How good is the Airport Express inbuilt Digital to Analogue converter?

Discussion in 'Apple TV and Home Theater' started by Chipstix, Oct 21, 2013.

  1. Chipstix macrumors newbie

    Oct 6, 2013
    Brighton, England, UK
    How good is the Airport Express inbuilt Digital to Analogue converter?

    I have just purchased a 2012 dual band Airport Express which has the combined optical/3.5mm analogue jack audio output.

    This is to connect to my hifi seperate amplifier, which does not have an optical input.

    This gives me a couple of options

    a) just use a standard 3.5mm jack to phono cable (and use the built in DAC in the airpor express)


    b) purchase a seperate DAC to convert the optical from the Express into phono and connect that to the amplifier

    I will be sending 250-320kbps music to the airport express wirelessly.

    Will I see much/any benefit in sound quality with option B vs option A?

    I ask because option A is free (I already have the cable) and option B will be around £20-£30 depending on which DAC I were to buy (I would also need a new TOSlink optical cable).

    These are the sort of DACs I was looking at.

    Thanks, Chipstix
  2. almonde macrumors regular

    Sep 7, 2006
    Houston, TX
    If your thinking of DACs in the 20-30 pound range, don't bother, the one in the AP Express will be comparable.

    I switched from using an optical cable to a 3.5mm analogue cable a while back when my Zeppelin kept skipping when fed with digital data from the AP Express, seemed related to the soft aware version on the AP, it doesn't happen when I revert to older firmwares, but having airport utility nagging me about the upgrade made it a pain to stay on old versions.

    In the end I never noticed a change in quality between the AP DAC and the B&W DAC. Just make sure your 3.5mm analogue cable is of reasonable quality.
  3. OmegaRed1723 macrumors 6502


    Jun 19, 2009
    The Waste
    If you're sending over lossy music (256-320kbps) to begin with, the Texas Instruments DAC in the AE should be just fine.
  4. Uofmtiger macrumors 68020


    Dec 11, 2010
    Stereophile has compared the analog output to the digital output of an older APE. I don't think much has changed in the audio section of the APE, but I could be wrong.

    Their main gripe with the analog output was that it had higher than normal jitter. Not sure how audible it is and how it would compare to an inexpensive DAC, though.

    Be aware that the APE's digital output can cause an issue with the beginning of songs with certain DACs. I have never had an issue with any of the DACs I own or have owned, so I am not sure how it will affect other DACs.
  5. Chipstix thread starter macrumors newbie

    Oct 6, 2013
    Brighton, England, UK


    It seems because I am sending lossy files (250-320kbps AAC) and looking at cheap DACs with more connection points in the total system, I am better off sticking with 3.5mm jack and the built in DAC with a decent interconnecting cable.

    If I ever upgrade the amp, I will look for one with optical input port and good inbuilt DAC.

    Cheers for the advice

  6. mr.steevo macrumors 65816


    Jul 21, 2004
    Reviving an old thread...

    I've been thinking about DACs and remembered that my first gen Airport Express had one built in so I thought I'd see how the latest Airport Express compares.

    Linked below is a pretty extensive test of the current Airport Express that mostly goes over my head but the summary looks like the Airport Express makes a excellent choice for a DAC.

    This makes me wonder what the quality of DAC is built into the iMac, Mini, Macbook Pro, and the Pro? Are we throwing away money on a sub $1000 DAC when the ones built into these computers may be already insanely great?

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