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MAC, iTunes + DACMagic :-(


kutner

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Hi all,

 

I have read everyone's comments on the Cambridge Audio DacMagic and took the plunge last week.

 

I listen to music using the following set up:

 

Neat Motive 1 Speakers

Musical Fidelity A3 CD Player

Powered by a Marantz SR9600 Receiver

 

I obtain a huge presence and image from the setup and am very pleased with what I have just now.

 

I have used a Macbook for nearly 3 years now and have some 9000 tracks on iTunes... all at sub-par AAC bit rate and after talking with like-minded people I decided to buy this DACMagic and use the MacBook as the transport with the DACMagic.

 

Of course I have tried all of the encoding available on itunes and can find littler if any difference between:

iTunes Lossless;

AIFF;

WAV; and

MP3 @ 320kbps

 

Basically I am not impressed with what I heard.

 

I set up the DACMagic from MacBook via USB and also used a second input via digital RCA from the CD Player and compared both with the output of the Musical Fidelity.

 

I used a CD of Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd from Jazz Samba called "Desafinado" (track 01 of the CD).

 

What I found was that the CD Player gave me the best overall impression, character, image and bass definition, this was closely followed (or I could not tell the difference) between the CD player and the RCA output from the DACMagic.

 

However, much to my dissapointment the USB output from itunes was, to my ears not acceptable. The bass-line especially at the beginning of the track was muffled as if the woofers were torn on the left channel!! This was virtually the same for all of the encoded files from itunes. Additionally, and I realise that the DACMagic has not "burned-in" the image was dull compared with the CD Player and simply using the CD Player as the transport.

 

I'm wondering if this might be down to the quality of USB cable - but find this hard to believe as the quality of the DACMagic is good when using the CD Player as the transport.

 

Is itunes output flawed in some way?

Would I achieve a better result using Songbird... or should I revert to micrsoft for hardware still using itunes or perhaps using audiograbber?

 

I'm dumbstruck and desperately would like to have access to all of my music from a hard drive source at audiophile levels preferably from itunes!

 

All advise is welcomed.

 

 

 

 

Darren[br]____________________________________________________________________[br]Macbook OS-X; Beresford TC-7520 SE Caiman via Toslink; Marantz SR9600 AV Amp; Neat Motive 1 Speakers

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If I had one, I'd try a Toslink connection to the Dac. My findings, with my own set up, are that I much prefer the sound of almost anything to usb, for exactly the reasons you describe. Over usb there was just 'something' that was not quite right. I tried just about every conceivable permutation of software, with a decent usb cable, but nothing really gave me what I was hoping to get. Eventually I went for a Squeezebox, just to get the digital coax output, (and the bonus of remote control) and have never looked back. When the time is right I shall build a full-blown soundcard-based server, but until then the Squeezy gives me the level of enjoyment I was looking for. I think so much depends on the usb implementation on the particular dac you have - if it's not what you are looking for then nothing else in the chain is going to change things. The answer is to try a different input, rather than mess about with software too much - IMHO of course!

 

Before you give up on it, get yourself a suitable Toslink cable and give it a go - you may be pleasantly surprised!

 

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Hi Bob,

 

Many thanks for the reply! It's interesting to know that you think it's down to the USB lead... I think you could be right.

 

I would dearly like to try a Digital RCA or Toslink Cable from my MacBook into the DACMagic but alas the MacBook has no such connections only USB and firewire out.

 

Even if there were a conversion from say USB to Digital RCA then I figure I would still be getting similar results as the USB output from the MacBook would still be used...

 

Darren[br]____________________________________________________________________[br]Macbook OS-X; Beresford TC-7520 SE Caiman via Toslink; Marantz SR9600 AV Amp; Neat Motive 1 Speakers

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Not meaning to be annoying, but I just checked the spec for early 2006 models and it states that the headphone out is a combined optical/headphone output. This is what I thought was the case for all macs. As I said, never had one, so could be talking BS, but it may be worth a check. :)

 

C'mon Mac guys, help me out here!

 

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I'm pretty sure that all MacBooks have had optical out capability. A quick visit to "About This Mac" under the Apple menu should confirm this: Click on "More Info" which takes you to System Profiler, then under audio look for s/p-dif out. It should say connection = 'combo', meaning that your mini-jack headphone output doubles as a mini-toslink optical output. Get yourself an optical cable (you'll probably need one with the fiddly little adapter, unless you go mail-order) and do your tests.

 

I also have a Dacmagic, and personally found it to be a big step up from the analog line out on my mac. I have tried both the usb and optical, and didn't think there was a great deal of difference between them, wheras there's quite a noticeable difference between the Dacmagic sound and that of my Naim CDP.

 

Is it possible that since you've had the Macbook for some time, you may have experimented with some system level 'sound enhancement' add ons which don't actually enhance anything? Also check that you've turned off iTunes' own 'sound enhancer' and 'sound check' preferences, and set the Audio Midi sample rate settings to match your source material before launching iTunes.

 

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Hi much to my amazement there is an optical out on the MacBook! :-)

I have just bought a mini toslink converter together with a mini to main toslink lead.

 

As for the itunes sound enhancer and sound check - that occurred to me and I had already switched them off in the hope that it would resolve the problem... sadly it didn't, what a futile utility!

 

I'm hoping that the optical lead might work out better than the USB - we'll see and I'll post my results doing the same audio test.

 

If it doesn't suit, now that I know that I can "optical" out from the MacBook, any decent DAC should do the trick so I'm open to recommendations on that score too as there will be a huge variety available both new and used... and that could be the end of my CD Player!

 

Darren[br]____________________________________________________________________[br]Macbook OS-X; Beresford TC-7520 SE Caiman via Toslink; Marantz SR9600 AV Amp; Neat Motive 1 Speakers

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Hi everyone,

Yes the headphone out is a combined optical/headphone output as it is on the Airport Express.

The optical output from the Mac has been measured by Chris on this site and been found to have

bit perfect output. I have tried USB vs Optical on a Stello 100 signature DAC and had a hard time telling the difference, I think it depends on equipment combinations(as always)

Remember that you need a special optical cable for this,can be found in the AppleStore.

 

 

What have been VERY satisfying to me though is when I got it all running in Apple style, how you ask? Start with an Apple AirportExtreme or TimeCapsule (you want the wireless function activated here). Put an Apple AirportExpress in the vicinity of your sound equipment and connect the AirportExpress OPTICAL out to your DAC. You have now wireless(bit perfect) connection between the ITunes computer(which can be in another room if you like) and your DAC.

 

BUT WAIT THERE IS MORE!

 

If you have an IPhone or, like me, an IPod Touch you can get a program(ca: 20:- Euros) called Remote Buddy which let's you control your Mac from the IPod Touch. Well my lingering question was until this weekend, how much control do I have over the Mac with this program, well little is missing. I can... Start the Mac with the power button and after that go to my IPod Touch from which I can choose everything I can in front of the screen, control the built in camera,launch programs. Music when started will display the cover in the IPod Touch(as saved in ITunes) and give you cd-player like controls. I could go on but I urge you to go to their site should you find this intriging; www.iospirit.com Oh yes I allmost forgot you CAN shut down,force quit and sleep the computer from the program(IPod Touch).This opens up the possibility of using the Mac-mini as music server to me(no display needed)

 

I hope this was not too confusing but helpful! :)

 

casp

 

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I am using iTunes on the original Macbook Pro with USB output to my Benchmark USB DAC1, and I also have the optical output to my PS Audio Digital Link III DAC with excellent results from both interfaces.

 

In the Audio Midi Setup utility for your USB device, make sure you are set to '2ch - 24 bit'. USB seems to work better with 24-bit even if your files are 16-bit.

 

Benchmark has a nice Mac / iTunes setup article that should work for your DAC Magic here:

 

http://www.benchmarkmedia.com/wiki/index.php/ITunes-QuickTime_for_Mac_-_Setup_Guide

 

It's worth a try, let me know if it this helps.

 

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I'm using a somewhat older Mac with output via USB to my dac and, really, the sound is quite grand.

 

When you rip your test tracks from CD are you ripping to AIFF or Apple Lossless? Or is your iTunes ripper set to AAC? Worth checking and make sure you're doing your comparison versus CD with the full resolution rip.

 

In Audio Midi Setup utility when you select your DacMagic, is it set to 44.1 kHz?

 

Is there anything else (currently turned on) using your USB bus?

 

You definitely have the EQ turned off?

 

Just brainstorming. Hope your experiment using the optical connection solves the problem.

 

2013 MacBook Pro Retina -> {Pure Music | Audirvana} -> {Dragonfly Red v.1} -> AKG K-702 or Sennheiser HD650 headphones.

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After further reading, it appears the DAC Magic does not support 24-bit on the USB port. I wonder if that explains the sound quality since I believe that iTunes 7.X uses a 24-bit connection to core audio.

 

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I've tried to get to a 2ch - 24bit 96khz setting but no such option is given.

Only 2ch - 48khz at 16 bit... which I have now tried but to no avail... (not sure how to insert a screenshot here)

 

Darren[br]____________________________________________________________________[br]Macbook OS-X; Beresford TC-7520 SE Caiman via Toslink; Marantz SR9600 AV Amp; Neat Motive 1 Speakers

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Tried the other USB output - same result... 2ch 16bit with max 48khz if the TOslink does not work it's bye bye DacMagic.

 

Darren[br]____________________________________________________________________[br]Macbook OS-X; Beresford TC-7520 SE Caiman via Toslink; Marantz SR9600 AV Amp; Neat Motive 1 Speakers

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What input on your SR9600 have you connected the DAC Magic to?

Have you tried switching the DAC Magic into the input used by the CD?

Have you we the DAC Magic input to Stereo Direct (or similar mode) - many surround recievers apply an Analogue to Digital conversion stage to inputs unless set to a direct mode.

Have you tried optical directly into the reciever from your MacBook?

 

The USB connection on the DAC Magic only supports 16bit upto 48khz - the optical connection supports 24/96.

 

Just some more thoughts

Eloise

 

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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I've connected into stereo analogue RCA inputs and use Source Direct, so bypasses some circuitry...

Can't see how using the CD input would make much or any difference to be honest as you can "source direct" in all inputs that I've tried.

Will try direct toxlink into the SR9600 when the leads arrive and see what happens - might be good as the amp has impressed me ever since I've had it but I think a standalone DAC is likely to be better, am happy to be proved wrong though!

 

I've really gotta get some sleep - I'm in London.

 

Thank you to everyone who has posted - it really has been an eye opener for me this evening

 

Darren[br]____________________________________________________________________[br]Macbook OS-X; Beresford TC-7520 SE Caiman via Toslink; Marantz SR9600 AV Amp; Neat Motive 1 Speakers

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My mini Toslink adaptor and mini toslink to toslink cable arrived today.

 

I performed the same test with the DACMagic and directly into the Marantz SR9600 via toslink instead of USB with the following encoding:

 

Apple Lossless;

AIFF;

WAV;

MP3 @ 320kbps; and

AAC @ 256kbps

 

The output from the Macbook I configured to 24bit 96khz 2-Ch Stereo

 

and compared to my Musical Fidelity CD via analogue RCA into the amp the CD Player into the DACMagic by toslink and analogue into the amp... all this using the same track: track 01 of Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd from Jazz Samba called "Desafinado".

 

Sadly I have to report the same result :-(

Poor bass definition and presentation, and dull and "not-alive" in comparison with anything that the CD Player puts out.

 

I even tried the CD drive in the Macbook as a comparison... all to the same effect :-(

 

I conclude that it must be my Macbook that is not "performing" to an audiophile quality.

 

Perhaps I should try the same test with a PC or a different Mac?

 

I'm deeply disappointed with the results.

 

Tomorrow I will try the output from the Macbook configured to 16bit 44.1khz & 48khz etc in 2-Ch Stereo but I'm not holding my breath.

 

Darren[br]____________________________________________________________________[br]Macbook OS-X; Beresford TC-7520 SE Caiman via Toslink; Marantz SR9600 AV Amp; Neat Motive 1 Speakers

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[/b]Probably a really daft / obvious suggestion but ... You do have volume on iTunes set to maxium and all EQ turned off don't you? We all sometimes miss the obvious and I dot recall anyone suggesting you check.

 

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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Really, you shouldn't be getting bad sound. I wouldn't jump computers just yet.

 

For now, just use a standard AIFF file ripped from from your cd (error correction on of course). Set Audio Midi to 44.1kHz (before you open iTunes) and get it set to the same value as the source file -- so your computer isn't doing any resampling.

 

Then, make sure your iTunes configurations are correct so there is no 'sound processing'.

 

Then see if that single file is free of muddiness/dullness etc.

 

2013 MacBook Pro Retina -> {Pure Music | Audirvana} -> {Dragonfly Red v.1} -> AKG K-702 or Sennheiser HD650 headphones.

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Just tried this suggestion and have the same result - not sure there is any more that can be done if I'm honest...

 

Darren[br]____________________________________________________________________[br]Macbook OS-X; Beresford TC-7520 SE Caiman via Toslink; Marantz SR9600 AV Amp; Neat Motive 1 Speakers

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I'm stumped. Really, with this dac and with full resolution files it should already be sounding quite good. And I'm not at all sure why it isn't...

 

2013 MacBook Pro Retina -> {Pure Music | Audirvana} -> {Dragonfly Red v.1} -> AKG K-702 or Sennheiser HD650 headphones.

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My only conclusion... can only be that it's the MacBook itself.

I will try to find another Mac or PC to further test but this may take a while.

 

Darren[br]____________________________________________________________________[br]Macbook OS-X; Beresford TC-7520 SE Caiman via Toslink; Marantz SR9600 AV Amp; Neat Motive 1 Speakers

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  • 2 weeks later...

is it the DACMagic that doesn't support 24/96 over USB? I thought that it was a limitation of the standard USB driver - 16/48 is the maximum. If this is true, are there any 3rd party drivers that support a higher bandwidth and bitrate? It certainly works through Toslink.

 

regards[br]Michael[br]Mac mini & Amarra 3 | Weiss Minerva | CEC TL-51x | Octave HP500se | ADAM Tensor Delta active speakers. [br]MacBook Pro | V-DAC | Yamamoto HA-02 | ATH-W1000[br]AppleTV | DACMagic2 | Sugden A25 | ADAM HM2

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I'm not sure why you are blaming the computer, which gives identical results from both outputs. It seems likely either the DacMagic is at fault or the receiver. I'm sure that's why the suggestion to switch inputs. You know the CD input is good, so that's a good spot check.

 

If your result is the same, I think your best bet is to take the DacMagic to the dealer and hook it up there, compared to their demo unit. Either it sounds the same or something is amiss.

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi all,

 

I have reached a succesful conclusion to all of my audio issues!

 

Basically there was no problem with any of the hardware and (from what was discussed above) I went to some lengths to ensure this.

 

I had a friend come round one night this week and we went through everything and he listened to the audio comparison on the same Stan Getz track, and I'm glad to say I was not going mad as the poor audio reproduction was there for him to hear also.

 

We [he] determined that it may have been iTunes that was causing the distorted sound.

 

I had already downloaded Songbird as an audio player and we simply imported the same track in, played it and hey presto... no distortion!!!!!!! What joy!!!! We couldn't believe it, it was a terrific feeling to solve the problem!!!!!

 

It therefore is evident that there is an audio issue with iTunes version 8.1.1 (am not at my mac just now so it may be a version prior to 8.1.1 - will check later). Has anyone else had similar issues?

 

Having solved the audio problems leads me to two further issues for discussion:

 

1. I am looking for an outboard/seperate DAC that uses Burr Brown components with at least 24 bit technology (this is basically to try to replicate the DAC chipset in my Musical Fidelity A3 CD Player). Am not looking to spend mega bucks, maybe up to £300... any suggestions? The DAC must have a toslink input to cater for the mac.

 

2. I intend to re-rip all of my CDs to Apple Lossless and this will take up, among other thinkgs, lots of time but in terms HDD space about 200 - 250GB. So I plan to either upgrade (again) my Macbook & Back-up HDD to 500GB or simply go external HDD altogether + Back-up. However I would still like to carry all of my music with me on my iPod and want to know if the lossless on the HDD can be synchronised to the iPod at say AAC @ 128kbps? Does anyone know if it is possible to re-rip at a lower bit rate from HDD to iPod when synchronising with iTunes?

 

 

Darren[br]____________________________________________________________________[br]Macbook OS-X; Beresford TC-7520 SE Caiman via Toslink; Marantz SR9600 AV Amp; Neat Motive 1 Speakers

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