Advice needed for macbook pro (retina) setup
Mar 17, 2013 at 12:56 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 14

frigidinferno

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So, I have the 15 inch macbook pro with retina and I was hoping to figure out what the best way to connect it to my speakers and headphones is. Heads up, I am new to the audiophile world, but I've done a little bit of research. I'll give some info about what I'm using it with/for and what I know so far to make it easier for whoever is kind enough to help me.
 
I'm using the setup mostly for entertainment media--that is, music, movies, and gaming. I've already seen the phrase "garbage in, garbage out" everywhere so I understand that hardware won't be able to improve quality if the input is ****. That being said, I've upgraded the majority of my music to 320kbps MP3 (from what I understand, still lossy, but not easily differentiable from lossless formats unless you have a very high end setup). I watch all my movies in 1080p MKV format.

I understand that integrated DACs generally compromise quality, so I looked at some USB DACs. To be fair, I've never owned one, so I don't really know what I'm missing. But from what I've seen, a USB DAC can be great for headphones (though I'm not sure if it would be better to use an amp/DAC or a standalone DAC). However, not really sure if using one (and if so, which one) would be the best route for me, as I'm using both headphones and 7.1 surround sound speakers. I have the Audio-Technica ATH-M50 headphones and the Onkyo HT-S5400 7.1-Channel Home Theater System. Perhaps a combination of methods will be best, not really sure. One problem I see is that if I want to get the best out of the 7.1 surround speakers and circumvent the integrated DAC, I'd have to find a USB DAC that supports 7.1 surround output via HDMI (not even sure if that exists). With that in mind, I'm not even sure that it would make a real difference for movies.

Any and all advice appreciated. Thanks!
 
Mar 17, 2013 at 3:30 PM Post #2 of 14

kramer5150

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welcome to headfi and sorry about your wallet.
 
The macbook pro by itself has one of the better internal headphone outputs.  IIRC its a low impedance circuit.  It drives lowZ cans and IEMs cleaner, smoother, deeper "better" than any other laptop I have owned the past 10 years (Lenovo, IBM, Toshiba).  So a low-Z, high sensitivity, closed can like the M50 is right up its alley.  Just plugging that into the MBP is miles ahead of most other lappys.... IMHO of course.
 
Its one of the most flexible portable computer sources with USB, toslink and firewire outputs.  If your Onkyo receiver has inputs for any of these, all you need is the right cable.  Then of course it would depend on the quality of the Onkyo DAC and analog headphone circuit.
 
Bluetooth is another option, if that receiver supports it.  BT is a lossy / compressed format though so IMHO it plays second fiddle to the fore mentioned alternatives unless you just need / want wireless convenience.
 
I take the toslink output and feed an Entech DAC.  Its been modded with an OP2107 on the output side.  I have no complaints about this setup, being that I really can't afford the next jump up from here in accuracy/resolution.
 
Mar 17, 2013 at 4:45 PM Post #3 of 14

frigidinferno

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Hey, thanks for your response! My wallet's ok though 
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, I managed to get the macbook brand new for ~$1940 after NY sales tax as opposed to ~$2400. And the speaker system was a steal too, I only paid $230 and I bought it a year ago, not $306 as it's listed on amazon. 

By the way, the MBP with retina update lost a lot of the connectivity you mentioned to allow for a thinner form factor. No firewire or TOSLINK (or ethernet! but not a major deal for me). In exchange, though, it got HDMI and USB 3.0 so I don't have to use the inconceivably expensive thunderbolt peripherals. Anyway, point is I can't go the TOSLINK route. The onkyo receiver does have a USB port, though that port is primarily for the iPod dock that came included with the system or a flash drive/HDD. The user manual states "Do not connect the AV receiver’s USB port to a USB port on your computer. Music on your computer cannot be played through the AV receiver in this way" so that looks like a no go.
 
Also, with regard to the integrated DAC, yeah, the first time I plugged in my M50s into my MBP I was pretty blown away. Prior to that I'd only ever owned IEMs, so it was a bit of a shock when I heard elements of songs I'd been listening to for years and just never heard 
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. Although it made me wonder if I'd get even more out of a USB DAC. From what it looks like, you have a previous version of the MBP and I'm not sure how much has changed with regard to the DAC. There's a guy who posted this thread was complaining about  reduced quality in the new model, although he was using IEMs. I wish I had a USB DAC or knew someone with one so that I could try and see if there's any notable differences. Although, he did say his iPhone 4 was better than the MBP, and the MBP drives my M50s infinitely better better than my Nexus 4, so maybe it was just him *shrug*.
 
As for bluetooth, I have the belkin bluetooth receiver hooked up to the onkyo system, but I primarily use that when I'm playing music off my phone and don't want to be bothered to use my laptop. Not really a primary way of listening for me, cuz it is pretty lossy, as you said. 
 
Mar 17, 2013 at 6:10 PM Post #4 of 14

kramer5150

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Oops sorry about that... yeah mines an older non-retina version of the MBP.  Its about 18-20 months old IIRC... with the optical output, firewire and ethernet cable.  So apples and oranges here.  Sounds like you'll have to go with a USB DAC/AMP combo.
 
Mar 17, 2013 at 9:13 PM Post #6 of 14

p a t r i c k

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I have an older MacBook Pro, but this article says that the new Retina MacBook Pro has optical out (Toslink).
 
According to the article this is the same as on my MacBook Pro, a mini-toslink connector build into the 3.5 mm stereo headphone out.
 
Article was on 14 June 2012, so I hope it is still up-to-date.
 
Here it is:
 
http://www.tuaw.com/2012/06/14/attention-world-the-macbook-pro-with-retina-display-does-have-o/
 
Mar 17, 2013 at 9:23 PM Post #7 of 14

Elader

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I've used the MacBook pro with both the toslink and the USB out to either a hrt musicstreamerII or a mydac. From there, either to my preamp, amp, and Martin Logans or to a matrix m stage headphone amp and my akg 701s.

The optical connection couldn't handle the high speed output at 196k, but at 44k it sounded essentially as the USB. Both DACs are async and handle USB very well

There is one or two differences in behavior. The optical is 'internal' and is controlled slightly differentially by the computer.

Look at the matrix dac/headphone amp integrated in one unit b
 
Mar 17, 2013 at 11:17 PM Post #10 of 14

frigidinferno

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Quote:
I have an older MacBook Pro, but this article says that the new Retina MacBook Pro has optical out (Toslink).
 
According to the article this is the same as on my MacBook Pro, a mini-toslink connector build into the 3.5 mm stereo headphone out.
 
Article was on 14 June 2012, so I hope it is still up-to-date.
 
Here it is:
 
http://www.tuaw.com/2012/06/14/attention-world-the-macbook-pro-with-retina-display-does-have-o/

Did not know that. Thanks for the heads up!
 
Mar 19, 2013 at 10:35 AM Post #13 of 14

teofilrocks

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I'm on a little bit of a Meridian Explorer kick right now, so I'll just through that in there. The reasons why I think it (or perhaps something similar) would fit are:

1) It's a high-quality USB DAC/amp, so it would keep your 3.5mm audio port open as an additional line out or mic input.
2) It has its own combination analog/digital line out in addition to its headphone out. This gives the option of sending a digital pass-thru to an external home theater receiver when watching movies.
3) It's very portable and USB powered, so if you take your rMBP somewhere, your DAC/amp can easily go with you.
4) It looks beautiful next to a Mac. :wink:
 
Aug 5, 2013 at 5:17 PM Post #14 of 14

wasily

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Quote:
I'm on a little bit of a Meridian Explorer kick right now, so I'll just through that in there. The reasons why I think it (or perhaps something similar) would fit are:

1) It's a high-quality USB DAC/amp, so it would keep your 3.5mm audio port open as an additional line out or mic input.
2) It has its own combination analog/digital line out in addition to its headphone out. This gives the option of sending a digital pass-thru to an external home theater receiver when watching movies.
3) It's very portable and USB powered, so if you take your rMBP somewhere, your DAC/amp can easily go with you.
4) It looks beautiful next to a Mac.
wink.gif

+1 :)
 

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