High-end audio from iMac

Discussion in 'Mac Accessories' started by orangezorki, Sep 10, 2006.

  1. orangezorki macrumors 6502a

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    Aug 30, 2006
    #1
    Hello,

    I'm about to get a new mac - I was thinking of a mac pro, but with the 24" iMac I think I'll get that and save a huge chunk of money. If that's the case, I can afford to do what I have always wanted, which is to get a really good set of speakers for my computer - I've already got most of my CDs ripped in lossless anyhow, so I should hear the quality.

    At the moment I'm using a pair of Videologic Sirocco Spirits - actually quite good, and I'd have to make sure that the new solution was a vast improvement over them - maybe getting a subwoofer to add to them might be a better idea?

    I'm definitely looking for a very good 2.0 or 2.1 setup, no surround sound. But, I'm really hoping to get the audio out of the computer through the optical outputs, but I can't see any amplifiers with either SPDIF or optical ins. My other option would be a very good computer setup, but I get the impression that most are more about style than actual quality - I actually prefer two smart black boxes.

    Any ideas very welcome - or does anyone know of a better forum to discuss this?

    Thanks,

    David
     
  2. Neonguy macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2006
    #2
    You can't go wrong with the Harman Kardon SOUNDSTICK II. It's stylish and it have very good review on it. It also clear and match with your iMac. I have one myselft and the Sound especially with the SubWuffer is amazing. If you shop around online you can actually save money and get it for $100 not $169
     
  3. orangezorki thread starter macrumors 6502a

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    #3
    Maybe a more pertinent question is: just how good is the analog sound out from the iMac. All previous computers I've had (Mac and PC) have had mediocre sound outs that get interference. If the new iMacs are the same, then I need a DAC, but most, if not all stereo amps don't have one, so I'd then need a standalone one, and I have no idea how much I'd have to pay to get one that will be good enough for, say a $400 amp with similarly priced speakers.

    Any ideas?

    David
     
  4. mmmcheese macrumors 6502a

    mmmcheese

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    #4
    Most new amplifiers have optical in these days...even cheap surround amps. Also, if you get a surround amp, then you can take full advantage of surround content (DVDs, etc.)

    If you're going to spend more than $100, I wouldn't bother with PC speakers personally, I'd get a proper home amp/speaker (even if only get stereo for now)...that's just my opinion though (I've never really liked PC-oriented systems).
     
  5. OldCorpse macrumors 65816

    OldCorpse

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    #5
    I had a similar need, though for different reasons. I was editing a documentary in FCP, and I needed good quality monitors to work on the sound.

    After a lot of research, I bought studio reference monitors - the M-Audio BX8a. I got them for $399 through Amazon.

    The advantages of the M-Audio:

    1)Very neutral sound - minimal coloration... these are meant to be used in a recording studio after all, so they need to be as "objective" as possible

    2)Self-powered. Don't need amplifier.

    3)XLR inputs (as well as standard TRS).

    4)Volume controls on each speaker

    Having worked on them for several months, and listening to music on them through my mac, I have to say they are fantastic. In fact, for sheer power, they are overkill - I've seen them used in music venues, so it'll fill up any room you are in, no problem, great for a party, just hook them up to your mac, don't need an amp, and party time! You don't need that much power of course, but the fidelity and sound quality are excellent, and that's what counts. FWIW, I'm a bit of an audiophile, and I never use mp3 cause I can hear the awful quality... it's lossless all the way for me too.

    The one downside to the M-Audio BX8a is that they are quite large - may be a problem if you want to put them on a small computer desk. Though they are quite nice, with a nice little blue diode when powered up. Anyone who sees my setup is impressed with the speakers :)

    Here's a linky to read up:

    http://www.m-audio.com/products/en_us/StudiophileBX8a-main.html

    If you shop around you should get them forf about $400 (and I'm not associated with M-Audio in any way, just a satisfied customer).

    As to the sound on iMac - don't know, but if you are going to be doing serious music composition, you'll have to spring for an external soundcard eventually. Though, I have to say, I've seen plenty of folks just work with the onboard sound through the headphone jacks or usb, and have excellent results.
     
  6. Sesshi macrumors G3

    Sesshi

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    #6
    The ~$1,000 Benchmark DAC1 is a relatively low-cost DAC that has a digital input that's considerably immune to some of the bad things that crop up as part of the SPDIF digital interface used on most consumer audio equipment (as with the iMac).

    And you can pair it with something like the Genelec 8040A ($2,000/pair - not a bad deal for a very good speaker + amp)in white for a minimalist, room-filling internally amplified speaker solution which means all you need is the DAC1 and the speakers. The Genelecs retain the true-to-original nature that's necessary in monitoring, but they can be very entertaining in their own right.

    It's hard to know what people mean by High-end, but this is a start.
     
  7. orangezorki thread starter macrumors 6502a

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    #7

    Wow - I'm always impressed with someone who is prepared to splurge for the quality, and my searches have actually come up with that DAC, but unfortunately it costs just about my entire audio budget!

    I've found a decent-looking (new) DAC on eBay for about $200 - the Beresford TC-7510. Now all I have to do is search through the mire of amplifiers and speakers. Is there any way of getting an idea of what will work well with what without having to listen to them all?

    Thanks,

    David
     
  8. Sesshi macrumors G3

    Sesshi

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    #8
    If we assume sub-$1,000 as your budget you can get yourself a very decent setup especially if you consider the used ebay / audiogon / audio forums route.

    DAC1's have established a reputation in both pro audio and hi-fi circles, so it comes up fairly regularly and you should be able to buy one along with a new monitor (used DAC is fine with the usual caveats, but personally I'd be leery of used monitors) in the $300 range such as the BX8a previously mentioned for an even grand.

    This way you'll have something which sounds pretty good now, and should you want to upgrade the DAC1 will support significantly better speakers in the future. The problem with a low-end DAC is that it may not be significantly better than feeding your speakers direct from the analog output of the iMac. One low-cost DAC however which does have good reviews is the $300 Headroom Micro DAC. It benefits from very recent technology as well as a USB input.

    Another alternative is a pro soundcard which will bypass the analog and digital audio on the Mac and to connect that to a pair of powered monitors. There are many options, but I'm quite partial to the Firewire-connected Focusrite Saffire, budget/function-wise for the $300 LE version which handles both 2 and 5.1 sound, has excellent audio and will mate well with with a decent pair of powered monitors.

    Hope all that helps.
     
  9. orangezorki thread starter macrumors 6502a

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    Aug 30, 2006
    #9
    Looks like I will be getting the DAC I mentioned, because all the options that Sesshi suggested are very expensive here in the UK - the cheap Saffire is the equivilent of $500! and the Headroom would have to be shipped from the USA, so would cost up to $100 to send. Anyhow, the one I found does use Burr-Brown chips, and the mentions I've seen on the net seem favourable.

    As for the amp and speakers, I'm really too unsure to buy over eBay - I don't get to listen, and there is no return option. Because they're probably the cheapest to find here in the UK, I'm gravitating towards a Cambridge Audio 540 or 640 amp, and either Maudant Short 902i or Wharfdale Diamond 9.1 speakers - anyone know if any of those are a really bad buy for what I will be using them for?

    Thanks,

    David
     
  10. Sesshi macrumors G3

    Sesshi

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    #10
    Uuuuuuuuuurgh.

    I see. So it's actually a ~500 quid budget. It is extremely annoying isn't it that a lot of stuff tends to be pretty much on a parity dollar for pound when the pound is so much stronger. OK, well that gets more restrictive - and we're now firmly in Mid-Fi territory, not high-end ;) :p

    If you've got friends in the States who can send things to you that would cut down significantly on shipping / VAT charges for small items. Worth considering if you do have relatives / mates / etc.

    I'll drop by this thread again if I think of anything.
     
  11. orangezorki thread starter macrumors 6502a

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    Aug 30, 2006
    #11
    Nuts! I was trying to do the decent thing and use $ as the most common currency on these forums, but actually all I managed to do was confuse someone who probably lives next door to me...

    It's Richer sounds I'm thinking of getting the stuff from at the moment, but I'd be glad of any better suggestions as I'm always wary of 'chain' stores (Is it fair to lump them in with PC World, Jessops...?)

    David
     
  12. LittleButterfly macrumors newbie

    LittleButterfly

    Joined:
    Aug 15, 2006
    #12
    iMac speakers?

    I just odered a 24" iMac, with all the bells and whistles. (Yippeee-:D my first new iMac in 5 years!) I was told by the salesman that the standard built-in speakers are pretty good, particularly if I'm just using them for listening to music while working on my computer. I also ordered a wireless mouse and keyboard to reduce desk clutter, so I'd perfer not to have speaker wires to contend with. Has anyone received their new 24" iMacs yet, and have a comment about how they sound?

    Also, I have a HP All-in-one Printer/fax/scanner which ALWAYS screws up. Maybe they all do. I can get $100 off another printer with this deal. Anyone have recommedations? Muchas Gracias...:)
     
  13. Greenjeens macrumors regular

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    Aug 25, 2005
    Location:
    California
    #13
    Using "real" powered monitor speakers. Direct USB input receivers?

    I'd vote for the M-Audio or some similar type of quality bookshelf speaker.
    Never noticed the pro music type gear before, perhaps it just doesn't get mass marketed outside of musician/recording circles. I believe there is much better quality for the price, simply because the price gets marked up so much for consumer audio.
    Musicians seem to have completely different buying channels for equipment and especially monitor speakers, that seem perfect for setting up close to, in a similar way as computer speakers. Known as "near field" monitoring. Many of these musicians/recording type monitors are self powered just like computer speakers, but are much higher quality and have much larger amps.

    I'm betting there is a lot more bang for the buck in these studio monitors than the average, or even very good "computer speakers". Probably on par with some audiophile speakers.
    I doubt the critical ears of sound mixing musicians would put up with poor quality playback equipment. I also suspect musicians won't overpay for their listening tools either.

    Size of the speaker cones and the cabinet to mount them, does matter and there are standard speaker configurations that work better to recreate sound. Making tiny speakers is the result of consumer asthetics and not better engineering.
    A sub woofer would be an important addition to any satellites, although not absolutely required for acoustic music.

    Check out the various monitors available. Looks like a bargain considering there are no amplifiers required. My "cheap" M&K 1600 speakers listed at $500 each and they didn't include amplifiers, let alone biamping, which uses separate amps for each driver. If someone had even told me about the option of using "real" studio monitors, when I was computer speaker shopping, I would certainly have given them a listen.

    http://www.samedaymusic.com/browse--Active-Powered-Studio-Monitors--2864

    Another idea would be to upgrade the sound card. M-audio, Edirol, etc have better DAC cards. But what about bypassing the sound card and feeding the audio through USB directly into a stereo? THe D/A converter would still be important, and one would probably have to buy higher up the line to get a receiver with a better sound. Just looks like an interesting option for a plug and play set up for unpowered speakers.

    http://www.jvc.com/product.jsp?modelId=MODL027461&pathId=5&page=1
    Audio/Video Control Receiver
    RX-D702B $829 US

    http://www.crutchfield.com/S-l1lAU4...p?g=10420&tab=essential_info&i=257RXD205S#Tab

    JVC RX-D205S $199 USD
    Home theater receiver with USB input for PC audio

    "You also get a USB port for making an easy digital audio connection from your computer. Just hook up your PC or Mac to the 'D205S with a USB cable. Then you can use almost any music software, including iTunes and Windows Media Player, to play back the music files on your hard drive through all of your home theater speakers.
    USB input allows a digital audio connection from your PC or Mac"

    -
    Greenjeens
     
  14. orangezorki thread starter macrumors 6502a

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    Aug 30, 2006
    #14
    So would it be a mistake to use standard Hi-Fi speakers as computer speakers, only a few feet away from me, either side of the 24" iMac?

    David
     
  15. Greenjeens macrumors regular

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    Location:
    California
    #15
    I'm not an expert, and this is just a genralization, but many/most? home speakers were designed to be listened to from across the room and not a few feet away, like a nearfield monitor. I suspect that those tweeters could sound too loud, since they were designed to fill a larger listening area. High frequencies are easily absorbed most easily by the surroundings in the average living room, an environment that nearfield monitors would not be designed to play in.

    I've found some speakers, specifically the high end characteristics from the type of tweeter used, which sound articulate and "tinkely", can also lead to "earburn" at higher sound levels or after prolonged listening. Nearfield monitors seemed to be designed for prolonged listening without the ear fatigue which _may_ occur with regular speakers.


    Although lacking in that crisp, tinkely sound, that can sound exciting at first, soft dome/silk tweeters generally sound much smoother and can be listened to at higher volumes for extended length, without causing earburn. Most of the studio monitors seem to use silk/soft dome tweeters, for this reason.

    Try and listen in real life to various recomended speakers, close up, and notice how they sound. Reading the comments from pro users and owners is also helpful.
    -
    Greenejeens
     
  16. orangezorki thread starter macrumors 6502a

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    #16
    Another idea I've had is the Sonic Impact super T-amp: it's really cheap, and has had reviews comparing it with amps costing more than $1000. Anyone have any suggestions for what speakers to pair one with?

    Thanks,

    David
     
  17. OldCorpse macrumors 65816

    OldCorpse

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    #17
    There are many reasons why I think in your situation, you should really spring for studio reference monitors (such as the M-Audio ones I mentioned).

    First, they are designed to give you optimal near-field sound profile. This means, you can set them anywhere from a couple of feet to several feet away from where you sit, and you'll hear what the sound engineer/producer intended for you to hear. With regular room speakers, high-end audiophile or not, this is NOT the case - those speakers are meant to be heard from across the room. The studio monitors are used in music studios and editing suites - this is what would be closest to your needs when they are hooked up to your computer, this is how you'll be listening to them... not across the room! What is particularly important with near-field speakers, is that they are not tiring to listen to - which is what would happen if you listened to even high-quality audiophile speakers at close (computer screen) range. I have used many speakers, and I listen to tons of music, so I know from experience that there's nothing worse than speakers which tire your ears.

    Second, the sound is neutral, meant to give sound engineers/producers a reference. Thus they give you a far more balanced and "objective" sound. Consumer speakers often artifically emphasize the mid-range which muddies the sound, especially at close range... or small speakers exaggerate the high-end, which quickly exhausts your hearing. Studio reference monitors give you high quality, neutral balanced sound.

    Third, purely practically, what's great is that they are self-powered. No need for an amp, which not only saves you money but spares you having to hunt for an amp that matches the sound profile of your speaker... this is designed right into the studio monitors. Besides, I really don't see what you gain by having to get an amp - no improvement in sound, merely additional expense, hassle and difficulties.

    Now, the M-Audio are not the only powered studio monitors, but for the price their quality is excellent... beating out many much higher priced speakers. You'd have to go to at least $1000 per speaker to start competing with them... I can think of one other for a similar price point, the Yorkville YSM1P, also around $400-$500, which are comparable in quality to the M-Audio BX8a. I believe the Yorkvilles should be readlily available in rip off Britain :)
     
  18. Sesshi macrumors G3

    Sesshi

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    #18

    I've got one (under a thick film of dust) and I have to say that some people get overexcited about things because they're so cheap. It gives very acceptable results for sure, but so can the amps built into a pair of good studio monitors. It's only a 'giant-killer' in the sense of putting the more poorly designed and mediocre high-end products on the market (which are nevertheless raved over by said same people) in their place.

    As Oldcorpse said, the sonic balance for speakers which are intended to be close to you is better handled by using studio monitors. I will throw in a recommendation for the small Genelecs since they're the monitor manufacturers of my choice. I own a pair of the 8050A's and recently picked up the 8030A - £600/pair - as a nearfield listening speaker for one of my computers, and it's surprisingly capable for it's size. The 8020A is £400/pair but I haven't heard that one. Do so if you can, call up a Genelec dealer and see if they can demo them to you. Failing that I do like the M-Audio monitors which provide excellent bang for the buck even in the UK. I'd suggest just first hooking them up directly to the analog outputs of the Mac and see how you feel about it. If you want to go for better quality, then get a separate soundcard or DAC.
     
  19. PaulinMaryland macrumors regular

    PaulinMaryland

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    Maryland, USA
    #19
    Other powered monitors in the same class of size, power, sound quality, build quality, and price as the M-Audio:

    • Alesis M1 520.
      This review​
      says they sound much better than the BX5As.
    • Event Technologies TR5
    • Mackie Tapco S5
    • Roland DS5
    • Samson Resolv 50A

      Me? Since about 1996 I've been using Event Technologies' original powered near-field monitors, the 20/20bas. These are overkill for typical use; they're designed for studios. However, after I rotated their rear master volume knobs to get more gain, I blew the right speaker. I'm now ready to sell the remaining speaker. I'll probaby replace them with a used, top-end multimedia 2.1, 4.1, or 5.1 system from Logitech or Klipsch. I won't be using the rear speakers, but by getting a 4.1, I step up to a larger subwoofer and more power per satellite; and if I get 5.1, I can have the center speaker, which provides the dialogue when watching a DVD movie.
     
  20. orangezorki thread starter macrumors 6502a

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    #20
    OK, now I'm really confused. Is there anywhere online, or any magazines that compares and reviews both monitor and Hi-Fi speakers? The thing is, this will also be my Hi-Fi, so should sound good both from 3 foot away and 15 foot away.

    David

    EDIT: I'd also have to say that they are definitely not for music creation, they are for high quality listening to my CDs, ripped in iTunes in Apple Lossless Codec. So, I'm not after a clinically precise sound, just a very good and entertaining one. However, I'm not after the booming bass that seems to be trendy in consumer electronics, so they may be one and the same thing.
     
  21. OldCorpse macrumors 65816

    OldCorpse

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    #21
    A big part of why near-field monitors are so useful, is precisely that you can listen to them from a short as well as longer distance... an option that you don't have with ordinary Hi-Fi speakers.

    In answer to your question, yes, a good set of self-powered speakers will easily fill a room. For example, here in Los Angeles, I've seen the M-Audio BX8as in all sorts of ways: there's a trendy clothes store near where I live, with a live DJ, and he uses the BX8as... no problem filling out the whole store and actually spilling out into the street... and they sounds awesome!

    Key thing to remember though is that there are other more important factors when it comes to the speakers... room placement for example. You can take fantastic $100K speakers and they'll sound worse in almost any room that's not specially designed for a good listening experience. Is your room acoustically prepared? If you live in it, the answer is most likely not - unless you live in a mansion with a dedicated concert room. That is one enormous advantage of near-field speakers - you get to hear the sound with less interference from the rest of the room which you can't do with ordinary Hi-Fi speakers.

    You ask for a comparison between Hi-Fi and studio monitors... let me tell you, for most intents and purposes your room will be 95% of the difference. Which is why I prefer to go with near-field.

    Edit:

    PaulinMaryland, that's not exactly a review, it's a 1-2 sentence user feedback from random strangers on Zzsounds... hardly a rigorous comparison between two speakers... besides, the user compared Alesis to B5Xa speakers - which is a totally different animal from the BX8a speakers we were talking about... different price points and different class of speaker, apples and oranges.
     
  22. Sesshi macrumors G3

    Sesshi

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    #22
    You've summed it up nicely. Most monitors aren't clinical, but they don't have the 'badoom' effect that crappy 2.0 and 2.1 speakers seem to be tuned for these days.
     
  23. orangezorki thread starter macrumors 6502a

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    #23
    Ok, my thoughts are beginning to crystalise, but of course this is subject to listening at stores.

    Getting the Super T-amp would allow me to get much better speakers. I'd be looking either at B&W or Monitor Audio Silver. But I can't help thinking that maybe a more expensive Cambridge Audio amp would be better. Anyone care to put my mind at rest or otherwise?

    Thanks,

    David
     
  24. Sesshi macrumors G3

    Sesshi

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    #24
    If you must go for the T-amp, examine its specs and the speakers you're picking carefully. The T and Super T-amp provides 15wpc into a 4 ohm load, or 6 watts into an 8 ohm load - and requires very efficient speakers.
     
  25. orangezorki thread starter macrumors 6502a

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    #25
    Is 89 or 90dB enough?
     

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