Mac Pro Audio Capabilities

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by Tom Scrace, Aug 24, 2006.

  1. Tom Scrace macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2006
    #1
    Hi,

    I am looking at buying one of the new Mac Pros in the next month or two and was wondering about their sound reproduction hardware. With my next computer I want to be able to connect to my (reasonably decent) amplifier and speakers to produce good quality sound (mostly for the purposes of listening to my collection of classical music which I have ripped as Apple Lossless files).

    I have been unable to find much information about the quality of the sound that these computers will be able to create. Will they produce 'hi-fi'-quality sound in their default configuration or will I need to purchase a 3rd-party sound card, DAC or other hardware to get the best out of my hi-fi equipment?

    My priority here is simply the quality of the sound. I would very much appreciate any advice as to whether the mac pro will be able to act as a high-fidelity substitute for a separates CD player.

    Thanks for your help in advance.

    Tom
     
  2. portent macrumors 6502a

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    #2
  3. cabasner macrumors member

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    Oct 9, 2005
    #3
    Tom,

    Great question! I'm a soon to be Mac Pro owner, and I would like to know how to set up a great audio system off the Mac. I read the specs that portent pointed to, but I'd like to know what that information does for me. When it comes to hardware of this nature, I'm a total idiot.

    I keep looking at the 'standard' "computer" speakers and surround sound that everyone talks about (like Logitech, etc.), but those systems, with their surround sound stuff doesn't interest me. I'm sure they are fine, but not real audiophile stuff. I plan to do a little playing with Garageband, and want a simple stereo speaker setup (with a subwoofer) with a LOT of power, and be able to use the Mac to drive that system. No one ever seems to talk about true hi fidelity stuff with respect to output.

    How would one use that optical output for input to a 'good' stereo sound system? Any help would be appreciated!
     
  4. killr_b macrumors 6502a

    killr_b

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    Oct 21, 2005
    Location:
    Suckerfornia
    #4
    I like M-audio lately. They work on products for garageband and logic, and of course protools.

    They have surround sound pci cards, but I don't know if they are macintel ready yet... my sig is a lie for the next two weeks while I wait for my Mac Pro. I'm sure all their stuff will be universal eventually, if it isn't already.

    Visit m-audio here.
     
  5. Grimace macrumors 68040

    Grimace

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    with Hamburglar.
    #5
    It's pretty simple actually. The Mac Pro doesn't power anything. The receiver/amp does that. The MP has an optical in and optical out. Plug a toslink optical cable from the MP to a decent receiver, then that powers your speakers.

    If you are going with a non-multichannel setup via the 1/8" headphone out jack, you'll connect those directly to the speakers or subwoofer. The optical out to receiver option is by far the best.
     
  6. FFTT macrumors 68030

    FFTT

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    #6
  7. Tom Scrace thread starter macrumors newbie

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    Aug 24, 2006
    #7
    Thanks for all the great advice and links guys. I'm at work at the moment so I'll have to wait until this evening to look through it all, but in the meantime thank you!

    Cabasner - I have sort of similar requirements to you in that I'm not really interested in surround sound. I just want two channels (although I might add a sub at some point).

    I figured that the Mac Pro must have pretty good onboard audio, given that they will probably be used by audio pros but I find it odd that Apple never makes a big deal of these features in its marketing.
     
  8. FFTT macrumors 68030

    FFTT

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    #8
  9. hal0n macrumors regular

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    Dec 27, 2004
    #9
    I have some pretty decent hifi gear and the stock onboard audio leaves plenty to be desired. There are some products that can help with that though.. sound cards with better dacs should help a great deal (esp. if you ever want to get into hi-res material like dvd-a or sacd)..

    [​IMG]

    obviously the cats aren't helping the sound quality.
     
  10. Tom Scrace thread starter macrumors newbie

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    Aug 24, 2006
    #10
    OK - I've learned a lot! Thanks again everybody.

    I've looked at my Amp (a Rotel RA-05) and I don't think it has an Optical TosLink input so I can't simply run cable direct from the optical out to the amp. I could, I suppose, use the analogue out from the MP and connect to one of the aux inputs but this would involve using the MP's DAC, which I want to avoid.

    With this in mind I see my options as follows:

    1. Install a new PCIe sound card with a better DAC and connect to my amp using the aux input.

    2. Connect a better, external DAC to the MP's optical out and connect this to my amp through the aux in.

    Does anybody have any advice as to which of these two options would be better or any advice as to decent sound cards or DACs?

    I really don't want to spend more than £300 or £400 (about $750) at the most.

    Thanks again!
     
  11. Tom Scrace thread starter macrumors newbie

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    #11
  12. Greenjeens macrumors regular

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    Aug 25, 2005
    Location:
    California
    #12
    I've got my present G4 hooked up to M&K bookshelf size speakers and a 12" Velodyne sub. Sounds great. I can only fantasize about how I'm going to hook up my new Mac Pro!

    A couple of important things I've learned. The Toslink optical I/O my not be the best sound, but until someone can figure out a way to cut down on the computer interference noise, I'll plan on getting an external fire wire interface and pay the extra to get one with Toslink I/O connections in order to provide some electrical isolation between my Mac and the stereo sound system.
    Along with the external FW box usually there are some very nice heaphone preamps, for improved critical listening possiblities. The M-Box FW-410 looks promising, it's not the best sound and some people have trouble with the software, but it only costs around $200 US.
    Motu, Digidesign, M-Audio and Presonus, Edirol, Tascam, Apogee are some makers of the most popular external interfaces. Check out
    http://www.sweetwater.com/

    Amazon has some good prices and revues. Seems the waek link is the software. Some of the sw is just terrible for some users. Getting a stable user interface and sw that works with the current Mac OS is high on my list, no matter what the specs or prices, within reason!

    There are lots of others atttempting to get good sound as well as use advanced audio software for editing or mixing.

    Check out some of the Mac/audio forums, read up, check out all the reviews and then let me know what to get:)


    http://www.audioholics.com/
    http://www.hydrogenaudio.org/forums/index.php?act=idx

    http://forums.audioreview.com/forumdisplay.php?f=58

    Video
    http://forum.videohelp.com/viewforum.php?f=9

    One of the weak points I''ve run into, is the fan noise computer equipment makes, that can mask the subtle sounds that one can spend thousands of dollars trying to achieve. So, some way to isolate the computer from the listening area would be of value.

    I'll likley get a good quality consumer "digital" receiver and replace my seperate preamp and amps, problaby continuing to use a larger amp and the receiver as a front end only. The dedicated digital preamps seem to cost a fortune and don't get the price reductions that mass produced receivers get. Or they are marketed towards the high end and get a severe mark up in price. I'm sure the specs are better, and I/Os are in abundance, but well designed, modern, digital equipment is already so well engineered, I'd think it would be difficult to get really bad sounding gear? Especially since I will only need a few digital and analog connections.

    At the least, get some more expensive, well regarded speakers, even if it means splitting up the satellite/bookshelf and subwoofer purchase. With good speakers, any improvements in the audio chain will just make them sound better. Quality speakers will last a very long time and can provide thousands of hours of auriclular joy.

    I like M&K for the build and high output, reputation and smooth response, not to mention the 10 year warranty, which I had a chance to use. I burned up both woofers in a freak DC current event and they were fixed for free, including return shipping from M&K.

    Those who listen to more acoustic amd classical music seem to have other speaker favorites. B&W, Paradigm and the rest of the well recomended speakers are readily available, but i suggest a live audition to make sure your ears enjoy the way the speakers and sub reproduce particular music styles, avoiding any unexpected results. Purchasing from a store with a sound room can be a very sound investment.
    -
    Greenjeens
     
  13. FFTT macrumors 68030

    FFTT

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    Apr 17, 2004
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    A Stoned Throw From Ground Zero
    #13
    I would take a look at Apogee if you're really into superior AD/DA conversion.

    However before doing so, I'd drop by the nearest Apple Store for a sound demo
    by one of the associates who specializes in audio.
     
  14. hal0n macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2004
    #14
    I've heard nothing but bad reviews on the m-audio fw 410 for hi-fi processing. my brother has one for his mbp for recording that I'll try to snag for a couple of hours once my listening room is back up and running (moving, and it's the same room as my video edit station.. so it's the first room to get built)..

    i run 2 channel with the anthem (canadians, paradigm is the parent co) pre+amp in the pic to a pair for jmlab (focal drivers, infact the parent company is focal.. they are french, lol) speakers.

    [​IMG]

    It sounds pretty good for the budget that i was on. i even hand built those stands, lol.. 1/4" plate, 3" square stock, german brass spikes.. they weigh in at close to 40lbs each. I'm definitely going to be upgrading the DAC from the mac pro integrated to something much better. :cool:
     
  15. yvaeh macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Aug 26, 2006
    #15
    This is definately the way to go. A computer enclosure is electrically such a noisy environment, that if you are really interested in audio quality, you don't want to do anything analogue there. Best way is to get the signal optically to a separate unit for D/A conversion (coax is not a good choise, because it is too easy to get grounding problems).

    - henrik
     
  16. Tom Scrace thread starter macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2006
    #16
    I'm inclined to agree with this. In fact I'm starting to think that it would be best to use a DAC connected by USB or FireWire and bypass all the internal audio hardware altogether.

    FFTT, I looked at Apogee's stuff (particularly their Mini-DAC) but it looks a bit expensive for me. I want hi-fi quality sound but I'm not an audio pro so I think their stuff would me overkill for my needs.

    Greenjeans - thanks for the great links, I'll let you know what I ultimately decide. Right now though I'm strongly considering the Stereo-Link 1400HD (which connects using USB), although I'd like to find a few more reviews.

    If I went this route then my set up would look like this:

    Mac Pro ->(USB)-> Stereo-Link 1400HD ->(Line-level(Aux))-> Rotel RA-05 -> Mordaunt Short Avant 902i speakers.

    Tom
     
  17. FFTT macrumors 68030

    FFTT

    Joined:
    Apr 17, 2004
    Location:
    A Stoned Throw From Ground Zero
    #17
    I feel your pain.

    You should have more choices in audio cards as manufacturers clear our their
    PCI and PCI-X inventories and retool for PCI-e.

    You might also want to check out RME Audio.
    http://www.rme-audio.com/english/adi/adi2.htm
     

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