Is the iMac sound card good enough?

Discussion in 'iMac' started by tokyo77, Mar 2, 2011.

  1. tokyo77 macrumors member

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    #1
    I ordered a pair of Audio Technica ATH-AD700 headphones and I will be using them with my iMac. I was wondering if I needed an amp or external DAC to use it to its full potential, or if the sound card already inside was good enough. This is my first set of good "cans" so I'm not an audiophile (yet...:p). Keep in mind that I also play FPS's quite often so I think Dolby Headphone would be a big plus. I'm new to audio, so tell me what you think. Thanks.
     
  2. flipster macrumors 6502a

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    #2
    There not harmon/kardons but there good enough. There actually really loud, but they don't have much bass.
     
  3. tokyo77 thread starter macrumors member

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    #3
    I'm not a basshead so it should be ok. Are they separate sound cards or onboard?
     
  4. leman macrumors 604

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    #4
    iMac has a usual integrated sound card.

    However: while professional sound cards do provide substantially less noise than the integrated sound cards, both are well below human ability to distinguish sound. In short: it does not matter whether you have an external or integrated sound card you WILL NOT hear any difference, because you ears simply can't perceive it. External sound cards make sense only if you want to record music onto media or need control over the output.

    By the way, most people who claim to hear "better" sound with "dedicated" sound cards just forget that these card often have a built-in equalizer. Of course it will sound differently from the integrated card, but in no way "better" if we define "better" as the ability to reproduce the original signal more precisely.

    So, don't worry, iMac's integrated sound card will be sufficient for any audiophile (or not) speakers you can throw on it.
     
  5. Ungibbed macrumors 6502

    Ungibbed

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    #5
    While I have yet to bag me an iMac (I am waiting patiently for the return of the 24" with Sandy Bridge someday), with onboard sound solutions, I have seen many a mixed bag.

    My first foray into using GarageBand was with my 15" PowerBook G4 (1.5Ghz model A1095) and it had no audible noise whatsoever with a good set of cans or when hooked up to my amplifier.

    I was really upset on the other hand when I ended up with a white MacBook (Santa Rosa 2.2Ghz Core 2) Even with some iPod earbuds, the MacBook had an audible electrical whine every time the internal audio amplifier was used. Even with a system beep you could hear the whine/power down state every time. That was annoying

    Thankfully, with my current MBP, I don't have the same audio problems that plagued me in the past (I continued to use my G4 despite having the new MacBook for GarageBand for the sake of quality audio).
     
  6. tokyo77 thread starter macrumors member

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    #6
    Didn't know that :D Thanks.
    Although I do think it's overexaggerating a little, I see the rationale. Kinda like how mp3 v0 and 320 are almost impossible to tell from lossless.




    Yeah my old 2007 model iMac had a small buzzing sound whenever I used the analog output. Hopefully with my shiny new 2010 one it'll be better as well.
     
  7. Thunderbird macrumors 6502a

    Thunderbird

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    #7
    Depends on the sound card, the quality of the capacitors, the encoding bit rate, the speakers, the source signal, and basically the whole audio chain. To say 'there is no difference' is to gloss over the nuances of all the components involved. There is a reason sound cards haven't gone away. Audiophiles using the best components would beg to differ with your blanket statement. And, my guess is 'provide substantially less noise' would be included in most people's conception of what's 'better'.
     
  8. TMRaven macrumors 68020

    TMRaven

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    #8
    I actually own the AD700s too, and I use them for gaming and listening to music on the computer. They are only rated at 32ohm impedance, so you don't need any fancy soundcard or amplifier to get very good sound out of them.

    It sounds like you got the AD700s for the exact reason I got mine, so I doubt your opinion on their sound with the imac will be much different from mine! That is, they sound excellent. A lot of people don't like them as much as other top dollar headphones because they lack in booming bass (although their bass is very tight and accurate) but the iTunes equalizer is adequate enough to up their bass if you must have it, just don't forget to lower the preamp to the highest peak of your frequencies in the eq.
     
  9. leman macrumors 604

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    #9
    Well, modern integrated sound cards do have total harmonic distortion characteristics under 1% (which is considered inaudible to human ear) and SNR of 108dB and higher (which is sufficient for reproduction at usual volumes you would want to use at home).

    However, I agree that another crucial component is the power circuitry. A defect capacitor or similar may and will induce audible noise into the output. Anyway, if you hear noise when just plugging in your headphones/speakers, your machine most likely has a defect and should be returned for repairs.

    As for your comment about audiophiles... well, many audiophiles tend to hear something where there is actually nothing there. Any many audiophile products are easy money rip-offs (expensive "gold" cabling etc. which brings absolutely nothing). You are of course right that the whole audio chain must be setup optimally in order to get good sound. Still, I was talking only about quality of digital-to-analog conversion performed by sound cards. If the amplification circuitry or the connectors are faulty, you will get noise of course.

    P.S. Both my iMac and MBP seem fine. I am not an audiophile though and I don't use high-end speakers :)
     
  10. BrianBaughn macrumors 601

    BrianBaughn

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    #10
    I have an external, firewire audio device for several reasons but I think the best thing about it is the volume knob.
     
  11. esfrost macrumors member

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    #11
    I have an imac 27", and i have AKG headphones and a 2.1 system on a 3.5mm splitter. Im using the AKG hps with an amp, and i say it does makes a differenc in the sound quality.
     
  12. Tomorrow macrumors 604

    Tomorrow

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    #12
  13. Chris5488 macrumors regular

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    #13
    More audiophile listeners wouldn't even dare to use the onboard soundcard, but most people will only tell a small difference.

    It's all about the quality of the sound. I have a excellent DAC so I can tell:

    If you listen audio/music with a bitrate less then 256kbps, you wouldn't tell the difference. If it's 256kbps and up, some people would hear a difference, and when using lossless audio/music, you WILL hear a difference.

    Since you also play a lot of FPS, DAC's may not be the right choise for you because they are made for music, not for games. Dolby Headphone, EAX or other 3D audio tricks are not available with a DAC. So you better choose a decent external (X-Fi?) soundcard which is also appropriate for gaming. But these soundcards are not as good as DAC's in terms of audio quality...

    So you see, it really depends.


    I recommend you to buy a headphone Amp! You can connect it to your iMac ('s soundcard) and then it amplifies the audio for warmer, but also brighter sound and a more powerfull/precise bass.
     
  14. TMRaven macrumors 68020

    TMRaven

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    #14
    The astro mixamp would probably be his best bet.
     
  15. Stan Mikulenka macrumors 6502

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    #15
    Hi everybody,
    one of my hobbies is 'Hi-Fi' audio and I MUST laugh when you talk about 'Computers' and 'high quality' of music & sound in the same sentence...
     
  16. TMRaven macrumors 68020

    TMRaven

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    #16
    Wirelessly posted (Mozilla/5.0 (iPod; U; CPU iPhone OS 4_2_1 like Mac OS X; en-us) AppleWebKit/533.17.9 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/5.0.2 Mobile/8C148 Safari/6533.18.5)

    I'm sorry but we all can't buy iDeccos. Computer sound card or iPod is more than enough to properly drive the 32ohm impedance ad700s.
     
  17. Tomorrow macrumors 604

    Tomorrow

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    Do what you MUST. :rolleyes:
     
  18. tokyo77 thread starter macrumors member

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    #18
    Thanks for the informative replies!

    @TMRaven and Chris: I was considering the Mixamp actually, but they are more than the price of the headphones :p Maybe in the future when I start noticing the subtle differences in music. Would they be a good balance between the sound quality of a ~$100 amp and Dolby Headphone?

    The sound are really nice though; will try burning in with pink noise and I think that will help even more! I had to wad in some tissues in the sides to create more space inside the headphones (my huge ears were rubbing against the hard and uncomfortable driver cover) and after that they sound really airy and remind me of a concert hall, which is pretty darn cool. Gaming is awesome, so much more comfortable (please have mercy...but my previous set was a logitech clearchat pro) and sound-whoring is so much fun! I can hear gunshots all the way across small maps and my teammates' movements are beginning to annoy me...haha. In music everything was so clear and I could hear the little unintentional things in classical recordings. My small collection of techno and mainstream music sounded great as well.
     
  19. yadmonkey macrumors 65816

    yadmonkey

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    #19
    While it's not technically a sound card, I occasionally use my Apogee Duet for headphones listening. HUGE difference... the DA converters blow away those built-into the iMac.

    Alas, I'm no "audiophile" and generally find the built-in audio to be good enough for most purposes.
     
  20. TMRaven macrumors 68020

    TMRaven

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    #20
    Well if you play any console shooters then you will most definitely eventually want the mixamp. The AD700+mixamp is widely hailed as one of THE best gaming setups you can get.

    As for amping the AD700 itself, it might help some, but won't help much. Even most of the audiophile nutheads at head-fi would tell you the AD700's biggest advantage and disadvantage is that it doesn't need an amp.

    I don't notice much a difference with the mixamp hooked up to my AD700s. (Maybe a difference at higher volumes but I never listen to my music loudly-- I run a custom iTunes eq for the AD700s and its preamp is -3db, and my amount of sound volume blips never exceeds 5 on the iMac)
     
  21. tokyo77 thread starter macrumors member

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    #21
    Does Dolby Headphone work well with the AD700?

    Edit: I'm a PC gamer only :D
     
  22. TMRaven macrumors 68020

    TMRaven

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    #22
    Oh! That changes the game a little then. I'm not sure if some pc cards support dolby headphones or not, but it makes quite a bit of difference in imaging for your headphones.

    The AD700 is very detailed, crisp and has a massive soundstage, this makes it work extremely well with the 5.1 processing dolby headphones gives you. I'd advise you to get it. It made a night and day difference for console gaming with me.


    It's only good for gaming though, it completely ruins music.
     
  23. monokakata macrumors 68000

    monokakata

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    #23
    I agree. When the audio out minijack on my Mac Pro 1,1 went bad (or some part of the circuitry upstream from it began to fail) I grabbed an M-Audio Fastrack that I had lying around and started using it with my Sennneiser 595 cans.

    Not surprisingly, it was superior to a failing internal soundcard output. But the volume control! It's very nice to have it.

    If anybody's gearing up to make fun of the audiophile lunatic fringe, that fun was made not too long ago.

    http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=1092546
     
  24. tokyo77 thread starter macrumors member

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    #24

    Mkay. Should I look into Firewire or USB DAC's? Or get an actual sound card like the Xonar? (don't know how I would hook it up though)


    I would think so :p
     
  25. nStyle macrumors 65816

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