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Better sound from iMac with USB-DAC to active monitor speakers

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Peter Robertson
Better sound from iMac with USB-DAC to active monitor speakers
on Dec 14, 2019 at 3:21:49 pm

Hello

I am looking to upgrade my iMac audio setup.
I currently feed Neumann KH120A active monitor speakers directly from the headphone output of my iMac.
I believe that using an DAC converter connected to a USB output on the iMac would give me a better analog signal to make full use of the monitor speakers.
There are many options starting from the relatively inexpensive and well reviewed AudioQuest DragonFly Red ($200) .
Have the audio experts any suggestions or favourite DAC gear that they can recommend?

Many thanks
Peter


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Ty Ford
Re: Better sound from iMac with USB-DAC to active monitor speakers
on Dec 15, 2019 at 5:43:27 pm

Hello Peter and welcome to the Cow Audio Forum.

I have a two year old iMac with SSD drive. I've using an Apogee D/A Groove converter (https://bhpho.to/2rQzKA1) to feed my old school audio power amp and Sentry 100 monitors.

I was given the converter as a gift and it sat for a while. When I reconfigured the desk with the iMac, I needed a way to get audio to the Mackie Big Knob monitor controller and on to the amp and speakers. The Apogee Groove works fine for that. I'm still coming out of the Groove unbalanced, so I don't know exactly what the benefit might be, but the system sounds very good.

I also have an OWC 10 port dock that also has an 800 FW port (and an unbalanced headphone output). They don't make that anymore, but their 14 port dock offers a LOT of flexibility. See here: https://bhpho.to/34mkt7l

Regards,

Ty Ford

Want better production audio?: Ty Ford's Audio Bootcamp Field Guide
Ty Ford Blog: Ty Ford's Blog


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Peter Robertson
Re: Better sound from iMac with USB-DAC to active monitor speakers
on Jan 2, 2020 at 5:00:18 pm

Hi Ty
Thanks for your feedback.
I picked up a Cambridge audio DAC on ebay and was amazed at the performance boost, The most important difference is the volume. With the full digital signal my loudspeakers gave about "10 times" more volume than I had with them connected to the iMac headphone output - nearly deafened me!
I have a question. Is it practice in monitoring/mastering to have the speakers at a fixed output level for all content- a sort of reference level?
This makes sense to me but maybe not so practical in a home studio.
Thanks
Peter


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Ty Ford
Re: Better sound from iMac with USB-DAC to active monitor speakers
on Jan 3, 2020 at 2:06:01 am

Peter,

There are two places internally where iMac volume may be increased - the volume at the top of the screen, and perhaps in the software you're using. Unless you have them both up, gain will not be optimum.

When mastering, I try to keep the level of the speakers at what I expect the average person to do with his/her system. I typically do NOT change that during the mastering session. Changing levels would cause me to lose my reference.

I may change during mixing to see what effect the differences may have on my material. The Fletcher-Munson Curve can play havoc with things if you change levels a lot, but those changes will also help you hear how much the mix changes when you change the volume level. You may need to make adjustments............

Regards,

Ty Ford
Cow Audio Forum Leader

Want better production audio?: Ty Ford's Audio Bootcamp Field Guide
Ty Ford Blog: Ty Ford's Blog


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