Best sound for opera: Mini and Onkyo

Discussion in 'Mac mini' started by ladamus, Jun 9, 2011.

  1. ladamus macrumors newbie

    Jun 9, 2011
    Hello Everyone,

    Could someone give advice on how to optimize sound quality for my setup: a MacMini is connected via a Toslink cable to my Onkyo amplifier. Quality is ok, but when playing opera DVDs I would like to improve it. Is there any software useful? Could an external sound card (maybe firewire) help?

    Thanx for any kind of help,

  2. mr.steevo macrumors 65816


    Jul 21, 2004
    Have the opera DVD's sounded better on your Onkyo before you connected the mini or is this the first time you have played the DVD's?

    If you have only just started using the DVD's at the same time as connecting the mini it could be that the DVD recording/mixing/mastering was simply not done very well. I have some older (1985) orchestral CD's that sound pretty thin due to poor recording process (microphone placement, microphone type, acoustics of the room) as well as lousy remastering to the digital format and as a result no amount of hardware tweaking will fix it.

    If the sound of your DVD's was good before you connected the mini (meaning you played the DVD's on another player through to your Onkyo) then it may be a connection issue with the Toslink (I've heard they need to be a minimum length of 1.5 meters (!)), corroded connection ends of the speaker cables or even speaker wire connected improperly to give a thin out of phase sound (positive end going to the negative terminal). Given that you say other discs sound ok I would guess that the connections aren't the issue but it's worth the time to check all connections.

    If you want to try a hardware fix there are Digital Analog Converter (DAC) tube processors that "warm" the sound. I've heard good reviews about this one but I've never used one myself. Essentially you are bypassing both the mini's DAC and the Onkyo's DAC by plugging the mini's Toslink output into the Tube DAC and then using RCA cables to connect to your amp. <shrug>

    Audio isn't an exact science, especially when it comes to recording something live like opera. There are so many variables just during the recording process that can mess up the sound. Look for DVD's that have the same opera but were recorded somewhere else by someone else and you'll notice that they will sound very different. The trick is to find the one you like without spending a lot of money.
  3. MTI macrumors 65816

    Feb 17, 2009
    Scottsdale, AZ
    Subjective terms abound in audio. I am curioius that you describe the device playing the DVD, the connection to an amplifier . . . but what are you actually using to reproduce the sound, such as speakers or headphones? What sort of listening environment are you in?
  4. seek3r macrumors 6502

    Aug 16, 2010
    In addition to checking the quality of your rips, which someone else already mentioned I think, check the levels and calibration on your stereo, particularly the crossover frequency for your subwoofer.
  5. rcp27 macrumors regular

    May 12, 2010
    Given that toslink is a digital connection, the digital to analogue decoding should be happening in your Onkyo amp (basically it already is acting as a sound card, and if it's a recent model, probably a pretty good one). While toslink does not support the most modern digital formats, more than likely a DVD won't either. The two factors that will be affecting your sound quality are the analogue side of your audio set up (the speakers, their location and how you have set up the amp) and the audio quality of the original recording.
  6. LucasLand macrumors 6502a


    Mar 6, 2002
    New England
    if playing in itunes, check the equalizer settings. i have my mini connected to an onkyo. check the listening mode settings
  7. Hberg, Jun 13, 2011
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2011

    Hberg macrumors member

    Feb 19, 2009
    Overland Park, KS
    My two cents ...

    It could be the DVD, but your Toslink Cable should be fine; however, it could be the cable if you had success previously as others have stated. Toslink (Optical) is a digital connection. Check the settings on your Onkyo "amplifier" to make sure you are getting the most out of it. Your Toslink connection should be sending the digital signal to your amplifier or receiver.

    Remember, there are different levels of audiophiles. It is more of a personal preference and what one is willing to spend to obtain that desired level of audio performance. You might want to check out a site called Computer Audiophile to do some additional research on how to optimize your system.

    Digital audio and computers have come a long way. I listen to a wide variety of music, but I really like R&B, Jazz and Classical. My system is different than most. I run a Classe Amplifier and a Classe Processor with B&W 804s Front Speakers (and B&W Center Channel). I do have a Rotel amp that is powering the side and rear channels. It really is about what one values and the subjective nature of that value.

    Audio is a personal thing, and there are varying degrees of performance. The value of that performance is subjective, but it is an individual value. The goal is to maximize the performance of your equipment.

    That is my two cents ...
  8. ladamus thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jun 9, 2011
    Thanx everyone for the most valuable comments. Playing with the analogue output settings and the position of the speakers did help a lot. Interestingly however, I still get sensibly better sound out of CDs and ripped music from the Mini, than from DVDs. Could it really be the difference between DVD technology and the rest or could it be that the audio files I mostly play in iTunes and VLC whereas the DVDs on the Mac DVD Player?

    Thanks again, for all the good thoughts,

  9. Makosuke macrumors 603

    Aug 15, 2001
    The Cool Part of CA, USA
    Since no one else is jumping in, I'll hazard a guess. For reference, I have a very similar setup to you--a Mini hooked via toslink to an Onkyo 7.1 deck with the full complement of speakers.

    The quality of sound you get from a DVD is going to depend a lot on how it's encoded (this is assuming that you correctly configured DVD Player to output the raw bitstream to your stereo, which takes the Mac itself out of the equation, as explained before).

    CDs are straightforward--you can have good or bad original masters, but the CD itself is uncompressed (PCM) 44.1kHz, 16-bit stereo. Decent if not stellar resolution (if you have VERY picky ears), no compression artifacts.

    Video DVDs, on the other hand (I assume we're talking about a video of an opera, not a DVD-Audio disc) can have a bunch of different formats, ranging from uncompressed audio about the same as a CD, to higher-quality 96kHz, 24-bit uncompressed, to the cinema-style audio formats (DTS, Dolby AC-3, or MP2), which are all compressed and can range wildly in both quality and number of channels.

    I've got three guesses as to why your opera DVD isn't sounding as good as a CD.

    One is that the audio on it is encoded in one of the lower-fidelity compressed multichannel formats, and your ears are sensitive enough to pick up the compression artifacts versus the uncompressed CD audio. You can see what format the audio is in on the front panel of your Onkyo (it should have a little "DTS" or "DD" or "PCM" logo somewhere), and some software will also show you the actual bitrate and number of channels.

    More likely is my second guess; that the audio is encoded in one of the multichannel formats, as above, and that your Onkyo is set to mix it up to a higher-channel surround format. In which case, the upmix may be assuming it's a movie soundtrack, which doesn't sound as good with music. If I set my Onkyo to upmix to DTS 6.1 channels, the audio has a lot of dimension (which can be good if you're watching a movie), but sounds relatively "thin" if you're just listening to music and I wouldn't want to listen to classical in that mode.

    If that's the case, you could fix it by swapping through the "Music" modes on the Onkyo (which you should experiment with anyway if you haven't already, regardless of what's going on in this case). I usually find all-channel stereo to sound the best for music.

    The third possibility is that the DVD's audio just wasn't recorded as well as a good CD--they might have used a multi-channel cinema-style recording setup, which might better mimic the experience of sitting in the audience of a performance, but in absolute terms just isn't as good as a simple stereo audio-only mastering.

    My personal guess is #3, but even if it is fiddling with the different music-specific audio modes available (again, assuming you haven't) might make a significant difference. Even on a straight stereo CD, if you're trying to play it as multi-channel audio, you might get some surround effects, but the music will probably sound better on all-channel stereo or one of the front-channel-only modes.

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