MacBook streaming

I see a fair amount of comments around streaming through a macbook through say Tidal of which will not be great due to the sound card in a mac, fair enough I understand that. 

But if you were to say, stream Tidal, a master copy for example, through a digital output on the mac, into say a DAC V1 or NDAC, am I correct in thinking it wouldn't go through any conversion that could damage the audio quality from the mac itself, getting to the DAC in bit perfect condition, for example? 

 

 

 

Original Post

That is debatable, as people report differences in sound quality from different sources. A renderer that is consistently reported as one of, if not the, best for sound quality is Audirvana (low cost, and available on free trial), which in its optimised mode uses a dedicated usb bus, sipo nothing else on it to interfere and bypassing the Mac's sound card limitations. To rival the best dedicated hifi gear it is said to be best with everything else on the Mac closed down, including bluetooth, and no unecessary programs running. Also, unless the DAC has exemplary RF rejection (as examples, Hugo doesn't, Dave does) it would undoubtedly benefit from an isolator of some sort to remove the inevitable high levels of RF in a computer output - I used the very well respected Gustard  U12,, but there are others. Audirvana integrates Tidal as well as local file playing, also Qobuz including HD, and one other I forget, and apparently MQA support is imminent, though from discussions on this forum it may be of doubtful benefit if you are seeking the highest sound quality.

Innocent bystander - thanks for your reply.

interested to see what audirvana is like now you have mentioned it.

just 2 questions if I may...

- I assume you run Tidal and hence Tidal masters SQ through audirvana?

- it may not be "as" optimal as audirvana is but what's your opinion on running Tidal through the mac into the U12? The main difference being audirvana bypasses the sound card or? 

DanT87 posted:

Innocent bystander - thanks for your reply.

interested to see what audirvana is like now you have mentioned it.

just 2 questions if I may...

- I assume you run Tidal and hence Tidal masters SQ through audirvana?

- it may not be "as" optimal as audirvana is but what's your opinion on running Tidal through the mac into the U12? The main difference being audirvana bypasses the sound card or? 

No, I don't use Tidal, or any other online streaming service, only my own local storage, so can't comment from experience From what I have been able to glean MQA is of doubtful value in practice because the most revealing system and best ears, where the sound differences of higher resolutions might most be espected to be evident, are more likely to detect the artefacts arising from the reconstruction. The only benefit of MQA to the consumer (as opposed to industry) as far as I can see would be in the cases of marginal internet bandwidth not quite able to stream hi res at full rate but fine on standard res. There is a lot of discussio. In the various MQA threads if you haven't seen.

I don't know how well isolated from RF the US on its electrical digital inputs, and so whether or by how much an isolator like the U12 or other alternatives will make a difference. Certainly Hugo benefits, but Hugo doesn't have galvanic isolation, which these things achieve. Optical will be imune from the RF so would obviate a need for RF isolation if using the Mac's soundcard - this consideration  of only being necessary with electical outputs, such as when optimised using AUdivana. How much difference bypassing the Mac's soundcard makes will depend on the system and your ears, very likely also depend on the Mac - I only have experience of Mac Mini and through my own system, when Aud-USB-U12 to Hugo sounded better than Aud-optical-Hugo, but relatively subtle, not by orders of magnitude - maybe the sort of disfference an XP5XS made to ND5XS in my system (except at considerably less cost).

jon honeyball posted:
DanT87 posted:

Also, the difference between a thunderbolt port and a normal USB port on MacBook - Which is preferable for audio if any?

Depends on what you are plugging into it

Whether the Renderer is in the Mac, sending the rendered output direct to the DAC (separate or in US etc), or the Mac running a UPnP server streaming the files across a network, I would expect Thunderbird to be indistinguishable from files stored internally in the Mac, because my understanding is that in effect it is just an extensupion of the Mac's own architecture. USB might or might not. But I have not tried for myself to see.

To be honest I have no idea, currently I use Tidal offline HiFi playlist from my iPhone. 

I have contemplated the mac book pro because I want to be able to update firmware easily on my Naim products, currently as crazy as it sounds I just have an iPhone, never had the need for an actual computer as such until I started getting into HiFi just recently.

firmware update ability aside, I have also thought about the bluesound node 2, as this it seems has the ability to connect to a DAC through its digital out, enabling me to go wireless but also have access to Tidal and subsequently Tidal masters through the bluesound mobile app which I am eager to try. 

The node 2 was my first thought, but then I thought I could kill 2 birds and buy the MacBook, get the ability to update all the firmware as and when for Naim products and then also use it to access the Tidal masters through the app and so on so fourth. 

Stuck really trying to weigh up all the options, sound quality is my goal here more than anything, I like the thought of the node 2 being MQA enabled already being able to unfold the files to their full potential 24/192 as I understand it. On the flip side even if the unfold was done on the Tidal app within the MacBook, if I understand right, it's still 24/96 which isn't that bad, I'm told the 24bit part is the key more than anything. 

If I purchased the MacBook, it feels like a device like the U12 is for keeping RF noise away is required for best results, another add on in the chain as such. 

All told I'm stuck with a decision to make. 

 

For me the beauty of the MacBook as a source lays in its flexibility:  I can use Downloads, edit Metadata in a way convenient for me, use any Streaming Service I like, SoundCloud, BandCamp, YouTube, Podcasts etc.  - and run backups easily via TimeCapsule.

The flexibility of the nDac adds to this as friends coming over can connect their iPhones directly to the nDac. 

I understand that your main concern is sound quality. As I never compared my setup to a streamer I cant comment on this. 

If you are interested in accessing a broad variety of digital sources, I can absolutely recommend the MacBook-Dac-Route

p. posted:

For me the beauty of the MacBook as a source lays in its flexibility:  I can use Downloads, edit Metadata in a way convenient for me, use any Streaming Service I like, SoundCloud, BandCamp, YouTube, Podcasts etc.  - and run backups easily via TimeCapsule.

The flexibility of the nDac adds to this as friends coming over can connect their iPhones directly to the nDac. 

I understand that your main concern is sound quality. As I never compared my setup to a streamer I cant comment on this. 

If you are interested in accessing a broad variety of digital sources, I can absolutely recommend the MacBook-Dac-Route

Makes a lot of sense. Bart's suggestion of the Mac Mini too makes a lot of sense too as you can do all that you do now without needing to tie up the Mac book. You just VNC (or Screen share) into the Mini and run it headless. Whatever route you use, as long as you're playing music and enjoying it (and sharing with friends) then that's the most important thing 

If you want a laptop, buy a laptop If you want a dedicated music source, buy a better-suited device -- a Mac Mini if you want to connect it directly to a dac, or a nas if you want to use home networking / UPnP server-client format.  It seems you really just want something to connect directly to a dac, so I'd consider a Mac Mini for price/value.  

One issue with a laptop is that it's not designed to be "on" all the time; either you're going to have to boot it up every time you want to play music, or you're going to have to change its setting to be sure it's 'on' all the time.  And if you want to do something other than use it to play music, you'll be unplugging it from the hi fi...doing other things...then changing its settings back...plugging it back in...etc.  Just seems easier to have a little box dedicated to music playing use, and optimized for it.

Note -- I do streaming at home from a nas, so the above is what I've gleaned from others' experiences.

james n posted:
p. posted:

For me the beauty of the MacBook as a source lays in its flexibility:  I can use Downloads, edit Metadata in a way convenient for me, use any Streaming Service I like, SoundCloud, BandCamp, YouTube, Podcasts etc.  - and run backups easily via TimeCapsule.

The flexibility of the nDac adds to this as friends coming over can connect their iPhones directly to the nDac. 

I understand that your main concern is sound quality. As I never compared my setup to a streamer I cant comment on this. 

If you are interested in accessing a broad variety of digital sources, I can absolutely recommend the MacBook-Dac-Route

Makes a lot of sense. Bart's suggestion of the Mac Mini too makes a lot of sense too as you can do all that you do now without needing to tie up the Mac book. You just VNC (or Screen share) into the Mini and run it headless. Whatever route you use, as long as you're playing music and enjoying it (and sharing with friends) then that's the most important thing 

The Mac Mini can do everything the Macbook does, w/out tying up a laptop.  Mini is much more cost-effective too.  And is happier being "on" all the time.

james n posted:
p. posted:

For me the beauty of the MacBook as a source lays in its flexibility:  I can use Downloads, edit Metadata in a way convenient for me, use any Streaming Service I like, SoundCloud, BandCamp, YouTube, Podcasts etc.  - and run backups easily via TimeCapsule.

The flexibility of the nDac adds to this as friends coming over can connect their iPhones directly to the nDac. 

I understand that your main concern is sound quality. As I never compared my setup to a streamer I cant comment on this. 

If you are interested in accessing a broad variety of digital sources, I can absolutely recommend the MacBook-Dac-Route

Makes a lot of sense. Bart's suggestion of the Mac Mini too makes a lot of sense too as you can do all that you do now without needing to tie up the Mac book. You just VNC (or Screen share) into the Mini and run it headless. Whatever route you use, as long as you're playing music and enjoying it (and sharing with friends) then that's the most important thing 

Re Mac Mini, I treat mine Like a hifi component, and it is effectively dedicated to music with the sole exception that when not listening to music it doubles as a video streamer for film watching. I sometimes use it for music downloading (I also use another computer), but never when playing music. And it lends itself very well to being a combined store and renderer, so I don't have to stream files across a network. One thing JamesN didn't mention is that it is virtually silent, the fan completely inaudible from more than a couple of feet away (and I use SSDs so no mechanical sou d from them), and being headless there's no monitor or keyboard, control being from a smart device (iPad in my case), while it is very stable, and can be turned on and off when desired simply by pressing the button.

Well set up and taking care of RF a computer source can be as good as a specialised device, however as already obserrved, different software and hardware can give better or worse results than others. Audirvana when fully optimised seems to be regarded as one of, if not the best renderers in terms of sound quality, though that isn't saying some others might not be good

By way of example, something I've observed elsewhere is that as well as finding Audirvana on Mac Mini better sounding than the rendering stage of ND5XS into Hugo via an isolator/converter, I also found in a brief comparison through Dave that it was indistinguishable from Melco N1A (through Bryston 4BSST2 and PMC Fact12). But a setup like this, computer, software, optimisation, and RF filtering depending on the DAC, is more fiddly to set up than a dedicated device such as Melco, Innuos Zenith or Core (though the latter at present is an unknown quantity in this role)

Bart posted:
james n posted:
p. posted:

For me the beauty of the MacBook as a source lays in its flexibility:  I can use Downloads, edit Metadata in a way convenient for me, use any Streaming Service I like, SoundCloud, BandCamp, YouTube, Podcasts etc.  - and run backups easily via TimeCapsule.

The flexibility of the nDac adds to this as friends coming over can connect their iPhones directly to the nDac. 

I understand that your main concern is sound quality. As I never compared my setup to a streamer I cant comment on this. 

If you are interested in accessing a broad variety of digital sources, I can absolutely recommend the MacBook-Dac-Route

Makes a lot of sense. Bart's suggestion of the Mac Mini too makes a lot of sense too as you can do all that you do now without needing to tie up the Mac book. You just VNC (or Screen share) into the Mini and run it headless. Whatever route you use, as long as you're playing music and enjoying it (and sharing with friends) then that's the most important thing 

The Mac Mini can do everything the Macbook does, w/out tying up a laptop.  Mini is much more cost-effective too.  And is happier being "on" all the time.

Actually, whilst MM ,pseems better in many ways there is one thing it can't doe that Macbook can, which is run on batteries. Apparently for ultimate sound quality through an extreme DAC like Dave,  playing from a source completely disconnected from the mains and thus ground is beneficial as it completely isolates the ground plane - but I suspect it is only likely to be evident to trained ears critically  listening for the effects, rather than anyone listening to music.

Interested to explore the Mac mini option, I want to understand how this helps me store music, for example, will a Mac mini store my off line playlists from Tidal HiFi allowing me to download lots to it and control the playback from my iPhone when the mini is connected to my DAC V1? 

Clearly that may be the stupidest question ever, but I've never used one before!

DanT87 posted:

Interested to explore the Mac mini option, I want to understand how this helps me store music, for example, will a Mac mini store my off line playlists from Tidal HiFi allowing me to download lots to it and control the playback from my iPhone when the mini is connected to my DAC V1? 

Clearly that may be the stupidest question ever, but I've never used one before!

And as I haven't got a clue what a playlist is, because I just choose an album or, occasionaly, odd tracks, from my collection, and play them, never saving any sort of preferred list to run again, I can't advise!

Dant87, I use Apple's new entry level macbook as source\streamer\player. For me, it's the perfect source and has many advantages:

1. It's 100% silent, no fans, no buzzing transformers, no spinning drives, nothing. It's passively cooled and completely silent.

2. I run it on batteries, has long battery life, which isolates it from mains electricity. Why? To stop electrical noise from mains electricity entering the DAC and degrading sound quality.

3. It has USB output which, for Chord DACS, gives the best sound quality. If you use a DAC that has galvanic isolation on USB, such as V1 or Chord Hugo TT, then your system is completely isolated from source noise (from laptop) or noise from the mains (if running on batteries and nothing else connected to laptop that is connected to mains such as ethernet cable) both of which degrade sound quality. It's also very energy efficient and low noise like an iPhone or iPad. If your DAC does not have galvanic isolation on USB then you can buy third party product that does such as Intona USB or hifime hi speed USB isolator.

4. It has bit perfect output. iTunes and other players such as Audirvana are bit perfect. I use iTunes.

5. It works seamlessly with my other mobile devices such as my iPhone. I control playback using Apple Remote app on my iPhone. I can also control playback using my watch, now that's pretty cool.

6. It's reasonably priced.

7. When I'm away from home I take it with me and use it for work!

My view is, and others may disagree, (i) if your source is fully isolated and (ii) offers bit perfect playback then you won't hear any difference. If you do hear a difference then it's due to poor DAC design, noise in the source, or not perfect playback.

 The answer to your question is using a laptop will not damage the audio in any way if you heed the above advice, the data will arrive at DAC intact and bit perfect.

A little over a year ago my CD-Player started acting funny. After looking into many different ways of file playback, I ended up with a MacBook feeding a NDAC via Toslink. Internet streaming was and is no real possibility due to the ultra slow speed access here . That made it easier for me to for a networkless setup. I know that home networks are usually stable and not that hard to set up. But knowing myself, there are few things I surely can be without and no music as a byproduct of network trouble is very much among these. The MacBook can be controlled manually,  unlike a headless Mac mini, and is completely silent. The Toslink output is good for 192/24 playback and galvanic isolation for the DAC. The NDAC does not like noisy input signals, IMHO.

 I have yet to try other software than iTunes, which means my fine sounding setup may has even more potential.

Halloween man - thanks for the in depth reply, I did not realise my DAC V1 had that kind of isolation built in already as you say? Is this for certain because I use a DAC V1? This should help a good deal and has swayed me further towards the MacBook if I'm honest. Also like you say the ability to control via iPhone is a big advantage for me.

mayor west - I understand what you mean from locally stored files sounding better, this is why I currently use my offline playlist in Tidal as all HiFi music is stored on my phone and not streamed because it plugs into the asynchronous USB on the DAC V1 and plays this way offline (in aeroplane mode actually lol). Does audirvana access your offline Tidal playlist and allow "bit perfect" playback I assume? Negating completely any streaming?

 

Halloween Man posted:

How did you get optical out of Macbook? The new generation macbokks don't have it.

My MacBook Pro, bought November or December 2015, has a combined Toslink/headphone output. You need a mini Toslink to regular Toslink cable or an adapter. 

DanT87 posted:

mayor west - I understand what you mean from locally stored files sounding better, this is why I currently use my offline playlist in Tidal as all HiFi music is stored on my phone and not streamed because it plugs into the asynchronous USB on the DAC V1 and plays this way offline (in aeroplane mode actually lol). Does audirvana access your offline Tidal playlist and allow "bit perfect" playback I assume? Negating completely any streaming?

 

I would assume so although I haven't tried it myself. You open up Audirvana and then sign into Tidal through Audirvana. Then it plays Tidal through the Audirvana interface which allows all the sound quality benefits that you would normally get from playing local files. Unfortunately like I say, I still think that local files sound better than streamed ones (streamed files sounding a bit flat and lifeless to me). I didn't do a comparison of Tidal Offline stuff compared to local files though. 

Innocent Bystander posted:
Bart posted:
james n posted:
p. posted:

For me the beauty of the MacBook as a source lays in its flexibility:  I can use Downloads, edit Metadata in a way convenient for me, use any Streaming Service I like, SoundCloud, BandCamp, YouTube, Podcasts etc.  - and run backups easily via TimeCapsule.

The flexibility of the nDac adds to this as friends coming over can connect their iPhones directly to the nDac. 

I understand that your main concern is sound quality. As I never compared my setup to a streamer I cant comment on this. 

If you are interested in accessing a broad variety of digital sources, I can absolutely recommend the MacBook-Dac-Route

Makes a lot of sense. Bart's suggestion of the Mac Mini too makes a lot of sense too as you can do all that you do now without needing to tie up the Mac book. You just VNC (or Screen share) into the Mini and run it headless. Whatever route you use, as long as you're playing music and enjoying it (and sharing with friends) then that's the most important thing 

The Mac Mini can do everything the Macbook does, w/out tying up a laptop.  Mini is much more cost-effective too.  And is happier being "on" all the time.

Actually, whilst MM ,pseems better in many ways there is one thing it can't doe that Macbook can, which is run on batteries. Apparently for ultimate sound quality through an extreme DAC like Dave,  playing from a source completely disconnected from the mains and thus ground is beneficial as it completely isolates the ground plane - but I suspect it is only likely to be evident to trained ears critically  listening for the effects, rather than anyone listening to music.

Battery power is a plus. With my MacBook I use A+, a Ciunas converter and Lacie 4tb HDD the latter 2 items powered by a well known dual power supply made in Israel. When I replaced the 2 wall warts with the dual PS it made a very noticeable difference and, in view of the low cost made sense to do before I put the 555PS on my nDac. I am delighted with the results.

I have both had a mac mini and now a macbook to my stereo. Mac mini worked well, the problem was just that it was difficult to control it without screen. I tested the Apple Remote, but no, it did not work well. What you could do is that connect it to your TV if it is nearby and use the wireless keyboard.

However now I use a macbook with SSD and store all the music files locally on your hard disk, you do not have to mess with any network. The only thing I do is to send backup files to a NAS. The best thing about the MacBook is that everything is reliable gathered, and you easily control what happens both on the computer and from the iPhone . When you go anywhere you can take the MacBook and headphones with you and have your music collection easily accessible. Computer / dac also feels much more future-proof than streamer. 

Sound wise I think it sounds great! And i only using AQ dragonfly at the moment, but going to buy a better dac soon so the sound should improve.

However, I can understand people running streamers, especially if you want to keep down the number of boxes. 

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