iMacs have built in 24bit/96khz DAC?!?

Discussion in 'iMac' started by Darajavahus, Mar 11, 2018.

  1. Darajavahus, Mar 11, 2018
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2018

    Darajavahus macrumors member


    Aug 8, 2015
    First sorry for my poor English,
    but i'm not sure if what I just found out is what I think it is.
    Quick backstory, I'm planning to buy studio monitors (KRK ROKIT 6)
    and I wasn't sure if I can just connect them to to iMac headphone output with Dual RCA to Stereo Mini PW-MP-05
    Screen Shot 2018-03-11 at 9.49.27 PM.png

    or do I really need an external audio interface,
    get now just Focusrite Scarlett or wait and save up for apogee one or element.

    I have most of my music in 16bit 44.100 khz alac anyway but starting to get some 24bit 9600 khz.

    Googling only found out people saying external DAC is must because computer headphone outputs are very bad,
    but then I found this Apple page

    that says
    The headphone output supports a stereo data stream at bit depths of 16, 20, or 24 bits per sample and at sample rates of44.1kHz or 48kHz, or 96kHz
    and more specs.
    Screen Shot 2018-03-11 at 9.46.19 PM.png
    (interestingly for iMac Pro just "high-quality sound", so is iMac Pro DAC downgraded?)
    Screen Shot 2018-03-11 at 9.47.43 PM.png

    So maybe for now it's fine and not very expensive dacs like Focusrite Scarlett may not be that much better, and I can save up for apogee one with which I could use then the same Y cable.
  2. jerwin macrumors 68020

    Jun 13, 2015
    two advantages that come with some DACs-- balanced output (which is useful in an electrically noisy environment), and headphone jack (which is of considerable ergonomic advantage if you need to listen to headphones)
  3. casperes1996 macrumors 68040


    Jan 26, 2014
    Horsens, Denmark
    Yes - in fact most Macs support 96khz 24-bit audio streams. The iMac Pro has the same audio interface as the regular iMac AFAIK.

    There's more to a DAC than just the bit depth and sample rate though. I had to buy an external DAC because the one built into the Mac died - paid $17 or so, and it also supports 24-bit 96khz audio streams. It's just not that well isolated from interference, and does produce a bit of extra noise I'd say. Not really noticeable though. I'd call the audio interface that's built into the iMac a tad better than the external one I bough, but not that big a difference really. At least not to my ears.
  4. Mac32 Suspended

    Nov 20, 2010
    I got a Focusrite Clarett 2pre, and noticed a considerable improvement in sound quality. Highly recommended. Using balanced/XLR-cables also improved the sound (vs. minijack -> phono). I use the studio monitors Eve SC205.
  5. Icaras macrumors 603


    Mar 18, 2008
    California, United States
    I forgo an audio interface entirely and just connect my KRKs with the 3.5mm to RCA cable you posted.
  6. J.Gallardo macrumors regular


    Apr 4, 2017
    I'm not sure if you realize that the DAC specs you attach are for old iMacs (with optical out). So, when they just remember "high quality" about iMac Pro, they say it's the same as "since 2012 & before 2017".
    Last iMac has a slightly simpler DAC.
    Apple has always chosen relatively good DACs for their devices (and it's not just about numbers... the shaping of the analog electric signal can be done in quite different ways. Some DACs cost thousands dollars).
    Well, I'm using a much cheaper "Dragonfly Red" DAC. I can hear the difference (with good amp & speakers), and it provides sampling freq. up to 96kHz plus (iMac Pro doesn't) ability to decode DSD files & other HiRes sound sources.
  7. Chancha, Mar 14, 2018
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2018

    Chancha macrumors 6502a

    Mar 19, 2014
    The Focusrite Scarlett or similar products are audio interfaces, where the primary function is to accept (analog) audio input, digitize (A/D conversion) it and feed into a computer via USB to be used for music production or plain voice recording for podcast etc. They typically also have to build in a semi-decent D/A converter (DAC) for analog audio outputs (headphone/lineout), and some tactile means to control various levels (large knobs).

    Just for listening / monitoring purposes like your case, you don't actually need the whole interface package since you are not concerned about inputs. In recent years there are many quality DAC units produced, mainly due to growing demands in the HiFi/headFi markets. While like stated above, the iMac is already shipped with DAC built-in of course since it has speakers and headphone/line outputs, but the way of how you connect this output to your monitors is up to how good you want the setup to be and how much control you want.

    I suggest you research a bit on good desktop external USB DAC instead of getting that cable you linked, which will work but it isn't an optimal solution.
  8. J.Gallardo macrumors regular


    Apr 4, 2017
    These are sound specs in iMacs (2017).
    Of course OP can connect audio out with that cable, and it’s (I suppose) the most frequent way to use powered external monitors.
    I’ve been doing like thread openner for years, and resulted in a very good sound quality. But after using a dedicated DAC, I’m sure is the way to go if quality is appreciated. Sound is just a little bit better... but a usb DAC will last you forever, and everything you’ll listen to will sound better.
    You can get a decent DAC as some FiiO’s for 100$... and up from there.
  9. yellowscreen macrumors regular


    Nov 11, 2015
    i've been contemplating about buying this one, is it worth it? headphone use, B&O H6, would i notice the difference? thank you
  10. J.Gallardo, Mar 16, 2018
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2018

    J.Gallardo macrumors regular


    Apr 4, 2017
    Well, your headphones are quite capable to show the difference, first of all.
    I chose Dragonfly Red because I wanted to use it with iOS devices, and it's really small and easy to use with a lightning-usb connector. The "Red" model is the same as cheaper "Black" one, but gives more amp power, so it's better to move good (but hard) headphones.
    As I've said, difference is quite subtle, but clearly noticeable. In fact, I got hooked! So I decided to dedicate the usb Dragonfly to my iMac, where it's always plugged now. I bought another cheap portable DAC for iOS, a FiiO QII, which is nice also and always take with me.
    I must confess I'm an audiophile...
    I find even compressed files sound better, but with hi-res files... a dedicated DAC shines! First, more "separation". More detail. At low volume, it's impressive how quality is preserved, and you realise how bad standard DAC does at that.
    I know how well is explained that "blind tests" show that "people" can't hear differences even between a FLAC and a 320kbps AAC ... but they intendedly ignore "trained ears" and listening to music that is very well known by listener.
    I love my DACs and won't go back (of course, I enjoy listening to the radio in my car...etc. I'm not a fundamentalist!).
    Perhaps some readers would say I'm partial and clearly exaggerating, or psychologically inclined... That would be an endless discussion. The funny thing about all this social promotion of compressed audio, mediocre DACS (one in everywhere: in BT earphones, in Lightning-audio wire of last iPhones...) is that it favours Media; and everything is based on "imperceptible psychological differentiation". THAT is not very scientific. The digital data plus is there!... And a better an more detailed sound-firm is offered in plenty of DACS.
    I'm very happy with my Dragonfly Red. It gets power through usb, which is very convenient. Sound is nice... or at least, better than in last Apple devices (last iMac is downgraded!). Apple always paid attention to sound... but my white plastic iPod Shuffle 1st gen sounds better than my naked iPhone.
    BUT, if I were to look for a table DAC today, I would have a look to some Cambridge Audio products, also. They are still affordable (I'm not sure why a DAC can cost 3000€!).
    I like more the sound of the AudioQuest device. FiiO's device is very nice too, and cheaper. These two dedicated DACs are the only ones I've used, so I'm not an expert. I suspect you'll always notice the difference... or ... in fact, I would say: a more detailed and powerful analogic sound signal will reach your ears. ;)
    Is it worthy? It depends, but you can get as much music from it as you want. When you buy a 12y.o. scotch instead of something cheaper, drinks are numbered. :D
  11. Mac32 Suspended

    Nov 20, 2010
    There's clearly an improvement with a high-quality DAC, compared to the iMac's headphone output. However, you have to buy something of higher quality. For instance, Focusrite Scarlett is not worth it, however Clarett makes a proper difference. There might be more practical choices, if you only need an external DAC for listening. But from my perspective (with the Clarett), a high quality external sound card is absolutely worth the money - with proper speakers or headphones.
  12. jerwin macrumors 68020

    Jun 13, 2015
  13. yellowscreen macrumors regular


    Nov 11, 2015
    thank you very much for your reply!

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12 March 11, 2018