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DAC for the MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, early 2013)

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#1
I have been using my old MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, early 2013) exclusively for listening to music streamed from iTunes. I hooked up a 3.5 mm stereo aux cable from the headphone jack of my MacBook, which is directly connected to the Audioengine's A5+ wireless speakers using the RCA inputs. I compared it with bluetooth connection, but the direct connection sounded louder (i.e., more power as a lower volume) and slightly more clear to my ears. It may have to do with the much larger sampling rate with the headphone out, i.e., 32-bit 96kHz vs 24-bit 48kHz (bluetooth), which can be adjusted on the Audio MIDI Setup.

I have been thinking of adding an external DAC (with a mini-to-Toslink cable) to my chain, primarily motivated by the information found here: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT202730.

So, do you think I can get significant improvement in switching to the external DAC route instead of using the MacBook's built-in DAC? I am very much interested in the RME's ADI-2 DAC.

Thank you.

NoobMD
 
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#2
Most people would recommend spending $1000+ on speakers and maybe a hundred or two on a DAC. Not the other way around. I’m sure there will be a noticeable difference but probably not as much as upgrading to $1000+ speakers.

If you want to get a DAC, there are several well reviewed ones for under $200.
 
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#3
Most people would recommend spending $1000+ on speakers and maybe a hundred or two on a DAC. Not the other way around. I’m sure there will be a noticeable difference but probably not as much as upgrading to $1000+ speakers.

If you want to get a DAC, there are several well reviewed ones for under $200.
Thank you for your recommendation. In that case, will the Khadas Tone Board with an Optical-to-Coaxial cable work as a cheap alternative?
 
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#4
Does the Audioengine A5+ come with Bluetooth capabilities? Standard Bluetooth is lower than 16/44 quality but so is iTunes so I’m not sure bandwidth is necessarily the issue there.

It doesn’t look like the A5+ has digital inputs so using optical-to-coaxial won’t help you. Unless you mean optical-to-RCA but that’s what a DAC is for.

I don’t think the Khadas comes with a case so you have to either build one yourself or acquire a custom one. I don’t think off the shelf cases exist.

I would go for a plug and play option. Amir has recommended several DACs under $200.
 
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#6
Those speakers have Bluetooth 5.0 audio and aptX HD so that signal is as good as it currently gets. I don't think your 2013 has BT specs to match though. A DAC will improve your sound from Apple's built in but how audible it might be depends on the quality of your speakers and environment you listen in.

I happily feed my system which I've got many thousands of dollars devoted towards with a $80 Topping D10 from a 2015 Macbook Pro for what it's worth.
 
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#8
That particular SMSL DAC has not been measured by Amir. Some SMSLs have measured very well while others have not. I would pick something Amir has recommended to be safe. Topping D10 is probably a safe choice. You could always pair the DAC with an inexpensive Bluetooth transmitter to add wireless streaming capabilities. I don’t believe a USB DAC with Bluetooth transmitting capabilities are common. Micca makes one with optical input but that won’t allow you to stream from a MacBook.
 
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#10
That particular SMSL DAC has not been measured by Amir. Some SMSLs have measured very well while others have not. I would pick something Amir has recommended to be safe. Topping D10 is probably a safe choice. You could always pair the DAC with an inexpensive Bluetooth transmitter to add wireless streaming capabilities. I don’t believe a USB DAC with Bluetooth transmitting capabilities are common. Micca makes one with optical input but that won’t allow you to stream from a MacBook.
The Audioengine’s A5+ already has a Bluetooth capability, which I think is a bit less competent than direct connection thru either USB or optical in my case.
 
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#12
It is because the optical from my 2013 macbook provides a much higher sampling rate at 96KHz.
I didn’t realize your MacBook has optical out. This product might be perfect for you then:

Micca Digital to Analog Audio Converter with 164ft Long Range Bluetooth 4.2 Wireless Transmitter for TV, Optical Digital to Analog Audio Converter, aptX Low Latency, and Optical Passthrough (LB-DAC) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07DK2T6WH/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_i_lIyJCb7DV5VV2

It has a Bluetooth transmitter that should be superior to the one on your MacBook. You can also use the RCA outputs to connect directly to your speakers.
 
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#13
I didn’t realize your MacBook has optical out. This product might be perfect for you then:

Micca Digital to Analog Audio Converter with 164ft Long Range Bluetooth 4.2 Wireless Transmitter for TV, Optical Digital to Analog Audio Converter, aptX Low Latency, and Optical Passthrough (LB-DAC) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07DK2T6WH/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_i_lIyJCb7DV5VV2

It has a Bluetooth transmitter that should be superior to the one on your MacBook. You can also use the RCA outputs to connect directly to your speakers.
Thank you for your suggestion, but I want to stand away from BT. The A5+ has already BT connectivity, which is nice. But, I want to take the advantage of optical since it gives higher sampling.
 

noobie1

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#14
Thank you for your suggestion, but I want to stand away from BT. The A5+ has already BT connectivity, which is nice. But, I want to take the advantage of optical since it gives higher sampling.
This device has optical.

Just to clarify, Bluetooth and RCA transmit analog audio while optical transfers digital audio information.

You could connect your MacBook to this device via optical. The MacBook would use this device as an external DAC.

You could then connect to your speakers directly via RCA or Bluetooth. Bluetooth has been constantly improving the way it transmits analog audio. This device has Bluetooth 4.2 and aptx which is probably much better than the Bluetooth in you Mac. You could use either the Bluetooth or RCA. Either way, you still need to connect to this device via optical.
 
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noobie1

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#15
Also, well-implemented Bluetooth should be more than enough bandwidth for iTunes files. A quick google search shows that Bluetooth can exceed 800 kbps while iTunes files are 256 kbps.
 

Dogen

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#17
Also, well-implemented Bluetooth should be more than enough bandwidth for iTunes files. A quick google search shows that Bluetooth can exceed 800 kbps while iTunes files are 256 kbps.
To be accurate, iTunes isn’t a file format, it supports several file types of various bit rates. Apple Lossless iTunes, for example, outputs at a much higher bit rate, same as CD. Tracks bought through iTunes are 256k AAC. Even the best Bluetooth codec - AptX HD - isn’t quite Lossless compared to a CD-quality file. Whether it is audibly different is another question. To my ears, Bluetooth sounds inferior to a wired connection. Okay in my car, but not the best at home.
 

noobie1

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#18
To be accurate, iTunes isn’t a file format, it supports several file types of various bit rates. Apple Lossless iTunes, for example, outputs at a much higher bit rate, same as CD. Tracks bought through iTunes are 256k AAC. Even the best Bluetooth codec - AptX HD - isn’t quite Lossless compared to a CD-quality file. Whether it is audibly different is another question. To my ears, Bluetooth sounds inferior to a wired connection. Okay in my car, but not the best at home.
I don’t use iTunes so I’m not certain. I was under the impression you can’t buy Apple lossless files from iTunes only AAC. Bluetooth should have sufficient bandwidth for AAC files.
 

Dogen

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#19
So you’re using only Apple Music on your Mac? In that case, Bluetooth is sufficient. You are correct can’t buy Apple Lossless from Apple, but you can rip your CDs that way.
 
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#20
So you’re using only Apple Music on your Mac? In that case, Bluetooth is sufficient. You are correct can’t buy Apple Lossless from Apple, but you can rip your CDs that way.
iTunes is the main (in fact, the only) music management and playback program for me. I do also rip CDs though. So, I was just curious if I could do more with the higher sampling rate-enabled optical connectivity of my MacBook Pro. Hope this clarifies.
 
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