DAC for Home Theater

Discussion in 'Apple TV and Home Theater' started by downingp, Jul 12, 2012.

  1. downingp macrumors 6502a

    Jun 26, 2006
    I currently have a 2011 Mac mini and am using it as a home theater media center hooked up to a 5.1 surround sound system via a pioneer receiver. I was thinking about changing things up a little bit and was curious if any of you use a DAC hooked up to your mac mini or other media center. I have read about some USB DACs and was wondering if this would be a good upgrade in regards to movie watching and listening to music.

  2. aarond12 macrumors 65816


    May 20, 2002
    Dallas, TX USA
    If you're using HDMI to connect to the Pioneer receiver and carrying the audio through the HDMI port, you will probably not see any significant difference using a USB DAC. In fact, it could get worse.

    Think about this: You now, you have a direct digital connection to your receiver.

    [mini] --> HDMI --> [receiver]

    Add a USB DAC to the mix:

    [mini] --> DAC --> analog cables --> [receiver]

    Yes, ANALOG cables. You're bypassing the receiver's own DAC (and I like the sound of Pioneer's DACs personally -- it's what I use at home) and feeding the receiver ANALOG audio from the USB DAC. During the transport from the USB DAC to the receiver, you have the possibility for interference and noise that you won't have with the HDMI connection.

    There are some nice, expensive USB DACs out there and the audio quality might improve somewhat, but I think you're not going to get any significant sound benefit unless you're running Class-A amplifiers and $10,000 speakers.
  3. downingp thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Jun 26, 2006
    I am actually running a toslink cable from my mini to the receiver if that changes things at all.
    It sounds like maybe I should step back a little bit and just upgrade my speakers. I currently have some old (10-15 year old) PSB speakers and was looking at some Polk RTI A3 and CSI A4 center channel.
  4. JAT macrumors 603

    Dec 31, 2001
    Mpls, MN
    Audio upgrades are about the most expensive cost-value ratio on the planet. Most people change one thing, think it sounds different, and assume that means they've upgraded. But they may not really have done any significant change.

    Since you run toslink, the receiver is converting. What DAC does your Pioneer use? They really have improved over the years, so the difference is not that great when comparing a decent receiver to a standalone DAC. Emotiva makes an inexpensive DAC with a high-end Sabre processor.

    PSB isn't a poor speaker, and quality speakers can last for decades. Don't upgrade them just because you are thinking about it. And only upgrade after listening as extensively as you can. Speakers are very subjective.

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