Headphone Out on Apple Mac mini 2019 Sounds Fantastic!

General HiFi discussion, using the Tune Method to evaluate performance

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Ron The Mon
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Headphone Out on Apple Mac mini 2019 Sounds Fantastic!

Post by Ron The Mon » 2019-06-04 21:56

matthias wrote:
2019-06-04 10:48
lejonklou wrote:
2019-06-03 21:49
Hi Matt!
Did you compare this DAC to ESI Gigaport? If so, what were your findings?
Hi Fredrik,

not yet.
During burn in of the Khadas I was a little bit unhappy and considered to do it..
A second reason is that I am listening to a free trial of Qobuz Studio which allows streaming of 24/192 and AFAIK the ESI supports only 16/44 or 48 with Mac.
Matt,
What tune-dem listening evidence have you that 24/192 sounds better than 16/44? My practical listening experience shows exactly the opposite.

What other DACs have you directly compared to the Khadas? Have you connected a 1/8" to stereo RCA cable from your Mac directly to Exposure pre-amp to directly compare? Again, my practical experience shows the headphone out of an Apple computer sounds better than going through almost all DACs. Most "audiophiles" assume a DAC must sound better than a stock analog headphone connection. Have you tried it?

The music I am getting out of my 2019 Mac Mini via Spotify application to headphone out is incredible. Catalina/Mac Mini/Spotify sounds wonderful. I have been experimenting with many other aps and products the past two years and it is stunning how good the Apple products are. Why would you ask me to spend more for a DAC? That is the opposite of value. I have been experimenting with several streaming options including Hakai and come to the conclusion Apple has done their homework. Your computer needs an upgrade if you listen to it regularly: source-first!

This thread is titled "Absolute Bargains!". I am challenging your recommendation as both "absolute" and a bargain with an exclamation point.

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Last edited by Ron The Mon on 2019-06-06 21:44, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Absolute Bargains!

Post by markiteight » 2019-06-04 22:29

I agree with Ron that external DACs plugged into my MBP do not improve the music compared to the computer's analog output. I've tried this with a Fostex headphone amp/DAC, a HeadRoom headphone amp/DAC, and the ESI. In all cases the musical performance was superior via the analog output. I haven't tried feeding a digital signal directly to the Exotik yet because I lack the proper cables.

However, I disagree with Ron that the absolute musical performance of the Mac is so high. HAKAI is far superior to my Mac. That same ESI DAC that made the music coming out of my Mac sound worse makes it sound positively broken when used as part of HAKAI.

Source first? Absolutely. As Fredrik has said many times the DAC is to a digital system what the cartridge is to an analog system: the least important part. The DAC can only perform as well as the signal it is being fed.

I am not trying to discredit Ron's claims here, but my experience is different from his. Perhaps not all Apple products are created equal on this front (surprise!). I'm using a MBP from 2011, he's using a brand new machine.

This is beginning to wander off topic. Should this discussion be split and carried on elsewhere?

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Absolute Bargains!

Post by Ron The Mon » 2019-06-05 17:51

markiteight,
I agree with all you wrote above.

I responded to matthias' recommendation for a DAC used for Apple computer audio playback; not used as a DIY streamer add-on.

I have tried over a dozen DACs (including GIGAPORT HD+) with various Mac products over the past 13 years. The best I have heard is the 2019 Mac Mini/Mojave/Catalina using headphone jack out to preamp.

The Apple Airport Express is one of the only DACs I found to better some onboard audio outs. It can also be used to stream iPhones, iPads, iPodTouch, or anything using AirPlay. It is no longer available new but sold for $99. I still use one, and love it, and would call it a bargain at todays used prices.

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Re: Bargain?

Post by matthias » 2019-06-05 18:17

Ron The Mon wrote:
2019-06-05 17:51
The best I have heard is the 2019 Mac Mini/Mojave/Catalina using headphone jack out to preamp.
Ron,
interesting.
Did you compare SQ of Mojave vs. Catalina?
I thought Catalina will be launched in autumn.

Matt
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Oranges and Lemons?

Post by Ron The Mon » 2019-06-06 00:19

matthias wrote:
2019-06-05 18:17
Ron The Mon wrote:
2019-06-05 17:51
The best I have heard is the 2019 Mac Mini/Mojave/Catalina using headphone jack out to preamp.
Ron,
interesting.
Did you compare Mojave vs. Catalina?
I thought Catalina will be launched in autumn.
Matt,
I own two Mac Minis in addition to many other Apple products. I bought my first new Mini on Black Friday weekend 2018. I was hesitant as the price jump over previous versions was much more than I expected. My expectations were FAR exceeded. I am still learning new functions daily! I was blown away as to how good the video and audio playback was compared to my Oppo Blu-ray player and previous Apple products. I intended on purchasing a new computer and the last Oppo 4K Blu-ray unit. I was extremely disappointed I missed out (because I was out of town) on purchasing the last of the Oppo 4K Blu-ray players even though I had a pre-order.

This disappointment was short-lived as I had been experimenting with several DVD drives attached to the Mac Mini viewed on several different 4K TVs. My current opinion is the newest Mac Mini with outboard drive offers the best audio and video playback I have ever seen on a television/hi-fi. Keep in mind Apple does not support Blu-ray, even in Catalina. I expect to buy the 6K Apple monitor when it is available.

I wanted another computer for my boat and purchased a second Mac Mini to quadruple as DVD player, TV streamer, music streamer/Spotify player, and computer. I have been a beta developer for Microsoft since 1998 and Apple since 2008. I have compared both Minis only differing in software and can't say more than that. Catalina/Mojave is stunning via Mac Mini concerning audio playback. There have been several updates to Mojave. The last one provided a glitch-free audio upgrade I'd have paid a thousand dollars for if it had been an LP12 upgrade.

What is mind-blowing to me is a 2019 Mac Mini sounds substantially better via headphone out than any outboard DAC. Matt, you have given a super-cheap DAC the light of day and twenty hours of burn-in. Give the same to your MBP and report back. Be sure to set your MIDI headphone playback setting to 96K as the default is 44K. Give it 120 hours of burn-in as well if you haven't used it.

Catalina is in Beta right now. It may be the same, better, or worse than the official Catalina OS when released. The cat is out of the bag concerning iTunes now. "Apple Music" is the new system and as hi-fi nuts may expect, it should excel in sound quality over iTunes. Right now my digitally regurgitated hi-fi sounds better than ever.

I've spent 25 minutes politely answering your query here. Please answer mine.

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Re: Absolute Bargains???...

Post by matthias » 2019-06-06 07:49

Ron The Mon wrote:
2019-06-04 21:56
What tune-dem listening evidence have you that 24/192 sounds better than 16/44?
What other DACs have you directly compared to the Khadas?
Have you connected a 1/8" to stereo RCA cable from your Mac directly to Exposure pre-amp to directly compare?
Ron,

I never claimed that 24/192 sounds better than 16/44. Currently I try Qobuz Studio which supports 24/192 with the Khadas which supports this rates as well.

I agree with you that the SQ of Spotify is very musical though 320kbps only.

I compared with several DACs including a Linnenberg Telemann (MRSP in Germany more than 4k) and an E-MU 0202.
I did not like the Linnenberg, it was quite uninvolving, the E-MU is like the Khadas much more musical.

The MBP is a mid 2010 with the latest supported OS, High Sierra. I did not make comparisons Khadas vs. MBP Analog out as I never had the impression that the MBP Analog out has high SQ.

But I am glad to hear from you that the SQ of Macs is increasing with newer models and newer OS.
If I recall correctly there have been press reports that the quality of the in-built DACs in Apple devices is decreasing and that they offer in some devices digital out only for use with external DACs.

Am I right that you prefer the SQ of Catalina?

My question for you as an Apple expert:

I want to buy this year a new MBP with Catalina. Do you think the SQ of a new MBP is on par with a new Mac Mini (both with Catalina)?

Thanks

Matt
Last edited by matthias on 2019-06-06 16:02, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: Headphone out on Apple Mac Mini 2019 sounds fantastic!

Post by lejonklou » 2019-06-06 14:11

Split from the thread 'Absolute Bargains'. I hope the title feels appropriate - if not, Ron the Mon can change it in his original post.

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Lemons and Limes

Post by Ron The Mon » 2019-06-06 16:43

Matt,
I am far from being an Apple expert. I consider my computing skills above average. I designed two web sites; one with a Microsoft product and the other with a Mac. Both are no longer public but I maintain them and experiment keeping my "developer" status.

On Beta forums, very little is discussed about sound quality except for glitches, drop-outs, connectivity, etc. Many Apple-heads use headphones as it is the most cost-effective way to listen with better sound. It is surprising to me how many people watch movies with headphones on.

I have nothing to recommend for current Apple products except the new Mac Mini and AppleTV, which both sound great.

Over the years I have built several computers including a Blu-ray player and streamer. Even though hardware is important, the largest gains in sound quality were from software tweaks. The same is true of the Mac Mini.

I have used several DACs and amps though the HDMI connection, a thunderbolt HDMI, USB (trying all combinations and through Thunderbolt), and the headphone out. All of them sound good, but the headphone output is best.

I have experimented with siting as well as which programs are open and what hardware is connected. I also have the Mac Mini plugged in second after my preamp in my power strip. These factors provided a bigger benefit than which DAC I used. You cannot tweak an iMac or MacBook Pro in the same way but they could sound better. The only way to find out is to listen. Apple is really pushing Atmos now, and I'm skeptical as they claim it is better even for stereo. By the way, I have only ever used computer audio over stereo speakers or through headphones. I have never had a surround system.

I am also a huge fan of Spotify since day one for its' content as well as sound quality. Many "audiophiles" are hung up on streaming rates. Spotify Premium sounds better than every "lossless" streaming system I've heard. For many years I had a PC strictly running a third party app called Fidelify. It is a Spotify client that eliminates all unnecessary features and digital volume control and doesn't locally store songs. It uses ASIO USB out to DAC. As it hadn't been updated in years, it ceased functioning. It was coincidentally I purchased a new Mac Mini. I was disappointed at first even though it tune-demmed better, the hi-fi aspect was worse. Back around February Spotify had a software change improving the sound. That plus burn-in and many tweaks, I am now so satisfied with the sound, I have shelved my HAKAI build and haven't used a streamer in months.

With the new Spotify Connect feature, I can now control the Mac Mini from my phone with the monitor disconnected (it sounds better that way) or off. If I wish to be inconvenienced with even better sound quality, I play my LP12.

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Re: Headphone out on Apple Mac Mini 2019 sounds fantastic!

Post by lejonklou » 2019-06-06 17:54

I find this a very interesting find, Ron. I have a Mac Mini that I bought this year, which I use for office tasks. It replaced a Windows machine from 2004 that served me for 15 years (I did repair and tweak the power supply twice and I added extra cooling to some ICs on the main board, but apart from that it worked flawlessly. I felt offended every time someone suggested I should replace it.).

I must say the new Mac Mini is a joy to use. I have never tried its headphone output, but I will. And I have several streamer prototypes to compare it with.

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Re: Headphone out on Apple Mac Mini 2019 sounds fantastic!

Post by lejonklou » 2019-06-06 18:20

Another detail from your post, Ron:

I have never been impressed by Spotify, but have found Google Play sounding much better. Have you ever compared these two?

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Windose?

Post by Ron The Mon » 2019-06-06 20:23

lejonklou wrote:
2019-06-06 17:54
I find this a very interesting find, Ron. I have a Mac Mini that I bought this year, which I use for office tasks. It replaced a Windows machine from 2004 that served me for 15 years (I did repair and tweak the power supply twice and I added extra cooling to some ICs on the main board, but apart from that it worked flawlessly. I felt offended every time someone suggested I should replace it.)
Fredrik,
I have almost the same story. Workhorse #1 (2008/Foxconn/XP) was on the fritz and politely died three days after transferring all data to Mac mini. Workhorse #2 (2006/Dell/XP) still used for photo and data storage and backup.

I love the mini. It is so quiet too.

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Spotify vs. Google Play, and the winner is...

Post by Ron The Mon » 2019-06-06 21:22

lejonklou wrote:
2019-06-06 18:20
I have never been impressed by Spotify, but have found Google Play sounding much better. Have you ever compared these two?
I find exactly the opposite to be true. At first listen Google Play sounds sparkly and detailed but it is tuneless, monotone, and flat compared to Spotify. Strictly using tune-dem, Spotify is more musical. Spotify also gets my foot tapping as well as communicating the music better.

I used Google Play Music Desktop Player (third party app) for Google Play on the Mac desktop. It worked great but didn't sound as good as Google Play web player using Google Chrome browser (I also tried Safari and Firefox).

Spotify desktop sounds much better than their web player on any browser.

Be sure to go through all the Spotify settings also. A common problem with switching from FREE to FREE 30 Day Trial Premium is the sound quality settings sometimes don't take effect right away. I have not had this problem on a Mac but is common on Microsoft. Set music quality to VERY HIGH and Normalize volume off.

On the Mac, set System Preferences>Audio MIDI Setup>External Headphones to 96,000hz. plugging a pair of headphones in while playing music may help with accelerating burn-in.

For the best Spotify sound, you must "Quit" all other apps if any are open and unplug the display. For fast comparisons, leaving just both streaming services open at the same time will yield the same result just not both at their best.

One aspect of streaming services rarely mentioned is how they differ in sound quality from country to country.

If you'd also like to discover some new music, play "Cristo Redentor" by Canned Heat on Songs From the Road or George Duke's "Brazilian Love Affair" title track. Those are two of my favorites that are really good recordings I used to compare these services and crystalized my opinion.

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Spotify vs. The World...

Post by Ron The Mon » 2019-06-06 22:56

I failed to mention in my directly above post the comparison was done on a Mac mini several months ago.

I first listened to Google Play last year. Google had a big promotion for it, so I downloaded it to my Android phone. I listened to it almost non-stop an entire weekend, first driving in my car and later on my boat. There was a really great jazz playlist that kept going and going and going with not a duff track in sight. Then I made the mistake of looking up some of those songs to see if they were on Spotify and compare.

The main hi-fi on my boat is a Sherwood amp and original Linn Kans. I decided to "downsize" and go "lossless" because it is more "sustainable". Without buzzword slogans, cool names, and misleading advertising of specifications, what do most streaming services have going for them?

I just wanted to mention I have listened to every streaming service available in the U.S. I have also listened on many platforms, internet streams, in different states; all with the same result.

I had a subscription via DISH Network years ago to Sirius/XM and it was the best digital sound I had gotten at that time. It sounds terrible online and mediocre on their own receivers but the DISH Network HD broadcasts are super-duper! (or at least they used to be) I would listen and immediately look songs up on Spotify to play later.

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