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View Full Version : How do I improve the quality of audio output from mac mini 2011




Swampthing
Aug 21, 2011, 06:36 PM
So I recently bought a mac mini 2011, and decided to transfer all my music from my PC to my mac mini. No problems using external drives to do the job.

But the issue comes from the sound output. I was using using a Creative Titanium sound card and Logitech Z-5500 5.1 speakers. To improve the sound, I was also using the Creative software to turn on the Crystalizer and played around with different EAX effects.

What do I get on the mac mini? One 3.5mm output to my 3.5mm speaker jack. While the music coming out sounds okay, it doesn't come close the quality I had on my PC. Sound separation doesn't even seem as clean as it was with the Creative card.

Even gaming sounds aren't as clean. I noticed in Warcraft, the sounds are not nearly as crisp and separated into 5.1 as they are on the PC.

So I have to ask... what solutions are there to improving the quality of sound output from the new mac mini? External sound cards? Drivers? Software? Any advice is appreciate in advance.

Thanks...



ChrisA
Aug 21, 2011, 09:21 PM
..
So I have to ask... what solutions are there to improving the quality of sound output from the new mac mini? External sound cards? Drivers? Software? Any advice is appreciate in advance.
.

The audio jack is a combination stereo line out and optical port. One option is to connect the Mini using a fiber cable to an AV receiver.

You can also buy a good studio quality USB audio interface for about $150 or more.

But first you have to decide on the kind of sound you are after. Most of the equipment you see sound to musicians and recording engineers and video editor is designed to be "accurate". On the other hand many consumers are looking for a hugely exaggerated bass for video games and movie sound track playback. Decide on the sound you want.

Next, no matter what you listen to speakers matter more than any other component. But they need to be matched to their intended use. That is the size of the room, the music and so on. there is no "best" only a best fit to your needs.

budget? Good stuff is not cheap but there are ways to reduce the cost. Used gear or maybe repurposing used home HiFi gear

Least but not least. Buy a good pair of headphones. I think Sweetwater still has the AKG K240 Studio headphones for $99. That is by far the best deal in headphones you'll find. ANything else comparable is twice that price.
http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/K240S

Plugging in a pair of the K240 directly to the Mini's jack gives pretty decent sound but a good headphone amp is good to have. Many of the better audio interfaces boxes have good headphone amps built-in.

Swampthing
Aug 22, 2011, 05:14 AM
Thanks for the great advice.

I had not realized the audio out was a combination port. My Logitech speaker system does have a Toshiba input, is that what you are talking about? Is there a special cable that converts the sound?

I guess I'm looking for something like a ranking of good, better, best. So maybe the new cord would be good, the external USB solutions (?) better, and then switching to headphones instead would be best? Or a combination of all three...

I'm really more interested in replicating the cleaner, much more separated sound, that I got from my Creative Titanium on my PC. If I have to pay $150 for an external USB accessory which then plugs into my speaker system, I'm willing to do so.. but not sure which one, or where to start with that for a mac.

Thanks again.

BlackMangoTree
Aug 22, 2011, 07:49 AM
You need to do a blind listening tests (ABX) the difference you are claiming to hear is more than likely all in your head. Placebo can play huge tricks on the mind.

Getting EQ and volume matching is a problem though.

The output of my MacMini has never sounded any worse than so called better equipment.

akdj
Aug 22, 2011, 09:54 AM
Great...here comes the "Blind Listening Test" crew..

Don't worry...you don't need to do any such thing:) You obviously aren't happy with the sound, so definitely utilize an external DAC...IE, use the digital output from your Mac (the combo 3.5mm jack) and run it to either a cheap receiver (as mentioned earlier), as you don't need one of the new HDMI switching receivers...you can check Craigslist for a 2 or 3--5/6/7 year old receiver to patch your Mac in to. Essentially, you'll just find yourself a 3.5mm to stereo RCA cord (monoprice.com) or your local electronics shop....run that in to one of the digital coax inputs on the receiver, and from there, you'll have 5.1 as long as your source supports it.

Other ways to get decent sound is to use a USB sound card...I run an audio production company and much or our work is done in the field...I've relegated the expensive gear at home and I've found the Behringer "U-Control 202" ($30 at Amazon, Best Buy, et al). It's a USB external sound card...there are a bunch of knock offs of the same type product...but most are $50-$80. The Behringer is the same product, cheap and durable. (One of the ones I use has been in the gear bag for 5 years and does about 65 weddings a year!).

You'll plug the USB end in to your computer...and the little box (about the size of a deck of cards) has stereo inputs (RCA), stereo outputs (RCA), and you can get one with either digital coax or digital toslink input. All of them have a headphone output with volume control. Very basic, very quiet, and only $30. It'll bring back that sound you enjoyed before on the PC.

Problem using the internal headphone jack that you're using is first, it's a crappy pre-amp, second...you're dealing with all of the internal noises in the computer...including the HDD. With a USB or F/W external DAC...none of that noise is an issue.

Good Luck!

J

BlackMangoTree
Aug 22, 2011, 10:20 AM
If one wants to ignore the placebo effect and spend money to gain nothing then thats ones choice. ABX tests can be extremely useful.

http://www.hydrogenaudio.org/forums/index.php?showtopic=16295

Jolly Jimmy
Aug 22, 2011, 12:13 PM
If one wants to ignore the placebo effect and spend money to gain nothing then thats ones choice. ABX tests can be extremely useful.

http://www.hydrogenaudio.org/forums/index.php?showtopic=16295

While this can be true, absolutely nothing in this thread indicates that this is the case. Especially as the OP was using some sort of EQ/effect to his/her liking. But the fact is, the analog outputs on macs are often awful. If you can't tell the difference between it and a half decent sound card, then good for you, not everyone is so lucky.

Oh, and for those who are interested in ABX tests, check out ABXer (http://emptymusic.com/software/ABXer.html)

Swampthing
Aug 22, 2011, 05:08 PM
Great...here comes the "Blind Listening Test" crew..

Other ways to get decent sound is to use a USB sound card...I run an audio production company and much or our work is done in the field...I've relegated the expensive gear at home and I've found the Behringer "U-Control 202" ($30 at Amazon, Best Buy, et al). It's a USB external sound card...there are a bunch of knock offs of the same type product...but most are $50-$80. The Behringer is the same product, cheap and durable. (One of the ones I use has been in the gear bag for 5 years and does about 65 weddings a year!).

You'll plug the USB end in to your computer...and the little box (about the size of a deck of cards) has stereo inputs (RCA), stereo outputs (RCA), and you can get one with either digital coax or digital toslink input. All of them have a headphone output with volume control. Very basic, very quiet, and only $30. It'll bring back that sound you enjoyed before on the PC.
J

Thanks for the hardware solution! I checked out the Behringer website and note there is a U-Control 202 and U-Control 222, but can't see any difference other than color. Amazon has them both for significantly less than MSRP, so I think I'll pick one of these up. Ideally it will allow me to plug a TOSLink cable into the device and output directly into my speaker system to get more true, cleaner 5.1 sound.

BTW, yes I can definitely tell the difference between the PC and mac sound. You don't have to be an audiophile, but if you have them side by side, it is quite noticeable.

newuser2310
Aug 22, 2011, 06:53 PM
Dont bother with the u control.

It only offers 16bit @ 48khz

The outputs aren't even balanced!

The inbuilt card offers 24bit @ 96khz

So your essentially paying for lower quality.

Buy cheap, buy twice!

Look at the apogee stuff, it comes at a premium but has solid integration with osx.

And I wouldnt take advice on sound quality from a wedding dj who uses a crappy $30 soundcard, who probably plays youtube rips! No offence akdj. :)

ironsienna
Aug 23, 2011, 03:42 AM
Get an Audiophilleo2, pair it with Amarra, get a fairly cheap DAC to start with that supports 24/96 input and have a nice trip to Audio Heaven...

mnilan
Aug 24, 2011, 10:18 AM
Instead of the Audiophilleo2 (almost $600), I am trying out a Musical Fidelity V-Link ($169) with Pure Music and a Musical Fidelity V-DAC. The idea is the same but the USB --> digital (s/pdif or Toslink) is different tech and the player is different. Non-trivial expense either way...

ChrisA
Aug 24, 2011, 11:49 AM
Dont bother with the u control.

It only offers 16bit @ 48khz

The outputs aren't even balanced!

The inbuilt card offers 24bit @ 96khz...

I agree 100%. It's a "downgrade" from the built-in audio. I have a Presonus Firewire based audio interface but it's tow expensive to use just for playing music at home. For that the Mac's built-in audio in OK and the Mac's built-in optical output in as good as it gets.

You likely have to move up to something like a Presonus Audiobox before to get better quality than the built-in audio.

Stay away from anything made by Behringer the company sells copies of popular gear at but with lower price and lower quality.

BlackMangoTree
Aug 30, 2011, 10:08 AM
While this can be true, absolutely nothing in this thread indicates that this is the case. Especially as the OP was using some sort of EQ/effect to his/her liking. But the fact is, the analog outputs on macs are often awful. If you can't tell the difference between it and a half decent sound card, then good for you, not everyone is so lucky.

Oh, and for those who are interested in ABX tests, check out ABXer (http://emptymusic.com/software/ABXer.html)

Exactly why ABX tests need to be done. Awful is stretching by far, the analog output put is just fine.

Jolly Jimmy
Aug 30, 2011, 10:19 AM
Exactly why ABX tests need to be done. Awful is stretching by far, the analog output put is just fine.

Yes, we have established that you find them adequate. Good for you. That does not mean that everyone who doesn't is imagining things. And I am quite familiar with ABX tests.

treestar
Aug 30, 2011, 10:20 AM
Use an external DAC.

pizzafordinna
Aug 30, 2011, 10:06 PM
I feel like these posts are more of a sudden information overload than useful. The bottom line is that there are many ways to get better sound quality than your getting right now and lots of different options of where to plug in from. You're probably going to need to do some research on 1) the different ports that your sound can stream from 2) different types of sound components (wires, amps, headphones etc.) 3) Cost vs. quality of sound products. all of this is stuff you can google. taking the time to research these options will give you a much better understanding of your final purchases and will help you make better sense of all the different posts.

I prefer headphones myself. I just plug straight into the computer with headphones and the sound quality is good to jam to.

http://www.headphone.com/index.php this is a good site to look at different headphones and get quality reviews of them.

mroddjob
Aug 31, 2011, 04:04 AM
I feel like these posts are more of a sudden information overload than useful. The bottom line is that there are many ways to get better sound quality than your getting right now and lots of different options of where to plug in from. You're probably going to need to do some research on 1) the different ports that your sound can stream from 2) different types of sound components (wires, amps, headphones etc.) 3) Cost vs. quality of sound products. all of this is stuff you can google. taking the time to research these options will give you a much better understanding of your final purchases and will help you make better sense of all the different posts.

I prefer headphones myself. I just plug straight into the computer with headphones and the sound quality is good to jam to.

http://www.headphone.com/index.php this is a good site to look at different headphones and get quality reviews of them.

+1 Are you currently just plugging the mac output into your logitech 5.1 speaker system? I haven't used many 5.1 systems (stereo all the way for me :D) but if you plug in a stereo source into a 5.1 system would you not get weird cancellations and dead spots all over the place with the same audio coming out of front and rear speakers?
I agree with the above posts saying try with some good quality headphones, see if you can borrow a pair from a friend or buy some from a store that will let you return them if you still don't like the sound. This might give you more information as to whether the sound out of the headphones jack is actually bad.
The next option and the cheapest would be to buy a toslink cable to connect to your 5.1 system, i think this will let you output 5.1 from the mini.

Swampthing
Sep 1, 2011, 06:00 PM
Thanks for all the continued advice. I see a number of comments that the analog 3.5mm output from the mac mini also serves as a optical output. Given that, would the following device provide much better 5.1 sound?

Cables To Go 27017 Velocity Toslink-to-Optical Mini Plug Digital Cable (3 Mete... http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0002JFN1K/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_83ayob1CWA4QY via @amazon

Jolly Jimmy
Sep 1, 2011, 06:04 PM
If you have a receiver that accepts a digital input then using the optical out on your Mac is the best option.

Uofmtiger
Sep 2, 2011, 01:39 PM
As was mentioned, the best way to do it with your current setup is to send digital out to the logitech speaker controller.

ChrisA
Sep 2, 2011, 09:14 PM
Thanks for the hardware solution! I checked out the Behringer website and note there is a U-Control 202 and U-Control 222, but can't see any difference other than color.
.

If your ears are so good that you can hear defects in a current production Mac's built-in audio interface, then you will not like either of those Behringer products nor likely ANY Behringer product. Both of those are a serious downgrade from the built-in audio.

You need to be looking at some of the better products by respected companies. MOTU, Presonus, Apoge and others make some pretty good stuff

ChrisA
Sep 2, 2011, 09:30 PM
+1 Are you currently just plugging the mac output into your logitech 5.1 speaker system? I haven't used many 5.1 systems (stereo all the way for me :D) but if you plug in a stereo source into a 5.1 system would you not get weird cancellations and dead spots all over the place with the same audio coming out of front and rear speakers?.

It's worse then that. He complains about the quality of a Mac built-in audio then the buys Logitec "multi media speakers?" What's the point?

Speakers are the most important part of the system by far. Why worry about which D/A converter is inside the computer only to play music through plastic speaker sold at Walmart?

The goal should be "balance" If you are looking to move up a step then you should move all parts of the system up a step that is the same height.

BTW: if you need some mid range quality speakers that a=really aren't bad for the price MAudio just reduced the price of their BX8a by $200

look here. Not a bad deal
http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/BX8aDeluxe.

I have one of these audio interfaces on my iMac. I like the sound. The headphone amp is pretty good to, better then most dedicated headphone amps, I think.
http://www.presonus.com/products/detail.aspx?productid=4

Swampthing
Sep 7, 2011, 04:41 AM
I guess you've never heard sound from the Logitech Z-5500's since you equate them with the standard multimedia computer speakers on office desktops. They are a full-range 5.1 system with excellent bass.

They are still listed on Maximum PC's website as Best of the Best Speaker system for a PC seven years after they were introduced earning the Kick-Ass Award and a 10 rating.

http://www.maximumpc.com/article/Logitech-Z-5500-Digital

$200, eh? Try again: http://www.amazon.com/Logitech-THX-Certified-Digital-Surround-Speaker/dp/B0002WPSBC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1315388719&sr=8-1

Something to keep in mind: It always pays to research before posting from the hip...

ironsienna
Sep 7, 2011, 06:24 AM
I guess you've never heard sound from the Logitech Z-5500's since you equate them with the standard multimedia computer speakers on office desktops.

The 5500 are bass oriented movie speakers that produce terrible music. I suppose you have never heard of something better and you have just set them as your benchmark. I had them for a couple of years before their control unit fail (a very common problem on 5500). I had a huge sub sitting out by my garbage for a month before the garbage guys decided to collect it.

They sound clean for movie listening and they reach deafening levels, especially when pushed to overdrive mode. But.. their 10% DHT is absolute crap. You can hear the distortion on higher levels far before you smell the sub (and oh boy it really stinks).

As for music listening they fail to reproduce *ANY* micro details. Their sound is plastic and it lacks emotion. I am not trying to compare their sound with some ultra high audiophiles speakers. (well even if I wanted I couldn't as it is like comparing pineapples to pines). If you have no clue on what good sound is and you buy these speakers to upgrade your regular desktop speakers, of course you will find a huge improvement. But they ultimately can't be placed in any other category than plastic computer speakers.

They served me well during my teenage years, and will be appreciated by bass head teenagers that want to break all the glass from the kitchen rack of their neighbours and loose a 5% of their hearing but other than that they fail to be considered as a good sound reproduction system.

Swampthing
Sep 7, 2011, 03:25 PM
What kind of sound card were you using with them? They sound amazingly good with a Creative X-Fi Titanium.

Check out the comments on the Maximum PC posting; your opinion seems to be in a small minority of users. Most find them tremendous, so maybe it was your *personal* computer setup.

ironsienna
Sep 7, 2011, 04:06 PM
What kind of sound card were you using with them? They sound amazingly good with a Creative X-Fi Titanium.

Check out the comments on the Maximum PC posting; your opinion seems to be in a small minority of users. Most find them tremendous, so maybe it was your *personal* computer setup.

I used a hotrodded x-fi. I actually burned my first one trying to change the opamps and to put a blackgate bipolar capacitor of the size of a lighter. Here is the tutorial I followed about four years ago:
http://www.head-fi.org/t/226975/hotrodding-the-x-fi-a-layman-s-guide-no-56k. In the end the mod worked and I indeed found sound improvement as the sound became sweeter. After that I shortly used them with a Russ Andrews DAC 1. When I bought my Sennheiser 650 I realised what good music reproduction means. After using various speakers, my speaker journey has ended when I realised where this fine line that separates good music reproduction from art relies, with these marvels: http://www.6moons.com/audioreviews/tidal/piano.html

I can understand that most of the people find them tremendous, as I did when I bought them. Most of the people that buy them though are not aware of really good sound reproduction. They just compare them with their previous $20 desktop speakers and it's logical to rave for their quality. It is a rule in sound reproduction that until one hears something better, one believes that nothing better exists. The truth is that these speakers are expensive because you pay for the 5.1 (most of the times useless after a couple of years) decoder and the huge sub. Not to mention the branding and the packaging. For half a grant you can find much much better music reproduction if you don't need a) Insanely loud sound, b) Bass that will set a wind turbine in motion c) 5.1 decoding.

Also the price you are mentioning in your previous post is really extreme. You can find them for far less:
http://www.jmartdigital.co.uk/item/pc-speakers/logitech-z5500-digital-pc-multimedia-home-theatre-speaker-system-505-watt-total

For a good and cheap 5.1 system I suggest a basic used decoder from ebay and a set of 5 used two-way shelf speakers with good drivers (Dayton, Scanspeak, e.t.c). From the point that you enjoy yours though, I hope you continue to enjoy them for a long time. Just use the optical out of your macmini with any cable. Forget about the crappy crystalliser. The only thing it does is to add distortion to the sound. Because your speakers don't have tweeters, you think they sound better. In reality what it does is to make the treble more prominent with some psychoacoustic algorithm it uses, making the sound overall thinner and unrealistic. Just try to listen to lossless and HR music if you want further improvement in quality. Now, if you are desperate to listen to distorted music, you can always use the special effects of hear: http://download.cnet.com/Hear/3000-2170_4-191094.html It is a good alternative to crystalliser.