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iMac owner; Do I need an external sound card?

post #1 of 23
Thread Starter 
Will an external sound card improve the SQ and if so which one should i buy (iMac owner)?
post #2 of 23
I got an iMac, and after buying the MS1 and DT250 realised the onboard wasn't good enough for them. So it depends on whether you feel the same with yours.

My first upgrade was the Corda 3move. I thought it was worthwhile and noticeably better than Mac onboard, and is portable if you want to use it with an iPod and LOD as well.

But there's a lot of external dacs out there to choose from.
post #3 of 23
Hi, i have a mac pro and to be honest, i would just buy a nice dac instead. I use a buffalo dac, beresford dac and a zero dac with my mac and all sound better than the on board sound card. I use optical out on my mac,although i also have a small Y1 dac that uses usb and that also sounds pretty nice. it would probably be easier, that's just my opinion, hope its of some help.
post #4 of 23
I'd get an external DAC if I were you. I also have an iMac, and while I find the onboard sound to be acceptable, it's by no means great. Of course, I have yet to invest in a DAC, but I'm certainly feeling the urge.
post #5 of 23
Thread Starter 
So a dac rather than a sound card. Anyone got a amp/dac combo? what do i need to look for in a dac, becasue i was under the impression that most low cost amp/dac combo's are a waste of time, so my sound engineer friend told me a few years back.
post #6 of 23
The Apogee Duet gets a lot of respect 'round these parts. I haven't heard it myself, but you might want to do a search on it and see what you can find. It's not too terribly expensive, and it's a Firewire interface so it'll spare you a USB port.

(The Duet really isn't a DAC, technically. The DAC section, however, is said to be quite good, which is the point I was trying to make in referring the unit.)
post #7 of 23
The Headamp Pico is another unit that comes to mind. Nice and compact and also not terribly expensive. Do a search for that as well. That one's USB, though.
post #8 of 23
Thread Starter 
thanks. any more? the Pico is $499. i'm looking at something around the $50 mark. only joking. I guess around $200-300. gotta drive my Ultrasone 750's. how's about Ray Samuels? slightly cheaper.
post #9 of 23
Hmm. I don't know about the $200-300 range. Truthfully, I've had my eye on both the Duet and the Pico. I've been out of the headphone game for a while, but looking to get back into it. I just want to find something that mates well the SA5000.

If I should stumble on something else during the course of my research that fits your price range I'll give you a heads up.
post #10 of 23
I'm in the same position as you, looking for something to drive (variously) Denon D2000, AKG701 (normally hooked up to a Heed CanAmp) and Sennheiser HD590s from my iMac. I've done a lot of searching on the web and am somewhat none-the-wiser. I suspect there are a number of valid options that are flexible enough to drive decent headphones of various sorts.

It appears that the ideal option (at least for me) for an iMac desktop set up will use an optical connection, not rely on battery power, look good(!), be a combined dac/headphone amp unit, and be sub-€500.

I've looked at the following in particular:

1. Apogee Duet - Great looking, good reviews, but I'm worried about the reliance on Firewire (perhaps for no good reason)

2. iBasso D10 Cobra - Great reviews, but I'm not keen on the reliance on battery power and the looks (I realise the latter is not actually a big deal).

3. Beresford Caiman - in some quarters this appears to be an ideal solution but the amount of negative vibes and publicity regarding the company and its proprietor have made me doubt the product itself (perhaps for no good reason). I'm still in two minds about this one. Some of the other units look better on the desktop too.

4. Meier Corda Cantante.2 - the reliance on USB is the only downside I can see on this unit. I cannot, or have not been able to, quantify whether this is actually a downside or not. I know that the much more expensive Meier Symphony offers Optical so there must be a reason the cheaper unit doesn't.

5. YULONG DAH1 - Looks great but, from what I can gather, the performance and internals may not quite be up to the same grade as the others.

that's about all I've found out, I hope it helps a little. I'd love to hear more from anyone on the relative merits or why anyone has chosen one or the other.
post #11 of 23
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jigglybootch View Post
Hmm. I don't know about the $200-300 range. Truthfully, I've had my eye on both the Duet and the Pico. I've been out of the headphone game for a while, but looking to get back into it. I just want to find something that mates well the SA5000.

If I should stumble on something else during the course of my research that fits your price range I'll give you a heads up.

thanks, that'll be good. amps dacs soundcards, not really my thing.


Hi Rossini, I was looking at ditching a huge load of my gear (just got rid of 9 old time sennheiser's on ebay actually), and buying a Stax system. I've had the Stax SR-001 system before, loved it, but I had so many headphones I hardly used it, so i sold it and i miss it!

Before I got hit with a £337 bill for a new starter motor and new battery for my car, everything was on track. Now the car cost has put a huge dent in my budget, so I'm thinking of upgrading what I have. I'm not really felling the love with my HD650's and if truth be known, again i barely spend any time with it, so I'm dithching them for MOT and tax (car again) at the end of the month.

basically my whole scheme has taken a nose dive. Still got 4-5 cmoys to sell, i don't know if i can part with my Go-Vibe V5 as they don;t make them anymore.

Cars, can't live with them, and you can't live with public transport either... well not in the UK you can't!
post #12 of 23
I think the "external soundcard" term should be abolished, as it causes confusion. Something along the lines of, say, the EMU0404 I would call an "external audio interface". Inside of it, obviously, is a DAC, as it takes digital signals and outputs analogue ones, when playing music.

External DAC/amp combos are only different in that they don't record and are designed for listening to music and driving headphones at least reasonably well.

Since you have a Mac, you have four methods of getting audio out:

Analogue via the headphone socket (which you've been using).
Digital via USB.
Digital via the optical from the headphone socket.
Firewire (used mostly on pro-audio gear).

That gives you access to a lot of gear. The best bang-for-the-buck in that regard is probably the Apogee Duet (via Firewire) which has sometimes sold as low, second-hand, for $350. It's almost as good as well-known DACs such as the Lavry DA-10 and Benchmark DAC1, both of which are around $1000. There's also the new Apogee One, which uses USB, which look promising too, though I don't know how good the headphone out is. The Duet seems to be great with some headphones, and just ok with others. However, it could be later used as a DAC for a better headphone amp.

Going cheaper, there's the Head Direct/Hifiman EF-2 USB tube amp. Going more expensive and a lot larger, there's the Audio-gd Compass.

Importantly, I think that if you reviewed all the headphones on your site again using proper amplification and a good DAC, your impressions of them would change dramatically.
post #13 of 23
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Currawong View Post
I think the "external soundcard" term should be abolished, as it causes confusion. Something along the lines of, say, the EMU0404 I would call an "external audio interface". Inside of it, obviously, is a DAC, as it takes digital signals and outputs analogue ones, when playing music.

External DAC/amp combos are only different in that they don't record and are designed for listening to music and driving headphones at least reasonably well.

Since you have a Mac, you have four methods of getting audio out:

Analogue via the headphone socket (which you've been using).
Digital via USB.
Digital via the optical from the headphone socket.
Firewire (used mostly on pro-audio gear).

That gives you access to a lot of gear. The best bang-for-the-buck in that regard is probably the Apogee Duet (via Firewire) which has sometimes sold as low, second-hand, for $350. It's almost as good as well-known DACs such as the Lavry DA-10 and Benchmark DAC1, both of which are around $1000. There's also the new Apogee One, which uses USB, which look promising too, though I don't know how good the headphone out is. The Duet seems to be great with some headphones, and just ok with others. However, it could be later used as a DAC for a better headphone amp.

Going cheaper, there's the Head Direct/Hifiman EF-2 USB tube amp. Going more expensive and a lot larger, there's the Audio-gd Compass.

Importantly, I think that if you reviewed all the headphones on your site again using proper amplification and a good DAC, your impressions of them would change dramatically.
Thanks for that. At the time was aiming my reviews at a particular market, basically for those who think 'it's mad to spend such money for an amp, when they've already paid out for the headphones' crowd.

problem like with all things, the choice seems almost endless for amps. now I'm concentrating on the problem of fake headphones on the market, I can concentrate less on reviews and more on my own gear.

It's just a pain that £337 of my budget has gone on the car, else i could afford a better option. I've decided to go for the ibasso D2 or D10 .. maybe.
post #14 of 23
The Corda 3move was good for my iMac, but you pay for portability. For not that much more I got the DACmagic, which was a considerable upgrade. As mentioned before, you can connect this via USB or optical.
post #15 of 23
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Drubbing View Post
The Corda 3move was good for my iMac, but you pay for portability. For not that much more I got the DACmagic, which was a considerable upgrade. As mentioned before, you can connect this via USB or optical.
o.k. thanks for that. it's just a little out of my comfort zone, however i'll consider it.

Meier-Audio
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