MBP + USB sound card = noticeably better sound?

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by Meroigo, Jun 15, 2012.

  1. Meroigo, Jun 15, 2012
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2012

    Meroigo macrumors newbie

    Jun 15, 2012
    Hey MacRumors, my first post here! :D

    I have a MacBook Pro Early 2011. I have headphones better than the average ones; Sennheiser HD555, so I was thinking, maybe an external USB sound card would make my HD555 sound much better... On-board integrated sound cards doesn't have very good reputation among audiophiles (I'm not one, but I always prefer great sound).

    But... when I google I read Macs have pretty good on-board audio. So this makes me a little unsure if I will actually hear any difference between the integrated and a USB soundcard.

    The soundcard I have been looking on to buy is the Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi HD. It doesn't officially support Mac, but I've read when I've googled that it works just fine on Lion. I will not get the additional Creative software though (does anyone know if it's that important?)...

    Anyways: my main goal is to get noticeably better sound quality. And oh, I'm mostly just listening to compressed iTunes store quality music. So; any advice for me after reading this post? :)

    Edit: Sound Blaster Recon3D USB also looks interesting, because its software works on Mac and maybe that fits my needs more (I can use its feature to convert surround sound in movies to virtual surround in my stereo headphones, it seems... and I love movies with surround)... :eek:
  2. oddsratio macrumors newbie

    May 18, 2012
    If it's simple music listening, don't bother with the sound cards with any of the fancy enhancements. It will distort the music more, and you'll be listening more to the effects than the production. If that's your preference, you're entitled to it, I just figured it would be prudent to note.

    If you're listening to highly compressed files (128kpbs), you won't get much out of any external hardware. At 256, it's hard to distinguish from lossless files, and you may see a benefit, but don't expect the changes to be earth-shattering.

    What you want to look for at an entry level price point to test the waters is a USB DAC (digital to analog converter)/ Amplifier combo. There's a wide range of choices, but people have taken to the Fiio E7 (~$77 on amazon). It acts as an external soundcard, but doesn't do those enhancements that will artificially enhance the sound. There's a bass boost option on some of them, but it's optional and not too intrusive.

    For an entry level device, I preferred the iBasso D-Zero, but you have to pay for international shipping and it's about $60 more than the E7. The E7's appropriate for those headphones and the sound quality of your collection as you describe it, but you should search head-fi.org if you want a better idea of this market.
  3. Meroigo, Jun 17, 2012
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2012

    Meroigo thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jun 15, 2012
    Thank you for the reply, I really appreciate it! You gave me some nice new things to think about when researching this. :)

    I've been thinking about getting Fiio E10 because I read it sounds better than E7 and is cheaper. Plus, I don't need the DAC to be portable (to plug into iOS devices for example).

    Edit: After researching a little bit more, it seems like some people have a really hard time hearing the difference between the MBP soundcard and E10... :O
  4. oddsratio macrumors newbie

    May 18, 2012
    Yeah, that's to be expected; I wouldn't recommend the e10, as I had it and returned it because it had numerous issues, the least of which was a lot of interference and background noises.

    To be honest, the onboard audio is fine for me, but I use IEMs, which isolare, but emphasizes a lot of the hiss from the soundcard. If you're in a quiet environment and using these types of earphones and not playing anything, you'll notice the background hiss disappear as soon as you unplug them from the jack. Since I started using a DAC, I've noticed this drop off completely, so for me, buying one was worth it, because it really cleaned up the sound.

    Also, your phones don't need an amp if they're the 50 ohm version, but some people do (like for the Sennheiser 600s or 650s), and the only way to get clean sound to an amp through a computer is by using an external DAC, otherwise the headphone-out would just amplify the noise.
  5. DF9, Jun 17, 2012
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2012

    DF9 macrumors newbie

    Jun 17, 2012
    Another Sound Enhancement Option for Mac...

    SonicStudio Amarra or Amarra Hi-Fi

    This is another option for sound enhancement for Mac… it runs with iTunes on Earbuds / Headphones / Internal or External Speakers… to a DAC if necessary for more enhanced external playback.

    You can get a free download with time-trial check it out…

    1) - Amarra: http://www.sonicstudio.com/amarra/amarra_player.html

    2) - AmarraHi-Fi: http://www.sonicstudio.com/amarra/amarra_hifi.html


    This is an option for USB to DAC solutions for High-End Audio Performance…


    1) - BitPerfect > Mac App Store: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/bitperfect/id455545700?mt=12


    This is an option to convert FLAC files to run on iTunes… Convert to AIFF, AAC, Apple Lossless, MP3...


    1) - FLACTunes > Mac App Store: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/flactunes/id517984121?mt=12


    This is an option to Rip CD's to different format's

    Phile Audio

    1) - Phile Audio > Mac App Store: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/phile-audio/id413934579?mt=12


    This is a site among a myriad of others that discuss computer audiophile subjects!

    Computer Audiophile

    1) - Computer Audiophile: http://www.computeraudiophile.com/?


    IT Enquirer Review on Amarra… you can search for reviews, there are tons!

    Amarra Review: http://apple.it-enquirer.com/2012/04/25/review-amarra-high-end-audio-player/


    Macintosh How To...

    What are the best settings to import songs into iTunes?

    Macintosh How To: http://macintoshhowto.com/itunes/importing-into-itunes.html


    iTunes Support…

    iTunes: How to convert a song to a different file format

    iTunes Support: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1550?viewlocale=en_US&locale=en_US


    Good Luck, Have a Great Music Listening Experience!
  6. Meroigo thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jun 15, 2012
    Hey! I'm a bit slow responding here... :D

    DF9: Thanks for the links (but maybe a tiny little bit spammy for your first post here... :D).

    oddsratio: thanks again for the reply. :) Bad timing... but my HD 555 recently broke! As much as I loved them, I went for the similar HD 598 when buying new headphones the other day. Do this maybe changes things? Also, I have done much research the last couple of days, about headphones and audio. So interesting...

    Anyways, as we can see in this graph; http://graphs.headphone.com/graphCompare.php?graphType=7&graphID[]=2851&graphID[]=563 , the 555 does require less from the MBP amp compared to the 598, in the bass frequencies. I tried to find out how many ohms the MBP amp can handle but I couldn't find anything...

    Now with the 598 and not 555, I think I could benefit a little bit more with an external DAC/amp... I wonder if there are any stores here in Japan where I can bring my laptop and headphones, and trying different ones standing right there. haha... but it's so hard to decide without hearing them for myself! :)

    Sorry for not getting very far in this matter...
  7. phairphan macrumors 6502a


    Sep 21, 2005
    Reject Beach
    If you haven't already, check out Head-Fi for possible ideas on hardware. What may be of particular interest to you are the recent articles on the Spring 2012 Tokyo Headphone Festival. I don't know where in Japan you live, but this may give you some leads on where to try different DAC/amp combinations.
  8. DF9, Jun 25, 2012
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2012

    DF9 macrumors newbie

    Jun 17, 2012
    Spammy Newbie

    Hey did not to want to sell anything to anyone, if that's what you mean by Spammy! From your post as a MR Newbie you asked about Creative 70SB109500000 Sound Blaster X-Fi Surround 5.1 Pro THX Certified USB 2.0 Sound Card or Creative 70SB124000001 Sound Blaster X-Fi HD THX Certified USB 2.0 Sound Card. I have one of each and they run fine on OS X 10.7.4 or Windows 7 Ultimate. The SonicStudio Amarra works just as well if not Better for Stereo, or into a 5.1/7.1 sound card without having to drag along extra hardware to support Great Audio Performance… And it is a FREE 15 Day Trial Download, if you don't think it sounds as good as you like, DON'T BUY IT, JUST UNINSTALL IT! But most listeners are very surprised at the Sound Quality of iTunes AAC 256kbps + Amarra at $189 or Amarra Hi-Fi at $49, specially on a Laptop with HD Headphones or External Speakers! Give It A Try You Just Might Be Surprised! But if you are looking for SACD/DVD-Audio 5.1/7.1 quality sound it will take a lot more than just CL X-Fi 5.1 USB SC or a DAC. Just a few options on the software/file-format side of High-End Audio… One thing to remember garbage in garbage out!

    By the way, that's why iTunes 10.+.? Went from AAC 128kbps Bit Rate (about = MP3) (iTunes 8/9 and older versions) to AAC 256kbps Bit Rates with the option to import 256/320kbps Bit Rates or Convert to MP3, AIFF, WAV, AAC, Apple Lossless ALAC/ALE, from AAC 128kbps/MP3 Lower Bit Rates! The point is smaller file size to fit smaller HDD space systems! Smaller file sizes mostly used for iPod, iPhone, MP3 Players, smaller HDD's on older PC's. If there is any song that is at a Lower Bit Rate, simply right click it and select Create Apple Lossless Version for the Best Quality iTunes Bit Rate.

    Purchased my first PC in 1987… Apple II, and have owned more than twenty different Mac/Windows machines… Desktops, Workstations, Laptops, and tablets. I run LogicStudio, SoundBlade HD, Ableton 8, ProTools (on Windows 7 Ultimate), and Yes, I am an Audiophile, and I personally own a myriad of Very High-End Audio Equipment… some Stereo only Systems (5), some 5.1 SurroundSound A/V Systems (2), some 9.3 SurroundSound A/V Systems (4), as well as 32" to 65" Plasma's (4) and LED's (5), plus a multitude of separate components to play any-format or create a plethora of system options.

    Oh just to let you know I bought my first pair of Sennheiser SD100 Headphones Jan.1973, first audio system in Sept.1973, upgraded it in 1974 to… TEAC 3340 Reel to Reel (1), Nakamichi BX-125 (1), Uher UHD130 (1) UHD cassette tape players, then first CD player Denon DCD-1800R (1) in 1986 (only about two to three hundred CD's available at that time), Bang&Olufsen SLT Turntable (1), Braun LV1020 Speakers (4), then Denon AVR-5308CI(A), DBP-4010UDCI Reference CD/SACD/DVD/BD, then Denon AVP-A1HDCI(A)/POA-A1HDCI Separates, DVD-A1UDCI Universal Disc Player, Magnat Magnasphere Delta's (6 EA), Later on Luxman PreAmp/Amp (2), Stax PreAmp/Amp (2), MartinLogan Audio/Speakers, Rotel Audio Components, Bowers&Wilkins 802D's (4), B&W SW's (2), Veladyne Powered SW's (3), STAX SR-009, Sennheiser HD800, Grado PS1000/GS1000i, Denon HD8000, B&W P5 Headphones, 4 DAC/ADC's in the four to five digit range, and a myriad of hardware components too much list ALL!

    More than 20K+ High-End Vinyl LP's, 25K+ CD/SACD/DVDAudio/BD-BDXL Disc's, (LP's/Disc's not dollars) my iTunes Music is 786GB+, most in 256kbps/320kbps AAC, and all 128kbps AAC files from iTunes 9 back to iTunes 1 are converted to AppleLossless! Also have 1700GB+ AIFF/FLAC/Apple Lossless files on a Music Only Server to feed a several DAC's for any of the above Systems! My MBP 17" iTunes+Amarra 2.4 Full Version (not Hi-Fi) has 499.85GB of Music for travel or DJ or ? Everyone who hears its output asks "what did I do to get that kind of sound out of laptop?"

    You can spend all the money you can afford on all the aforementioned equipment (Hardware or Software), but if you are looking to get the best sound out of the equipment you can afford the better the input quality the better the sound out… As far as DAC/ADC's if you don't input BitPerfect Audio You will Not Get BitPerfect sound out any Headphones, or Speakers, or A/V systems. So if you are using any digital source (PC - Mac/Windows) Jitter from Clock Speed/Clock Cycles are always an issue. Some of us have spent tens of thousands of dollars over a lot of years trying to achieve that ultimate sound quality, at BitPerfect 44kHz-48kHz-96kHz-192kHz-384kHz Highest Sample Rate / 256kbps+< to get the Highest Bit Rate and as low a THD as possible.

    Think of a Hi-Def TV if you put in 540i/720p/1080i source on any of todays/tomorrows High-End Plasma/LED TV's it still won't look as good as BD3D 1080p or 4K SuperHD quality video. Sound is just the same thing… remember garbage in garbage out! My point is... The Better the Source the Better the Playback!

    SonicStudio is a Commercial Audio Software Engineering Company and their SoundBlade HD : 24/192 - The Master's Toolbox is a $2K Pro 8/16-track recording editing and delivery software package. Amarra is a Mac OS X Audio Software package for sound enhancement. Another note I do not recommend any one solution for all listeners situations just another option to consider!

    One more thought on a Newbie Spammy Like Post… isn't that the pot calling the kettle, only newbie on this UserName/Handle/or whatever semantics you want you use… Just did not use older username for this posting. Please do a little more research into Audiophile, Hi-End HD A/V Equipment, HD Sound Editing, Computer HD Audio, HD SoundSource etc…

    There are a lot of things for all of us to learn each day, and I am still learning new things everyday, and have considerable more years researching this subject, but respect goes along way!

    "Absorb what's useful, discard the superfluous" Bruce Lee

    Good Luck, Have a Great Music Listening Experience! :) :apple:

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  9. Shokyu macrumors newbie

    Nov 10, 2012
    Sorry to bring back this dead thread to life... but I just have to say something...

    You DF9 are a poor idiot. Converting a lossed file format into a lossless is just stupid. You will just gain a bigger filesize, not a better quality. Thats why it called a compressed/lossy file format. All the quality the raw file had is gone. GONE!! Forever! ;-)

    In the context of this, your self-adulation is just... lol.

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