Apple Macintosh Music System

This post has been along time coming for me. I have been lurking around for years, and have learned a lot from the people here. So here it is....

I really like my Apple Mac and iPhone. I like the quality hardware and simple software. I like that it works. I like than I can automatically backup with Time Machine and Time Capsule. I like the AirPort Express. I like the Remote App. I have ripped all of my music to Apple Lossless. I have a main system that I connect directly to and other systems that I stream using the AirPort Express. I like the way Apple allows me to access my music and share it with other devices, and around the house. I am very, VERY happy with my Apple setup.

I want to squeeze every bit of "musical information" out of my Apple system. Here is what I have found works best, but please feel free to make recommendations. I haven't listened to and tried everything.

1. MacBook Pro with a nice SSD drive. It sounds silly, but the SSD makes a huge difference. Not to mention how quick boot time and app launches are.

2. Van Den Hul polished glass optical cable to DAC. I've tried "coax" and "USB", but the optical output seems to sound a little better and more consistent.

3. Altmann DAC with a Optima Red Top power supply. Geeky, but that DAC sounds wonderful when battery powered.

4. Altmann AMP or 47 Labs Shigaraki amp. Both are sweet and gentle.

5. 47 Labs Lens speaker. Amazing!

6. 47 Labs OTA cable for interconnect and speaker cable.

As you can see, I like a smaller (more intimate) sound. I have owned a lot of Linn and Naim gear in the past, but the Altmann and 47 Labs gear still amazes me with every listen.

I'm open to something new, if I can improve.

What other DACs with optical inputs should I consider?

What about "chip amps" and single driver designs?

Any suggestions?

Thanks for your time....
Apple computers will output 96k data through optical, and even higher res data through firewire.

I use my Bel Canto dac3 (I am a dealer FYI) with toslink coming out of my iMac and get very good results.

IF you had a dac with a firewire input I think it would be possible to play HRx high res discs with the apple.

In my experience the best toslink is the Audioquest optilink 5, with the wireworld supernova 5+ second.

hope that helps.
I've an IMac that I've tried with optical. To be honest, USB sounds much, much better in my setup. That said, toslink versus USB may well depend on the DAC and it's input implementation (the DAC3 for example doesn't handle USB very well, as I owned one for a time).
I use Mac as well. A few suggestions, and you may not like one: I've done quite a bit of experimenting and listening comparisons. I am only suggesting this because you stated you want to squeeze out every bit of musical pleasure for those zeros and ones. You may want to try ripping a few files to AIFF using the latest version of iTunes and see if it makes any difference to your ears and on your system. Yes, I know AL is lossless. I was particularly struck in differences between the sound of a file ripped in AL compared to the same file ripped using EAC (a PC-only software). You can find various debate and discussion on this topic on this and other sites. The only reasonable explanation I've heard for it is that the algorithms used to compress and decompress AL may account for differences in the files sound. Reportedly the latest version of iTunes addresses this to some extent, but this is hearsay and I've not actually compared rips on the newer version to those from the previous version. It may be worth trying yourself if you want to determine what works for you. Results will largely be dependent upon how revealing your system is, as well as your personal discrimination. Additionally, I've always preferred coax to optical, but the best optical I've tried has been a Wireworld Supernova (I think it is only a version 3). Perhaps I'll have to revisit that. Again, whatever works best for you. The best digital I've heard via computer files is far and away via the Modwright Transporter, which is a wireless server as well as a DAC (disclaimer: Modwright is a client - I do their photography and graphic design). I recently did comparisons with a friend to Empirical's Pace Car and Empirical modded Northstar DAC, as well as an Electrocompaniet EMC1-UP player and MHDT Havana DAC. The MW TP bested all in numerous blind tests we each did, unanimously and without hesitation. This was in a very revealing system using a wide variety of music. There are of course many other options to compare it to, but that's what I'd recommend given my experience. The other one I'd be curious to audition is the Berkley Alpha DAC. I have not heard it though.
Jax2 makes some great points.

I recently did some comparisons between WAV, AIFF and Apple lossless with my IMac. System is an MHDT tube DAC, Turbo-3 USB converter and a Rogue Audio Stereo 90 tube amp (modified). All files are played at 24/44.1 (I'm personally not a fan of upsampling with digital music).

WAV seemed a bit veiled/less dynamic. Could be due to a Microsoft file type being played on a Mac operating system with Apple software.

ALAC seemed broader in soundstage with better midrange presentation (snare drums and vocals were better presented, the soundstage seemed more enveloping) although the higher frequencies weren't as clear and defined as AIFF. Crucial thing here is to use error correction, regardless of CD condition. Error correction matters in rip quality.

AIFF had slightly more definition in the higher frequency and in that respect appeared slightly more accurate. That said, it was also too bright (likely due to presenting a better picture of the higher frequencies). The music also seemed less involving than ALAC, although I don't like using that term (hard to explain it any other way however). My system is pretty "warm" overall as it's all tube with a tube DAC, but I still can't handle the brightness AIFF imparts.

ALAC seemed to be the best "middle ground" in my setup, but proves the point that file types are also system/listener dependant.

Thing that sucks is, I then tried to convert an Apple Lossless file to AIFF within ITunes to see if I still had a future option of AIFF if I go ahead with Apple Lossless right now (you'd think it would work and compare equally to a direct AIFF rip from a CD). Not quite. AIFF conversion from Apple Lossless sounded the worst of all when done this way.

You would think that bits are bits at least in the software domain and that so long as the software is working as it should, all should be equal. Unfortunately it's not (and that's not opinion, it seems everyone agrees these file types sound different). Comparison couldn't be more simple when all you have to do is flip between the beginning of songs with an Ipod Touch using the remote application.

The tough part is, you have to commit to a file type unless you have a lot of time and memory on your hands to rip 2-3 versions for each CD.

Another thing that I found was that actually using the oboard hard drive of the computer sounded better than an external drive with my IMac. That again is probably system/computer dependant...
This is all great information. I have had much of the same experiences.

All of my collection is CDs, and while I'm excited about 24/96 and higher content, I'm not going to jump in now or loose sleep over it. I hope the industry finds a consistent and mature way of improving the quality in the future. I have listened to some 24/96 and 24/192 content, and it is excellent. I lived with a Linn DS for a year, but couldn't get the software to work correctly and I found Linn's approach very anti-Apple. The Altmann gives me most of the quality of the Linn DS, without the hassle and attitude.

I also tried the Bel Canto DAC3. It is a great DAC, but the Altmann sounds more "involving". (Mb9061, look what you made me do!) ;)

I am learning that "digital" is becoming as complex as "analog". File "formats" are becoming the new "pressing" and "drives/networks" are becoming the new "cartridges/tone arms". HiFi seems to be a moving target and we are in "Hot Pursuit" (as Sheriff Buford T. Justice would say).

More HiFi stuff to be neurotic about. :(

Thank you for your help and keep me posted if anything changes.
Nice thread. I use an old iMac as a server for my Transporter (wireless thru Airport Extreme), and sometimes a MacBook Pro toslinked to my dCS Elgar Plus. Thanks for the tips on glass interconnects.
The main lesson I learned: never connect any computer hardware hardwired to high end gear. Switching the Transporter from ethernet to wireless was a major improvement in my system. Other sources in the system benefited too, probably since there was no more pollution from the common ground plane.
On lossless or compression formats: take care of correct settings in iTunes! Follow the instructions from Gordon Rankin and Apple Lossless sounds as good you can get, imho:
Very useful information about the best Mac OSX setup for audio!
I am just in the process to upgrade my vurrent Digital front end as well - I have ripped all my CD collection to WAV files iinto my iMacthru iTunes this is replicated to an AppleTV storage that goes to my Reimyo DAC via TosLink at my dedicated audio toom.

Iam planning to change the AppleTV for a Macmini and explore a new software that runs over iTunes and says improve the sound (sorry folks - the name just escaped from my mind but will re-search and post it).

I heard a lot of HiRez at CES last week - it is the way to go in the run of matching my analog etup.
Thing that sucks is, I then tried to convert an Apple Lossless file to AIFF within ITunes to see if I still had a future option of AIFF if I go ahead with Apple Lossless right now (you'd think it would work and compare equally to a direct AIFF rip from a CD). Not quite. AIFF conversion from Apple Lossless sounded the worst of all when done this way.

I missed this post to this old thread.

Thanks for your observations here. It's always interesting to hear what others impressions are with their systems. This last observation (above) surprises me though as that conversion should, in theory, be bit-for-bit without any possibility of mechanical/physical error of the reading of a disc. I haven't tried it myself though. I just rip to AIFF from the get go (in the past I've used all three formats so have all three in my library). I haven't found WAV files to sound inferior, but they are damned inconvenient on a Mac as they do not support metadata, so moving them around often becomes a royal pita. WAV is a format optimized for PC while AIFF is optimized for Mac and does support metadata and is much easier to deal with on a Mac and in iTunes in my experience. Can't speak to PC's or other file management software.

There was some buzz at CES, or was it the last RMAF, about computer-based systems using Amarra software (a very expensive plug-in for iTunes). Has anyone tried this? I would find it very difficult to justify the $900 price tag for the plug-in (unless I'm not understanding the pricing structure on their website correctly - a "mini" version is available for $300). Can anyone comment on this software? Is it an improvement sonically over iTunes? Does it alter the ripping process at all?
I sure hope all your tags make it when you make your transfer flg2001. Can't honestly say that I hear of many people using wavs with macs. I hope you don't end up with an iTunes library full of Track 01s and Track 02s, etc.
I also use a Mac Pro as my ONLY source but use Firewire which is superior to optical! Why don't you consider this option as well!!

By the way try Plex, a media center application with excellent UI and sound (better than itunes). Also there is remote functionality available.

Happy Listening,

I have experimented no issues working with WAV files on the MAC so far, all track names, art cover and extended file info (like star rating) are there....

Thanks for reminding us the name of the software to improve iTunes files Jax2, some say that using this software iTunes is more "listenable" and pretty close to CD - I will try it for sure.

HiRex is an ongoing project worlwide - some companies like HDTracks are starting to see some growth but there are many considerations behind (inlcuding the USB/Coax debate, DAC compatibility and the like) but looks like the way to go for a digital fron-end in the coming years.

I have experimented no issues working with WAV files on the MAC so far, all track names, art cover and extended file info (like star rating) are there....

Try adding your own artwork to a WAV file. Try copying a few WAV files to a thumb drive and moving them to a different computer in your house. I hope you never have to restore your entire library from a backup, but if so, I don't envy the task if using Mac+WAV. AIFF is optimized for Mac and is basically the same type of bit-for-bit full-rez file as WAV. It is so much easier to deal with on a Mac, and will support all the critical metadata outside of the iTunes interface (which the WAV files depend upon to keep that data organized). You may not have run into problems yet, but I'd once again warn you that this may not always be the case. I have found in the past that WAV are no fun at all to deal with on a MAC.
Jax2 - now I am scared!!! :-)

Is there any way to convert my WAV files at iTunes to AIFF in a seamless way?
Jax2 - now I am scared!!! :-)

Is there any way to convert my WAV files at iTunes to AIFF in a seamless way?

Be afraid. I'm not sure how well this works. In iTunes you can highlight the WAV files and then go to the menu Advanced>Create AIFF Version. I've not tried it, but I imagine it's pretty direct and that you'll probably then have to delete the WAV files manually as it implies that you are creating a duplicate. Perhaps someone else has done this and can comment?
I did the same going from LoseLess to WAV - and delete manually the original files.

I will try with an specific playlist and let all know...

Thanks again.
I do not know what effect these conversions you are accomplishing within iTunes will have on the SQ of the files. I have not tried it myself. More important is using Error Correction on the original rip, as well as the ripping software that implements that correction. As far as the double conversions, in theory, all those file types are bit-for-bit. You may want to try one, then rip the same file directly to AIFF and compare the two to see if there is a loss in SQ. Just a thought.
I was thinking of the same thing - I originally switched to WAV due to very clear improvement in sound quality compared to LossLess formats - I will migrate "smoothly" before runing any risks. Thanks for the tip.
I originally switched to WAV due to very clear improvement in sound quality compared to LossLess formats

Since the lossless files are supposedly bit-for-bit, the only explanation I can come up for this difference you are hearing (and I have heard in the past in some instances), is that it takes some processing power from the computer to decompress AL, whereas the WAV file requires no decompression. Other than that they should be the same. But what I've been finding with computer audio, much like conventional analog audio, is that virtually everything you do makes a difference.
Agreed - these are no more than partial steps towards a hopefully near futute of easy-to-use and reproduce Hi-Rez downloads.
Timbrepitch, since I heard a Mac Powerbook Pro running Amarra and using Firewire to a Weiss Minerva, I have been on a quest to have that system. To put it succinctly, I now have it up and running and have never heard anything approaching this digital front end. I use only AIFF encoding as it was recommended by many I trust. I have compared Apple Lossless encodings and do much prefer the AIFF. I have used WAV, which I understand is largely the same as AIFF and heard no difference.

You are in good condition having the SSD, as I agree it sounds better, but I think you do need to use Firewire to connect with your dac. I must say that the Weiss Minerva is probably a central element in the sound I am getting. Also, you need to turnoff you Airport while playing music. It really makes a difference.
By the way, Pure Vinyl is much much better than Amarra, give it a try.
Argyro, I plan to try it after I get back from skiing, but I have heard different conclusions about which is better. As I say above, Amarra is outstanding.

I am also curious about using Pure Vinyl and digital RIAA equalization of LPs. Could it be that this improves vinyl?
Tbg I only use it as a digital player and the differences compared to itunes are much bigger than the ones I had with Amarra and keep in mind that I use Weiss equipment that at least don't do harm to Amarra. To say the least... IMHO

Give it a try, you may be surprised....;)
Hey TBG,

Regarding your quote from above -

"Also, you need to turnoff you Airport while playing music. It really makes a difference."

Care to elaborate? In what ways do you find that "it really makes a difference" and why?

Thanks in advance for your comment.

Dspringham, it is difficult to say more than the music sounds more effortless. The depth of the image and the resolution of details improve. Sonic Studios has a list of things to turn off in improving your Mac as a server. This IMHO is the most important. Why? I haven't got a clue, save that the processor is probably doing less.
Tbg where can I read the Sonic Studio's list for audio optimization?

Here ya go:
Question...when I import a cd to my itunes which import setting is best as there are several choices in import options? Thanks.
I would recommend not importing cds with itunes. Use XLD instead.
If you insist, put Apple Lossless in the output and thats it really...
"Question...when I import a cd to my itunes which import setting is best as there are several choices in import options?"

Many seem to favor AIFF over lossless. Everybody seems to agree that the "error correction" box should be checked.

If you don't know about it already is a very helpful site -- lots of tutorials -- and rather MacCentric.

Yup, Computeraudiophile is the way to go for such matters..;)
Argyro/Jdoris...thanks...however, what is xld? I use a newer 24 iMac with no tweaks...upgraded memory...that's it. Not looking for perfection but rather as good as I can get to the realsource or better via the stock machine. Plan to stream via airport express to my av rig as well...just for fun/playing around.
I have to try an external drive as the Mac Powerbook Pro computer drive does not permit the use of a cd mat while ripping to the hard drive. I also wish I could use RUR software. Nevertheless, the ripped cds using the Mac with Amarra, Firewire, and the Weiss Minerva are outstanding.
Mnnc, xld is a software to rip cd's and convert audio files, and in my honest opinion the best available for MAC.

Happy Listening,

I cannot find any Mnnc software??