Is the iMac sound card good enough?

tokyo77

macrumors member
Original poster
Jul 8, 2008
33
0
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.
 

flipster

macrumors 6502a
Mar 14, 2010
591
2
Boston
There not harmon/kardons but there good enough. There actually really loud, but they don't have much bass.
 

tokyo77

macrumors member
Original poster
Jul 8, 2008
33
0
There not harmon/kardons but there good enough. There actually really loud, but they don't have much bass.
I'm not a basshead so it should be ok. Are they separate sound cards or onboard?
 

leman

macrumors G4
Oct 14, 2008
10,147
4,675
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.
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.
 

Ungibbed

macrumors 6502a
Dec 13, 2010
527
74
USA
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).
 

tokyo77

macrumors member
Original poster
Jul 8, 2008
33
0
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.
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.



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).

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.
 

Thunderbird

macrumors 6502a
Dec 25, 2005
890
746
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.
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'.
 

TMRaven

macrumors 68020
Nov 5, 2009
2,099
1
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.
 

leman

macrumors G4
Oct 14, 2008
10,147
4,675
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'.
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 :)
 

esfrost

macrumors member
Aug 26, 2010
62
7
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.
 

Chris5488

macrumors regular
Feb 26, 2011
217
21
Belgium
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.
 

TMRaven

macrumors 68020
Nov 5, 2009
2,099
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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.
 

tokyo77

macrumors member
Original poster
Jul 8, 2008
33
0
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.
 

yadmonkey

macrumors 65816
Aug 13, 2002
1,234
698
Western Spiral
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.
 

TMRaven

macrumors 68020
Nov 5, 2009
2,099
1
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)
 

tokyo77

macrumors member
Original poster
Jul 8, 2008
33
0
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.
Does Dolby Headphone work well with the AD700?

Edit: I'm a PC gamer only :D
 

TMRaven

macrumors 68020
Nov 5, 2009
2,099
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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.
 

monokakata

macrumors 68000
May 8, 2008
1,864
383
Hilo, Hawai'i
I have an external, firewire audio device for several reasons but I think the best thing about it is the volume knob.
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
 

tokyo77

macrumors member
Original poster
Jul 8, 2008
33
0
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.

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)


It's only good for gaming though, it completely ruins music.
I would think so :p