Aug 4, 2016

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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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.
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.
BS spend a little get the Audioquest Dragonfly. It will sound better
http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/high-end-pc-audio,3733.html

Fun, but limited, blind test on some DACs run years ago.....whether you like the results or not it is an interesting read.

While it is hard to run a true blind test, more of this is needed. Of course we can hear whatever we want to hear, but the perceived differences might be highly amplified or even outright fabricated by our brain based on what we want to believe.

I tried to find measurements of audio signal output from various DACs but am having trouble finding anything significant. Does anybody have any research into this area?
i was really wondering about this one.
Actually this topic is quite subjective, however it depends on how far you want to take this and the gears you have at your disposal. Generally speaking if you want to listen to high bit depth files or some format beyond PCM such as DSD then you would generally need a better dac, amp and audio gear. Your system will be bottleneck by the lowest fidelity gear you have in your system. Per se if you are using entrance level earphone then there is no point in buying an extra dac and amp because there would be roll off and uneven response curve or the capability of the earphone would hindrance the gear in your system. That aside there are other interesting topic that could ultimately changes your decision so I advise your to think critically before delving deeper into audio world where it would leave your wallet dry.
Any multi-function piece of technology with a microprocessor will be at risk for EMI and other electronic "noise." Removing the processing of the audio stream from this environment will result in enhancement, whether or not that enhancement matters to the listener will be a matter of personal preference.
I can't say I agree with this... I have experience with a MacBook Pro, iMac and Mac mini and I think they're all pretty noisy. It's not necessarily it's fault—there's a lot of electromagnetic interference happening in that small case. For a computer DAC, it's probably decent, but a separate DAC (preferably not bus-powered) should make an appreciable difference.

Furthermore, I'm not aware of any way to use a Mac's DAC without also using its built-in amplifier. Is there a way to bypass it via line-out? (I really am unaware of a way, I may be incorrect). If that's the case, you'd be amplifying an already-amplified signal. Not ideal for hi-fi.
I have a Macbook Pro and got the FiiO E17K USB AMP/DAC and it increased the quality of my sound quite a bit. Especially with the features that allow it to change bass/treble.
Connorelsea
Have you considered pairing the docking amp that fiio makes for the e17k? Do you think it would be worthwhile?

I also have a Macbook pro, and I'm considering the E17k, to pair with my new purplehearts from fostex
Connorelsea
Just out of curiosity, what year is your MBP?
My Macbook Air 13" (2015) has a clean and detailed sound output but when I A/B it with an Apogee One, the default headphone out sounds so thin and weak, especially on the lows and low-mids. And the max volume on default headphone out is like 60% of Apogee One interface. I get these results with Shure SE846 inear which has a very low impedance value.
Turkay
It's possible the Apogee One is treating blocks of frequency bands separately, then combining them before the output thus impacting the tonality and so when you compare that to the "unprocessed" MBP output, you are noticing a thicker, stronger tonality. It's all subjective and my hearing is not the same as anyone elses ... just as yours is not the same as anyone elses. I prefer everything in my signal path to be transparent adding only the "warmth" (again, admittedly a subjective term) that the tubes in my preamp imbue. Then, I audition the same piece of music with several pair of headphone from my Sennheisers to my Audiotechnicas, Beyers, Grados and others ... each of these are different and for airy jazz I will select one set; for dense rock a different set, classical another, etc. I only speak for myself when I say I would rather keep the signal to my headphones consistent and transparent and let the variances in the headphones themselves steer me to the "right" choice for a particular piece of music. I did this for a long time without the tube preamp but once I got the tube preamp I like, I always preferred that in the chain so that's my benchmark and I stop thinking and just let the music take me wherever it may! Many other opinions are just as valid as mine, just saying after lots of experimentation, this is what works for me!
Unless you are listening with earbuds or IEMs, improvements from the amplification section alone will make a big difference. The DAC chip is probably good enough, but the analog circuitry is an afterthought.
fazalmajid
MPB audio out via headphones amplification is subtractive meaning it is designed to be run at full output ... you should only adjust the volume downward if you are overloading your downstream device (preamp, amp, headphones, etc.). If your gain structure allows for the full volume output as does my tube preamp, I adjust the actual listening volume there (at the tube preamp). This yields a very detailed, full yet not distorted signal. Comparing that to adding a very highly regarded (and expensive) DAC into the signal path yielded no noticeable difference.
Thanks! I think I'll seriously consider the e17k.

On a related note, does my plan for Cd listening sound like an effective plan of action for getting into the minutia and details of sound and music? (as well as hunting down FLAC files)
Purpleknight
What got me into audiophlie gear was listening to high quality SACD's off my old man's HiFi system, then ripping the same songs from youtube and listening to those, and comparing what I heard on the SACD with the low quality file from youtube.

If you want to simply enjoy finer quality audio, then sure! Listening to CD's and FLACs will be a great way to start.

But most audio-snobs like myself want to hear the difference between pieces of gear, and different standards of quality of audio. Basically, we want to know and hear the differences. Why? Because while one can tell which is better just by listening to it, he can't tell exactly how MUCH better. Hence the need for comparison. Try listening to a low quality song ripped from youtube. Then, load up your CD and play that same song (Do note that it has to be the same recording, otherwise you wont really be able to compare). Listen to the low quality song again, then your CD, again and again. This way, you will really be able to notice the minute differences and sonic enhancements that audiophile equipment can provide you.
100% inaccurate. I did a demo at work with 30-40 people of a reasonably priced hifi system (marantz amp and triangle loudspeakers). We tried swapping cables around, different material, moving the speakers, and going from a 3.5mm adapter to a proper USB dac. The only things the group noticed was moving the speakers and switching to a proper USB dac. The difference was *not* subtle.
As I've mentioned before, I have a early 2015 13 inch Macbook pro. I dont have any other pereferals, other then my Apple disk drive.
I don't usually use the Mac for listening to music, apart from YouTube. I usually use my Android phone, which I have just started pairing with my new smsl-idol Dac/amp combo. I plan on ripping cd's (or just listening to them directly) using an external drive that I hook up to my Macbook. As I understand, cd's are uncompressed, and are of better quality then mp3. That way I can access some interesting music, with good quality files, for free, from my local library.
Other then that, I basically just understand that I should be aiming to get my hands on, and listen to Flac files. I plan on hooking up my amp or Dac amp combo to other devices (if it's possible) like game consoles, or a future gaming pc I would like to build one day. So I would like to be able to use the amp with my laptop, phone, and console if possible, and I would like the device to durable enough to be moved around. If the device would be better suited to powering, my cans, with my devices (primarily my Macbook), and a none portable amp would be better for it, then that would be acceptable.
Better sound with my headphones, on a stationary pc, or laptop, is what is most important to me.
Purpleknight
I really don't wanna come off sounding like a Fiio promoter, but I think I know exactly what to recommend you.

Fiio Alpen E17k
http://fiio.net/en/products/38
Fiio K5 Docking System
http://fiio.net/en/products/46

This is a less-known product of Fiio's. Well technically it is 2 products, but they were literally made to complement each other, so it's kinda one product as well.

The E17k is a portable DAC/Amp combo which has all the feature you need (adjustable volume, gain settings) at a pretty neat price.

Here's the interesting part.

The K5 Docking System is a desktop amplifier that also comes provides you the novelty of docking the E17k on top of it, so you can use the E17k's DAC section together with the more powerful amplifier on the K5 while you're listening at home. The K5 also comes with several inputs (although they are all different- USB, 3.5mm, RCA) and you can select which input you wish to use via a switch at the front. This way, you can connect your game console, PC, and phone to it all at once, so you won't have to re-cable every single time.
Whenever you need to leave the comfort of your main setup, you can just un-dock the E17k and take it along with you, where it will serve as your on-the-go DAC/Amp.

Sound wise, unless you're intentionally trying to look for weaknesses, you won't hear anything "bad" for something this price.

Personally, I'd recommend you get the E17k first, see how it works for you, then decide if you need the K5, or if you'd rather jump to the next tier of audiophile equipment, or if you're happy with just the E17k.

Here are some links that you may find helpful:
http://www.head-fi.org/products/fiio-k5-desktop-headphone-amplifier/reviews/15203
http://www.head-fi.org/products/fiio-e17k-alpen-2-usb-dac-headphone-amplifier/reviews/15014