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Please define "S/PDIF", "Toslink" and "optical" out on a Mac


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Hi. First post, and although I have been listening to analog for years, just getting started in computer audiophilia, so patience with the new guy...

 

Currently running Mac OS 0.4.10, and wanting to understand what the difference is between "S/PDIF", Toslink, and Optical out, as pertains to either streaming music over Airport/Airport Express system to a DAC at my main system, or from the computer directly to a DAC/desktop amp & headphone use.

 

Thanks in advance!

 

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T11,

 

First welcome to C/A. There's generally a lot of patience here, proven by the fact they haven't deleted me yet. Here's my take -

 

Toslink - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TOSLINK I think refers to the physical connection of jack / cable which conforms to the S/PDIF http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SPDIF "standard".

 

Generally, Macs now have a dual purpose jack that is both mini plug and mini-Toslink. Output depends on the plug you stuff into the jack. The port handles both optical fiber output as well as digital.

 

The digital can generally by handled by a mini headphone splitter direct into analog receiver, etc. The optical signal requires an optical device on the other end of the wire.

 

I hope that's all correct, but here's a couple implications near as I can tell.

 

First - for streaming wireless I think you will want the Extreme base station over the express. I think that has USB port for external harddrive versus Express.

 

Next, there is debate about Toslink performance versus USB performance. You can see that debate in other posts on Chris's site right here. Some say Tos is just as good as USB. I could be wrong but nobody is saying Tos is superior. I use USB. Point being, you can get a DAC that accepts either and use either. Now there is some data that suggests Tos is inferior. If you study some of that ask questions here and the real gurus might step in. Real world implication is that if you buy a USB DAC and feed it from the USB port you are find for music. If I had to guess about which way to go, I'd say my ears probably can't tell the difference with either. It just works easy with my little USB DAC and USB Drobo and USB Mac. I like easy.

 

The next link to fret about is the music storage device connecting to the Airport. USB works fine.

 

If you decide you don't want USB then you can start down the road of Tos. Plenty of DACs that accept that too I think.

 

I assume your running iTunes. Be sure to turn error correction on when ripping.

 

I like AIFF format which is uncompressed. Storage is fairly cheap.

 

Dive in and soon you might be pitching the CD player! I don't even have one anymore. I use a crummy old DVD player if I'm desperate. This is a pretty friendly forum so ask away and there is a ton of really good info if you snoop around.

 

BTW - no charge for the extra opinions, I hope I answered the questions!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thanks to Innertuber & Chris.

 

So if I understand correctly, the data from the HD in my desktop machine(yes I am using AIFF) goes through the wireless card & streams to the Extreme base station, then to the Express which is connected via USB to a DAC (but which one? decisions, decisions)

 

The Toslink option would only apply if I had a laptop or Apple TV plugged directly into the DAC?

 

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Not exactly sure I'm following you, but I'll try to paint the picture of how it works.

 

Desktop >> Wireless 802.11 >> Extreme or Express >> Toslink >> DAC

 

The Airport Express can only connect to a printer via USB, so you're limited to Toslink there. If you're just going to send music to a DAC via wireless 802.11 then you only need the Airport Express. If you're going to use a network connected disk then you can use the Extreme to help with that.

 

Let me know if this raises more questions than answers :-)

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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