Two Macs, 1 pair of speakers = DAC/Mixer/Amp – what do I need?

dawindmg08

macrumors regular
Original poster
Sep 25, 2008
133
26
Los Angeles
Hi all,

I'm looking for a good solution to my audio dilemma: I have two Macs on my desk – an older Mac Mini and 16" MacBook Pro (which replaced a 2014 MBP) – and I need to share peripherals to save space. Previously I had an IOGEAR Thunderbolt KVM switch, but it was getting unreliable and I needed more ports. I switched to a CalDigit TS3 dock for my MBP and a small USB KVM switch to share the keyboard and mouse; my 4K monitor had dual inputs so that's fine. It's not one button for switching between them but everything is accounted for -- except the AUDIO.

I have an older pair of powered bookshelf speakers – M-Audio DX-4s – with analog inputs. My main issue is the the CalDigit dock has it's analog audio jack on the FRONT, which is not only an ugly mess but the cords get in the way of one of the USB-A ports. It has an audio port on the back but it's OPTICAL. I tried a cheap DAC/Switcher from Amazon that could switch between two optical inputs and ran a mini toslink cable from the Mini, but not only did it have issues (loud pops when audio stops playing) but I had NO volume control with the optical connections; the physical buttons on the keyboard don't function and the only controller is the volume knob on the speakers -- which thanks to my current desk setup is not easy to reach.

(Sorry, trying to keep this brief!)

Since then I've gone down a rabbit hole of DACs, passive volume controls, USB options, mixers, passive speakers, mixers, etc. And I still have no idea what I need to make this work. I have a bad feeling that I'm hunting for a piece of gear that doesn't exist, but I'm hoping someone has some ideas.

TL;DR? Here's what I'd like to find: a device with at least one digital input (USB or optical), a second input (could be analog), stereo analog outputs AND volume control. I assume it has to be passive because my speakers are powered? I haven't found a small mixer that fits the bill, nor do I want to spend $$$ on multiple shiny boxes daisy-chained together on an already-cramped desk. Maybe a set of passive speakers would give me more options – or even an amp?

Suggestions much appreciated!

D
 

Erehy Dobon

macrumors 65816
Feb 16, 2018
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Teac AI-301DA USB DAC amplifier fills your criteria except for the passive output. This model replaced the now discontinued less expensive AI-101DA which also would have worked for your situation. I have both of them. However they are powered amps and drive regular passive (non-powered) speakers.

Those amps have a DAC that’ll convert 192kHz/24-bit digital to analog. Plenty of power to drive desktop speakers plus subwoofer output.

Teac might have a standalone DAC that outputs line level stereo but it may not have a volume control.

The Cambridge Audio DacMagic 100 has the inputs you want but no volume control. I also have one of these. I’m not convinced that volume control on a line level output is a desirable feature in terms of audio quality.

In the end you may be forced to choose between the volume control dial or replace your speakers with standard passive models.
 
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dawindmg08

macrumors regular
Original poster
Sep 25, 2008
133
26
Los Angeles
What is your use? Are you just listening to music or some sort of a pro audio/video application?
Really it's both, though I'm mostly doing video editing work on my MacBook Pro (which is why the cheap DAC was so annoying -- popped every time I hit play/pause in Premiere Pro). The Mini is our media server so that's mostly for music when we switch over to that.
 

dawindmg08

macrumors regular
Original poster
Sep 25, 2008
133
26
Los Angeles
In the end you may be forced to choose between the volume control dial or replace your speakers with standard passive models.
That does seem to be the rub, doesn't it? It seems like you can have volume control over passive speakers but not active ones. At least not with these boxes.
 

xb2003

macrumors 6502
Jan 18, 2016
378
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MO
I'm not sure what your budget is.. but you have a few options.

- The DX-4s that I see have RCA and TRS inputs, you could patch one device to each and control volume on the device itself.
- Something like a PreSonus AudioBox iTwo. USB for one device, then stereo line input for the other. You'd have a big knob on the front to control volume. This is a ~$150 device, you can find interfaces like this as cheaply as $50.
- The Audient iD14 also caught my eye, has optical input so you can pull the optical from your Mac Mini 1/8" jack. ~$300. There are other devices in this price range that will offer some sort of a second digital input, just make sure the toslink supports SPDIF and not just ADAT.
- A higher end home receiver with enough optical inputs and pre-amplifier outputs. They exist, but they start around $800 and are big (obviously).
- Any number of professional audio mixers and interfaces, but probably way beyond the money you want to spend.

There are probably audiophile-type components out there, but that is not a market I am at all familiar with.
 

dawindmg08

macrumors regular
Original poster
Sep 25, 2008
133
26
Los Angeles
Update:
I had an old iMic USB>Audio out adapter laying around and one open port on the USB KVM switch, so I gave it a try: VOILA.
Switchable audio between the two Macs, and volume controls on the keyboard work as well.

Leave it to a piece of early-2000 tech to come to the rescue!
 
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