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Sadhu
See very little on sound cards for the iMac. While I know that many users purchase sound cards for MacPro desktops, I am wondering if an external sound peripheral will improve the playback sound off my iMac Intel unit ... for sound OTHER THAN the tracks that I record or input INTO such a peripheral. In other words will I hear any improved audio quality if I purchase a good quality external sound card when listing back through my computer ... say through iTunes or through a high quality stream? I'm not concerned about the "value" of $ spent to the amount to improvement. I am simply interested to know if there will be an improvement in over all quality (say more defined bass, or tighther bass, or a more natural sounding midrange and high end?

Anyone have any comments on external sound cards and whether they improve the sound? If so, anyone have any suggestions on what products to look at? I eventually plan to buy a Mac Pro, so I don't mind spending more on good external card if they can be had as an external device for the mac.

Would appreciate any and all comments. Thanks in advance.

- Sadhu
JonRaven
Hello there,

Now it all depends on what level of recording or shall I say perfection level you are shooting for I guess... but from my experience...

Recently I have witnessed on several occasions where a drastic sound quality difference was created whenever the engineer of whatever studio I was in... kicked in some piece of D/A conversion gear and cancelled out the standard mac soundcard feed from the chain.

I was intrigued so I started asking how the quality could increase at such a high rate but when I found out that they all introduced some sort of adat optical out (still digital) to a much better D/A converter (the actual conversion of the analog) into their computer to speakers world.

Such as top level types like the ones offered by apogee or similar level, but a close step down if you want to spend your budget on "ins" and worrying about "outs" later... would be a motu HD or something of similar build. Motu offers a pretty high end D/A for the more budget minded in their HD interfaces.

Just my thoughts but if you are a studio these days who has as much care about what is going "in" the computer as at what is coming "out" of it... I would invest in a good D/A converter. Yeah so you have the best conversion going "in"... but if you can't hear what went in... then ..well... you get my drift.

Anyways... my 2 cents as the general public can not hear any real difference in a lot of D/A conversion let alone A/D.

Now if you are talking about general priced ok listening and not so much recording perfection... then there are many cheaper options there as well.

Hope that helps a little?

Cheers.
huh.gif
Sadhu
Thanks for the reply. Actually, my question (or questions) relate to playback. I do not doubt that high quality sound card will be worth the investment for me for recording music.

I would rather draw attention away from concerns about input, and purely discuss the output from this Intel iMac (the white one ... the last version before the new aluminum and glass model that just appeard a few weeks ago - - and for my purposes, I am happy not to have the new reflective screen ... God bless everyone who is happy with them).

Yes, my interest is with PLAYBACK, and ... of course, I don't doubt that better sound card will improve the quality of sound when listening to high quality recordings. I've already encountered this on the Windows PC. I have very little knowledge of the ins and out (excuse the pun) of the design of the iMac and the interaction of the digital sound card in it, and am curious to know that if I plug in a high quality sound card, will, for example, I improve the quality of playback on a commercial audiophile store bought recording that I'm listening to on the Mac ...out of iTunes or Logic or say even a higher quality stream. My Creative Labs Audigy card is external to my Windows PC (and of course, there are better brands of both internal and external cards that do a better job), but even with my Creative Labs card, I do experience higher quality sound through high quality headphones than I do when listening to the iMac. Of course, again, I don't know if what I am hearing is just a better headphone preamp, or a better impedance match with the headphones, or a lesser than ideal situation of such a match on the mac. On the pc, I would suspect it's the internal card. However with the iMac, the external card route is all one has.

So I am wondering, friends, since I can't introduce an internal sound card into the iMac, if using an external sound card will produce similar types of improvement to the sound that I'm hearing on the pc side, specifically with iTunes, or commerical disc playback or high quality streams ... such as sometimes come out of France or Germany, or in some cases, some of the newer HD radio stations in the USA. Will the EXTERNAL sound card help that ... in any way?

Again, I'm not concerned with VALUE for the dollar discussions, or and not concerned with whether such investments are really worth undertaking for the for the type of improvement one receives. Obviously there are differences between cards, and obviously they cost a lot (so do good headphones), and so I'd like to table that aspect of the conversation, and JUST ASK if any of you know that it WILL or WON'T be a factor to improving the quality of the sound. Does it? And if so, do any of you have an experience with any specific card manufacturers?

That's really the area that I hope some of you will comment on. Thanks in advance for reading this thread!
mortalengines
I just have a 3 to 4 year old G4 powerbook and while I can't attest to the I-book's quality, I bought an Echo Indigo card for mine and basically wasted my money. The Powerbook's output was not noticeably different with the Indigo in place. Windows notebooks have really crappy sound apparatus installed. I actually perform with my laptop and just use the headphone outs.



www.myspace.com/mortal_engines
mortalengines
Back to your question though, if you are still not happy with your iMac's sound output....PreSonus and M-audio make good USB interfaces for under 200 dollars. The Echo Indigo PCIMA card I discussed in my previous post was around 179 bucks 3 years ago when I bought it.
minskybabs
Hi there, my thoughts, for what they are worth, is that yes an external audio interface "can" improve the playback from itunes and other online music. As the other people have suggested the conversion from digital to analogue, D/A will often be better, but, and here's the catch only on some interfaces and only on some sources. A very cheap intrerface will probably not be noticeably better than the built in, but an expensive one almost certainly would be. try before you buy if you can. Take in a digital file and play back through a shop mac and then compare same file through an interface. As people have suggested MOTU, RME, Apogee, various prices and generally the more you pay the better you get, up to a point.

Other factors, some audio files are poor in the first place, no amount of mioney will make a lo fi recording sound hi fi, but you appear to be talking about high quality recordings, so you should see improvements. Your other point about headphone impedences could also be a factor, but this is why try before you buy is good. Or get a dedicated headphone pre amp too. Though that is yet more bucks!

Good luck.
Minskybabs
Sadhu
QUOTE (minskybabs @ Tue 2 Oct 2007, 05:34) *
Hi there, my thoughts, for what they are worth, is that yes an external audio interface "can" improve the playback from itunes and other online music. As the other people have suggested the conversion from digital to analogue, D/A will often be better, but, and here's the catch only on some interfaces and only on some sources. A very cheap intrerface will probably not be noticeably better than the built in, but an expensive one almost certainly would be. try before you buy if you can. Take in a digital file and play back through a shop mac and then compare same file through an interface. As people have suggested MOTU, RME, Apogee, various prices and generally the more you pay the better you get, up to a point.

Other factors, some audio files are poor in the first place, no amount of mioney will make a lo fi recording sound hi fi, but you appear to be talking about high quality recordings, so you should see improvements. Your other point about headphone impedences could also be a factor, but this is why try before you buy is good. Or get a dedicated headphone pre amp too. Though that is yet more bucks!

Good luck.
Minskybabs


Thanks for your comments. I trust you understood that I was playing back via the iMac into the external device be it MOTU, RME, or Apogee ... which ever I end up buying. I will not doubt buy a good external box for use for RECORDING and not just playback. I quite understand many of the factors about recording and do know that you can turn make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. I am somewhat experienced in recording in Analog having gone to Eastman School of Music's school of Recording during the 1970s and having run a 24 Track Analog recording studio in the 70s, and many of the recording principals for Analog still apply to the world of Digital. So I do understand your point about poor audio files remaining poor audio files, and likewise about heaphone impediences. It's somewhat difficult to try before I buy here in the Greater Buffalo area as none of the stores that I know of have live setups for digital gear they sell and even if they did, probably most of them would already be using a Mac Pro and not an iMac since it's not the appropropriate piece of gear for professional recording ... the Mac Pro Desktop is. Again, my interest was in buying an external device for use the iMac that could eventually use when I buy a Mac Pro, which I intend to do. Hence my question regarding whether the external card would improve the sound of the iMac playback.

I am surprised actually to hear that you think it will. Many people have told me it would not improve the sound and that it would be complete and total waste of money in relation to use with the iMac. I do think it would enable higher quality recordings on the iMac but that I wouldn't necessary hear any difference on the iMac when it came to playback. That this would only be possible on the Mac Pro.

You are the first one to suggest that I could gain some benefit from the external sound device with regard to PLAYBACK on the iMac. Thanks for taking the time to reply.

- Sadhu


"I quite understand many of the factors about recording and do know that you can turn make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."

Obviously, I meant to say that "YOU CAN'T make a silk purse out of sow's ear!"

and would hope that you realized that's what I meant.
deaconblue
Sadhu,

For the iMac you reference (iMac Late 2006) the audio out ports have the following specs:

"The headphone / line output jack accommodates both digital optical audio output and analog audio output with a 24-bit, 16-96 kHz D/A converter."

If you purchase any external device, 1/8" analog, FireWire, USB or the digital audio interface, as long as the device's specifications are better than these you will have superior audio quality using an external interface over the internal. If you use a device with lower combined specifications, you will not achieve the goal you are attempting.

Regardless of those factors, any MP3 or other MPEG/Compressed stream, audio source file that you play on any computer will result in sound degradation as there is no such thing as loss-less compression. I would consider the sound source file to be your primary limiting factor in achieving audiophile representation on any computer.

I have success with a MOTU 828 via FireWire producing better quality audio output than my built in, not because of better specifications, but because of a cleaner signal path and better impedance/ability to more properly drive my headphones.

Hope this helps.

peace.

deacon
Sadhu
QUOTE (deaconblue @ Tue 2 Oct 2007, 22:37) *
Sadhu,

For the iMac you reference (iMac Late 2006) the audio out ports have the following specs:

"The headphone / line output jack accommodates both digital optical audio output and analog audio output with a 24-bit, 16-96 kHz D/A converter."

If you purchase any external device, 1/8" analog, FireWire, USB or the digital audio interface, as long as the device's specifications are better than these you will have superior audio quality using an external interface over the internal. If you use a device with lower combined specifications, you will not achieve the goal you are attempting.

Regardless of those factors, any MP3 or other MPEG/Compressed stream, audio source file that you play on any computer will result in sound degradation as there is no such thing as loss-less compression. I would consider the sound source file to be your primary limiting factor in achieving audiophile representation on any computer.

I have success with a MOTU 828 via FireWire producing better quality audio output than my built in, not because of better specifications, but because of a cleaner signal path and better impedance/ability to more properly drive my headphones.

Hope this helps.

peace.

deacon


Thank you for comments, Deacon. they are encouraging and helpful. Let me ask, at the risk of sounding silly, and if you don't mind saying, what headphones you use? I have many different makes and models myself, Grado, Beyer, AKG, and Sennheisser. I'm afraid my recording teachers forced me to learn to listen through as many transducers as possible when recording, and the habits of checking out various recordings of others on different transducers has stuck with me over the years. I find no one brand ends up being best suited to all recordings ... although some are more comfortable to wear than others.

So, anyway taking into account that certain headphones sometimes are more fitting for speficic combinations of instruments (rather than genre), may ask if there is a particular match up or match-ups you have heard with the Moto and liked with the Moto? The Moto matchup and your match is what I'd be interested in here.

I have found that what I've been hearing and disliking on the iMac comes from comparing the SAME source material on both Windows and iMac using the same headphones. I have tried different headphones too, but haven't a record of how their impedances varry. Pretty much the same results throughout. This is what led to me ask about external cards. However, this result, as you say is still as likely to be impediance and the proper matchup of output and headphones as anything else. So thanks for that for that reminder.

Do you listen to regular transducers (loudspeakers) as well as headphones from the output of Moto (into additional pre-amp/ampliers) If so, with what result? Perhaps you have a high quality set of powered speakers. I have a set of powered studio quality self-powered speakers KRK V8s, which are normally hooked up to my keyboards, but have yet to bring them down to listen the iMac. Your answer isn't going to reveal any absolutes, this much I know, but I am curious nonetheless if you've listended out of the moto through any loudspeakers.

Thanks again, deacon.
deaconblue
Sadhu,

No worries. That is what these forums are all about. Helping each other out. AND, I must state there are far more brilliant minds on here than I (le petit martien, macdaddy, mortalengines to name just a very few of those who have helped out on many topics over time).

I use the MOTU 828 with the following: a Sony reference headphone (Sony Pro MDR-7506), the Audio-Technica ATH-M40s, the AKG K-55s and the Sennheiser HD280 Pro. I also listen to the sound source from a pair of JBL 4408s driven by a Hafler TA1100 amp.

And I agree, different loudspeakers and headphone produce different frequencies better and are therefore better suited to different music types. But I try to get both speakers and headphones that add as little color as possible to my sounds since I use them primarily to mix and master various works. If it sound good in the cans, it may not sound good on a set of speakers. But if it sounds good in both (reference sets specifically) it may not sound good in your car or even your home stereo. I try to push the sound through as many sources as possible before I settle on a final mix. The outs of my MOTU also run to my stereo (Technics SA-300 [about 28 years old]) and then into either a matched set of Technics speakers (same vintage) or my Polk Audio reference monitors. This way I get a good range of tonal 'validations' before I get the final sound.

Also, I agree that this response, nor any other on this forum re: this specific topic, will produce any absolutes for you, but they should guide you to make a better informed decision.

I wish you luck in making the purchase. Spend as much as you can on your gear so it will last you a lot longer. But, once you make the jump, have no regrets. There is always going to be something newer and/or better out there. Just get what sounds best to your ears. That is what truly matters.

peace.
deacon
minskybabs
QUOTE (Sadhu @ Tue 2 Oct 2007, 18:30) *
Thanks for your comments. I trust you understood that I was playing back via the iMac into the external device be it MOTU, RME, or Apogee ... which ever I end up buying. I will not doubt buy a good external box for use for RECORDING and not just playback. I quite understand many of the factors about recording and do know that you can turn make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. I am somewhat experienced in recording in Analog having gone to Eastman School of Music's school of Recording during the 1970s and having run a 24 Track Analog recording studio in the 70s, and many of the recording principals for Analog still apply to the world of Digital. So I do understand your point about poor audio files remaining poor audio files, and likewise about heaphone impediences. It's somewhat difficult to try before I buy here in the Greater Buffalo area as none of the stores that I know of have live setups for digital gear they sell and even if they did, probably most of them would already be using a Mac Pro and not an iMac since it's not the appropropriate piece of gear for professional recording ... the Mac Pro Desktop is. Again, my interest was in buying an external device for use the iMac that could eventually use when I buy a Mac Pro, which I intend to do. Hence my question regarding whether the external card would improve the sound of the iMac playback.

I am surprised actually to hear that you think it will. Many people have told me it would not improve the sound and that it would be complete and total waste of money in relation to use with the iMac. I do think it would enable higher quality recordings on the iMac but that I wouldn't necessary hear any difference on the iMac when it came to playback. That this would only be possible on the Mac Pro.

You are the first one to suggest that I could gain some benefit from the external sound device with regard to PLAYBACK on the iMac. Thanks for taking the time to reply.

- Sadhu


"I quite understand many of the factors about recording and do know that you can turn make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."

Obviously, I meant to say that "YOU CAN'T make a silk purse out of sow's ear!"

and would hope that you realized that's what I meant.


Hi Sadhu, yes did manage to read through your typo!

I am not an expert at all this and you sound like you have a lot more recording experience than myself, but my understanding of the situation is that the same box will do your recording in to computer AND playback from computer. Therefore the box that you get to do this, an external soundcard, will have an effect on the quality of audio both ways.

Sound quality is a combination of many things, but a good high spec box will have a good clean signal path, low noise, very good A/D and D/A converters (the latter particularly important for playback), great pre amps, high sample rate, high bit rate (these two are more for recording than playback) Being outside the imac may also benefit from less interference etc etc.

If the box has a better signal path and D/A converters and drives/matches your headphones better, then it should make a good recording sound better.

As you have found by directly comparing the same source through the same headphones on two different machines there can be marked differences. Some audiophiles spend a massive amount on cd players and amps, not to mention cabling, they can and do make a difference. The same is true of soundcards, internal or external. Quite how much of a difference depends on your ears, opinions and many other things.

Keeping the signal digital until it can get to the best digital to analogue converter you can get is the way to hear the best sound. You should not need a seperate box to record and to playback.

If it is difficult to actually test a piece of kit, then it is vital you by from a good source. Being in England I don't know what is a good source in Buffalo, but the important factors are: returns, understanding of your needs, selling you the best/most suitable bit of kit at a fair price, and supporting you after you have purchased it, or even letting you return and change your mind. Don't just buy from the cheapest place, otherwise you may end up stuck with something that does notimprove your situation.

Read all the reviews, sound on sound etc. ask here what people like, I also have an old MOTU 828 that I think is very good and I got very good deal as it is an old bit of kit. There are lots better around, but they would have cost me more, there is always a trade off!

Good luck,
Minskybabs.
wappinghigh
Hi Sadhu

This is a great thread.

Something I've also been hankering for...great playback.

I've actually plugged my mac mini straight from spdif toslink out into a high end audio DAC (Northstar).
But I'm getting lots of high end noise when playing 24bit/96khz tunes.

This is a great question for this forum, because I've found a way now to get hidef tracks into itunes (ie 24bit 96khz). They are easy to play via the mac's midi, yet I've been unhappy with the means of getting them out of the mac cleanly..even when straight into a hifi DAC.

So I have also been down the path of investigating an external firewire computer audio interface. Logic is to use firewire ->spdif into extrenal audio box->spdif out of box->into hifi DAC.
Trouble is you invariably wind up in computermusic online stores..with endless selections, and info about 8 or 12 or whatever no of inputs?outputs midi this/that..when really what you want to know is how pure is the electronics, and how good is it with simple digital stereo! (sorry everyone)

Some of the devices also have word clock interfaces..which should make them sound better with one of these external clocking devices you can get to reduce jitter..(I've looked into this big time)..see empiricalaudio.com...but I've yet to hear for myself if this makes a big difference. Empirical and their customers seem to think it does...

I suggest you visit the empirical audio site. The head of the company Steve Nugent is a really nice guy..take a look at the forum threads. We have recently been talking about the best way to get pure audio tracks out of a computer...might be just what you are after...but as yet I've yet to make a committment which is best way to go

If there is a simple firewire box that does at least 24/96 with just spdif in/out including a word clock interface..can anyone let me know!...

Will follow with interest

AB.
Sadhu
Minskybabs, thanks. Yes, youre right. I can justify spending more because I am using the box for both record and playback, I can justify spending more on it. I have looked around a little and see its a crowded field of players (actually sorting through all the new Motu products requires some digital expertise that I dont have). And of course, when you walk into conversations that surround choices ... such as the software debates (many marry you to one recording software package or the other - which is might be called the to be or not to be a Protools user) or the latency problems issue (with sharing one firewire port between a demanding audio device and hard drives). I trust, first of all that are fewer latency issues using a Firewire 800 port than using a Firewire 400. Would you know? ??It seems that many people agree that the preamps sound pretty good in the Motu. This is what Ive read, anyway. Thats very encouraging. Quality of sound is, and lack of noise and distortion is very important to me. Also, it looks the new version supports midi in and out. ??By the way, Ill be in England in October to visit my daughter (who is going to school in London). I probably wont want to spend much time shopping around, but are there are any shops youd recommend? Here, there is only Guitar Center. If I shop around, it will probably mean either a trip to NYC or trying to get some advice out of a friend of mine who has a Mac studio thats both stationary and portable. Hes also in NYC. But Id like to expand my search beyond just one persons experience if at all possible. I think your suggestion about reading reviews, (Sound on Sound) and asking people what they like is up my alley. Thats something I enjoy -- to an extent, but I am an anxious to get something by Christmas or January. ??Thanks again.
Sadhu

QUOTE (wappinghigh @ Thu 4 Oct 2007, 07:49) *
Hi Sadhu

This is a great thread.

Will follow with interest

AB.


So few useful threads on this subject. Very good info for me so far.
wappinghigh
If your interested in Motu, there is a crowd in Chicago who "mod" these to improve sound quality. Also mod other makes like digidesign and M-Audio. Cost looks reasonable, though not real sure on technology. I'm looking into it. see www.blacklionaudio.com. Cheers.
Bobby Bell
One very good place to go for answers to this and other questions is www.sweetwater.com. Yes, it is a store, but they sell everything and don't have to sell you a particular item or brand of items to make a sale. I have been doing business with them for several years and they are the very best customer service oriented sales group I have ever met. A sales engineer is assigned to you and he/she keeps track of everything that you have in your system and can steer you down the path of true compatibility within your price range goals. After each and every shipment I receive a call to make certain that I got exactly what I wanted, that it arrived on time and that it arrived in pristine condition and that it does the job it was purchased for, including a t-shirt! THAT'S tough to beat!! I've never felt that I was taking too much of anyone's time to get my questions, no matter how newbie, answered to my satisfaction. As I write I'm preparing another shopping list to discuss with my guy at Sweetwater. Disclaimer: I am not connected to Sweetwater in any way.
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