Getting true 5.1 sound.

StephenCampbell

macrumors 65816
Original poster
Sep 21, 2009
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I will be purchasing the Z-5500 speakers soon, and would like to set it up so that I'm getting actual 5.1 all the time, from every application, including itunes and quicktime.

I was looking at the Griffin Firewave, but then discovered that it's no longer supported (no drivers since 2008).

Will connecting the Z-5500 to the digital optical out port give me real 5.1? Where do I get that cable?

And if not, what are some good external sound cards like what the Firewave was, that actually work and are simple to use?

Thanks!
 

Iroquois

macrumors newbie
Jul 1, 2011
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from every application, including itunes and quicktime.
Nope. Surround only works in quicktime, itunes and a few apps written to use it. There is nothing you can do beyond plugging everything in and selecting optical out in the system prefs.
 
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MacUser2525

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Mar 17, 2007
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I will be purchasing the Z-5500 speakers soon, and would like to set it up so that I'm getting actual 5.1 all the time, from every application, including itunes and quicktime.
Music files by their very nature are only stereo in any OS so any 5.1 out you get is fake.
I was looking at the Griffin Firewave, but then discovered that it's no longer supported (no drivers since 2008).
Works perfectly fine on SL never checked when I did lion on spare partition for test.

Where do I get that cable?
Cable is toslink cable can be found dirt cheap almost anywhere don't pay huge money for it from these idiots claiming they have the super duper kind there are no differences between them.
 
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MacUser2525

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Maybe ten years ago, this was true. I have lots of music files that are 5.1 now. Mostly FLAC, but I believe Apple Lossless supports it as well.
And those are still fake no matter how they dress it up music is 2 channel stereo only they can add extra channels to make it seem like 5.1 but it is not...
 
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ActionableMango

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Sep 21, 2010
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There is no way to always get true 5.1 from every single application. Most applications are stereo only. Most audio sources are stereo only.

If you want to ensure you are getting 5.1 as often as possible, ensure your content is encoded for AC-3 Dolby Digital and ensure system prefs is set to optical out. Use an optical cable from your MP to your speakers. Select Digital Output in DVD Player. Always use iTunes, Quicktime, VLC, DVD player, or Mplayer. Other applications are probably stereo only.

Even with this proper setup, it will only work as true 5.1 for AC-3 Dolby Digital encoded sources. Some 5.1 sources will not be output as true 5.1 depending on how they are encoded. They are generally Dolby Pro Logic, which is a matrixed 5.1 that carries over a 2 channel signal. In my personal experience, some times this sounds better than stereo and sometimes it actually sounds worse.

That's the best you can do, but what else can you expect? The movie "Casablanca" only has a mono soundtrack, how do you expect to get true 5.1 out of it? The source material plays its part too.
 
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20eman

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Mar 10, 2009
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I have Z-5500's. Got 'em attached to the optical output from the built-in soundcard of the MP. It works great, but Iroquois is correct that the Mac will only send surround sound output from specific programs. This is because the optical cables only actually can carry two channels of uncompressed audio. In order to carry a 5.1 signal, those 6 channels have to be compressed and encoded before the computer sends them down the cable. There are two encodings in general use, Dolby Digital and DTS; the Z-5500 can decode both of these, but the problem is that the sound card on the Mac cannot compress and encode in real time. Therefore, only audio that is already encoded will be reproduced in actual 5.1. You will most likely only find pre-encoded audio in music and movies.

If you want to have real-time surround sound on the Z-5500, for example in games, then you have to buy a sound card that either has the triple-stereo-plug type analog surround output or has Dolby Digital Live or DTS Connect, which are the names of the relevant technologies for real-time encoding. The last time I looked, there were NO available consumer-level surround-capable sound cards that had OS X drivers. Therefore, you can only make this work if you dual-boot Windows. And your new sound card won't work in OS X.

If that doesn't bother you, than you can buy a Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium and two optical cables, then connect the optical output of the X-Fi to the MP built-in optical input, then connect the built-in optical output to the Z-5500s. Then in windows set the X-Fi to Dolby Live or DTS Connect and set the built-in sound card to passthru mode. That way, you will get real-time 5.1 in Windows, and when you boot into OS X the X-Fi will simply sit inactive and you will get digital stereo and pre-encoded surround through the built-in sound card. No cable switching required.

This is how I have my system set up. If anybody has a better solution I'd love to hear it.
 
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StephenCampbell

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Original poster
Sep 21, 2009
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Thanks for all the great info!

I had read somewhere that iTunes wouldn't play 5.1 if the speakers are plugged into the TOSlink port, and that only Apple's DVD player is able to produce 5.1 through speakers that aren't plugged into the full 3 port 5.1 sound card.

If plugging the z-5500 into the TOSlink port will give me real 5.1 from iTunes, quicktime and DVD player, that's all I really need! Safari would be nice too.. like, for youtube, but not essential.

Is it true that I'll get 5.1 from iTunes and quicktime with the TOSlink port?
 
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strausd

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Jul 11, 2008
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I have the Z-5500s and they work great. Like everyone else has said, you will only get true 5.1 from certain apps like quicktime, DVD player, VLC, and the like and thats only with the files that have 5.1. With youtube, you won't be getting true 5.1, but you will get sound coming from all the speakers. It will kind of be 5.1 surround sound in the sense that you will have stuff coming out of all 5 speakers and the 1 sub, but it won't be true 5.1 in the sense that they are not separate channels. The back 2 will just be playing the same thing as the front two. So you will just be getting stereo out of all your speakers.

So if you just want to be able to hear sound coming from all around you with every application, that will work, but it won't be true 5.1. Also, I suggest not using MxPlayer. I used it for a few weeks and it causes some problems with the speakers. Like after I watch a show, the speakers won't work for any other application.

Also, I'm curious as to why under Audio MIDI Setup for digital output when you configure the speakers, why won't it let you choose 5.1 surround?
 
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goMac

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Apr 15, 2004
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Maybe ten years ago, this was true. I have lots of music files that are 5.1 now. Mostly FLAC, but I believe Apple Lossless supports it as well.
From where? I've only found one album that was even recorded in 5.1

99% of albums are only recorded in stereo.

You can get iTunes to output 5.1 actually, but it's not easy, and again, you need audio that was actually mastered in 5.1. (Airport Expresses and AppleTVs will actually also output 5.1 nicely over iTunes streaming, again, if your source material is 5.1)
 
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StephenCampbell

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Sep 21, 2009
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Well, if the music was recorded in stereo, there's no such thing as "true 5.1" for that, it was never recorded that way.

As long as the TOSlink port will allow the speakers to give me true 5.1 whenever it's possible, that would be good. What's the difference between the TOSlink port the minijack though, at that point? Via the mini-jack, the speakers would also give true 5.1 whenever it's pre-encoded that way, right?

edit: Hey, is the z-5300 any good? I just read somebody saying that it's much better than the z-5500...

edit 2: I'm also considering just going with the Z623.. I mean, even when I have 5.1, I don't have speakers hanging on the sides or anything, I have them all spread out by the computer screen. What exactly is the point of having 5.1 sound? I mean, I prefer it, but the z-5500s are super expensive and not manufactured anymore, and the Z906 is getting terrible reviews. The Z623 is starting to look like a really good alternative to the whole 5.1 mess.
 
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ActionableMango

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Sep 21, 2010
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Hey, is the z-5300 any good? I just read somebody saying that it's much better than the z-5500...
No optical in. Can't use it with the Mac Pro.

I mean, even when I have 5.1, I don't have speakers hanging on the sides or anything, I have them all spread out by the computer screen. What exactly is the point of having 5.1 sound?
Well yeah, you might as well go 2.1 then if all your speakers will be in front of you on the desk. In fact, that would probably be better.
 
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goMac

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As long as the TOSlink port will allow the speakers to give me true 5.1 whenever it's possible, that would be good. What's the difference between the TOSlink port the minijack though, at that point? Via the mini-jack, the speakers would also give true 5.1 whenever it's pre-encoded that way, right?
Depends. Straight minijack doesn't have enough bandwidth for something like DTS audio, which is why you need optical.

You can do Dolby Digital over minijack, but I'm not sure those speakers have a Dolby Digital decoder, or that Mac OS X will output the raw Dolby Digital output from a DVD.

I dunno. I usually use a dedicated receiver for this sort of thing. If you have a lot of DTS sources, you'll need optical.
 
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StephenCampbell

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Sep 21, 2009
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Yeah, I'm not very knowledgable on speakers, as I'm sure you can tell. I just wanted the best 5.1 set I could get, because "5.1 is better than 2.1" but when I sit in front of a really good 2.1 set, it's not really like anything is missing. Currently I have the Z506 Logitech set, which is 75 watts spread over 5 speakers and a subwoofer, and the sound just breaks up a lot, when something gets loud, and it's not very clear for orchestral or operatic music, and sometimes when playing a DVD of orchestral music, when it's quiet, the speakers are like, fuzzing and crackling louder than the music! It's really annoying.

So, I figure the Z623 2.1 set, with THX sound at 200 watts, would sound WAY better than what I currently have. I need to understand what the point of having 5.1 is though, before I go for those. Like, what would I be missing by not having a 5.1 set?
 
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goMac

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Apr 15, 2004
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Yeah, I'm not very knowledgable on speakers, as I'm sure you can tell. I just wanted the best 5.1 set I could get, because "5.1 is better than 2.1" but when I sit in front of a really good 2.1 set, it's not really like anything is missing. Currently I have the Z506 Logitech set, which is 75 watts spread over 5 speakers and a subwoofer, and the sound just breaks up a lot, when something gets loud, and it's not very clear for orchestral or operatic music, and sometimes when playing a DVD of orchestral music, when it's quiet, the speakers are like, fuzzing and crackling louder than the music! It's really annoying.

So, I figure the Z623 2.1 set, with THX sound at 200 watts, would sound WAY better than what I currently have. I need to understand what the point of having 5.1 is though, before I go for those. Like, what would I be missing by not having a 5.1 set?
5.1 gives you surround sound. That's it. It's not necessarily louder, or more clear sounding (depending on your config.) Just adds sound behind you, that's all.

(And you have to have 5.1 sources as well.)
 
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StephenCampbell

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Sep 21, 2009
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5.1 gives you surround sound. That's it. It's not necessarily louder, or more clear sounding (depending on your config.) Just adds sound behind you, that's all.

(And you have to have 5.1 sources as well.)
Even without 5.1 sources you get the surround experience though, right? Cause there is still sound coming out of all the speakers?
 
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goMac

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Even without 5.1 sources you get the surround experience though, right? Cause there is still sound coming out of all the speakers?
Nope.

What you're describing is just playing something in stereo louder, which can be accomplished by turning up your 2.1 speakers. :)
 
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StephenCampbell

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Sep 21, 2009
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Nope.

What you're describing is just playing something in stereo louder, which can be accomplished by turning up your 2.1 speakers. :)
But... physically, you have two more speakers, set up on your direct right and left. That gives the feeling of being "surrounded" by the sound.. even if it's the same sound that's coming out of the front speakers. Right?
 
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goMac

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Apr 15, 2004
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But... physically, you have two more speakers, set up on your direct right and left. That gives the feeling of being "surrounded" by the sound.. even if it's the same sound that's coming out of the front speakers. Right?
Not really. In real life, sound bounces off all the walls in your room and comes at you from all directions already. Playing the same thing in rear makes it just louder. Which can be accomplished by turning up your speakers.

It even isn't really a good idea. It tends to muddle the sound. For my home theater, I leave my rear channels off for stereo audio.

I would just buy a pair of good stereo speakers. I have a pair of these for my Mac Pro and have been more than happy:
http://www.amazon.com/M-Audio-Studiophile-Powered-Monitor-Speakers/dp/B0051WAM64
 
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wywern209

macrumors 65832
Sep 7, 2008
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do you rly want to know?
what happens when you send 2 channel sound to a 5.1 setup is the receiver decides thru mathematical algorithms where the sounds and all go. sometimes it does a good job and sometimes it doesn't. anyways, even if sound will be coming out of all 6 speakers, it doesn't necessarily mean your audio experience is any better. here, the quality of quantity rule applies. a decent 2.0/1 setup will beat a 5.1 setup of the same size just because the same amount of cash had to be used to build more speakers which means they had to cut corners somewhere.
 
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goMac

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Apr 15, 2004
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what happens when you send 2 channel sound to a 5.1 setup is the receiver decides thru mathematical algorithms where the sounds and all go. sometimes it does a good job and sometimes it doesn't.
If you have a fancy receiver system. I'm not sure the Logitechs even do that processing.

But, as mentioned, it sometimes sounds far worse actually (I run with this off as well.)

Edit: It looks like on Windows there are some software implementations of the DTS Neo Stereo -> 5.1 implementation. Would not bet at all on this being present on Mac.
 
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StephenCampbell

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Original poster
Sep 21, 2009
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Well, with 5.1 sets I usually have the "Front" speakers to the left and right of my screen, and the "Rear" speakers behind and inwards of them... even with the DVD audio being encoded in 5.1, will this sound any better than a good 2.1 set? Or is the whole point of 5.1 to have the speakers surrounding you?

Do I miss any of the audio when it's encoded in 5.1 and I only have 2.1?
 
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goMac

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Apr 15, 2004
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Well, with 5.1 sets I usually have the "Front" speakers to the left and right of my screen, and the "Rear" speakers behind and inwards of them... even with the DVD audio being encoded in 5.1, will this sound any better than a good 2.1 set? Or is the whole point of 5.1 to have the speakers surrounding you?

Do I miss any of the audio when it's encoded in 5.1 and I only have 2.1?
The point of 5.1 is to playback 5.1 sources. Without 5.1 sources, there is no need for back speakers.

When you have 2.1 speakers, the channels are usually mixed together. If you have 5.1 sources, 5.1 sounds better, but if you don't, it doesn't.
 
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