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iMac w/studio monitors - internal vs external DAC Digital Converters
Old 28th February 2017
  #1
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Question iMac w/studio monitors - internal vs external DAC

Hi,

I have an iMac late 2012 model, and Eve SC205 active studio monitors. These monitors are connected to the iMac's stereo minijack output. To my ears the sound is quite good. Would I notice a significant improvement if I bought an external sound card, something like a Focusrite Clarett (ie. better stereo separation, detail/nuance, frequency response etc.)? This would be primarily for music listening, not mixing/recording. If the difference is negligible, I would rather save the money.

Thanks!
Old 1st March 2017
  #2
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Anyone?
Old 2nd March 2017
  #3
qwe
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mike37 View Post
Hi,

I have an iMac late 2012 model, and Eve SC205 active studio monitors. These monitors are connected to the iMac's stereo minijack output. To my ears the sound is quite good. Would I notice a significant improvement if I bought an external sound card, something like a Focusrite Clarett (ie. better stereo separation, detail/nuance, frequency response etc.)? This would be primarily for music listening, not mixing/recording. If the difference is negligible, I would rather save the money.

Thanks!
Yes, it will almost certainly be an improvement in terms of detail etc. How significant? Well, that depends on how much you care about sound quality--more of an 'important' difference than a 'significant' one I suspect. You'd not be going from 78 shellac records to CD, more like fairly good MP3 to CD. :-)

If you're using it primarily for recording, then do you need A/D conversion and input pre-amps?

If not and you only require D/A conversion, then check the Apogee Groove might be an option. Or anything else with an ESS Sabre32 DAC chip...


Also, for music listening it is best to have your iMac set up for 'bit perfect' playback--otherwise the audio goes through the operating system's mixer/resampler.
Old 2nd March 2017
  #4
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dougb415's Avatar
Mike37: Yes, you would hear an improvement. I use a Dangerous D-Box, which has an amazing DAC.

qwe: Are you referring to the BitPerfect app?
Old 2nd March 2017
  #5
qwe
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dougb415 View Post
qwe: Are you referring to the BitPerfect app?
I'd assume that does the job.

I use Windows 10 ('bit perfect' = WASAPI Exclusive mode or ASIO.)
Old 2nd March 2017
  #6
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Thanks for the advice, Apogee Groove is just the kind of product I was looking for.
Old 3rd March 2017
  #7
Gear Addict
I have 3 sets of monitors connected to my iMac late 2012. The important set are my (admittedly weak) M-Audio AV40 pair.
The AV40s are connected to the iMac via the headphone jack and connected to an output pair from my Behringer XR18.
I can A/B the 2 paths to the same monitors fairly easily, and have taken the time to calibrate the output from the headphones (internal DAC) and the external XR18.

My ears say the difference is undetectable on the AV40 pair. Either DAC is fine.
Old 3rd March 2017
  #8
qwe
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Quote:
Originally Posted by facej View Post
I have 3 sets of monitors connected to my iMac late 2012. The important set are my (admittedly weak) M-Audio AV40 pair.
The AV40s are connected to the iMac via the headphone jack and connected to an output pair from my Behringer XR18.
I can A/B the 2 paths to the same monitors fairly easily, and have taken the time to calibrate the output from the headphones (internal DAC) and the external XR18.

My ears say the difference is undetectable on the AV40 pair. Either DAC is fine.


Just kidding. (It's not as if I don't have hearing loss from listening at excessive SPLs. :-( Besides, as Bob Olhsson has pointed out a number of times, hearing loss can make us more sensitive to artifacts.)

If you're happy then all is fine. :-)

I think it's your speakers that are the limitation in hearing the difference.
Old 3rd March 2017
  #9
Gear Addict
It's all in the wrist

Quote:
Originally Posted by qwe View Post
I think it's your speakers that are the limitation in hearing the difference.
My point was that for a given set of monitors, in my setup, the DAC is not the limitation.

I suspect that my JBL LSR305s exhibit the same "non-difference" - actually I know they don't show any coloration or significant difference.
Old 3rd March 2017
  #10
qwe
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Quote:
Originally Posted by facej View Post
Quote:
Originally Posted by qwe View Post
I think it's your speakers that are the limitation in hearing the difference.
My point was that for a given set of monitors, in my setup, the DAC is not the limitation.
We seem to be agreeing. :-)

In brute performance terms the speakers are always the 'limitation.' But of course there's no point in having low-cost speakers and a high-cost DAC. :-)
Old 4th March 2017
  #11
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Thanks for interesting comments. I decided to wait with buying an external DAC, as I suspect the sound difference will be minimal (even though my Eve SC205 monitors are a cut above the AV40s). My impression is that it's easier to hear a difference when using expensive headphones, esp. sensitive IEMs, but not so much with when listening to monitors.
Old 4th March 2017
  #12
qwe
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mike37 View Post
Thanks for interesting comments. I decided to wait with buying an external DAC, as I suspect the sound difference will be minimal (even though my Eve SC205 monitors are a cut above the AV40s). My impression is that it's easier to hear a difference when using expensive headphones, esp. sensitive IEMs, but not so much with when listening to monitors.
In the case of IEMs the most important factor is the ability of the headphone amp to cope with the 'demands' of the IEMs (e.g. low output impedance.) The differences could be gross as the frequency response will change dramatically with the 'wrong' amp.

You don't have to spend that much money--the AudioQuest Dragonfly or Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS both use ESS Sabre chips.
Old 23rd April 2017
  #13
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I just got the Clarett 2Pre, and I can tell you that the sound through my Eve SC205 monitors has been noticably improved. The sound is overall richer, more detailed and warmer compared to the iMac DAC. Definitely worth the money IMO.
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