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Any point of external DAC+AMP with new MacBook Pros?

hyperknot

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I have a M1 MacBook Pro 16 with these new updated headphone outs. I use a Khadas Tone Board + JDS Atom Amp 1 with a Sennheiser HD650.

I can push volumes to uncomfortable levels using the built-in 3.5mm port on my MacBook, even when using DSP + -4 dB ReplayGain + headphone EQ.

My question is that is there any point of using my external DAC+AMP set? I originally wanted to update to a nice, one box solution, like a Sabaj A20d for example, but now I'm considering if using external solutions makes sense at all.

My current understanding is that the build-in DAC is comparable, if not better then the KTB and it's mostly the JDS Atom amp which has way more power and lower SINAD compared to the built-in solution. What do you think?
 

jooc

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I have a M1 MacBook Pro 16 with these new updated headphone outs. I use a Khadas Tone Board + JDS Atom Amp 1 with a Sennheiser HD650.

I can push volumes to uncomfortable levels using the built-in 3.5mm port on my MacBook, even when using DSP + -4 dB ReplayGain + headphone EQ.

My question is that is there any point of using my external DAC+AMP set? I originally wanted to update to a nice, one box solution, like a Sabaj A20d for example, but now I'm considering if using external solutions makes sense at all.

My current understanding is that the build-in DAC is comparable, if not better then the KTB and it's mostly the JDS Atom amp which has way more power and lower SINAD compared to the built-in solution. What do you think?

I would love for Amir to do a DAC and headphone test on an M1/M2 Mac Mini or Macbook, I would like to know this too.

Here's what I experienced, it doesn't apply directly to the M1, but: back in 2014 I was doing a lot of photo workflow on a Windows laptop, and I decided I wanted to listen to music in that same room. I plugged in some powered speakers to aux out: horrifying. I then researched and bought the AudioEngine D1 DAC and Audioengine A2 powered speakers, and it was the best "computer audio" I ever had up until then. When I moved to a Mac Mini 2014 I moved that DAC/speakers over and went along happily for a few years. But at one point I plugged those same powered speakers directly into the Mac, bypassing the external Dac, and was surprised to hear almost no difference in quality, if any. Whatever they had in that Windows PC was horrible, but I think that Apple has mastered the art of good but inexpensive DAC processing chains, probably starting with getting the original Ipod out the door.

tldr; If you think that MAC internal DAC sounds pretty good, it's not your imagination.
 
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hyperknot

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Yes, a M1/M2/M3 MacBook Pro audio output review would be great by @amirm!

I only found this from 2021 by L7:
 
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hyperknot

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Here is the official Apple document about which machines have headphone amp built in:


  • iMac introduced in 2023
  • MacBook Air introduced in 2022 or later
  • MacBook Pro introduced in 2021 or later
  • Mac mini introduced in 2023
  • Mac Studio introduced in 2022 or later
  • Mac Pro introduced in 2023
 

voodooless

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Yes, a M1/M2/M3 MacBook Pro audio output review would be great by @amirm!

I only found this from 2021 by L7:
Looks to be pretty good for low impedance headphones.

For 300R you may lack a bit of power, but if it goes loud enough, it should be okay.
 

staticV3

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I can push volumes to uncomfortable levels using the built-in 3.5mm port on my MacBook, even when using DSP + -4 dB ReplayGain + headphone EQ.

My question is that is there any point of using my external DAC+AMP set?
An external DAC+Amp set or DAC+Amp AIO will not improve sound quality over your MacBook's built-in DAC+Amp.

It will give you extra features though like a sample rate/volume display, volume knob, remote control, multiple inputs, etc.

And it'll give you more volume, which you don't seem to need.
 

voodooless

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It'll drive the HD650 to 114dB SPL Peak. That's extremely loud.
Yeah, should be plenty indeed ;)

My 7hz Zero’s are already loud at around the 30% volume setting on an M1 Pro and I don’t even dare set them to full power :eek:
 

Dunring

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I'd do a blind, volume matched test by coin toss and see if you can tell more than half the time with the same songs. Apple did great with the 3.5mm to USB adapter, have a few and they power quite a lot of things. With 44.1khz 16 bit FLAC they're the best $9 most people will spend. Your onboard sound is likely as good as those.
 

dc99

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In the Apple’s “high impedance headphones“ support document, it states the max voltage for high impedance HP is 3V rms, I can actually drive my HD6XX to >3V rms from my Mac Studio, and it’s plenty loud already, but I can hear some distortion at this level. Where as the JDS Atom can drive the output all the way to 9V rms, which should give you even lower distortion at the 3-4V rms level, at which the HD650 shines the most.
 

Ron Texas

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I use HD650's regularly with my MacBook Pro M3 Pro.
 

dc99

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I use HD650's regularly with my MacBook Pro M3 Pro.
If you read the Chinese M1 Max test report above, the 3V rms SINAD is OK, definitely not as good as JDS Atoms. So there is merits in going with an external DAC+AMP solution. Specially if you want to drive it above 3V rms.
 

_thelaughingman

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Even with an 2018 Intel Mac mini, it's a bit of an overkill to have an external DAC/AMP combo, but I get functionality from the external dac/amp that's limited to just the headphone out on Mac mini.
 

dc99

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Even with an 2018 Intel Mac mini, it's a bit of an overkill to have an external DAC/AMP combo, but I get functionality from the external dac/amp that's limited to just the headphone out on Mac mini.
I agree, but not with a high impedance headphones like the HD650.
 

Ron Texas

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If you read the Chinese M1 Max test report above, the 3V rms SINAD is OK, definitely not as good as JDS Atoms. So there is merits in going with an external DAC+AMP solution. Specially if you want to drive it above 3V rms.
I'm not running into any problems using th built in audio and the convenience is wonderful as my main use for headphones is when I travel. There probably are some recordings which would benefit from the extra voltage available from an external DAC/Amp if one listens loud enough. I have several DAC/Amps around here if I am in the mood. Playback is with Foobar2000 which has a built in parametric EQ.
 

Sillysilly

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The new MBP has lots of power but lacks magic for me. If I take a tricky headphone like the AKG 701 I'm amazed at what it can push out in terms of power and volume, but it's not as good as say a Heed Canamp and Khadas Toneboard. Maybe it's the DAC that lets it down but that combo is much more enjoyable to listen too. I find I never get sucked into extended listening sessions using the MBP alone.
 
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