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Thread: Macbook headphone output vs external DAC

  1. #1
    Join Date: Jan 2013

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    I'm James.

    Default Macbook headphone output vs external DAC

    Has anyone done any comparisons listening to their headphone output compared to an external DAC via USB. I have been reading of some folk who have done A-B comparisons and have found there to be be very little difference or only marginal. I must point out this is using the latest Macbook Pros from 2018 onwards.

    The conclusions they have arrived at are that the Macbook Pro now has a much better internal DAC and headphone amplification section which has bought them up to the same quality of sound as many aftermarket DACs. It makes me ponder the idea that with the massive resources Apple has it can easily achieve this if it wanted too and may have indeed been quietly improving the SQ of its sound card /DAC/Headphone amp as a response to the massive uptake in Headphone listening.
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  2. #2
    Join Date: Feb 2008

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    If someone had said that they couldn't hear a difference on earpads then I would accept that it is possible. But on headphones? The latter needs a far higher RMS voltage to drive it than you would get from the headphone output from a PC or laptop.
    But saying that, if you are happy with the sound you get from your MAC with your headphones, then there is no need for you to spend any additional funds on a DAC.

  3. #3
    Join Date: Nov 2011

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    I'm Adrian.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jimbo View Post
    Has anyone done any comparisons listening to their headphone output compared to an external DAC via USB. I have been reading of some folk who have done A-B comparisons and have found there to be be very little difference or only marginal. I must point out this is using the latest Macbook Pros from 2018 onwards.

    The conclusions they have arrived at are that the Macbook Pro now has a much better internal DAC and headphone amplification section which has bought them up to the same quality of sound as many aftermarket DACs. It makes me ponder the idea that with the massive resources Apple has it can easily achieve this if it wanted too and may have indeed been quietly improving the SQ of its sound card /DAC/Headphone amp as a response to the massive uptake in Headphone listening.
    In ear pods are IMO opinion generally pretty rubbish from a SQ point of view, although they are good for on the go listening experience. Some makes that claim to be good (Beats) actually fall into the worst bucket.

    The on board DAC in the newest MACs is a Cirrus 4208-CRZ very similar to a https://www.cirrus.com/products/cs4207/ I believe earlier machines used CS4206A

    So to try and answer your question,

    It is not only the DAC that is important it is also how it is implemented and used see https://www.thegearpage.net/board/in...today.1262602/ this is an example where someone has discovered that the drivers(software) that is used with the DAC has a direct impact on SQ. So always ensure you are up to date to get the best.

    The DAC in use may not necessarily be the best performer there is, for example it is limited to 32-192Khz, but is unlikely to be of any importance to you and you are very unlikely to hear any difference with a higher spec, to be honest its very good anyway.

    Some people want to get the best SQ possible, or as far as they perceive it, so to do so they go for an external DAC which is known to deliver extremely good analog rendition. Why, well the DAC box usually is built with its own dedicated PSU, and sometimes this is driven from a battery source which ensures a stable current/voltage, variations can affect a DAC. Also a dedicated DAC solution is often built and designed to use separate clock chips, the accuracy of the clock has a direct influence on jitter and drift which are two aspects of timing and playback(put very simply), rather than onboard clock on the DAC, this means a better end result. Have a read of https://www.audiostream.com/content/...audio-clocks-0 and https://theproaudiofiles.com/6-facts...and-bit-depth/ they explain the basics about clocks and how sampling and bit rate affects SQ.

    Another thing to bear in mind here is that the onboard computer DAC shares its power with all the other physical services built on the logic board.

    So IMO whether you can tell the difference between the output from an onboard computer DAC and an external one will be dependant on the above and also very dependant on the overall SQ of the system you are putting the output to. In simple terms if you plug the MacBook into a low end stereo system with not great speakers or use average headphones and you do the same with an external DAC you are unlikely to hear any difference at all, even if one of the DACs (Computer or external DAC) is better than the other. But if the system or headphones either is going into is a relatively high quality audio system then yes you should be able to hear some difference. That is assuming you are are using a good quality digital music source in the first place, not some lossy low bit rate files.

    I hope that helps, unfortunately like all things in audio/hifi it's not clear cut. My advice is if you like what you hear from your set up then be happy with it, or until you hear something better, or do not like it anymore.
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  4. #4
    Join Date: Feb 2013

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    wireless tech has come a long way...https://www.amazon.co.uk/Avantree-Bl...s%2C156&sr=8-1 these are good
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  5. #5
    Join Date: Feb 2010

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    Quote Originally Posted by struth View Post
    wireless tech has come a long way...https://www.amazon.co.uk/Avantree-Bl...s%2C156&sr=8-1 these are good
    Donít you need special Bluetooth Headphones to take advantage of the features? There is mention of aptx.

    https://www.aptx.com/

    Also, I think real purists still say that Bluetooth isnít good enough, though I find itís OK for some purposes - listening to radio shows, for example. Lastly - and this Iíve not figured - is it actually OK to use Bluetooth on a plane. Iím really not sure.
    Dave

  6. #6
    Join Date: Jan 2013

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    Hi Adrian,

    I had read that Apple were implementing the Cirrus 4208-CRZ Dacs in their latest Macbook Pro which are capable of 24/192 playback resolution if you believe this to be actually significant or better is another matter. However I think Apple must have been considering the Audio output on their computers as the interest in HI Rez has gathered pace as it were and many folk are now listening to Headphones.

    Quite a few folk over on Head Fi have done some evaluation of the latest Macbook Pro and compared audio output SQ with different set ups.

    A - Macbook Pro straight out of the headphone socket

    B - Macbook Pro with Headphone amplifier

    C- Macbook Pro with separate USB attached DAC/AMP

    Listening through headphones has not always favoured separate DACs with only marginally improvements found and these were subjective depending on wether there listener simply preferred one set up or the other.

    I believe Apple have moved some way to improving SQ with their latest Macbook Pro and the subjective differences between their output DAC and off board DACs has narrowed somewhat.

    I have been assessing DACs for years and understand all the clocking issues and PSU noise problems but many of these technical aspects have been resolved. I also understand that computers are not or have not always been the best device to use for digital audio due to their inherent noisy architecture and PSUs but I am sure that companies like Apple with vast technical budgets and capabilities are slowly narrowing the gap between their output SQ and after market so called Audiofool DACs.

    They have similarly tackled the photography market with their latest iPhone 11 Pro cameras which are knocking on the doors of top end quality photographic equipment and will soon level the playing field their too. They are using technology and algorithms to enhance their manipulation of cameras so that the final results are getting spectacularly good.

    With a little more consideration Apple may quietly do the same with Audio from their devices?
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  7. #7
    Join Date: Sep 2017

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    Quote Originally Posted by AJSki2fly View Post
    In ear pods are IMO opinion generally pretty rubbish from a SQ point of view, although they are good for on the go listening experience. Some makes that claim to be good (Beats) actually fall into the worst bucket.
    Some in-ear headphones are simply amazing. I'll take something like Etymotic ER4 or MEE Pinnacle P1 over many full-size sets any day of the week.

  8. #8
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    Have had a pair of UE Triple Fi 10's for a few years - excellent 'phones.
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  9. #9
    Join Date: Feb 2013

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    I'm Grant.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dave2010 View Post
    Don’t you need special Bluetooth Headphones to take advantage of the features? There is mention of aptx.

    https://www.aptx.com/

    Also, I think real purists still say that Bluetooth isn’t good enough, though I find it’s OK for some purposes - listening to radio shows, for example. Lastly - and this I’ve not figured - is it actually OK to use Bluetooth on a plane. I’m really not sure.
    Yup blutooth cans... many do both wired and blutooth. The sound you can get from modern can now,on BT, its hard to tell difference most of time and it will waste the head out of a pc.
    I do understand tho that audiophiles think this to be rubbish but thought id mention it.. allows you to wander all over house too as its long range BT.
    Regards,
    Grant .... ؠ

    I've said it before and I'll say it again: democracy simply-doesn't-work
    .... ..... ...... ...... ................... ..... ..... ..... ..... .....
    OPPO BDP-103D - JBE SERIES 3/B&O SP1/PROJECT PHONOBOX DS2 USB - QUAD VENA 2 - IFI PURIFIER 2/TWIN PRO MONOBLOCK POWER AMPLIFIERS - LEAF HD BLUETOOTH - OPPO PM-3 PLANAR, SONY H900 & NURAPHONE HEADPHONES - ZBOOK/ IFI SILENCER/WIN10 PRO/ROON - SMSL M6 DAC & IFI SILENCER - RPI 3+, DIGIONE HAT/VOLUMIO2 - EDINGDALE MK1 SPEAKERS - CABLE INC CHORD, MOGAMI, SUPRA & WIREWORLD

    **Men are not punished for their sins, but by them**Don't be such a big girl's blouse!**
    ***SMILE, BE HAPPY***

    RIP Terry... "We use only the finest baby frogs, dew picked and flown from Iraq, cleansed in finest quality spring water, lightly killed, and then sealed in a succulent Swiss quintuple smooth treble cream milk chocolate envelope and lovingly frosted with glucose."

  10. #10
    Join Date: Nov 2011

    Location: Seaton, Devon, UK

    Posts: 4,426
    I'm Adrian.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jimbo View Post
    Hi Adrian,

    I had read that Apple were implementing the Cirrus 4208-CRZ Dacs in their latest Macbook Pro which are capable of 24/192 playback resolution if you believe this to be actually significant or better is another matter. However I think Apple must have been considering the Audio output on their computers as the interest in HI Rez has gathered pace as it were and many folk are now listening to Headphones.

    Quite a few folk over on Head Fi have done some evaluation of the latest Macbook Pro and compared audio output SQ with different set ups.

    A - Macbook Pro straight out of the headphone socket

    B - Macbook Pro with Headphone amplifier

    C- Macbook Pro with separate USB attached DAC/AMP

    Listening through headphones has not always favoured separate DACs with only marginally improvements found and these were subjective depending on wether there listener simply preferred one set up or the other.

    I believe Apple have moved some way to improving SQ with their latest Macbook Pro and the subjective differences between their output DAC and off board DACs has narrowed somewhat.

    I have been assessing DACs for years and understand all the clocking issues and PSU noise problems but many of these technical aspects have been resolved. I also understand that computers are not or have not always been the best device to use for digital audio due to their inherent noisy architecture and PSUs but I am sure that companies like Apple with vast technical budgets and capabilities are slowly narrowing the gap between their output SQ and after market so called Audiofool DACs.

    They have similarly tackled the photography market with their latest iPhone 11 Pro cameras which are knocking on the doors of top end quality photographic equipment and will soon level the playing field their too. They are using technology and algorithms to enhance their manipulation of cameras so that the final results are getting spectacularly good.

    With a little more consideration Apple may quietly do the same with Audio from their devices?
    Hi James

    Yes, I agree to a certain extent with your post on what Apple does in terms of improving their products. In fact the SQ from a new MacBook as it stands today is actually pretty high and in fact as I implied in my post most people would find it pretty hard to hear a difference comparing a Mac to an external reasonable DAC, whether with headphones of through an amp and speakers. But IMO as it stands mounting a DAC on a computer logic boards creates issues in terms of noise and stability, there are just too many variables to control, so if the punter is after hi-end SQ I would still opt for the external DAC solution, but the VFM solution is pure MacBook or PC and will satisfy most.

    I have a tried several methods with my own 2016 MacBook Pro, and I know it is not as good as the new machines.

    1. Macbook Analogue output direct to amplifier - result is actually pretty good.

    2. Optical out to External DAC(Beresford Caiman SEG) to Amp - this gives a great resolution and is in fact right up there with the same tracks played on CD on a Meridian player or CDP as transport to DAC

    3. USB out to DAC to Amp - there is a difference to the one above, but cannot quite put my finger on it, tone and depth seem slightly different, but the resulting sound is still very good. This could be due to the external DAC I suppose.

    The other aspect that makes a difference apart from the digital file quality/resolution is what software is used on the Computer to play the music, I can hear a definite difference between Volumio and Audivarna, for general listening I use Volumio, having said that it is good, but if I actually want high SQ I use Audirvana which generally gives a better presentation IMO. I only use iTunes for casual listening, and even from files on my NAS drive I find it not as good as with Volumio.
    [FONT="Arial"]
    Listening is the act of aural discrimination and dissemination of sound, and accepting you get it wrong sometimes


    Pro-Ject Signature 10 TT & arm, Benz Micro LP-S & Michel Cusis MC cartridge, Furutech AG-12-R4 High Performance Phono Cable, LFD MMC special phono stage, Rothwell MCX SUT, RaspberryPi/HifiBerry Digi to Beresford Caiman SEG DAC, Sony 3d blu-Ray for CDs to Caiman SEG, ALLNIC T1500 MKII SET 300B amp, Wilson Benesch Vector speakers and JBL L100 Century's , Chord Epic speaker leads, & signature links, the Eccose Conductor CA1 cd to pre, I think I am at audio nirvana, but donít tell anyone

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