rMBP DAC vs outboard DAC vs consumer soundcard

Discussion in 'Digital Audio' started by inscrewtable, Dec 6, 2014.

  1. inscrewtable macrumors 68000


    Oct 9, 2010
    I've heard that the rMBP Mid 2013 model, and probably earlier and later models have a pretty good DAC, but I've also heard that a low end but pretty good DAC like the DragonFly v1.2 will be a worthwhile upgrade.

    How true is this and what about a DAC like the audioengine D1, would that be worth using going into a pair of KRK VXT's?

    Also how would the DAC (not the preamps) in a low end soundcard like the Steinberg Ci1 or Ci2, compare to a dedicated DAC like the DragonFly, or the onboard rMBP DAC.
  2. mtasquared macrumors regular


    May 3, 2012
    I too have thought about buying an outboard output DAC but then I read this very well thought out article. Check it out.
  3. inscrewtable thread starter macrumors 68000


    Oct 9, 2010
    OK that made for some sobering reading. Thanks for the link. I presume the rMBP DAC is not going to be bettered by a low end audio interface.
  4. cycledance Suspended

    Oct 15, 2010
    the article is good. could be harsher for my taste. don't spend more than 200 on a dac. even that is a lot.

    the dragonfly isn't low end.

    there is a good reason to use a usb dac and that's when the analog jack is noisy. i had this problem with older macbook pros. also i don´t know the rmbp internal dac. if it's good then a dedicated dac is probably not needed.

    there are optical dacs too. but then you can't change volume on the mac which sucks... i use them but not on my mac currently.
  5. iLog.Genius macrumors 601


    Feb 24, 2009
    Toronto, Ontario
    You're just looking at one component so it's hard to gauge how much you want/should spend. That article says you shouldn't spend more $2 for a DAC which I disagree with. Yes, you're not going to find huge changes in sound and the price you're paying is for features but given the right setup, a DAC does make a difference.

    Just for argument sake, with regards to the article, in a comparison test, I used a MacBook Pro with optical out to a Pro-Ject DAC Box (low-end), Audiolab Q-DAC and M-DAC (mid-range) and a Weiss DAC202 (top-end) with a pair of Harbeth SHL5. Guess which one sounded the worst/best? Now I will say that between the mid-range and top-end, while there is a difference, is the difference worth the price ($800 vs. $7,000)? Probably not.

    I'm not saying you should get A, B or C, but your setup is important to what route you should go. You're not going to spend thousands on a system but cheap out on a DAC and vice versa. You wouldn't buy a BMW and put in regular gas.
  6. electronique macrumors 6502

    Aug 27, 2008
    Remember... Garbage in garbage out.
    While any reasonable DAC is an upgrade.. If your just listening to MP3s, the difference will be barely noticeable.
  7. wesk702 macrumors 68000


    Jul 7, 2007
    The hood
    True that. Can't polish a turd.
  8. boast macrumors 65816


    Nov 12, 2007
    Phoenix, USA
    If using them as a pure DAC, I guess it would depend what amp you connected them to afterwards, no? (finding the weakest link)
  9. iLog.Genius macrumors 601


    Feb 24, 2009
    Toronto, Ontario
    You're correct and for my comparison, I used a very neutral amp (Audiolab 8200A), something that would allow me to hear the differences between the DAC's I tested.

    In any case, speakers are your first priority and then an amplifier to match your speakers. What has been already posted above, the differences between DAC's are small but they are there and it comes down to your setup.
  10. Tucom macrumors 65816


    Jul 29, 2006
    I had a 2006 Mac Mini that, when compared to the onboard DAC, the SPDIF optical out was a HUGE improvement. Very noticeable. Also had a G5 that I later added a Stanton FinalScratch 2 Amp to that functioned as a very high end FireWire audio interface, and with a pair of KRK ST-6's, the difference vs. the onboard DAC was quite noticeable.

    Are onboard DACs on Macs and PCs these days really THAT much better that they render a high end, external DAC useless? Or to where there's very diminishing returns?
  11. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California
    The brand of DAC is such a tiny difference I doubt anyone could tell which they're listening to unless they were told. The speakers and their placement mater so much more.

    That said I did get the bet audio performance from a Presounus audio interface going into headphones, I think only because the built-in Persons headphone amp is very powerful.
  12. inscrewtable thread starter macrumors 68000


    Oct 9, 2010
    Ironically, I had to throw 2 presonus fireboxes away because they stopped working after having hardly any use. The first one, presonus told me that it's not worth repairing and that I could buy a new one off them for cost. I had a bit of an argument and told them to just send it back, they were very rude. However there must have been a mix up and they ended up sending me a brand new one back instead. That one also only worked for a few weeks. I kept it for a couple of years hoping to get it repaired but it would cost me more than what I could buy something new for so I ended up binning that one too. That's my presonus experience. It was really expensive when I first bought it too, in 2006.
  13. Li2249 macrumors newbie

    Feb 12, 2015
    I had MBPr 2014 late, my headphone is B&W P5S2
    Even listened with iphone5/6+ and ipad1/3
    The MBPr is best than others.
    I had compare my MBPr with USB DAC FUBA HD,
    I and my friend(20 years experience) all think MBPr sound quality is perfect.
    Just share information for you.
  14. UBS28 macrumors 6502a

    Oct 2, 2012
    External DAC's are way better than onboard DAC's on PC's and Mac ofcourse.
  15. Tucom macrumors 65816


    Jul 29, 2006
    Then what about the article listed above? "Ofcourse" isn't a be all end all answer. The quality of the DAC will matter, of course. Also, the DAC on my 2009 iMac sounds WAY better than the DAC on my new ASRock H97M Pro4 motherboard in my new 2014 gaming PC. But yes, I'm sure a truly high end DAC would outperform most onboard PC/Mac DACs.

    Anyone else have any input or articles about this? I may do some digging via Google later.
  16. UBS28 macrumors 6502a

    Oct 2, 2012
    That article is a bunch of non-sense. A $2 DAC = $2000 DAC? I own a $2000 DAC (which is better than the DAC2 used in that "article") and I also own a rMBP, guess which one sounds way better?
  17. cathul macrumors member

    May 5, 2008
    Expectations play a big role in this... if something is way more expensive it has to be better, right? And when compared in a double blind test (i.e. you don't know which DAC is actually playing when switching around between all DACs to be tested, and all DACs playing on exactly the same level of volume ofc) differences start to fade away and people can no longer say which one is playing when.

    Have experienced this a lot of times.
  18. UBS28, Feb 21, 2015
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2015

    UBS28 macrumors 6502a

    Oct 2, 2012
    It's very easy to hear the difference between the two in a blind test. The easiest way is to simply focus on that buttery smooth sound of a high-end DAC. An other method to reliably identify between the two in a blind test is to simply focus on the spatial information such as soundstage and imaging. An other way is to focus on how easy it is to hear the details present in the song. And this is just on badly recorded mp3 and not even using the best monitoring equipment.

    If it was about $2000 DAC's against $12000 DAC's, then I might have believed it.

    It isn't about price, but simply what I hear. The rMBP doesn't sound as good as a high-end DAC and I would have no problem telling which is which in a blind test.
  19. cathul macrumors member

    May 5, 2008
    Thank to the gods i have the freedom to not believe you.
    I don't know anyone claiming they can tell the difference between different equipments repeating these claims after a double blind test. And they all did swear they could before they actually took part in such tests.

    As i said... expectations play a big role in this.

    There are even people who believe that a 1 meter special power chord to the amplifier plays a big difference in sound quality or a 2000,-- $ HDMI cable.

    They probably also believe that Santa or the easter bunny exist.

    I bet that paying 1998,-- $ more on better loudspeakers or room acustic equipment makes a bigger difference in sound than a 2000,-- $ DAC over the 2,-- $ DAC.
  20. UBS28 macrumors 6502a

    Oct 2, 2012
    Do you own high-end DAC's? If so, do you also own high-end monitoring equipment? If not, you are just speculating.

    Ofcourse money is better spent on loudspeakers and room treatment. But if you want believe that $2 converters found in mp3 players, phones and laptops are the same as $2000 converters, then keep believing that.

    But let's just agree to disagree. If you can't hear the difference quite clearly with your own set of ears, then consider yourself lucky.
  21. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California
    You will never notice. The build-in DAC is as good as the others. What you get with an external USB Audio Interface is the other kinds of outputs, like balanced XLR jacks and very importantly an analog volume control.

    ALWAYS run all digital volume controls up to 100%. Any reduction from this limits dynamic range. The attenuate the volume with some analog control.


    If you don't want to be ripped off AVIOD the stores selling to home stereo hobbyists. The best deals are found in places that sell to musicians and recording engineers. You will need to spend maybe $150 for the better gear. Well, if all you need ar two output channels. Buy from well known high end brands like Focusright, Persons, MOTU or Apogee. The are all good pro-audio brands. Focusright will likely give you the best bang per buck as they use the same chips as Apogee.

    Look at something like this:
  22. winkosmosis macrumors member

    Oct 20, 2012
    The file format is irrelevant to whether you hear an improvement with an external DAC. It's not that you're limited to the quality of you weakest link. Each link degrades quality on top of the degradation from the previous link.

    With the Realtek on my Asus laptop I can hear a hiss with any file. No hiss with Tascam or Steinberg USB recording interfaces
  23. steveyo macrumors regular

    Feb 2, 2015
    If you're not using higher end audio equipment just stick with onboard.

    My setup is this


    Speakers (XLR to RCA) + subwoofer -> Audio-GD DAC (top left with silver knob) -> USB -> Macbook

    Only pet peeve is there's no foobar for OS X...Been happy with VOX so far though
  24. pn247 macrumors newbie

    Apr 6, 2015

    I was lucky enough to be able to try out a few DACs but was limited on budget. I ended up choosing the DragonFly v1.2 USB DAC as it was simply awesome.

    There are a few great posts on this thread talking about how little you will get from a DAC is the original audio quality is poor but if you have reasonable headphones then you should try it.

    There are some nice DACs for a reasonable price out there. Here is a nice summary:

    As I said, the DragonFly v1.2 won out for me but I had already invested in some reasonable headphones and the use of a DAC was simply taking away the next pain-point in the audio delivery line.

    Hope this is useful to someone :)
  25. englishgent macrumors newbie

    Apr 30, 2015
    Ive spent last year spending thousands on Amp/DAC/Headphone combos. then one day I realised the new Macbook Retinas come with built in high quality DAC, but the amp output is a bit low driving headphones, I thought a headphone amp would do the trick, but found a program called Boom, that gets the best out of the amp stage, I can say with hand on heart, the sound through Fidelia and Boom, is better than Dragonfly/Meridian (just)/ Beyer A200p/ only thing better was the NAD 1050, but that isn't portable,

    Headphones used, B&W P7's, Momentum over ears, AKG K3000, Dunu 2000's, Grado GR10, B&O h6, Beyer T51p's and others... sticking with the P7's and Dunu for iPhone.

    I don't work for Boom, but recommend you trying it out if you have a macbook later than 2013 when they put in nice DACS, your'll be amazed!

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