Audophile Advice on Connecting my Mac to My Stereo (Jack v. Sound Card)?
February 10, 2004 4:07 AM   Subscribe

Advice needed from audiophiles! What's the best way to connect my Mac to my stereo system? Also, amplifier recommendations advice, more inside...

At the moment, i'm using a simple splitter from the headphone jack of my mac to 2 red/white phono leads that go into the aux input of my amp. Does the headphone jack give a good enough quality sound-out? Or is there any sort of of soundcard (like a PC soundblaster card) for the Mac? I've googled for one, but can't find squat...
posted by derbs to Technology (4 answers total)
Response by poster: Also, it's time to replace my Denon amp (link). It was a good budget amp but it's time for something a bit more substantial.

I really like the look of this Rotel RA01 (link). That's actually the RA02. The RA01 hasn't got the remote, and is £100 cheaper. Anyone got one? Or anyone got any alternatives in the £200-300 ($400-500) price range?

posted by derbs at 4:15 AM on February 10, 2004

Can't advise on the amp (mine's a 15-year old Cyrus), but it's probably worth investing in some decent quality interconnects. The cheapest "audiophile" leads seem to make a difference compared to the low quality ones that are supplied with most equipment, but returns diminish rapidly after the first £20 or so.

I'm not sure how much you can improve on a Mac's sound quality by adding a dedicated audio card, but if there's a line out jack, use that instead of the headphone socket.
posted by cbrody at 9:46 AM on February 10, 2004

I like my iMic.
posted by terrapin at 11:04 AM on February 10, 2004

Cable is cable. Wire is wire. Copper is the world's best conductor, apart from silver. Gold is actually a much worse conducter than copper (take that "Gold Plated $2000 cables").

Headphone out is probably the worst output you will get from an amp, apart from the speaker outputs.

For analog audio, quality range (worst to best):

Speaker Output
Headphone Output
1/4" / RCA (Cinch) Unbalanced
XLR Unbalanced (Strange, but possible!)
1/4" Balanced, Ungrounded
XLR Balanced, Ungrounded
1/4" Balanced, Grounded
XLR Balanced, Grounded

The difference between "balanced" and "unbalanced" is that an unbalanced connection has ground + signal (ground being the reference). A balanced connection has ground (sometimes) + signal (-) + signal (+). This means zero ground interference (very good).

Now, as far as cable goes, don't waste your money. If, for some reason, you're crazy about getting "only the best" for home audio, get some RG-6 satellite cable, some F-to-RCA adapters, and build your own. There's NO way ANY "expensive" "audiophile" cable on the market will beat that. For runs under 10 feet, the cheapest, nastiest, dollar store cable will sound exactly the same as million dollar "OMG STFU NON-AUDIOPHILES!" cable. If you don't believe me, I can show you with an oscilloscope that 0 - 20 kHz performance from such a cheap cable is undistorted, assuming the ends don't come loose. No, unless you are a pregnant, asthmatic, 14 year old you won't be able to hear above 20 kHz.

If you decide to go pro and use XLR (total waste of money for a home stereo, IMHO), you'll just need standard Mic cable. The fact that pro XLR cable isn't "OFC", "Silver", "Special Twist" or any of those other stupid $50 terms should tell you something (and yeah, all your favourite tunes on your CDs went through an XLR cable at some point)...

As far as the amp goes, what's busted on your Denon? From that review it looks fine. Why not just replace the speakers it's connected to with something with a little more SPL?

If you are worried, though, the best way to improve your sound quality would be to use a receiver with digital in, get some type of soundcard for your Mac with digital out, and link them, preferrably with TOSLINK. Coax is fine, but could (technically) introduce grounding problems. Use the cheapest, nastiest cable you can for digital, there's no such thing as a good cable giving you better sound with digital. It's either working, or it isn't. For proof, I used zip cable to build a 25 foot SPDIF cable. Worked like a charm, except when the nearby furnace turned on. Then I'd get a small pop, and 1 second of silence from the corrupted datastream.

This soundcard should work well on your Mac, but I don't use any Apple equipment at all, so I really am not sure.

posted by shepd at 12:25 PM on February 10, 2004

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