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.

Jul 27, 2021
The internal dac, in any computer, is subject to interference from the other components in the computer. By adding an external device it is possible to isolate the USB noise, reclock the digital signal and use a dac with a different tonal balance. An external dac/amp may also improve the power used to drive your headphones or iems.
Mar 27, 2021
I regret reading any part of this no-life toxicity. I was simply looking for technical specs on the 3.5mm port for an M1 Mini, if anyone has those please share.
Mar 19, 2021
I would have to strongly disagree, I had VERY noticeable improvements in overall clarity and stereo field just by adding the small usb monolith Dac to my MacBook Pro 2013. The MacBook direct headphone output is not suitable for audio mixing, or high quality WAV’s, audiophile quality listening.
Jan 1, 2021
I searched this topic because I was asking the same question and has posted this on another forum. I wanted to find a way to listen to my AKG K701s on my Mac desktop while working. Plugging them into my iMac was *not* a rewarding experience. After watching tons of videos, I took a chance on FX Audio DAC 6. This inexpensive DAC/AMP is doing a beautiful job. The volume at 10 o'clock is great for me but can go much higher. Bass does become more full as the volume increases. There is no distortion that I can detect but I do not want to listen louder that 12 o'clock. I think there is tons of power to drive them. By accident, I discovered that the Behringer 302 USB, makes for a powerhouse headphone amp with tone controls. I fed the audio from my iMAC to the input. This channel has its own gain which is added to the volume control of the headset. I am not a bass head per se, but the additional power did result in much deeper bass at lower volumes. A very tiny adjustment in the low then had a profound effect on the depth of what I was hearing at lower volumes. It was much better than FX Audio DAC 6 and with equal (at least to me) sound quality (I guess, MAC DAC). In fact, I was startled by how wonderful it sounded. The song that I was listening to was Drop of Nelson’s Blood which does have a lot of bass. Keep Hauling (Original Soundtrack) Fisherman's Friends (Artist) Format: Audio CD Since these two units are in the same price range well below $100, I preferred the Behringer 302 USB. I guess the caveat is that I am also very happy with the clarity and detail of MAC DAC.
Dec 27, 2020
Having connected a number of DACs to my all my Mac computers (2013 through the present) and a number of headphones as well, and a number of DAC/AmpsI find it amazing that few people have challenged the statement that one can't improve upon the internal Mac DAC. Of course, the way to attach a DAC is not through using the headphone output of the Mac. One should either use Ethernet or USB to connect whatever DAC you are auditioning. In most cases, nearly any DAC/Amp over $70 will have more dimension (and be less flat) when comparing the same headphones via the Mac's internal DAC through a Mac's headphone output.
May 4, 2021
no need to be amazed - people have learned the hard way not to fall into meaningless disputes with brainwashed fanboys. nothing good will come out of it.
May 5, 2021
Point taken.
Dec 5, 2020
I have very basic setup, and I can tell you that there is no noticeable difference in sound quality when I plug my PreSonus Eris 4.5 speakers directly into the headphone jack of my 2019 Macbook Pro, or when I run through my Schiit Modi 3+. And I'm just listening to Apple Music, both streamed and local library from CD's. The Schitt Modi 3+ is LIGHT YEARS better than plugging the same speakers into any Dell or HP laptop. Music is unlistenable going straight from a Dell or HP laptop into the speakers. So I guess for all the beginners and folks that aren't fancy, my take is that the internal Mac dac is pretty good.
Jul 24, 2021
Or… that you’re puttlng low quality files onto both systems. Are you listening to lossless or high bit rate files? For my part (dragonfly with PSB headphones) I notice a big difference.
Nov 21, 2020
Just a note: macbooks and Imacs have an output impedance of 24 ohms which was confirmed by Apple themself. Just be careful to use the right headphones in that headphone jack to not screw up the headphone's frequency response. Something like a 6xx or hd800 would be fine.
May 3, 2021
It is best to have an output impedance (you can think of it as just resistance for now) that is 1:10 of the headphones in use. So, an output of 24 ohms will do best with headphones that are 250 ohms or greater. There are a few reasons, the comment above mentions frequency response as one. Another is volume level obtainable from the amp driving the headphones and maybe most noticable is what is known as damping factor which affects the tightness of the bass energy. The close the output impedance gets to the headphones impedance, the mushier the bass.
Jul 27, 2021
Hi-fi man HE400se are 24 ohms but need more power.
Nov 12, 2020
In my experience, the components once you convert the audio signal are significantly more important than the DAC itself. If you are planning on doing most of your listening on headphones, a good headphone amp like the Schiit magni or the monolith liquid spark (both around $100) can add a dimension and should be your first purchase. A pair of powered bookshelf speakers and a subwoofer can also give you added sound quality over your built in speakers.
Nov 9, 2020
Several comments here say that you if you have better headphones you need a better DAC/amp solution. I don't think there is good justification for this perception. Some people have said that their headphones sound better with an external solution. This is possible, but if so, the most likely explanation is with differences in the output impedance of the amplifier. This is a concern mostly with low-impedance headphones, less so with headphones having higher impedance. If you do in fact hear an improvement, you are most likely using a pair of low-impedance headphones, and you would not necessarily hear that same difference with a pair of high-impedance headphones, irrespective of the quality of the headphones. I will try to explain this phenomenon, and maybe explain the business of "damping factor". This phenomenon is a simple consequence of two basic facts. First, when two impedances are in series, the voltage (the output voltage of the amplifier) is proportionally divided between them in accordance with the ratio of the two impedances. (For example, if one impedance is twice greater than the other, 2/3 of the voltage will appear across the greater impedance, and 1/3 of the voltage across the less impedance, thus yielding the same 2:1 ratio as the impedances.) Second, the impedance of any headphone or speaker will vary considerably with frequency, especially at the resonant frequency. The integral result of these two facts is that unless the impedance of the headphone or speaker is substantially greater than the other impedance in series with the headphone or speaker (i.e., the output impedance of the amplifier), the proportion of the amplifier's output voltage that is found across the headphone or speaker is different for different frequencies. In order for this percentage to be constant with respect to frequency, the impedance of the headphone or speaker would have to be flat, i.e., the same at all frequency, which is never the case. Since the proportion of the amplifier's output voltage that is seen by the headphone or speaker will thus be different at different frequencies, the frequency response of the headphone or speaker is affected detrimentally. To avoid this, it is necessary that the output impedance of the amplifier be much smaller than the impedance of the headphone or speaker. With conventional amplifiers of Class A, B, and AB, this was rarely ever a problem because the output impedance is orders of magnitude lower than the impedance of the headphone or speaker. The concern with damping factor was largely a carryover from tube amps. With transistor amplifiers and receivers up until recently, it was common practice for the headphone output to be connected to the main amplifier using a 300 Ohm resistor to attenuate the amplifier output voltage to a level more suitable for headphones. Consequently most headphones did not sound especially good, with an unnatural emphasis at the driver's resonance, usually in the mid-bass region. Headphones with higher driver impedance suffered less from this problem but weren't immune to it. Nowadays, most better amplifiers and receivers with headphone jacks use a separate amplifier for the headphone output. The output impedance is much lower, the actual value varying considerably, but never anywhere near as great as the 300 Ohm resistor that used to be the norm. A dedicated headphone amp of Class A, B, or AB will never have appreciable output impedance. Class D is different, because typically (but not universally) a low-pass filter is placed out the output to filter out the high-frequency portion of the switching amplifier's output, leaving the audio frequencies. To do this well requires a steep high-order analog filter. Since there is minimal attenuation in the audio frequencies, it follows that the impedance of the filter is low in the audio frequencies. But it may still be high enough to detrimentally affect the frequency response of low-impedance headphones. The best Class D headphone amplifiers have output impedance in the ballpark of 1 Ohm, and the rule of thumb is that this needs to be less than 1/10 of the headphone's impedance. Thus, an output impedance of this approximate value is of little concern for most headphones. The frequency response of the headphone will not be detrimentally affected. But there are low-quality Class D headphone amps where the output impedance is much higher, as great as 10 Ohms or even more. These may be found in some computers and in some external amplifiers. It would not be entirely correct to say that this occurs more often with internal amplifiers than with external amplifiers. The surest way to avoid this with an external amplifier is to get one with a Class A, B or AB output stage, however this isn't really essential because better Class D amplifiers do not present any problem, especially for headphones with higher impedance. To sum up, if your headphones sound starkly different with an external amplifier than with the internal amplifier in your computer, the most likely explanation (by leaps and bounds) is that the internal amplifier has unusually high output impedance, that your external amplifier has significantly lower output impedance, and that the headphones you're using have impedance low enough for its frequency response to be detrimentally affected by the high output impedance of the amplifier inside your computer.
Jul 19, 2021
LMAO agb's statement about car tire not impacting performance just adds to your comments strength, @matttnz . @agb100 Bro educate yourself@agb100... don't ever tell a car enthusiast that tires don't affect performance. Have you every watched F1? The only thing they change during a race is tires.
Jul 20, 2021
I was talking about impedances not being meaningful for a DAC - especially for a combination DAC-amp. For an amp, I wrote: impedance is as meaningful "as the measure of a car tire on the performance of a Ferrari." Obviously someone has a comprehension problem, and it is not I. The bottom line: the subjects are DACs & head amps. Specifications for DACs do not use output impedances as a rule, amp specs should always include this necessary specification.
Nov 9, 2020
The only sort of useful or meaningful response to this is one that provides a meaningful, quantitative evaluation of the MAC's headphone output. This could hardly be more obvious, yet it would seem that almost no one who shared a comment here understood this. There are lots of testimonials for this, that and the other external DAC/amplifier solution, but none of it amounts to a hill of beans unless the external solution is quantitatively compared to a quantitative assessment of the MAC's built-in DAC/amp solution. This, the starting point for any meaningful consideration of this question is with quantitative measurements of the MAC's built-in DAC/amp solution. This is what I was searching for when I found this discussion. Unfortunately, this discussion proved to be a complete waste. I'm still searching for quantitative measurements of the MAC's built-in DAC/amp solution.
May 16, 2021
Try Ken Rockwell’s site for Mac audio measurements. However, my personal experience is that iMac HP out to a Schiit amp is a substantial improvement on 16 to 32 ohm Headphones and adding an outboard DAC can boost the sonic quality a bit more. The measurements would not suggest this should be true. So either I’ve fallen for a placebo effect or measurements struggle to convey everything we hear in a musical signal (as opposed to a sine wave).
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