iPod to DAC Connection

I was disappointed that the fourth generation iPod announced this week did not have a digital output so that it could be hooked up to an DAC. I think it could provide near audiophile caliber output if you used the best AIFF or Apple Loseless processing options and a digital output. Now, I'm wondering if it is possible to have a digital output for it by somehow hooking up a cable to the iPod itself or the dock that would be Firewire or USB 2.0 at the iPod/dock end and S/PDIF at the other end to plug into a DAC. Anyone know if this is possible? Does such a cable exist, or maybe the digital bits coming out of a Firewire output are different from those going through a coaxial data cable? Any insights would be appreciated.
I'm sure the audience for this is small. The iPod is designed for a huge market and the cost to add this (cheaper and cheaper, please) and the space required (people want it smaller and smaller) most likely make it prohibitive. This would be nice, though. But I use an iBook output to a DAC and though not as small as the iPod, it's still fairly compact.
This does not answer your question, but are you aware of the report in TAS a time or two ago that described a system at CES that Dave Wilson set up to show off his speakers and to also show that speakers were by far the most important component in the audio chain--and the source he used was an IPOD, I believe connected directly to a power amp, but analogue connection at any rate? He compared it to a system with other non-Wilson speakers which had a Krell digital front end. And Robert Harley reports, and seems to include himself in the group of listeners, that the Wilson system blew away the other...My only point ( a long one) is that maybe the iPod as a source (without an outboard DAC) is pretty good. (Maybe you could try this and report what you find).
you may want to try getting sound card for your pc run
optical to your dac use itunes site as your jukebox and
you have as much storage as your pc alots better sollution than ipod anyway i tried hooking ipod through analogue input sounded like crap
Budrew: I'm sure you are right about the size of the market, but that is true about most of audiophile equipment, so I'm hoping that if it can be done some company will be willing to sell such a cable. I wonder what you'd see if you cut open a Firewire cable and an S/PDIF cable? Samething inside? I know Apple provides an accessory cable that is Firewire and one end and splits into two USB connectors on the other end, so maybe this idea is feasible.

Tarsando: I recall that TAS article (couldn't lay my hads on it right now though), but I'm guessing that Wilson used the mini to RCA stereo cable connection that you can get now with the iPod (hooks up through the dock). I think the iPod could sound quite a bit better if you could hook it up through a DAC. John Atkinson said in his tests of the iPod on p. 141 of the 10/03 issue of Stereophile that its measured behavior is "better than many CD players" and that is when the internal DAC was being used. I'd love to hear it playing uncompressed AIFF files through a really good DAC.
check out the apple's airport express. It has a digital out and can also play Internet radio which isn't possible on an iPod. I'm running a toslink out to a sharp digital receiver. the sound out of the box wasn't great but it is improving nicely after 24 hours.


"Enjoy your iTunes music library in virtually any room of your house. Share a single broadband Internet connection and USB printer without inconvenient and obtrusive cables. Create an instant wireless network on the go. Extend the range of your current wireless network. How many devices do you need to do all this? Just one."

Presenting AirPort Express.

I'm not really sure what a digital output would do for most iPod users. In order to get AIFF files or even high bit rate AAC files onto the iPod you have to rip them first unto a computer and then transfer them to the iPod. It's actually fair easier and more flexible to run a digital output directly from the computer to an external D/A and bypass the iPod entirely. A digital output on the iPod would only appeal to those people who transport their iPod from system to system where each system has digital inputs.
This is in response to Tarsando's comments about the TAS article descibing the IPOD. I have a good friend who has a REALLY NICE system in his home, with Sony's new reference Sacd player and even he couldn't believe the sound of my IPod connected to his wicked system. The files I have on my IPod are AAC format. It was obviously no contest between his reference player and my $499 IPod, but should it be? His player cost $3000 and is a bargain at that price. He said that (referring to the IPod) has no right sounding that good. I don't have a player as nice as his yet, but still have fun using my IPod and think I probably always will. Serious listening probably not, but for fun and ease of use as well as an entire collection at your fingertips it is money well spent. Cool gadget that I wouldn't part with.

Not sure if this helps, but click and copy and put to your browser and see. lat us know


guys if you read the diffrent reviews in most audiophile mags..you will see that most reviewers almost couldent tell the diff between there 4-6 k reference cdp's and the 299-499 ipods when of course it was aac ripped files...that being said....the ipod is the future....most likely replacing our beloved cd's....and keeping things nice and neat in our homes....and cars,some of the car manufactures are already getting on board to accomadate this trend...and i'm sure apple will eventually come out with a hard drive storage back up so we audiophile can down load all of our cd collections onto it and have access to god knows how many albums at a touch of a button...,i for one am looking forward to this day!! becouse lets be honost here most 4-8k cd players are not worth the money....!!! and its still a digital stream that is converted into a analog signal...so it will never be perfected...,its just fool proof and convient..that was sony's idea!! for series listening we still have our lp collections...and for convients now there is the ipod..welcome to the future of audiophilia...and eventually good buy cd's!

my 2 cents worth!!
Hey, you could buy the $17,000 Reimyo CD player ($15,000 for a dealer demo!) or an iPod and all the CDs/LPs you could ever want! I know where I'd put my money today.
The computer is the way to go if you want to get the best fidelity with a hard drive based transport. I rip my CD's to my hard drive and ipod uncompressed using AIFF. With hard drives getting larger and cheaper, I don't see any reason to use compression. I set up a system with a G4 Power book outputting via USB connection to an Apogee Mini-Dac and it sounds really, really good. On the other hand, I connect my ipod to my car stereo using the headphone out and it sounds good, too. Not as good as the computer through the Apogee, but good enough for the car, far better than a 6 CD changer.
All interesting comments and suggestions. I am now leaning toward getting the Slim Devices Squeezebox ($200) mentioned by Macallan25, which is hooked up to the computer (iMac in my case) by either an Ethernet cable or wireless system, and which has coaxial and optical outputs to connect to a DAC (in my case the MF Trivista CD/SACD player is my DAC). I will add a LaCie Big Disk HD, probably the 500GB ($550) model, so I can rip hundreds of uncompressed files to play via the Squeezebox. This is beginning to look like the best option since the iPod-to-DAC doesn't appear to be an immediately available option. I listen to my analog system for most of my serious listening sessions, but for $770 I can assemble a pretty good computer based digital system that allows me to put together my own playlists. Reactions?
>>for $770 I can assemble a pretty good computer based digital system that allows me to put together my own playlists. Reactions?<<

I'm with you. I also have a system for serious listening, but I also need solutions for more casual listening. I have been searching for something that will provide convenience, while minimizing sonic compromise. The computer is the way to go. Plus, if you're married, your wife and family will love the convenience of being able to scroll through albums on your computer screen, making playlists, etc. And you will love the fact that they don't have to fool with your CD's in order to play music. If you have a party, you can let the guests scroll through and pick songs for the background music -- it is a great solution.

The problem with letting the guests scroll through and pick songs for the background music is... well... they seem to invariably gravitate to the most embarrassing aspects of your collection.

Incidentally, if you would like to accidentally maximize your guests' ability to access the worst of your collection, tag a bunch of albums with the genre "SH*T" and see what happens. You are then left with explaining why you actually own an Enya album (bad recommendation from friend) and a Nick Gilder album (coincidence of finding it in cheapo used bin at precisely the *one* time in forty years I actually felt a desire to hear "summer in the city"). Also been desperatly searching for a decent band with a name starting "AA" something to avoid ABBA (was a freebie... honest...) showing up at the head of the artist list. Be warned.
I think they should put sporty tubes on the 'pod as well - of course you are walking around and... OW! THAT'S HOT!
PocketDock combo is a device you attach to your iPod that gives it a firewire and USB out. With it, you can connect to a USB DAC. There are a few high-end USB dacs on the market, but I can't think of the names. Here's the url to the product page...

If you go down the SendStation route, you should take a look at the WaveTerminal U24 which is a pro-audio USB device.

Provides Toslink, S/PDIF and 1/4" RCA outs and requires no power (gets it from the USB). Have one between my Mac and a Monarchy DIP/Channel Islands Audio DAC and it sounds very, very good - especially for $200 at B&H!

I'm using the Apogee USB Mini-Dac for a computer based system. The sound is excellent!
It is not clear from the promo whether the PocketDock will let you plug an ipod into a USB DAC. Correct me if I am mistaken, but it seems like it is just meant to let your ipod interface with your computer -- similar to the accessories that already come with the ipod.
An update: I got the Squeezebox, hocked it up with an ethernet cable and, with much help from Kevin at Slim Devices, got it to play my iTunes playlists. Then I noticed it would not play all the songs on the playlist. Turns out that because of some licensing policy, no 3td party device hooked up to an Apple computer will play songs that have been downloaded to the iMac. So I could either keep the Squeezebox and not be able to play downloaded music, or get an Airport Express and play everything, but through a optical output instead of coax into my DAC. I chose to go the Airport Express route but use the ethernet cable I already had for the Squeezebox. I get the computer programmed at the Apple store in Chicago for this, come home... and it doesn't work. Apparently the ethernet switch I'm using (so I can hook up both the Airport Express and my cable modem) is not allowing the connection to be made to the Airport Express. I'm going to try a "Dumb" hub in place of the switch, and if that doesn't work I'll have to get the Airport Extreme card and do it wireless. That is, unless one of you knows of some way to do this with the ethernet cable that I haven't tried?
Bruce_1, Did you make progress on getting your digital music through your router to Airport Express? Thanks for posting the limitation of Mac iTunes (I assume) downloads not being playable through third party gear like Squeezebox. Have any idea what the logic behind that is, given that iTunes is a multiplatform solution to begin with?
I was never able to find a "dumb ethernet hub", which the people at the Apple help line said I would have to use instead of a switch or router. It would have worked to run an ethernet cable directly from out of the computer to the Airport Express, but then I would have to physically change the cables at the back of the computer to listen to music or be on the internet--unacceptable. So I returned the switch and cable to OfficeMax (who gave me a refund no questions asked, God bless them), and got the Airport Extreme card from Apple, snapped it in place (very simple and easy to do), ran the software that came with the AE, and voila!, I've got iTunes playing on my main system. Using Apple Loseless we can't tell a difference between the original CD and the iTunes copy (so far--more listening necessary). As the Slim Devices people explained it, Apple is not eager to license the ability for a third party device to be able to play downloaded iTunes. Short term they will have people go my route and buy an Airport Express to be able to play downloaded music, so it appears to be a good strategy, but longterm this reluctance to license technology explains why the arguably best computer operating system and hardware has a worldwide market share of less than 2%. Apparently it is the Sony Betamax case study all over again. Being best and first doesn't mean you'll win in the end. Apple will face increased competition for the iPod, iTunes, and Airport Express, will slowly lose market share and by the time they change their strategy to try and regain lost market share it will be too late. The good news is that I'll have another example of what not to do to use in my classes (I teach graduate marketing courses at a state university).
Apple's 5th generation ipod was introduced this past week and their lack of interest in the audiophile market was once again evident. Like past generation ipods, their newest model lacks a digital output for connecting to a DAC. So, we still wait for a model that we can download music on to take to audition high-end DAC's at dealers.
There are any number of laptop computers with built in digital I/O that will give you portability with D/A connectivity. Even without built in I/O, there are a growing number of USB and Firewire equipped D/As.
apple does have a bit perfect digital output option:

I have the AirportExpress, use for hours every day to play playlists (everything from classical/opera to 60's soul music) and love it, but it doesn't help when you want to get maximum fidelity in a portable pkg (i don't have a laptop). I don't think it is asking for too much to want a digital output on the iPod. They cound put it on the dock. The Airport Express has a digital output, so it isn't like they don't recognize the value of providing it!
I use a modified Transit with coax cable attached. It passes everything, including iTunes, bit-perfect .wav files and even MP3. I drive a modified P-3A upsampling DAC with it. The quality of output is as follows:

MP3 - acceptable, but depth and dynamics are compromised
.wav @ 44.1 - as good as the best transport
iTunes - more dynamic than .wav files, but vocals are a bit hollow
.wav @96 - best of all. a bit more dynamic than iTunes and more natural on vocals. Leavs all transports in the dust.
Please explain how this is done. I'm interested in such a set-up.

How do you bypass iTunes on a Mac? This approach may take the transport out of the loop, but it also seems to make the ease of using a computer for organization gone too. Please explain. Thanks.