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  1. #1

    MacBook: S/PDIF or USB?

    I just discovered that my Macbook Pro has a Toslink S/PDIF out. I've been using the Mac for years, and somehow never knew this!

    Up until now, I've been using a simple USB to SPDIF converter to feed into my DAC. While I do have some jitter reduction built into the system, I still find that SQ is better when played on a CD transport than from the Mac through the USB port. Perhaps I need a better USB-to-SPDIF converter (maybe with async capability?)

    Today, I got the mini-Toslink to regular Toslink cable and connected it between Macbook and DAC. The sound is now really close to what I get from the CD: when doing A/B comparisons, level-matched, I can occasionally hear very slight differences. Sometimes the CD sounds a touch better, sometimes the Mac over S/PDIF. Overall, I feel they are very closely matched now.

    So, the question is: do you folks use (and prefer) the S/PDIF output on the Macs directly or is a high quality USB-to-S/PDIF converter a better choice? Are there some software limitations with Mac S/PDIF output that do not exist with USB, or are they equivalent from software perspective?
    -Paul

  2. #2
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    Personally, I prefer the USB out of my Mac Book air to CD playback through two transports I have to use, a Sony ES SACD player via coax and believe it or not, an old laser disc player via toslink which sounds very good but still not a match to my computer play back. I use a Jitterbug and a Schiit Wyrd in the system and am thrilled with the result. You may want to try one of the USB isolation devices and see what you think. I have heard that there are several interesting ones coming out in 2017.

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Joe Whip View Post
    Personally, I prefer the USB out of my Mac Book air to CD playback through two transports I have to use, a Sony ES SACD player via coax and believe it or not, an old laser disc player via toslink which sounds very good but still not a match to my computer play back. I use a Jitterbug and a Schiit Wyrd in the system and am thrilled with the result. You may want to try one of the USB isolation devices and see what you think. I have heard that there are several interesting ones coming out in 2017.
    Thanks for the information, Joe. I'm actually very happy with my CD-transport playback. I've put together this system many years ago and have not touched the components since -- really didn't have the urge or the need to. Only recently I started adding PC (Mac) music playback to the system, and found the USB playback lacking in transparency. I did research into various USB clean-up solutions, including Wyrd, but I'm not sure if these will improve on the Toslink/SPDIF output from the Macbook.

    I'd be curious to hear from anyone who has done such a comparison in their system: Macbook->USB->SPDIF->DAC compared to Macbook->SPDIF over toslink->DAC and what USB converters/clean-up devices they used.

    A related question: how is the SPDIF output generated from the Macbook audio card? Hopefully the digital output is kept digital all the way through, and not converted to analog and then back to digital. It doesn't sound to me like it's being double converted, but you never know
    -Paul

  4. #4
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    Hi Paul,

    I think the issue here is the USB to SPDIF converter you have to use for the USB connection. That must be surely degrading the performance quite a bit, as the Toslink is widely known to be a very jittery connection.

    If your DAC doesn't have a native USB port, and you want to enjoy computer audio, you might want to look for a streamer (with proper SPDIF, not Toslink) instead of the Mac, or at least get a new DAC with a USB port.

    cheers,
    alex
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  5. #5
    Hi Alex,

    I think you're right, it does come down to which interface is more jittery, Toslink or the the USB connection on my Mac. I do have a different DAC that supports USB (Emotiva XDA-2). Interestingly, it sounds very good with the USB connection from my Mac, but sounds horrible with the CD transport connection. So, I'm stuck with two DACs, one that works well with USB, the other works well with CD source, and neither works well with both
    -Paul

  6. #6
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    You can try the if I spdif purifier. With it, you can take the spdif out of the Mac and do either toslink or coax into your DAC. Not expensive at all.

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