airport express digital to analogue converter

Discussion in 'Mac Accessories' started by whyrichard, Apr 7, 2007.

  1. whyrichard macrumors 68000

    Joined:
    Aug 15, 2002
    #1
    Hello airport express audiophiles,


    i have read that the digital output of the express is actually quite good....

    ... is there a digital to analogue converter that has rca outs that is recommended? smallish and not too expresiv?

    r.
     
  2. gr8tfly macrumors 603

    gr8tfly

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    ~119W 34N
    #2
    It has it's own D/A. Not sure you'll find much difference using an external one. You can get a RCA Y adapter and use the 3.5mm jack on the Express (mini-stereo to stereo RCA).

    If you have an amplifier with optical inputs, get a mini-TOSLINK to TOSLINK cable/adapter and go direct digital.

    Hope this helps.
     
  3. whyrichard thread starter macrumors 68000

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    Aug 15, 2002
    #3
    yeah... i already have an express that i use with the analogue audio signal to self powered monitor speakers....


    ... but i think i'm interested in upping the fidelity... the sound can be improved a good bit by using an aftermarket digital to analogue converter, with rca outs.... wondering if anyone uses their express this way...


    r.
     
  4. kolax macrumors G3

    kolax

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    Mar 20, 2007
    #4
    Waste of money...you won't notice any sound difference.
     
  5. daveL macrumors 68020

    daveL

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    Jun 18, 2003
    Location:
    Montana
    #5
    Ummm... The digital output sounds good *because it's digital* - it has not been put through a D/A conversion, which would degrade the quality to some extent. Simply taking the digital output and putting it through an external D/A converter doesn't buy you a damn thing - all you've done is replicate what's done internally in the Airport Express to provide the mini-stereo analog output.
     
  6. whyrichard thread starter macrumors 68000

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    Aug 15, 2002
    #6
    uhhhhh.....

    the quality of the digital to analogue converter matters the world. digital information is always digital information, but the conversion and then the pre-amplification is where the sound quality becomes audible, besides of course the bit rate and compression method.

    this discussion always takes place between "audiophiles" and people who are "less demanding of audio quality".

    my question comes down to things like:

    -does anyone have experience using an aftermarket digital-analogue converter with airport express?

    -what type of audio file (aac 128, aac 320, apple lossless, etc) has enough quality to be audible through a high end digital to analogue converter?


    this review is what sparked my question:
    http://www.stereophile.com/budgetcomponents/505apple/index.html

    i was wondering if anyone here at any high end audio experience with the airport express's digital out.

    but thank you for a mildly help(less) comment,

    r.
     
  7. FireArse macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Oct 29, 2004
    #7
    a quick question

    Just a quickie...

    I'm not an audiophile - but I have some experience with D/A converters. If you have say and MP3, isn't the loss of quality going to be mainly within the that original A->D (MP3) conversion? I may be mistaken, but I think on the scale of things - the loss within your AE would be insignificant when you're streaming an MP3.

    However, you do mention other audio formats - so perhaps you're streaming higher quality sound. In which case, there maybe a marginal increase in quality when you use an external D/A, but would this quality be worth the hassle? Only you and your trained ears can decide for you.

    I would the spend the money toward getting a refurb 12' PB myself :)

    'night
     
  8. kolax macrumors G3

    kolax

    Joined:
    Mar 20, 2007
    #8
    I'll say it again, you won't notice a difference.

    Yes you'll notice a difference between digital and analogue, but you won't hear anything different between the AE analogue output and converting the digital output to analogue yourself.

    Just pointless.

    If you are after good sound quality, get speakers and an amp that offer optical in.
     
  9. spyderracer393 macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Jan 8, 2006
    #9
    or just listen to good 'ol uncompressed music...like from a cd!:) Kilamite is correct, if you're looking for sound quality, it doesn't matter how good of a converter you have (which honestly won't make a difference) if you have ****** speakers and/or a ****** amp.

    If you have an 1080p HD TV, an expensive tube amp, but speakers that were $250 at radio shack...your system will sound like a set of $250 dollar speakers - same deal with D/A converters and compressed audio
     
  10. MacAnkka macrumors regular

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    Jun 30, 2006
    Location:
    Finland
    #10
    So you are saying that this won't give better results:
    AE->external good quality DAC->Amp->speakers

    than this:
    AE->AE's internal DAC->Amp->speakers

    I can understand that, some people won't really notice the difference, but then you proceed to say this:
    Isn't that a contradiction with what you already said? That kind of a setup would look like this:
    AE->Amp's internal DAC->AMP->Speakers

    What makes you think that the DAC in a good amplifier is always better than a good external DAC? Sure, with the amp's integrated DAC, you won't have to worry about the interconnects between the DAC and Amp, but that's not really significant if you use good quality interconnects.
     
  11. spyderracer393 macrumors regular

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    Jan 8, 2006
    #11

    The Amp wouldn't use a DAC because the signal is already Digital, becuase he would be using a Toslink Digital Optical audio cable...
     
  12. kolax macrumors G3

    kolax

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    Mar 20, 2007
    #12
    As said, you'd be using the optical output from the AE into the optical in of the amp, so no DAC required...
     
  13. MacAnkka macrumors regular

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    Finland
    #13
    And what do you think that amp is going to do with that digital signal? Magically make the ones and zeros more powerful and pass the digital signal to the speakers? You can't amplify a digital signal and a speaker is not a digital device. That digital signal has to be made analog at some point and that point is before the actual amp circuit!

    That "digital" amp is just a normal amp with a built in DAC, so could you PLEASE tell us how it is going to be so much better than using a good DAC+amp-combo!
     
  14. kolax macrumors G3

    kolax

    Joined:
    Mar 20, 2007
    #14
    Simply because it converts the digital signal all on a circuit board and then transfers this directly to the amp all on the motherboard.

    As opposed to having a cable going from the exteral DAC to the analogue input on the amp, which will pickup interference and other stuff.

    Why do you think optical is about apart from offering surround sound capabilities from a single cable...?
     
  15. tyson12zoll macrumors member

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2003
    #15
    The simple fact is that the DAC apple uses in the AirPort Express is not the highest quality you can achieve. I higher quality DAC used in a setup where you have very high end components and a very good quality signal could arguably sound better.
    Lots of people are using higher quality DACs with airport express...And just because you can't hear the difference on your bondi blue altec lansing speakers from 1998 doesn't mean come troll on this forum.
     
  16. MacAnkka macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Jun 30, 2006
    Location:
    Finland
    #16
    Let me just quote myself to answer that:
    Using good interconnects, the sound loss is insignificant. Especially if the other alternative is using the built-in DAC of a Airport Express.

    Because relying on the DAC of the source device isn't such a good idea:
    -A centralized DAC is far more cost effective if you have multiple devices than having a good quality DAC in every source device you have.
    -having a DAC seperate of the source allows people to buy a DAC that fits their needs best
    -Instead of having one optical wire going from every device you have to the amp, you would have 6 high-quality RCA-cables (or even more if you have 7.1 or similiar) going from every device to your amp (well, you mentioned that already in your post, sorry)

    edit: I STILL haven't heard a single good argument from you that would explain why there is no way to get better sound from the AE by using an external DAC, instead of relying on the AEs internal one.
     
  17. gr8tfly macrumors 603

    gr8tfly

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    Oct 29, 2006
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    ~119W 34N
    #17
    Here's someone who did an analysis of both the analog and digital output from the AE: http://www.stereophile.com/budgetcomponents/505apple/

    The upshot is it's d/a is very serviceable. Any distortion, noise, or non-linearity is subtle even compared to the author's high-end system (external DAC, amps, spkrs). Even a low end DAC (like from M-Audio, for instance) is going to cost more than the AE itself. To have any chance of hearing any difference between the internal a/d and an external one, you will need more than self-powered monitor speakers. The high resolution and sample rates (24-bit, 96KHz) on those is for maintaining the highest quality of the original instrument audio. By the time you get it in the final mix, it's already been downsampled to 16-bit, 44.1KHZ, PLUS any loss due to compression to MP3, AAC.
     
  18. whyrichard thread starter macrumors 68000

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    Aug 15, 2002
    #18


    AT LAST!!! USEFUL INFORMATION!



    and thanks for clarifying this to our scottish friend.


    r.
     
  19. stu-dio macrumors newbie

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    Apr 16, 2007
    #19
    I have my Airport express as 1) a wireless connection to an Airport Extreme base station and the internet (I made the mistake of getting a mac pro thinking my standard extreme card would work in it) and 2) as a digital sound path (via optical) to my Meridian 563 DAC that then goes to an Adcom GFA 555 power amp and onto a pair of Proac Studio 250s - and the sound is really something else. For those of you saying you cannot or will not hear a difference that is neither true or backed up. The AE's dac is a good one but when rigged up to a half decent amp and speakers you can really hear the difference and lack of quality. If you make the effort in getting it all right (very subjective I know) the AE is very useful. The recording makes another huge difference. So far the best and smallest I have heard is apple's lossless rip from itunes straight from cd. the file size difference for example can be huge - AAC=4mb and apple lossless 31mb for 1 track.
    Some people may be very happy with music coming straight out of AE, some people are not. Going down the decent external dac route does have some draw backs, and they are with poor recordings - they can make you go straight for the next button before your ears start bleeding. But with a good recording stored in a lossless format it can produce some really satisfying sound.
     
  20. stu-dio macrumors newbie

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    Apr 16, 2007
    #20
    I forgot to add - for those of you that care - the external dac and lossless format can give you a wider deeper sound-stage - with a real sharp focused sound. Most mp3's even at silly sampling rates and most AAC encoded stuff just seem flat and narrow compared to lossless and an external dac. I have really looked/heard long and hard into this and so far this is what works best for me. I used to think apple's music from the itunes store (AAC) was indistinguishable from cd - until I recently re-jigged my set-up to what I have described above. There is quite a substantial lack of quality to what you can get from a lossless rip from cd. (I am sidetracking from AE I know) but it's all connected.
     
  21. whyrichard thread starter macrumors 68000

    Joined:
    Aug 15, 2002
    #21
    thank you,


    this is exactly the experience i was hopeing to tap around here.... someone who's gone into external dac's with decent equipment to hear the results....


    -i've been ripping my cd's at 320 aac... is the difference huge with lossless?

    -and can you recommend an external dac to use with the express? in each price range? it has been difficult to find research on this....


    thanks,


    r.
     
  22. stu-dio macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2007
    #22
    well - I can't really tell you about a decent dac to buy - the Meridian I have I picked up for 200 GBP from a store closing down. It's only a 16bit dac, that being siad - I have had no need to update it all the 10 years I've had it.

    Lossless and AAC = I have found lossless picks up those fine transients and widens the soundstage - (you have probably ripped a lot of CDs at 320 I guess) but I would recommend ripping a comparison track 3 times - 1 at aiff 1 at apple lossless and the last at your current settings - it depends on your equipment and taste if you are going to hear a noticeable difference.

    Cables from your dac to the amp and from your amp to your speakers is another area to look at. I am using a solid silver cable from dac to power amp and I have 2 sets of speaker cable (Nordost Solar Wind solid silver cable - can be a bit bright) and Van Den hull Teatrack - the later is the one I stay with the most - I find you can listen for longer (?) I mean without getting tired.

    If you have to between cables (budget wise) the definitely go for solid silver interconnects from dac to amp - they make such a great difference - you can pick some up from ebay for around 40-70 quid.

    Hope this helps - I will post if I find anything else
     
  23. willmans macrumors newbie

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    Apr 17, 2007
    #23
    stu.dio Have you ever tried an Ack DAC?, I hear they are a good alternative to Meridian
     
  24. BangkokCozy macrumors newbie

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    Apr 20, 2007
    #24
    Three cheers to Stu-dio for introducing some audio sanity into this (obviously) non-audiophile forum! To those cloth-eared contributors who seem to think that the digital data somehow magically turns into sound somewhere in the inner ear, a short lesson in digital audio; If the recording's digital and you can hear it, then a Digital-to-Analogue converter IS somewhere in the circuit. It's often at the source (CD player, iPod, computer or whatever) but can also be somewhere else, usually in an outboard DAC or an amplifier (via the coax or optical in). Inserting an external DAC between an Airport Express and your amplifier is most definitely a good idea if your HiFi system is good enough to exploit the improvement and any system better than decent will be. Don't be in any doubt that a good DAC will sound better than the Airport's analogue out. In my experience the built-in audio outs of any computer product (including the iPod and Airport Express) are pretty poor. I've been feeding my Express via a Musical Fidelity X-DAC v3 into Audio research amps with Martin Logan speakers and I'm so impressed with this that I'm going to dedicate a Mac Mini to the task of music server for even serious listening. Regarding quality, there's no doubt that lossless is imperative in order to do what I'm planning to do but I've been amazed at how high the sound quality of MP3 and AAC actually is. On my system, 128Kbit AAC sounds really rather good, in fact so good that I wager a person not familiar with my system might not guess that they were listening to highly compressed music files at all (although I do agree with stu-dio that the soundstage suffers and the AACs sound a bit "dead" compared to lossless or CD direct). I don't do 320Kbit AACs myself but I reckon they'd probably sound pretty good. It does depend on your requirements and your system.

    To get back to whyrichard's original question - which affordable DAC to get?
    Well, the one I'm using (X-DAC v3) is brilliant at about $1000 but if you happen to be travelling through Hong Kong (as I was) it's more like $440. The Benchmark DAC1 is a killer by all reports but it's not at all cheap at $1275. This is the trouble with external DACs. There's just not that many cheap ones out there. A friend of mine has just got a Mood-Lab "dice" (http://www.mood-lab.com/dice.htm) connected to his express and he's pretty happy with it. Quite reasonable at $399.
     
  25. whyrichard thread starter macrumors 68000

    Joined:
    Aug 15, 2002
    #25
    thanks.


    to you bangkokcozy and studio...

    these forums are fantastic because EVENTUALLY you get to write to some who actually really knows what they are talking about.


    r.
     

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