Airport Express/Apple TV into DAC vs Mac into DAC

Hi guys,

Due to budget constraints I might not be able to purchase a Mac Mini for my living room audio/video setup.

1st option -

Use either an Airport Express or Apple TV hooked up to an affordable DAC (yet to be selected)
- most probably Apple TV so I can stream my movies/tv shows directly into my TV as well.
- need to get an optical DAC (can't seem to find good optical DACs that are as cheap as say the HRT Streamer ii)

2nd option -

Use my Macbook Pro and plug in direct to DAC
- clunky option, cuz I would need to constantly plug and unplug my MBP when I need to do work on it
- can use cheaper USB DACs like the HRT Streamer II

Question -

Would I suffer reduced audio quality with the Airport Express/Apple TV route - as compared to plugging the DAC directly into my Macbook Pro?

Many thanks in advance!

I decided to use first option with jitter suppressing (reclocking) Benchmark DAC1. According to Stereophile measurements AE has respectable 258ps of jitter further reduced by the DAC processing. Clarity of sound is incredible and I don't have to connect anything or run wires across the room. Another benefit is that data on Hard Disk and the data send to AE in packets does not contain timing. The playback program (I use Itunes) or computer used (noisy or not) don't make any difference.
You will be limited with AE to 16/44.1 but I don't use other format so far. Also, it was reported that some DACs are too slow to lock back to signal after the gap suppressing few seconds of new song. My Benchmark doesn't do this but possible remedy for that is to crossfade songs. I thing that it is related to speed of PLL (Phase Lock Loop). It has to re-sync quick after the gap and I know that my Benchmark, being reclocker/upsampler, has fast reacting PLL. I don't know if AppleTV has the same problem. Also, data is sent to AE in ALAC so I keep it stored in ALAC to relief main processor from compressing.

During installation of AE you want to "join existing network" instead of creating new. I read that it was source of grief for many people. Don't use analog outs on AE. Measured jitter is much higher and sound according to many posts here is much worse.
I have both setups running in my house and I don't feel that I lose any quality by streaming to the apple tv or AE. I don't do hi Rez so it's not an issue for me that can't stream hi Rez. I personally would much rather stream to a higher quality DAC than have to split the funds between a Mac mini and a DAC and run direct.
From your question and the responses above, the dilemma seems to be: With a computer there would be inconvenience, but you could get decent DAC without any jitter problems (i.e., the HRT Music Streamer II) for very low price (Better yet, going for the II+). On the other hand, if you go with Airport Express or apple TV, you will need a considerably more expensive DAC to make it worthwile. The Airport Express is subjective to jitter, and Kijanki's point is a very important one. If you go that route, I would recommend a DAC known for great jitter supression such as the Benchmark. Alternatively, you could go for a reclocking device such as one of the Monarchy Audio DIPs, which can occasionally be found here used for about $100-200, along with a less expensive decent DAC such as the Musical Fidelity V-DAC.
Good Luck!
Arni, If signal from computer is delivered asynchronously like S/Pdif (Toslink, coax) then in addition to computer clock jitter there would be cable/system jitter. Jitter supressing DACs like Benchmark are always beneficial but not everybody likes the sound. According to technical director of Benchmark John Siau Benchmark DAC1 was not designed to sound warm since warmth (enhanced even harmonics) screws up sound of instruments with complex harmonic structure like piano or percussion instruments. Here is what he says:

"We designed the DAC1 for maximum transparency. If you want to add warmth, you can't add it with a DAC1. Personally, I do not like what warm sounding equipment does to the sound of a piano. Warmth is wonderful on vocals, guitars and certain instruments, but it beats against the streched overtones of a piano. The overtones in a piano occur at slightly higher than harmonic ratios, and these create beat notes with the exact integer ratios produced by electronic equipment (and speakers). Too much harmonic distortion will make a piano sound out of tune. "
Kijanki, understood and agreed. I am referring to asyncronous new generation USB DACs (HRT Music Streamers), which don't seem to have the same jitter sensitivity as inexpensive spdif input DACs.
The AppleTV has lower jitter than the AE or the Toslink from the Mac, so I would go that route.

There are no DACs that eliminate jitter IME. Some can reduce it a little, but usually at the expense of resampling the data and the associated distortion that causes. If they use one particular upsampler chip and a really good clock, the results can be very good however. Most harwdare upsamplers are pretty bad IMO.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Steve, look at this measurement page of Stereophile review. It shows Benchmark DAC1 excellent jitter suppression.

Do you know by any chance jitter numbers for AppleTV?