Any opinions on sound quality from those that have tried both?
I just switched from a Dell Laptop PC (with a 750gig external HD) to an IMAC 20 and am more than happy with the functionality/sound. Just a bit more resolve both in the HF and low end response (not enough to justify a switch, but my laptop was on it's last leg as an everyday computer).
Setup before was running FLAC through Foobar from the laptop via usb into a Dac1 (then on to an MF A5 integrated). Now simply running apple lossless via usb into the same setup. I-tunes functionality with the IR remote has the PC beat all to hell and I don't have a mess of cabling hanging off my computer now.
I prefer a Mac in every regard. Higher quality and very simple. Design and build of the mac is much, much better....hardware and software.
If you ever get a chance to use the free Apple Remote App for the iPhone/iPod Touch, you'll never use anything else to listen to music again. I've owned some very expensive CD players, but my Apple setup sounds exceptional when used with a good DAC.
For example: I've got a Linn Klimax DS that I'm thinking about getting rid of because the Apple/DAC setup sounds very close and is MUCH easier and reliable to use. MUCH, MUCH better!
I'm not "anti-Windows" at all. Windows Vista sounds very good as well, but the Mac is more of a completely integrated solution. I run Vista on a MacBook (BootCamp) when needed, but I don't use it much....at all.
This is only because you were not bypassing kmixer on the PC. The PC can sound just as good or better than Mac. With XP if you unmap the device, it is superb. The USB interface you are using makes a big difference too. If you are getting 24/44.1 rather than 16/44.1, the sound quality wil be great with Vista. Some USB devices do this.
The Firewire thing is filling the gap right now for 24/192, but it is not asynch. As soon as we have async USB supporting 24/192, it will beat this firewire. This year.
This depends on how dirty you want to get your hands.. Although I've never gone down this road, from what I've read: a PC desktop, not laptop running windows (pre-vista), completely optimized for audio playback using a 3rd party audio player with a very expensive audio card will sound better than Apple. And, of course, all of this information is readily available on this site as well as many others: how to build, how to optimize, players, audio cards, etc. If you're up for the research and like to get technical, than you'll end up with the best sounding application.
Like Fytunes, I've gone down the easier road and use Apple with Itunes/Front Row interface with a DAC. IMO, it sounds exceptional.
PC audio is a bit of a mine field - either with a Mac or a PC - perhaps in the stampede by companies to grab a share of the desktop audio playback market coupled with the inherent "non-standardness" of every PC running together hundreds of thousands of non-proprietary code - crappy and bug infested software is out there.
Software bugs, Digital volume controls, Sampe rate and bit conversions/truncations can all cause errors. Here is a useful resource
Whether you use Benchmark or another great sounding DAC it is critical to achieve "bit-transparency". The same issue exsists with DVD and BD players.
In some cases it all works fine and then your latest software "upgrade" may inadvertently wreck things - so it is a completely moving target....unless you have test instruments then how do you know everything is "bit-transparent" and how do you know it remains so?
I use MAC audio (iTunes) around the entire house streamed from my office to an airport express - so wherever I want. Great convenience. Ii love it. I buy a lot of music by listening on the Apple Mac speakers ....but I still BUY THE CD'S (if I can get them).
Call me old fashioned but my main system uses a Mac-mini to control everytihng (pick tunes and make a playlist from the comfort of the listening chair). HOWEVER, I use ordinary CD players (five megachangers) to produce the music (all software controlled using A1 Sony protocols). I have never had a problem with this setup and it ENSURES my audio reproduction chain is FOOLPROOF.
If you have a large CD collection and are worried about "bit-transparency" but want the convenience of software control and management of your music then I highly recommend my rather foolproof approach.
I will change one day my main system to all software but I am in no rush given the hundreds and hundreds of unhappy user reports where software got hold of the "bits" and lost something somewhere/somehow from a conversion.
Th e problem is it is INSIDIOUS....youu do not know you have a problem unless you are constantly making tests and cross checks...a simple software update could be enough to land youu in trouble without your knowledge. Thi smay sound extreme but lets face it - this is an audiophile forum!
Regarding Audioengr's comments if they were intended for me, I actually was bypassing the Kmixer on the PC and was well aware of how to set it up through months of screwing around with it and researching. I was running FLAC with ASIO drivers and it was true bit perfect on the dell laptop.
Regarding 16 bit versus 24 bit, I'm not certain, but I thought I heard you mention sometime back that if someone has a dac that upsamples to 24bit, don't upconvert at the source (i.e. the computer), as you're just throwing more "garbage" down the line (i.e. USB cable) to the DAC itself. Anyways, in both setups (MAC and PC), I definitely prefer the 16 bit sample rate at the computer and just let the DAC up-convert. It's crisper, punchier and seems to provide better separation/definition, both with the dell laptop and the IMac. The 24 bit sounds broader and more "blended", but doesn't give you the dynamics of 16 bit settings from the computer.
Every computer/setup is different I imagine, but in my case the IMAC is clearly beating out the Dell laptop (which has FOOBAR and a 750gig external drive feeding FLAC). The IMAC provides more detail now that it's been up and running for a few days and the higher frequencies aren't as harsh though the PC wasn't necessarily bright to begin with (the IMAC seems to work in better tandem with the DAC1).
Throw in the functionality and definitely I'm not regretting switching to MAC at all.
Got very close to picking up a MAC, then realised the extent to which the system/hardware options are locked down - this curtailment of flexibility/choice is an irritant to me. Doubtless for those with less of an engineering bent it is a godsend.
And I fully acknowledge that the BSD core of OSX is quite attractive...actually very.
Still I prefer the PC solution, larger market, more options. Take a silent pc, run XP Pro (dual boot Vista 64 if you want), foobar, Lynx AES16 and take digital out to an external DAC with wordlock. Order some HRx files and indulge.
Twists on the foregoing are myriad - e.g: instead of foobar: J River, iTunes, Media Monkey, WinAmp, WMP..., and if you have an aversion to Lynx, then consider M-Audio....
Choice. Flexibility. The challenge is you have to make it work, which is the "out of the box" benefit of the Mac...
2 desktops and 2 laptops later I went back and kiss up with the Mac. My 5-yo iMac still runs photoshop and final cut pro without a glitch. Now , strictly for music application my choice is Mac again. Its benefits - it works and works beautifully. MacBook Air/ iTunes to usb-in on my preamp with build in usb DAC Very, very happy listener.
If using Vista...the foobar WASAPI plug in is terrific. What is WASAPI? Here's a few words from and article that explains it.
"Why Yet Another Audio API?
So why has Microsoft added WASAPI to the list?
* First, Vista has a completely new audio mixing engine, so WASAPI gives you the chance to plug directly into it rather than going through a layer of abstraction. The reasons for the new audio engine are:
o A move to 32 bit floating point rather than 16 bit, which greatly improves audio quality when dealing with multiple audio streams or effects.
o A move from kernel mode into user mode in a bid to increase system stability (bad drivers can't take the system down).
o The concept of endpoints rather than audio devices - making it easier for Windows users to send sounds to "headphones" or record sound from "microphone" rather than requiring them to know technical details about the soundcards installed on their system
o Grouping audio streams. In Vista, you can group together all audio streams out of a single application and control their volume separately. In other words, a per-application volume control. This is a bit more involved than might be at first thought, because some applications such as IE host all kinds of processes and plugins that all play sound in their own way.
* Second, the intention was to support pro audio applications which needed to be as close to the metal as possible, and keep latency to a bare minimum. (see Larry Osterman's Where does WASAPI fit in the big multimedia API picture?)"
Bmcgoz thoughts mirror mine. Nothing wrong with Mac..just not enough choices of applications out there for me to switch at the moment.
A short usage note to the community. 'Mac' is the correct way to refer to the OS and computers from Apple. Although it is short for Macintosh (I believe Apple has quietly abandoned using the long form altogether), that does not mean it should be written in all caps. In the IT world, MAC refers to Media Access Control, as in MAC address.
I smell the sarcasm but my point is that if someone is going to dish out info and address people in such a way that it infers that you really know what you're talking about("a short note to the community") then that info should be correct. If I'm clueless and I'm trying to decide between a Mac and a PC and I read this thread then go to a store asking about "the Mac" when I should be asking about "OS X" then I'd look like an even bigger idiot.
Steve N - how do you unmap KMIXER or use kernal streaming? I see these recommendations discussed but have not found explicit directions on how to do either of these or what side effects doing either of these may have. I am using XP with iTunes 8 using an optical output to an external DAC. I know there is a lot of dicussion out there on this, so a reference would be fine. Also, I am using just one audio stream and have volume set to max, which I understand bypasses kmixer. Is that correct? If so, is there any reason to unmap kmixer or use kernal streaming? Thanks.