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Old Feb 13, 2013, 02:45 PM   #1
Paul Christian
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Air 13” + 27” TB Display - Audio + Video quality?

Hi all,

I’ve got a few questions regarding the combination of a Macbook Air 13 inch + The Thunderbolt display and I’d love to have your take on it.

Here’s a short intro:

I got my Macbook Air (13” base model + 8gb ram) in October… it’s awesome. By far the best computer I have ever had, and it being my first SSD plays a big part in that.
I was planning to get a new iMac as well, and ordered it the 28th of December. I’m still waiting though. I need a lager screen for some of my work and the 27” would be a perfect fit for this. Also the fact that I’d have two computers is an idea I love, because if one of them would crash or something, I could just switch over to the other one and continue my work.

Now that my iMac still hasn’t arrived I’m beginning to doubt my order. What if I would just buy a new 27” Display when it comes out (should be any day now…), and just attach that to my Air? Would I loose anything compared to the iMac I ordered?

These are my two questions:

- How is the audio quality (over external speakers) of the Macbook air, compared to the iMac? Some part of me thinks I just can’t be as good… I mean… it’s such a small space in the Air… they can’t put a full quality sound card in there can they?

- Can a tiny 13” Air really drive a 2560 x 1440 display effortlessly? Like 60 fps when scrolling (as an example)? I mean, does all that graphical power have to come from that tiny Air? Maybe someone could shed a light on this… I don’t use it to play games… I am a designer though, so I spend most of my time in the Adobe Suite…

I anybody could help me get a little insight in these questions it’d be awesome.

The combination of the 13” Air + a 27”Display really attracts me. Its simple, clean, mobile and… quite minimal which I like. Also, this new iMac kind of bothers me and I haven’t even received it…. Ordering a 250,- (euro) fusion drive just to get an SSD in there… waiting for 7 weeks (and counting) and the fact that a Display would be less then half the cost…

Any insight or help would be greatly appreciated,

Thanks!
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Old Feb 13, 2013, 04:22 PM   #2
jmoore5196
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I'm doing just that with a base 13" MBA and a TBD. The display speaker isn't the be-all of the audio world; I bought a TwelveSouth Bassjump 2 which helps.

The MBA has no problems driving the display for high-end design and photo work.

All told, this is probably the most elegant solution I've ever had. The two just mesh perfectly, as they should. I've no idea how more demanding users would feel, but this is a winning combination for me and I actually prefer it to my QC i7 27" iMac.
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Old Feb 13, 2013, 05:27 PM   #3
jonfarr
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I have a TD hooked up to my new iMac but before it showed up I was using it on my base 13" MBA 4GB Ram and it worked just fine driving the display. The audio is fine on the display, but I still prefer an actual 2.1 speaker setup for more kick.
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Old Feb 13, 2013, 05:56 PM   #4
rekhyt
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Wondering the same thing but for the 11".
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Old Feb 13, 2013, 06:04 PM   #5
IGregory
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul Christian View Post
I’ve got a few questions regarding the combination of a Macbook Air 13 inch + The Thunderbolt display and I’d love to have your take on it.
Here's a Youtube review of the Mid-2011 Macbook Air with the Thunderbolt Display. The 2013 should work even better.

Engadget review about sound:

"The Air's speakers push out surprisingly loud sound for such a petite machine, though the quality isn't anything to write home about. Across various genres -- classic rock, pop, hip hop -- songs sound pleasant, though, as with most laptops, you'll still want to pair it with external speakers or maybe a Jambox to unlock a wider soundstage."

The Verge comment on sound.

"I've long been impressed with the MacBook Air's internal speakers: they're not the highest-fidelity drivers you'll ever hear, but they're pleasantly loud and sound is clear and crisp. On the new model, the speakers have been slightly improved. Highs and lows are still clipped a bit (that's why I still recommend a good set of external speakers) but mids are richer and fuller than ever. If you like bass-heavy music, though, you're still out of luck."
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Last edited by IGregory; Feb 13, 2013 at 06:48 PM. Reason: Added The Verge and Engadget Review
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Old Feb 14, 2013, 02:38 AM   #6
Paul Christian
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Thanks for all the reply's guys! I just found a review vid that shed some doubt on the video performance though. If this guy is right, this is exactly why I posted my questions... http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature...xvkqF5I#t=482s

At 8 min he talks about some laggy transitions when scaling window sizes which is exactly what I was woried about. Now, he does use an older model then my Air, but still... It makes me a bit suspicious.

I am hoping that Apple will build in dedicated GPU in the next display though... it seems like a logical step... it takes the effort away from the smaller Air's, and there's room for it...
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Old Feb 15, 2013, 01:03 AM   #7
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Although it sounds logical, it actually isn't to put in a dedicated GPU into their external monitors:

-It would raise prices, but at the price point it's already at, I guess this is moot.
-It would restrict Apple's lust for anorexic perfection because of power/heat concerns. As far as Apple cares, their preference > yours.
-Monitors typically have a longer usable life than GPUs, so while that GPU might be great for years 1-3, it'll really start showing its age by year 4-5, and even more so if you push it farther (of course this is all dependent on what you use that dedicated GPU for, but if you need one then high performance is probably a priority for you).

Anyway, the current Airs I believe are about 30-40% better GPU wise than the '11 Airs, and Haswell should offer a similar bump, so it can be a material difference.

I'm surprised no one has actually answered your question about the audio capabilities of the Air in terms of its ability to drive high quality external speakers. I'm not an audiophile, but from my (brief) research, it looks like it can drive decent 2.1 speakers without any issue.
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Old Feb 15, 2013, 04:37 AM   #8
Paul Christian
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Originally Posted by hkim1983 View Post
Although it sounds logical, it actually isn't to put in a dedicated GPU into their external monitors:

-It would raise prices, but at the price point it's already at, I guess this is moot.
-It would restrict Apple's lust for anorexic perfection because of power/heat concerns. As far as Apple cares, their preference > yours.
-Monitors typically have a longer usable life than GPUs, so while that GPU might be great for years 1-3, it'll really start showing its age by year 4-5, and even more so if you push it farther (of course this is all dependent on what you use that dedicated GPU for, but if you need one then high performance is probably a priority for you).

Anyway, the current Airs I believe are about 30-40% better GPU wise than the '11 Airs, and Haswell should offer a similar bump, so it can be a material difference.

I'm surprised no one has actually answered your question about the audio capabilities of the Air in terms of its ability to drive high quality external speakers. I'm not an audiophile, but from my (brief) research, it looks like it can drive decent 2.1 speakers without any issue.
Thanks for your response hkim1983,

Great points you have... I went to test the current TB Display at a local Apple reseller connected to an 11" air. I have to say I was impressed, however, with animations (Launchpad, resizing windows, maximizing windows an flicking through a huge audio library in iTunes) I definitely saw some lag. Even e little more then 'some', sadly. I thought this would be my ideal setup, but I have a feeling were 1/2 years away before this kind of a setup (with an Air) can compete with an iMac.
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Old Feb 15, 2013, 07:27 AM   #9
Brian Mage
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I use external speakers with my 2012 MBA. Sound is fantastic, but i put that down to the amp in the speakers. I imagine some passive speakers to fair less competitvley. I suppose this is always the case however, If you buy decent speakers, your MBA will sound killer.

I too am awaiting a refresh of the TBD for the same reasons you have listed above. I would love an iMac 27" but i can't justify £2k on a what would effectivley be a toy. My MBA is the workhorse now and goes everywhere and does everything. If you are not gaming or rendering videos, it sounds like the MBA + TBD is your solution. Stick some good speakers eitehr side of the display and your winning. (A HiFi systwem would alos work perfectly if you just run to the line-in socket)

my 2p

P.s. I doubt you'll experience display lag if you're using a 2012 MBA or better (Haswell - Est July)
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Old Feb 15, 2013, 08:03 AM   #10
durruti
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I'm not sure, but I think just maybe you are confused, or unaware of something.

The TB display has a 2.1 audio system in it that I believe run through the thunderbolt interface.

As for the sound quality from the MBA, it should be fine. Audio chips are quite small these days.
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Old Feb 15, 2013, 08:24 AM   #11
phr0ze
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Sound should be identical to an iMac. The sound is processed by the display, not the Air.

I used my 2011 MBA with the TB and I had no issues.
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Old Feb 15, 2013, 09:06 AM   #12
IGregory
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Originally Posted by durruti View Post
I'm not sure, but I think just maybe you are confused, or unaware of something.

The TB display has a 2.1 audio system in it that I believe run through the thunderbolt interface.

As for the sound quality from the MBA, it should be fine. Audio chips are quite small these days.
You are exactly right about the small chips. By comparison, I own a Sony Watchman mp3 player. Hooked up to my Klipsch Pro Media 2.1 sound system (BestBuy on sale $119) it sounds fantastic. But play the mp3 player without the speakers, the sound quality is reduced.

OP, I don't know how you intend to use your new laptop, whatever model, but if great sound is what you are looking for you need to invest in exterior speakers, preferably one with a sub woofer, to partner with whatever computer you buy. The system need not be expensive to significantly enhance the quality of the sound. I paid $51 for a cheap sound system at Staples with my Windows PC before moving over to Mac. The sound quality was great. I wouldn't be deterred by the smallness of the MBA 13. Today, great things comes in small packages. If you are near an Apple Store go in and comparison test the different MacBooks.
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Old Feb 15, 2013, 10:27 AM   #13
hkim1983
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About the speakers, I just want to note that if you want to get the most of a decent pair of speakers/headphones, you'll probably need a DAC/Amp, but for most people, this isn't necessary and the internal card driving speakers is just fine.
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Old Feb 15, 2013, 02:05 PM   #14
Paul Christian
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Thanks a lot for your awnsers and 2cents guys! Cleared a lot of things up.
I'm still leaning toward an 'Air 13" + iMac' setup now, after seeing the TB Display struggle a bit at the Apple store, and having two Apple computers isn't the worst thing , it's just not as 'minimal' as I'd like it to be.
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Old Feb 15, 2013, 03:40 PM   #15
entatlrg
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We have Mac Pros, iMacs, 11 and 13" Airs and a few ACD and TBD'S here. I personally use a 13" rMBP. How much lag are you talking about? That millisecond stutter you can get in photoshop for example or moving windows around?

You can once in a while see a stutter with the Air or rMBP hooked up to an Apple display. Buy guess what, you'll get it occasionally with the iMac or Mac Pro too.

For what the Air is it powers the TBD extremely well. I'd suggest you're maybe being excessively critical about the lag. Does it impede workflow or slow a person down, definitely not. We're a design company, the machines here get a good workout, couldn't be happier with how everything has performed for us.

PS: You're right though, nothing wrong with having an Air and an iMac
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Old Feb 15, 2013, 03:42 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by entatlrg View Post
We have Mac Pros, iMacs, 11 and 13" Airs and a few ACD and TBD'S here. I personally use a 13" rMBP. How much lag are you talking about? That millisecond stutter you can get in photoshop for example or moving windows around?

You can once in a while see a stutter with the Air or rMBP hooked up to an Apple display. Buy guess what, you'll get it occasionally with the iMac or Mac Pro too.

For what the Air is it powers the TBD extremely well. I'd suggest you're maybe being excessively critical about the lag. Does it impede workflow or slow a person down, definitely not. We're a design company, the machines here get a good workout, couldn't be happier with how everything has performed for us.
Not to torpedo the thread, but how are you finding the 13" vs the 15"?
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Old Feb 15, 2013, 03:47 PM   #17
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Not to torpedo the thread, but how are you finding the 13" vs the 15"?
I don't miss my 15rMBP at all. I type a lot on my lap and on the go and the 13" form factor is perfect for me.

If I was often typing at a desk, table or even laptop tray then the 15" would of been okay. Plus since the 15" doesn't display two pages side by side (in a large enough font) like my 17" did, I don't see much point in the 15" over the 13".
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Old Feb 16, 2013, 08:33 AM   #18
Paul Christian
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Originally Posted by entatlrg View Post
We have Mac Pros, iMacs, 11 and 13" Airs and a few ACD and TBD'S here. I personally use a 13" rMBP. How much lag are you talking about? That millisecond stutter you can get in photoshop for example or moving windows around?

You can once in a while see a stutter with the Air or rMBP hooked up to an Apple display. Buy guess what, you'll get it occasionally with the iMac or Mac Pro too.

For what the Air is it powers the TBD extremely well. I'd suggest you're maybe being excessively critical about the lag. Does it impede workflow or slow a person down, definitely not. We're a design company, the machines here get a good workout, couldn't be happier with how everything has performed for us.

PS: You're right though, nothing wrong with having an Air and an iMac
Thanks for your response. Well, lag isn't easily to define... but, lets say (in gaming terms) that I saw the fps go down to 10 fps or something (and lets say 30 fps is completely smooth), when resizing windows of safari. It's not a huge deal... definitely not for a normal person. But as you say. I am overly critical. I’m a perfectionist, and have a little bit of ocd :S. Great when qualities for my work as a designer. Very annoying when it comes to personal things, like buying a new comp
I want my Apple product to work fluently. All the time. No exceptions. Or I won’t buy it.
I wish I was a little softer on things like this though…. Life would be easier. But hey, its hard to chance character
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