bordeaux!

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I (with a small staff) support a couple thousand systems. Most are Dells and Macs though there's a wide variety of other systems around from the small vendor computer clusters in my DataCenter, the parted-out beige boxes in the labs, to whatever the foreign Grad Students bring in. My opinion of Apple hardware is that it's rarely designed to be easy to work on for anything but Apple-approved end-user maintenance/upgrades... though PC (especially laptops) have also become more difficult to work on as they've shrunk their form factors like Apple's. Overall build quality has been excellent and remains so. I don't know of any Laptop that feels better built than a MacBook or MBP (in the same market segment at least). I'm not a fan of the 2nd revision of the sissor keyboard mechanisms on the current laptops but I haven't used a recent model persistently enough to say if I'd get used to it. I love their desktop keyboards though.. best wireless keyboard in the world, and I prefer the wired models over any PC keyboard I recall using. Reliability of their equipment is generally VERY high, with Macs still remaining in service longer than most of our PCs. This is confirmed by a number of Industry ratings. When there are quality issues, they are pervasive design or component problems and Apple has had a number of those over the years. There were the bad ATI GPUs on a revision of iMacs... the fraying video signal cables on the white MacBooks, the floppy hinges on the early MacBook Airs, the anti-glare coating on the MBP model that flaked off for some users... These aren't issues that don't also affect other vendors though. I remember way back when Dell, IBM, and a number of major vendors bought, Literally Billions of counterfeit capacitors from a Chinese manufacturer who's industrial process was only partially stolen from a competitor. The silver lining of Apple quality failings being intermittent but systemic is that they tend to end up being directly addressed by Apple with Warranty Extension programs.. where as a more general problem with another vendor that might lead to a 5% higher failure rate with their laptops (compared to competitors) would fly under the radar and be unlikely to prompt an official recognition and accommodation from the Manufacturer.
So no. Apple hardware doesn't suck. They make some of the best made, most reliable hardware in the industry. Granted, I've only got the tens of thousands of Macs I've supported over the last 20 years, and pretty much every industry report to back that up (http://fortune.com/2018/03/12/apple-macbooks-most-reliable/) but, that's what my gut tells me at least. ;-P
My guess... just throwing it out here... you're conflating their lack of a Gaming Rig that's up to your standards with the actual quality of the hardware they actually design and make. Am I close? :-)
P.S. Can you tell it's a slow Friday and I've officially reached "Completely Unmotivated©"? Time to get up to stretch my legs and make a last-ditch effort to refocus before the end of the day... If all goes well, I won't be back to continue the banter today so feel free to really let me have it with the most snide of quips. ;-)
Can only add that I'm running my JBL LSR 30Xs directly out of the earphone jack on my iMac 27" (via a Y connector cable) and they sound quite good (astonishing, actually). On the other hand, I do plan to add a Schitt jotunheim, on the off chance that my MD Sennheiser HD 6XX Headphones arrive prior to the dawning of the next millennia. Proving that I'm ever the optimist, I've also ordered the 2.5m Sennheiser HD 6XX 4 Pin Balanced Cable to connect said DAC/AMP and headphones. Of course, if I do die of old age prior to MD shipping either item, my Last Will and Testament makes a declaration as to which museum of antiquated technology each should be donated to.
The DAC on the MacBook Pro Retina (Late 2012) till MacBook Pro with Touch Bar 2017 (Can't talk about future MacBook Pros) are generally very good, if you want to use the internal speakers or a normal pair of headphone with a 3.5mm plug.
The DAC is not designed for you to use the 3.5mm headphone out port to connect to High End headphones (No your Bose QC35s are not high end), or to an audio amplifier of any kind. That's just not what it was designed for. If it was, it would have had a different set of outputs, not a 3.5mm audio jack with integrated mic input.
There are a number of DACs on the market, but USB powered DACs generally don't warrant the extra expenditure. This may change in the future but I can't think of any USB Powered DAC that I would buy in January 2018. Please note that the Cord Mojo and AudioLab mini-DAC mentioned earlier are battery powered DACs.
Internal DAC on the MacBook Pro (2012) is actually very good. Much better than my AudioQuest Dragonfly.
The latter of which provides a very thin sound in comparison.
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Interesting. I've tried to do a couple of tests with regards to detail - but i can't tell the difference. The only difference is bass and 'thickness' of the sound. If i had known, I would have saved my money instead of buying the external DAC.
Voyager3
Agree totally
Disagree strongly. You may just not have invested in the right DAC+amp+headphone set yet (yes, that does mean money, but you *are* on a MBP). I much prefer my home setup to the DAC on my Mac on the go. iOS devices are even lower quality (though anything Apple is better than Android or Windows machines, generally).
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Oh and my Mac sounds amazing compared to my Cambridge audio DAC mini driving some Philips x2 earphones. I know the impedance drive(requirement) is not to bad, bat even so the MBP is impressive in comparison. The DAC is not the best, but reviewed very favourably..
Tube preamp and then what? Did you mean tube amp? What tube preamp/amp?
Macs and i-devices do have some decent internal DACs but adding a quality external DAC will do make a huge difference at any point when they are supplied with clean power (or when they have battery power). It also depends on how good and focused your hearing is. I'm telling these as a Mac user since 2006.
Have you seen the newer Macs? No audio jack. You absolutely need a DAC or wireless headphones.
Also I don't have great power and the noise comes through on the line out of my Mac Mini. The external DAC I use is silent.
cspirou
Which Mac exactly?
Kyaaaaaaaaaa
I thought the Macbook only had a single USB-C port but it actually still has the 3.5mm port. So I was wrong. Thanks for pointing that out.
i own an macbook 2016 and my hd 600 and audioquest nighthawk both sound better with my shiit fulla 2 and my fostex hp-a4bl, then with the internal dac
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tyll
I just purchase both the HD58X and a Schiit Fulla 2 today, glad to see that someone agrees. What is the output of the Fulla 2, i know that its ok loudness for 300 Ohm headphones but since what ill be running is 150 Ohm do you think ill be fine?
Thereisnocowlevel
it will have you covert perfect, it handels 300ohm and 25ohm headphones perfect, im sertain it will be great with the hd 58x. I dont know its stats, but its enough for most headphones.
I think an Odac is enough tell the improvement. Much faster bass respond in WASAPI exclusive mode, better sound stage and more wight below 500hz and over 14khz. I am using a HD800 + WA5 tube amp + linn makji DS for everyday tho. The magni is not good... Anyway, I am a classical fan, maybe for pop music, you dont need hifi.
I would say yes to an extent. If you get a clean out from the Mac without any static, I think you should just stick with it rather than spend on any external DAC. You won't find much of a difference. Your Mac should be able to power even 300ohm headphones pretty well. I A/B ed my Mac Pro and Schiit stack against my hd6xx. I could barely tell a difference.
Hello , I do not think you tried a Dac so far Try Fostex H4 BL or ifi micro DSD B.L. and then tell me your opinion.
And then Apple mic drops the thread with an iPhone upgrade to the MacBook Pro. Mess with the fruit and you get the seeds with trace amounts of cyanide.
eunu
Sounds like the echo of a thousand windows-wispereres who know zip about current Apple products. Easy to bash, hard to beat :- )
i think you already know the answer. you are here for troll. am i right? coz this is the dummest question i have heard on this forum. anyway, answer is.. NO.
My MBP headphone jack is rather noisy.